Marriage Is About What Is Best For Children

As a kind of follow-up from yesterday’s Gospel on marriage, we do well to ponder where our focus on marriage is, both personally and nationally.

Finding our way back – Part of the essential work we must do in re-establishing a coherent vision for marriage rooted in tradition, Natural Law, and, for believers, Scripture, is to restore a proper reference point so that all the pieces of the discussion make sense.

What is this proper reference point? Marriage is essentially about children and what is best for them. It is not about civil rights; it is not about two adults being happy and fulfilled. If we use the proper starting point, a lot of other things begin to fall in place.

1. Marriage is a stable and lasting union – Children require 18+ years to come to maturity. A stable environment is obviously best for them. In too many cases, children are ferried back and forth between parents who are either divorced or never married in the first place. One weekend here, another there, one summer here, another there. The instability is devastating for children. Parents should seek, above all, to resolve their differences and stay married.

Living in a stable though imperfect home—and all homes are imperfect—is an important way that children learn values such as trust, commitment, forgiveness, tolerance, generosity, conflict resolution, love, loyalty, and integrity.  It inculcates in them a sense of true marriage and family, knits together important family ties on a multigenerational level, and sets them up to be able to form strong families themselves when they are older. They also learn proper dynamics between men and women: how to treat and regard members of the opposite sex.

Those who simply claim that the traditional, stable family is no better or worse than other arrangement are ignoring what long human experience has taught us in this regard. Scripture affirms the value of a stable family when it speaks of a husband clinging to his wife (Gen 2:24, Matt 19:1ff inter al) and when Jesus forbids divorce (Matt 5, Matt 19, Mark 10 inter al). Marriage is about what is best for children, and as a rule, stability is best.

2. Marriage is the union of two heterosexuals – Though heterosexual relations are obviously necessary for procreation, that is not the main point here, for many homosexuals argue that they can adopt children. The central point here is what is best in raising them.

The fact is that children are best raised by a mother and father together. In terms of simple human formation, children are best raised with both male and female influences. There are things that a father can say to and model for his children that are properly and best done by a father. Likewise, there are things that a mother can say to and model for her children that are properly and best done by a mother. This is what nature herself provides in linking procreation to both a father and a mother. Situations in which there are two fathers, or two mothers, or just one parent, are not ideal for children. As a rule, it is best for children to be raised in a traditional family setting.

There are times when death or illnesses make the ideal setting impossible. There are exceptional circumstances in which a father or mother is unfit, but in general a traditional heterosexual marriage is the ideal environment for children. It is what nature herself has set forth and, for believers, it is what God has set forth. In cases in which a parent is missing from the family, it is essential for the remaining parent to provide opportunities for children to interact in a proper way with mentors of the missing sex. This can be accomplished with aunts, uncles, grandparents, and the like.

The bottom line is that traditional heterosexual marriage is optimal for children and their human formation. All other arrangements are less than ideal. To the degree possible, children should be raised in the optimal setting that nature and nature’s God have set forth.

When placing children for adoption, married heterosexual couples should have priority over single parents and homosexual couples. This is not bigotry, it is what is best for children. There is typically no difficulty finding homes for infants. Sadly, it is more difficult to find homes for older children, but married heterosexual couples should still generally speaking be favored.

Again, the important thing is what is best for children, not whether certain adults may be offended by perceived bigotry, or whether the approach is politically correct.

3. Traditional, heterosexual marriage should enjoy the favor of law and recognition – One of the great battle lines in the marriage debate has been that married couples enjoy certain favors under law such as tax advantages, inheritance rights, and hospital visitation privileges. Most people see some room for give on these sorts of matters. On a case-by-case basis, it may make some sense to allow, under civil law, a greater ability for Americans to legally enact a wider variety of arrangements for power of attorney, inheritance, and the like.

However, if what is best for children remains our starting point, then it also follows that traditional heterosexual marriage should enjoy some legitimate favors. Strengthening traditional marriage is a worthwhile goal for public policy. Some tax provisions encourage forming and keeping traditional families. Granted, the degree to which such proactive policies should go is debatable. Even among supporters of traditional marriage there are some who have a libertarian view when it comes to any government involvement.

In the end, whether through tax breaks, other laws, or simply through special recognition, a strong support of and advocacy for traditional marriage is proper and good, for whatever strengthens the traditional family is good for children. Whatever we can do as a society to uphold traditional marriage, insist on fidelity, limit divorce, and give special recognition and honor to these families is good for children.

