Ninth in a Series on Catholic Marriage and Parenthood
Fr. Thomas J. Gerrard
When man and woman were first joined together in holy matrimony, a divine command was given unto them to increase and multiply and to replenish the earth. Adam alone was lonely, and lonely in more senses than one. Eve was given him to be his companion - not merely, however, for the sake of companionship, but also for the benefit of the race of which he was to be the father. She was to be the co-principle with him for the procreation of the great human family. She was to be his help in domestic life and also his help in the life of the race. The whole earth was to be replenished by their offspring.
This was one of the first and most peremptory laws of nature. And being such a fundamental law it has persevered until now, and must persevere until this world is exhausted, until there is no more use for the law, until we are safe in heaven, where we shall be as the angels, neither giving nor taking in marriage.
This natural law, moreover, has in the meantime been fortified by additional sanctions. The natural law is a reflection of the divine Mind. The new sanctions, therefore, do not alter, but emphasize the original law. Throughout the Jewish dispensation, therefore, we find that fruitfulness in child-bearing was ever regarded as a sign of divine predilection, as a fulfillment of God's promises of prosperity. And as fruitfulness was looked upon as a special sign of God's favor, so was barrenness looked upon as a sign of God's displeasure or forgetfulness.
Further, when the contract of marriage was raised by Christ to the dignity of a Sacrament, this same end of marriage remained as the chief: the procreation of children; but, at the same time, it was raised to a higher plane: the procreation of children both for this world and for the next. The mother who had done her duty in this matter had fulfilled her highest destiny. By bringing many children into the world, by bringing them into the Church through Baptism, by bringing them to their final salvation through her good example and zeal for Christian education, she had saved her own soul.
She shall be saved, however, through child-bearing, if she shall persevere in faith and love and holiness and sobriety.
Seeing, then, that this fruitfulness is according to God's will, it must be rewarded with God's blessing. And, indeed, it is first a blessing to the family, secondly a blessing to the State, and eventually a blessing to heaven itself.
Many children are a blessing to the family. First, they provide the opportunity for the exercise of one of the strongest instincts of nature, family affection, the love of parents toward children, of children toward parents, of children toward each other. No matter how many children a mother may have, her love for any one of them is not thereby diminished, but rather increased. If she had to part with any one of them, she could not make the choice. They are each dear to her, because they are her own, because they are the children of her husband, and because they are brothers and sisters to each other. The family love is so woven and interwoven that the greater the number of the threads, the more difficult it is to distinguish any one of them.
This may be the result of merely natural affection. When, however, the family love is intertwined with supernatural faith, supernatural hope, and supernatural love, then is the family bond made indefinitely stronger, and the family love more keen and more satisfying. The mother of the Maccabees did not love her children less, but indescribably more, when she had to lead them to be sacrificed for the sake of God's cause. And although her natural sorrow must have been one of the most poignant ever suffered by mother on account of children, yet her supernatural joy must have surpassed it in intensity and have produced in her maternal heart a satisfaction far exceeding the natural void caused by her bereavement.
Secondly, a large family is a means of developing character, both in the parents and in the children. In the case of the father, it is a question as to whether he will face the task of working and saving for the means of bringing up a large family. He certainly needs courage. He certainly needs self-denial and self-restraint. He certainly needs the help of Sacraments and other religious ordinances. But these are the very warp and woof of manly character. He is only a weakling, therefore, wanting in manhood and wanting in the stamina of a Christian, who shirks the duties of fatherhood merely because they involve a heavier burden.
In the case of the mother, it is a question as to whether she will face the illness and the anxieties incident to a large family of children, and possibly, which is the greatest trial of all, displeasure and neglect on the part of her husband. The burden of motherhood then acts against flimsy attractions of the world of pleasure. It concentrates her attention on the family. It gives her an interest than which nothing is more absorbing and satisfying outside heaven. In a word, it develops her womanhood. And, since she is of the gentler, as contrasted to the sterner, sex, her numerous anxieties will develop in her the quality of gentleness.
Further, if she is so unfortunate as to have a husband who is unkind or neglectful or difficult, then it will bring out her characteristic of tact. There are few husbands who do not need some "managing." And it is the glory of some wives that they know how to "manage" their husbands; how to get what they want without crying or quarreling for it. Surely, therefore, it must be an accomplishment worth cultivating, to be able to rule by tact and by persuasion, rather than by force or harshness.
