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  • Mary Shivanandan

The Fire of Creation

Updated: Oct 10, 2018



I would like to begin this blog with a quotation from my book, The Holy Family Model Not Exception. On page 195, I cite Emile Mersch, a French Jesuit theologian writing before World War II. On chastity in general and on marital chastity in particular, he acknowledges that purity is hard and all must struggle against weaknesses, psychological deficiencies, temperament and habit. “It is respect for our human nature, through charity towards man that Christianity sets up such limitless requirements.” St. John Paul II would add, love of the person is front and center, not sexual pleasure. Mersch goes on to say that Christian doctrine is “not in the first place a declaration of war but a formula of union.” In that union, however, sexual pleasure holds an important place.


Scientific research, especially by Niles Newton, has shown that essential bonding takes place in the acts of conjugal intercourse and breastfeeding. To quote:

The survival of the human race, long before the concept of “duty” evolved, depended on the satisfaction gained from the two voluntary acts of reproduction—coitus and breastfeeding. These had to be sufficiently pleasurable to ensure their frequent occurrence. (p. 145)

Both ensure bonding to the beloved, the one between mother and child and the other between the mother and father. Both are accompanied by feelings of well-being. Care-taking behavior is triggered by the release of the hormones, especially oxytocin and prolactin. Traditionally, these physiological reactions have, in the normal way, induced the man to protect and defend the mother of his child, and for the woman to make a home for him and to be psychologically committed. This bonding takes place whenever such acts takes place.

How does modernity disrupt this order? Formerly when the infant was given to a wet nurse, it was bonded to the wet nurse rather than to the biological mother. Since the bottle in our contemporary culture might be administered by anyone, the mother is no longer considered essential to the baby’s well-being. Daycare at six weeks of age becomes an option, which many mothers are either forced into by economic circumstances or choose, to the detriment of the child and the home. In fact, the home as a sanctuary is rapidly disappearing. As noted in another blog, breastfeeding’s benefits are praised more for their nutritional value rather than for bonding.


If we look at coitus, the woman is bonded to whichever man she surrenders her body. One can see, then, why multiple sexual partners can be damaging, not just to the adolescent, but to adults in their search for a faithful spouse. Contraception, by ostensibly removing the procreative dimension from sexual intercourse, has made this possible, especially when it is backed up by abortion. Research (Marripedia.org) does not show that this has brought a better sexual experience. In fact, the divorce rate has increased to 50 percent of all marriages in America, including repeat marriages in the last 50 years.

What about the procreative dimension? This quote from an essay by Erik Erikson in “The Roots of Virtue” is revealing: “Modern man, forced to limit his fertility, is apt to consider the matter of procreative involvement resolved by the technical possibility of making a conscious choice in the matter of fertilization. Yet an ever so “safe” love life, if accompanied by denial of generativity, can be the source of the specific guilt of playing with the “fire of creation.”


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