Pope Francis on Wednesday came out in strong defense of large families and encouraged married couples to treasure each child as a gift from God.
Speaking to pilgrims at the General Audience in a sunny St Peter’s Square, the Pope dedicated the latest in his new series of catecheses on the family to children.
The Holy Father took as the basis of his reflection the beautiful Old Testament passage from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, which speaks of a parent’s joy in being surrounded by many sons and daughters: “They all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried in the arms. Then you shall see and be radiant, your heart shall thrill and rejoice” (60:4-5a).
“There is a close bond between the hope of a people and the harmony between the generations,” he said. “The joy of children makes the hearts of their parents throb and opens up the future. Children are the joy of families and society.”
Pope Francis then forcefully stated: “Children are not a problem of reproductive biology, or one of many ways to realize oneself [in life], let alone their parent’s possession. Children are a gift. Do you understand? Children are a gift!”
Indeed, he observed, a child carries within him or herself the memory and hope of a love that sparked the life of another unique, unrepeatable human person, willed by God for his or her own sake.
He therefore reminded parents: “One loves a son or daughter because he or she is one’s child, not because he or she is beautiful, healthy or good; not because he or she thinks like me or incarnates my desires. A child’s life is intended … for his or her own good, for the good of the family, of society, of all humanity.”
The 78-year old pontiff also noted that children allow us to discover what he called, “loves most gratuitous dimension”, i.e. “the beauty of being loved first”.
“How often do I meet mothers in the square who show me their belly and ask my blessing,” he said. “These children are loved before they come into the world. This is gratuitousness. This is love. They are loved before they are born, like the love of God, who always loves us first.”
In fact, he continued, being a child is the fundamental condition for knowing the love of God, who is the ultimate source of the true miracle and dignity of every human life.
“Fathers … have perhaps taken a step back, and children have become more uncertain in taking steps forward” but “the heavenly Father leaves each of us free, but he never leaves us alone. If we fail, he continues to follow us patiently without diminishing his love for us. The heavenly Father never steps back in his love for us, never.”
The Pope then elaborated on the harmony that should exist between the younger and older generations, saying: “Children should always be valued, and parents should always be honored.” He also noted that a strong bond between the generations is a hallmark of a healthy society, while the lack of such harmony and mutual care is a sure sign of its decline.
“A society of children who do not honor their parents is a society without honor. When one doesn’t honor one’s parents one loses one’s honor. It is a society destined to be filled with greedy and insensitive young people.”
Pointing to low birthrates in Western societies, Pope Francis then said: “A society that is greedy when it comes to having children, that doesn’t love to be surrounded by children, that considers them above all to be a bother, a burden, and a risk, is a depressed society.”
“If a family with many children is looked upon as if it were a burden, there is something wrong,” he said.
The Pope then cited Blessed Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, saying: “having more children cannot be automatically viewed as an irresponsible choice.” In fact, he boldly said, “deciding not have children is a selfish choice. Life rejuvenates and acquires fresh energy by being fruitful: it is enriched, not impoverished!”
Pope Francis concluded by asking Jesus, who became a child for us, to help the world to rediscover the simple yet profound experience of being a child. He called upon the faithful to defend the noble beauty of large families. And he invited married couples to live out their love for God and one another by welcoming each child as a treasure from God “in faith, and in perfect joy.”