This also is why legal recognition of other types of unions as “marriage” is problematic. To use the same term, “marriage,” both for traditional heterosexual marriage and for gay unions implies an equality that is not true. Gay unions are not on the same footing with traditional marriage because they are not what is best for children. Traditional marriage is what is best for children and it should enjoy an elevated status because of this. Using the same word for the two blurs this and traditional marriage loses the favor it should have and the recognition is it should receive.

That’s enough said for now, but remember the fundamental point: Marriage is essentially about children and what is best for them. When we use the welfare of children as our starting point, it is clear that traditional marriage is proper and best. This starting point challenges not only advocates of gay “marriage” but also sometimes those of traditional marriage, for not all those in traditional marriages have what is best for children in the forefront of their minds either. Too often couples do not work at their marriage to overcome difficulties; many are too quick to rush to divorce court. What is best for children often takes a back seat in our culture.


The Carnage of Divorce

divorceAlmost two decades ago, as a younger priest, I remember trying to save a marriage. Sadly, by the second counseling session I concluded that the couple really had no intention of trying to save the marriage. Rather, they were looking to me to assuage their guilt and to console them by telling them they were really “doing the right thing,” that God wanted them to be happy and would not mind if they divorced. I could do no such thing.

At a critical moment the couple said, in effect, “We are really doing this for the sake of the children. We don’t want them to suffer with all of our bickering.” To which I replied, “Then stop the bickering!” As they looked at me incredulously, I went on to urge them to get whatever help they needed to work through their differences. I insisted that God hates divorce and that divorce is not good for children; reconciliation is what they want and need.

Realizing that they were not going to get the approval and consolation they sought, the couple ended the session and did not return. They finalized their divorce. Their three children went on to be subject to things far worse than bickering: being carted around to different households on weekends, meeting Dad’s new girlfriend, accepting a stepdad, always secretly wishing that Mom and Dad would love each other again.

I thought of that story (and others like it) as I was reading this book, published in May: Primal Loss: The Now Adult Children of Divorce Speak, by Leila Miller. It should be required reading for anyone who thinks that divorce is “good thing” for their children—or even for them.

Consider the following passage from the book, in which a woman writes of suffering through her parent’s divorce during her youth:

My grandparents’ generation had to deal with a lot — war, undiagnosed PTSD, and alcoholism—but they had a noble idea: That you sacrificed your own happiness for your children’s well-being. You took on all the heartache so they didn’t have to. …

My parent’s generation inverted that. They decided it was better a child should have her world torn apart than that an adult should bear any suffering. Of course, they didn’t frame it that way. They wanted to believe that the child would suffer less, because children were just extensions of the mother, and the mother would theoretically be happier [p. 131].

It is shocking logic, but widespread in our culture. Indeed, the whole conversation about marriage today is about adults and what makes them happy; children are something of an afterthought. Marriage is said to be about romance, being happy, and “finding a soulmate.” But if one asks a couple about having children, a common response is, “Oh sure, that too. We’ll probably have a kid or two … when we’re ready.” Children are seen more as a way of accessorizing the marriage, as an “add-on” rather than the essential work of a marriage.

Yet the biblical and traditional understanding of marriage has its entire structure made sensible by its central work: procreation and the subsequent raising of the children. That a man and a woman should enter a stable, lifelong union makes sense because that is what is necessary and best for children. Marriage is about children and has its very structure directed toward what is best for them. Physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually, a child is best raised by a father and a mother who are stably present and who manifest the masculine and feminine genius of being human. To intentionally subject children to anything less or anything different does them an injustice.

The divorce culture casts this aside and insists that marriage is about adults and what makes them happy. If there are children in the picture, don’t worry, they’ll adjust; kids are resilient. Or so the thinking goes.

Leila Miller has done a wonderful service in showing that children are not so resilient after all. In fact, even long after attaining adulthood, these victims of their parents’ divorces still suffer painful and lasting effects. Ms. Miller interviewed 70 adult children of divorce and let them speak for themselves.

Many were surprised that anyone was interested or even cared about what they thought or had experienced. One of the more common experiences shared was a “we’re not going to talk about the divorce” mentality. Never mind the awkwardness of Mom and Dad marrying others. We’re supposed to go along with the drastic changes and be delighted, happily accept new siblings, and call some man “Dad” (or some woman “Mom”) who really isn’t. We want to make sure that no one’s feelings get hurt, so we’re all going to be nice and pleasant. The unspoken message in this is that the feelings of the children matter less and must be sacrificed so that others—mainly adults—can be happy and “get on with their lives.”

