7 Quick Takes On The Pope, Rabbits, And Prudence

1. The Pope kicked over a hornet's nest this week when he spoke off the cuff about issues of sex and marriage.

The Internet exploded with interpretations of what exactly he meant and why he said it.  I'm not sure I'm going to add any new insight to the conversation, but I can't stop myself from writing about it because this issue is one so relevant to my life.

Here's an excerpt from the entire translated interview:

That example I mentioned shortly before about that woman who was expecting her eighth child and already had seven who were born with cesareans. That is a an irresponsibility.  That woman might say 'no, I trust in God.’ But, look, God gives you means to be responsible. Some think that -- excuse the language -- that in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits. No. Responsible parenthood. This is clear and that is why in the Church there are marriage groups, there are experts in this matter, there are pastors, one can search; and I know so many ways that are licit and that have helped this. You did well to ask me this.

2.   The pope calls to task a woman who is expecting her eight child and will undergo her eighth c-section when the baby is born. 

When I read his example, I imagined this woman coming to Francis about the serious medical risk she will face when it's time for the c-section.  I pictured her crying out of concern for her family should something happen to her and I pictured Francis speaking with her at length, encouraging her to use prudence when discerning whether or not to add to her family.

7 Quick Takes On The Pope, Rabbits, And Prudence by Colleen Duggan

But all of this is my educated guess...

In using this example, Francis has information we don't, information which make this woman's situation--I think--pertinent to the discussion of discernment and prudence. 

Some are offended by the use of such a specific example, but I think it's relevant to what it is to be a responsible parent.  Not all women who have multiple c-sections are warned by their doctors about the danger repeat procedures imposes, but some are.  Those whose doctors express concern about more kids, should heed the doctor's warning and discern carefully whether or not to have more children.

The health of the mother and whether or not she will be able to care for her kids is nothing to snub our noses at.  

Since Francis is a former pastor, my guess is this is not the first time he has seen an orthodox Catholic family, who has embraced the church's teachings on family planning, be imprudent with regard to their decision to have more kids.  The lack of prudence is not limited to a woman warned by her doctors that having multiple c-sections is dangerous.  Hang around in the groups I do and very quickly you mightobserve a wife and husband who might adopt a "throw caution to the wind because we trust God" mentality, even though they are clearly struggling to keep their heads above water.

Instead of following the proper steps of discernment, these types of couples are really just making poor decisions. 

To be honest, at various points in our own marriage, John and I have been the imprudent parents Francis is talking about!   We haven't always carefully evaluated whether or not we were up to the task of welcoming additional children into the mix.  We haven't always discerned well our ability to emotionally and psychologically care for more kids, even though we behaved like we were OK with more.  

That's not to say we aren't happy about our "unplanned" children;  I'd be lost without each one of my kids.

What I am saying is that at various points in time, I haven't been jumping up and down when I saw the lines turn blue on a pregnancy test because...I behaved imprudently and didn't discern properly.

3.  When the Pope encourages responsible parenthood, I think he's really encouraging couples to carefully discern whether or not they are called to bring forth new life.  He reminds people in another part of the interview that a marriage is null if both partners are not in agreement that their marriage should be open to life. He's clear-being open to the gift of children is a requirement for a valid Catholic marriage.

This has always been the Church's teaching.

However, when a couple is in agreement and they are using the church's sanctioned methods for children-namely Natural Family Planning--, they have a responsibility to use good judgment when determining whether or not they should have more kids.

The truth is, humans don't mate like rabbit--unthinkingly and indiscriminately--and so we must use the God-given reason we were born with in order to determine whether or not we are up to the great challenge of raising more kids.

The basic questions John and I use to evaluate this:

Will we able to physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically, and financially care for this new life?

Will we be able to continue caringphysically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically, and financially for the children we already have?

