The Role of Catholic Women Today
She is the Hope of the Family for the Third Millennium
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Our title for this conference is unusual. We are not speaking of the family
in the third millennium. That would be prophetic because only God knows the
future. We are speaking of the family for the third millennium.
What do we mean? We mean that family life in the closing decade of the second
millennium must be stronger, more solid, more secure than ever before since
the dawn of Christianity. Why? Because family life in the Western world is faced
with challenges which threaten its very survival.
Challenges to the Family in the Modern World
Every pope in the twentieth century has written and spoken extensively on the
crisis facing family life in our day. The reasons are obvious. In one so-called
developed country after another families are not only on trial. Not a few are
Thus in the United States the divorce rate is now three hundred percent of
what it was early in this century. The birth rate in the United States is now
twelve children born each year for every thousand Americans. In contrast, the
birth rate in Eastern Africa is forty eight births per one thousand population.
These statistics merely illustrate a fact of contemporary history. By every
calculation, the family in our country is disappearing.
The impact of this breakdown is beyond human reckoning. What no one dare deny
is that the family in once Christian nations is becoming a past memory.
The enemies of the family have coined the term, demographic explosion to
describe what they call overpopulation.
Is there a problem with our population? Not really. No doubt the poorer countries
have a higher rate of population growth. This is difficult to sustain in the
context of low economic and social development. My recent eight days in Haiti
this spring were the most sobering experience of my life. I baptized scores
of dying children, all below the age of one. They were dying for lack of food
and medical care.
The more economically developed countries are the ones who talk about overpopulation.
They are also the ones who are either responsible for the poverty of other countries
or/and are unwilling to cooperate in helping these nations to cope with their
high birth rate.
What are the solutions proposed for dealing with the pseudo-problem of overpopulation?
The solutions are contraception, sterilization, and abortion. As the Holy Father
explains, rather than face and solve these serious problems with respect for
the dignity of individuals and families and for every persons inviolable right
to life, they prefer to promote and impose by whatever means a massive program
of birth control. Even the economic help which they would be ready to give is
unjustly conditioned on the acceptance of an anti-birth policy. this has become
the inhuman policy of the United Nations in one international congress after
How then are we to describe our century? It is a century in which the culture
of death is being promoted by the political and financial powers of this world.
It is not only the lives of individuals that are being attacked; it is the lives
of families that are being murdered by forces of evil released in the twentieth
The Catholic Hope for the Family
Underlying the massive breakdown of family life in our day is the intrusion
of values in human society that are totally alien to Christianity.
If we are to understand what is happening to the modern family, we have to
go back to the beginnings of Christianity. The Roman Empire into which Christ
entered was a culture that did not believe in the family. The Latin world familia
meant a household. The head of this household was a man who had wives and concubines.
He decided whether a new born child should stay alive. Every bed in which a
child was born had to have a pail of water next to the bed to drown the new
born infant, depending on the fathers decision. Contraception and abortion
were universally legalized in the Roman Empire. Divorce and remarriage were
commonplace. Polygamy was assumed, even among the believing Jews.
In three centuries, Christianity made such an impact on this pagan culture
that Emperor Constantine had no choice but to give Christians the legal freedom
to practice their religion.
If there is one term that characterized Christians in the age of martyrs, it
was the family Two sentences from a second century document tell us what we
need to hear:
Like others, Christians also marry and have children but they do not expose
these children. They do not kill the children. Christians share their meals,
but not their wives. They live in the flesh but they are not governed by the
desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens
of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they live on a level which is above all human
law (Letter to Diognetus).
The family, as we now understand it, came into existence with Christianity.
Twenty centuries of history teach us that family life is only as stable and
as sound as the Christian faith of a culture. As this faith goes, so goes the
We asked the question:
Why does the Catholic Church offer the only solution to the challenges to the
family in our day? Because only the Catholic Church possesses the fullness of
Gods revealed truth about the family.
In the two thousand years since Calvary, there have been many departures from
Catholic unity. There have been countless churches, called Christian, which
have separated themselves from the one true Church of Jesus Christ. Without
exception, they broke with the Church of Rome because they refused to accept
the Catholic teaching on the family.
In a culture like our own, Catholics are surrounded, or shall I say engulfed,
by people who do not share our Catholic heritage. Concretely they do not share
the unchangeable doctrine revealed by the Son of God.
In 1535, two British Catholics were martyred for the faith: St. John Fisher
and St. Thomas More. John Fisher was the only bishop in England who stood firm
with the Pope in denying that Henry VIII had a right to divorce his wife, Catherine
of Aragon, and marry his mistress, Anne Boleyn. St. Thomas More was chancellor
of England. He, too, remained faithful to Christs teaching on the indissolubility
of consummated, sacramental marriage. Both Fisher and More paid for their loyalty
with their blood.
All we have said so far was a prelude to what I really want to share with you.
No words of mine can describe the breakdown of the family in so-called developed
countries like the United States.
Our country has witnessed a massive secularization of its culture. God and
the rights of God; virtue as conformity to the divine will; sin as the choice
of what I want contrary to what God wants; eternal life in the beatific vision
as the destiny of our existence all of these have become either pious fancies
or the dream world of religious weirdoes. Siegmund Freud defined psychosis as
the mental state of people who believe their behavior on earth determines their
happiness after bodily death. Thus, according to Freud, most of us are psychotics.
I am speaking to believing Catholics. If the contemporaries of Christ called
Him a fanatic, we should not expect the world to have a better estimate of ourselves.
The focus in this conference is on our responsibility to meet the global breakdown
of the family as understood by Christianity.
At this point, we could speak for hours about the implications implied in our
duty to preserve family life for the third millennium. At root, however, our
duty is to proclaim the teachings of Christ on the family as taught by the Church
which He founded.