Some who have read this book say, “Finally, someone understands.” Or “Wow, that’s just how I feel!” The powerful, articulate testimonies in it will help those who had to live through divorce to name and understand their own hurts and feelings, not merely so as to brood or to reopen old wounds, but to the bring them to the light and seek deeper healing.

I cannot recommend this book enough. It is a healing for those who have suffered and, I pray, a strong medicine to prevent divorce. As Christians, let’s remember that God designed marriage to be what is best for children. The truest happiness any father or mother can find will be the knowledge that they made the sacrifices necessary to be sure that their children were raised well and prepared for life here, and even more, for eternal life.

Disclaimer: Not everyone who is divorced came to be so in the same way. Some tried hard to save their marriage but their spouse was unwilling. Others came to conversion later in life. Still others were physically endangered during the marriage. This essay is not to be construed as a general condemnation of all who are divorced. Rather, it is a heartfelt plea that amidst today’s divorce culture we count the full cost of divorce and that we remember that marriage is first and foremost about what is best for children.

Literally Messing with their Brain. What Recent Scientific Studies Can Teach Us About Ourselves and Raising our Children

120913In modern times there has been a tendency to downplay the differences between men and women, preferring to see whatever differences have historically existed as simply social constructs. This thinking was insisted upon by many as a kind of political correctness that must be held otherwise punishment and excoriation was sure to follow.

Nevertheless, most people with common sense have always known that men and women are very different, and that these differences are not simply the result of social constructs or the way people were raised.

Now scientists have made discoveries not only affirming that men and women are different, but helping to show one of the reasons why.

At the heart of the recent studies, and discoveries, is the fact that men’s brains and women’s brains are usually wired very differently. While the pathways that set up in the brain can be influenced by the setting in which one is raised, especially at the time of puberty and before, the study shows that there is a very strong tendency for men’s brains to be wired front to back, and for women’s brains to be wired right to left.

Here are some excerpts from the article:

Researchers found that many of the connections in a typical male brain run between the front and the back of the same side of the brain, whereas in women the connections are more likely to run from side to side between the left and right hemispheres of the brain.

This difference in the way the nerve connections in the brain are “hardwired” occurs during adolescence…

A special brain-scanning technique called diffusion tensor imaging, which can measure the flow of water along a nerve pathway, established the level of connectivity between nearly 100 regions of the brain, creating a neural map of the brain…

Because the female connections link the left hemisphere, which is associated with logical thinking, with the right, which is linked with intuition, this could help to explain why women tend to do better than men at intuitive tasks…

Men tend to outperform women involving spatial tasks and motor skills – such as map reading – while women tend to better in memory tests, such as remembering words and faces, and social cognition tests, which try to measure empathy and “emotional intelligence”.

“It’s quite striking how complementary the brains of women and men really are,” said Rubin Gur of Pennsylvania University, a co-author of the study.

You can read more of the study here: Study Shows Brain differences

Now of course I’m not writing a science blog here, but I would like to make a couple of comments, one of them theological/philosophical, and the other moral.

First, regarding the theological/philosophical point. While it is refreshing to see science affirming what we all basically know by ordinary sense and experience, namely, that men and women think very differently, it seems nevertheless that a certain caution is in order. For in our materialistic and reductionist times there is a tendency to reduce the human person to merely the biological and especially, to the brain.

But of course, even at the physical level, we are more than a brain on a stick. Our whole central nervous system, interacts with our brain, as does the whole of our body, forming a very mysterious mind-body, connection that contributes very strongly, and collectively to our sense of “I” as a person.

Beyond the complexities and magnificence of our physical nature, is also the mysterious and powerful presence of our soul. Surely our soul interacts with our brain, and our whole body, both influencing it and being influenced by it.

And good though this study is, and interesting besides, we cannot simply explain the differences between men and women by studying brains. Why is this?

Theology and philosophy speak of the soul is being the “form” of the body. What does it mean to speak of the “form of the body?” Well consider if you’re going to design a glove. How would you design it? Well, you would look at the form and function of the hand. The hand then, is the form of a glove. Now a  hand has a certain size and four fingers with a fifth opposeable thumb. But the fingers of the hand also move along three hinges or joints.

Thus, in designing a glove, four fingers, with an opposeable thumb are required. And also required is the capacity of the glove to permit the movement of the fingers. All of these factors give rise to the design and features of the glove. Thus the the hand is the form of a glove.

