by Rev. Edgar Schmiedeler, O.S.B., 1940
This is a Great Sacrament ( St. Paul. Eph. V: 32.)
One of the most beautiful services of the Catholic Church is the wedding ceremony. It can hardly be witnessed without emotion, without inspiration, without an increased realization on the part of all of the great dignity of Christian marriage.AN IMPRESSIVE CEREMONY
The youthful twain enter the holy of holies, the sanctuary. That is their privilege when they come in the springtime of their young manhood and womanhood, to join their hands in holy matrimony. They stand at the foot of God's altar as, in the presence of God's minister, they plight their troth to each other.
As the tones of the wedding march die away, a hush falls over all who are assembled there. There is a felt silence as the priest addresses them. There is over all a sense of the sacred as, at the foot of the altar, the two speak their solemn pledge: "I take thee, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part."
It is a highly impressive ceremony, a deeply religious service. All the wealth and beauty of the Church's liturgy are brought into play. All the abundance of her blessings are showered upon the bridal pair. A special nuptial blessing, a sacramental without parallel in the Church's liturgy is given them. Their promise is blest in the name of the Triune God. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered for them. The two seal their union with the red seal of the Blood of the Saviour in Holy Communion. Thus does the Church show honor to marriage, the foundation of the home. Thus does she seek to aid her children as they set out upon the pathway of wedded life.MARRIAGE DIVINELY INSTITUTED
Most appropriately indeed does the Church honor marriage, for God Himself has most singularly honored it. God Himself has instituted marriage. He has made it something sacred, innately holy. More still, He has made Christian marriage a sacrament, a grace conferring institution. Indeed He has made it a symbol of the mystical body of Christ, a type or picture of the union of Christ and His Church.
Pope Pius XI, in our own day, has most clearly pointed out in his Encyclical on Christian Marriage, the fact that matrimony is of divine origin. "Let it be repeated," he says, "as an immutable and inviolable fundamental principle, that matrimony was not instituted or restored by man but by God." God, he insists, not man, is the author of marriage. God Himself has planned it. He has Himself given it certain essential qualities. He has determined its purposes. And all this is true of marriage generally, even of natural marriage, that is, of marriage which has not the sacramental character of the union of baptized Christians. All human marriage is subject to God's laws. Man may not change it.MARRIAGE IS SACRED
How different is the view of many moderns is known only too well. According to them marriage is not of divine but of human origin. Nor is it subject to divine laws. It is subject to human legislators. Indeed, they maintain that the laws, the constitutions, and the customs by which wedlock is governed, take their origin solely from the will of man, and are therefore entirely subject to him. Coming from him they can be set aside by him; they can be changed or abrogated according to his whim or wish.
It is this basically false principle, this doctrine all too conveniently attuned to man's fallen human nature, that lies at the very source of the manifold and destructive evils of modern marriage. It is on the basis of this principle that we find in modern society such unnatural and revolting things as "temporary," "experimental," and "companionate" marriages--marriages which are no marriages at all, marriages which, as the Holy Father states in his Encyclical, "offer all the indulgence of matrimony without, however, the indissoluble bond and without offspring, unless later the parties alter their cohabitation into a matrimony in the full sense of the law." It is on the basis of this principle that other such manifold and distinctive evils of modern married life rest, as the breakdown of homes, the formation of vicious triangles, the setting aside of the divinely constituted purpose of marriage.
All this could hardly be otherwise. Once the fundamental principle is accepted that man and not God is the originator of marriage, one abuse after another will result. Man cannot tamper with the work of God and escape harmful consequences. He cannot establish a marriage of his own, which gives free and untrammeled rein to the rush of passion, and expect to get by unscathed. He cannot sow by placing his own selfish lusts and whims over against the eternal decrees and ordinances of God without reaping the results. To the point here are the words of Pope Leo XIII. recorded in his Encyclical on Christian Marriage: "But if the boldness and wickedness of men change and disturb this order of things, so providentially disposed, then, indeed, things so wonderfully ordained will begin to be injurious, or will cease to be beneficial, either because in the change they have lost their power to benefit, or because God Himself is thus pleased to draw down chastisement on the pride and presumption of men."
Only when there is whole-hearted recognition on the part of all of the fundamental truth that marriage is a divine institution, and therefore may not be tampered with, will the evils that have become so much a part and parcel of our civilization cease. Only when there will be a truly effective acceptance of the truth of the divine origin of marriage and all that it implies will we have taken the first fundamental step toward making marriage really flourish again in our land and toward producing the results that may be rightfully expected of it.
But marriage is something more than divinely constituted. It is something holy. It is innately sacred. God Himself, in constituting it, decreed that sanctity be one of its essential notes. In other words, there abides in all marriage something holy, not derived from man but implanted by nature's God. Such has always been the accepted opinion of mankind. Whenever marriage has been contemplated, it has always been understood that religious ceremonies should be performed, that divine services be held, that priests should be concerned. As Popes Leo XIII and Pius XI have indicated in their marriage encyclicals both reason and the ancient historic records of the peoples of the earth point this out.MARRIAGE A SACRAMENT
Unfortunately, however, we find in the civilization of our own day those who see in marriage nothing sacred or holy, but consider it only a civil and profane pact. Consequently, we find those who seek to divorce matrimony in theory and in practice from all religious significance and control. Indeed we find those who see the union of man and woman in no higher light than that of beasts. Need we wonder then that human marriage has fallen upon evil days, that it has been dragged into the mire, has been soiled and degraded, often rendered utterly incapable of fulfilling its high purposes.
Marriage is a divine institution. More than that, it is something sacred. More still, in the case of the baptized, it is a sacrament, a grace-conferring institution. As St. Paul says, it is a "great sacrament." Through what might well be regarded as one of the most provident acts in His mission to man, Christ raised the wedding contract of the Christian to the dignity of a sacrament, thereby elevating it to a plane immeasurably higher than that on which it had rested before. He placed a natural office on a supernatural plane. He made marriage a channel through which the Author of grace would confer generously His benefits upon those who cooperated with the means He provided for them. He so disposed matters, in the designs of His providence, that the parties to the marriage contract would receive in the sacrament of marriage a right to the graces that urge and help them on to the practice of the virtues that are expected of them in wedded life. In other words, as a sacrament of the New Law, matrimony confers upon the soul that principle of supernatural life which is called sanctifying grace--a supernatural quality given by God to the soul for its sanctification and salvation. It also confers upon husband and wife special sacramental graces that help them in the fulfillment of their matrimonial duties. These truths are expressed in the following words of the Marriage Encyclical:A SYMBOL OF CHRIST'S UNION WITH THE CHURCH
"They (the faithful) open up for themselves a treasure of sacramental grace from which they draw supernatural power for the fulfilling of their rights and duties faithfully, holily, perseveringly even unto death. Hence this sacrament not only increases sanctifying grace, the permanent principle of the supernatural life, in those who, as the expression is, place no obstacle (obex) in its way, but also adds particular gifts, dispositions, seeds of grace, by elevating and perfecting the natural powers. By these gifts the parties are assisted not only in understanding, but in knowing intimately, in adhering to firmly, in willing effectively, and in successfully putting into practice, those things which pertain to the marriage state, its aims and duties, giving them, in fine, right to the actual assistance of grace, whensoever they need it for fulfilling the duties of their state." How highly important that the faithful cooperate with them. The ultimate success of their marriage, both in the sight of God and of man, depends so much upon it.
Holy Writ goes still further to show us the dignity and sacredness of matrimony. It refers to it as a symbol of the mystical body of Christ, a type or picture of the union of Christ and His Church. It is the great apostle St. Paul, who has brought out for us this beautiful truth. In his epistle to the Ephesians he refers to the bond existing between Christ and His Church, the most perfect of unions. In order to make clear to his converts, the Ephesians, this very difficult truth, he appeals to their knowledge of perfect conjugal love. By doing so he shows the perfection of conjugal unity, elevated under Christianity to a grace-conferring level, because of its similarity to that great mystery of our faith, the divinely conceived purpose of the union of Christ with His Church.MIXED MARRIAGES
If we paraphrase the words of the Apostle, he spoke much as follows: "Christ and His Church are one. Christ is the head of the Church; men and women are its members. Christ is the bridegroom; the Church is the bride. Between Christ and the Church there is the deepest interior fellowship. The two are one--one body, one spirit, one Christ. In precisely the same manner should there be the deepest fellowship of love and life between husband and wife. Just as Christ and the Church are no longer one and one, but together form one mystical Christ, so husband and wife are no longer one and one, but are two in one flesh.
But even more still must they be united. Their union must be a spiritual one, the ultimate goal of their love must be union in God. As Christ and His Church form one mystical Christ, so should husband and wife, in the perfection of their spiritual unity, form Christ."
St. Paul even descended to considerable details in holding up to the Ephesians the relation between Christ and the Church as the model according to which Christian marriage must be regulated. Thus, he pointed out that husbands must love their wives as Christ loved the Church. And Christ's love, we know, was an undying love. Again, he said, wives should be subject to their husbands as the Church is subject to Christ. And surely that subjection was a most glorious one. None more ideal is conceivable.
How different would be the home life of even many Catholic men and women if these ideals were in reasonable measure made a part of their lives. How different would all society be if all marriage were really what Christ meant it to be, a symbol of the union of Christ and the Church.
It is particularly in view of the profoundly sacred character of true Catholic marriage that it is so difficult to understand the peculiar attitude of some members of the Church with regard to mixed marriage. The Church's view of the matter is crystal clear. She has always set her face against these unions. In the cases that are actually tolerated by her, as the well-instructed Catholic knows, the Church demands the fulfillment of certain conditions and even then gives her permission for the union only with reluctance. Nor should it be difficult to understand the Church's reason for her stand in this matter. She naturally feels that those of the faith who contract mixed marriages fail seriously in the deep regard and respect that they should have for Christian marriage because of its sublime dignity and its profoundly religious character. She realizes, too, that such unions often carry within them the seeds of dissolution, that difference in religion is a threat to the firmness of the marriage bond. Nor can she fail to see, and at the same time deplore, the religious indifference and the actual defections from the faith that so often are the offspring of these mixed unions.
Pope Pius XI speaks with unmistakable clearness in his Encyclical on Christian Marriage on this subject. "This religious character of marriage, its sublime significance of grace and the union between Christ and the Church," he says, "evidently requires that those about to marry should show a holy reverence towards it, and zealously endeavor to make their marriage approach as nearly as possible to the archetype of Christ and the Church. They therefore," he continues, "who rashly and heedlessly contract mixed marriages, from which the maternal love and providence of the Church dissuades her children for very sound reasons, fail conspicuously in this respect, sometimes with danger to their eternal salvation."
If you are one of "those about to marry" whom the Holy Father speaks of, then for your own sake respect his words. Marry your own; marry a Catholic. As Holy Writ says, light should not consort with darkness.
Great indeed is the dignity of Christian wedlock! If you are contemplating marriage respect that fact. Respect in highest measure the singular dignity and sacredness of this God-appointed Christian marriage. If you are married respect the same fact. Renew often the resolutions made as you stood before the altar on your wedding day. Cooperate faithfully with the graces of the sacrament which you then received. It will be a matter not of regret but of deep satisfaction both for time and eternity.
What therefore God hath joined
together let no man put asunder. (Matt. XIX.: 6.)
