I've been thinking a lot lately. Perhaps I've been thinking too much. You can tell me if you think I am over-thinking the subject.
Now, many young mothers nowadays easily recognize our society's hostility to children and family. Before even getting married I had doctors pushing artificial contraceptives at me. Many women who went to college and then choose to stay at home with their children are told they are "wasting" their education. Introduce myself and my children and I immediately get the question, "So what do you do?" Once I point to my 2 year old and 4 month old, the conversation comes to a screeching halt as it seems they do not know what to say next. Having more than two children is often considered having a "large" family and once a woman has two, any subsequent children derive questions such as "Are you going to get fixed now?" or "Don't you know what causes that?" In restaurants, we have had people ask to be seated further away from us simply because we have a young child with us - even if our daughters are behaving perfectly. I've met women who had to give birth via a c-section and during the surgery were suddenly asked if they wanted to have the tubes tied since the doctor was in that area anyway (as a 2-for-1 deal). One woman called her local hospital asking for reference for an OB/GYN because she just found out she was pregnant. Before giving her a name, the reception asked if she wanted to keep or terminate the pregnancy. Not to mention, how often do we hear the word "fetus" now? Whatever happened to "baby" or might that offend the sensibilities of those who strive to dehumanize the unborn?
The world has become frighteningly anti-baby, anti-child, anti-housewife, anti-stay-at-home mother and anti-family. But the world has always been fickle. What about the Church as a support for and defender of the family?
At my parish, I often hear in homilies about politics, economics or theological reflections. The parish provides widely-advertised baby-sitting services. Over a year ago our pastor had difficulty being distracted during his homily by a child who was making noise. He stopped his homily and asked the parents to remove the child. Apparently some other people left at this point as well. Our pastor promptly apologized to the entire parish and said he would figure out a different way to handle the situation in the future. I wrote a polite letter suggesting ideas. I never received any response but ever since that baby-sitting service has been ever present and often advertised. Almost any get-together or meeting is at 7:30 in the evening - I believe for adults who work but with little ones such a time is the most inconvenient. My pastor calls every child in the parish "Noodle," such that I've come to see it as a sign that children's names are not worth learning (although, in fairness, he hasn't learned James' or my name either). On the other hand, our Pastor walks in the March For Life and openly advocates Pro-Life. And I have heard homilies against artificial contraception, homosexual activity and other threats to the family as well as received handouts in the bulletin advocating contacting politicians and condemning legislation that would be anti-family.
This left me a bit confused. Until today. Today I got it. I have to thank an article in the Knights of Columbus Magazine Columbia for making me see it. The article was on His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI and his relation to the subject of the family. The article stressed condemnation of assaults on the family via no-fault divorce, artificial contraception, extramarital affairs, and homosexual "unions." But that seemed to be as far as it went. I thought, "But none of that applies to me. What about families like mine? What about the families who live according to the Church's teaching? Where is the ministry to them?" And then it hit me.
Everyone knows the parable of the Prodigal Son. It hit me that the father is like the Church and the prodigal "sons" are the families separating with no-fault divorces, eroding under artificial contraception, dying from abortions, struggling with identity from homosexual activists, or having grave difficulties in some other way. The families that live according to Church teaching are the other son - the one who complains he has never been recognized for his faithfulness except rather than seeking recognition, I would seek ministry and fellowship and simply not being ignored. Is this not our church too? Was the son tempted 1,000,001 ways to leave his father? Suppose the father was so concerned over the missing son, he came to completely ignore the faithful one? Of course, as a parable for God as Father, this is silly, but as a metaphor for the Church, while the Church rightly condemns assaults on the family and strives to bring back the lost sheep, does she ignore or forget the faithful ones that remain by her side? Does concern for the prodigal families blind the Church into neglect of the faithful ones?
In doctrine, I'd say I don't believe so, no. In practice, I'm not so sure. My parish seems fully aware of politics and the moral implications of the issues. My parish seems very concerned with its grade school, music ministry, pilgrimages and ministry to the poor and hungry. I'm all for concern of these things. They are important. I just don't think families with small children unable to attend something at 7:30pm or unwilling to attend Mass without their children or women who stay at home are any less important. It is our church too and we deserve to be ministered to as well.
I sincerely hope my parish is the only parish that seems to forget these families and wish for the future for my parish to remember them and support them in a world already hostile to them. Going in search of the lost sheep does not mean forgetting about the other ninety-nine.