And so, when we speak of the soul as being the form of the body, we are saying much the same thing. The soul has certain capacities, and the body, that God designs, reflects these capacities. And thus, our soul as a powerful intellectual capacity, and the capacity to reason, therefore we have large brains. The soul also has the capacity to express its thoughts, and so the human person has the physical capacity, using our larynx,  tongue, lips etc  to communicate. Our souls also have an emotional capacity and the ability to exhibit subtle cues, and thus our faces and hands and other bodily movements are very expressive of our emotional state and inner thoughts. Our soul also has the capacity to do both grand works, and very delicate and close work, and thus, our hands especially, are able to lift heavy objects, and yet also do very delicate and close work.

Well,  you get the point, the design of our body is reflective of the capacities of our soul, the soul is a form of the body. Now dogs, for example, do not talk, not simply because they lack a larynx, but chiefly because they have little or nothing to say. Human beings on the other hand have a lot to say, and our body has many faculties to accomplish that fact.

Therefore, in an article such as this, science is doing what science does best, namely looking at the physical aspects of the human person. I do not ask more of science than this, and appreciate the insight of an article like this.

But as a theologian and a philosopher I want to insist that men and women are different, not simply because their brains tend to be wired differently, but also because their souls have different capacities and gifts. I am not male simply because my body is male, my soul is also male.

We live in an age the things that thinks a “sex change” operation can change our sexual identification. It cannot. Our bodies manifest our soul, for the soul is the form of the body. Mutilating the body, does not change the soul. In a fallen world, there are occasional situations which set up where, due to genetic damage etc. some are born with ambiguous bodily features. But this is an anomaly, and anomalies do not deny the nature of things, but on account of their rarity, affirm the nature of things.

In no way do I write this reflection on the soul, as a denial of what science shows. I only write to remind those of us who believe to remember that we are more than brains and bodies. And this is especially important to remember in reductionist times such as these. In this case, science affirms the clear differences men and women generally show. I wish only to add that these differences are explained by more than brain chemistry; they reach also the soul.

The second principle I wish to speak to, is more in the moral realm. For, as the study shows,  it would seem clearer than ever, that not only are men and  women different, but that they complement each other.

The study says that men are more spatial and analytical, less and less empathic whereas women are better at tasks requiring memory, intuition, and the navigating of complex relationships.

It is strongly evident, that all these qualities are important, even essential to properly navigate life and therefore, men and  women need one another both socially, but also in marriage, and especially in the important and critical task of rearing and forming children.

It is  commonly held today that it does not matter if a child has only one mother, or one father or two fathers or two mothers. But of course common sense tells us that it does matter.

Those of us were blessed to be raise by a father and mother know that our mother witnessed to and taught us many things that our father could not. Likewise our father witnessed to and taught us many things that our mother could not.

Masculinity and femininity have important things to contribute to the raising of every child. To intentionally deprive children of this complementary relationship of a father and a mother is to impoverish that child.

The study shows that the wiring of the brain tends to take place especially at the critical moment of puberty. And thus, it seems that for a child to be lacking masculine and feminine examples close at hand, we may find that the wiring and pathways of their brain are quite literally affected,  surely also their soul.

Of course this insight is affirmed by our experience of the last 40 years where increasing numbers of children are not raised by their father and mother,  but are raised in all sorts of other abnormal situations. It is quite obvious that many social ills come from this abnormal situation ranging from lower test scores and graduation rates, all the way through more serious social problems such as teenage pregnancy immaturity, poverty, sexual confusion and even suicide. The study even hints at the rise in autism as being tied to how the brain is formed in the critical puberty and pre-puberty years.

If it is true that there is more to our thinking patterns than social convention etc. and that our thinking patterns are quite literally hardwired into our body in our critical formative years, then we can see the moral imperative of ensuring that children are in the proper environment with a father and a mother, a male and female influence, and  help ensure proper brain development. And I would add at the soul be properly formed.

A young boy, without his father, without a male influence may find many conflicts set up as his brain which is meant to be wired from front to back does not receive the proper example for this to more properly take place. Likewise for young women.

I can hear some of the rebuttals now: “Where’s your data, where are all the studies?” And to this I would simply say “Where are yours?” Studies ought to be made. But in the meantime, we have no business experimenting on children if there is reason to doubt the children are effectively raised in single-parent settings or single-sex settings. And common sense tells us there is reason to doubt it.  I should think that the burden of proof would be on those who want to engage in social experimentation with children.

If anything, this study tends to reaffirm that the formation especially at the time of puberty, is important to get right. Nature, and nature’s God supply a father and a mother. We are foolish to set aside this model, as we largely have culturally speaking. We may literally be messing with our children’s brains and futures.

