Image Credit: CNS photo/Greg Shemitz
IN A NUTSHELL
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
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
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
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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as the supreme gift to a marriage
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."
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
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."
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.
catechism encourages (in No. 1654) those who cannot have children to have a
"conjugal life full of meaning," radiating the fruits of charity, hospitality
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
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
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FOOD FOR THOUGHT
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
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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