Sanctity is one of the foundation-stones of the home. There are two others that are divinely-constituted, namely unity, and indissolubility or permanence. It is important that the Catholic have a clear appreciation of their meaning. It is most highly important that they permit nothing to enter their married lives that will offend against them.MEANING OF UNITY
By marital unity is meant that in the marriage state there is to be only one man and one woman, one husband and one wife. No third party is to enter into their relationship. That was the original law of God. That is the law of the gospel of Christ.INDISSOLUBILITY OR PERMANENCE
It is obvious of course that under this law all such perversions as polygamy, or the marriage of one man to two or more women, and polyandry, or the marriage of one woman to two or more men, are proscribed. Indeed, civil law usually bans such unions. But so too are all promiscuous relations, all vicious triangles, and every dishonorable external act, forbidden by this essential note of marital unity. Even internal thoughts, or lustful desires insofar as any third party is concerned, are forbidden. As Pius XI points out in his Encyclical on Christian Marriage, those who in any way countenance a harmful and false friendship toward a third party thereby offend against chaste honor and marital unity. Such, he says, are already condemned "by that noble instinct which is found in every chaste husband and wife, and even by the light of the testimony of nature alone, a testimony that is sanctioned and confirmed by the command of God: 'Thou shalt not commit adultery.' (Exod. XX: 14) and by the words of Christ: 'Whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart.' (Matt. V: 28)." And he adds: "The force of this divine precept can never be weakened by any merely human custom, bad example or precept of human progress, for just as it is one and the same 'Jesus Christ, yesterday and today and the same forever,' so it is one and the same doctrine of Christ that abides and of which not one jot or tittle shall pass away till all is fulfilled."
Yet, how many, as a matter of fact, and how great are the offenses in our modern society against this divine precept. One would almost have to be bereft of all his senses not to have at least some realization of the multiplicity and viciousness of these infractions. Constantly they ascend like the miasma of hell to high heaven. Few words are needed here. And the fewer used the better--"As becometh Saints." Nevertheless, the subject is one that is fundamental in the disturbed and weakened condition of American home life. It points to a fertile cause of marital unhappiness and discontent, and even of broken homes.
Still another highly important feature that must characterize all true marriage is its permanence or indissolubility. Marriage cannot be dissolved. The marital bond cannot be broken. That is how God Himself has constituted marriage. "What therefore God has jointed together let no man put asunder." Man must abide by His disposition of the matter. Try as he may, he cannot change it. No potentate of earth can grant a divorce.DECLARATION OF NULLITY
Nor does this hold only for Christian marriage. It is true also of the marriage of the unbaptized. It holds for all marriage. This fact, always maintained by the Church, was stated in the following words many years ago by Pope Pius VI: "Hence it is clear that marriage even in the state of nature, and certainly long before it was raised to the dignity of a sacrament, was divinely instituted in such a way that it should carry with it a perpetual and indissoluble bond which cannot therefore be dissolved by any civil law. Therefore although the sacramental element may be absent from a marriage as is the case among unbelievers, still in such a marriage, inasmuch as it is a true marriage there must remain and indeed there does remain that perpetual bond which by divine right is so bound up with matrimony from its first institution that it is not subject to any civil power."
The enemies of matrimony, as is only too obvious in our own country, take a wholly contrary view with regard to the permanence of the marriage tie. The bond, they insist, can be broken; the right to divorce must be recognized. And, not only must the dissolution of the marriage bond be permitted, it must also be sanctioned by law. Some even go so far as to say that "marriage, being a private contract, is like other private contracts, to be left to the consent and good pleasure of both parties, and so can be dissolved for any reason whatsoever."
In answer to those who argue for legalized divorce, or who even claim the right of divorce at the good pleasure of both parties, Pope Pius XI replies at length in Christian Marriage, considering the matter from the threefold aspect of the good of the married parties, the good of the child, and the good of society. Here are his own words:
"Indeed, how many and how important are the benefits which flow from the indissolubility of matrimony cannot escape anyone who gives even a brief consideration either to the good of the married parties and the offspring or to the welfare of human society. First of all, both husband and wife possess a positive guarantee of the endurance of this stability which that generous yielding of their persons and the intimate fellowship of their hearts by their nature strongly require, since true love never falls away. Besides, a strong bulwark is set up in defense of a loyal chastity against incitements to infidelity, should any be encountered either from within or from without; any anxious fear lest in adversity or old age the other spouse would prove unfaithful is precluded and in its place there reigns a calm sense of security.
Moreover, the dignity of both man and wife is maintained and mutual aid is most satisfactorily assured, while through the indissoluble bond, always enduring, the spouses are warned continuously that not for the sake of perishable things, nor that they may serve their passions, but that they may procure one for the other high and lasting good have they entered into the nuptial partnership, to be dissolved only by death. In the training and education of children, which must extend over a period of years, it plays a great part, since the grave and long-enduring burdens of this office are best borne by the united efforts of the parents. Nor do lesser benefits accrue to human society as a whole. For experience has taught that unassailable stability in matrimony is a fruitful source of virtuous life and habits of integrity. Where this order of things obtains, the happiness and well-being of the nation is safely guarded; what families and individuals are, so also is the State, for a body is determined by its parts. Wherefore, both for the private good of husband, wife, and children, as likewise for the public good of human society, they indeed deserve well who strenuously defend the inviolable stability of matrimony."
Before concluding, the Holy Father then states in clear-cut terms the teaching of the Church in this matter: "Opposed to all these reckless opinions (regarding divorce), Venerable Brethren, stands the unalterable law of God, a law that can never be deprived of its force by the decrees of men, the ideas of a people or the will of any legislator: 'What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.' And if any man, acting contrary to this law, shall put asunder, his action is null and void, and the consequence remains, as Christ Himself explicitly confirmed: 'Everyone that putteth away his wife and marrieth another, committeth adultery; and he that marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.' Moreover, these words refer to every kind of marriage, even that which is natural and legitimate only; for, as has already been observed, that indissolubility by which the loosening of the bond is once and for all removed from the whim of the parties and from every secular power is a property of every true marriage."
In this country we have dared reject this teaching of Almighty God regarding the permanence of the marriage tie. The State has dared presume to do the impossible, to grant divorce. Forbidding simultaneous polygamy, it has put the stamp of approval upon a species of successive polygamy. It virtually says that if we cannot live promiscuously one way we must find another--God's law notwithstanding. It says that, if a man or woman cannot have two spouses now, they can have one now and another next year, and still others thereafter.
The consequences of this setting aside of nature's law are just what might be expected. Our divorce situation has become a shame and a scandal before the world. We have outdone even the pagan nations. A reliable estimate for 1935, places the number of divorces for that year alone at 250,000, the highest number by 14,000 ever recorded for any single year in the country's history. For some years past at least one out of every six marriages in the United States has ended in divorce. And it would be considerably worse were it not for 20,000,000 Catholics in the population. One authority estimates that by the middle of the 1950's the majority of American marriages (51%) will end in divorce. Be that as it may, we certainly must have in our midst today many hundreds of thousands of remarried divorced people, several million individuals living in slime and sin, living in adultery, for "Everyone that putteth away his wife and marrieth another, committeth adultery; and he that marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery." Can anything but a curse of God be expected upon such a situation? His mills may grind slowly but they grind surely.
There can be no question that this socially harmful and criminally immoral practice of divorce has become ingrained in our very society. It has become a part and parcel of our civilization, and as such can only be dislodged with the utmost difficulty. It is now taken as a simple matter of course. It no longer arouses the concern of the average citizen. The press is only attracted by it, and then but to refer to it in a flippant way, when there is some particularly bizarre or startling circumstance to give it news value. How striking now the words of Pope Leo XIII, written some fifty years ago, when divorce was perhaps but a tenth of what it is in the United States today: "Great is the force of example, greater still that of lust; and with such incitements it cannot but happen that divorce and its consequent setting loose of the passions should spread daily and attack the souls of many like a contagious disease or a river bursting its banks and flooding the land." The banks have indeed broken in this country and destruction rides in the wake of the flood. It is not an exaggeration to say that divorce has become a moral pest in America, a virulently contagious disease in the social body. It is rapidly putting an end to the common decencies of society. Nor could anything else be expected. The moral restraint which is essential to a respectable and well-regulated society is impossible when the flood gates are thus opened to the rush of human passion.
In their memorable Pastoral Letter of 1919 the Archbishops and Bishops of the United States had the following to say of the cancerous growth of divorce in our social body:
"We consider the growth of the divorce evil an evidence of moral decay and a present danger to the best elements in our American life. In its causes and their revelation by process of law, in its results for those who are immediately concerned and its suggestion to the minds of the entire community, divorce is our national scandal. It not only disrupts the home of the separated parties, but it also leads others who are not yet married, to look upon the bond as a trivial circumstance. Thus, through the ease and frequency with which it is granted, divorce increases with an evil momentum until it passes the limits of decency and reduces the sexual relation to the level of animal instinct.
"This degradation of marriage, once considered the holiest of human relations, naturally tends to the injury of other things whose efficacy ought to be secured, not by coercion but by the freely given respect of free people. Public authority, individual rights and even the institutions on which liberty depends, must inevitably weaken. Hence the importance of measures and movements which aim at checking the spread of divorce. It is to be hoped that they will succeed; but an effectual remedy cannot be found or applied, unless we aim at purity in all matters of sex, restore the dignity of marriage and emphasize its obligations."
As might be expected, the innocent child is one of the main sufferers, is the real victim. He is robbed of a real home, a genuinely responsible father and mother. Often he is handed over to hirelings. And in the face of all this we pretend to be concerned about our juvenile delinquency, or shameful adult crime rate. As if anything else could be expected!
The well-instructed Catholic will, of course, know the difference between a divorce and a declaration of nullity. While the Church reprobates divorce, she does declare certain marriages null and void. That means simply that she declares a certain marriage never to have been validly contracted. There are certain things that make marriage impossible and if, in spite of the presence of one or more of these, marriage is attempted, it remains merely an attempt, and the Church declares such to be the case. There is no question here of divorce or of a dissolution of the marriage tie. No marriage existed.CONSUMMATED MARRIAGES
There are several other terms in the marriage parlance of the Church the true meaning of which the Catholic should be familiar with particularly in view of the fact that secular papers and periodicals so often misuse or misrepresent them. These terms are "ratified marriages" and "consummated marriages" and their contraries.
The term, "ratified," signifies that there is question of sacramental marriage, or of a union in which both parties are baptized, including of course, all properly performed "mixed marriages." In other words, it embraces all marriages which were elevated by Christ to the dignity of a sacrament.
A marriage is "consummated" through the natural exercise of the marital privileges or rights which are mutually conferred at the wedding itself, the respective rights, namely, for creative purposes. Such a sacramental union, once consummated, cannot be dissolved.
The foregoing intimates that only consummated marriages are absolutely indissoluble. And that is precisely the teaching of the Church. She maintains that since only a marriage that has been duly celebrated and duly consummated by the procreative act is a full and perfect marriage, a duly celebrated but unconsummated marriage may, granted certain conditions, be dissolved. There is an occasional instance of this. Needless to add this is not divorce as the term is correctly understood.THE PAULINE PRIVILEGE
Even in the case of consummated marriage--provided it is a non-Christian marriage, that is, not a ratified marriage, between baptized individuals--there is a divinely ordained exception. This exception is often referred to as the Pauline Privilege since it is based on words found in one of the Epistles of St. Paul. In I Cor. VII: 12, 13, 15 we read: "If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she consent to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And if any woman hath a husband that believeth not, and he consent to dwell with her, let her not put away her husband. . . . But if the unbeliever depart let him depart; for a brother or sister is not under servitude in such cases."Chapter 3:
The Church interprets these words as follows: If a pagan or non-Christian partner demands of his wife (or husband) to lead a life of sin or to desert the Catholic religion, or if the pagan partner has gone off, then on the baptism of the party in question, the latter is privileged to marry, this second marriage breaking the bond of the first marriage. It must be noted, of course, that this is not the work of any individual, or of Church or State. It is the work of God. He has divinely ordained this exception.
