The greatest of privileges: Married parents, the Catholic faith, Divine grace

Last Sunday I commented that privilege of birth (and lack thereof) involves an extraordinary coincidence of countless accidents; each one of us, individually and impersonally, from the perspective of all created causality, is most improbable. For the atheist this thought is intolerable evidence of the utter meaningless of human life, for the believer it is like a kiss of divine love.

The perspective of divine providence, however, introduces a new perspective on privilege, together with one great equalizer.

The worldly perspective of privilege prioritizes such things as economic and social standing. Since the goal of divine providence is not a person’s temporal well-being, but eternal salvation, those are most truly privileged by birth who enter the world in circumstances that most equip them to recognize and respond to the goodness of God, revealed above all in the salvific work of Jesus Christ.

The most basic ‘privilege’, one that shouldn’t even really be a privilege, but appears today to be becoming more and more of a privilege, is that of being born of married parents who love one another. There is no greater natural gift that a child can have upon his entrance in the world and in the years of his youth.

One woman, one of seventeen children, put it this way, “The permanence of their marriage, our happy childhoods, and our eternal happiness were their main concerns. We knew and we felt it like a warm blanket or, at times, a hair shirt, or like the ground under our feet.”

“The ground under our feet”: the parent’s marriage is the bedrock of a child’s whole existence. In the measure that the parent’s marriage is solid, the child receives a fundamental psychological stability that makes it easier for him to see things the way they are and to live in the real world with a vision of goodness and hope. The child receives a capacity to trust and from the capacity for trust comes a capacity to love.

Contrariwise, we see how easily the failures of parents, within marriage or without, leave their children deeply wounded, especially in their capacity to trust and to love; their lives easily become marked by fear and suspicion. Well, someone who is capable of trust and love is more capable of recognizing the goodness of God than someone who is inherently fearful and suspicious.

When it comes to the relationship to God, however, the greatest privilege of birth (or shortly thereafter) is baptism into the Catholic Church and instruction in the Catholic faith.

St. Thomas Aquinas speaking of the need for divine revelation affirms that it was necessary for God to make known to us certain truths that exceed the capacity of human reason (i.e. we could never, under any circumstance, figure them out for ourselves) precisely because he has destined us for the supernatural blessedness of eternal life, a goal that exceeds our natural capacity. Yet, even as far as those truths about God that human reason is capable of attaining, St. Thomas notes could “only be known by a few, and that after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors.” (ST Q1a1)

The Catholic Church provides the faithful with all the truth that God wants us to know about himself and his plan of salvation, together with the fulness of the means necessary to attain salvation.

The greatest of privileges a child can receive is to be raised in the Catholic faith. It is a great privilege, but we must remember, with privilege comes responsibility. “Noblesse oblige”: the royal status of the children of God carries with it the royal responsibilities of the children of God.

The Catholic faith is not a treasure to be hoarded, but an amazing gift that should be shared with as many as possible.

There is, however, a great equalizer, the grace of God, given to whom he wills, when he wills, in the measure he wills.

There are many who have the privilege of being born into a fine Catholic family, but never seem to amount to much in terms of the life of grace, whether because of their own failure to respond, or because the mysteries of the dispensation of God’s grace we do not know.

On the other hand, God’s grace has the power to touch and transform the lives of persons who enter the world in the most desperate of circumstances or who during the course of their life suffered the most horrific misfortunes. All other privileges are as nothing in comparison to the privilege of God’s grace. St. Paul, who excelled in terms of the privileges of the Old Covenant, declared, I consider everything as loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. (Ph 3:8)

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.