By Paul Thigpen
I read an article yesterday in the Washington Post by a woman planning to have a third child. She noted, with some perplexity, a certain reaction she has encountered to her pregnancy.
Some people complain -- in all seriousness -- that she and others like her are just "showing off," ostentatiously advertising their financial security. Only well-off families, they insist, can afford three children.
Well, just tell that to my parents. Mom and Dad barely eked out a living in our little family-owned business, a meat market where we kids grew up working alongside them to bring home the bacon. All five kids, that is.
My folks would have been mystified by the notion that we five little ones were somehow a luxury they were presumptuous to take on. I was the third child, and I certainly never felt like a luxury.
Yet I don't think Pope Paul VI, who became pontiff the year my baby sister was born (1963), would have been mystified at all by this disturbing attitude. Why not? Because he described the context for its development in his encyclical letter Humanae Vitae, whose 40th anni-versary the Church will commemorate on July 25.
In this profound but controversial document on the transmission of human life, the Pope laid out the reasons why artificial contraception is gravely immoral. In it, he noted that the desire to contracept is only one of many modern attempts to extend our control over every aspect of life, including those aspects that represent a mystery not of our own making, much less of our own understanding.
In short, it's an endeavor to play God, and a dangerous one indeed. When much of a society comes to believe -- as ours has -- that the miracle of life's transmission is simply one more mechanical function to manipulate at will, then the "products of conception," as they are now termed (we once called them "children") are viewed as nothing more than a commodity.
So we feel free to abort them. We buy and sell them. We use them as lab rats. We figure their costs to see whether we can work them into our financial plan -- just one more budget item to be added or subtracted, according to how many other luxury items we might rank ahead of them.
Pope Paul courageously declared that children are gifts from God to be gratefully received, not assets to be calculated or liabilities to be disposed of. Forty years later, we must acknowledge his prophetic insight -- and mourn a world that has largely rejected his warning. TCA
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