The Family of God

This is my first attempt at a post here, so I'm not sure if it properly falls within the parameters of the site, but it is something that has struck me with some interest recently.

I've simply observed that — in addition to the one true God being Father and Son (not to discount the Holy Spirit, who with them both is one) — the Church is also identified in distinctively familial terms. That seems significant and not at all accidental. It coincides with St. Paul's description of the Church as the household of God in the pastoral epistles.

The natural relationships established by God within creation — that is to say, in contrast to the voluntary relations of friendship and the coincidental associations of mutual context or shared activities — the natural relationships are that of husband and wife (the original human relationship, out of which all others emerge), father and mother and child, brother and sister. These relationships belong to the Lord's creative design, and, I would argue, reflect the image and likeness of God in man. By that I mean to suggest that, as marriage is iconic of Christ and His Bride, the Church, so do parental and fraternal relationships signify the life of the Church as the family of God.

Thus, pastors are spiritual fathers to those whom they beget and nurture by the Gospel. Not only that, but they are to regard older men as fathers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters (1 Timothy 5). Likewise, Christians are bound to each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. The Church collectively is the Bride of Christ and the Mother of His Christians.

So, what does this mean for us? At least a few things, I think. First of all, it indicates the significance of marriage and family as confessing the Gospel of Christ and His Church, and precisely in that way manifesting the creative intention of God. Especially in the face of sin, death, the devil and hell, entering into marriage, being faithful in marriage (and remaining married!), and welcoming children, each and all of these things confess the faithfulness of the Lord as our Creator and Redeemer. Even under the cross, marriage and family are not meaningless or pointless, but gracious gifts of God to be received with thanksgiving.

Second, though, as significant and important as marriage and family are, these human relationships point beyond themselves to that which is ultimate and eternal, namely, to those relationships in Christ which belong to His Church. His Father is the one Father by whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named. Christ Himself is the the true and heavenly Bridegroom of all His Christians. United to Him, we belong to a great company of many brothers and sisters, to whom we are more closely bound, even here in time and hereafter in eternity, than we are by human flesh and blood to our kindred here on earth. Thus, we are not to make idols of spouse, parents or children, but defer all fear, love and trust to God above them all.

Third, those who are not given the gifts of marriage or children in this life on earth may rejoice with special comfort and peace in the family and household of God. Those who bear the blessed cross of celibacy, for example, may rejoice in the Bridegroom of the whole Christian Church; and those who are widowed, abandoned or divorced (irrespective of fault), may likewise rejoice in His undying love, His unfailing promises and eternal faithfulness, and His gracious reconciliation of those who have been unfaithful. Orphans may rejoice in their heavenly Father, who hears their cries and cares for them. Grieving parents bereft of their children may rejoice in the salvation of Christ for the tiniest infant, even in the womb or yet at the breast. And childless couples may rejoice in the opportunity to love and serve the children of God within His Church on earth, wherein no one is alone or without a family.


Intelligent Life: Faith and Fertility

Demographics. It is a fact that populations who are more "religious" tend to have more children. In this story in the Winter 2008 issue of INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, Anthony Gottlieb suggests that something else might also be going on [HT: Christopher G.].

Does having more children also tend to make people more religious? I confess that the more children we have had, the more important church and theology have become. I think this author might be on to something. He cites anecdotal evidence that secularization tends to follow demographic declines in fertility, not visa versa.

But what, then, causes the decline in fertility? In a previous post here, Oswald Spengler offers some historical insight. Cultural attitudes about children come first. Cultural attitudes tend to infect even the religions themselves. Look at what happened over the past century in Christianity, and what happens to Muslims who live in post-modern cultures. And, even though the Roman Catholic church maintains its official position against contraception, the majority of those who claim to be Roman Catholic tend to contracept right along with the rest of the culture they live in. Gottlieb suggests that the resultant decline in fertility then brings about a population's gradual abandonment of religion.

