Sex and Children

Rev. Vincent O’Malley, C.M

The Church teaches that marriage has a two-fold purpose: unitive and procreative. The couple is to draw closer together, to become as one, while respecting each partner’s individuality and equality in being; and to beget children, as the unique embodiment of the couple’s expressed love. Over the past four weeks, I have written about a couple’s essential activities of communicating, budgeting, and expressing affection within marriage. Today, I want to share a few words about the procreation and formation of children. In the following two weeks, I will comment about the roles of religion and in-laws within marriage. As always, the primary audience intended for these notes is that of young couples preparing for marriage, or young couples recently married.

Children are a gift from God the Creator. Parents act as co-creators in cooperating with God in this profound and primal activity of continuing the human race. This gift of life is beyond price, and begets both ineffable joy, and moments of unimagined sorrow. This priest writes humbly on this topic because I suspect no one knows what a parent goes through until one becomes a parent. Everybody calls me Father, but no one calls me Dad, and so it is with the greatest respect and admiration for parents that I write these few words.

Begetting children is an expression of love. The nature of love is that it has to express itself; love cannot stay contained within oneself. Love expresses love, which is usually reciprocated with love. Love between a husband and wife begets a child conceived in, by, and for love. Love makes the world go around; love enables humankind to continue. In the document Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI in 1968, contrary to the advice given to him by a committee of theologians and lay people, taught that each act of intercourse is to be open to the possibility of new life, and that responsible parenthood may allow for “grave motives and with due respect for the moral law, to avoid for the time being, or even for an indefinite period, a new birth,” (para. # 10,4) The pope opposed not natural birth control, but artificial birth control. He argued that the introduction into society of artificial means of birth control would lead to increased marital infidelity, heightened temptations to the young, a loss of respect for women who would become viewed more as “instruments of man’s selfish enjoyment and no longer his respected and beloved companion,” (para. 17,1), and that some governments would impose systems of birth control through abortion, sterilization, and limits on the number of births permitted. The document expressed concern that if sex and procreation become separated, then sex and love may become separated. The document did not receive a warm welcome in 1968, but today it is regarded as prophetic. At one and the same time, I both recognize the reported information that most Catholic couples practice artificial birth control, and I exhort young couples to appreciate that the Church possesses a wisdom that transcends human logic, and that survives the test of time. I say these things in all humility, recognizing too that priests do not marry, and do not raise children.

Raising children. “Give children roots and wings,” reads a popular poster. The foundation for a child’s life begins at home. Home becomes the first school of love, and the first school of faith. Let symbols and expressions of the faith be visible in the home: crucifixes, holy pictures, religious books beginning with the Bible, statues, prayers, and most importantly, the conduct of the parents.y-fold.
Keep a balance. The Church teaches that the theological virtues, namely, faith, hope, and love are to be pursued absolutely; and that the moral virtues are to be pursued moderately. Keep a balance among the moral virtues of work and play, serious discussion and lots of laughter, prayer and leisure. The most important of the moral virtues is prudence, which implies balance. “If a deed which is thought to be virtuous lacks prudence, then even the good that was hoped to be achieved will be lost.” (St. Thomas Aquinas) “Encourage and challenge,” is the motto I used as a teacher. Students need to grow positively by developing a healthy self-image. Success helps this image to grow. Create situations in which the child can succeed, and gradually the child’s self-image will improve. Don’t give the child too much to do, and don’t measure the child’s success by a standard which exceeds the child’s capacity. As the Scriptures teach, “Fathers, do not nag your sons.” (Eph. 6.4) Build up and don’t knock down your child’s confidence.

“Show them that you love them.” An old priest told me this when I was a young priest. Students and children need to hear and to see evidence that teachers, plus mom and dad, love them, in order for students/children to believe that they are loved. Say the words out loud, and often. Because each child is unique, treat each child a little differently. When mothers and dads differ on how to treat their children, these parents might consider going for a walk together, and coming back home with a unified stance. Even toddlers attempt to run the home at times, and sometimes the little ones succeed in controlling the parents.

Even the best of parents, in the best of homes, sometimes have children who perform less than their expected best. Of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s five children, her two sons caused her headaches until they reached mid-life. St. Louise de Marillac’s only child caused her no end of embarrassment until he settled down with the girl whom he had gotten pregnant, and together this couple raised their child borne out of wedlock. Of St. Bridget of Sweden’s eight children, one of her daughters became a saint, but one of her sons, while on a family pilgrimage to the Holy Land, had a tryst with another pilgrim, namely, the Queen of Naples, and the affair resulted in an international public scandal. Sometimes children don’t achieve the goals that parents desire for their off-spring.

Parents live and work, hand-in-hand with God. Parents are co-creators with God. Let your love be simultaneously unitive and procreative for the glory of God, and for the benefit of your children, and for all society. And this priest has the highest admiration and respect for parents; in many ways, parenting is the most important job on earth.
sense appreciation that living together runs contrary to all historical, social, religious, and cultural standards. Marriage and family life are fundamental to the long-term good of any society and civilization. Living together is called “living in sin.” The behavior is detrimental to the good of each individual: man, women, child; and the common good of the state and Church. Every major religion opposes living together before marriage. Living together, should a couple decide to marry later on, sets them up for greater likelihood of failure in that marriage.

Read other writings by Father Vincent