Summary: When governments try to help the family, both family and society seem to go into decline. Our task is to restore young peoples' yearning for forming natural families.

February 8, 2010

Caritas in Veritate

St Jerome Emiliani

It is very likely that one of the motivations behind Solomon’s building of the Jerusalem temple was a desire to make the Lord the personal god of the Davidic dynasty. After all, the Temple was just next door to the palace. Governments don’t like to feel that their control of people, situations, and economic development is limited. But just as the building of the Temple was the beginning of a long decline for Israelite worship, culture and politics, so also the intrusion of any government into family life, as a wise man said, has only led to the decline of both the family and the state.

The Holy Father now turns to human development as it pertains to human populations. “To consider population increase as the primary cause of underdevelopment is mistaken, even from an economic point of view. Suffice it to consider, on the one hand, the significant reduction in infant mortality and the rise in average life expectancy found in economically developed countries, and on the other hand, the signs of crisis observable in societies that are registering an alarming decline in their birth rate. Due attention must obviously be given to responsible procreation, which among other things has a positive contribution to make to integral human development. The Church, in her concern for man's authentic development, urges him to have full respect for human values in the exercise of his sexuality. It cannot be reduced merely to pleasure or entertainment, nor can sex education be reduced to technical instruction aimed solely at protecting the interested parties from possible disease or the “risk” of procreation. This would be to impoverish and disregard the deeper meaning of sexuality, a meaning which needs to be acknowledged and responsibly appropriated not only by individuals but also by the community.” As my friend Steven Mosher has said many times, if human populations have continued to rise, it is not because “we are breeding like rabbits, but because we have stopped dying like flies.”

The meaning of human sexuality can only be understood within the broader context of the natural family–one man, one woman united for life. If we don’t start off with the natural family, then we cannot understand sexuality at all, because, at its core, it is the sign on earth of the unity of the Trinity. We reduce the marital act to a game of pleasure, when it is fundamentally a life of gift. “It is irresponsible to view sexuality merely as a source of pleasure, and likewise to regulate it through strategies of mandatory birth control. In either case materialistic ideas and policies are at work, and individuals are ultimately subjected to various forms of violence.” Check out the ten-o’clock news any day. The lead stories are almost always about a perversion of family life leading to somebody’s murder or suicide.

The Pope gives us reason, however, to hope, but it’s hope through a change of hearts: “Morally responsible openness to life represents a rich social and economic resource. Populous nations have been able to emerge from poverty thanks not least to the size of their population and the talents of their people. On the other hand, formerly prosperous nations are presently passing through a phase of uncertainty and in some cases decline, precisely because of their falling birth rates; this has become a crucial problem for highly affluent societies. The decline in births, falling at times beneath the so-called “replacement level”, also puts a strain on social welfare systems, increases their cost, eats into savings and hence the financial resources needed for investment, reduces the availability of qualified labourers, and narrows the “brain pool” upon which nations can draw for their needs. Furthermore, smaller and at times miniscule families run the risk of impoverishing social relations, and failing to ensure effective forms of solidarity. These situations are symptomatic of scant confidence in the future and moral weariness. It is thus becoming a social and even economic necessity once more to hold up to future generations the beauty of marriage and the family, and the fact that these institutions correspond to the deepest needs and dignity of the person.” I believe that is our mission for the future. We need to hold up examples of happy marriages to our young people, and show them that loving, giving, fecund families are our greatest resource.

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