Now, other religions aside, let us consider what correlation faith and fertility could have for Christians. Does having more children make one more faithful? I think not. Faith comes by hearing, not by procreating. Faith is created, maintained, and strengthened by God's Word and Sacraments. Children certainly are blessings, but they are not a means of grace. Scripture would even suggest that those who have the gift of celibacy can be even more devout. However, consider this: perhaps contraception and faith are not very compatible. Unrepentant sin chases away faith and the Holy Spirit. I should hasten to add that I do not mean to imply that all use of contraception is unrepentant sin.


Katharina Luther

Today we remember a charter member of the Concordian Sisters of Perpetual Parturition,
Katie Luther.

Katharina von Bora (1499–1552) was placed in a convent when still a child and became a nun in 1515. In April 1523 she and eight other nuns were rescued from the convent and brought to Wittenberg. There Martin Luther helped return some to their former homes and placed the rest in good families. Katharina and Martin were married on June 13, 1525. Their marriage was a happy one and blessed with six children. Katharina skillfully managed the Luther household, which always seemed to grow because of his generous hospitality. After Luther's death in 1546, Katharina remained in Wittenberg but lived much of the time in poverty. She died in an accident on December 20, 1552, while traveling with her children to Torgau in order to escape the plague.


Dignitas Personae

The Vatican's first authoritative statement on reproductive science in 21 years, Dignitas Personae, approved by the Pope on June 20 and published on December 8 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has triggered intense debate about some of the most contentious issues in surrounding procreation, including stem cells, designer babies, cloning, and a host of techniques widely used as birth control and to help infertile couples have children.

Links for summary and Q&A: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Regarding what weight this carries for Roman Catholics, the following statement is made in the Vatican Summary:

The document is an Instruction of a doctrinal nature, published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and expressly approved by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. The Instruction therefore falls within the category of documents that "participate in the ordinary Magisterium of the successor of Peter" (Instruction Donum veritatis, n.18) and is to be received by Catholics "with the religious assent of their spirit" (Dignitas personae, n.37).

Especially of interest is the following excerpt (emphasis mine), which doesn't beat around the bush the way some do regarding abortifactient methods of birth control (i.e. IUDs and all hormonal contraceptives such as the Pill and so-called "emergency contraception"):

23. Alongside methods of preventing pregnancy which are, properly speaking, contraceptive, that is, which prevent conception following from a sexual act, there are other technical means which act after fertilization, when the embryo is already constituted, either before or after implantation in the uterine wall. Such methods are interceptive if they interfere with the embryo before implantation and contragestative if they cause the elimination of the embryo once implanted.

In order to promote wider use of interceptive methods,[43] it is sometimes stated that the way in which they function is not sufficiently understood. It is true that there is not always complete knowledge of the way that different pharmaceuticals operate, but scientific studies indicate that the effect of inhibiting implantation is certainly present, even if this does not mean that such interceptives cause an abortion every time they are used, also because conception does not occur after every act of sexual intercourse. It must be noted, however, that anyone who seeks to prevent the implantation of an embryo which may possibly have been conceived and who therefore either requests or prescribes such a pharmaceutical, generally intends abortion.

When there is a delay in menstruation, a contragestative is used,[44] usually one or two weeks after the non-occurrence of the monthly period. The stated aim is to re-establish menstruation, but what takes place in reality is the abortion of an embryo which has just implanted.

As is known, abortion is “the deliberate and direct killing, by whatever means it is carried out, of a human being in the initial phase of his or her existence, extending from conception to birth”.[45] Therefore, the use of means of interception and contragestation fall within the sin of abortion and are gravely immoral. Furthermore, when there is certainty that an abortion has resulted, there are serious penalties in canon law.[46]

I found it interesting that the document takes the position that vaccines which have been developed using cells from aborted fetuses are acceptable, while questioning the morality of adopting embryos to give them life through implantation. They warn that the latter action could help perpetuate the creation of more embryos. Here's the document's statement:

According to this criterion, the use of “biological material” of illicit origin would be ethically permissible provided there is a clear separation between those who, on the one hand, produce, freeze and cause the death of embryos and, on the other, the researchers involved in scientific experimentation.