The Story of Eli: A Moral Tale on the Peril of Poor Parenting and Unfaithful Priestly Ministry

In the reading from today’s Mass we are introduced to Samuel for the first time. We also see are rather stunning portrait of poor parenting and poor priestly leadership in the person of of High Priest of the Sanctuary at Shiloh, Eli. Consider this line from the Scripture today:

Samuel was sleeping in the temple of the LORD where the ark of God was. The LORD called to Samuel, who answered, “Here I am.” Samuel ran to Eli and said, “Here I am.  You called me.”“I did not call you,” Eli said.  “Go back to sleep.” …..At that time Samuel was not familiar with the LORD, because the LORD had not revealed anything to him as yet. (1 Sam 3:3-5).

Now let me ask you, how could it be that Samuel, a young boy living in the temple of the Lord and under the foster parentage of the High Priest was “not familiar” with the Lord? Some may argue he is but a young boy. Still, he is old enough to speak with Eli, to hear and heed Eli’s instructions. Has Eli told him nothing of the Lord? It would seem so. Ah, but you say, the text has indicated that Samuel knew nothing because the Lord had not yet revealed anything to him. The text seems to root the cause of his unfamiliarity in the Lord rather than Eli. But Eli is still without excuse for it remains true that God reveals himself to us not usually as a voice in the night, or some unusual theophany. Rather, God reveals himself to us through parents, priests, religious and other elders. For a young and already talking Samuel to be unfamiliar with the Lord while living under the care of the High Priest supposedly ministering in the very House of The Lord is unconscionable. It is a dereliction of duty. Eli has failed thus far as a parent and a priest. Children should be taught of God from their first interactive moments. Among the first things they learn should be Bible stories and prayers. They should be made aware of and become familiar with the “still small voice”  of God as he whispers his presence to them.

I have only a few memories of being a very young child of about 5 years of age. But one of the memories I most cherish is how plainly I heard the voice of God and felt his presence. There was a very beautiful statue of the  Sacred Heart near my dresser and God surely spoke to me from there and I was familiar with his calming and loving presence. But I could understand what I was experiencing because my parents had made me familiar with the Lord. I knew who it was that was speaking to me in those quiet and calm whispers. It was the Lord. Sadly, as I grew older and the flesh became more alive I lost my ability to hear the “still, small voice” of the Lord. I have sought it ever since my conversion back to the Lord and am only in recent years beginning to experience it again in moments of contemplative prayer.

I knew who spoke to me and had been made familiar with him, but Samuel did not and this is a very serious dereliction of duty on the part of Eli. When asked he finally did tell Samuel of the Lord but Samuel should not have had to ask.

Perhaps you think I am being too hard on Eli or reading into the text a bit. Maybe Eli was a busy man being High Priest and all. Or perhaps I am just plain wrong and Eli was actually a good father figure for Samuel. But I do not think I am wrong nor am I being too harsh for poor parenting and poor priestly leadership are a pattern for Eli. Consider another story about the two priestly sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas:

Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the LORD. Now it was the practice of the priests with the people that whenever anyone offered a sacrifice and while the meat was being boiled, the servant of the priest would come with a three-pronged fork in his hand. He would plunge it into the pan or kettle or caldron or pot, and the priest would take for himself whatever the fork brought up. This is how they treated all the Israelites who came to Shiloh. But even before the fat was burned, the servant of the priest would come and say to the man who was sacrificing, “Give the priest some meat to roast; he won’t accept boiled meat from you, but only raw.”  If the man said to him, “Let the fat be burned up first, and then take whatever you want,” the servant would then answer, “No, hand it over now; if you don’t, I’ll take it by force.” This sin of the young men was very great in the LORD’s sight, for they were treating the LORD’s offering with contempt……Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.  So he said to them, “Why do you do such things? I hear from all the people about these wicked deeds of yours. No, my sons; it is not a good report that I hear spreading among the LORD’s people. If a man sins against another man, God may mediate for him; but if a man sins against the LORD, who will intercede for him?” His sons, however, did not listen to their father’s rebuke, for it was the LORD’s will to put them to death…..Now a man of God came to Eli and said to him, “This is what the LORD says:  Why do you scorn my sacrifice and offering that I prescribed for my dwelling? Why do you honor your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel?’ “Therefore the LORD, the God of Israel, declares: …those who despise me will be disdained. The time is coming when I will cut short your strength and the strength of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your family line …” ‘And what happens to your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, will be a sign to you—they will both die on the same day. I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind. I will firmly establish his house, and he will minister before my anointed one always.  (1 Sam 2:selected verses)

The basic facts are these:

