I wasn't going to post this on Christmas, but, upon finishing it, it seemed particularly appropriate for Christmas, when the only choice Joseph and Mary made was to trust in God and embrace the human being He chose to send when He chose to send Him.
"If this one's a boy, will you be done?"
I admit I'm used to people asking questions that are none of their business when they find out I am pregnant with child #4. But I confess I was a bit blindsided when I went for a simple dental cleaning and the receptionist asked this question and then, upon learning I will have 4 children all 5 years or under, made a big display spreading her arms and said "Good Luck! You're gonna need it."
As I reflected on the surprising reaction I had gotten at the dentist's office, I was particularly struck by that question: "If this one's a boy, will you be done?"
It particularly struck me the way her question regarded having children as a choice and it is the same with other questions I hear when it comes to children, like, "How many kids do you want?"
There is never any thought to how many children God might like a couple to have or how many children they might be capable of having. It is always about how many children a couple choose to have or choose to try to have.
Now, I don't know about you, but when I think of a child regarded as a choice, the first that comes to my mind is the pro-abortion industry's term, "pro-choice." But it would be greatly unfair to suggest that simply because a person asked "if you are done?" or "how many children do you want?"that it must mean they are "pro-choice." Many aren't. And yet the understanding of a human being, a child, being the choice of a person remains very similar.
And then it hit me that this understanding runs much deeper and wider than pro-abortionists. It runs back to contraception. Contraception was the dawning of the understanding of a child as a "choice." With a pill or a condom, it completely became the choice of the couple to have a child or not. Only a slim chance did God, or a failed contraceptive, have of having any say in the matter. Through contraception, whether or not to get pregnant was no longer a matter of self-control or trust in God, but of personal preference.
So even among anti-abortionist pro-lifers, there runs parallel this understanding of children as a choice, whether the person is married or single. Children regarded as simply another choice, like whether or not to go to graduate school, what occupation you will take up, what car you will drive, etc., drive the subject of children and fertility into the realm of public information. When did a couple's fertility or how many children they wanted become everyone's business? When it was re-weighed to bear the same degree of gravity as one's career, one's car, one's choice of schools. When did a couple's fertility become a matter of no more importance or privacy than such choices? When it became just another choice: when contraception made conception a personal choice.
Contraception has shaped the way most people view children and hence changed how private a couple's fertility is regarded to be.
It makes me wonder though: If a couple's fertility is public information, what isn't? What privacy is left? I find it the ultimate irony that it was the Griswold v. Connecticut U.S. Supreme Court case that ruled that contraceptives could not be illegal under a Constitutionally protected "right to privacy." The "right to privacy" has, by its demeaning the fertility of a couple to a simple choice, removed what little privacy a couple had. Since this case, the Supreme Court has cited the "rite to privacy," most notably, in the infamous Roe v. Wade decision declaring the choice to kill an unborn child as a private decision between a woman and her doctor. Again, children are a choice, this time not the choice to come into life but the choice to terminate life.
It has become fairly common to view children not as persons but as another accessory to life. If you saw a person walking down the street, would it occur to you that you had the free legal choice to choose whether or not they lived? Your neighbor? Your boss? Your sibling? Your doctor? Do people have a general understanding of their existence as a simple choice they can accept or terminate?
The vast majority of us don't go around imagining the possibility of killing people or view other people as expendable if they didn't work for our choices at the moment. And yet that is how children are viewed. Why? Because we don't have the realistic choice to make people un-exist the way contraception makes it possible to prevent children from existing. We don't have the choice of choosing whether our neighbor/boss/sibling/doctor ever existed.
This contraceptive mentality of children as mere choice is so pervasive of our society that it is generally assumed everyone maintains it. More than once I went to the doctor for a sore throat or an infection and a doctor tried to put me on the pill (even before I was married). Too many to remember strangers have asked those invasive questions about my fertility as though they were asking what my weekend plans were. It is a commonly accepted practice because it is viewed as a commonly adopted understanding, consciously or not. It is also why families with more children than we have have been asked sarcastically if they know what causes the creation of children or even been advised to "get fixed" as though working fertility were a disease. Giving complete strangers sexual advice, unasked for and unwanted seemingly being irrelevant, has become acceptable since a couple's fertility is no longer considered a private matter.
The "right to privacy" has cost us any privacy. And the choice to choose children or not has cost us countless friends, neighbors, doctors, siblings, etc. But it costs the one who chooses such a mentality even more. If we view even human life as a simple matter of choice, declaring ourselves to be the arbiters of life, just how much of God are we choosing to leave out and reject? It is much harder to be open to God when you are busy making every decision for yourself and others, even down to if a person should or would exist. What room is there in our hearts to trust God if we are so busy trusting only ourselves with every choice, even the existence of our children?
The contraceptive mentality makes it much harder for God to play an active significant role in our lives. What if Mary had said, "Sure, Gabriel, after I married," or "Okay, but only one, and after I have our home set up"? Most people would consider Mary's position a more than reasonable one in which to choose against having a baby. But she doesn't say anything of the sort. She simply says yes to God and trusts in Him and the blessings of her choice are countless and immeasurable.
Christmas is the perfect time to remember how wonderful and amazing a gift every child, born or unborn, is and how beautiful God's plan can be even, or especially, when it surprises us.
(*I am not arguing that there might not be times when abstaining is wise, even necessary, but if God's will is such that there is such a serious reason to avoid a baby it is still in accordance with trust in Him to abstain from the possibility of pregnancy and remain completely open to His will without the contraceptive mentality that children are just not a choice convenient at the moment. There is a big difference between discerning that God's will is such that He may not want a couple to conceive at the moment and choosing that a child would simply not be preferable or convenient at the moment.)
ADDENDUM: This morning, on Holy Family Sunday, our Associate Pastor said a few things in his homily I thought added to this post very well.
God is a Trinity, God is a family. God the Father pours out his Love for God the Son, God the Son pours out His love for God the Father, and from the mutual sacrificial love of Father and Son springs for the love of the Holy Spirit. From the mutual sacrificial love of a husband and wife is born the love of a child. Hence, we most resemble God when a baby is born into a family. So it is not surprising that the evil one strives to destroy that which makes us most resemble the image of God: the family.
Therefore, a contraceptive mentality would also be a rejection of God's invitation to us to most greatly resemble Him. It is also denies the other of a sacrificial love that is capable of mirroring the love of God since it stifles any possibility of such an outpouring that creation is possible. Instead of mirroring God, it returns that love to the giver, focusing on the preferences and choice of the giver and becomes a mirror only of one's self. Is it any wonder our society has become so self-centered and selfish when you consider the grave ramifications of viewing God and human life in such a way?