Saturday, January 31, 2009

Another aspect of Life to consider

I was reading today in the January 26 issue of Newsweek a story about the Boomer generation and some of the related aspects that President Obama will have to deal with during the next four years.

One of these items struck me. We all know that our population is graying. What do I mean by that? Well, in statistics that Newsweek sites, in 1960, only 1 in 11 Americans was 65 or older. Today that number is 1 in 7, and by 2030 it will be 1 in 5.

This growing top-heaviness to our population is what puts the Social Security System in peril. There are increasingly fewer people in the workforce to pay for the also increasing number of people in need of Social Security dollars. Another statistic: in 1950 there were 16.5 workers for every person seeking benefits. By 2050 there will only be 2 workers for every person seeking retirement benefits.

So, what does this have to do with the Cause of Life? With being Pro-Life? We so often focus our pro-life energies on the issue of abortion, as we should. But, too often we completely forget or ignore the many other issues that are part of being pro-life. Issues like poverty, health care, the death penalty, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, domestic violence, women's issues, etc. But, these all have an impact, maybe even have a larger impact than abortion, but they are much less visible.

Let's take this issue of the growing number of elderly; shrinking number of young workers. Notice the timeline. The last time there were an abundance of workers per elderly was in the 1960s. This is just about the time that the Sexual Revolution took place. This was just about the time that Catholics en masse began to reject the church's teaching against the use of birth control.

The result has been an ever shrinking family for the last 40 years. As of the 2000 census, the average family size in America is 3 - two parents, one child. In 1960, the average Catholic family had 6 members - two parents, four children.

Today, virtually every Catholic family has embraced the use of contraception to limit their family size. It is very rare to see today what used to be the typical large Catholic family. In my own parish, with over 2,000 families, I can think of fewer than six families who have an above average family size.

The economics of this typically is that people cannot afford their lavish lifestyles if they have too many children. Just look at home sizes. As our families have shrunk, our houses have bulged. In 1970, the average U.S. home size was 1,400 square feet. In 2004, that had greatly expanded to an average home size of 2,330 square feet.

And yet, look at the economic mess writ large that we create by caring primarily about our economic super-abundance at home.

So, what are some of the societal consequences of artificially limiting our family sizes? Well, this issue of caring for our elders (in other words, you and me in just a few decades) is seriously in peril. There simply isn't the young vibrant workforce to support our graying population.

What are some of the consequences to the church? Just think of a lot of hotbed issues facing the Church today. Most dioceses are in the clutches of closing church buildings on a massive scale. The Albany Diocese two weeks ago for example just announced the closure of more than 30 places. Do you think this is all due to fewer people going to church? No way. That is certainly part of it, but the other reality is that when you couple that with our smaller families those empty spaces between you in the pews should have been your three other children.

How about the so-called vocation crisis? Again, when a family had four or more children it wasn't unsual for one or more of them to pursue a vocation to the priesthood or consecrated religious life. Today, when there is only one person to carry on the family name; only one person to give the parents eventual grandchildren; families just no longer support or encourage their own children to pursue a vocation - the consequence is too great.

But, it is exactly this issue of small family size that has forced us into a false choice. We shouldn't have to choose between being a priest or letting the family name die; being a nun or producing grandchildren. These are the unnoticed consequences of what seems like a small and unimportant action.

We quite simply, on the whole, have stopped trusting God in our lives. God will give you what you should have an what you can handle. The question is whether it is more important to follow God's way and will or have the 2,300 square foot home, the three or four cars (yes, I know countless families who have more cars than people in their homes), go on the exotic vacations, etc.

My conclusions are simple:

1. God's way is always the right way for us and our lives.
2. Large families are a sign of the prosperity that God wants each of us to have ("Be fruitful and multiply")
3. There are consequences that go far beyond the immediacy of our "nuclear" family when we choose our own path and own gratification over the plan that God has laid out for us.

That's my thought for the day. What are your thoughts? (Please post them as a comment below.)

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