I remember hearing this first reading as a teenager…
One of things I didn’t understand
was just how hard my parents had to work.
Only as an adult did I realize what an ungrateful brat I was at times!
We always had plenty—yet we would complain
if we didn’t have the finest things—none of which we needed.
Now as a grown man, a pastor and spiritual father,
it’s my turn to provide for a household,
and to make decisions, and sometimes say "no,"
and have members of the family be unhappy about that.
Parents, no doubt you find it hard at times
to say "no" to your children?
It’s tempting to let them have what they ask for,
because maybe it buys a measure of peace?
I think of that because of another question the readings raise—
and this is a delicate issue—
it has to do with what used to be a Catholic idea of the family—
an idea that, honestly, is vanishing.
We Catholics used to be known for large families—
But now, families with four or five children are unusual,
and considered large.
Some—under their breath—say, "too large."
It is part of our Catholic Faith
that couples reject artificial means of planning families.
It is part of our Faith that God gave us a gift
that leads us to love someone in a special way,
and that giving life is intrinsically bound up with that gift of love,
and what God has put together—lovemaking and lifegiving—
we have no authority or right to separate.
But let’s be candid—most Catholics ignore
what the Church teaches about natural family planning.
Many think it’s optional, or not a major teaching.
I’m sorry to say that’s not so.
This is something that goes back to the beginning of the Church,
and it is rooted in the Bible and our Jewish origins.
And it’s important because it goes to the core of who we are:
made in the image and likeness of God.
As creative as we can be,
we can never make anything out of nothing.
But there is one moment we are most God-like:
when a couple comes together,
and cooperating with God, a new human being begins to exist!
But again, let’s be candid—this teaching seems out of step.
Many parents rightly say,
they find raising one, two or three children more than enough challenge,
they cannot imagine going further.
Understood—but whatever the challenge,
we always say that, don’t we?
Abraham and Sarah might have said the same thing:
leaving the only home they knew, going to a distant land,
and then believing they could be parents in their old age.
Don’t we say the same
when our older parents need more and more care;
when someone is in trouble, and we must come to their rescue.
My resources won’t stretch that far—and yet, somehow, they do.
Above all, we must confront a mindset that sees children—people!
as a burden, rather than a blessing.
That’s the drumbeat we’ve heard for decades:
from government and the media:
too many people—that’s the problem.
Guess what? Now our leaders are starting to admit,
maybe they were….wrong.
Leaders in Russia, Europe, Japan, yes, even China!,
and many other countries—are all coming to grips with a problem
they admit will be huge very soon: too few babies!
People ask: why don’t we have more children in school?
More people in our city—in our pews?
People fear for the future of Social Security.
Despite all this, this mindset—people are a burden—
still gets a lot of play, now in connection to the environment.
It is right to be good stewards of our environment,
yet we must confront this flawed thinking,
that sees only a mouth to be fed,
rather than a head and hands and heart
that can and will make the world better.
Think about it: in Abraham’s time, a man plowed his plot,
with the help of an ox, and maybe could feed his own family.
Today—thanks to the creativity God gave us,
a farmer uses a tractor, and electricity, and many other helps,
and plow vast acres of ground, and feeds a whole town of people.
But who invented the tractor and harnessed the electricity,
and all the other advances that spread food worldwide?
If this mindset—people are the problem—were true,
then why should God have even come to save us—
if we’re more trouble than we are worth?
Why, for that matter, even create us?
As Christians, we see a child,
born to a poor couple, in troubled times,
and we see not a burden—but our Savior!
Our Savior saw a human family,
so many squabbling, fighting children,
not as a burden, but those for whom he would give his life.
He gave his all—to his last breath—
that we might be born to eternal life.
Aren’t we glad that God never said—
I don’t want too many children?
Rather, in the Eucharist, he said:
"This is body…this is my blood…given for you."