Developing a culture of life by promoting large families
It has been said that there are three specific characteristics that destroy a culture and civilization. These include 1) A dying population 2) A disintegrating culture 3) and unrestricted invasions. This observation has been pointed out by various individuals such as Patrick J. Buchanan; such as found in his books Death of the West and State of Emergency. The worst of these, given the context of this article, is perhaps that of a dying population. This is specifically true in regards to the “contraceptive mentality” and the “culture of death” that has been around since the 1960s and the rise of the sexual revolution.
This culture of death has had a disastrous consequence on Western Civilization and even on Catholic Culture. There are many effects that the contraceptive mentality and the culture of death has had in society as a whole. Many studies and articles both form the left and the right show how many places in the world are becoming “underpopulated” given this reality. This is most definitely true in areas such as Europe, as well as modern day Japan and which is also greatly affecting the United States. In regards to Europe, Germany and France, are amongst the worst affected based on the consequences of the culture of death. An article published by the Population Research Institute written in 2013 shows how The Europe which we know is dying. This has been true decades since the culture of death was allowed to reign in European society. Europe is experiencing a dying population and a dying workforce; and no young workers or babies are replacing these generations. As a Crisis article Can a Europe Survive Its population Plunge? states:
“To maintain economic growth and standard of living, people would need to work longer before they can retire. Left unsaid is the root cause: ‘Because we have aborted or contracepted a larger percentage of our future generation, the current aging generation can expect less support in old age from the children they did not have who cannot now contribute to the GDP, thereby threating our standard of living.”1
This is why many countries such as Italy have been establishing pro-natal programs paying women to have children. This is true for example in the case of Laviano, Italy.
When Falivena took office in 2002 for his second stint as mayor, two numbers caught his attention. Four: that was how many babies were born in the town the year before. And five: the number of children enrolled in first grade at the school, never mind that the school served two additional communities as well. “I knew what was my first job, to try to save the school,” Falivena told me. “Because a village that does not have a school is a dead village.” He racked his brain and came up with a desperate idea: pay women to have babies. And not just a token amount, either; in 2003 Falivena let it be known he would pay 10,000 euros (about $15,000) for every woman — local or immigrant, married or single — who would give birth to and rear a child in the village. The “baby bonus,” as he calls it, is structured to root new citizens in the town: a mother gets 1,500 euros when her baby is born, then a 1,500-euro payment on each of the child’s first four birthdays and a final 2,500 euros the day the child enrolls in first grade. Falivena has a publicist’s instincts, and he said he hoped the plan would attract media attention. It did, generating news across Italy and as far away as Australia.2 (Emphasis added)
There is however a more saddening reality facing Europe’s dying population. In order to make up for Europe’s dying population many European countries have turned to another remedy in order to try and scale down this reality. This includes the laxity in allowing massive immigration to many of the European countries. This is most definitely true in regards to massive Muslim immigration from countries such as Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and various other countries. Similarly it has been shown that while most Westerners including Catholics average about 1-2 children at most, Muslims average about 5-6 children. Given this combination; it has been shown that: “As a result of this potent mix of immigration and procreation, the number of Muslims will continue to grow. Europe as a whole, some demographers suggest, will have a majority Muslim population by 2100.” 3
The nature of marriage and the blessedness of children
This reality of the culture of death is not exclusively a European problem. It is a worldwide and global problem that is affecting the whole world. Sadly this culture of death has also infected many of the Catholic Faithful. It is the point of this article to offer a new solution. Namely offering the alternative of the culture of life. It is a challenge to all Catholics of good will to be completely open to life but even more so to have a genuine openness to having a big family and accepting as many kids as God blesses them with.
The Catholic Church has constantly taught that Christian marriage is a sacrament. Marriage itself is a Divine institution that has God as its author and which is found in nature. Christian marriage itself raises marriage from a merely natural institution and raises it to the level of a sacrament. The Catholic Church teaches that Christian marriage has three specific ends. 1) The unitive 2) pro-creative 3) and the education of children. The Catechism explains that
”The matrimonial covenant by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring.” (CCC 1601)
It also teaches that children are a blessing:
“Fecundity is a gift, and an end of marriage, for conjugal love naturally tends to be fruitful. A child does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfillment.” (CCC 2366)
There is another reality when we look at marriage and specifically the openness to new life. This is the reality that Christian parents who give themselves to the conjugal act (the marital act) and who allow themselves to be open to life; are by that creative act itself sharing in the same creative power and life of the Most Holy Trinity.