It is well for Catholics to understand clearly and fully the Church's teaching regarding these exceptional cases. Certainly they cannot depend on the newspapers for their true meaning.
So far as the unity and permanence of marriage is concerned, every true Catholic accepts them fully and unreservedly, aware of his duty to God, and indeed, aware that his country will one day be grateful to him and to his Church for trying to stave off in some measure the results of the decay that the American pastime of divorce has brought upon it. But not only will he accept wholeheartedly the Church's principles in these matters, he will also zealously make use of all means, both natural and supernatural, at his disposal, to build for himself and his family a strong and vital home, a domestic world in which' the purposes of family life can be most effectively fulfilled, in which he and his loved ones can live in united happiness and contentment, and can safely and securely work out their ultimate destiny, eternal union and happiness with God.
And God blessed them, saying:
Increase and multiply, and fill the earth. (Gen. 1:28.)
THE PRIME PURPOSE OF MARRIAGE
The informed Catholic is well aware that, in the eyes of the Church, the prime purpose of marriage is the propagation of the human race, the begetting and the rearing of children. His Holiness, Pope Pius, briefly and concisely restates this view when he says, in his Marriage Encyclical: "Amongst the blessings of marriage the child holds first place." The canon law of the Church on the subject reads simply: "The primary end of marriage is the procreation and the education of children." Needless to say, this is all in harmony with the text quoted: "And God blessed them, saying: Increase and multiply, and fill the earth." God could, of course, have chosen any of a multiplicity of ways to propagate the human race. However, He actually chose one particular way. Man was in a sense to become co-creator with Him. Through the legitimate union of husband and wife were children to be begotten. However, the Almighty Himself was to supplement and complete the parental function. He was to create the child's soul. Consequently, even in its natural condition marriage oversteps the boundaries and limits of this world and its powers. It needs God in a special sense to complete it. It does not in itself have full and complete existence.REJECTION OF THE CHILD
In order really to appreciate how great a blessing of matrimony is the begetting of children, man's true dignity and sublime end must be borne in mind. Pope Pius refers to this in his Encyclical on Christian Marriage in the following beautiful words: "For man surpasses all other visible creatures by the superiority of his rational nature alone. Besides, God wishes men to be born not only that they should live and fill the earth, but much more that they may be worshippers of God, that they may know Him and love Him and finally enjoy Him forever in Heaven; and this end, since man is raised by God in a marvelous way to the supernatural order, surpasses all that eye hath seen, and ear heard, and all that hath entered into the heart of man. From which it is easily seen how great a gift of divine goodness and how remarkable a fruit of marriage are children born by the omnipotent power of God through the cooperation of those bound in wedlock."
How far the modern world has departed from these beautiful truths! How many no longer receive "these children with joy and gratitude from the hand of God." How many rather look upon God's little ones as the Holy Father says, as the "disagreeable burden of matrimony." How many, steeped in selfishness, reject them entirely. How many have forgotten the words of the Saviour: "Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not." How many have rejected the ordinance of God to "increase and multiply, and fill the earth." How many have made the words to read, "decrease and diminish, and deplete the earth."THE CHILD'S TRAINING
How far this rejection of the child, this setting aside of the prime purpose of marriage has gone, is abundantly evident from many sources today. And the situation that has resulted has become no less than alarming. What else could be expected when the law of God is deliberately set aside and unnatural vice given sway? Our own country is destroying herself as perhaps no other nation has destroyed herself. Should that seem an exaggeration let us take a glance at our present population status and at its future prospect:
The figures following are taken from statistical studies of the federal government. They tell us that at present there are only about two-thirds enough children being born in our large American cities (those of over 100,000 population) to maintain their population stationary without accessions from outside, and that in the smaller cities (those from 2,500 to 100,000 population) the deficit is about 15 per cent. Our cities, therefore, are today no longer reproducing themselves.
And what about their future prospect? Even without any further drop in the birth rate, their decline is bound to be exceedingly rapid, barring accessions from outside, that is, through immigration from abroad or through migration from the country districts. Here is what the figures show: Ten adults in our large cities are now having about seven children. These seven, even without further decrease in the birth rate, will have less than 5 children, and these five will have an average of about 3 l/2. This means that within three generations, or approximately 100 years, these cities will drop to one-third their present level. A city of 300,000 in other words, would then have about 100,000 inhabitants--granting the premise that there will be no additions from outside. And what of the following 100 years?
It is true, of course, that the country at large may still take some comfort from the fact that our rural population presents quite a different picture. Ten adults there are today having about 14 children. If the birth rate falls no lower, these 14 will raise about 20 children; these 20 about 28. In three generations, or 100 years, such a population will have almost trebled.
To put the same matter in another form, under the assumption that the present birth rate will remain unchanged, 100 rural people will have 6 times as many progeny a century hence as 100 city people.
It is this surplus in rural parts that is still keeping population figures of the United States slightly higher on the credit than on the debit side. However, as Catholics we have little reason to take comfort from the high rural birth rate. We are an urban Church. The great majority--likely more than 80 per cent--of our Catholic people live in the city. And what studies we have, suggest that all in all, there is little difference in the birth rate of urban Catholics and urban non-Catholics. Some of you undoubtedly saw the recent article by "A Worried Pastor," in America. In it the pastor pointed out that the families of his parish in the East averaged only 1.7 per children per family. And it takes an average of more than 3.0 children per family, in order to make allowance for deaths, non-marriage, and the like, and still keep a population up even to its present number.
Not only are individual parishes, but entire dioceses showing the effect of this blight of our day. Diocese after diocese in the more highly urbanized parts of the country are showing a drop in the enrollments in the lower grades of parish schools. Year by year will this also show itself in the upper grades. There are 139,679 fewer children in our Catholic grade schools today (1940) than in 1930. There are almost a million fewer children in all grade schools, public and private, of the United States than in 1930.
The age-old teaching of the Church on artificial birth control is clear and definite. It has been clearly reiterated in our own day by the following words of Pope Pius XI: "Any use whatever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is definitely frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin."
In this day, in which there is so much shirking of parenthood we may well recall and often think upon the words of Holy Writ recorded in I Tim. II: 15: "She shall be saved through child-bearing." Quite aside from the question of sinful family limitation surely no one would think, other things being equal, that the parents of one or two children could expect the same reward as the parents of half dozen or more.
The blessing of offspring is not completed, however, by merely begetting them. They must also be trained, trained both for this life and the next. For this, children need the help and guidance of others. They are incapable of providing for themselves either in the natural or the supernatural order. The obligation in this regard falls primarily upon the parents. And a serious obligation it is. As the Encyclical states: "It is certain that both by the law of nature and of God this right and duty of educating their offspring belongs in the first place to those who began the work of nature by giving them birth, and they are indeed forbidden to leave unfinished this work and so expose it to certain ruin."SCOPE OF TRAINING
That the parent is the educator par excellence has always been the Christian view of the matter. Indeed, from time immemorial has the home been recognized as the great educational agency, the school of schools. But is it so recognized in practice today? Pope Pius XI makes a bitter complaint on this score in his Encyclical on Christian Education. We do well to recall his words. He states:
"We wish to call attention in a special manner to the present-day lamentable decline in family education. The offices and professions of a transitory and earthly life, which are certainly of far less importance, are prepared for by long and careful study; whereas for the fundamental duty and obligation of educating their children, many parents have little or no preparation, immersed as they are in temporal cares . . . .
"For the love of Our Saviour Jesus Christ, therefore, we implore pastors of souls, by every means in their power, by instructions and catechisms, by word of mouth and written articles widely distributed, to warn Christian parents of their grave obligations. And this should be done not in a merely theoretical and general way, but with practical and specific application to the various responsibilities of parents touching the religious, moral and civil training of their children, and with indication of the methods best adapted to make their training effective, supposing always the influence of their own exemplary lives."
The training of the child, to be fully adequate, must be all-embracing. It must extend to all the various phases of child care and training within the home. Thus, must the matter of the child's health, of his physical care and development, be a matter of concern to parents. And, it is well to observe that here as in all other phases of child training, the mere fact of parenthood is insufficient. Careful preparation is necessary. Anyone having even the slightest conception of the many and subtle dangers that threaten the physical well-being of children during the early years of life, must admit that instinctive love and parental concern are anything but adequate substitutes for sound knowledge and expert direction in matters of child health. The responsible parent, therefore, will eagerly seek the knowledge that is now so readily available for assuring his children sound health. Over and above this, of course, will he consult a physician when this is deemed advisable.RELIGIOUS TRAINING
Needless to say, the Church has always been interested in the promotion of good physical health. She is aware that often there is not a little relation between sound health and sound morality, between proper physical growth and wholesome character development. Nor is she unmindful of the destiny of the human body. Very fittingly, therefore, is the parent concerned about the child's health.
For his proper emotional development also the child needs intelligent parental care. The little one requires mothering; and no one except his own natural parents can fully supply those intangible sentiments which so intensely influence children, which beget the spirit which makes the home a home to little ones and makes for normal well-balanced children. When these are lacking, where parents are neglectful of their children, their emotional life is usually warped and twisted in a variety of ways. So too is the child's social training the process by which he is prepared for his future relations with his fellowman, a highly important one. Those who have given the matter any thought whatever, fully realize that it is anything but a simple matter to develop in a child a pleasing personality or a thoroughly socialized and upright character. Blind impulse and parental concern alone do not suffice here. Keen insight and sound knowledge are necessary. There are literally dozens of unsocial and even anti-social traits and sinful habits--jealousy, envy, anger, deception, unkindness, and the like--that crop out in a child, to his own hurt and to the detriment of society, if parents are not alert to their prevention in the early days of growth.
Most important of all, however, and of greatest appeal to God-fearing parents is the little one's religious training and development. True Christian parents both realize the seriousness of their obligation here and appreciate the honored privilege that is theirs to cooperate with God in forming Christ in the souls of their little ones. They are keenly aware that they are answerable before God for the spiritual welfare of the little ones entrusted to their care. They appreciate the words of the Encyclical regarding the purpose of matrimony, which is "not only to propagate and preserve the human race on earth, indeed not only to educate any kind of worshippers of the true God, but children who are to become members of the Church of Christ, to raise up fellow-citizens of the Saints, and members of God's household that the worshippers of God and our Saviour may daily increase."Chapter 4:
There is no greater service that parents can render than to instruct their children, teach them the truths of religion and lead them on to the whole-hearted acceptance and observation of the law of God. And for the effective performance of this service the Christian home is unquestionably the greatest agency. Instruction within it is associated with the sacred sentiments of the child's love for his father and mother. This makes the truths appeal more and exert a greater influence than when coming from any preceptor outside the home. Moreover, there is the fact that the child's early impressions exert an altogether disproportionate influence on the whole course of his later life. Nor must the important fact be overlooked that in the Sacrament of matrimony Catholic parents receive special graces to help and guide them in imparting the truths of religion to their offspring. Yes, the home opens up almost limitless opportunities for the zealous parent, and fortunate, indeed, the child whose father and mother make the most of the opportunities to be religious exemplars and preceptors within the family circle.
Particularly should the mother's knee be the first pulpit from which the child hears of God and learns to lisp the names of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. But the father, too, must play a part. Fittingly, indeed, did the great Catholic scholar, Karl Adam, refer to this work of the parents as "the lay priesthood in its most glorious form."
Well may Catholic parents today ask themselves how they have lived up to their obligations in this all important field. Well may they draw inspiration and courage from those genuine Christian homes, which, in spite of the conditions of the times, are still found in our midst. There are unquestionably still found among us today those most beautiful creations of earth, Christian homes in the truest and fullest sense of the word. There are still to be found among us in great numbers, parents who are faithfully and conscientiously applying themselves to that most highly important task that God has given them, the shaping of the souls of their little ones, the preparation of the same one day to take the place of the fallen angels in Heaven.
