Saturday, September 16, 2006

Where are all the children?

“Where are all the children?”

Two weeks ago this was the first sentence out of my husband’s mouth once he had checked on Elsa, whom I had stayed home with. She was fighting a virus and had been just too tired and cranky to take to Mass. I stared at him.
“I mean where are all the children in the Church? Where are they?” He went on to share how sad he had felt throughout the Mass as he had glanced repeatedly about the church. Here and there was a child, sometimes two or three in family. But for the most part - there were few to none there.

This line repeated itself over and over in my head over the next few days. “Where are all the children?“ We were new in the area and had attended two different churches in the vicinity and my husband was right - the children were few and far between. There did not seem much hope of matching all, if any, of our children, up with friends in the same age bracket as themselves. This greatly saddened both my husband and I. But what saddened us even more was wondering about the future of the Catholic church. With the average American family repopulating the country at about .89 children* per family, it seemed as though these statistics were also invading the Catholic church. And if this is true - what does the future hold for our Church?

But then as I pondered this, I wondered if maybe it was just the area we had moved to. It is, after all, an area earmarked with high unemployment with many employers having moved lock, stock and barrel overseas. Perhaps most of the families, with children, had left the area. This would be true across the general public and certainly the Catholic church would not be exempt.

Over the week I thought back to the larger parishes we had attended in the city where we had been living for the past 9 years. Had there not always been cry rooms filled with toddlers, young mums and dads taking turns with a teething enfant in the foyer? I thought about this but then it dawned on me that the difference was not so much in the number of the children, but rather in the number of families. Being in a city, each parish had a larger population to draw from than a small country parish would, and this greater number of families had only lent the appearance of more children because, if my memory served me correctly, while there were lots of families with children - most of them still only had one or two children, a few here and there with three. So naturally if you reduced the number of families, as is the case in our smaller country parish, you are able to see the reality of the situation. Children have become rare. Large families possibly even more rare.

The realization of this really cut me to the heart, and I thought of the selfishness of this situation. While there are indeed legitimate reasons for limiting the size of ones family - can it be that the majority of the Catholic population actually meets one or more of these serious reasons for choosing to say no to life?** I have called this selfish because the decision to limit the size of one’s family doesn’t only affect the family that has made this decision.

It affects the whole Church, it lessens the Community of Saints, giving us less Saints in heaven to pray for us all. It lessens the number of vocations so that we have fewer and fewer religious and Priests to nurture the growth of the church. And individually within each parish it means there are less young faces for the elderly to gaze upon, less cheeks for them to pinch, and less opportunities for the young to learn of being of service to others. And for large families like ours, less peers for our children to make friends with.

Who, each Sunday, is missing from the Eucharistic table who should have been there celebrating with our Catholic family, but were never given the opportunity to even join the Community of Saints because they were not even conceived. Not conceived, but thought of and longed for by Jesus and our Heavenly Father.

* American Census Bureau Stats of 2004

** for just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children,” but we are cautioned that it is every couple’s “duty to make certain that their desire [to postpone or avoid pregnancy] is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2368)

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