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Loving children in our families can help us love the world

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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.

A family prays together before a meal in 2012 at their Chicago home. The Bible makes the point that the person who accepts children lovingly from God is blessed. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)
A family prays together before a meal in 2012 at their Chicago home. The Bible makes the point that the person who accepts children lovingly from God is blessed. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

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,