Yes, there are still among us, fathers and mothers of saints, parents of children who have attracted world-wide attention by their unusual holiness--parents who have reared children fit to abide even in the bosom of the all-pure and all-holy God, where stain and defilement are inconceivable. Need we add that these parents are the highest examples for other parents, that their children are the highest examples for other children, and their homes are the highest examples for other homes? And there is this comforting thought: You as parents can be such parents; your children can be such children; your homes can be such homes. May your firm and unswerving resolution be to work toward that end. May you, under God's grace, bring this about. More important still, you may expect the reward eternal that awaits those who respect God's laws and do His holy will.
Unless the Lord build the house,
they labor in vain that build it. (Ps. CXXVl: l.)
One of the chief qualities of marriage is permanence or indissolubility. The marriage bond must remain until death severs it.BOTH THE NATURAL AND THE SUPERNATURAL NECESSARY
But there is permanence and permanence. There are familes in which there may be no thought of dissolution and yet the members be bound together only in the loosest sort of fashion. Again, there are families in which very close integration is an outstanding characteristic of the group. Needless to add, it is the latter rather than the former type of home that is the ideal. Indeed, one may accept it as a principle that close and inherent integration of the home is essential to the satisfactory fulfillment of the functions of family life. One may accept it as an axiom that, normally, the more intimately the members of the group are bound together, the better will the home perform its duties, and the more loosely united they are, the less perfectly will it preform its functions. Naturally, then, husband and wife, father and mother, parent and child, should be interested in the creation of a domestic world whose characteristic feature is harmonious unison. A well-integrated and closely-knit home life should ever be their ideal.
The building of such a family, the erection of a home in which the true purpose of family life can be effectively carried out, is not brought about automatically or by merely wishing it. It is brought about only through the generous expenditure of energy, through zealous effort on the part of the family members. It takes both thinking and acting on their part. But much more still, it takes help on the part of Almighty God. It takes His grace and the family members' generous cooperation with it. "Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it."NATURAL INTERESTS
This is all as much as to say that in the building of a home the natural and the supernatural must go hand in hand. The supernatural, religion, is, of course, all-important. Man must seek God's help and cooperate with His grace in the grave task of building a home. Yet, it is true also that the natural must not be slighted. After all, grace works through nature. Hence, all the things of everyday life that normally tend to cement family ties, all the natural interests that tend to bind the group members together, all the things that help to foster their love and to develop their loyalties, are deserving of minute attention and of diligent encouragement and cultivation. All these can become binding forces within the family. All can help to integrate the group and make it an effective agency for the fulfillment of the family's functions.
The most fundamental natural interests of parents are their children. Marriage sympathy centers in offspring. Children are the parents' treasures and their main source of interest. Interest in each other may begin to wane on the part of husband and wife in the course of their wedded life. But when children come into the home their love is reinvigorated, their home life is renewed, their whole outlook on life is rejuvenated. Because they must sacrifice together for their little ones and must work out in unison their destiny, parents find in them a mutual interest more attractive and cohesive than any other binding force within the domestic world.RECREATIONAL INTERESTS
It is no less certain, on the other hand, that few things are more harmful to the life of the home than the absence of children. Married life palls readily and grows insipid where childish laughter and the patter of tiny feet are not heard. It need not suprise one that the majority of broken homes are childless homes.
It is also well to note, however, that even where there are children, lack of interest in their training has harmful consequences. In this connection, it may be well to observe that in some instances our emphasis on the school, good as it is in itself, has reacted harmfully upon the home. Some parents have become neglectful of their duties toward their children, have unduly shifted their burdens from the home to the school. A vigorous campaign to counteract this should be very much in place. It should do much to make the home again what it should be, our fundamental educational institution, the school of schools. This, in turn, should do much both to promote successful parenthood and to enhance the home's prestige. More than that, it should do much to beget a renewed interest in family life and unite the group as few other things could do. Parents' interest in their children's training opens up an immense field indeed for the cultivation of the affections and for drawing the family members closely together. The proper development of those interests should make them a most influential force for the bolstering up of the home.
Another type of interest particularly deserving of attention, especially where the child is concerned, is recreation. We may refer slightingly to "child's play," yet, the fact is that play is highly important in a child's life. Unquestionably, recreational interests, both on the part of the children and grown-ups, when found within the domestic world, also integrate the home. Who would not be forced to admit, if he examined his life, that simple and inexpensive amusements within the home circle furnished many of the happiest moments of his life, and acted as few other things could do to bind him to his family group?RELIGIOUS INTERESTS
Play is unquestionably an integrating force, tending naturally to tie group members together. It arouses sentiments common to all and promotes unity of thought, feeling, and purpose. Certainly, insofar as the child is concerned, nothing so unfailingly draws out and cultivates the individual's sentiments of affection and develops his feeling of loyalty towards his parents and towards other members of the family group as a home spirit intensified through an emotional setting of play. Play does much to unite the family group. It is deserving of careful attention.
Unfortunately, the conditions of the times have tended to rob the home of this interesting force. City congestion and commercialized recreation have in no small measure combined to eliminate play from the home--the former by pushing or driving the play-seeker from the home because of lack of play space, the latter by pulling or luring him away by the bright lights of the streets and the gay laughter of the throngs. Still, the situation is far from a hopeless one. More artificial effort may be necessary than in the past to develop recreational interests in the home. But such interests can be developed. There is no question, for instance, that parents can show a greater interest in the hobbies of their children than many of them have been doing in recent years. Perhaps, too, fathers and mothers in many an instance can sacrifice their ease and convenience more generously and permit their children to bring their friends into the home for entertainment, or even encourage them to do so. Moreover, the custom of celebrating within the family circle special occasions, such as the birthdays of various members, could readily be revived or encouraged anew. To be sure, these and many similar activities are all in the sphere of the merely natural. Yet they can make a genuine contribution toward the integration and the conservation of the home.
Above all, however, must one not overlook the most fundamental home interests of all, religious interests. While the aforementioned interests, and not a few others that might be included, can do much to integrate the family group by fostering a family spirit and developing a sense of love and loyalty towards one another on the part of its members, they are nevertheless insufficient when standing alone. Important as they are, they build the home only on sand. And if the winds of adversity blow, great will be the fall of such a home. It cannot be denied that the home needs more than human interests and human love if it is really to survive and fulfil its functions. God's interests must be given careful attention within its sanctuary if the home is to prove reasonably satisfying and is to succeed in carrying out its divinely constituted purposes. Divine love must find a place and be diligently cultivated within the domestic world if the latter is to rest on a solid basis, if it is to build not on sand but on rock. God's word will ever remain true: "Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it." Well indeed may we look back for a lesson to an earlier day, to the time when a religious spirit permeated the whole of daily family life. There was a bloom on family life then that one but rarely finds in our day.SPECIFIC RELIGIOUS ACTIVITIES
Happily there are a great variety of religious activities and customs which may be practiced with much profit in the home, now as in the past. It should be of practical value to recall a number of these. Of special importance would seem to be the following:
1. The observance of such praiseworthy customs as the parental blessing, of family prayers, and of other religious devotions in common within the family circle. While private or individual prayers and devotions indeed have their place, they must not be considered sufficient. They must not be considered a substitute for exercises in common within the family circle. Here particularly should be remembered the admonition of the Saviour: "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. XVIII: 20).
2. Keeping religious articles such as crucifixes, sacred pictures, shrines, blessed candles, and holy water in the home. Surely in every Catholic home the walls of at least the living room should be hallowed by the presence of an image of Christ Crucified and by a picture of the Holy Family or of the Sacred Heart. And so far as blessed candles and holy water are concerned, they should not be tucked away too diligently and kept out of sight. They should be in evidence and in use within the home.
3. Having the home blessed. It can only be regretted that the beautiful old practice of having a new home blessed and of blessing all homes at Eastertide has largely been abandoned in our day. How fitting it would be that the practice be reinstated again. How fitting, too, that a copy of the blessing be kept conspicuously placed in every Catholic home.
4. Suitable observance within the family circle of religious feasts such as Christmas, Easter, the Holy Family, St. Joseph; or again, the celebration of special occasions such as the children's First Communion Days, Names Days, and the like. While such celebrations will center in part around the family board--and that need not at all be deprecated--they must not lack a genuinely religious tone.
5. Teaching the children the truths and practices of religion. We have referred to this before. It should have special appeal to the true Christian parent, both father and mother. It is not only a question of appeal but also one of duty. It is well for parents to recall at times that they cannot entirely relegate this task to Church or school, that they are themselves accountable to God for the spiritual welfare of their children. The proper fulfillment of this task will, of course, demand a certain amount of preparation on the part of parents. Indeed, they cannot be too well prepared. Whatever the effort they put into this preparation they can rest assured it will be effort well spent. It is well to observe here too that the example of the parents in their own daily religious practices means very much to the child.
6. Providing a suitable literature for the children and excluding harmful reading matter from the home. This is not unrelated to the foregoing subject. A proper literature in the home will serve both to instruct and to inspire the child. At the same time it will protect him against harmful reading.
Fortunately, there is much good Catholic literature to be had without undue drain on pocketbooks today. But unfortunately, it is none too well patronized by many. When one sees the almost incredible amount of trashy secular literature that is constantly consumed, one finds it difficult to understand why our Catholic diocesan weeklies and other popular publications and periodicals, many of them certainly very excellent, have such meager subscription lists.
7. A "Family Communion Sunday" might also very fittingly be observed. That is, the family members should approach the Holy Table as a group. The occasional "fifth Sundays" that come during the course of the year should be particularly suitable for this purpose. These should not conflict with the special Communion Sundays set aside for parish organizations. It would seem highly unfortunate that the Association of the Holy Family, launched by Pope Leo XIII, precisely to restore religion's practice to the home hearth is not more commonly found in the Catholic parishes of our country. It could serve eminently as a basis for promoting all the aforementioned religious practices within the home. Perhaps few things that can be done for the family today would be more to its advantage than establishing again in our midst this religious organization, the Association of the Holy Family.
By these and other means can religious interests be fostered within the family circle, and the home hearth kept on a sound and permanent basis. The importance of this can hardly be over-estimated. Religion must find due place in the domestic world if our homes are to be thoroughly integrated and are effectively to perform their functions. Only too true is it that unless God's interests are respected within the home, our family life will not prosper; that unless Christ reigns as King of our domestic world, our labor to build successful and wholesome homes will be in vain. This does not mean, as we have already observed, that natural interests are to be neglected. Quite to the contrary, they should be made the most of. But it does mean that the bond of religion must intertwine all other home ties and vivify and quicken them. It means that without religion our family life cannot withstand the wear and tear of daily life. It means that without religion it cannot properly fulfil its functions. "Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it."
Unless the Lord keep the city,
he watcheth in vain that keepeth it. (Ps. CXXVI: 1)
There can be no doubt that, if parents today seriously and zealously centered their efforts in developing a community of companion interests within the sanctuary of their own homes, much good would accrue to our home life. There can be no doubt that if they strove painstakingly within the limits of their own domestic worlds to build vital and vigorous families the results would redound to the good also of the community and the State. And yet, such efforts today are not alone sufficient. They do not insure a thoroughly sound and vital domestic world. They cannot guarantee a permanently stable and genuinely successful home life. The reason for this is not far to seek. Our homes today are not separate little worlds in themselves. They are integral parts of the greater world about them. They are influenced in a myriad of ways by this other and larger world outside themselves. As are the communities in which they live, so too in some measure at least will be the homes that constitute them.ECONOMIC CONDITIONS
Two particular factors in the modern community that detrimentally influence the home are its unjust economic arrangement and its contaminating moral influence. Both of these are given specific mention in the Encyclical on Christian Marriage by Pope Pius XI.
