The Sacred Gift of Life
The sound of the human heartbeat is very mysterious. It is almost like an echo of life in the human body. It sounds identical to our mother and father’s hearts, which in turn sounded the same as all of our ancestors’ hearts. We can trace that heartbeat all the way to our first father, Adam. This heartbeat, given to Adam by God Himself, was handed on as a sacred treasure to every future generation of man. This sacred gift of life continues in us almost as if Adam’s heart were still beating within us.
God, by His infinite love, desired to share His life with His creatures. In His eternal wisdom, He endowed them with the power to communicate the sacred gift of life to future generations, but He desired that it be transmitted exclusively through the mutual love of lawfully wedded spouses. He wants the child, the fruit of this mutual love, to be born and to grow to maturity in this stable atmosphere of the family’s love. For there to be a true union, there must be two that become one. The child is the fruit of the parents’ unity. Anything that willfully frustrates the birth of the child threatens the unity of the parents. If they eliminate the possibility of transmitting life, their union is centered strictly on personal pleasure. By the very fact that it is reduced to individual pleasure, it is not a union at all. Although these pleasures are very good, created and willed by God to ensure the continuation of the human race, if they are sought by excluding the responsibility of bearing the fruit of life, God’s plan would be frustrated. The very act intended by God to transmit the gift of life would become nothing more than a type of sinful self-seeking. Artificial birth control does exactly this. An egotistical pleasure is sought from a companion in order to please oneself and to avoid the burden of bearing children.
The parents’ first and foremost responsibility, after the salvation of their own souls is the education of their children. God, however, in a very mysterious way, confided a spiritual fatherhood to religious souls. In the same way that Adam’s heartbeat is still being heard in the bodies of his descendants, the Sacred Heart of Christ, the New Adam, is heard spiritually in the souls of His children. He, in His wisdom decided to communicate the sacred gift of the spiritual life by the lives of consecrated souls offered to Him.
The Mother of Our Life
At the foot of the cross, Jesus confided the Blessed Virgin Mary to St. John as his mother. At this moment, she became the: “Mother of our life, our sweetness and our hope.” We know from experience that our sins can inflict death upon our souls. We need the loving hands of a mother to bind up and heal these wounds. Our Lady is like the widow of Naim weeping for her dead son in order to touch the heart of God and to raise us to life. St. Paul, the father of the Gentiles, in his epistle to the Galatians, mentions his suffering as labor that he must endure in order for Christ to be formed in his spiritual children. “My little children, of whom I am in labor again, until Christ be formed in you...” St. Benedict, the father of monasticism, quoting St. Paul, speaks of the Abbot’s spiritual fatherhood: “Ye have received the spirit of the adoption of sons, whereby we cry Abba, Father.”
Consecrated virgins, religious and priests, by prayer and sacrifice, call down from God the necessary graces for the life of souls. They are truly spiritual parents that we will only fully appreciate in Heaven. Even the three children of Fatima accomplished a type of spiritual fatherhood. Our Lady asked that they pray for souls: “So many souls go to hell because nobody prays for them.” St. Theresa of the Child Jesus prayed for her “Pranzini”, the hardened criminal on death row that repeatedly refused the sacraments. Moments before his execution, he finally embraced the crucifix that the prison chaplain offered to him. St. Therese was about 15 years old at the time and calls him her firstborn. She later entered the Carmel and sacrificed her life for the salvation of souls. She became the mother of countless spiritual children and the patroness of foreign missions.
In the same way that man can choose to frustrate God’s plan by selfishly practicing artificial birth control, so can consecrated souls refuse to accept spiritual fatherhood. They can practice a type of spiritual birth control by becoming materialistic and self-centered. Many abuses crept into the Church over the centuries. Speaking about the abbot, St. Benedict shows how authority can be abused by not communicating the spiritual life to his monks: “Above all let him not have greater solicitude for fleeting, earthly and perishable things, and so overlook or undervalue the salvation of souls committed to him...” The mission of the Council of Trent was to restore spiritual paternity to consecrated souls. Many Bishops, without residing in their dioceses nor accomplishing their duties, were receiving the diocesan revenues. The commendatory abbots were often not religious, but they received large sums of money destined for monasteries that they had never even seen. Many priests were ordained in order to receive revenues due to their parish without ever celebrating Mass or administering the sacraments. The Church often suffers from corruption and decadence because consecrated souls are practicing a type of spiritual birth control. They seek after a selfish comfort, refusing the responsibility of transmitting the sacred gift of the spiritual life. They become wolves in sheep’s clothing, seeking the prestige and wealth of the clerical or religious state without the responsibility of the care of souls. May another Humanae Vitae be written asking that consecrated souls communicate the sacred gift of the spiritual life to their children.