Even though there are myriad single mothers and fathers who courageously exemplify what it means to be pro-life, there is a family blueprint preferred by God and promoted by the Church.
It is a structure as old as time, and modern social scientists have published many academic papers on the positive effect of a family model that includes a mother and a father, joined in marriage, raising children. But people are getting behind in their academic treatise reading, if current data is any indication.
If the rates of single mother births here in the United States were not enough to set off alarm bells — and according to the Center for Disease Control 40.5% of all 2021 births in the U.S. were from unwed mothers — the recent data from Great Britain is even worse.
For the first time in recorded history (and Great Britain has an awful lot of recorded history), the majority of babies born in the British Isles last year were born to unmarried mothers.
All of the economic, social, and demographic factors that have gone into these statistics are tantamount to a full employment act for sociologists for the next five decades. I cling to the fact that with so many variables, trends do not always go where even highly qualified experts predict they will go.
Dr. Paul Ehrlich, who wrote the famous book “The Population Bomb,” was one of the founders of Earth Day. On the very first Earth Day in 1970, he predicted that from 1980 to 1989 there would be a “great die off” due to world-wide famine, where 4 billion human beings, including 65 million Americans, would perish.
So, maybe there’s hope for the family as we have known it and as God wants it, after all.
Writing in 1997 as then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI gave us all a major heads up: “Maybe we are facing a new and different kind of epoch in the church’s history, where Christianity will again be characterized more by the mustard seed, where it will exist in small, seemingly insignificant groups that nonetheless live an intense struggle against evil and bring good into the world — that let God in.” It is a thought that is counterintuitive to the way our psyches are built.
We are communal creatures. I am sure the early stages of mankind were much more comfortable sleeping in a cave at night when the fire was being shared by other like-minded and opposable thumb-possessing friends.
The epoch of “pandemus aeternus” we now live in makes scenes of St. Peter’s Square packed with 300,000 people a memory, but I certainly remember many occasions when my family would watch a dying pope being prayed for or a newly elected pope being celebrated. This sea of humanity gave one a sense of comfort and almost pride, that yes, we Catholics were multitudes and the Faith was a powerful source in the world.
It is much the same way in sporting events. Winning teams pack stadiums, losing teams give their tickets away and still no one will come.
Our memories of large family gatherings are becoming just that: memories. That does not mean they will not make a comeback. Just as God promised the Church will be with us always, we have to have the faith of the “little” church — the Church of the family where seeds of faith are first planted.
Pope Francis is certainly tuned in to the importance of the family. “The family is the fundamental locus of the covenant between the Church and God’s creation.” For many of us, and I hope it was the experience of my own children, the family was the beginning of their relationship with Christ and his Church.
All families, like the Church, are imperfect in many ways, solely because both institutions require broken human beings to make them operate. But we have a standard. And it is a standard that does not require a stadium full of people cheering and celebrating.
Playing the numbers game is a sure loser. Jesus told us where two or more are gathered, there is the Church. And the most important family in human history was a gathering of only three people. It was small like the Church Pope Benedict suggested is coming our way, and it is fundamental to our covenant with the Lord, as Pope Francis proclaims.