His Holiness begins his reference to the former--that is, hurtful economic conditions-- with the following words: "Now since it is no rare thing to find that the perfect observance of God's commands and conjugal integrity encounter difficulties by reason of the fact that the man and wife are in straitened circumstances, their necessities must be relieved as far as possible."MORAL CONDITIONS
How true his words are! And what a shame that in this land of plenty such should be the case; that great numbers should be in such straitened circumstances as to make particularly difficult the perfect observance of God's commands and conjugal integrity. What a shame that many are tempted to set aside the true purposes of marriage because of want. What a shame that many are driven to forego their fundamental human right to marry and rear a family because of scarcity in the midst of our abundance.
The paragraphs that follow the foregoing citation from the Pope's Encyclical are among the most striking ones in the document, and reveal the genuine concern of His Holiness for the poor. First of all the Holy Father insists upon the right of a family to a living wage, warning the while, however, that a reasonable thrift is expected of young people before marriage. Then he goes on to speak for aid to the poor through private or public guilds, for help on the part of the rich, and for public assistance wherever private resources do not suffice. Next he points to the evil results that will follow if proper steps are not taken to remedy matters: the married will lose heart; the living of a wholesome and happy family life and the observance of God's commandments will be rendered unduly difficult; the very State will be endangered.
The family living wage that the Pope speaks of is usually interpreted as meaning that a wage-earning man should get an income sufficient to support himself and his family in at least frugal comfort. This means that he should be able to secure for himself and family such elementary necessities as food, shelter, and clothing; some of the finer things of life--- education, recreation, and participation in religious and cultural activities; security against such emergencies as sickness, unemployment, old age, and the arrival of additional children in the home.
Man has a right to such a wage. He has a right to marry and rear a family, and insofar as the average wage-earner is concerned the only means that he has at his disposal for supporting his family is the wage he gets in return for his labor. In justice, therefore, that wage should be a family living wage. "The laborer is worthy of his hire," says Holy Writ (Luke X: 7). And the Holy Father adds: "To deny this, or to make light of what is equitable, is a grave injustice and is placed among the greatest sins by Holy Writ" (Deut. XXIV: 14, 15).
But how many fail to get such a wage! The average income of the poorest third of the people of the United States-- that is, the mean income of the poorest 13,000,000 families and single individuals-- was, in 1935, for example, $471. This represented but 10 percent of the total income of the country, and was about the same as the amount that the richest one-half of 1 per cent received. Certainly it need not be added that $471 is not a family living wage.
The mention of guilds in the Encyclical brings to mind the so-called maternity guild which is today found in a number of parishes of the United States. This is a practical organization that is well worth consideration by every parochial group. It consists of a number of individuals who bind themselves together on a parish basis to provide a fund for the purpose of defraying the expenses incidental to childbirth on the part of any of its members. The fund is developed through a system of monthly dues paid by the members, by voluntary contributions from parishioners, by parish social programs and outright donations. The establishment of these guilds was prompted by the fact that many were unable to procure for themselves competent care at the time of confinement, or could meet the expenses involved only with greatest difficulty. Such care is provided to all members from the guild fund. It was prompted too by the thought that these guild units would serve to develop in Catholic parents a definite morale, that it would create in them a genuine pride in Christian parenthood and would fire them with a determination to stand shoulder to shoulder in opposition to modern degeneracy and in defense of the Catholic principles of wedded life.
According to the Holy Father the State has a definite part to play in regard to families who are in straitened circumstances. And, it is perhaps worthy of special note that in speaking of this His Holiness argues from the viewpoint of the good of the State, or the commonweal. His words are: "If families, particularly those in which there are many children, have not suitable dwellings; if the husband cannot find employment and means of livelihood; if the necessities of life cannot be purchased except at exorbitant prices; if even the mother of the family to the great harm of the home, is compelled to go forth and seek a living by her own labor; if she, too, in the ordinary or even extraordinary labours of childbirth, is deprived of proper food, medicine and the assistance of a skilled physician, it is patent to all to what an extent married people may lose heart, and how home life and the observance of God's commands are rendered difficult for them; indeed it is obvious how great a peril can arise to the public security and to the welfare and very life of civil society itself when such men are reduced to that condition of desperation that, having nothing which they fear to lose, they are emboldened to hope for chance advantage from the upheaval of the State and of the established order."
Are you as Catholics familiar with these views of the Church? Are you willing to study them, and to make yourself heard in demanding their effective observance in your community? Would this not seem expected of anyone who would heed the Holy Father's constant call to Catholic Action? And who should not heed his call? Happily our own government is now doing at least something that is in line with the teachings of the Encyclical on this score. It is showing some practical interest in housing, in employment, wages and health.
Sufficient temporal goods are necessary for satisfactory family life. But certainly essential too is the preservation of the moral order in our communities. The State should help to make proper provision for both. If the moral order is weakened, both family and State will suffer. As the encyclical on Christian Marriage states: "But not only in regard to temporal goods, Venerable Brethren, is it the concern of the public authority to make proper provision for matrimony and the family, but also in other things which concern the good of souls. Just laws must be made for the protection of chastity, for reciprocal conjugal aid, and for similar purposes, and these must be faithfully enforced, because, as history testifies, the prosperity of the State and the temporal happiness of its citizens cannot remain safe and sound where the foundation on which they are established, which is the moral order, is weakened and where the very fountainhead from which the State draws its life, namely, wedlock and the family, is obstructed by the vices of its citizens."Chapter 6:
To be sure, the Holy Father makes it clear that the preservation of the moral order depends on more than temporal power, or the State. It also depends on a religious authority, the Church. "For the preservation of the moral order," he says, "neither the laws and sanctions of the temporal power are sufficient, nor is the beauty of virtue and the expounding of its necessity. Religious authority must enter in to enlighten the mind, to direct the will, and to strengthen human frailty by the assistance of divine grace." Both the Church and State have an important part to play in this important field. Both, therefore, the Pope points out, should work together. That community conditions, insofar as morals are concerned, are in reality far from what they should be is also clearly indicated by Pope Pius. This he points out in the following words, after expressing regret that, in spite of the great excellence of chaste wedlock, this divine institution is so often scorned in our day and degraded on every side:
"For now, alas, not secretly, nor under cover, but openly, with all sense of shame put aside, now by word again by writings, by theatrical productions of every kind, by romantic fiction, by amorous and frivolous novels, by cinematographs portraying in vivid scene, in addresses broadcast by radio telephony, in short by all the inventions of modern science, the sanctity of marriage is trampled upon and derided; divorce, adultery, all the basest vices either are extolled or at least are depicted in such colors as to appear to be free of all reproach and infamy. Books are not lacking which dare to pronounce themselves as scientific but which in truth are merely coated with a veneer of science in order that they may the more easily insinuate their ideas. The doctrines defended in these are offered for sale as the productions of modern genius, of that genius, namely, which, anxious only for truth, is considered to have emancipated itself from all those old-fashioned and immature opinions of the ancients; and to the number of these antiquated opinions they relegate the traditional doctrine of Christian marriage."
That all this is particularly true with regard to American communities no informed person can deny. As matters stand, even the most shielded and best of our homes can hardly expect to escape the moral contagion that surrounds them. "By means of the radio and press, the movie-house and dance-hall, the lecture room and platform, our communities are being infected with a poison of immorality that is gradually penetrating even into the innermost recesses of the family sanctuary. With unrelenting precision it is weakening the moral fibre of the family and nullifying the efforts of Church, school, and other religious and cultural agencies to keep our home life on a sound and healthy basis. Step by step the moral sense of the individual is worn down."
Perhaps the worst of all offenders have been the movies and the press. Both have repeatedly and insistently attacked and hurt by their foul propaganda the moral standards of our communities. Both have featured not only the suggestive but even the utterly vicious. Both have encouraged every type of pagan activity, and have done untold harm by weakening the restraining power of Christianity. Both have failed to uphold the dignity of marriage. Both have time and again dragged that divine institution into the mire.
More recently the movies have been bettered some, thanks to the Legion of Decency. But they are still far from what they should be, and need careful watching. What a pity they do not use their untold power for the good of the community instead of using it unto destruction. The press remains a serious offender. Do Catholics perhaps encourage this by the purchase of its lurid publications? The recent riot of picture periodicals has not helped matters.
True beyond doubt is the comment of a prominent Catholic novelist: "It is becoming fashionable to sneer at marriage, chastity, home life, the Church, and to bring into the dining room, the jokes and 'wisecracks' of the roadhouse." Certainly such a situation is not one to foster those incentives to virtue that are so essential to wholesome family life and to all upright living.
The radio has not become so contaminated as the other agencies of communication. However it is not entirely above reproach, either. At least occasionally some coarse gangster of the air, with a grin and a smirk proceeds to spew the foulness that is in his own heart over the ether waves and into the homes of decent people of the community.
Furthermore, a veritable horde of lectures, birth-control advocates, would-be reformers and conscienceless teachers are helping constantly to swell the tide of destruction. With constantly increasing impudence are these emissaries of evil filling our communities with a miasma of public rottenness. The individual home, in turn, finds it difficult to escape the contagion.
What a pity it all is? The home so fundamentally important, and yet so many forces deliberately and publicly working against it! Surely it is high time that the situation is changed; that we build again communities in which upright and successful family life will be given support instead of being brought to destruction. It is high time that our cities and towns be purged of the moral contamination that pollutes them. It is high time that the forces of evil be driven into the shadows--yes, utterly destroyed--and the forces of good again be brought into the full light of the sun. Here is indeed an inviting field for Catholic Action both on the part of the individuals and organizations. Well may they heed the words of Holy Writ: "Unless the Lord keep the city, he watcheth in vain that keepeth it." There is no question that, unless God be re-enthroned in our society, both homes and communities will be brought to destruction.
A Young Man According to His Way, Even When He Is Old,
He Will Not Depart from It. (Prov. XXII: 6.)
In that ever-memorable document that came from the pen of Pope Pius XI, the Encyclical on Christian Marriage, special attention is given to the matter of preparation for marriage and family life. In fact, His Holiness lists due preparation among the more important remedies for the unfortunate situation in which the modern family finds itself. This is as much as to say that the logical starting point for the building of strong, vital families is pre-marital preparation. And surely that is a proposition which one finds no difficulty in accepting.REMOTE PREPARATION
In treating this subject the Holy Father distinguishes between remote and proximate preparation. The remote preparation reaches down to the earliest days of childhood, and reminds one of the words quoted from the Book of Proverbs: "A young man according to his way, even when he is old, he will not depart from it."PROXIMATE PREPARATION
Speaking of this particular type of preparation His Holiness says: "For it cannot be denied that the basis of a happy wedlock, and the ruin of an unhappy one, is prepared and set in the souls of boys and girls during the period of childhood, and adolescence. There is danger that those who before marriage sought in all things what is theirs, who indulged even their impure desires, will be in the married state what they were before; that they will reap that which they have sown; indeed, within the home there will be sadness, lamentation, mutual contempt, strife, estrangements, weariness of common life, and worst of all, such parties will find themselves left alone with their own unconquered passions."
The meaning of the words is clear. Due preparation for marriage must be the result of normal outgrowth of the training the individual receives during all the years which precede the establishment of his family life. The formation of character, the development of a sense of responsibility, a discipline of life, and moral stamina generally--all these must develop from earliest childhood. They are necessary for the living of a healthy social life--even more necessary for the observance of wholesome relations within the intimate circle of the family. For, after all, in single life one's traits are, within certain recognized and defined limits, pretty well one's own concern. But in the intimate association of the family one's character and characteristics are tremendously significant in the life of one's marriage partner.
