Improvident but Cheerful: A Defense of the Unplanned Family

When Benjamin Bunny grew up he married his cousin Flopsy. They had a large family, and they were very improvident and cheerful…as there was not always quite enough to eat,- Benjamin used to borrow cabbages from Flopsy’s brother, Peter Rabbit, who kept a nursery garden.

Image result for benjamin bunny

Thus begins Beatrix Potter’s famous “The Tale of The Flopsy Bunnies.” Now I do not wish to be construed as one who supports those who break the Church’s holy law concerning consanguinity as an impediment to marriage. Nor do I want to accuse Benjamin Bunny of breaking this law, because it is not my understanding that it applies to rabbits as it does to human beings. But there is something about this passage that strikes me as right on the money. Especially the part about borrowing from one’s brother in law.

Image result for the flopsy bunnies

Pope Francis has explicitly and compellingly stated that Catholics do not necessarily need to behave like rabbits,

God gives you methods to be responsible,  Some think that — excuse the word — that in order to be good Catholics we have to be like rabbits. No.

The way I figure it is that the Pope was showing a great deal of merciful concern for families when he said this…especially for families in third world countries where there is absolutely no food or water, but there is  an abundance of disease and death and ignorance and gang violence and extreme poverty and what not.

Should such people behave like rabbits?

No!

But what I do know is that marriage is for the sake of children. In my apology to the Supreme Court of The United States of July 3, 2015 I defined marriage thus,

Marriage is a stable union, between a man and a woman, by mutual consent, for the sake of children.

It should be pointed out that when we say for the sake of children, we mean to include both the procreation and, even further, the liberal education of children. After all, it should be clear to everyone that the purpose of life is tied up with the proper cultivation of the mind and the heart.

Now the question is this: When a couple gets married, what should their view be concerning children?

The answer is: Stop planning!

Am I a providentialist? No! My advice is to just stop worrying about everything.

Just work hard and practice the faith and keep singing.

When I look around the pews at Sunday Mass it is evident to me that the effect of all that worry is fewer children.

Think of all those closed parishes (about 50 in my diocese).

Image result for closed parish

Think about all those merged and closed parochial  schools.

Image result for closed catholic schools

Does anyone live in a diocese where massive school closure is not an issue?

Where are the children? Well, among other things, worry and careful planning has eliminated them.

Image result for church service old people

Now, I need to make a confession:

I hate planning. I always have. I don’t like calendars and I refuse to think about retirement.

The result: (and this is sort of the elephant in the room right now) Twelve children!

If I were smarter and enjoyed planning and worrying and calculating, I am quite certain that I would only have one child.

And so you might be chuckling right now thinking,

“It’s all well and good for you for the time being, but why don’t we wait another twenty years when you are thinking about retirement? Tell us then about how well your lack of planning has worked!”

Image result for retirement

Ok…it is true. I probably should just keep quiet.

Solon, the great Athenian law giver, did say, “Call no man happy until he is dead.” By which I think he meant that we should reserve judgement about the success of a person’s life until we are in a position to make a judgement about the whole.

Image result for solon

My problem is that I will not be able to write this when I am dead. And so, aware of the risk, I am putting it out there right now while I am still “compos mentis” as they say.

Perhaps my advice is no good. Perhaps I will end up on the street homeless and too proud to beg. Perhaps I will one day wake up and say “Darn, I wish I didn’t have so many children!”

But I don’t think so.

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About marklangley

Academic Dean at The Lyceum (a school he founded in 2003, see theLyceum.org) Mark loves sacred music and Gregorian Chant and singing with his lovely wife, Stephanie, and their twelve children.
This entry was posted in ad libitum, beauty, Solon, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Improvident but Cheerful: A Defense of the Unplanned Family

  1. Mary L says:

    Dear Mark, my parents had nine children and didn’t plan for retirement, but so far we generous children have been helping out in various ways. My brother let them build a house on his land where they stayed for several years, then a sister and brother in law helped them purchase a home near them, and now as they are becoming frail and elderly, the same sister and brother in law help them with home maintenance, grocery shopping, driving to appointments, and all sorts of things. The rest of us have also pitched in with visits, money, and other stuff through Dad’s several strokes, and rehabiltations, to be with them both. They will celebrate 66 years of marriage this week. I think we are happy to be alive and to give back to them for all the years they gave to us.

    • Bernice says:

      Dear Mary, You are so right. My husband and I have 12 children and will celebrate our 68 wedding Anniversary in Aug. John is 9 yrs. older than I. (95) God has blessed us through our children.

  2. Dan Grimm says:

    Great article, Mark. Long before the Church had a pedophilia crisis, we had the pedophobia crisis (and the two are not unrelated). My parents had 17–we were never hungry, though we didn’t have much stuff. My wife and I only had 7. My father died surrounded by his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren (more than 200 in all). My mother will never be alone or uncared for because she loved with a generous heart and we return that love with gratitude.. In the economy of heaven, my parents’ choice is eminently practical: Life and its difficulties are short, but the love of families is eternal. What difficulty on earth could compare with the glory of having added so many souls through cooperation with God. By stopping the worrying and embracing life and love

  3. franciscus says:

    My parents were married in 1915 and had 16 children including 2 sets of twins in a 21 year period. One brother lived to his second year, the rest of us reached adulthood and all survived WW II. Four of us are still alive now.
    The word planning probably had not been invented yet, as well as retirement those days.

    • Amy says:

      Crazy! My parents were married in 1945 and had 16 children including 2 sets of twins in a 21 year period! I’m the 50-year old baby and Mom’s 93 with full faculties but moving a tad slower. Her retirement is no burden for there are many hands to help.

      Carry on, Mark.

  4. philokalos says:

    Funny: I looked at your tag cloud just now and thought at first that it was mine. 🙂

  5. Daniel Carriere says:

    Thanks for the article Mark. My wife and I just found out that we are expecting our seventh in September. The reaction of many around us has been challenging. Comments such as those from Pope Francis have also been discouraging for me personally. We did not plan this pregnancy. In fact, we were trying to avoid getting pregnant again.

    • Mary L says:

      Daniel, we “only” had five and I’m too old for any more now, but we are so blessed to have our last one, who was our only surprise. My second child at 15, said, “What would our life be like without her!”. She wanted us to have more, and indeed, we would have liked to, but the fifth was the last one.

  6. The Holy Father made his comments about a woman with seven children by cesarean literally the day before my convert wife entered the hospital to deliver our seventh child, all having been delivered by cesarean.

    She was quite angry about the comments, and said she wanted to ask him “Which should we not have had?”

    Like you, not a lot of planning. My wife hates calendars, so we have never bothered with NFP. Ironically, we seem to have the same number as our friends who do utilize it.

    We’ve been married 14 years now, and are firm believers in planning little.

    • Katherine says:

      I find it odd that Americans were upset about this comment. You know, we’re not the only ones in the Church and there are real, dire issues in the rest of the world that can’t be taken lightly. It doesn’t take heroic virtue for Americans in our plenty to have another child. (Fighting ridicule doesn’t count). it often does in other parts of the world. American Catholics need to learn that the Vatican doesn’t revolve around them.

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  8. valparaiso says:

    My retirement plan WAS to have lots of children.

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