Catholic Social Teaching: The Family, Gift and Sanctuary of Life
Fatherhood and motherhood represent a responsibility which is not simply physical but spiritual in nature
Early Fresco of the Visitation of Mary with Elizabeth
The institution of marriage, one must not forget, is not one designed by the will of the parties. The parties enter into the institution by an act of self-donation which certainly requires free will; but they do not define the institution. The institution of marriage, like all of what is, is entirely dependent on God the Creator, the God who is the "author of marriage" and who "endowed it with various benefits and purposes." (Compendium, No. 230)
One of the benefits of marriage is conjugal love. Here, too, God is the author conjugal love, and He has endowed it with various benefits and purposes. The benefits do not come without responsibilities. Perhaps the most apparent and perhaps the most abused in our own age: "Conjugal love is by its nature open to the acceptance of life." (Compendium, No. 230)
Not only have we severed the tie between sex and marriage, we have severed the tie between sex and procreation. Modern man has a penchant for separating things that ought to be together and putting things together that ought to be separate.
Though sex and procreation are things human persons share with other animals, we must not be fooled to think that these acts are by any stretch of the imagination the same. Biological similarity is not ontological similarity.
Whatever humans do involves persons, and this changes the entire complexion of the matter. One cannot forget that the procreative privilege given man is unique in that it leads to the creation, together with God, of persons, that is, those with the image and likeness of God. No brute animal shares in this privilege.
The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church speaks of the "social subjectivity of the family." By its very nature, the family is tied into society and is therefore subject to the laws of social life. Uniquely, the family is the fundamental cell where human life is transferred from generation to generation, almost in a manner that a baton is passed from runner to runner in a relay race.
Human life continues to burn within families from generation to generation in a "communion of generations." We might also liken it to the sacred fire of Vesta, which burned for generations in the beautiful circular Temple of Vesta in Rome attended by its vestal virgins. (cf. Compendium, No. 237)
In this manner every child born to a family is a benefit not only to his or her mother, father, brothers or sisters, but also to the entire community into which he or she is born. The family is the temple where the flame of life is transmitted. It is a temple dedicated to the Lord of Life. The family is naturally ordered to serve what John Paul II has called the Gospel of life, the Evangelium Vitae. Every birth ought to declare: Life is good news!
The family is therefore an intensely spiritual society, and the conjugal act that is at the heart of the marriage and which is its fire has a spiritual dimension which is too often forgotten in our day. "Fatherhood and motherhood represent a responsibility which is not simply physical but spiritual in nature." Through motherhood and fatherhood "there passes the genealogy of the person, which has its beginning in God and which must lead back to him." (Compendium, No. 237) (quoting JP II, Gratissimam sane, 10)
"The family contributes to the social good in an eminent fashion through responsible motherhood and fatherhood, the spouses' special participation in God's work of creation." (Compendium, No. 232) For this reason, civil society--including the State--is obliged to assure that its customs and laws support it. Most fundamentally, neither the State nor civil society may impinge or in any manner "violate the right to life, from conception to natural death." Rather, the civil society and the State are obliged to "protect and promote it." (Compendium, No. 231)
Motherhood and fatherhood must be exercised responsibly, with full consideration of a proper hierarchy of values. This means that that married couples must be open to life. Granted, motherhood and fatherhood are not exercised in a vacuum. In making their decisions, couples are entitled to consider the "physical, economic, psychological, and social conditions" which they confront. These present the setting in ...
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