Addressing himself in this connection to both those who are thinking of entering marriage and those who have the charge of educating Christian youth, Pope Pius XI referred back in his Encyclical on Christian Marriage to his earlier words in the Encyclical on The Christian Education of Youth. "The inclinations of the will," he said, "if they are bad, must be repressed from childhood, but such as are good must be fostered, and the mind, particularly of children, should be imbued with doctrines which begin with God, while the heart should be strengthened with the aids of divine grace, in the absence of which no one can curb evil desires, nor can his discipline and formation be brought to complete perfection by the Church, for Christ has provided her with heavenly doctrines and divine sacraments, that He might make her an effectual teacher of men."
Both the child's own future peace and happiness, and the good of the home he may later found, demand that his evil propensities be restrained and controlled and that virtuous tendencies be duly fostered and encouraged. And the point that must be particularly emphasized in this connection is the need for early training. The impulses to conduct that last longest and are rooted deepest always have their origin near birth. It is then that the germs of virtue and vices, of feelings and sentiments, are so implanted as to determine character for life. It is then that the foundations of all later developments are made, and on the manner in which those foundations are laid will depend in great measure the future family life of the individual. "A young man according to his way, even when he is old, he will not depart from it."
But more immediate or proximate preparation for marriage is also highly essential. In turning to this question the Supreme Shepherd emphasizes the careful selection of a life partner. "On that," His Holiness states in his Encyclical on Christian Marriage, "depends a great deal whether the forthcoming marriage will be happy or not, since one may be to the other either a great help in leading a Christian life, or a great danger and hindrance." Even such matters as specific qualifications that one should look for in a future life partner, while not discussed in the Encyclical, are deserving of serious attention. Lack of suitable qualifications is a real hazard to the future success of a marriage. It is generally recognized that carelessness in this regard, or mismating, so-called, is a very fruitful source of disorganized and unsuccessful home life.FAMILY "BASILICAS"
Worthy of note, for instance, is the matter of similarities. These make for harmony and compatibility in the family, while, on the other hand dissimilarities between husband and wife readily lead to friction and tension situations in the home. Other things being equal, genuinely successful family life may more certainly be expected in the home in which husband and wife are characterized by similarities than in the one in which they are lacking, or in which actual differences are to the fore.
Likeness and unlikeness in individuals are to some extent due to innate qualifications--to a greater extent, perhaps, to cultural variations. Thus there are at least some differences in culture between educated and uneducated, between rich and poor, between members of different religions and different races, and while they might be over-emphasized, they can be sources of serious family trouble. Such differences make themselves felt in the aims and attitudes, the ideals and tastes of a people, indeed, in their whole life pattern. They may prove a hindrance to two parties to a marriage contract becoming intimately fused into a normally organized family group. They may even lead to outright conflict and disharmony in the home.
Here again the matter of religion is deserving of special mention. Sameness of religion is highly important. When husband and wife profess the same faith, and when religion really enters into their home life and plays an active part therein, it unquestionably does much to assure a vital and harmonious family group. It will even be a powerful factor making for harmony in a home in which certain dissimilarities may be present and otherwise prove a threat to successful family life. On the other hand, when religious difference obtains between the chief home-makers, their home usually becomes a house divided against itself, outright disagreement and consequent disintegration frequently result. "Where there is discord in faith," asked St. Ambrose, fifteen centuries ago, "how can there be accord in charity?" And as Holy Writ states: "Every kingdom divided against itself shall be brought to desolation, and house upon house shall fall" (Luke XI: 17). The words of the Marriage Encyclical on this score are no less meaningful. "Where there is diversity of mind, truth, and feeling," it reads, "the bond of union of mind and heart is wont to be broken, or at least weakened. From this comes the danger lest the love of man and wife grow cold and the peace and happiness of family life, resting as it does on the union of hearts, be destroyed."
But while sameness in religion is supremely important, similarity in other fields should not be lightly underestimated. Thus, there is value in a reasonable sameness in age. Again, a reasonable similarity in nationality or race is a matter of consequence. So too are common recreational interests, proportionate intellectual capacities and educational opportunities, similar inclinations or likes and dislikes, matters that generally contribute toward fostering a harmonious spirit in a family group. Dissimilarities of all kinds, on the other hand, mean so many barriers that must be crossed before the goal of genuine domestic peace and contentment is reached. Even in the case in which similarity might not actively lead to a happy marriage, dissimilarity would certainly not further the happiness of the union.
It might be well to add that there is one regard in which differences are safely emphasized. And that is in regard to the traits that normally distinguish men and women. A normal man admires a womanly woman and a normal woman admires a manly man. The sexes are not identical. They are complementary to each other. The modern tendency of some women to ape men, is unnatural and may readily have sorry consequences. For permanent married life the average man and woman rightly desire in their life partner no small share of the normal attractions of their respective sexes. Without them something essential is lacking in the foundations of their home life.
The informed Catholic will readily recognize good character as another highly essential qualification in a life partner. The term can be taken to include both disposition and moral character, or temperament and attitudes as well as ethical standards of conduct. For example, a person with a steady, reliable disposition is obviously to be preferred to a mate who is unstable and changeable, impulsive or temperamental. Again, an individual with noble ideals and high moral standards will unquestionably make a more desirable mate than one of low ideals and standards. Good character, both in the sense of general disposition and moral uprightness, deserves most careful attention when one comes to the important step of choosing a partner for founding a home. By the same token there are of course certain traits to be diligently avoided in a marriage partner. Thus, there is the characteristic of selfishness. This is a key trait, touching as it does life's motives generally and coloring all of one's activities. Marriage is essentially a partnership, a sharing that demands ability and willingness to give and take.
In it, emphasis must be not on "mine" and "thine," but on the common good of the group. It calls for team work, for unity, a spirit of altruism and of the sacrifice of self. In other words, unselfishness is an essential condition for the normal functioning of home life. Family life so consistently calls for mutual sacrifice that the selfish person lacks one of the most fundamental requirements for peaceful and contented life in the home.
Surely the true Catholic can readily appreciate that, according to the integral Christian view of marriage, parents must ever stand ready, out of love of God, to sacrifice their own interests for the common good of the family group. So, too, can they appreciate that precisely in their sacrifice of self for others, particularly for those near and dear to them, do these parents experience the greatest self-realization. They experience a joy and happiness quite unknown to the individual steeped in love of self.
And so there are still other qualities that must be looked to in choosing a life partner. For example, sobriety is highly essential, particularly with regard to drink. Inebriety invariably keeps the home life and family spirit in constant turmoil and peril. Again, jealousy and over-sensitiveness, a carping and quarrelsome spirit, a fault-finding and complaining nature, augur no good for the future life in the home. There is little place in married life for displays of temperament, or for sulking and hurt feelings. It is especially true that there is much room--room without end--for an even and pleasant disposition. And, needless to add, such a disposition will depend much on early training. "A young man according to his way, even when he is old, he will not depart from it."
Not to be overlooked either in choosing a partner for marriage is the characteristic of attraction for home life. Indeed there can hardly be a satisfying family life without it. This particular trait should include such items as interest in home life and home-making, a desire for offspring and willingness to rear a family. It should include a genuine pride in one's home and contentment therein. It should include a full-hearted appreciation of a home-centered life with mate and offspring as the heart of that life.
This consideration is one of no small importance today. Attraction for home life has suffered in modern times. Only too frequently the attraction is away from home rather than toward it, and many different factors are playing a part in this. Attractions outside the home are being multiplied. There are clubs and teas and bridge games. Work and recreation outside the home before marriage mean many social contacts and interests that may make the more confining life within the home after marriage seem a bit dull and uninviting. Nor is the distorted view of the unbalanced feminist, found in our midst today, without harmful influence. To her, anything that smacks of domesticity smacks of "Egyptian bondage." This view, often flippantly aired to others, tends to tear down the more wholesome notions that women generally have in their minds. How un-Christian such a view is need hardly be mentioned.
Speaking of such vagaries of the so-called emancipated woman of our day, the Holy Father has the following to say in his Encyclical on Christian Marriage: "This, (however), is not the true emancipation of woman, nor that rational and exalted liberty which belongs to the noble office of a Christian woman and wife; it is rather the debasing of the womanly character and the dignity of motherhood, and indeed of the whole family, as a result of which the husband suffers the loss of his wife, the children their mother, and the home and the whole family of an ever-watchful guardian. More than this, this false liberty and unnatural equality with the husband is to the detriment of the woman herself, for if the woman descends from her truly regal throne to which she has been raised within the walls of the home by means of the Gospel, she will soon be reduced to the old state of slavery (if not in appearance, certainly in reality) and become as amongst the pagans the mere instrument of man."
Perhaps the qualification of domesticity or attraction for home life is more necessary on the part of the woman than on the part of the man. At the same time there is a qualification that would seem to be somewhat more important on the part of the husband than on the part of the wife; that is, the ability to support a family. To be sure, the lack of either qualification in either mate may lead to serious difficulty.
There can be no question that the economic factor is a considerable source of disharmony in the family life of today. Hence, ability to support a family is not a matter to be overlooked when selecting a life partner. To be sure, to choose a mate exclusively, or even primarily, for reasons of wealth, is to invite speedy disillusionment. So also, for many to aim high would be simply to bar themselves from all prospects of marriage. But there is also the opposite extreme to marrying for money or aiming too high. It consists in rushing recklessly into marriage without the safely guaranteed prospect of a reasonable income. A certain minimum is altogether essential for satisfactory and contented family life.
Perhaps in this country a special word of warning is necessary with regard to exaggerated notions of proper standards of living. There are those, and not a few of them today, who seem to think that such luxuries as radios and automobiles and constantly changing styles are necessities; that all must have them. That is in very truth the sheerest nonsense. The genuine joys of family life do not depend on such things. And where they are insisted upon, they only too frequently hurt the family by emptying its meager purse, by making children--the true sources of joy in a home--seem a burden rather than a blessing, and by causing untold tension or friction within the family group. Both ability to support a family and sane views regarding family standards of living are matters deserving of serious consideration in preparing for marriage.
Pope Pius XI makes three specific recommendations regarding the selection of a life partner. They are: diligent prayer; consultation with parents; careful deliberation. It is particularly worthy of note that while "diligent prayer" is given special mention, even in the other two recommendations the religious or spiritual note is to the fore. Thus, in urging that the prudent advice of parents be sought the Holy Father states as one reason for this, that "on the threshold of matrimony (those contemplating marriage) may receive more abundantly the divine blessing of the Fourth Commandment: 'Honor thy father and thy mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), that it may be well with thee and thou mayest be long-lived upon the earth.'" In speaking of "careful deliberation," His Holiness states that those who are about to enter wedlock should "keep before their minds the thought first of God and of the true religion of Christ, then of themselves, of their partner, of the children that are to come, as also of human and civil society, for which wedlock is a fountain head."
In an address to newly-married couples received in general audience at the Vatican, Pope Pius XII, drawing upon the simile of the dedication of the Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, which had just been commemorated at Rome, asked that these "basilicas"--the new homes--be "dedicated through consecration to God, under the invocation of the Blessed Virgin and the patron saints of the husband and wife, as the little temple of the home, where mutual love wishes peace to reign, in faithful observance of divine precepts." He also admonished these founders of new homes, to whom he was speaking, to follow the example of the Divine Redeemer and accept the conditions of their new life even though it might not correspond at once, or in its entirety, to their dreams. Counselling them further, he urged them always to let peace and harmony reign in two hearts mutually loyal and faithful in their promises, recalling the wisdom of Solomon: "Better is a dry morsel of joy, than a house full of victims with strife."Chapter 7:
Well indeed may all young people heed these words of Pius XII. Well indeed may they often reflect that this ideal which His Holiness has so beautifully pictured is wholly attainable. At the same time they should frequently reflect on the admonitions of His predecessor, Pius XI, on due preparation for marriage. Preparation is necessary for the attainment of the ideal-- even a preparation that reaches down to the earliest days of life. "A young man according to his way, even when he is old, he will not depart from it."
