Each creature God endowed with gifts proportionate to its role, but he crowned man with a gift denied to the angels, whom he made a little higher than man, and the beasts, whom he subjected to man: the ability to bring forth new life freely in love. For the angels neither marry nor are given in marriage, and so reproduce not at all, while the beasts do so only by instinct, that is, by necessity. But man, whom God has left in the power of his own counsel, reproduces by choice. Of course, if he wills he may degrade himself to the level of the beasts by promiscuity, or “raise” himself to the level of the angels by contraception. In either case, however, man debases himself.
But when he exercises this gift aright, he lives up to his stature as the Imago Dei by sharing in the free divine creativity. That is why, when I see husbands and wives declining to become fathers and mothers because of contraception, I long to plead with them in the words of Saint Leo the Great, altering their meaning but adding to their depth: “Rouse yourself, man, and recognize the dignity of your nature.” And I cannot express that dignity better than in the words of Scripture: You are gods (John 10:34).
You are gods—and still you prefer Netflix? I assure you, there is more laughter in our living rooms full of children than in yours without them. You are gods—and still you prefer Europe? Our backyards are broader than your British fields. You are gods—and still you prefer fine restaurants? Our kitchens serve richer fare than your trendiest eateries, for around our tables sit the living, not the dead, and it is the Spirit that giveth life: filet mignon profiteth nothing. Not, of course, that these things—entertainment and travel and fine dining—are not good, just that they are not good enough. Not that they are not choice, just that they are not to be chosen over what is choicer. And what is choicer is to become divine.
To be sure, it is not easy to parent: it entails much pain. But consider the Father looking down on his suffering Son, while his Son’s suffering Mother stands by looking up. The Father did not suffer, but his Son did; the Mother suffered as no mother ever has or will. Your son scrapes his knee, hers was scourged. Your son is teased, hers mocked. Your son cries for milk, hers thirsted from the cross. You endure sleepless nights, she kept vigil with her Son as he entered his Passion. Or do you think the Blessed Mother slept in peace while her Son prayed in agony? Always and everywhere what is true of the Son is proportionately true of the Mother: Look and see whether there is any suffering like my suffering. And you expect to be exempt?
Yet some still shrink from children because they believe they will do no great deeds after the children arrive. They have not considered that the two greatest saints are a mother and a father: the Mother of God and God’s foster father. They did no great deeds, in the estimation of this vain and passing world, yet they achieved surpassing holiness by contemplating and serving God in their home. God offers husbands and wives the same opportunity—as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me—and yet they prefer promotions. They have received their reward.
Love of pleasure, fear of pain, and the desire for honors: these three cause husbands and wives to spurn the divine gift of engendering new life that endures forever. Yet so great is this gift that it must have been enjoyed in the Garden; otherwise, if I read my Aquinas rightly, an absurdity follows: obtaining the gift would have been the one exception to the rule that it is never lawful to do evil that good may come. “In the state of innocence,” says the Saint, “there would have been procreation for the increase of the human race; otherwise man’s sin would have been urgently necessary, seeing that so great a good followed from it.” Man would have been impelled to become a god had God not made him one already.
If we reflect on this inestimable gift, we can see why the seer of Fatima was right to declare that the final battle would be over the family. Our Ancient Foe hates our ability to bring forth new life, and it is not hard to see why. On the one hand, he lacks this ability himself, and it must surely sting his pride to see such lesser creatures as ourselves doing what he cannot. Satan can pervert, but not procreate. He can counterfeit, but not create. On the other hand, every new human being is a new instantiation of some new aspect of the divinity: every new being shows forth the divine goodness in some new way. And even if the devil, in the end, seduces the new person to his service he does not win, for as Tolkien’s God instructed Tolkien’s Satan: “And thou, Melkor wilt discover all the secret thoughts of thy mind, and wilt perceive that they are but a part of the whole and a tributary to its glory.” Of men he said something similar: “These too in their time shall find that all that they do redounds at the end only to the glory of my work.”
The glory of God’s work is now as it was then: a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. Yet God, in divine restraint, will not accomplish this glory without the cooperation of lesser deities—he creates a soul only when man provides a body. Thus, the wife who refuses to become a mother refuses to become a goddess; the husband who rejects fatherhood rejects divinity. The one never brings forth life by her sacrifice; the other never protects it by his. The one never nourishes life from her very body, as Our Savior does, the other never lays down his life daily, as Our Savior did. Instead, both are trying to save their lives, and so are losing them. Heaven itself suffers this loss, for the glory of heaven is diminished when heaven is deprived of the good each person, whether he wills it or not, contributes to the world.
Still, there is hope. We are gods, and the words of Scripture cannot be broken—not even by the Pill.
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Justin Bradford Smith practices law in Texas, focusing on criminal and civil appeals. He is a graduate of Baylor University School of Law. Smith and his wife have three children.