How do animals know how to care for their young? Distinct varieties of birds make distinct nests. Birds sit on their eggs, find food for their young and teach them to fly.
A chicken egg needs to be turned, or the chicken will stick to one side of the egg. Hens usually sit quietly on their eggs, but at certain points in the day, the hen will fuss over the eggs, turning them with her beak. How does the hen know that this is important?
When a rabbit is about to give birth she pulls out her fur and makes a blanket. When the rabbits are born she covers them under the blanket. How does the mother rabbit know to do this?
Some male birds protect their young, in the early stages. Male swans remain with the females and the young.
When St. Thomas Aquinas considers natural indications of God, he calls attention to what can be observed in nature, “Things act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. It is plain that not by chance, by design, do they achieve their end” (1a. 2, 3).
St. Thomas comments: “God takes care of all things … He provides for all things according to their natures” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew, 29)
With humans, the instincts to care for the young are perfected by intelligence. Human parents continue to nurture their children since human maturity involves many aspects, as Thomas notes, “The child requires the father’s direction for a long time” (Summa Contra Gentiles, 123, 4).
Husbands and wives provide the young with a home and an emotional base, which is built on the parents’ love for each other. Thomas Aquinas speaks of the “greatest friendship” of the parents for each other: “The greater that friendship is, the more solid and long-lasting will it be. There seems to be the greatest friendship between husband and wife, for they are united not only in bodily union … but also in the partnership of the whole range of domestic activity” (Summa Contra Gentiles, 123, 6)
In today’s Gospel, Luke 2:41-52, we see the “holy family,” Jesus with His mother Mary and foster father, Joseph. We are told that Jesus was “obedient to them” (Lk 2:51).
We might think that family life is not a priority for the New Testament. It is true that Jesus told His disciples” “He who loves father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me” (Mt 10:37).
Love for God must be the priority. Thomas reflects: “You ought to obey him whenever he does not withdraw you from the love of God; but whenever he withdraws you, you are not held to obey him” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew, 10:37).
The twelve-year old Jesus surprised His own parents by responding to Mary’s concern: “Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?” (Lk 2:50). Jesus had a unique relationship with His Father, which had to be primary in His life.
Generally, in God’s providence, love for the family is important, as St. Thomas states, “The affection of charity, which is the inclination of grace, is no less orderly than the natural appetite, which is the inclination of nature, flow from the divine wisdom” (2a.2ae. 26, 6).
Thomas affirms: “By the inclination of charity, a person loves more those who are more closely united to him, for he is under a greater obligation to bestow on them the effect of charity” (2a.2ae. 26, 13).
Thomas explains: “We ought out of charity to love those who are more closely united to us … because our love for them is more intense and there are more reasons for loving them (2a.2ae. 26, 8).
Thomas reflects on parents’ love for their children: “Parents love their children as being part of themselves… parents have loved their children longer… the longer love lasts the stronger it is” (2a.2ae. 26, 9).
Thomas reflects on this parental love: “… inasmuch as someone adheres longer to someone, so much the more is he rooted in love for him … It is natural that everything loves what has been made by itself” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew, 10:37)
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
References to Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew may be found on the web page of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington DC: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/
References to the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas give the part of the Summa, the question and the article. If the passage is found in a response to an objection that Thomas has introduced in the first part of the article, the Latin word “ad,” meaning “to,” is added with the number of the objection.