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
for brethren to dwell together in unity. (Ps, CXXXII: l.)
The entire world is seriously troubled today. It is most profoundly disturbed. People everywhere are agitated, vexed, uneasy. Discontent and dissatisfaction are rife on every side.A DARK PICTURE
While a great variety of things have played a part in this, certainly one fundamental and far-reaching cause consists in the fact that we have in great measure turned our backs on genuinely satisfying home life. We have in great measure lost the peace and contentment, the joy and happiness that grows out of the sweet companionship of loved ones within the sanctuary of the home.
One need not be a pessimist to see a truly dark side to our family life today--so dark and foreboding indeed that it may well frighten one. The background of the picture is only too clear, the details only too vivid and convincing. Particularly is this true of our own country. There one sees to a truly startling extent such diseased and cancerous growths as divorce and desertion, as parental irresponsibility and juvenile delinquency, as absolute childlessness or near-childlessness. There one sees a terrible wreckage of broken homes. There one sees in great measure the purposes of the family set aside or but partially fulfilled.THE HOLY FAMILY
Nor have Catholic families been left unaffected. Certainly in our own country do the words of Pius XI's Encyclical apply forcefully to some of them: "These most pernicious errors and depraved morals have begun to spread even amongst the faithful and are gradually gaining ground." It is well-known that the Catholic birthrate has dropped precipitately and is still continuing its decline. Then, too, our mixed marriage problem continues on unabated, accompanied as heretofore by a whole train of evils, notably the loss or weakening of faith on the part of the family members. Taken cumulatively, these and other evils have taken a very heavy toll on genuinely Catholic family life. They have robbed our homes of much of the joy and contentment that should be theirs. The power of the home to bring peace and contentment into the hearts of men is most beautifully set forth in the following lines whose authorship we have unfortunately forgotten:
"In the midst of the great societies of cities with their varied commercial and social relations the heart of man longs for another companionship, a companionship less widely extended and belonging more intimately to himself, a companionship to which may be confided the most secret joys and most cherished thoughts. The heart of man needs the sweetness of the home. Man needs the contentment of domestic life.
"It is only at the home hearth that the heart of man fully expands. There alone it fully displays its treasures and pours out its tenderness. There it experiences a happiness most exquisite and lasting. When the blue sky of domestic life is unobscured by clouds; when the hearts of father and mother beat as one, and the children grow up around their parents ever giving fresh token of innocent affection, filling the house with cheerful talk and joyous laughter, then man is happy. He finds rest and contentment in the home. The very angels of heaven witnessing the scene smile lovingly upon their earthly charges and beg God to prolong their joy."
It is undeniably true that the properly constituted family is the source of by far the greatest happiness in this life, for family life deals with all that is sweetest and tenderest and purest in the human heart and soul. In it are cradled the greatness and the nobility of the human race. How applicable to its members the words of the Psalm: "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity."
There is the additional important fact that this happiness is not passing but perennial. This homemade happiness tends to live on and on--yes, to live on even after the children are grown up, even after the fledglings have all flown from their nest.
How well the old folks appreciate this. For them, that very nest has become with time a lasting source of joy. The very house in which they lived has become a rich treasure trove; that home in which their children frolicked and romped and played, in which all laughed and cried, rejoiced and sorrowed together, has become a great reservoir of blessed memories. From it they now drink deep draughts of happiness at will. Through long years of association within its hallowed walls, everything within it has taken on a very particular meaning to those who dwell therein. Every figure in the carpet has a story to tell. Every panel in the door and every casement in the window has something to spell out about father or mother, or son or daughter, about someone who has tarried there, or perhaps about some who have gone on before. The old folks live on these memories after the children are gone. The children themselves return with pleasure to the old home place, to visit every nook and corner, to recall happy events of days gone by.
Perhaps many of you have heard old people reminisce, as they called back sweet memories of the past. In that room, they muse, such a one was born. There by that window grandfather sat during his declining years. This was grandmother's rocking chair. That picture there is the first communion picture of our eldest son. He lies buried in Flanders Field. Here is the spot where we bade him farewell.
And so they continue on. What a shrine of memories that home has become! More than likely poverty and hardship often were found therein. Perhaps sorrow had often mingled with joy within its portals. But, running through all its history was ever that leit motif, that dominant note of genuine happiness. Age could not dispel it. Time could not destroy it. That motif of an earlier day perennially lingers on. That home remains as of yore a fountain of happiness. Broken homes know it not.
But the Catholic looks upon the home not only as a source of temporal happiness, but also, and even more so, as a means of obtaining joy and happiness eternal. Indeed the two types of happiness are largely inseparable. Genuine and lasting temporal happiness, where the ultimate purpose of life, happiness eternal, is not given due attention, is scarcely conceivable. And unquestionably the fundamental cause of both our family and our world disturbance and dissatisfaction is precisely to be found in our failure to give it due attention. Far too many family members have lost sight of the ultimate purpose of their existence. They have run after vain, empty shadows. They have pilfered pleasure outside the orbit set by God's laws. They have centered their interests and activities and ambitions too exclusively in earthly pleasure. They have failed to make their home life a road to Heaven, a means for the attainment of bliss eternal.
True, there is also another side to the picture. There are, happily, still among us today many homes in which the true ideals of Christian family life are most faithfully observed. And these are successful homes. They are happy homes. Above all, they are religious homes. And where religion really thrives in a family, where it really vitally enters into the home life, though there may be those little disagreements and peccadillos that are found even among the just, there abides a permanent and holy love between husband and wife, a continuous anxious effort to train children in the way of righteousness, a spirit of love and obedience on the part of children. Such a home is a sanctuary of peace and a nursery of virtue. Such a home is an abode of love and innocence where the true purposes of family life are fulfilled. Such a home reflects, if faintly, the harmonious beauty of the Holy Family of Nazareth.
In such a home too are the misfortunes and heart-breaks of life borne much more easily than in the family in which religion's benign and strengthening influence is not felt. When sickness or poverty enter the home which is influenced by religion, though pain is indeed experienced, its keen edge is very considerably dulled by resignation and hope, and by the knowledge that God's chastisements are not unaccompanied by love. "And in the solemn hour of death, faith mitigates the pain of the dying in such a home. Nor does death leave that aching void in the hearts of the survivors that it leaves in the hearts of those who have no faith, for they go with chastened sadness to the last earthly abode of their beloved dead, and there kneeling around the cross that marks the spot, they pour out prayerful suffrage that the soul of the departed may be rested and refreshed. Around the cross planted over the grave they will often unite to bind ever closer the sweet ties of remembrance and sigh themselves for that eternal repose already attained by those whom they loved and revered while on earth." Yes, even here the words of the Psalm apply: "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity."
Well may we be grateful to God that we still have in our midst such homes for imitation. But more grateful still should we be that He has left us that highest exemplar of all homes, the Holy Family. What a source of consolation to all the fact that when "the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us," He chose to dwell in an humble home during his sojourn upon earth. What an inspiration to all, the virtues that shone forth from that simple little cottage in the mountain town of Galilee. Let us, before closing, recall that memorable home for our own consolation and edification. The Church encourages us to do so. Particularly has she done so through the institution of the Feast of the Holy Family.Chapter 8:
We go back in thought to that long ago when the holy trio, the Christ Child and Mary and Joseph trod this earth of ours. In reverent imagination we see there a scene that is momentous in the lives of each and every one of us. Beside a flickering lamp we see the manly and revered stewardship of St. Joseph-- the "just man," as Holy Writ calls him-- as he watches over the precious trust that God has committed to his care. We see there the obedience of the Christ Child, as by every word and act, He seeks to make that humble abode a sanctuary of peace and of all that is good and wholesome. We see the Blessed Mother Mary, laboring to make that little domestic world the embodiment of all the sanctities of family life. Yes, we see there the example of family life that is the highest that can be given any Christian home. And surely the lesson of it all is obvious to us: our homes should imitate that example.
That, in fact, is the keynote of the Feast of the Holy Family which the Church has instituted. As the prayer of the Mass of the feast reads: "Lord Jesus Christ, Thou Who wast obedient to Mary and Joseph, Thou Who hast consecrated family life with inexpressible blessing; make us with their help to learn by the example of the Holy Family, and so to attain to eternal companionship with them."
Surely if there is any fundamental need in the world today it is precisely the need for imitating again the Holy Family. It is the crying need for bringing our family life once more, insofar at least as our human frailty will permit, into conformity with that of the Family of Nazareth. Far indeed have many wandered from the path which its members trod. And much have they suffered from their running after empty shadows, from using family life for the attainment of false and unsatisfying earthly ends. Much have they suffered from their failure to use it for the purpose for which God constituted it, namely, for attaining, as the prayer of the Feast puts it, "eternal companionship with them." It is high time that we are again returning wholeheartedly to that purpose.
If we do this, how incalculable the benefits that will result to a tried and troubled world. How incalculable the contentment and happiness that it will bring to our earthly homes. How incalculable, too, the reward it will bring in our heavenly home--that heavenly Jerusalem where God Himself will be our Father, where Mary will be our Mother, where Christ Who "dwelt amongst us" will be with us forever as our Brother--that home eternal in which God will wipe away all tears, where death will be unknown, and where there will be no more mourning nor weeping. "How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity . . . for there," continues the Psalm, "the Lord hath commanded blessing and life for evermore."
He that seeketh the law, shall be filled with it: and he that dealeth deceitfully,
shall meet with a stumbling block therein. (Ecclesiasticus XXXII: 19.)
In his Encyclical letterTHE CHURCH'S AID
In precisely the same vein did the present Pope's predecessor, Pius XI, speak in his Encyclical on Christian Marriage. After pointing to the errors and vices with regard to modern marriage, he gave as a necessary condition for the restoration of the divine plan, obedience to the Church, to her teachings and regulations. The reason is, of course, obvious to the informed Catholic. Almighty God constituted the Church the guardian and teacher of the whole truth concerning religion and moral conduct. He has made her the Teacher and Interpreter of His law. To her, therefore, should the faithful show obedience, and subject their minds and hearts so as to be kept free from error and moral corruption. So, too, has God appointed the Church the dispenser of His grace. To her fountains of living waters therefore must they have recourse if they are to conform their conduct to the Church's teaching and receive the necessary strength and light to build a wholesome married life, to promote satisfactory and harmonious relations within the family circle.MARRIAGE LAWS
In a great variety of ways does Holy Mother Church aid, directly or indirectly, in the founding and promotion of successful and happy homes. Her obedient children cannot but gain in making the utmost use of the many helps she offers them. Thus, by her teaching the Church points out to the individual the essentials of lasting marriage. Again, she prepares him for the burdens of family life by developing in him a sense of responsibility and self-control. She strengthens her children by her ministrations of grace. She compels them by her precepts and sanctions. She protects and guides them by her laws. By theory and practice, by doctrinal tenets both in faith and in morals, by her laws and regulations, in fact by her entire system the Church helps to bolster up the family, to build happy homes. And indeed the entire system of the Church is necessary for the building of successful homes. Thus, for example, while the Sacrament of Penance is a powerful aid to harmonious family life, it alone is insufficient. Christ has instituted a special Sacrament, the Sacrament of matrimony for the good of family life; cooperation with the grace of this Sacrament is necessary. But even that is not sufficient. Since family life is not a thing apart from the rest of life, still other Sacraments are necessary. And so likewise are all the other helps that the Church offers. Man needs the help of the supernatural. Man needs the aid of religion. Man needs God's Church, the Interpreter of God's law.
