Sunday, August 25, 2013

Cast a Longing Look Toward Heaven

This is the 4th reading from Matins for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost (4th Sunday in August):

From the Book of Moral Reflections on Job, written by Pope St. Gregory the Great.
Bk. i. 10 on Job i.

Some there are who are careless concerning their true life: greedy of the things which pass away, but as to the things which are eternal, either understand them not, or, understanding them, holding them to be but of little moment, they feel no sorrow, nor know how to take wise advice, and, in forgetfulness of the heavenly possessions which they have lost, they deem themselves (alas, poor wretches) happy in their goods. They lift not up their eyes to the light of truth for which they were created; no keen desire ever maketh them to cast a longing look toward the everlasting Fatherland. Leaving alone the chief end for which they were made, they fix their affections upon the exile which they are enduring, instead of upon their home, and make merry in the blindness which they are suffering, as though it were glorious day-light.

This strikes me as such a cogent summation of what has befallen many Catholics. With the Protestantization of so many parishes, we have lost sight of the fact that there is a hell, and thus Heaven becomes cheap. And so we do not strive to achieve Heaven, because, after all, everyone goes there anyway.

This applies in many areas, but I’m going to apply it to the idea of the blessings of a large family. So many today – Catholic or not – use contraception or NFP to limit the number of children they have. The prevailing argument is that we are responsible for raising and educating the children we have; it is enough – and indeed, it is quite “prudent” – to consider the limitations of our family finances as we discern how many children we are to have.

And yet, this focus causes us to lose sight of Heaven! When we focus on our current financial situation, and the desires we have, for instance, to provide a “good education” for all of our children, then we become “greedy of the things which pass away”; because what passes for “necessary” in today’s society was considered luxurious not so long ago, and even a “good education” today usually focuses on academics at the expense of religious education. Yet, as I used to tell my religion students in the Catholic high school where I taught, when you are facing a crisis in your adult life, you will need to rely on your faith, not what you learned in history, algebra, or science class.

So often I have heard people say that the Church no longer demands that women become baby-making machines, that we are not required to have as many babies as possible. Well, the Church never demanded that. What the Church demands is an openness to life; what God provides is an opportunity to grow in virtue and holiness in this life, and thereby gain Heaven for eternity. The Cross is here to endure on earth; Jesus is our example of that.

Yes, we are poor wretches, in a Church where pastors so seldom teach sacrifice and mortification – which do not have to be all morbid and dreary, by the way! Instead, we are supposed to offer our services in the Food Bank or the soup kitchen, to give money to the next parish project, and to generally help those in need. Those are good things – corporal acts of mercy – of course! But we neglect the spiritual, and we neglect Heaven.

As St. Gregory the Great notes, we “feel no sorrow… and, in forgetfulness of the heavenly possessions which [we] have lost, [we] deem themselves…happy in [our] goods”. We are happy and self-satisfied when we limit our family size to 2 children and send them to a good private school. And yet, what greater gift could a child have than another sibling? What greater act of charity could there be than offering the gift of life to a new soul? What more efficacious path to holiness exists for a married couple than to offer themselves generously and even heroically to the procreation of children?

“Leaving alone the chief end for which they were made, they fix their affections upon the exile which they are enduring…” Yes, in the excuses that are given for limiting children, there is a blindness to Heaven. Instead, there is a fixation with this earthly exile and our materialistic life in it. We must be prudent in our allocation of resources – whether within the workplace or within the community, or simply within the family.  And while there is truth in this, it does not follow that we should limit the precious resource of children – children properly raised in the Catholic faith, rather than some “good private school”; children properly prepared spiritually for and will thus “cast a longing look toward” their Heavenly fatherland; children who will perform those corporal acts of mercy, but not at the expense of the spiritual ones.

Children are a path to Heaven, not a burden to be limited here on earth. 

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