Bottom line: By dishonoring motherhood and fatherhood, we have dug ourselves into a pit. But, with God's help, we can get out. It is not too late to return to sanity, to keep the commandments.
First of all, Happy Mother's Day! I am offering Mass for all of our moms - those, like my mom who have gone before the Lord and for moms who are alive, who continue in this earthly battle. And of course I want to pray especially for the moms in our congregation today.
Mother's Day is a good moment to address a difficult issue: the decline in reverence for motherhood - and fatherhood. In the last half century, the ideal of maternity and paternity has diminished - and we are suffering the consequences. Toward the end of the homily I will tie this in with the Scriptures. God's Word gives us hope, but first we have to understand what we are up against.
In the bulletin I put a graph that illustrates the decline in reverence for motherhood and fatherhood. It is the United Nations chart on "Population by Age in Advanced Countries."* Try to follow me here. The graph has two lines: one for children younger than 4 and and the other for seniors older than 65. In 1950 there were more children under four than seniors: Ten small children for every seven seniors. That's a good proportion. Nothing against old people (I am almost a senior myself) but a healthy, dynamic society should have more children than elderly. That was the case in 1950. Well, fifteen years later the lines crossed - and the elderly started outnumbering children. Today the proportion is disturbing: sixteen seniors for every five small children. Within a few decades the proportion will be thirty-one to three. In other words, ten times as many people over sixty-five as children under four.
What do all these numbers mean? It boils down to this: we are not having enough children. Since most of us were brought up with vague fears about overpopulation, this might come as a surprise. But it is the truth: we need more children. Our current economic problems - and many other problems as well - are rooted in the absence of children.
All of us know about the economic meltdown that came upon us last year. In explaining why this happened, many economists have pointed to demographics: our relative lack of children and young people. Perhaps you remember that when President Obama presented the stimulus package, he said that the government needed to spend a trillion dollars ($1,000,000,000,000) to create an "aggregate demand" for goods and services – and thus create new jobs. But, if we had with us the forty million children killed by abortion, our government would not have to step in to create an aggregate demand. Those children would have done the job nicely.
For those who want to know more about the lack of children and economic decline, I am making available an article by Dr. David P. Goldman titled "Demographics and Depression." Goldman explains why the bottom fell out of the housing market: In recent decades the number of housing units with three or more bedrooms has doubled. Meanwhile, the number of two-parent families with children stayed the same. At some point the housing market had to crash. We don't have enough families for all the homes we built.** Other areas have also begun to suffer: banks, the auto industry and the looming social security and medicare bust.
Families are good for the economy - especially two-parent families with several children. Now, I am not saying that the main reason we should promote families is so we can have a strong economy.*** No, the family is the basic good and the economy exists to support the family. Still, God has ordered things so that if we honor parenthood, other goods will come our way naturally. But when we dishonor parenthood - and stop having children - bad consequences follow.
I take part of the blame. Not for being a celibate (smile). Priestly celibacy is about spiritual fatherhood, which is much needed. What I do take some blame for is being part of a generation that devalued motherhood and fatherhood. In 1950 I was four-years-old - first wave of the Baby Boomers. We benefited from a family-friendly society - and yet, on a whole, we did not value family. We cherished other things more than children. We did not honor paternity and maternity. Instead we embraced contraception and abortion - and now we are suffering the consequences.
Disobeying God brings negative results; obeying him brings blessings. St. John states it very simply: "Because we keep his commandments," he says, we "receive from him whatever we ask." If we keep God's commandments, things fall into its proper place - including the economy. And one of the commandments says, "Honor your father and mother." For children that means obeying their parents. When we are adults we continue to honor our parents and care for them when they grow weak. And when they die, we honor our parents by praying for them.
And part of the command is that we honor motherhood and fatherhood. We have not done that - and we are now beginning to feel the effects. But it is not too late. Besides honoring our own parents, we can help and respect those who have opened their hearts to children - especially those who go against the current by having large families. We can work toward eliminating the contraception and abortion mentality in our society. Those are big challenges, I know. But with God's help we can turn our society around.
St. John makes it clear that we are not talking about a guilt trip. "God is greater than our hearts," he says. God doesn't want us to get bogged down in useless guilt. He wants us to do something positive. Today, on Mother's Day, he wants us to honor our mothers - and fathers. That might involve forgiveness, but also gratitude. That gratitude and love extends to all those who have embraced the task of parenthood.**** As Dr. Goldman says, "children are our wealth." For most people, their child is their greatest treasure, but even from an economic point of view - children are our wealth.
Let me sum up: Our society today is suffering consequences - including economic consequences - because we have strayed from the commandments. By dishonoring motherhood and fatherhood, we have dug ourselves into a pit. But, with God's help, we can get out. It is not too late to return to sanity, to keep the commandments. On Mother's Day, we recognize one of the most important commandments: Honor your father and your mother.
*Here is the graph:
*As David Goldman states:
**America’s population has risen from 200 million to 300 million since 1970, while the total number of two-parent families with children is the same today as it was when Richard Nixon took office, at 25 million. In 1973, the United States had 36 million housing units with three or more bedrooms, not many more than the number of two-parent families with children—which means that the supply of family homes was roughly in line with the number of families. By 2005, the number of housing units with three or more bedrooms had doubled to 72 million, though America had the same number of two-parent families with children.
The number of two-parent families with children, the kind of household that requires and can afford a large home, has remained essentially stagnant since 1963, according to the Census Bureau. Between 1963 and 2005, to be sure, the total number of what the Census Bureau categorizes as families grew from 47 million to 77 million. But most of the increase is due to families without children, including what are sometimes rather strangely called “one-person families.”
***Again from Goldman's article:
Life is sacred for its own sake. It is not an instrument to provide us with fatter IRAs or better real-estate values. But it is fair to point out that wealth depends ultimately on the natural order of human life. Failing to rear a new generation in sufficient numbers to replace the present one violates that order, and it has consequences for wealth, among many other things. Americans who rejected the mild yoke of family responsibility in pursuit of atavistic enjoyment will find at last that this is not to be theirs, either.
****This would tie in well with the Gospel. In it Jesus tells us that he is the vine and we are the branches. To me one of the most beautiful images of that intimate relationship is a mother with an unborn child in her womb. Of course, our relationship with Jesus is even more intimate than that. He made us, he sustains us, he pardons us and heals us. As we will see next week, our relationship with Jesus is not just spiritual,but material. And he wants us to bear fruit. The greatest fruits are children that we form for eternal life.
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