Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 31, 2015 Column Father De Celles

The March for Life. The week before last I was able to sneak away for a week’s vacation in Florida to play golf with some priest friends. It was great, in the 70s (the temperatures, not my scores) and sunny all week. When I returned late on Wednesday, January 21, just in time for the March for Life on the 22nd, it seemed like God allowed me to bring some of the warmth and sun back with me, as we had beautiful weather for the March, sunny with temperatures in the mid-40s. This helped bring out the crowds as 3 bus loads of St. Raymond parishioners and friends joined hundreds of thousands of marchers gathered from around the country.

What always strikes me about the crowd is that it is dominated by enthusiastic young people; contrary to the image often portrayed by the media, this is not the work of older or bitter folks. The Cardinal Newman Society reports that thousands of college students traveled from all over the country to be there, including: 215 from Ave Maria University (Fla.), 93 from Belmont Abbey College (N.C.), 300 from Benedictine College (Kan.), 800 from Franciscan University of Steubenville (Oh.), and 38 from The University of St. Thomas (Tx.).

It was a glorious day to defend the unborn and their mothers, and a great opportunity for fellowship, both at the March and afterward at the chili dinner in the parish hall. Thanks to all who did so much to make the day so wonderful, especially Liz Hildebrand.


Large Families. One of the other things that strikes me every year at the March for Life is the number of children, especially in large families. This always reminds me of the inherent connection between abortion and contraception. As Popes St. John Paul II, Bd. Paul VI and Benedict XVI so often reminded us, a contraceptive mentality places men and women in opposition to life, trying to make themselves, rather than God, the masters of life and death. So that when contraception fails they often see abortion as a backup form of contraception. To be contra (against) conception is to be contra life.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that spouses are required to have all the children they physically can. As Paul VI taught in Humanae Vitae (10), parenthood must be exercised in a responsible way. Unfortunately, the idea of “responsible parenthood” is often misunderstood. Consider the actual words of Pope Paul:

“In relation to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised, either by the deliberate and generous decision to raise a numerous family, or by the decision, made for serious reasons and with due respect for the moral law, to avoid for the time being, or even for an indeterminate period, a new birth….Responsible parenthood also and above all implies a more profound relationship to the objective moral order established by God…”

Some argue that “responsible parenthood” always requires families to limit the number of their children. But Humanae Vitae rejects that, and places “the deliberate and generous decision to raise a numerous familyfirst on its list of ways to exercise responsible parenthood. It is true that couples may consider “serious reasons” to postpone conception (even indefinitely) through natural means (i.e., not contraception), but choosing to have more children is not, in itself, irresponsible, and the choice is left up to the prudential judgment of the couple, bound only by the moral law.

Still, the opposition and confusion regarding this doctrine led many to pounce on and exaggerate the importance of some off the cuff remarks Pope Francis made in a recent interview:

“I reproached a woman…because she was pregnant with her eighth child, after having had seven C-sections. But does she want to leave the seven as orphans? This is to tempt God. …That is an irresponsibility. That woman might say ‘no, I trust in God.’ But, look, God gives you means to be responsible. Some think that — excuse the language — that in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits. No. Responsible parenthood.”

Assuming there was no mistranslation (as is often the case), this is confusing in the light of official and unchangeable Church teaching. But remember this is an answer given by the 78 year old pontiff in the middle of a long interview with several reporters on a long flight returning from his exhausting trip to the Philippines. If we look at the rest of the interview, we see that the exhausted Pope struggled to present a more complete picture of church teaching. For example, he also said: “I think the number of three children per family that you mentioned – it makes me suffer,” and, “…for the most poor people, a child is a treasure.…let us also look at the generosity of that father and mother who see a treasure in every child.” Moreover, for the last few months Pope Francis has been praising Pope Paul VI and his teaching in Humanae Vitae on responsible parenthood and against contraception.

He seems to have recognized the confusion he caused, as he tried to “reframe” his remarks in his very next General Audience (January 21): “It gave us consolation and hope to see so many large families that welcome children as a true gift of God. They know that every child is a gift of God. I heard it said that families with many children and the birth of so many children are among the causes of poverty. It seems to me to be a simplistic opinion.”

There is no doubt that sometimes Pope Francis says some confusing things, especially in his interviews. As former archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Francis George, said recently (before this recent papal interview):

“I can see why some people might be anxious. If you don’t push it, he does seem to bring into question well-received doctrinal teaching. But when you look at it again, especially when you listen to his homilies in particular, you see that’s not it… Does he not realize the consequences of some of his statements? Does he not realize the repercussions? Perhaps he doesn’t.”

In another interview in September 2013 the Holy Father admitted that he “has great difficulty in giving interviews,” and in yet another recent interview, he downplayed the importance of his interviews and told the faithful to read his actual official writings.

So read the official teaching, and don’t be so concerned about his off the cuff statements and such. And remember, as I’ve said before: no doctrine has changed. God bless Pope Francis!


Upcoming. The Religious Freedom and Marriage Committee is once again sponsoring a St. Valentine’s Day dinner party for engaged and married couples on February 14th—get your tickets before they’re sold out, like last year. Also, the parish will sponsor a private screening of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” on Sunday, February 22 (First Sunday of Lent) at Kingstowne Theater in Alexandria. Details will be forthcoming soon.


Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles