The Pope’s most insistent message
If there is one message that Pope Francis wanted to tell Filipinos, this will probably win first place in repetition: Protect the family. Protect children. He mentioned this three times in his Encounter with Families, his first major talk directed to everyone. Then he used the word “protect” in the context of families and children six times in his very last and most important message for all Filipinos at Luneta. That’s a total of nine times.
Since “to protect” means to keep someone safe from harm, then all of us whom he called to protect families should know the precise harm that the Pope was referring to.
In his meeting with families, he talked about two levels of harm. There is the level of external “pressures”: Countless families are still suffering from the effects of natural disasters. The economic situation has caused families to be separated by migration and the search for employment, and financial problems strain many households. He emphasized that “too many people live in dire poverty.”
But what Pope Francis focused on was the threat that actually destroys families. The source of this destruction he calls “ideological colonization.” It comes from outside the country, but it destroys each Filipino family from the inside, creating an internal implosion.
Unfortunately, though, the key phrase that clearly expresses his thought was not caught by the translator, not even by the official Vatican translation. Praising Paul VI’s teaching against contraception as a courageous stand before the wolves, Pope Francis said Paul VI saw “esta amenaza de destrucción de la familia por la privación de los hijos,” which translates as “this threat of the destruction of the family through the privation of children.” It is not a mere “lack” that destroys; it is the willful “no” to procreation.
Fortunately, the Pope kept repeating the basic idea, detailing to us its moral roots: “The family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life. I think of Blessed Paul VI in a moment on the challenge of that growth of populations, he had the strength to defend openness to life.”
When I heard the Pope say that the family is destroyed by the privation of children, I
recalled Manny Arejola, who was an executive of the Population Commission. When Manny found out through personal visits that his programs were spectacularly depriving families of the emotional and economic benefits of children, he turned around and became an ardent prolifer.
Why can contraception destroy the family from the inside? Because the family, by its very internal workings, was envisioned by God to teach what Pope Francis told the youth as the “most important subject you have to learn in life: to learn how to love.” The family is all about real love—total self-giving love. (What kind of love says “I give you everything except…”?) Contraception instead offers selfish, nontotal and lying “love.” While expressing an embrace of total self-giving, contraception willfully withholds fertility. Unlike natural family planning, which is nonprocreative, contraception is antiprocreative. It willfully goes against procreation, that glorious cooperation with God to give the most sublime gift of love to the spouse: the gift of a new immortal, God-like spirit, a child of God.
Poisoning love at its source, contraception sends off a flood of selfishness based on falsehoods. In the words of Paul VI, it “could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards… and reduce [woman] to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of [man’s] own desires.” This famous prophecy is now clear to everyone. Porn is found at the click of a mouse. Adultery is publicly promoted. The University of Pennsylvania found that due to contraception, three out of four women in the United States now engage in premarital sex.
To protect, though, is not only a negative. It also means to keep something whole. The Pope called Filipino families the “country’s greatest treasure,” and he asked us to “nourish them always by prayer and the grace of the sacraments.”
True love uses the mind. Responsible parenthood means avoiding breeding like
animals—thoughtlessly—and begetting more children thoughtfully to express generous love. The Pope described the great beauty of a large family a few weeks ago: “The sons and daughters of large families are more inclined to fraternal communion from early childhood. In a world that is frequently marred by selfishness, a large family is a school of solidarity
The Pope came with mercy and compassion. Like the Good Shepherd imaged on his
pectoral cross, he came to embrace the lost sheep. But like any true shepherd he wanted, with courage, to protect God’s sheep from ravenous wolves.
He did come with mercy. He showed it magnificently in Tacloban. But he also showed mercy in strict consistency with the principle that he, together with his bishops, wrote in the final document of the last Synod: The most merciful thing is to tell the truth in love.
The family is in danger. Protect it. The family is beautiful. Keep it safe.
But let us not just protect it with our hearts alone; let’s do it with our minds and hands, as the Pope taught. And because he calls us to prophetic witness, let us protect the family with our words as well as by passing on his most insistent message.
Raul Nidoy holds a doctorate in theology from the University of Navarre and is a member of Parents for Education Foundation and Pro-Life Philippines. He blogs at primacyofreason.blogspot.
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