Simple Irreversible Sterilization for Women

Essure--a newer, cheaper, faster, scalpel-free alternative to tubal ligation that is irreversible. Story in this week's Time Magazine.

<--An Essure device is seen in the tubal opening

Their advertising slogan:
"When your family is complete, choose Essure."


"What I do with my body doesn't affect you!" Oh, Really.

From the British publication, The Independent, we read this headline:

It's official: Men really are the weaker sex
Evolution is being distorted by pollution, which damages genitals and the ability to father offspring, says new study. Geoffrey Lean reports

The article, published on Sunday, December 7, 2008, begins:

The male gender is in danger, with incalculable consequences for both humans and wildlife, startling scientific research from around the world reveals.

The research – to be detailed tomorrow in the most comprehensive report yet published – shows that a host of common chemicals is feminising males of every class of vertebrate animals, from fish to mammals, including people.

Backed by some of the world's leading scientists, who say that it "waves a red flag" for humanity . . . .
What does this have to do with the subject of this blog? Read on. In a part of the article dealing with the impact on fish, the writer informs his readers:

Female hormones – largely from the contraceptive pills which pass unaltered through sewage treatment – are partly responsible, while more than three-quarters of sewage works have been found also to be discharging demasculinising man-made chemicals.
In other words, contraceptive pills are entering the water supply, chemically emasculating fish, as well as males of other species.

Not only are we males less fertile than our ancestors, there are proportionately fewer of us:
Communities heavily polluted with gender-benders in Canada, Russia and Italy have given birth to twice as many girls than boys, which may offer a clue to the reason for a mysterious shift in sex ratios worldwide. Normally 106 boys are born for every 100 girls, but the ratio is slipping. It is calculated that 250,000 babies who would have been boys have been born as girls instead in the US and Japan alone.

And sperm counts are dropping precipitously. Studies in more than 20 countries have shown that they have dropped from 150 million per millilitre of sperm fluid to 60 million over 50 years. (Hamsters produce nearly three times as much, at 160 million.) Professor Nil Basu of Michigan University says that this adds up to "pretty compelling evidence for effects in humans".
Contraceptives are not the only factor, of course. But it turns out that what you do with your body does affect me.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God actually say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?'" And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'" But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

We never learn, listening again and again to the same old serpent, who whispers in our ears that we can be like God, knowing good and evil, if we just ignore His injunctions, and that no harm will come of it.

See http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/its-official-men-really-are-the-weaker-sex-1055688.html


L&P Book of the Month

From Redeemer Press, by Rev. Kurt E. Reinhardt

My Light and My Salvation

Here is a sample:

Lost in the Terror of the Night
by Kurt Reinhardt c. 2008

Lost in the terror of the night,
The thorns had caught me in my flight,
My bleating cries would soon be still,
The wolf was circling for the kill.

But then His voice came on the wind:
"My precious Lamb, I know you've sinned,
Yet I have come to seek the lost,
To rescue them at any cost."

He traced my path into the wild,
His heart set on His wayward child,
Until He found me where I lay,
His foolish sheep that went astray.

Into the thorns He stretched His arm
With boundless love, enduring harm,
His hands were cut and pierced for me
To break the snare and set me free.

With tender mercy I'm held fast;
Around His neck, now safe at last,
My shepherd bears me through the night
Towards the joy of dawning light.

What a great Christmas present idea!



My second oldest daughter's "Page-a-Day" trivia calendar had this entry for Friday, November 28:

What popular performer, in accepting an Oscar for Best Actor, said, "I'd like to thank my parents for not practicing birth control"?

Answer: Dustin Hoffman, when he won the Oscar in 1980 for
Kramer vs. Kramer

Contraception and the Innocent Spouse

An interesting ethical Q&A submitted for your consideration from the Winter 2008 One More Soul Update, Volume 13, Issue 2, page 6 - just received in the mail:


May a husband engage in the marital act when his wife is using the Pill, even though he knows that contraception is wrong? Would not the innocent spouse need to refrain from the marital act when the Pill or other hormonal contraceptives are involved because of the abortifacient capacity of these birth-regulating methods? --JMJ


Dear JMJ,

This is a tough question, because there is clear teaching from the Church that contraception is intrinsically evil and sinful. Despite this, there is massive moral non-compliance among Catholics. Eighty-five percent of Catholic couples of childbearing age are contracepting or sterilized. Yet many of these receive the Eucharist on a regular basis without using first the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Very seldom do Catholics hear anything from the pulpit about the moral evil of contraception.

This leaves the impression that the teaching church is clear about the immorality of contraception, but is not prepared to put that teaching into pastoral practice. If there is silence from the pulpit, then the unspoken message is that couples can continue in their contraceptive lifestyle and not be concerned about the morality of what they are doing.

A very different situation would arise if an entire diocese, with all the priests in a united front with their bishop, were to take a clear position on the immorality of contraception. Then all engaged couples would be strongly encouraged to learn NFP. The intention to use contraception would be grounds for a priest to refuse to marry a couple. For already married couples, pastors would teach that contraception is a serious moral evil, and must be confessed and repented of before receiving the Eucharist. All couples would be strongly encouraged to learn morally acceptable ways of planning their families. Some proportionate form of restitution would be recommended for those who have sterilized themselves. Catholic doctors would be warned that they cannot receive the Eucharist if they are prescribing contraception, performing sterilizations, or making referrals for these.

It is in the present situation of massive moral non-compliance that I make my comments. What follow is not Magisterial teaching; rather, it is an informed theological opinion. I speak to what an innocent spouse can do on his own to rectify the abuses of his marriage. At this point in time, he is largely on his own, without the explicit public support of the clergy. The innocent spouse must continually pray and work for the conversion of the offending spouse. This requires understanding what the spousal act was designed to express and accomplish. It means talking about these important matters. It means making sacrifices for her. The innocent spouse should remind the other of the total immorality of contraception, and the possible abortifacient factor in using the Pill, and encourage her to move in the direction of NFP. A good husband should encourage his wife to transfer her trust away from the Pill and place it in God’s providence, in her husband’s willingness to share with her the burden of family planning, and in God’s inexhaustible love for us. Our Lord took people where they were, and pointed them in the direction they should be taking. He appealed to their good reason and to their better selves. He respected the freedom of their conscience. He proposed God’s plan for us, while never imposing it. He gave people, and continues to give us, a little time so that we could freely come to our senses. Eventually, however, the time will come when we will have to give a thorough accounting for all our choices and deeds. The Lord warned us that we are responsible for how we use our freedom.

What can an innocent spouse do if the other refuses to move away from contraception? Could he decide to forego the marital act? Since we are not to cooperate with sin, and contraception is sinful, the innocent spouse has a right and a duty to refuse to cooperate with evil, insofar as that is possible. A contracepted act is not a marital act, since it has separated the unitive from the procreative dimension. Now it is simply a sexual act. It is an act of conditioned self-giving, with many reservations. Such an act does not enrich the relationship; rather, it tends to unravel the fabric of their bonding. Rather than make a lie with their bodies, a couple should simply remain silent.

Such a choice will bring tensions to the marriage, but unnecessary tensions already exist. The only proper solution is to cease doing what is evil, and begin doing what is good. If nothing else, simply do nothing!

Many divorces can be traced back to the damage done by contraception. The high divorce rates in this country took off at the same time that the Pill arrived. If we are to address the problem of a 50% divorce rate among Catholics, then we must get to the root cause. And if this requires a change of attitudes, values, and practices, then that is what must be done.

Doing good for our neighbor also includes helping them resist evil.

Cordially yours,

Fr. Matthew Habiger OSB, PhD