In accordance with the words spoken by God to our first parents, "Increase and multiply and fill the earth," the primary purpose of the family is the propagation of the human race. Without religion, this purpose will be only imperfectly attained. All history witnesses to the fact that there can be no enduring morality without religion, and the history of the family is no exception to the rule. The suffering and labor, the difficulty and disappointment, and the grief that are a part of the bearing and rearing of children demand so much patience, love, and self-sacrifice, that no one not imbued with a religious sense of duty and buoyed up by the hope of an eternal reward, will be willing to endure them. Hence where these religious motives are wanting, the primary end of the family will be either wholly or partly neglected, and matrimony degraded to the low level of a selfish partnership or a sinful pastime.
We don't need to have recourse to pagan lands, where infants are deliberately exposed to die, for proof that such is the inevitable result of the absence of religion in the family. The absence or scarcity of children in many families of our own country is sad and sufficient evidence. Even in Christian families, where religion no longer exerts the influence it should, are found those immoral practices that pervert the sublime aim of the family. One might, and in charity one would be bound to, ascribe the absence or scarcity of children in such families to other causes, if wives and mothers did not openly advocate artificial restriction of families on the theory that it is better to have one or two children and bring them up well than to have a larger number and be unable to take proper care of them. That theory in itself, of course, is unassailable so long as no law of God is violated by having only one or two children, and so long as the expression "proper care" is rightly understood. But just the way this theory is understood and put into practice by most of its advocates shows into what errors man falls when he is not restrained by the salutary curb of religion.
What does bringing up a child well mean? From the standpoint of religion, as far as essentials are concerned, it means to bring up a child in such a manner that it will be able to attain the end for which God created it eternal happiness in Heaven. Such an education even the poorest parents will be able to provide for their children, no matter how many they have; and their own happiness in Heaven will be increased by every child that they have added to the number of the elect. There is always the possibility of a child going wrong despite the best parental care, but the probability of its going wrong from neglect because of the large number of children is far less than the probability that it will be spoiled if it is one of a limited few. The very action of the parents in thwarting nature by limiting their offspring will militate against the proper religious training of their children; for it is not likely that parents who themselves disobey the law of God in so grave a matter will take great pains to rear God-fearing sons and daughters.
Pope Pius XI confirms these things in his encyclical on "Christian Marriage;"
"We are deeply touched by the sufferings of those parents who, in extreme want, experience great difficulty in rearing their children. However, they should take care lest the calamitous state of their external affairs should be the occasion for a more calamitous error. No difficulty can arise that justifies the putting aside of the law of God, which forbids all acts intrinsically evil. There is no possible circumstance in which husband and wife cannot, strengthened by the grace of God, fulfill faithfully their duties and preserve in wedlock their chastity unspotted."
If men have been able to remain faithful under the most trying of circumstances, then how much easier should it be for those whose happy homes are still unbroken and who need only practice Christian self-restraint? The whole argument against large families only shows the absence of the salutary restraints of religion. At bottom it is not the desire to give their children better training but the desire to lead a more selfish and comfortable life that clamors for the unnatural limitation of the family. No one is more desirous of having well-trained children than deeply religious parents. But such parents, regarding their office in the light of Faith, wish mainly to rear their children for Heaven. They understand that, even should they be able to provide them with but the minimum of the goods of this world, by training them for Heaven the main thing is achieved and their principal duty performed. They realize, too, that the success of all their efforts in behalf of their children depends mainly on Heaven's blessing, and that if they merit that blessing by their upright lives, He who feeds the birds of the air and clothes the lilies of the field will also provide for their children.
Those who retain this religious outlook on life will be happy parents. For their religion is their guide, their support, and their consolation amid the difficult duties of their state of life. They know they are the chosen instruments of Divine Providence. They know that in assuming their vocation as parents, they cooperate with God Himself in bringing into existence beings destined to praise and enjoy Him forever in Heaven. They know that every child they receive is a gift of God, since, do what they will, they can have no child that God does not give them. But above the consolation of all this knowledge, is the supernatural aid that the true religion gives them. They have the actual graces of the sacrament of Matrimony, of frequent Communion, and of daily prayer to strengthen them, and the example of their suffering Savior to console them. Yes, with religion in their homes, they can resist the evil example of those godless couples who seek only their own gratification. And though some will scoff, and even misguided friends smile in derision at their old-fashioned families, they will never obstruct Heaven's designs concerning their families.
It is remarkable how often God rewards parents of large families by making the children that came last become the chief joy and pride of their life. The Little Flower was the last of nine children; St. Ignatius of Loyola, the thirteenth; and St. Catherine of Siena, the twenty-fourth or twenty-fifth. Many owe the honor of having a son raised to the priesthood to the fact that they had large families, for they were the sixth, seventh, eighth or more child of their respective families.
There is a story from many years ago that exemplifies the opposing attitudes in families. A young mother of two children related how certain worldly-wise women were trying to induce mothers to limit the number of their children. On the occasion of a social call, a lady acquaintance of hers had remarked: "It is not a woman of refinement nowadays that has more than two children." To which the young mother replied: "In that case I hope to belong to the common herd, as I intend to take all that the good Lord wants to give me."
May God have mercy on those many couples that made the horribly selfish decision to unnaturally limit the number of children in their families.
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