Catholics and the Flight
from Fertility

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by Leon J. Podles

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Virginity is fruitful


Jesus both is born of human fertility, taking flesh from Mary, and transcends the fertility and mode of generation handed down from Adam. His own fruitfulness is spiritual. He is virginal, yet his offspring, the members of the Christian people, far outnumber the children of Abraham. Indeed, we may hope for, and must pray for, a universal fruitfulness, that all men may be saved. The virginal Church is the fruitful Church. The virginal Mary is the mother of all the redeemed. St. Paul, who wished that all might be like him in the matter of marriage, was the most fruitful of the apostles in his missionary work. Throughout the history of the Church the great movements of conversion and renewal, from the desert fathers to Opus Dei, have been initiated by virgins and celibates.


But the primeval blessing to Adam has not been revoked, and will not cease to the end of the world and the inauguration of the age in which there shall be no more "marrying and giving in marriage." Until that time, the married members of the Church continue to receive the blessing given to Adam, and the responsibilities that go with that blessing. Because the culture of the Church has been largely clerical and celibate, and because the laity generally realized that fertility was a blessing, there has been little need until this century to emphasize the goodness of the fertility of marriage. In pre-modern Europe the laity instinctively knew, and in areas such as Africa, recently converted from a natural religion that recognized the sacredness of fertility, the laity still know that children are a blessing, the greatest blessing apart from our redemption in Christ.


But in modern European culture, and in the countries around the world that have been influenced by it, fertility is seen as curse, because it invades the selfishness of man, and obliges him to share his time and goods with others. The propaganda of Zero Population Growth finds a ready audience in fallen, selfish man, who is always seeking an excuse not to give of himself, to care only for the self, to remain locked within the self. If children were seen as a blessing, not a curse, contraception would be seen as desirable in only rare circumstances, instead of being almost universally approved and practiced.


The decline of Catholics of European descent in the United States has been offset by Mexican (and therefore Indian) migration. Very shortly the Church in the United States will become mostly Native American because of the failure of European Catholics to reproduce themselves or win converts. While the imperfect evangelization of Hispanics is often discussed, they are probably no more imperfectly evangelized than European Catholics, in view of the latter group's profoundly unchristian attitude to children. However, the faith of the Hispanics may not be firmly formed enough to withstand the anti-child attitudes of the predominant culture in America, and like the once fertile French Canadians, the Hispanics may become even more sterile than secularized Protestants.

In Europe the situation is worse. The native Christian birth rate is lower than in the United States, and there is no reservoir of pre-modern Catholics nearby. Europe has therefore had a substantial immigration from Islamic countries. Islam is reviving, and shows a militant hostility to Christianity. Catholics in Western Europe may find themselves in the same position as that of Catholics in Lebanon, and for the same reason. The equilibrium of the Lebanese state was destroyed because Lebanese Catholics, influenced by France and the West, had a low birth rate and the Moslems had a high one. Beirut was called the Paris of the Middle East; Paris may become the Beirut of Europe.


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