The Catholic Mother (Part One) – Assault on Family Life, Family Means Motherhood


Fr. Bede Jarrett, O.P.

Nihil Obstat: PERCY JONES, Censor Diocesan

Imprimatur: D Mannix,

Archiepiscopus Melbournensis

June, 1958

Assault on Family Life

Perhaps the most sinister menace of recent years has been the assault on family life, namely, first, on the family as an institution and, secondly, on the various relationships within the family, husband and wife, father and mother, children and parents.

This assault is not indeed only of recent years, for it is to be found at the French Revolution also, and, before that, in Rousseau. But there is this to be noticed: the assault that is being made at present on the family as the single unit of society comes no longer from one quarter, but is being delivered from many different angles.

These attacks are sometimes conscious, deliberate, sometimes utterly unconscious. Thus those who advocate or denounce certain practices or principles are not always aware of what they are attacking, nor how inevitably what they hold today will lead them on to something else tomorrow, which at present they would repudiate but tomorrow will proclaim.

Thus when the practices of birth-control were first propagated, the opponents of them urged that if birth-control was taught there was no reason why abortion should not also be taught; and they were met by a very indignant denial on the part of those who favored birth-control that there was any connection between the two ideas.

No doubt this denial was sincere, but it was short-sighted and futile. The defenders of birth-control are equally now defenders of abortion. Sterilization of the unfit has already been added to their program.

It will be made compulsory, no doubt, and not merely on those that are now held to be unfit. This is merely one instance of what is happening everywhere. Again, the Lambeth bishops would have been disturbed if they had realized where their permissions were leading.

But, with false principles from which to start, there is no end to the degradation that must follow. The next Lambeth Conference, if it is honest, will either go on to further abominations or go back. Thus, under the weight of Divorce, State Education, Sterilization, the present economic organization, etc., the family is gradually being assaulted from every angle.

Family Means Motherhood

Now the first point to realize is that all these various attacks are attacks on motherhood. They are also, no doubt, in part, attacks on freedom. They are attacks on motherhood precisely because what is attacked must inevitably be the center of the family-and round the mother grows up the home.

The father is also the center, but differently. He is the active external worker; the mother’s activities are as great but they have a smaller circumference. They are limited to nearer matters. By her activities the home is kept alive and is a true home.

At no time, moreover, can she “knock off” work. Her factory has no hooter to sound the hour for stopping, her shop has no closing time, her office hours have no end. But since she is the center of the home it must be that her motherhood is most in jeopardy when the family is menaced.

In birth-control it is she who suffers, and she suffers not merely in her nerves but precisely in her motherhood. Again, it is her motherhood that is affected by divorce.

Even the most advanced defenders of divorce will admit that motherhood in its richest implications must suffer from the carrying out of their programs. They regret this but consider that it cannot be helped.

The problem of children is an old one. Always ordinary traditional Christian teaching has allowed parents to space the arrival of their children; but it forbids this to be done by direct artificial interference with nature.

It recognizes that the virtue of prudence, and also a variety of family necessities and difficulties may, under certain circumstances, allow a limitation to be set deliberately and legitimately to the number of children that parents may have. But it also considers that the will of man (plus the grace of God) is capable of carrying this out by the sole means of self-restraint.

Since human nature has existed for many thousands of years and has been hitherto able to restrain itself by means of its will, it seems pure assumption to say that this cannot be done now-unless, indeed, it is equally admitted that man today is far less able to control himself than he was, that instead of progressing from a lower stage to a higher he has slipped back into the lower, that the loss of religion has meant also the loss of will-power, the disbelief in God ended in disbelief in man.

We cannot, indeed, but agree that economic conditions do now make the support of a large family harder than ever. But our answer to this problem is to urge as the remedy an increase of wages and not a diminishing of the family.

If one of these two things has to happen, let wages be altered, not the family. We urge, moreover, that the money spent on this unclean trade, and on the booming of unclean practices by the trade which profits from their sale, should rather have been spent, and would have been better spent, on social propaganda for improving the circumstances of the people troubled in this way than on continuing them and exploiting the needs of the poor.

Just as the Church forbids even the man who is so poor that he can hardly house or clothe or feed his family to use artificial means to limit his family, on the definite principle that it is immoral, so also she denounces as immoral the artificial means that have made it almost impossible for him to house and feed and clothe a family.

It is society which is falsely constructed, not the family. Motherhood is blessed; therefore what blocks motherhood in the present falsely constructed society is accursed.

“Modern mothers have been relying on psychology books to interpret child behavior for so long now that if all the psychology books were burned to a crisp, few mothers could relax with the conviction that God’s love, the maternal instinct, and divine grace could take their place. What we all — little or big — want is God; if we do not realize it, however, we choose many ignoble things in His place. And if we want to teach children to be good with a goodness that’s lasting, we must teach them to be good for the love of God.”
Mary Reed Newland, How to Raise Good Catholic Children, 1954 Available here: https://amzn.to/2lEBVjy (afflink)

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