By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published February 20, 2023
“Thanks be to God!” The little voice rang out in the church at the end of daily Mass. A family with three small children, and another on the way, was attending, and the girl’s enthusiasm brought smiles to the congregation’s faces.
Her father is tall and bearded, and when he walks back from Communion, hands folded, the child prances ahead of him, counting the bricks in the wall. This family with its openness to new life reminds me of the words: “Let the little children come to me, and don’t prevent them, for such is the kingdom of God.”
Years ago, a friend with six children was at the grocery store with the entire crew. A woman, whose expression revealed her disapproval, asked the mom: “Are you done yet?” This lovely mother, who had heard such inquiries before, looked up to heaven and said aloud, “Lord, are we done yet?”
We sometimes forget God is the giver of life. In a world where we believe we’re in control of everything, it’s easy to overlook this fact. Catholics are called to be open to new life in marriage, but this doesn’t necessarily mean having a dozen children. However, it does entail recognizing that bringing forth new life is at the heart of marriage.
Catholic teaching about being open to life underpins the Natural Family Planning method, which involves learning how to chart a woman’s cycles. This means a couple can refrain from sexual relations during the fertile time, when they have solid reasons not to add to their family.
This method also helps couples eager to have another child, since they become more adept at pinpointing the fertile time. I spoke with Daniel West, who has eight children—all joyfully welcomed—and who works for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. He invites parishes to call him at 404-920-7631, and he will gladly provide qualified speakers to explain the methods to parishioners.
At heart, having children involves enormous sacrifices by the parents. Getting up multiple times a night for feedings, changing diapers for what seems like the hundredth time of the day, potty training a stubborn toddler and putting up with tantrums are activities that require sacrificial love.
Still, the more one sacrifices for another person, the less selfish one becomes. Good parenting gives a vivid glimpse of the love Jesus shows us: “Greater love than this no man has than that he lay down his life for his friend.”
No matter what size the family is, good parents give up big chunks of their life, including time, money and energy for their children. Gone are the days of sleeping in on the weekends. Now they’re rounding up the kids for basketball practice, karate lessons, play rehearsals.
Evenings find the parents watching their children’s sporting events and musical performances—and don’t forget helping with the last-minute project. “Mom, I’m supposed to make a relief map of the world for geography tomorrow.”
Still, parents are quick to testify to the many joys that come with raising a family. As author Erma Bombeck put it, “It is not until you become a mother that your judgment slowly turns to compassion and understanding.”
Over the holidays, I spent time with family in Florida and had a chance to witness the sacrifices a young couple made for their two babies. The parents are both university professors, and have become proficient at the time-juggling routine many parents know so well.
I watched in awe, as the father sleepily emerged from the bedroom with his infant son in his arms, and began preparing breakfast for the toddler. It was a joy to jump up and say, “I’ll be happy to make her waffles and get her juice.” The grateful look on his face was a blessing.
Babies are miracles that spring forth from the act of “making love.” When two married people surrender themselves to God’s will, they help God create new human life. I pray there will be more couples like my friends at church with their precious family. When their next baby is born, I can imagine the angels and saints in heaven singing: “Thanks be to God!”