FRITSCH: Culture of Life - Putting family over career

May 14, 2019

If you or someone you know is suffering after an abortion experience, the Archdiocesan Project Rachel ministry offers retreats, support groups and referrals for counseling and spiritual direction. All inquiries are strictly confidential. Contact Julie Fritsch at 713-741-8278 or jkfritsch@archgh.org or Zulema Gonzalez at 713-440-3443 or zgonzalez@archgh.org (en español).

A common goal of many pro-life advocates involves making abortion “not only illegal, but unthinkable.”

The phrase correctly implies that legal changes are only a beginning; to make real headway in building a culture of life, a paradigm shift in our own cultural attitudes and practices will be needed.

In many ways, abortion is not itself the central problem, but is rather symptomatic of deeper problems in our culture. To make the necessary change, we must evaluate and adapt our attitudes surrounding a culture of life; in particular, toward pregnancy, marriage and family.

As Catholics, we may perceive abortion as something that occurs in other communities, but which is not a significant issue in our own. The opposite is true. Around 30 percent of Catholic women report undergoing at least one abortion.

While good statistics are not available, this likely means the same number holds for Catholic men, meaning significant numbers of our own community have been adversely impacted by abortion. Many Catholics attending post-abortion retreats report experiencing their unplanned pregnancy as a teenager.

In many cases, the abortion was not desired by the teen, but was insisted upon by their family. Many clergy advise this is still a not infrequent reaction of Catholic parents. Catholics are rightly known for life-affirming activities such as founding crisis pregnancy centers and homes and for organizing prayer efforts outside abortion clinics. We have perhaps been less successful in examining how our own actions and perceptions may contribute to weakening — or at least failing to strengthen — a culture of life.

While the causes of abortion are numerous, the decreasing importance of the family in our society in favor of the rising importance of the individual is one factor which makes abortion, as the phrase goes, “thinkable.”

In a world where the individual’s worth is largely measured by educational, career and financial achievements, the responsibilities of family can seem, at worst, a burden to be avoided and, at best, a possible option to be considered only after the really important work of personal achievement is attained.

It would be surprising indeed if we as Catholics were not heavily influenced by these cultural norms in which career and personal achievement is deemed one’s “vocation.” The Church, by contrast, teaches that one’s daily work/job/career is not an end in itself, but rather exists in order to support one’s vocation (most often to married or religious life).

No doubt many of us profess to follow these Church teachings on marriage and family, and even accept them on an intellectual level. It’s worth closely examining whether and to what extent our actions are in line with these beliefs and furthering a culture of life.

A few examples will be illustrative: while we likely educate our children that abortion is wrong and that marriage and family are important, do we truly encourage marriage and family as a vocation for those children? Or do we (perhaps unconsciously) inform them that these concerns are secondary to career success? Do we emphasize the importance of family by spending time together? Or, like many in our society, do we sacrifice family time, emphasizing instead a variety of school and extracurricular activities intended to help achieve worldly (and individual) success?

To be sure, there is nothing inherently wrong with encouraging children to excel. The question becomes, to what purpose is the encouragement aimed: to further a future vocation or to achieve a worldly view of success that may interfere with it?

We can also examine our interactions in our parishes, in our schools and our personal relationships for how and whether we are creating a culture of life. If a teenager in our parish youth group or Catholic high school experienced an unplanned pregnancy, would we continue to welcome him or her? Or would we perhaps be less than welcoming, believing he or she was somehow a “bad influence” or no longer “fit in” with the needs of the group?

Are we accepting of large families, or do we feel somewhat critical of families with many children (“Aren’t they DONE yet?” we might ask sarcastically)? If a female colleague elects to stay home with her children, are we supportive of her vocation to family, or do we inwardly think, “All her education and talent…what a WASTE.”?

It would not be unusual to experience some of these reactions. They are, after all, conditioned by the society around us. Yet none of us are called to live for ourselves alone. In building a culture of life, what we do outside our communities is important.

Yet in order to truly change hearts and minds — to make abortion unthinkable — and build a culture of life we must begin by examining how well we support life and the true vocation of the human person among our own families and friends.

Julie Fritsch is the director of the Archdiocesan Office of Pro-Life Services.