  1. The priestly sons of Eli, Hophniand Phinehas, are wicked men. They violate the sacred liturgy and and take more than their portion, a portion that belongs to God. They scandalize the faithful, act unjustly toward them and have illicit sexual relations with the young women assigned to care for the Shrine at Shiloh.
  2. But Eli does nothing. When it is called to his attention he gives a verbal rebuke. But he must do more than this. They have acted so scandalously that they must be removed. They are a threat to others by their exploitative and opportunistic behavior. They should have been removed. It is a true fact that we struggled with this very same thing in the clergy sexual abuse scandal of recent years.
  3. God rebukes Eli for his weak rebuke and tells him that his weak response indicates that Eli favors his sons more than God and also scorns the sacred liturgy.
  4. God cannot allow Eli and his sons to minister at Shiloh any longer. He will bring Eli’s family down and replace him with a priest who is faithful and will do what is in God’s heart and mind. In a word, Eli has been replaced. Samuel will soon enough take up the holy priesthood. Hophni and Phinehas will die soon for their sins, and Eli’s line is at an end.

How has all this happened? Poor parenting and an unfaithful priestly ministry. In failing to raise his children in the fear of the Lord and in failing to punish wrongdoing Eli has brought grave harm upon himself, his family and his sons. In addition, when Samuel was placed in his care he continued with his pattern of failing to preach the Lord and make Samuel familair with him.

This is a moral tale for our times as well. How many young people today have not been raised in the reverential fear of the Lord, have not been raised to be familiar with the Lord, have not been properly disciplined by parents  and trained in righteousness? How many of them have not been instructed in God’s ways and have been allowed to fall deep into sinful habits and patterns.

In the Church  too some have not at times been willing to discipline where necessary.  Sin is often not rebuked from our pulpits, children are poorly instructed in the faith. We celebratete compassion but sometimes to a fault where sin is tolerated and grows very serious in people’s lives. Silence by many clergy and Church leaders in the face of serious sin can and  is taken to be tacit approval of sin and has led to a widespread moral malaise. Disobedience in the clergy has sometimes been tolerated. Liturgical norms and the sacred liturgy have often been abused. And yes, as we sadly know there has been abusive and illicit sexual activity too.

Thank God there are signs of revival and renewal in many of these areas in the Church and in some of our families. But the story of Eli is an important moral tale for our times that God wants us to take serious our obligation to raise our children to know the Lord and walk in his ways. Through proper discipline and instruction we are summoned to have our children be familiar with the Lord at the very dawning of consciousness and reason. To fail in this regard is something God takes very seriously. Thank God for good parents, clergy and religious who have done their very best in this regard. Hopefully the story of Eli for most of us is simply an encouragement to do what we are already doing. But for those who fail to take seriously their obligations in this regard it should be seen for what it also is: a warning.

Since this was a rather heavy post, perhaps you’ll allow me to post a humorous video. As I have pointed out, Parents and priests should teach Children to pray. But this video by Tim Hawkins tells us what to avoid when teaching children to pray. In a phrase: “Don’t be spooky!”

Overpopulation: A Persistent Myth Rescheduled Many Times

It was always drilled in to us when I was growing up that the planet was overpopulated. We were promised famines, and disease by the doomsayers. Clearly we were headed for disaster and only contraception could save us. Some also suggested forced sterilization and abortion for recalcitrant reproducers, like they have done in China.

But really! How overpopulated are we? What kind of a physical footprint do we really have on this planet? Try this on for size.

  1. There are currently about 6 Billion people on this planet.
  2. Lets put them, four to house on a quarter acre of land. This is the typical size of a traditional suburban lot.
  3. Now, physically, how big is the suburb of houses we’ve created?
  4. Let’s see, 6,000,000,000 four to a house is 1.5 Billion houses.
  5. 1.5 Billion Houses on a quarter acre each  is 375 Million Acres.
  6. What does 375 Million Acres compare to? Well lets see, The state of Texas is 171904640 acres. 375 Million Acres is just over twice the size of the State of Texas (2.18 Texases to be exact). It also equates to 3.6 Californias. Why Alaska at 420 Million Acres could hold them all and still have 45 million acres left over.

So there you have it. “But Father, but Father… we can’t all live in a suburb like that. We need roads, shopping centers, parks, farmland, schools, etc.”  Yes indeed, but as you can see there is a lot of land left over. I think we’ll squeeze it all in somehow. Point is, there’s plenty good room. We are a long way from fulfilling God’s mandate to “be fruitfull and multiply to fill the earth and subdue it.”  (Gen 1:28)

What of famines? True there are shortages in the world here and there. We have plenty of food here in America but it is sometimes hard to get it to  famine regions due to war and corrupt governments. We have the food, it’s getting it there that is the problem. That’s why allowing starvation is so immoral. We have so much abundance in the god ole USA that our government actually pays farmers not to plant to help keep prices higher.

