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June 26, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – One day in New Jersey, years ago, I was standing on a train platform waiting to catch a train into New York City. Seeing well-dressed young women waiting at the platform, on their way to work, I thought: How many of these women are committing themselves to a life of single-hearted devotion to Mammon, the god of the world, without reaping any of the benefits that would arise from a life dedicated to the true God? 

They are celibate, after a fashion, but they are not virgins; they make sacrifices day after day, but reap no salvation from them, and bring no immortal souls into the world. They might have sex, but no children; thus, they lose the chief glory and merit of the married woman. Once they have a child, they then frequently hand over the burden of childcare to someone else, losing the greatest opportunity and privilege of all, that of nurturing and educating their own offspring.

So many modern women are a set of absolute contradictions: their lives are consecrated, but to a false god who takes away the blessings of virginal faith; they are lying down with their husbands, but choose barrenness; when they bear children they do not nurse and educate them. In a satire upon their own existence, they are unvirginal celibates, unfruitful wives, unfaithful mothers—and all this by choice. 

In many of his sonnets, Shakespeare urges the recipient to beget children in order to pass on beauty, and not waste it on oneself. The sonnets assume that sexual intercourse is naturally and quite happily linked with the conception of children; that marriage, all things being normal, leads to family (to think otherwise just would not have made any sense to a person living in a traditional culture); that a spouse will not only bear but rear children with complete dedication. 

What would Shakespeare have said to these women on the train platform? “You should get married”? But they are married, many of them, yet they have no children. “You should have children”? But some of them have—one or two, and they think this is “more than enough.” The whole structure of social relations, the most elementary moral responsibilities, the most basic human realities, have disappeared; Shakespeare would have almost no way of entering the minds of these people.

Let me emphasize that I am talking only about what might be called voluntary barrenness, the de facto sterility chosen by those who either do not want children or do not wish to shoulder the burden of commitment. Obviously those who deeply desire to have children and cannot must bear this cross with the help of God’s grace, for their infertility is certainly neither chosen nor blameworthy. Childlessness is in truth the deepest sorrow and burden for those who have a worthy conception of marriage and human life. The perversity of the modern attitude consists in viewing children as a losing proposition, as a throwing away of one’s life.

When the prophet Isaiah uses the metaphor of mother for God’s tender love, it relies upon the fact that the bond between mother and child is known and felt to be the strongest, the most sacred, the most intimate of all bonds. It is perhaps the noblest model of love available to us, and thus God can make use of it and expect to be immediately understood. No mother forgets her child; how then could God? When Scripture says, “Even if a mother should forget her child, I will not forget you, says the Lord,” it is making a reductio ad absurdum: no mother worthy of the name forgets her child, and, since this is true, how much more will God remember us, since He is our maker and sustains our very being? 

Today, the very basis for making this comparison, the natural and beautiful bond of mother and child, is openly mocked and repudiated. We are, alas, very far away from the image in Isaiah the Prophet, where the yearning of the mother for her child serves as a vivid image for the tender mercies of God towards lost and wayward Israel. 

Somewhere in the human heart, no matter how calloused and cynical, there is an ember of that yearning, a spark of that love. We need to breathe on those embers and throw tinder on those sparks as much as we can, by witnessing constantly to the great gift of human life, the beauty of motherly and fatherly love, and the hard-won but deeply satisfying joy of living outside of oneself, for the sake of another. 

Author's Note, added Feb. 10, 2020: I have received a number of complaints from readers about this article, saying that I am not being fair to those women who do want to get married and have a family but cannot find a morally upright decent man to marry. I fully acknowledge that there is a crisis of Christian manhood and that it is no easy task to find a spouse today. My intention was rather to speak about non-Christian modern women – and perhaps also confused Christian women who are excessively aligned with feminism – to whom I believe the critique made in this article certainly does apply.

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Peter Kwasniewski, Thomistic theologian, liturgical scholar, and choral composer, is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College in California (B.A. Liberal Arts) and The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC (M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy). He taught at the International Theological Institute in Austria and the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austria Program, then helped establish Wyoming Catholic College in 2006. There he taught theology, philosophy, music, and art history and directed the choirs until leaving in 2018 to devote himself full-time to writing and lecturing.

Today he contributes regularly to many websites and publications, including New Liturgical Movement, OnePeterFive, LifeSiteNews, Rorate Caeli, The Remnant, and Catholic Family News, and has published thirteen books, including four on traditional Catholicism: Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis (Angelico, 2014, also available in Czech, Polish, German, Portuguese, Spanish, and Belarusian), Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness (Angelico, 2017), Tradition and Sanity (Angelico, 2018), and Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright: The Genius and Timeliness of the Traditional Latin Mass (Angelico, 2020). His work has been translated into at least eighteen languages.

Kwasniewski is a scholar of The Aquinas Institute in Green Bay, which is publishing the Opera Omnia of the Angelic Doctor, a Fellow of the Albertus Magnus Center for Scholastic Studies, and a Senior Fellow of the St. Paul Center. He has published over a thousand articles on Thomistic thought, sacramental and liturgical theology, the history and aesthetics of music, and the social doctrine of the Church.

For news, information, article links, sacred music, and the home of Os Justi Press, visit his personal website, www.peterkwasniewski.com.

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