Americans are certainly on the other side of Puritanical culture, and yet we still retain a strong affection for prudish sentiment when it comes to the number of children acceptable in families. The reaction often articulated, in word or gesture is, “Can’t you control yourselves?” This element of “control” as it were, is not dissimilar to the one spewed from the mouth of Satan himself before Jesus rebuked him in Matthew 16:23, to get behind him. Satan spoke through Peter, a beloved friend and apostle, in the same way that we often hear this taunting through the mouthpiece of those whom we know and love. There is a place for control in the hands of humanity regarding situations of necessary leadership and authority, but its not to build Babble back better. We credit these powers of human ingenuity coupled with autonomy for fueling the engine of our own great American experiment and many others, which have only survived by the grace of God. Yet, so many hundreds of years later, with all the modern comforts that a first-world country could want, and a declining birth rate, we still cling to the vice of control, and perhaps more strongly in fertility than anywhere else.
When the Lord said, “Be fruitful and multiply,” it was said in a time when the birth rate was non-existent and the command was necessary for the survival of humanity. But it wasn’t meant forever, or for us, or for now. Or was it? Humanity struggles with sexuality. This is because in order to approach sexuality properly it must be understood as sacred and as a gift from the Creator. Sexuality serves us that we may know another person so radically, through a total gift of our self, and to know that my happiness does not lie in me alone. As well, out of my union with another person, good fruit, that is other good humans, come into the world to participate in this love.
The chapel foundation discovered in Aquia, Va.
When we remove the sacred from sexuality, we are hiding with Adam and Eve in the garden, covering our nakedness in shame. In this light, sexuality has become perverse, in that it gratifies the self without considering the other, and even at cost to the dignity of the other. This resonates deep within our soul as a deficit of love, as Kierkegaard said, “To defraud oneself of love is the most terrible, is an eternal loss, for which there is no compensation, either in time or in eternity.” We can attest to this in time, at least, and to say that life is empty without love. As a parent, the particular love born of spousal fertility is multiplied and not divided as each child is welcomed into the family. And yet, it must be admitted that at times, left to our own devices of control, and our own weaknesses of mind and heart, many of these children may not have otherwise existed, but for a lack of chemical or abortive control at least and disobedience at best.
The evidence of sexual fruitfulness is most clearly perceptible through children and abundantly clear in a large family. Does this mean that the couple bearing many children has a more active sexual life than the couple without? Of course not. And yet, for the person making the comment, “Can’t you control yourselves,” it would appear so. This person, however, is not making the accusation that the couple is overly sexually active in marriage, because that would be absurdly ridiculous, but rather that they are not properly limiting their number of offspring. How have we gotten to the place in society that God’s command to be fruitful and multiply is openly asserted and countered by perfect strangers at the grocery store? How is it that large families are so off-putting and emotionally problematic to their fellow citizens? Are they burdened by the thought of their taxes rising in order to socially provide for these children? Have cautionary tales of Child Protection Services conditioned them to believe that these children couldn’t possibly have all of their needs met?
Whatever the particular motive in each situation, the fact remains that the couple who accepts many children has formed an evangelization of itself, which spits in the face of a culture obsessed with control. In such a society, the couple following God’s will for their family has become the reckless, counter-cultural, nefarious outlier, proving what can happen when religion is taken too literally. “Can’t you control yourselves” with the many forms of contraceptives, barrier methods, emergency contraceptives and abortion procedures out there? This is the real underlying question and one that is often spoken from a perceived position of superior justice that is unquestionably built upon layers of hurt and lies. This is the scarlet letter that’s put upon the married woman with many children, as it was on the unmarried mother many generations ago. This is the perceived sin of a selfish gluttony to boast faithfulness to a lost Gospel in a pagan world.
Seeing the good of the beloved and wanting to repeat that over and over again is the testimony of children from their parents and the gift of fertility from God. The parents, in turn, are joined in mission to draw each child toward heaven and to encourage their own encounter with the Creator. In this way, the family is a community of persons, each willing the good of the other. The more this is embraced in the family, the more the wake will be in society, possibly even disrupting those who have attached the meaning of peace to the level of their own control in all things, including sexuality. But as Kierkegaard said, “there is no compensation, either in time or in eternity” when you defraud yourself of love. Perhaps this should be our response the next time someone asks, “Can’t you control yourselves?”
Published in the Catholic Exchange