Now, a large family implies many relations to be adjusted, many misunderstandings to be smoothed over, many arrangements for the mutual welfare of all. It is the mother of the family who has to do all this. It is by her instinctive tact and enduring patience that the family is held together. The more accomplished she is in this office, the brighter does she shine as an example of motherhood. And the greater will be her accomplishment in proportion as she has the greater number of children to care for.
In the case of the children, it is a question of generosity or selfishness. Who has not looked with dismay on the spoiled child, the only one of the family? Who has not observed the ugly self-consciousness, pride, and vanity of two children, the miserable two who have had no other companions but each other during the years when the foundation of their character was laid? And who has not seen the beautiful unselfishness and generosity of the children of a family of seven, or, better still, of a family of fourteen? Why, even their faults and their sins are due to excess of generosity, rather than to defect in It. The principle of give and take has been so often demanded of them and so often exercised, that it must have grown into a fixed habit by the time they come to separate and go their way in life apart. The boys have had their boyishness toned down by the gentle influence of the girls, while the girls have had their girlishness toned up by the strong influence of the boys.
Thirdly, a large family is a means of strengthening both the temporal and the eternal interests of the family. Even from a worldly point of view, a father is working against his own interests in setting limits to his family from motives of economical selfishness. His view must be a broad one, however. The law of nature pervades the organization of society, even as it does the organization of the physical universe, and none the less does it there reflect the mind of God. It is, therefore, both the law of nature and the law of God that children should support their parents in sickness and old age. When, however, there is only one child or two, and these have wives and families of their own to support, there is little opportunity of supporting aged parents. But where the burden is divided, among say seven or eight families, then the aged couple have some hope of ending their days in reasonable and frugal comfort.
Again, we must remember that, in most countries, the provision of free education is such as to leave no room whatever for the excuse of economy. If the father has the pretension to go further, and to leave his two children enough inheritance to save them from the necessity of working for a living, then he is doing an injustice both to his children and to society. Drones are a nuisance in every line. In all stages of society, the work of bringing up a family of children is a burden both to the father and to the mother. It is a burden, however, which is followed by a handsome reward if only it is generously accepted.
The children, too, must profit by their larger number. The world is so wide, trades and professions are so manifold, as to leave practically little difference in the difficulty of finding situations for eight and that of finding situations for two. Nay, if we look around we shall find that it is the only boy rather who fails to make a good beginning, and the only girl rather who fails to secure a husband or a vocation. Owing to the absence of fraternal influence and education, they have not got the grit in them to make them attractive to others. Then again, later in life, the many are a help to each other in time of difficulty. They do not all meet with adversity at the same time. If one is low down in business or low down in health, his brothers and sisters are there to help him, each knowing that he or she may likewise depend on the others whenever the hour of distress shall overtake them.
This mutual support extends also to the sphere of faith and morality. How often has not a father been kept to his religion, and a mother been saved from temptation, by the thought of the children! It is curious how parents who have given up the practice of religion themselves have often insisted on their children being taught religion and brought up in a good moral atmosphere, and eventually, through the children, have been brought back again to God. Holy marriage is a Sacrament and as such is a means of grace. It is an instrument of the Holy Spirit, and no one can tell the multitudinous ways and times and places in which the Holy Spirit uses this instrument.
The family being the foundation of the State, its life must produce an effect on the life of the State. If fruitfulness in child-bearing is a blessing to the family, it is likewise a blessing to the State. A man has reached a high state of natural virtue if he can be so unselfish as to take the interests of the State as a motive for his own right conduct. Human nature being what it is, such a motive can hardly be expected to work as the predominant one. It can, however, act, and act effectively, as a supplementary one. It is a motive, too, which goes a long way in the formation of public opinion which reacts on private opinion.
When the abuses of family life were first propagated, they were propagated ostensibly with a view to promoting the nation's welfare. The country was said to be overpopulated, and these abuses were introduced to reduce the population. The nations, however, which have allowed themselves to submit to these abuses have found out to their heavy cost the great mistake which they have made. Statesmen, with no pretensions to high morals or a godly life, have discovered that this abuse is a canker eating away the vitals of the nation.
