The Pope and the Culture of Life

On the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord Pope Francis baptized 32 babies in the Sistine Chapel. He encouraged the new mothers to breastfeed their babies right then and there if the infants were hungry. This isn’t the first time Pope Francis has promoted public breastfeeding. He recently invited a mother who was waiting to meet him, to please nurse her hungry baby.

The Holy Father told those gathered at the baptism,

“Today the choir sings, but the most beautiful choir is [the choir] of children…Some are crying, because they are uncomfortable, or because they are hungry. If they are hungry, mothers, give them something to eat…”

The sound of a crying baby might not be objectively beautiful. However, in our modern culture of death, it should fall on our ears differently, as more precious and dear than ever before. Pope Francis’ words reminded me of British author P.D. James’ dystopian novel, Children of Men, in which mass infertility has prevented procreation and the youngest members of the human race are adults inhabiting a bleak and dying world. Against all odds, one woman becomes pregnant and the idea of a new life is a shocking and miraculous prospect. In the film adaption, there is a scene in which the newborn child begins to cry and the characters on-screen look as if the whole world has stopped–it is a sound that defiantly screams “Life!” in a world of death and darkness.

Our world is not as troubled as James’ fictional future, but tragically, modern society views children as inconveniences to be avoided rather than gifts of life and hope from God. We are fed lies that make contraception the norm and abortion a common “solution” to a pregnancy. In our culture of death, the cry of a baby takes on new meaning. The crying is the sound of the parents’ faithfulness to avoid contraception and the courage of a mother who carries her child to term. It is the sound of a woman who has rejected the cacophony of lies and has bravely whispered, “fiat!” instead. Could there be a more beautiful sound?

In light of this, we must consider what it really means to be pro-life. Is it merely a bumper sticker or a vote on a ballot? We must examine how our culture’s idolization of efficiency, convenience, and peace and quiet have warped us into seeking out “child-free” restaurants, airplane flights, and lives. If we truly reject the culture of death and seek to honor life, our actions will speak louder than our words. We must be reminded that a crying baby and the sight of a mother breastfeeding her child are the blessed fruits of the culture of life–and yes, that includes when that baby and mother are sitting beside you in Mass. It is wildly inconsistent to fight for the right of the unborn child and then give that child’s mother the stink eye when he has been born and she nurses him in the pew next to you.

We cannot allow the lies of a contraceptive culture to seep into our churches and sour us against the whispering toddler and the fussy baby who are also there to receive grace. We must see children as more than inconveniences or distractions. We must give thanks for the noise of life in a world of death.

I recently discovered the sad truth that the presence of children in Mass is still a heated debate when I wrote about the great blessing our parish family is to us and how they support young families. I was shocked and alarmed with not only the claims that children should be left at home so that the grown-ups could worship in peace, but more disturbingly, the anger some of the commenters expressed over the presence of infants and children at their Mass. One commenter even expressed outrage about a young mother nursing her child near his pew, an act he found repulsive and perverse.

But it seems that the Holy Father doesn’t see it that way. In fact, not only does he tolerate public breastfeeding, he openly encourages it (yes! even in church). Why? Because meeting the needs of infants demonstrates that they are important and precious, not only to their immediate family, but their larger family, the Church. By refusing to elevate convenience over life by such a tiny act as supporting public breastfeeding, you can promote the culture of life in a selfish world that sees children as inconveniences to be avoided, or worse, problems that can be solved by abortion.

Indeed we’re so immersed in this poisoned mindset that it makes the news when the Pope says the sound of babies crying is more beautiful than the music of the choir singing and urges mother to feed their babies if they are hungry. The Holy Father’s words are a startling reminder that those squawks and cries are precious sounds to Our Lord and should be the same to all of us. They remind us that we should rejoice that our churches are filled with life and encourage parents to care for those children, not show young families the door because they’re bugging us.