Among these teachings of Christ, none is more important for the preservation
and promotion of sound family life than the Catholic doctrine on Church and
State. I know of no single statement of a Bishop of Rome that is more clear
on this subject than the one sentence of Pope Pius XI. The family, he declares
is more sacred than the State. Human beings are begotten not for the earth
and for time, but for heaven and eternity (Casti Connubii, Dec., 31,
In the light of this pronouncement of the Vicar of Christ, our most serious
responsibility for the third millennium is to defend the rights of the Church
in her teaching on the family. Our corresponding responsibility is to resist
the usurped claims of the State which is literally possessed by the evil spirit
in some countries to destroy the family.
Our faith teaches us that each human person was individually created, in his
human soul, at the moment of conception in his mothers womb. There is no such
thing as a fetus. There is no such thing as mere tissue. There is a human
being from the moment that the ovum is fertilized and immediately God creates
an immortal soul out of nothing; He infuses that soul into what thus becomes
a human body animated by a human spirit.
Our faith further teaches us that to destroy this just conceived human being
Our faith teaches us that God instituted marriage to provide for the increase
of the human race by loving cooperation of husband and wife in procreating the
Our faith teaches us that marriage is a life-long commitment of one man and
one woman in a covenant of love. Husband and wife are to love each other even
as Christ loves the Church and wants us to love Him in return.
Our faith teaches us that mother and father are to provide not only for the
bodily well-being of their children. They are to teach them and train them and
prepare them for an everlasting life in the heavenly kingdom which Christ died
on the Cross to obtain for us.
All of this is part of the heritage of our Catholic faith. However, it is not
enough to merely believe what the Church teaches about marriage and the family.
We must also understand this teaching.
I never tire repeating to the audiences to which I speak how important it is
to understand what we believe: here the revealed truth taught by Jesus Christ
about the family. At the core of this truth is a mystery of selfless love. What
are we saying? We are saying that the family as a union of father and mother
and children is the union of a love, which is the only reconciliation of authority
Except for God becoming man in the person of Christ, this family love would
be impossible. This is proved in every culture which departs from the foundations
Without Christ there cannot be selfless love. Without selfless love there cannot
be a stable, fruitful family life. This is the verdict of twenty centuries of
Defending the Family
Now we shift our attention to the wide-spread threats which the family faces
in our day.
No one has written more forcefully about these threats than our present Holy
Father, Pope John Paul II. He tells us that these threats are not merely verbal
or highly organized. They are now being legally justified, and even forcibly
In one nation after another, the State is given the right to determine the
conditions for marriage. For example, in more than one country of South America,
Catholic marriages are invalid in the eyes of the government. The State is given
the right to determine how many children may be conceived and brought to birth.
The State is given the right to determine who is to live and who should die.
One result is that those in the medical profession are given legal jurisdiction
to decide on the morality of the peoples choice to murder an unborn child or
kill and unwanted adult.
Dare w ask whether the civil law can require of its citizens to live according
to the moral standards determined by the State? the Vicar of Christ tells us,
absolutely not. The State has no right to determine moral standards that are
contrary to the divine law.
In order to justify the most devastating anti-family legislation, its promoters
are appealing to democracy. The Church tells us that a democratic culture is
prone to base its legal system on what the majority in a given society considers
moral and actually practices. It further believes that the will of the majority
should determine the moral norms of a society.
What is the result? The result is what we call ethical relativism. This means
that the laws are determined by the people of a country. It acknowledges no
objective principles of right or wrong, but claims that morality depends on
the choices of the majority of people in the democratic state.
What happens to the human conscience? The civil law takes the place of our
conscience. In 1973 when the Supreme Court legalized abortion, the reaction
of the people was that of a nation hypnotized by an alien mind. I do not hesitate
to say that this alien mind is the mind of the devil.
I believe I know the writings of the Popes very well. Twenty-five years of
teaching theology to my Jesuits; twenty-six years in working for the Holy See
have taught me a great deal. I know of no Pope in the last five centuries who
has written more openly, I would say more brazenly, about the State encroaching
on the laws of God than Pope John Paul II.
He asks whether the civil law can take the place of a human conscience. He
answers, absolutely not.
What happens when the State refuses to recognize the human rights of a family?
When this happens, it is not only failing in its duty but its laws lose their
I was fourteen years old when I began reading Karl Marx. Certainly much too
soon. But one thing I have learned. Karl Marx was a sworn enemy of the family,
which he claimed was the invention of a patriarchal philosophy.
These principles have penetrated the culture of our nation far beyond anything
that we can imagine.
We began by addressing ourselves to The Family for the Third Millennium.
We saw something of Christs teaching on what the family should be. We also
saw, however briefly, that demonic forces are at work in the world to destroy
the family. These forces literally control the political and financial powers
of many nations, including our own.
There is no human power that can cope with these evil powers of the modern
world. When Christ told us that the prince of this world is the evil spirit
He was not indulging in platitudes. He was speaking the unqualified truth and
foretelling what His followers should expect until the end of time.
Only a deep faith in the Divine Exorcist and trustful confidence in His power
can make the humanly impossible divinely possible with the help of His grace.
Selfishness, as the saints tell us, is cunning. It pushes and insinuates itself
into everything or making us believe it is not there at all. This is the root
cause of the breakdown of family life in so many materially prosperous countries
in our day. Only the God who became a Child and lived on earth as a member of
a Family could have inspired the selfless love that brought the Christian family
into being. This same Jesus, we are confident, will reform the Christian family
where it has weakened and even bring it back, where it has been destroyed.
Copyright © 2003 Inter Mirifica