What of water? Fresh water is limited. But we can desalinate. Right now it costs too much but I have little doubt that as the need grows for more fresh water we will find more cost-effective ways to desalinate.

What about climate change?  – not too sure about that. It does seem clear that the climate’s always been changing, quite radically actually, and we have adjusted.

Why is this on a Catholic blog? Well think about it, contraception, abortion, sterilization, even euthanasia all march under banners that, among other things, appeal to fear about overpopulation. The Church has often been ridiculed for being out of touch and insensitive to the great question of overpopulation. This little presentation has had as a goal to spark a discussion if such fears are really justified or is it just another fear mongering myth? How say you?

The following video gives a little more background to the history of overpopulation concerns. I think its a good video but, as you will see, I think they underestimate a little the acreage necessary to house six billion. They say one Texas I say two. But hey, it’s all pretty clear, we’ve got a lot of land, God’s been generous. Also, the video says population will peak in 30 years and then start to go back down. I am not sure how they say that or know it.

Done the old-fashioned way

During a homily a few weeks ago, I took the example of Christ chastising Peter by saying, “Get behind me, Satan” and applied it to the rearing and teaching children. In the Gospel according to Mark, Peter did not want Christ to be crucified. So, when Jesus told Peter that his death would be necessary, Peter reacted emotionally by rebuking Christ to avoid suffering and death on a cross.(Mark 8:27-35) At that point, Christ reacted strongly by saying to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” Now, I imagine that Peter’s feelings may have been hurt at that moment. But, if things had been done Peter’s way, salvation would not have happened and Peter’s own redemption would have been impossible. So, in order to get Peter back on track, Christ had to be firm.  And in the process, said something that may have hurt many peoples’ feelings.

Surrender nothing

During the homily, I suggested that as a teacher or parent, occasionally we had to hurt the feelings of our students and children in order to keep them on track. I went further and suggested that unwillingness to hurt our kids’ feelings would hinder us in fulfilling our responsibilities as Christian parents and teachers. I gave an example of me issuing one of my own students a detention for what may have seemed like a petty rule. I knew that his feelings would be hurt but, I also knew that in the long run, setting an extremely high standard for behavior was good for him and for the school. To ignore the rule and let it pass would have been a cowardly form of surrender.

Parents! Be parents, not friends!

The reaction of some to my homily was perplexing and perhaps even disappointing. Many congregants agreed and related some of the moments they had to hurt the child’s feelings. They mostly agreed that it is a hard thing to do but, to do anything less is damaging. My pastor once told me that his elementary school teacher used to say, “I love you too much to let you get away with that!” However, a few congregants were offended that I would say punishment and discipline sometimes requires a bit of discomfort and pain. I was surprised at their reaction. I wondered if they misunderstood my message or if they really thought you could raise a child without making them upset every now and then. I hope and pray it is the former and not the latter.

Certain things need to be done the old-fashioned way

The Book of Proverbs says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Pvb 22. The Bible does not tell us to raise and teach our children in such a way that they will always be happy with us. However, training up a child in the way he should go, that is, in the way of Christ, will bring us and them joy, even if on occasion, that involves hurting their feelings.

The First Blow to Marriage: No-Fault Divorce

This Year marks the 40th Anniversary of No-Fault Divorce. With the signature of Governor Ronald Regan on Sept 5, 1969, the State of California became the first State to enact “No-Fault Divorce.” Other states quickly followed and within 15 years it was nationwide. In effect this law simplified divorce and streamlined it by allowing only one party to petition for divorce. By this act Marriage became the easiest contract in civil law to break.

Prior to 1969 the States processed divorce requests but the process was long and difficult.  Shouldn’t it be? The breakup of marriages has potentially powerful implications for families and for society. It is especially children who suffer from unstable family situations. The State and the wider society has good reason to insist that couples remain faithful to vows they have made (to use Church language) and to “contractual obligations” binding on them (to use the language of civil law).  With the introduction of “No-fault Divorce” the notion of obligations and duties toward Children and the wider society was set aside. Marriage became a whimsical arrangement subject to easy and rather sudden end – no questions asked. “Irreconcilable differences” is all that needs to be said.

Late in life, Reagan admitted his son, Michael that, signing the bill was one of the worst mistakes he ever made in public office.

