"Open to Life" And Other Simple Phrases

There is a very interesting debate going on among some of my favorite blogging dames. Danielle Bean (here) and Erin Manning (here and here) are discussing some of the issues surrounding family planning. Actually they are discussing how some of the issues surrounding family planning are discussed. I find this fascinating in that words are so key to proper understanding, but understanding is also very key to words.

I know that probably did not make much sense. Sometimes when we speak or write we assume that the words we use are properly and easily understood by others. When an apparent disconnect arises, it can be very frustrating. Just the other day, I wrote a post about eschatology. In the combox I got a lil' grumpy because I felt as if my "obvious" points were being repeatedly missed. Matthew reminded me that people did not understand the words I was using in the same way that I meant them. I then told Matthew that he is an idiot and to leave me alone. However, when I went back the next day an re-read my post and the comments, I realized that he was actually right. Hey, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Anyway, due to my own familiarity with the subject about which I was writing, I realized that I was using words in a way in which they would not be properly understood. I assumed context would clarify, but it was actually lazy writing on my part. When I referred simply to "eschatology" I should have made the distinction between universal or cosmic eschatology and personal or individual eschatology. I thought that the context would make it clear but I was wrong. So me and my combox buddies talked past each other for a while even though we were using the same words.

This brings me back to the discussion about how to discuss family planning and the use of one simple and easily understood phrase, "open to life" We all know what that means, don't we? Well, don't we?

Does to be "open to life" mean "Have as many babies as humanly possible?" or that even NFP is bad? Does spacing children or waiting make you less "open to life" even if you are not using illicit means? Conversely, does having another child when your resources (define that one, I dare you) are already strained mean that you are not family planning, just reproducing? Does trusting God when with another when others think it is irresponsible mean you are not a good parent to those children already in your care?

Point is, "open to life" means different things to different people. Add to this the deep emotion people feel on this topic and it is very easy for people to talk past each other even though they are using the same words. Further exacerbating this discussion, and many many many discussions all over the Catholic blogsophere, are those who always think that they are more Catholic than you. It doesn't matter where you come down on an issue, there is always somebody more Catholic than you ready to tell you what you are doing wrong and why you should be shopping for a time share in hell. I just love those guys.

Anyway, this is all just a long way of saying that I learned and important lesson this week. Next time when I am frustrated that otherwise smart people are missing my point, I will try to step back and look at my terms. Chances are, we are not speaking the same language.

As for what "open to life" really means, I certainly know the correct answer. However, I am not saying anything because when men speak on this subject, we are absolutely guaranteed to be misunderstood.

Comments

  1. I thought "open to life" mean having kids and then getting to get out of the house for eight hours a day at work only to come home and have a frazzled wife dump them in your lap and for Mommy Time :).

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  2. In Machen's landmark "Christianity and Liberalism" he proposes that Liberalism is an entirely new religion.

    It uses the exact same words as Christianity, but means them in entirely different (and often opposite) ways to express ideas that are contrary to the core Christian confessions. Thus a liberal and a Christian can write the same sentence using the same words, and have exactly opposite meanings.

    He has right 80 years ago, and he is right today.

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  3. Wouldn't it be nice if everyone would read Love and Responsibility by Karol Wojtyla; then emulate the love, understanding and compassion of that amazing bishop who became the great John Paul II before continuing further divisive internet discussions on how to define open to life, the valid reasons to limit family size, who's being faithful to Church teaching, who isn't and so on.

    Several years ago, on a very popular Catholic homeschooling yahoo group, this conversation would come up frequently. One of the group owner's was very adamant that what the Church meant was, unless the mom had one foot in the grave and then it was still iffy, Catholic families were call to have as many children as came along. If they would only trust God, He would take care of everything. She declared a lack of trust in God's providence caused families to have to chose between paying rent or buying groceries. She would completely deny that the virtue of prudence had anything to do with determining what was right for individual families. Yet isn't prudence the charioteer of the virtues?

    I personally know a mother who was very influenced by this woman's philosophy. Even though this mom suffers from severe depression and debilitating joint disease and abuses her children verbally and emotionally, she believed that being generous meant having more children even though she isn't to be a loving mother. Sometimes, getting pregnant and having another baby is the easy way.

    Among the crowd, who rightly states having more children in less then ideal circumstances is not necessarily wrong but possibly humble and heroic, there is a lack of understanding that to deny one's family the gift of another baby is a huge sacrifice. The idea that having another baby is the only huge sacrifice doesn't actually say much for what one truly thinks of children. I believe that this is not a purposeful oversight, just something never considered. Along the same lines, where is the sacrifice in never saying no to the marital embrace even when it is very difficult. I remember my grandmother telling us she would say to her dear husband, "Oh, Richard, you need to pray some Our Fathers."