God is by his very nature perfection itself. Philosophically we say that God has many attributes that are proper to his nature. This includes the fact that he is infinite, unity, omniscient, omnipotent, eternal, immense, and many other things. It is precisely God’s perfection itself which is his greatest attribute. This is why God told Moses that he shall be called “I Am.” (Exodus 3:14). God the Father knows himself perfectly in such a way that He begets the second person of the Holy Trinity (Jesus Christ). It is the knowledge of God the Father that begets the Son and it is the love of the Father towards the Son and love of the Son towards the Father, in which the Holy Spirit proceeds from that love between the Father and the Son. This reality can be seen in the theology behind the Sign of the Cross. We make the Sign of the Cross starting by placing our fingers on our forehead showing the reality of the perfect knowledge of the Father. We then move towards our hearts showing the love of the Father to the Son and the Son’s love towards the Father. We then position the Sign of the Cross across our shoulders going from left to right, showing the reality of the Third Person of the Holy Trinity (The Holy Spirit) proceeding from the love of the Father and the Son.
It is through marriage and specifically the openness to new life through the legitimate use of the conjugal act that we as humans come to understand and even partake in the life of the Holy Trinity. It is in the conjugal act in which the Husband and the Wife in giving themselves completely (The father and the wife knowing and loving each other) in a most intimate level that a third person is born.
God Himself through Holy Scripture commands us regarding the necessity of being open to life. He states “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” (Gen 1:28) Scripture itself also shows the blessings of having a child. When you read scripture you quickly realize that when it speaks about children it only speaks about them being a blessing.
“Behold the inheritance of the Lord are children: the reward, the fruit of the womb. As arrows in the hand of the mighty, so the children of them that have been shaken. Blessed is the man that hath filled the desire with them; he shall not be confounded when he shall speak to his enemies in the gate.” (Psalm 127:3-5)
“He makes a barren woman dwell in a house, the joyful mother of children” (Psalm 113)
“And they brought to him young children, that he might touch them. And the disciples rebuked them that brought them. Whom when Jesus saw, was much displeased and saith to them: Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of Heaven.” (Mark 10:13-16)
“A woman, when she is in labour, hath sorrow, because her hour is come; but when she hath brought forth the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.” (John 16:21)
The Blessings of a large family
As we can then see, Christian morality obliges us to be open to new life (children); but it also shows that they are also a great blessing, and the greatest treasure that God could possibly give to a Christian couple. Catholics should be completely open to life but also strive towards accepting whatever child God sends their way. There is no blessing so great as for God to allow families to be numerous in their members and to have a big family. It is not too uncommon for modern individuals to look down on large families that have more than 1-2 children. I don’t need to go over the many insults and labels that such families often get. Suffice it to say that it is always a great blessing to see large families who are witness to God’s great generosity and who always affords us Divine Providence. Pope Pius XIII wrote about the many blessings that come with big families, in a speech that he gave to an Italian organization dedicated to large families in 1958. Pope Pius XII first goes on to say that big families point to the physical and moral health of a Christian people; that it is a living faith in God and trust in His Providence.
Wherever you find large families in great numbers, they point to: the physical and moral health of a Christian people; a living faith in God and trust in His Providence; the fruitful and joyful holiness of Catholic marriage.
Again, good common sense has always and everywhere looked upon large families as a sign, a proof, and a source of physical health, and history makes no mistake when it points to violation and abuse of the laws governing marriage and procreation as the primary cause of the decay of peoples.
Far from being a “social malady,” large families are a guarantee of the moral and physical health of a people. Virtues flourish spontaneously in homes where a baby’s cries always echo from the crib, and vice is put to flight, as if it has been chased away by the childhood that is renewed there like the fresh and invigorating breath of spring.4
Pope Pius goes on praise the testimony offered by the parents of large families which lies in their unequivocal and forceful rejection of the culture of death; but rather that shows the light of the world and the great Christian Charity and generosity that comes with the large Catholic family which is open to life wherever it may come.
