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A “Bonus Baby” Brought Us into the Catholic Church

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The wisdom and beauty of the Church’s teaching on family, marriage and sexuality continue to attract

He drinks vast, bewildering amounts of milk. He seems to feel that doors will not safely close unless they’re slammed. He walks as if he’s imitating in double-time a movie Tyrannosaurus Rex (not Boom! . . . Boom! . . . Boom! but Boom!Boom!Boom!Boom!Boom!). He is not adequately ardent about washing the dishes. His showers, if he is not ordered out, lower the town’s reservoir an inch or two. He has memorized pretty much the entire Calvin and Hobbes corpus, as well as the Tintin and Asterix books, and is the one we ask to fix the family’s computers, though we only have him work on things like cleaning the gutters under supervision, disliking trips to the emergency room.

That is our youngest child, born when my wife and I were of advanced years, thanks to our accepting the Catholic teaching on marriage when we were still Protestants. Openness to life sometimes produces life (now there’s a surprise) and if you’re old enough gives you what is called a “trailer” or a “bonus baby.”

We were happy but our friends less so — not, I think, because they were thinking about us and how we might feel, but because we had done something that was Simply Not Done. It wasn’t really a practical possibility for anyone we knew (the use of the conception-avoidance technologies was nearly universal, I’m sure) and not at all an imaginative one. They could not conceive that a couple of our age might “risk” pregnancy. Even our sophisticated friends would make jokes like “Well, how’d that happen?” said with faux shock and “You do know what causes that, don’t you?” said with mock seriousness. Only their sophistication kept them from elbowing me in the ribs and saying “Get it?!”

The teaching and the incarnate fruit of that teaching pointed us to the Catholic Church, as something more than a source of useful ideas. The contrast between the joy of having a child and our friends’ belief that one couldn’t possibly want a child at our age told us something about the Church as a voice that speaks the counter-cultural truth. We love our youngest and cannot imagine life without him.

Chesterton famously said, in his book The Catholic Church and Conversion, “We do not really want a religion that is right where we are right. We want a religion that is right where we are wrong.” Though it is true in theory, I’m not sure that’s completely true in practice, given the complicated ways people come to the Church. In our case, we did want a church that was right where we were right, but even more we wanted a church that was right where we were right and our culture wrong.

We had seen something with the Church’s aid nothing in our backgrounds supported. When I was younger I had found the Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage as baffling as a taste for eating grubs or watching cricket. Even with my crunchy-granola upbringing, I had no feeling that the nature of sexual intimacy had anything to do with nature, and that nature had anything to do with God.

Not avoiding children was something other people did, which meant, even for the supposedly egalitarian WASP lefties of my circles, working class Irish and Italians who did many other things that we didn’t understand, like put big statues of Mary in their front yards and go to church at odd hours of the day. Having big families was just one of the weird things they did.

And now I find myself among them and to be living a life my twenty-something self would not recognize, and finding it good. That is one reason that when asked I was pleased to sign the Open Letter to the Synod from Over 100 Converts. I’m one of those who were brought to the Church “in large part because of what she proposes about the human being in her teaching about sexual difference, sexuality, marriage and the family,” and who find the wisdom and beauty of the Church’s teaching a continuous attraction.

We’ve been blessed that the matter of divorce and remarriage, the teaching with which the convert letter is mainly concerned, has not been a live one for us, but the parts of the package we have experienced have been blessings, though not unmixed with difficulty and pain. I am sure the Church is right about the parts of the package I haven’t experienced, and that something would be lost if she in any official way diminished the teaching.

Were I to feel any doubts about this, the sounds of an imitation dinosaur stomping by, slamming the bathroom door, and beginning a marathon shower, while dishes sit in the sink awaiting washing, would remind me.

 

David Mills, former executive editor of First Things, is a senior editor of The Stream, editorial director for Ethika Politika, and columnist for several Catholic publications. His latest book is Discovering Mary. Follow him @DavidMillsWrtng.

 

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