The Encyclical on Christian Marriage has some plain words for those who place too much confidence in the natural, to the neglect of the supernatural or the powerful aids that the Church provides. "They are greatly deceived," it states, "who having underestimated or neglected these means which rise above nature, think that they can induce man, by the use and discovery of the natural sciences such as those of biology, the science of heredity, and the like, to curb their carnal desires." However, this is not said to belittle the natural sciences. This the text of the Encyclical definitely points out. "We do not say this," it states, "in order to belittle those natural means which are not dishonest; for God is the author of nature as well as of grace, and He has disposed the good things of both orders for the beneficial use of them. The faithful, therefore, can and ought to be assisted also by natural means. But they are mistaken who think that these means are able to establish chastity in the nuptial union or that they are more effective than supernatural grace."
The meaning of the words is surely clear. Both the natural and the supernatural must be utilized. Left merely to the natural, society tends to drift downward towards ever lower and lower levels. The help of the supernatural, on the other hand, enables it ever to aspire effectively after higher and higher levels. While using the helps, therefore, that the natural can lend family life, the fact must be constantly kept to the fore that the supernatural is necessary, that the Sacraments are necessary, that the aid of grace is necessary, that subjection to God's will and obedience to His Church are necessary. It is in harmony with this that the Holy Father, in Christian Marriage spoke as follows of the zealous pastor of souls: "Quite fittingly, therefore, and quite in accordance with the defined norm of Christian sentiment, do those pastors of souls act who, to prevent married people from failing in the observance of God's law, urge them to perform their duty and exercise their religion so that they should give themselves to God, continually ask for His divine assistance, frequent the Sacraments, and always nourish and preserve a loyal and thoroughly sincere devotion to God." Where this is done by the dutiful pastor, his faithful parishioners will indeed, as Ecclesiasticus says, seek the law and be filled with it. And their married life will, as a result, gain immeasurably by it.
But when we consider Christian marriage and the relation of the Church to it, there is also a very special body of laws that must be kept in mind, namely, the "marriage-laws," so-called, of the Church. Laws governing marriage are necessary. This follows from the consequence of marriage and family life. Marriage affects not only the parties to the marriage contract, not only, for that matter, parents and children, but all society. And where the rights and obligations of so many persons are involved, definite regulations must be made and observed lest chaos result where order is so highly essential.THE AMERICAN FAMILY
Regarding the regulation of marriage by her legislation the Church lays down the following general ruling: "The marriage of baptized persons is governed not only by the divine law, but also by ecclesiastical (canon) law, the competency of the civil power in regard to the merely civil effects of marriage remaining intact." It is for the Church to interpret for her subjects the divine and natural law. It is for her also to pass disciplinary regulations demanded for the good of religion. At the same time the Church recognizes the State in all civil rights pertaining to marriage, and demands in turn from the State the recognition of her divinely appointed authority in all matters pertaining to the moral phase of the marriage contract. The authority of both Church and State is, of course, from God. Hence the laws of both should be faithfully obeyed. "Let every soul be subject to higher powers," we read in St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans (XIII: I), "for there is no power but from God; and those that are, are ordained of God." And as Ecelestasticus tells us: "He that seeketh the law, shall be filled with it: and he that dealeth deceitfully, shall meet with a stumbling block therein" (XXXII: 19).
Down through the centuries the Church has built up a remarkable body of marriage laws. The Catholic may well be informed not only regarding these laws themselves but also regarding the genuine social values that are inherent in them. Unfortunately only too many are not. Being uninformed themselves they do not fully appreciate this remarkable body of regulations of the Church themselves, nor are they able to give to their non-Catholic neighbors and friends an appreciation of them.
As is so often emphasized, the marriage laws of the Church protect the common good. At the same time, it should be noted, the good of society generally is not their sole purpose. They also seek to promote respect for the sacrament of matrimony and to safeguard the interests of the individual. Recognizing the fact that all mankind has by nature a right to marry, the Church's legislation ever seeks to facilitate as much as possible the free exercise of that right. But, mindful of the fact that marriage is a social and a race function, the Church does not hesitate at the same time to exercise control over it for the good of society. Her attitude is, that marriage was established primarily for the welfare of the race and secondarily for the welfare of the individual. By her legislation, therefore, the Church seeks to balance the rights of the individual and of society. Ultimately, of course, even the laws that more directly seek to safeguard the rights of the individual, or for that matter the sacredness of the sacrament, react also to the good of society.
The genuine values and far-reaching results of these laws should readily be seen and appreciated by a consideration of a few of them. There is, for example, the regulation regarding the minimum marriageable age. The Church's present law demands that the male have completed his sixteenth year--in other words, that he be in his seventeenth--and that the female have completed her fourteenth year, that is, that she be in her fifteenth. This may, at first glance, seem low as a minimum. But it must be remembered that the Church legislates for all climes and all peoples. Hence she naturally aims at a middle-of-the-way course, not too high and not too low. It must be noted that there is question here of a minimum age under which a marriage would simply not be valid. Certainly there is nothing in the practice of the Church in this country which encourages marriage at this minimum level. Rather is the contrary the case. The Church's regulation regarding parental consent in the case of minors, for instance, tends to encourage marriage at a generally higher level.
One does not have to look long to see the value of this minimum age law of the Church. Mere child marriages are today practically foredoomed to failure. Rearing a family is never a task for children; much less is it in our modern complex world an undertaking for the immature. Nor is there only question of complexity, but also of social mobility. As a result of the latter newly-married couples are often left entirely to their own resources, living far from helpful relatives and friends. As is well known, only too often are young parents today left quite alone to fight their battles against the forces that militate against them in our giant industrial cities. And these forces are not for children to contend with. They are serious and difficult enough to tax the strength and ingenuity of grownups. It is hardly to be expected that under such circumstances two individuals under the minimum age limit assigned by the Church,--the completion of the fourteenth and sixteenth year for young men and women, respectively--would successfully fulfil the normal functions of family life.
Very closely akin in purpose to the minimum marriageable age law of the Church is the one that requires the consent of parents to the marriages of their sons and daughters under a certain age. Specifically the law of the Church on this score is that, all minors--that is, all under twenty-one years of age--must consult with their parents regarding marriage. It is true that if a marriage were entered upon by a minor without the consent of his parents the marriage would be a valid marriage--providing, of course, the parties to the contract had reached the minimum age requirement of the Church's law for validity. However, the Church would not perform such a marriage over the reasonable objection of parents.
It should not be difficult to discern that these laws, requiring parental consent, help to protect children in their youthful thoughtlessness and prevent marriages that would be premature and without reasonable promise of success. At the same time it should be obvious that they uphold a precept of the natural law, the duty namely of respect and reverence of the children toward their parents.
The average Catholic is undoubtedly familiar with the practice of the Church of publishing the banns of marriage in parish churches on three consecutive Sundays before a marriage takes place. This, or similar practices demanding a period of delay between the notice given authorities of intention to marry and the performance of the marriage ceremony, is of long standing in the Church. Indeed, it goes back to the earliest days of the Church. Here, too, there are certain social values that should be easily discernible. Among them are the following: hurried and ill-advised marriages are prevented and the parties are given the opportunity seriously to think over the step they are about to take; opportunity is provided for bringing to light any disqualification that might exist on the part of either party to the proposed contract; publicity is given to the approaching marriage. This is as much as to say that the publication of the banns by the Church helps to insure greater premeditation on the part of those who contemplate marriage; that it prevents hasty marriages, fraudulent marriages, and possibly other types of marriages that might prove a menace to society and a detriment to the parties contracting them.
With regard to publicity of marriage the Church requires, besides the publication of the banns, that the ceremony be public, that it be duly witnessed and made a matter of official record. More specifically regarding the proper witnessing of a marriage the law of the Church demands, under pain of invalidity, that the ceremony take place before the pastor of the parish in which the parties to be married live, or before the bishop of the diocese, or before some priest delegated by one or the other aforementioned ecclesiastics. Moreover, the marriage rite must be performed in the presence of two additional witnesses.
The social values of public marriage and the harmful effects to both society and the individual of occult or clandestine marriage should be self-evident. The latter type of marriage leads, for example, to confusion as to who is really married and who is not. Particularly on the part of the unconscientious would this open the way to such abuses as easy separation, and even remarriages of legitimately married persons, or concubinage under the guise of supposed secret marriages. Then, too, secret marriages lack the support that would otherwise be given by the outward form of marriage. This outward form represents the external consequences and responsibilities assumed by the contracting parties and as such should be a genuine help toward bolstering up the new marriage venture. In this connection too should it be remembered that it is the earnest desire of the Church, expressed in her liturgical regulations, that marriages take place with due pomp, ceremony and publicity in the parish church. These regulations, too, make for public rather than occult marriages. The Church has little sympathy with secret or evasive marriages. She likes the full light of publicity and her general law demands it. Special regulations take care of cases where exceptional treatment is warranted.
Such are a few of the laws of the Church by which she seeks to protect marriage and, in turn, the individual and society. There are not a few others. All of them, we need not add, are of great value and significance. All are deserving of filial respect and admiration on the part of the members of the Church. All demand a faithful observance. In their regard, too, apply the words of Ecclesiasticus: "He that seeketh the law, shall be filled with it: and he that dealeth deceitfully, shall meet with a stumbling block therein." To be sure, the Church's marriage laws represent but a small fraction of what she does for the good of the family. The whole Law of Christ, of which she is the divinely appointed interpreter, ultimately reflects, directly or indirectly, on family life, to its untold benefit and perennial success. This, the true Catholic will ever bear in mind.
Would also that all the people of our beloved country accepted this view of the matter! Would that they all sought the law and were filled with it! How different would our American home life then be. As Pius XI observed in applying the words of Ecclesiasticus to the family: "When the law of Christ is observed, home life flowers in true felicity."
May God hasten the day when our people generally will accept this Law, the full Law of the Gospel. Then, and then only will we see in our fair land the full realization of that beautiful picture of Christian family life which Pius XII has painted for us in the following words of his Encyclical To the Church m the United States:
"Taking its origin at the altar of the Lord, where love has been proclaimed a holy and indissoluble bond, the Christian family in the same love nourished by supernal grace is consolidated and receives grace. There is 'marriage honorable and the (nuptial) bed undefiled' (Hebr. XIII: 4). Tranquil walls resound with no quarreling voices nor do they witness the secret martyrdom which comes when hidden infidelity is laid bare; unquestioning trust turns aside the slings of suspicion; sorrow is assuaged and joy is heightened by mutual affection. Within those sacred precincts children are considered not heavy burdens but sweet pledges of love; no reprehensible motive of convenience, no seeking after sterile pleasure brings about the frustration of the gift of life nor cause to fall into disuse the sweet names of brother and sister. With what solicitude do the parents take care that the children not only grow in physical vigor but also that, following in the footsteps of the forebears whose memory is often recalled to them, they may shine with the light which profession of pure faith and moral goodness impart to them. Moved by the numerous benefits received, such children consider it their paramount duty to honor their parents, to be attentive to their desires, to be the staff of their old age, to rejoice their gray hairs with an affection which, unquenched by death, will be more glorious and more complete in the mansion of Heaven. The members of the Christian family, neither querulous in adversity nor ungrateful in prosperity, are ever filled with confidence in God to Whose sway they will yield willing obedience, in Whose will they acquiesce and upon Whose help they wait not in vain."
May such be your home life. May such speedily become the home life of our beloved country generally. May all America seek the Law and be filled with it. Then will our American homes become mansions of happiness on earth. Then will they give unfailing promise of happiness eternal in the mansions of our common Father.