Faith Alive

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    Children are a product of the greatest of God's gifts, the gifts of love and life, Pope Francis declares in "Amoris Laetitia" ("The Joy of Love"), in a chapter that speaks about welcoming children into a family. "Love always gives life," he writes.

    "Each new life," he continues, "allows us to appreciate the utterly gratuitous dimension of love, which never ceases to amaze us. It is the beauty of being loved first: Children are loved even before they arrive."


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    Love made fruitful: Welcoming the gift of children

    By Mike Nelson

    Catholic News Service

    What is a gift?

    In our contemporary world, a gift is something to be unwrapped, looked upon, acknowledged and then it can be used, or set aside, or stashed and forgotten about. It can be returned or exchanged, maybe for something "better," or something more appropriate.

    In other words, we may or may not welcome these gifts, depending on how they fit into our lives. So how do we regard the gifts God gives us -- specifically, the gift of children?

    Children are a product of the greatest of God's gifts, the gifts of love and life, Pope Francis declares in "Amoris Laetitia" ("The Joy of Love"), in a chapter that speaks about welcoming children into a family. "Love always gives life," he writes.

    "Each new life," he continues, "allows us to appreciate the utterly gratuitous dimension of love, which never ceases to amaze us. It is the beauty of being loved first: Children are loved even before they arrive."

    And that "gift of a new child, entrusted by the Lord to a father and a mother, begins with acceptance, continues with lifelong protection and has as its final goal the joy of eternal life."

    Our challenge, of course, is to recognize children as God's gifts to us and not to fret over whether we can afford them or whether they will somehow inconvenience us as we pursue our chosen course in life.

    "Some parents," Pope Francis notes, "feel that their child is not coming at the best time." Or, maybe we welcome children, but on our terms, as if they were a means to achieve what we want. And, if they don't meet our needs, we regard them as disappointing.

    "It is important," the pope reminds us, "for that child to feel wanted. He or she is not an accessory or a solution to some personal need. A child is a human being of immense worth and may never be used for one's own benefit. So it matters little whether this new life is convenient for you, whether it has features that please you, or whether it fits into your plans and aspirations."

    That means we welcome children not because they are cute, not because they entertain us in one way or another, not because we can mold and shape them like pieces of clay into whatever we want.

    "We love our children because they are children," says the pope, "not because they are beautiful, or look or think as we do, or embody our dreams. We love them because they are children."

    Jesus knew this, certainly better than his disciples did, or at least those disciples who complained when children seemed to interfere with whatever Jesus (and the disciples) were doing. "Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them" Jesus told his disciples, no doubt rather sternly. "For the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these" (Mt 19:14).

    The Gospels of Mark (9:37) and Luke (9:48) further recount Jesus' admonition to his disciples, spoken as he embraced a child: "Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me."

    It's important here to note the context of Jesus' words. His disciples had been arguing among themselves about who was the greatest, which prompted Jesus to say, "If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all" (Mk 9:35).

    That shouldn't be ignored by those of us who are parents. In fully receiving and welcoming the gift of children, it's not our needs -- our job, our night out, our sleeping late -- that come first.

    There is something else worth contemplating, at least for those of us who not only believe in responding to Jesus' call to "go and make disciples," but welcome that call as well.

    "By their witness as well as their words, families speak to others of Jesus," says Pope Francis. "They pass on the faith, they arouse a desire for God and they reflect the beauty of the Gospel and its way of life. ... Their fruitfulness expands and in countless ways makes God's love present in society."

    By welcoming children, we welcome the opportunity to pass on our faith -- to teach our young people the value of feeding the poor, comforting the afflicted, seeking justice for the lowly and, yes, welcoming all of God's children into the family of the kingdom.

    "Children are a gift," writes Pope Francis. "Each one is unique and irreplaceable." Like all of God's gifts, they are not something that we earn, not something we deserve. They are generous signs of God's love for all of us.

    "We are all sons and daughters," the pope reminds us. "And this always brings us back to the fact that we did not give ourselves life but that we received it. The great gift of life is the first gift that we received."

    And, like Jesus, we are called to welcome and embrace these gifts with joy.

    (Nelson is former editor of The Tidings, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.)


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    Loving children in our families can help us love the world

    By Effie Caldarola

    Catholic News Service

    When my daughter drives her 18-month-old, Charlotte, to the nanny, she recites the same simple morning offering that my kids and I used to pray each morning as I drove them to Catholic grade school.

    I'm touched by this, not just because little Charlotte is learning the concept of prayer, but because it carries a bit of family continuity. I laughed to hear that when the prayer is over, Charlotte voices an exuberant "Amen!"

    On one ride, she added the same enthusiastic amen to the "Itsy Bitsy Spider," but that's OK. She's got time to figure out this prayer business, and she has a loving family to assist her as she does.

    In reading Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation, "Amoris Laetitia" ("The Joy of Love"), it's apparent that he is a man with a deep appreciation for the joys of family life and the welcoming of children into our families and into our faith. I think I could tell him my Charlotte story and find him nodding in amused understanding.

