Sunday, May 11, 2014

Welcoming God's Blessings - or rejecting them

Within the last eleven months we've married off three of our children. Their spouses are all wonderful people, the families are all tremendous, and we're delighted in all of them. But in the midst of the beauty and love, I heard something that caused me to ponder, and ultimately saddened me.

The thing itself was beautiful and wonderful: the solemn Nuptial Blessing pronounced over the the couples as part of the Wedding Mass.  I imagined it was a delight to the celebrating priests to pronounce it over the couples, knowing that they were entering into the sacrament with clear-eyed awareness of what they were doing and full-hearted intention of following through with their whole lives.  These couples, at least, received the blessing in its fullness, accepting all the grace that came with it to help them with the wondrous burden of Holy Matrimony.

All of the weddings had the Nuptial Blessing, but at two of the Masses the full, “long-form” of the blessing was pronounced, during which we all prayed for the couples and then the priest read the full blessing, which included the following text:

...may they be blessed with children, 
and prove themselves virtuous parents, 
who live to see their children's children.

Someone as familiar with the Old Testament as I am will recognize and appreciate how this draws from places like Psalm 128, and is implicit in so many blessings found throughout salvation history. This summarizes God's desire for the human family: fertility, long life, and intergenerational blessing.  When things go God's way, this is what is seen: couples lovingly welcoming the children God sends, and then raising them and seeing them raise children of their own, all within the framework of loving families. Ellen and I have certainly seen this in our lives.

But even as I heard this, I considered a bitter incongruity in our current age.  In our pro-life work, and ministering to many women over the years who've had abortions, I'm keenly aware of a cruel fact: many times women are pressured into abortion by their own family, often their own parents.  Think about that, especially in light of the line from the Nuptial Blessing.

Grandparents are pressuring to have their own grandchildren killed.

How much further from God's plan can you get?

I'm currently reading the wonderful book Resurrection: The Power of God for Christians and Jews by Kevin Madigan and Jon Levenson.  The whole thing is great, but I'm particularly intrigued by how well they spell out the differences in outlook between the ancient cultures, especially Hebrew, and other cultures like the Hellenistic, or our own modern times.  People in ancient cultures saw themselves much more embedded in their society and family (which were usually the same thing). They knew where they came from, and their descendants were extremely important to their effective immortality. Childlessness was the worst of conditions, and having many descendants was the greatest thing to be desired (getting to see them was even better – see Genesis 48.)

But cultures steeped in atomic individualism, such as the Hellenistic culture, or our own, cannot grasp the importance of this. To us, individual success is the pivotal thing. Parents want to “succeed”, with “success” being defined almost exclusively in terms of economic prosperity and worldly comfort, and the best thing they could wish for the children was more of that. Hence the urgency of getting into a good college and graduating well and nailing down that all-important first job.  Unexpected pregnancies are a hindrance to that, so those have to be swept aside.

But listening with “ancient ears”, as when hearing a blessing pronounced over your own children that has echoed down through the millennia, makes one think of the spiritual consequences of our modern actions. If the blessing of children, and living to see them to the third or even the fourth generation, is a good which the Lord Himself has pronounced supreme, then what must be the spiritual fallout of grandparents so rejecting their own offspring that they're willing to snuff out their lives?  If one is the wish of heaven, what can the other be but the very ideal of hell?

I rejoice for my children, the more fully because I know they all agreed with that blessing and accepted it with a wholehearted joy (in fact, two of them are now expecting – the third, it's too early to tell!)  But with a heavy heart I had to wonder what the spiritual effect is of so many grandparents so rejecting the blessing of grandchildren that they're willing to pour out their blood on the altar of Moloch just to have the “fulfilled life” which that terrible idol so deceptively promises.

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