We don't just ask ourselves these questions once a year or even once every six months.  We ask ourselves these questions every month (and I am constantly evaluating the answer to these questions, even daily--in order to know if I could handle more kids.  It's an ongoing conversation.)

If the answer to any of those questions is no or even a maybe not, we take pause.  We have six other little people we are accountable to and our desire for more doesn't erase our responsibility to them.

4. At the same time the Pope is encouraging prudence, he's also encouraging generosity.  Later on in the interview, Francis mentions that the poor see children as a great treasure, a great gift.  Sadly, this viewpoint is quite different from the Western worldview that views children as a burden to our indulgent lifestyles and a personal imposition on our freedom.  If you were to poll young married couples today, you might notice many of them are afraid to have kids and certainly many of them are afraid to have more than the norm.

If you follow me around the grocery store you will hear a smattering of reasons why based upon the questions people ask:

How do you afford all of them?

How will you pay for college?

How do you love all of them?

Do they all share a room?

When do you have time for yourself?

The questions I fieldfrom curious grocery store shoppers usually include questions about how we cover the basics.  Money doesn't grow on trees and people feel the onus to provide for their children to the best of their ability. But I also think that the hesitation to be open to more children comes from a fear these parents won't be able to offer their children a certain kind of lifestyle.

It's not that my grocery store friends can't feed, clothe, and educate their kids--born and/or unborn.

My grocery store friends are concerned they won't be able to do the themed birthday parties and take week long vacations to exotic locations or buy the biggest house on the block.

Sometimes the measuring stick for more kids is not can we feed them, clothe them, educate them, and love them?

Sometimes the measuring stick for more kids is whether or not the kids wear designer clothes and have their own handheld devices and computers and their own pottery barn decorated bedrooms, etc.

If the answer to any of those questions is no, well, then sorry...we can't have more.

Outfitting our children in designer clothes and whether or not we will be able to go on expensive European vacations is not the measuring stick John and I use when discerning whether we should grow our family.  John and I believe one of the greatest things we can do for our kids is give them siblings.  We think children are a treasure and we are hard pressed to say NO!!! to additional treasures.

The only valuable thing John and I have as adults is our family.  That's where our "money" is andI could never say "no" to God if we were to discern His call to add to our already golden treasure.

5.  If you were offended by what the Pope said, why?  I'm not talking to people who think the Church's teachings are irrelevant and outdated.

I'm not talking to the commenters on one Patheos blog who used such disdainful and disgusting language to ignorantly misrepresent what the Catholic Church teaches.  I'm talking to those families who believe the natural family planning is a God-given means to space children.  If what the pope said bothered you, why?

Do you practice NFP well?

If not, why not? 

What resources do you need to do better?  A class, a regular instructor?  An online NFP forum?  Those resources are out there, find them and use them.

I think one good thing that might come from this entire Francis hubbub is that it will cause those who embrace the Church's teachings on NFP to evaluate whether they know how to practice NFP well.  

I can't help but wonder if those people who are offended by Francis's remarks, are offended because Francis hit a nerve. Maybe the offended knows of a time when they've failed to be prudent and discern when adding to their family?  (And again, I've been using NFP for twelve years and there are times in my marriage this has been the case!)  In any case, I think the pope's recent remarks require all people to revisit the church's teaching on family and marriage.

And that's always a good thing, in my book.

6.  As a mom of many children, I'm not the least bit offended by the Pope's words. I have confidence that I am indeed a responsible parent. 

So is John.  Our kids are well fed, clothed, and well educated.  We keep tabs on them and we know what is going on with them.

I also have confidence that most of the large families I know are also responsible parents, for the reasons I mention above.

In this particular instance, Francis wasn't talking to me, but you can be assured there have been times when I've felt his verbal slap right upside my head.

A good parent knows how to do that sometimes.

7.  And that's all I've got.

See?  I probably didn't add much to the conversation, but I feel better now.  Have a fabulous Friday and don't forget to stop by

Kelly's and see what's going on.