    In a chapter titled "Love Made Fruitful," the pope tells us love always gives life. And he means that in the broadest possible sense. The deep love we have for our children must extend to the wider world.

    Love, the pope says, is a spiritual gift, and we are called to give this gift. True love begins by acknowledging that we are deeply loved by God. Pope Francis expresses the human person's precious worth when he says, "Once he or she is conceived, the Creator's eternal dream comes true."

    What a beautiful place to begin personal prayer, accepting that we, and our children, and the children of the world, are the eternal dream of the Creator.

    Pope Francis asserts, "I certainly value feminism, but one that does not demand uniformity or negate motherhood." All good Catholic feminists can applaud this statement.

    Likewise, he insists on the important value that both a mother and father offer in the life of a child. But he doesn't hearken back to a time where dad ruled supreme. Far from it.

    "In some homes, authoritarianism once reigned and at times, even oppression," he reminds us. Pope Francis endorses a graceful balance of the gifts that men and women bring to family life. Today, he notices, the problem is often not the overbearing presence of a father, but the frequent absence of the dad.

    In the best of young families today, as in my daughter's marriage, you see a balance and sharing of household chores, child care, affection and authority. Any dad who doesn't do diapers today or neglects the bonding of early parenthood is indeed treading close to dinosaur territory.

    And when the pope says that "love always gives life," he's not just talking about our insular nuclear family. Jesus, in Matthew 7:11, reminds us that even those who are evil do good things for their children. We are called to love beyond this measure.

    Pope Francis speaks enthusiastically of foster care and adoption, of "the larger family" where we must welcome life and provide love to those who lack the support of their own family.

    We teach our kids this wider meaning of life-giving love. We take them to help at the food pantry, teach them to defend the child who is bullied, encourage them to understand the meaning of a hearty "amen" to our family prayer.

    From the warm heart of a good marriage, two people are called to welcome not just their own children, and later grandchildren, as gifts from God, but to extend that life-giving love and welcoming other children of God into the world. Pope Francis reminds us "that faith does not remove us from the world, but draws us more deeply into it."

    (Caldarola is a freelance writer and columnist for Catholic News Service. She lives in Omaha, Nebraska.)


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    Children as the supreme gift to a marriage

    By Daniel S. Mulhall

    Catholic News Service

    In the apostolic exhortation "Amoris Laetitia" ("The Joy of Love"), Pope Francis writes much about the importance of accepting children in marriage. The chapter titled "Love Made Fruitful" focuses primarily on this point, that "love always gives life."

    The pope notes that "the family is the setting in which a new life is not only born but also welcomed as a gift of God. Each new life allows us to appreciate the utterly gratuitous dimension of love, which never ceases to amaze us. It is the beauty of being loved first: Children are loved even before they arrive."

    The Bible makes the point that the person who accepts children lovingly from God is blessed. As Psalm 127:3-5 puts it, "Certainly sons are a gift from the Lord, the fruit of the womb, a reward.Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons born in one's youth. Blessed is the man who has filled his quiver with them." Genesis 1:28 says, "Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth."

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses the importance of fertility in marriage. Quoting, the Second Vatican Council's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, the catechism in No. 1652 says, "By its very nature, the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring, and it is in them it finds its crowning glory."

    The catechism adds that "children are the supreme gift of marriage and contribute greatly to the good of the parents themselves." In so doing, marriage is at the service of life.

    The catechism encourages (in No. 1654) those who cannot have children to have a "conjugal life full of meaning," radiating the fruits of charity, hospitality and sacrifice.

    In the Catholic rite of matrimony, the couple is asked, "Will you accept children lovingly from God and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his church?" In their consent to this question, the couple commits themselves to bring new life into the world.

    In this way, says the catechism in No. 1639, the "covenant between the spouses is integrated into God's covenant" with us, and "authentic married love is caught up into divine love."

    While children are to be accepted willingly and loving, Pope Francis also notes that "couples are to use their inviolable liberty wisely and responsibly" in deciding how many children to have and when to have them.

    Having children brings with it the requirement to educate and nurture them, and prepare them for life everlasting, and couples must be aware of this responsibility.

    (Mulhall is a freelance writer and a catechist. He is father of three children and has two grandchildren.)


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    During a general audience on Feb. 11, 2015, Pope Francis spoke of children in a family and in society.

    "The joy of children," he said, "causes the parents' hearts to beat and reopens the future. Children are the joy of the family and of society. They are not a question of reproductive biology, nor one of the many ways to fulfill oneself, much less a possession of their parents."

    He also acknowledged some of the challenges that children are facing, of having a parent who might have taken "a step backward," causing the child to be uncertain of taking steps forward later on in life. The pope also seemed to reprimand those afraid to welcome children, either into family into society.

    A society that "does not love being surrounded by children, that considers them above all a worry, a weight, a risk, is a depressed society," he said.

    He continued: "Let us consider the many societies we know here in Europe: They are depressed societies, because they do not want children, they are not having children, the birth rate does not reach 1 percent. Why? Let each of us consider and respond. If a family with many children is looked upon as a weight, something is wrong!"



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