By Kathleen Naab
CHICAGO, Illinois, JAN. 12, 2009 (Zenit.org).- God the Father subjects to human free will his desire to pour out new life -- and the rewards of responding to this desire are countless, says a couple that has parented 19 children.
James and Kathleen Littleton wrote about their experience of responding to God's creative love in a book about raising their 14 living children, "Better by the Dozen, Plus Two."
The Littletons also spoke with ZENIT about their decision to have such a large family, and why it required separating themselves from prevailing cultural opinions, even perhaps among Catholics.
Part 2 of this interview will be published Tuesday.
Q: What do you suggest for couples seeking to discern what God asks of them through the Church's call to responsible parenthood?
James: Here I believe we are discussing openness to life within marriage. The answer to this question lies in the law of love, and also, of course, in hope and trust as opposed to fear, which so infects the world today. Kathleen and I made the regretful mistake of beginning our marriage succumbing to the lie of artificial contraception. By the sublime grace of God we converted from this error, and have been showered with the undeserved grace of having thus far 19 children, 14 living on earth and five in heaven.
The Church teaches that it is necessary that each and every marriage act remain ordered per se to the procreation of human life -- Catechism No. 2366. The Church does allow for couples to space the births of their children for just reasons via natural family planning. So we must deal with the subjective question of couples discovering the will of God each month regarding their openness and readiness to embrace and be open to co-creating new life in partnership with him, of bringing a beautiful new person into existence in time and eternity, an unrepeatable, unique human person with an irreplaceable and necessary mission for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.
This possibility is not an imposition, but rather a transcendent gift of the very creative power of God himself. It is humbling and awe-inspiring to think that our Heavenly Father chooses to subject his ache to pour out new life to the choice and generosity of human beings on whom he has bestowed yet another awesome power, that of free will. He will never interfere with our free will, yet ultimately we are called to respond to this and all his gifts in love.
The key virtue of hope, which our beloved Pope Benedict is attempting to turn the world toward, is vital with regard to openness to life in marriage. Kathleen and I have met so many people who only needed one word of encouragement or one example to find the hope and courage to do what they already knew they wanted in their hearts, what God wanted, to be open, if so blessed, to having another child in their marriage. Their sense of joy, relief, and peace was evident when they shared or implied their decision to be open to bring another life into time and eternity.
No, we are not saying that everyone needs to have as many children as physically possible without regard for their circumstances. But we are encouraging couples to be generous and re-evaluate the possibility of having another child if God grants this gift, to examine this in a prayerful way open to God's will, with a supernatural, faith-filled perspective.
When we pray and contemplate Jesus Christ and his love, and the magnificence of each human person in comparison with inferior things such as our fears, and yes, our tendency often toward selfishness and materialism, when most importantly we live the Eucharistic and sacramental life, when we seek the guidance of the sweet Guest of our souls, the Holy Spirit, and when we humble ourselves to seek the counsel of wise and holy people, our response to our merciful Father's gift of life will take on a new, deeper, and true perspective.
We suggest couples not apply their reason and intellect alone, or what the dominant culture attempts to impose, but also faith -- and even with a higher regard for faith -- so as not to try to make God small, not to put him in a tiny box. Our heavenly Father has the power and ability to provide all we need, and he will. He is never outdone in generosity. There is a great feeling of freedom and peace that one experiences when one takes a bit of a risk and puts out into the deep in love and trust in our infinitely loving God.
Kathleen: God is the one who creates, we are only cooperators. The creation of a new human life lies in God's will for us. It is up to God to bless us or not with a new child. This calls for great generosity, faith and trust in his plan for our marriage and our lives. But it is also very freeing -- to know that God is with us at every moment -- and if he created us, he will sustain us.
He also will give us the grace of state to be good parents and providers. And if he doesn't bless us with a child, that too is his will, and he intends only what is good for us. We only need to live each day with greater faith, love and generosity -- to ensure that God's will, not mine be done -- for this alone will make us happy and give us peace.
Q: You propose that the formation of a child starts with prayer while he or she is still in the womb. But does formation of character begin as early as infancy? And if so, how?
James: Yes, the formation and sanctification of children begins in the womb and certainly through infancy and beyond. Jesus is the one who sanctifies; we merely cooperate with his work. Consider Luke 1: 41, when John leaps in Elizabeth's womb at Mary's greeting -- this happens when we bring our babies in the womb and infants to Mass or for a visit to our Eucharistic Lord Jesus, where graces radiate from Christ into the souls of our children and of course into us.
There are many useful practical techniques available via various sources for formation of character at various ages, and we provide some of our ideas and experiences in our book. But suffice it to say that all techniques are fruitless unless connected to the vine of Jesus Christ. Here we see the primacy of grace, where in order to form our children in virtue we must first and foremost take them to Mass, as well as the other sacraments, especially the sacrament of penance, and pray with them.