My FB newsfeed imploded with Pope Francis’ recent remarks on rabbits. Supposedly (if the secular media were to be believed), he counseled Catholics in general not to breed like rabbits. In reality, the translation was inaccurate and he addressed that as an exception to one woman who's had 8 C-sections. (To find out what he said, why and to whom read the amazing Its not about rabbits and maybe its not about you post.) There’s some dismay, hurt, and outrage over this, but there are also rational Catholics who calmly forayed into the blogosphere to explain that he wasn’t saying contrary to Catholic doctrine.
My reaction? Ee-I-ee-I-oh! (which translated from rabbit language means...)
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Look. When Pope Francis was in Sri Lanka, he was welcomed by forty elephants in fancy sequined Bollywood attire. When he visited the Philippines (my country of birth), he met with 40 chosen Jesuits, and there was one-upmanship ribbing going on from the Filipino Jesuits that if Sri Lanka had elephants to offer, the Philippines had its prize Jesuits. The Pope cracked his own joke saying that the 40 elephants were better dressed than his audience.
The Pope has a sense of humor, and I like to think I do. Sometimes, as a writer, my similes and metaphors can unintentionally offend my readers, but I can take what I can dish (mostly), and this time, I’m glad that my procreating gifts and size were not alluded to a circus elephant. (I happen to think bunnies are cute, no offense to garden and elephant lovers.)
Seriously, though, the recent discussions on family planning have me thinking about what the Church has taught us about procreation and contraception through the ages. To me, the Pope didn’t say anything new. If anything, he reaffirmed the importance of discernment (yay for Ignatian spirituality!) of family size. Not all of us are called to mother large families. I know this from 3 children, 1 in utero and 3 miscarriages.
If you want to read more profound explanations, Dr. Gregory Popcack, Leila Miller and Simcha Fisher’s articles clarify why the Pope really just reiterated what the Church teaches. Children are a treasure to marriage. We have the gift to discern family size, instead of procreating randomly. And we are to use the natural means of family spacing (self-control) and maintain openness to life, because God can always override our own plans. Same old Catechism, same old.
The Pope knows his Catechism, trust me and his heart is with families and for families. Let me show you a portion of the most moving speech Pope Francis made in the Philippines, addressed to families:
“The family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life.
“I think of Blessed Paul VI in the moment of that challenge of population growth, he had the strength to defend openness to life. He knew the difficulties families experience and that’s why in his encyclical (Humanae Vitae) he expressed compassion for specific cases and he taught professors to be particularly compassionate for particular cases. And he went further, he looked at the people on the earth and he saw that lack (of children) and the problem it could cause families in the future. Paul VI was courageous, a good pastor and he warned his sheep about the wolves that were approaching. And from the heavens he blesses us today.
“Our world needs good and strong families to overcome these threats! The Philippines needs holy and loving families to protect the beauty and truth of the family in God’s plan and to be a support and example for other families. Every threat to the family is a threat to society itself. The future of humanity, as Saint John Paul II often said, passes through the family (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 85). So protect your families! See in them your country’s greatest treasure and nourish them always by prayer and the grace of the sacraments. Families will always have their trials, but may you never add to them! Instead, be living examples of love, forgiveness and care. Be sanctuaries of respect for life, proclaiming the sacredness of every human life from conception to natural death. What a gift this would be to society, if every Christian family lived fully its noble vocation!
“So rise with Jesus and Mary, and set out on the path the Lord traces for each of you… When families bring children into the world, train them in faith and sound values, and teach them to contribute to society, they become a blessing in our world.”
I hope what the Pope’s headline-grabbing colorful comments do for Catholics everywhere is make them scramble to read the Church documents on natural family planning, raising families and arrange their priorities. And I hope that those who’ve been hurt by unintended consequences will offer up their crosses in reparation for the sins against purity and for conversions everywhere or seize this opportunity to evangelize, instead of taking to the streets with pitchforks and aiming for the Vicar of Christ.
I believe Pope Francis was chosen by the Holy Spirit for such a time as this. When the supertyphoon blasted the Philippines, no one could foresee it would be the invitation Pope Francis would need to schedule a visit. Or that his visit would reignite the faith of the hearts of a struggling Catholic nation. But sooner or later, we discover that in Christ, our heaviest cross becomes our greatest blessing.