    I am very frustrated by the sheer volume of small families in our parish and the willingness of the couples to contracept. Living a life-style that includes NFP means each and every marital act is open to life. Openness to life is not exclusive to couples who are actively trying to conceive, it also defines those who have prudently decided that it is God's will for them to not have another child at this time. Open to life does not include contraception which NFP is not by it's very nature.

    mom to seven plus one in God's care

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  4. "...there is always somebody more Catholic than you ready to tell you what you are doing wrong and why you should be shopping for a time share in hell." Precisely!

    That is why I dropped out of most email parenting/schooling/religion chat groups. There was a lot of correction which was neither charitable nor sororal. And I have six (mostly) homeschooled kids or varying degrees of piety. The rest of my little world considers me to be something of a 'holy roller,' but my online comrades often addressed as though I should just sign my name Satan's Little Helper.

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  5. To me, "open to life" means that even if NFP is used, if you become pregnant you are joyful. Open to life means suborning yourself to God's will.

    Like I told my older daughter: "When you have sex with your husband, and a child is conceived, a new soul is created. Where did that soul come from? God doesn't have an 'assembly line' of souls dropping from heaven, so there has to be Godly intervention. This means that when a new child is created, God touches you. Contraception is slapping God's hand and telling Him: 'Don't touch!'"

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  6. Hey, Patrick, thanks for writing this!

    So often when we disagree about these things it boils down to semantics. As I wrote privately to Danielle, I'm the second oldest of nine, so it took me a while to read the phrase "responsible parenthood" in Church without assuming--very wrongly--that some liberal faction in the Church had come up with the idea to diss families like mine.

    What I came to realize, though, is that my parents *were* responsible parents. They made a lot of sacrifices and worked very hard, but they never needed government aid, and we always had food, clothes, shelter, and education.

    And that's all the Church means to say: parents do have obligations to their children, and those obligations and the ability to meet them are among the prudential considerations to make when prayerfully considering adding, or postponing additions, to one's family. The fact that one is accepting government aid is NOT an automatic disqualifier for having additional children, but as I wrote, I do think being realistic about the fact that such aid can disappear overnight is one more factor to consider.

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  7. Don't miss Danielle's follow-up post,
    "3 Things I Wish More People Knew" (with a bonus fourth thing):

    http://daniellebean.com/2008/08/08/3-things-i-wish-more-people-knew/

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  8. "dames"? I'm not sure broads appreciate that term.

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  9. Whoa ho ho Daddio. Why don't you ask your little woman what she thinks!

    : )

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  10. "I personally know a mother who was very influenced by this woman's philosophy. Even though this mom suffers from severe depression and debilitating joint disease and abuses her children verbally and emotionally, she believed that being generous meant having more children even though she isn't to be a loving mother. Sometimes, getting pregnant and having another baby is the easy way."

    The plural of anecdote is not data.

    By definition she is abusive and unbalanced and is not representative of the proper approach to these things.

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  11. Thank you for a little comic relief!

    God Bless,
    Jane

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  12. In this wonderful era of tolerance and diversity, don't we all just respect each other's uniqueness?

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  13. Well I suppose if we are define the term "open to life", I define it exactly the same way that Danielle defines it.

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  14. "The plural of anecdote is not data.

    By definition she is abusive and unbalanced and is not representative of the proper approach to these things."

    LCB - I agree that the plural of anecdote is not data. However, my point is when influential women bloggers, especially respected homeschooling moms suggest that the answer to all of a family's problems is to "trust God" and have another baby, they are influencing real, live moms, dad and children in possibly very vulnerable situations.

    I find it frustrating that the answer of practicing more self-control then one wishes to is not even suggested or that the fact that not having another baby is not though of as a sacrifice.

    Mom to seven plus one in God's care

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  15. Please accept my apologies for the typos in my commentat 8:48 p.m., that's what happens when I am so interested in an internet conversation that even a distractingly stinky nursing toddler doesn't tear me away from the keyboard :-)

    Anyway - I should follow my own advise and re-read Love and Responsibility. I don't believe anyone adresses these issues as well as JPII already has!

    Mom to seven plus one in God's care

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  16. Hi - I would like to chime in and agree with "Mom to seven plus one in God's care".

    I am the proud mum to 6 children and getting on in years.

    For us the key word is "sacrifice": in discerning family size that must be part of it. I believe it must sting a little when a couple decides through prayer "no more" or when a couple decides "yes, let's try again".

    Sacrifice - one way or another, that's what true love is, no?

    That's what JESUS did anyway.

    I also believe firmly in practicing hard St. Paul's words of husbands loving their wives as CHRIST loved the Church and of wives submitting to such CHRIST-like husbands. A lot of grief could be avoided if wives stepped back and allowed their husbands the GOD-given leadership role.
    Blessings,
    Mum26

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  17. I'm an adult child of Catholic parents who deliberately chose to have no more kids after me (by contraception). They always told me they did so that I would benefit, that they had sacrificed having more kids for my education. My folks didn't consider that they deprived me of siblings, which I deeply regret not having. Sometimes I think it would be a good thing for NFP for more adults from big families to talk about the blessings of growing up in a crowd. Having adult friends from big, close families was certainly important for me to make different choices than my parents did.

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