By Lou Baldwin | Catholic News Service
PHILADELPHIA -- Helen Alvare is a law professor at George Mason University, a consultant to the Vatican and the U.S. bishops about marriage and life issues, and has been a recognized defender of Catholic teaching on marriage and the family for many years. She also is a wife and mother.
But being an expert on such issues wasn't always the case for her.
She remembers at age 10 or so -- in a conversation with her own mother, who in college had been first in her class and an accomplished musician -- exclaiming, "Wow! You could have been something," not yet appreciating her mother really was something -- she was a loving wife and parent.
"I was rooted in the gospel of me," Alvare recalled.
She made the comments in an address on "Creating the Future: the Fertility of Christian Love" at the recent World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.
During her own college years, she thought, "Why would I spend all this time getting an education and then forking it over to children? Where was the decade of fun I had coming to me?"
It was only later that she had a reconversion to the beauty of Jesus Christ, she said, in keeping with the words from Chapter 6, Verse 68, in the Gospel of John: "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."
With new eyes, she witnessed her parents taking care of her disabled sister, taking care of their own elderly parents, her brothers and sisters caring for their children and the examples she saw in her parish.
She has witnessed that "gospel of me" taking deeper hold in recent decades. As a Catholic feminist herself, she has regretted seeing the issues of contraception and abortion becoming a sine qua non of women's rights.
"To equate women's freedoms with freedom from children has tragic outcomes," Alvare said. "Sex is just a tennis game and the casualties are legion. Sex has become the place for a relationship with the opposite sex, nothing special about it."
The family, she said, "is of God and connected to his divine plan, and it is surely indicated by Jesus and his life on earth, coming to us by pregnancy and birth, raised in a family home of a mother and father. It is a forceful affirmation."
But of course we aren't the Holy Family, and Alvare said, '"when you live elbow to elbow with each other and other people in your life there are good times and bad, and endless opportunities to learn to love and respect one another."
Quoting Pope Francis, she said, "Sometimes the plates start flying. It takes sacrificial love to be a parent and if you don't practice it in your own family, good luck in practicing it with a stranger."
A common example of the joy of marital sacrificial love comes at the beginning of parenthood.
"I remember when my husband and I brought our first child home from the hospital," she said. "There she was, limp and beautiful, like a pile of roses."
Baldwin writes for CatholicPhilly.com, the news site of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.