Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Why Children?

When people pursue marriage today they often don't think much about children. Often people are dating saying they don't want to have kids. They just want a spouse. They want to storybook romance but family is often not part of that dream anymore. So when they hear the Catholic church say that the unitive and procreative purposes of sex are inseparable they don't understand. Part of the reason they don't understand is the theological language. The unitive purpose of sex is just the ability of sex to bring a man and a woman close together not just physically but emotionally and spiritually. (My spell checker keeps wanting to change "unitive" to "punitive," not sure what to make of that.)  Anyway, the procreative purpose of sex is the conception of children. So these are unfamiliar words for familiar concepts.

But the concept that is radical to modern ears is the inseparable part. The notion that sex cannot fulfill the purpose of bringing a couple close together when there is no openness to having children. That seems insane to modern culture. We love the idea of falling in love. Our culture is constantly telling stories about lovers. All cultures tell love stories. Our culture tells them in a more explicitly sexual way and they rarely involve children. But then the church tells us that openness to life and true romantic love can't be separated. One has to involve the other. Why is that?

Think about what children are. They are people like their mother and father. So if you love someone, why would you not want to create more people like that someone? Often it is because we don't really love them. We love the idea of being in a sexual relationship with them but we don't really love them. They are very different things. Being in a relationship where you can use them for your pleasure and tolerate their closeness is not love. You would not want to spend time, money, and energy to raise a child who is going to be like that person. You only want to make that kind of effort to raise a child if you believe strongly they are going to be a huge blessing to the world. That means you need to believe that your partner is a huge blessing to the world. But if you don't believe that then do you really love him or her?

Many people today approach marriage from a selfish point of view. I can see myself being happy with this person because they are good looking and they have a good sense of humor or good manners or whatever. It boils down to what I get. Can I take the good and tolerate the bad? Are there more pleasures than pains? This is what John Paul II called the opposite of love. That is a self-centered relationship where a person uses the other. That is contrary to the nature of sex. Sex calls you to a complete gift of self but as long as you are in a using type of relationship it will be destructive to you and your partner.

But does every relationship that is closed to children have to be a using relationship? That is the claim. It is not that you must have children. It is that the desire must be part of your relationship. You might have practical reasons why having children is not going to work but the desire should be strong. It should be as natural as living together. There might be reasons not to live with your spouse but they need to be serious reasons like you have jobs in different cities. If a couple lives apart without serious reasons that is a very bad sign. The same goes with children. If you avoid having children without serious reasons there is something very wrong with the relationship.

Many people will say their relationship is wonderful and they have chosen to never have children. People say a lot of things. Some say committing adultery made their marriage better. You don't want to call people liars but that can't stop you from identifying the essence of marriage. Society is very lost and there are many good-hearted people who have strayed far from it. That does not make it unimportant or optional.

What about those who are not drawn to have children? There is the option of the celibate life. People dismiss that too quickly. Marriage is hard. Celibacy is not easy either but it is a very different road. If a man wants to spend his life on something that takes too much time and provides too little income to allow for a family then the celibate life can free him up to do that. The priesthood is the obvious example but there are others. With women it is more common. Motherhood is more demanding so women tend to choose celibacy in greater numbers. This is all good. Marriage and children need to be top priority. If you feel God is calling you to make something else top priority then marriage is not for you.


  1. Michael Liccone just put out an article reporting on a major study that confirms the obvious: divorce severely damages children. One consequence is that many of these children will have a seriously distorted view of reality, and not want kids, even if just to protect them from going through the Auschwitz called divorce.

    You and others have said a million times how everything is interconnected. I'm just wondering if people need to be more 'shocking' in their language. For example, contraception should be called a form of masturbation. That sums up the "self-centered" theme in a word. And from there we need to show the direct link to homosexual marriage because sterile sex is the norm in normal marriage.

  2. I don't know that shocking is that effective. People used to be shocked by the word masturbation. They really are not anymore. I think the solution is to simply teach it and teach it and teach it until people get it. That does not mean a few guys in blog world. It means a church united around the idea that this is part of what it means to be Christian.