In light of JP2's beautification this weekend, and a curious question from my 7 year old, I have come to ponder the connection between Natural Family Planning and one possible solution for the vocations crisis.
Through John Paul's wisdom and Theology of the Body, the concept of chaste marriages has now been reclaimed and on the rise again. NFP families realize the beauty and need for discernment within their marriage and the generosity to have more children has played on our hearts. Even those families that don't necessarily need to use an "NFP method", but are living out chaste marriages, are still part of this same movement that can help grow the church.
It was not uncommon, decades ago, for our grandparents and great-grandparents to commonly have 7 or more children. In a Catholic family the odds of at least one vocation coming from this bunch was very likely, even common. But with the rise of Modern Catholicism (and easy contraception) beginning in the 60's, even a family of 7 could be lacking a vocation. And these children as adults exprienced an influx of divorce and contraception in their own marriages as the message to raise holy families was stifled by both the silence of the church and the clamor of the culture. Satan succeeded to hold back the beauty of the Church in the minds of those young people who were sent out into a new selfish world of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Those distractions were the perfect formula for silencing the call to religious life for countless men and women.
The other day, my 7 year old daughter said she was worried that she might have a call to be a nun, but yet she so badly wants to be a wife and mother. She wondered if other sisters once wanted a family of their own. We had a long discussion about the process of discernment, and I ran across this recent article on vocations from the National Catholic Register that was also very helpful to her. But for my 7 year old to even be asking this question reminds me why a husband and wife should be careful to discern the size of their family in light of the needs of the whole church, and not just their immediate family.
Another factor to larger families contributing to vocations would be the care of aging parents. It's no secret that our generation is about to experience a sharp rise in the elderly population. This wouldn't be so much of a problem if that same generation hadn't stopped reproducing at a rate high enough to replace themselves and to take care of them. A child of a larger family on the other hand can feel free to follow a possible calling to "leave this world" with the peace and assurance of siblings to take care of their parents. Consider the story of St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei. He wanted to become a priest, but doubted his calling for a time, especially after the death of his 3 younger siblings that left only his oldest sister. He then begged the Lord to send another son to carry on the family name. He got his answer when his parents were blessed with another son though later in their marriage.
Other typical characteristics of NFP families that might make vocations more likely would be: the nearly non-existant divorce rate, providing a stable environment which emphasizes the lifetime commitment of one's vocation. There is also their likely obedience to Holy Mother Church, as they are arguably already most obedient in what is arguably the hardest moral issue to overcome in our modern times. And finally the witness to their children of the need for prayer and discernment about life decisions. Not to mention the obvious witness of chastity according to their state in life!
A new springtime of Evangelization is on the horizon. Take a stroll down the streets of Steubenville University, meet the families of College Station, TX (affectionately known as Stuebenville South), or attend a Youth 2000 retreat, and you will feel quite encouraged I'm sure. Even the rise in requiring precana NFP classes, along with inspiring marriage preparation programs from the likes of Christopher West, is a great stepping stone to seeing the fruit of this theory of an NFP/Vocations connection.
I would never suggest that there is one "magic bullet" to cure the current vocations crisis. But one common thread that I seem to find among young vocations is 1st their commitment to prayer and eucharistic adoration, and second, their roots in a large and devout Catholic family. As my husband and I attend more potlucks and parties with other "NFPers", we relish at the sight of more children than adults. It's the only place we don't have to explain the origin of our daughter Gianna's name. And if we call our son "John Paul!" into the crowd, and more than one child comes running, we can't help but smile :)