Whether we realize it or not, our attitude at Mass can serve or hinder a culture of life. If we hear a fussy baby in Mass and groan and fume because she’s bothering us, we must re-evaluate our priorities. If we are infuriated because a new mother nurses during the Consecration, we should remember that we are ourselves helpless infants preparing to receive the grace of Our Lord. If you seek to further the culture of life, I urge you to consider how you can love and encourage young families at your parish and beyond. A revolutionary stand for life in the culture of death might begin with something so simple as a pat on the shoulder and a “we’re so glad you’re here today.”

image: giulio napolitano /

Haley Stewart


Haley Stewart is a writer, speaker, blogger, Catholic convert, mother of three, and wife to Daniel of the big beard and the green thumb. She's a homeschooling, bacon-eating, coffee-drinking southern girl with a flair for liturgical feasts and a penchant for bright red lipstick Haley muses about faith, motherhood, and books at her blog Carrots for Michaelmas and is the author of Feast! Real Food, Reflections, and Simple Living for the Christian Year. She also podcasts at Fountains of Carrots.

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  • noelfitz

    I read here about “our modern culture of death” and “modern society
    views children as inconveniences to be avoided rather than gifts of life and
    hope from God. We are fed lies that make contraception the norm”.

    I fear that in America Calvinism, Puritanism and various Protestant views permeate society, even among Catholics. The influence of Jonathan Edwards still
    exists. Catholicism is an optimistic religion, it sees persons made in God’s
    image and likeness, a little less than the angels, whom God loved and died
    for. The Gospels, especially John, and Genesis underline that God made the world, including humans, and saw it was good.

    I need to see God as good and his creation good. Do you consider your parents,
    children and people you know as inconveniences? Do you know people who see others as inconveniences?

    But contraception is acceptd by the vast majority of Catholics; if not women would have twenty plus children, as the norm

    I really would like to see and hear more babies at Mass, in fact I would love to see more people at Mass.

    Finally did the Pope in this article mention abortion or contraception in detail?

  • I’m not sure if I’m not following you, noelfitz, or if you misread some of the post, but I’ll try to answer all the questions I see in your comment 🙂

    “Do you consider your parents,children and people you know as inconveniences?” I pray not!

    “Do you know people who see others as inconveniences?” Sadly, yes.

    “But contraception is acceptd by the vast majority of Catholics; if not women would have twenty plus children, as the norm” The Church has clearly spoken on the matter of contraception. And very few women would have 20 plus children even if the didn’t use NFP (which the Church supports) to space out their children by delaying pregnancy.

    “Finally did the Pope in this article mention abortion or contraception in detail?” The quote from the Holy Father is from his remarks at the baptism in which he encouraged mothers to feed their babies in the Sistine Chapel. He was discussing baptism, not his stance on the evils of contraception and abortion which he has clearly expressed elsewhere.

  • Love it, Haley!

  • noelfitz


    Many thanks for your detailed and courteous reply to my rather confused post. I appreciate that you answered me in such a charitable and full way. On my part I may have been confused, not unusual for me.

    My concerns focused on Catholics who believe and practice contraception and whether they are sinning, if they have clear knowledge of Catholic teaching and consent to contraception.

    In the past many women, with less health care than now available, had 20 plus pregnancies.

    The purpose of NFP is to have intercourse without pregnancy, this is contraception. I do not know the Church’s arguments for allowing NFP.

    The title of your article was “The Pope and the Culture of Life”, hence I presumed it would be about contraception and abortion.

    Recently I re-read John Wooden’s beliefs, and found them powerfully
    life-affirming, positive and uplifting, and very much in agreement with Catholic

    Once again, Haley, many thanks and may God bless you and your apostolate.

  • Tori T.

    Hi there, noelfitz.

    Others might have better resources for you, but this is a short article by Fr. Frank Pavone about why NFP is not contraception. It doesn’t address the matter fully, but it’s a good start. And actually, many people use NFP to ACHIEVE pregnancy, not avoid it, although either is acceptable as far as the Church is concerned.

  • Just a couple of notes,

    “The purpose of NFP is to have intercourse without pregnancy, this is contraception. I do not know the Church’s arguments for allowing NFP.”

    To say that the purpose of NFP is to have intercourse without pregnancy is, I believe, a misunderstanding of NFP. If a couple needs to delay pregnancy, NFP helps them monitor the natural rhythms of a woman’s fertility and infetility in order to know when to abstain. They are not contracepting or thwarting the marital act. A couple’s fertility is not sterilized, manipulated, or separated from sex. There remains, in the marital act, an openess to life and honoring of God’s design for our bodies and fertility.

    Here are a few statements about NFP that might help clarify the Church’s arguments for allowing NFP:

    “If, then, there are serious motives to space out births, which derive from the physical or psychological conditions of husband and wife, or from external conditions, the Church teaches that it is then licit to take into account the natural rhythms immanent in the generative functions…” [Pope Paul VI,Humanae Vitae 16]

    “However, profoundly different from any contraceptive practice is the behavior of married couples, who, always remaining fundamentally open to the gift of life, live their intimacy only in the unfruitful periods, when they are led to this course by serious motives of responsible parenthood. This is true both from the anthropological and moral points of view, because it is rooted in a different conception of the person and of sexuality. The witness of couples who for years have lived in harmony with the plan of the Creator, and who, for proportionately serious reasons, licitly use the methods rightly called “natural,” confirms that it is possible for spouses to live the demands of chastity and of married life with common accord and full self-giving.” [Pontifical Council for the Family, Vademecum for Confessors Concerning Some Aspects of the Morality of Conjugal Life, 2.6]

    I do believe that the our attitude toward children in our culture has everything to do with embracing a culture of life and rejecting contraception and abortion. It’s all connected.

  • noelfitz

    Haley and Tori,

    thank you so much for your replies.

    I go through life confused, but will try to study the information you have sent me.

    I am hugely impressed with CE. It allows me, as a struggling cradle Cathiolic, to bluntly raise issues. I have been treated with respect and understanding. This charity augurs well for Catholicism, both in the US and elsewhere.

    Again sincerest thanks, and long way sincere open discussions last in the Church and society.

  • I am so glad to hear that! The comboxes of the internet can be ugly places and it makes me so sad when Catholics (or anyone, but especially Catholics) don’t treat each other charitably.

  • noelfitz


    having read your beautiful reply to me I was encouraged to look at yout blog.
    Would it be sexist of me to say I am sure you would also win a ‘Best Looking Blogger’ award?

    I am pleased to see you are interested in nature and gardening. Gardening is another interest of mine, and I subscribe to, where we support and encourage each other in a positive and friendly way, while in Catholic sites we seem to pull each other apart.

    I am really delighted that in CE I can be frank and honest and know that my views will not be attacked. However we Catholics should never write anything contrary to fundamental Catholic beliefs in a public forum. This still gives us great freedom.

    Finally I loved your ‘ten newborn exhaustion tips’.

  • Kathy

    It’s wonderful to see our Pope so open and loving in attitude towards mothers and children! After all our church was begun with a mother and child! We should never turn away or reject children, there should always be room at the centre of our parishes,not the sidelines.Otherwise we are guilty of the same rejection of the Holy family (no room at the inn). Children are the centre of hockey arenas,dance lessons,schools.What would our churches look like if we could shift that love and focus on children? If we are truly pro marriage, pro life, then we have to go the distance and walk the talk. Thank you for the inspiring article.

  • Jeni

    Well I’m more catholic than the pope and therefore would never dream of having a baby in mass let alone bfing a hungry baby at mass…. The horror.

    Yeah wait. not even funny as an intended joke. Nm!

    This was fantastic and an excellent follow up to that piece that got the combox all riled up. I really do think this says it all Haley. My friend from Alabama and I were talking about this issue earlier today and she brought up this piece. Excellent. Love it. Great writing.