Thursday, June 21, 2012

Marriage and Children

A priest responsible for family matters in his diocese uses the opinion page of the Catholic Times to reflect more deeply on this subject.  He begins with the fact that many couples  have opted  out of having children, are pooling their resources, cutting  down on spending, and looking for whatever else will more easily give them a leisurely lifestyle.  This is not, he says, the only reason women are avoiding children; another is that the traditional idea of family is changing. The higher divorce rate, the greater number of single parents, and other signs of an unconventional lifestyle are signs that the traditional idea of family is fading. The pursuit  of personal happiness and a better quality of life have become for many the foundation of a new value system. These are some of the reasons he cites for the decrease in the birthrate, even though the government is making  efforts to change the situation.

How is the Church to deal with this reality? he asks.  When a young couple comes before a priest for marriage instructions, expressing their desire to live without children, what is he to say? The couple will most likely defend their position by saying: " Times are difficult; a good education is expensive; the raising of children requires a lot of time and energy, and therefore deciding not to have children is a wise decision." This position of course cannot be accepted by the priest, and the couple will be told that they cannot be married in the Church.

Church law makes clear that entering into marriage with a prior understanding (outside of medical reasons) that there will be no children is contrary to the Catholic understanding of marriage. Why is it that the Church speaks this way about marriage? Because married couple are pro-creators with God; they have been called to participate  in the continuing work of creation. The very make-up of the person shows this to be the blueprint of creation: husband and wife, body and soul, complement and are interrelated with each other. The oneness of the union points to an important meaning of life: by means of the oneness, their sharing of their gift of life, this gift of life is passed on to the next generation.

Married couples have the freedom, of course, to refuse to cooperate with this gift-giving. But by doing so they are refusing  to be cooperators with God in his creation, refusing to be his children, working for his kingdom.

Raising children is not easy, everyone would concede. It often demands that one go against cherished desires and personal goals to set examples to our children that we may feel unqualified to give, such as the meaning of love's fulfillment in one's own family.  However, if we always seek to avoid the difficulties of life, we will not arrive at any meaningful truths. Jesus at Gethsemane made his prayer to do God's will; we are called, he says, to do the same. 

The words of the priest may seem extremely callous and  insensitive to young people contemplating marriage. Though they are not the kind of words that would please everyone, would it be better to remain silent when we are faced with misunderstandings on such important issues, despite being rightly upset by these misunderstandings? It would be rather easy to remain silent, and many would, considering the cultural pressures to do so.  But can we say, it is the Christian way?



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