France stands out pre-eminently as the worst sinner of all. This last year  her death rate exceeded her birth rate. Germany is wide awake to the evil, and a movement has been set on foot to counteract the growing practice. Otherwise prepared for emergencies in the case of war, this would be her weakest point. England has to lament her decadence due to practices introduced from France. And in America the sermon preached by President Roosevelt on the burden and duties of the married state tells of the prevalence of the evil, and emphasizes the fact that the evil is a curse to any nation. It weakens its power of production; it weakens its power of defense; it weakens its power of intelligence and morality; it weakens the very life blood of the limited offspring which actually is born, for such offspring must come from a principle which is already marked by weakness, softness, and decadence.
The Christian family, however, was not made for the State as for its final destiny. It was made for the glory of God. Fruitfulness in child-bearing tells eventually for the greater glory of God. The mutual happiness of the persons of the blessed Trinity is all sufficient for the intrinsic glory of God. God, however, has chosen to surround Himself with an extrinsic glory. He has created creatures to give Him honor and praise. And the greatest honor and praise of this kind which can be given Him is that of man. It adds nothing to God's internal happiness, but is rather the expression and diffusion of God's love and goodness outside Himself.
God, therefore, having provided this great happiness for His creatures, He wishes as many as possible to avail themselves of it. In this way, He obtains His greatest external glory. The greater the number of souls that are added to the number of the elect, so much the richer is the music of nature's hymn of praise. That this is the mind of the Church may be seen from the enormous care which she takes for the happiness of infants. Her priests are bound to undergo the gravest inconveniences in order that they may apply the baptismal water to any child in urgent need of it. Why is this? It is because Christ has died for and purchased these children. It is because God has chosen for Himself a number of elect souls, a great number which we cannot count, but which we must do our best to make up, presuming or rather knowing that to do so will require all our spiritual efforts.
To hinder the course of nature, therefore, is to interfere with God's plans. It is to pull down His work in the Church Militant, and to lessen His glory in the Church Triumphant. A diminution of the number in the children of the Church is a diminution of the Church's collective faith, and love, and holiness. It is a diminution, too, which reacts on the parents; for, since they have willfully lessened the number of subjects of faith and love and holiness, they have willfully lessened their own faith and love and holiness. They have lessened the chances of their own salvation. But letting nature have its way, they contribute to their own eternal welfare, they contribute to the collective eternal welfare of the race, they contribute to the greater glory of God.
Some apology is needed for even venturing to speak of the abuse of matrimony, and the apology which is offered is the only permissible one, namely, absolute necessity. The evil is widespread and is still growing. If it is to be counteracted, it must be counteracted, both by the private good living of individuals and by the formation of a good public opinion. Non-Catholics now speak openly and without any sense of shame of their small families and of their intention of having only small families. Advertisements of the most pernicious nature are flaunted openly in the newspapers. Books are published, the aim of which is to propagate and to make the evil as easily accessible as possible.
Seeing, then, the high ideal of matrimony which the Catholic Church sets before the world, she must of necessity look with special horror on an abuse which does away with the primary end for which matrimony was instituted. Therefore it is that her preachers have to speak out when they would fain keep silence. And, therefore, it is that every Catholic should set his face against all approval or toleration of the abuse.
A few practical suggestions, then, are offered which may serve to indicate the attitude which Catholics ought to assume when questions concerning this matter arise. The first is to keep clearly before one's mind the fact that the law of nature, the law of God, and the law of the Church all condemn any willful interference with the due course of nature. A second is to protest vigorously against any opinions approving of such when proposed in conversation. A third is to boycott all newspapers, books, and business houses which make a trade in providing the means for the pernicious practice. A fourth is to take a holy pride in a large family of well-brought-up Catholic children. Natural motives as well as supernatural motives may be used for this end. Natural as well as supernatural motives have been proposed in this consideration. But natural motives alone will not suffice. A premium provided by the State for every seventh child will not hinder the decrease of population. Christian principles must be made the foundation of society life - that is, the family life must be governed by Catholic faith and Catholic morality. And if natural motives are offered and used, it is only that they may be added to the strictly supernatural ones and that they may be directed to a supernatural end, and thus become themselves supernaturalized.