How have we done since 1969? Well no one would say marriage is a healthier institution as a result. Divorce has skyrocketed. Now more than half the children of this country no longer enjoy a stable nuclear family but instead are sent back and forth between the households of divorced parents. Often they have to endure the confusion and turmoil of their parents’ second marriages, half brothers and sisters, moms and step moms, dads and stepdads and every other sort of relationship you can imagine. What sort of a toll has this taken on children in terms of things like drug use, suicide rates, premarital sex, SAT scores, etc.? Well, you know the answer. And how do we fare as a society, as a nation, as Church when our most basic pillar is on shaky ground? Here again, you know the answer, we have not fared well.

There was a time in this land when divorce was rare. When it occurred people were shocked and whispered about it. Really it was not so long ago. I who am only 48 remember those times from my early childhood. It is not as though every marriage was happy before 1965. Indeed, there were many “unhappy marriages.” But people had a different outlook which emphasized the importance of staying true to commitments that had been made and to sticking them “for the sake of the kids.”  These attitudes were enshrined in law which made divorce difficult. Marriage was for the Children and children had needs for stability and for parents who stuck to their commitments. Today, the attitude is that marriage is for the adults and the needs of children are somewhat secondary.

Do you also see how this had led to the current trend to “redefine” marriage. If Marriage is essentially only about the relationship of the adults involved and children are only an optional accessory, who is to say that marriage should be stable or even heterosexual? Or so the thinking goes. But if, as the Church continues to teach, the procreation and rearing of children is an essential end of marriage then it makes sense that God would establish marriage as between one man and one woman till death do them part. As God puts it, “This is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife and they become one flesh.” (Gen 2:24) God goes on further to command them to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28).

So here we are today, marriage, family, and children are all on the ropes. Our own strength as a civilization depends on us getting this right again. The first major and serious blow took place 40 years ago this month. God invites us to return.

To those who are divorced, I mean you no disrespect. Many are divorced today due to complicated reasons. Not all wanted the divorce they had. Others made decisions early in life that they now regret. Still others had unique situations too complicated to speculate about here. But I’ll bet most who are divorced would be the first to describe its pains and ramifications in the family. Easy divorce has not made life easy. “Amicable solutions”  are seldom pain-free and they are seldom solutions at all. Rather they unleash a whole new set of problems. Somewhere in the midst of all this God is calling to us and he invites us all to rediscover his plan for marriage and the family.

Opportunity Scholarships Provide Hope

What should we do when a public school system is failing it’s children? The first answer that comes to mind is that we should reform that school system. But what if that reform has been resisted for years by complex political and philosophical forces? What if, for decades a public school system that everyone admits is one of the poorest performing in the nation has not improved but has gotten worse? What if its buildings are in disrepair and more importantly its performance indicators remain steadfastly dismal? What to do with a school system that fails our children and fails to reform?

Well the answer is to provide successful alternatives for children and their families.  This has happened in the last number of years through a program called the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. The program is federally funded and provides children that qualify a voucher of up to $7,500 that they can use to enroll in a private school that will serve them well. Some of the families have chosen Catholic Schools, some have chosen other private schools. But the key point is that those families blessed to receive such assistance now have an alternative to failing public schools. There are many wonderful success stories that have emerged from the Opportunity Scholarship Program and I hope to share some of them with you in future posts.

But for now, I ask your prayers and attentiveness to the fact that Congress has refused to reauthorize this very effective program and wants to force many families back into a failing system that cannot serve their children effectively. The White House recently floated a “compromise” that would allow children in the system currently to see their days out to graduation but the fact is that President Obama wants the program to end too.

We have to pray and work to change minds and hearts on this matter. Too many children will suffer needlessly if Congress bows to political pressure from teachers unions and other interest groups. I repeat, whatever your political leanings, it is the children who lose in this political debate if vouchers are ended. Poorer families need quality educational alternatives if the cycles of poverty are to be broken for many of them. It is simply wrong to end a successful program when quality educational alternatives in the public sector are currently lacking. Consider well who we are punishing in this debate. It’s not conservatives, it’s not the Church, it’s not private schools, it’s the children.

Political action from across the political spectrum is beginning to rally around this issue. Today hearings were held in congress that you can see here:  HEARINGS I will edit and provide highlights in the next few days. In that hearing there are motions to reverse the decision to cancel the Opportunity Scholarship Program. Last week a rally was held with thousands attending to voice their support for vouchers. Lend your voice. Get informed by visiting the website  Opportunity Scholarship Website

Here is are video highlights from last week’s rally: