Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Family: Sanctuary of Life

THREE TO GET MARRIED was the name of a popular book written by Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. Marriage involves more than two parties: Man, woman, and the third party, often forgotten in what Bishop Sheen called the "dis-God-ed" generation, is God. 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 God who is the "author of marriage" and who "endowed it with various benefits and purposes."

One of the benefits of marriage is conjugal love. Here, too, God is its author and endowed it with various benefits and purposes. The benefits do not come without responsibilities. Perhaps the most apparent and perhaps the most abused modernly: "Conjugal love is by its nature open to the acceptance of life." (Compendium, No. 230)

Not only have 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.

Holy Family by El Greco

Though sex and procreation are things human persons share with other animals, we must not be fooled that these acts are the same. Biological similarity is not ontological similarity. Whatever humans do involves persons, and this changes the entire matter. Sex involving persons is something entirely different from sex involving brute animals. One cannot forget that the procreative privilege given man is unique in that it leads to creation, together with God, of persons, that is, those with the image and likeness of God.

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church speaks of the "social subjectivity of the family." By its very nature, the family is subjected to 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.

This notion of marriage and family as the social vehicles for the "handing down" or tradendere of life itself has been largely lost. "It is necessary to rediscover the social value of that portion of the common good inherent in each new human being." (Compendium, No. 230)

Every human life generated within the family which travels through time is a boon to life in common. Human life continues to burn within families from generation to generation in a "communion of generations" much like the sacred fire of Vesta burned for generations in the beautiful circular Temple of Vesta in Rome attended by its vestal virgins. (Compendium, No. 237)

In this manner every child born to a family is a benefit not only 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, 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 which is its fire has a spiritual dimension which is forgotten. "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. Couples are entitled to consider the "physical, economic, psychological, and social conditions" which they confront. These present the setting in which responsible parenthood is practiced. Within these constraints or opportunities, couples confront the gamut of possibility from the "duly pondered and generous decision to have a large family" to the "decision, made for serious reasons and in respect of the moral law, to avoid for a time or even indeterminately a new birth." (Compendium, No. 232)

The practice of responsible procreation, however, must be "in respect of the moral law." Some methods of responsible parenthood are to be rejected outright.

The "first to be rejected as morally illicit are sterilization and abortion." Abortion in particular "is a horrendous crime and constitutes a particularly serious moral disorder." Abortion, being an intrinsic evil, is far from being something of right. (Compendium, No. 233)

Any form of artificial contraception is likewise to be rejected. Anyone sensitive to "a correct and integral understanding of the person and of human sexuality" will recognize at once why and how seriously artificial contraception offends against the conjugal act and the natural moral law. "Rejecting contraception and using natural methods for regulating births means choosing to base interpersonal relations between the spouses on mutual respect and total acceptances, with positive consequences also for bring about a more human order in society." (Compendium, No. 233)

The choice to use contraception is not a moral option for the couple. A fortiori, the promotion of contraception by social institutions or States is immoral. "All programs of economic assistance aimed at financing campaigns of sterilization and contraception, as well as the subordination of economic assistance to such campaigns, are to be morally condemned as affronts to the dignity of the person and the family." (Compendium, No. 234) In this matter, both the U.N. and the U.S. may be the greatest offenders.

Responsible parenthood demands the exercise not of all options, but only of moral options, and the moral decisions do not only involve the decision to prevent conception. They also involve the decision to promote conception. There is no absolute "right to children," and no desire to be a mother or a father justifies immoral means to conceive them.

Modern technology has invaded the temple of the family in a sort of abomination of desolation which separates the procreative act from the unitive act and seeks to replace or substitute for the conjugal act. The upshot is that "the child comes about more as the result of an act of technology than as the natural fruit of a human act in which there is a full and total giving of the couple." (Compendium, No. 235) The immoral techniques that are immoral are legion: the donation of sperm or ova, surrogate motherhood, homologous and heterologous artificial fertilization, and so on. While there are some techniques that "end assistance to the conjugal act or to the attainment of its effects" which are legitimate, there are a whole host of illicit and immoral techniques that ought to be rejected. The ends do not justify the means.

One must also not forget that the child has certain rights to be born or raised within the confines of a natural family. "The unborn child must be guaranteed the best possible conditions of existence through the stability of a family founded on marriage, through the complementarities of the the two persons, father and mother." (Compendium, No. 235) Efforts to provide children to persons involved in some sort of civil union other than a family founded on the marriage of one man and one woman are to be shunned.

Finally, human cloning--defined as "the reproduction of a biological entity that is genetically identical to the originating organism"--is something to be abjured. Whether for reproductive or therapeutic purposes, human cloning is "contrary to the dignity of human procreation because it takes place in total absence of an act of personal love between spouses." It is an "agamic and asexual reproduction" unworthy of man. It represents, moreover, "a form of total domination of the reproduced individual on the part of the one reproducing it." It is a form of technological tyranny. (Compendium, No. 236)

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