Now the value of the testimony offered by the parents of large families lies not only in their unequivocal and forceful rejection of any deliberate compromise between the law of God and human selfishness, but also in their readiness to accept joyfully and gratefully these priceless gifts of God—their children — in whatever number it may please Him to send them.5
Pope Pius goes on to write about the many temporal and spiritual blessings that God gives to large families. Amongst the many of these blessings include the joy that is given to them, the absence of loneliness for both parents and the children, and the great moral virtues that are instilled in the large family, which consist of patience, responsibility, and the exercise of Christian charity and generosity:
It is very different from the serenity of spirit to be found in parents who are surrounded by a rich abundance of young lives. The joy that comes from the plentiful blessings of God breaks out in a thousand different ways and there is no fear that it will end. The brows of these fathers and mothers may be burdened with cares, but there is never a trace of that inner shadow that betrays anxiety of conscience or fear of an irreparable return to loneliness. Their youth never seems to fade away, as long as the sweet fragrance of a crib remains in the home, as long as the walls of the house echo to the silvery voices of children and grandchildren.
Their heavy labors multiplied many times over, their redoubled sacrifices and their renunciation of costly amusements are generously rewarded even here below by the inexhaustible treasury of affection and tender hopes that dwell in their hearts without ever tiring them or bothering them.
And the hopes soon become a reality when the eldest daughter begins to help her mother to take care of the baby and on the day the oldest son comes home with his face beaming with the first salary he has earned himself. That day will be a particularly happy one for parents, for it will make the spectre of an old age spent in misery disappear, and they will feel assured of a reward for their sacrifices.
When there are many children, the youngsters are spared the boredom of loneliness and the discomfort of having to live in the midst of adults all the time. It is true that they may sometimes become so lively as to get on your nerves, and their disagreements may seem like small riots; but even their arguments play an effective role in the formation of character, as long as they are brief and superficial. Children in large families learn almost automatically to be careful of what they do and to assume responsibility for it, to have a respect for each other and help each other, to be open-hearted and generous. For them, the family is a little proving ground, before they move into the world outside, which will be harder on them and more demanding.6
The same Holy Pontiff goes lastly on to state the blessing of a font of vocations that often spring out of large families. Large families consisting of many children afford the Church the possibility of many of these children having many vocations such as that of the priesthood, the religious life, nuns, sisters, and various other forms of those most beautiful vocations. This also includes the reality of many more blessed marriages in the future:
All of these precious benefits will be more solid and permanent, more intense and more fruitful if the large family takes the supernatural spirit of the Gospel, which spiritualizes everything and makes it eternal, as its own particular guiding rule and basis. Experience shows that in these cases, God often goes beyond the ordinary gifts of Providence, such as joy and peace, to bestow on it a special call — a vocation to the priesthood, to the religious life, to the highest sanctity.7
What better way to defeat the culture of death than by being truly countercultural Christians in the modern world. What better way to do this than by offering the alternative of the culture of life. A culture which openly accepts any and all children whom God affords to us. A culture which is furthermore open to having a large family and which sees children as a blessing rather than a curse. I am often amazed by the countless families whom have generously allowed themselves to have as large of a family as God has afforded them. What blessing would it be to have 13 children! That family so long as it frequents the Sacraments frequently will never be bored nor will it ever be in want. Never will vice lurk at the door for virtue will always be practiced on a daily basis. The older children taking care of the younger. Never will the parents themselves ever be alone or in want. For they will always have children to help take care of them. How blessed must have been the family of Saint Catherine of Sienna with 24 siblings. Or the family of St Louis King of France with 9 brothers and sisters. The family of St. Robert Bellarmine whom came of a family of twelve. Or the family of Saint Pope Pius X who came form a family of ten.
1) Mary Jo Anderson “Can Europe Survive Its Population Plunge?” Crisis Magazine; August 19, 2010
2) Russell Shorto “No Babies?” New York Times; June 29, 2008
3) Steven Mosher “Europe as we know it is dying” Population Research Institute; Jan 29, 2013
4) Pope Pius XII “The Large Family” Speech given to an Italian organization for large families in 1958