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Living Catholic in Kerala

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Sep 06, 2011

I wonder if there is a more important news story just now than this one from yesterday: India: parishes establish fund to promote large families. Yes, I’m annoyed by Cardinal Shönborn’s abysmal failure to meet his dissident Austrian priests head-on; and yes, I find the give-and-take on who did what to whom between the Vatican and the Irish government fascinating; and no, I don’t particularly recommend paying people to have a fifth child as a matter of universal parish policy.

But what some parishes in India are doing is thinking outside the box. They aren’t letting the state government set the terms of engagement with their culture. So when the state government presses people to have fewer children, these parishes are pressing in the opposite direction, and not just with cheap talk.

From time to time over the past couple of years I’ve tried to make a similar point, particularly in relation to health care and education. If Catholics don’t want life controlled by the dominant secular forces represented by contemporary government, then Catholics have to be willing to offer alternative paths to the goods government tends to invoke in order to justify its own secularized intervention. In other words, if we want truly Christian health care, then we have to be willing to provide it, and some of it pro bono. If we want people to have access to an education based on sound values and a deep respect for truth, then we have to be willing to establish and run schools, complete with financial aid.

This goes back to what I’ve said before about the need to pay twice. In the modern world, we Catholics will be taxed for many things and, according to the way of the world, our money will often be used badly. This means we have to pay those taxes and then step right outside the box, roll up our sleeves, and make the sacrifices necessary to provide a truly alternative way of both envisioning and actualizing the very same things—health, education, family relationships, community support, business, even life itself.

Some parishes in the Indian State of Kerala are doing just that. By offering families $225 if they have a fifth child, they’re saying that they love large families, that they don’t appreciate State efforts to minimize family size, and that they intend to help those who are willing and able to make the sacrifice of raising more children for the glory of God and the benefit of the social order. They’re saying, “We’re Catholics, and we have another way of living.”

This particular effort may not be what is most necessary in our own countries and communities. The demands of each place, time and culture vary. But our Indian brothers and sisters are showing us that there is more to being a Catholic than articulating political positions and then acquiescing when we lose the popular vote. True communities are built only by those who not only know how to live, but are not afraid to expend their resources in realistically helping others to do the same. Indeed, the authentic Catholic life ought to breed its own set of networked institutions, its own support systems, its own specific patterns of life and love.

But this does not happen automatically. No. It takes the kind of imagination and effort that, in India, have led some poor parishes to give $225 to any family that has a fifth child.

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