An initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops


Why doesn’t this website use the terms “same-sex marriage” or “gay marriage”?

Posted Feb. 28, 2012 by Marriage Unique for a Reason 2 comments

The terms “same-sex marriage” and “gay marriage” beg the question: What is marriage? Is it even possible for two persons of the same sex to be married? Using the terms “same-sex marriage” and “gay marriage” already presupposes (wrongly) that marriage comes in a variety of forms: “same-sex,” “opposite-sex,” “homosexual,” “heterosexual,” and so forth.

Put another way, the sexual difference and complementarity of husband and wife is not something that is added to a pre-existing thing called “marriage,” like you might add sprinkles to a sundae. Instead, male-female complementarity is at the very heart of marriage and part of its authentic definition. Marriage wouldn’t be marriage without a man and a woman, a husband and a wife. This is why adding alternative adjectives to the word “marriage” (“same-sex,” “gay,” and so on) produces not another “variety” of marriage, but a different thing entirely. It radically alters what marriage is in its very essence.

In contrast, the goal of the Marriage: Unique for a Reason website is to explain and illuminate the singular reality that the word “marriage” refers to: the faithful, fruitful, lifelong union of one man and one woman. A reality, you might say, without any adjectives. In the end, what’s at stake is precisely the authentic meaning of marriage. We invite you to explore the resources available on this website to understand why marriage is and can only be the union of one man and one woman.

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Sunday Pope Quote: John Paul II on the demands of love

Posted Feb. 26, 2012 by Marriage Unique for a Reason No comments yet

Lent has begun – a time of prayer, fasting, penance, and alms-giving. It is a “demanding” time in many ways, a time that calls us to greater holiness. Today’s Sunday Pope Quote is also about something demanding – love. “Love is demanding,” says Bl. John Paul II. But the demands of love are not something we have to fulfill by our own power. Demanding love – true love – has within it the “power and strength of God himself.”

Bl. John Paul II: The love which the Apostle Paul celebrates in the First Letter to the Corinthians—the love which is “patient” and “kind”, and “endures all things” (1 Cor 13:4, 7)—is certainly a demanding love. But this is precisely the source of its beauty: by the very fact that it is demanding, it builds up the true good of man and allows it to radiate to others. The good, says Saint Thomas, is by its nature “diffusive”. Love is true when it creates the good of persons and of communities; it creates that good and gives it to others. Only the one who is able to be demanding with himself in the name of love can also demand love from others.

Love is demanding. It makes demands in all human situations; it is even more demanding in the case of those who are open to the Gospel. Is this not what Christ proclaims in “his” commandment? Nowadays people need to rediscover this demanding love, for it is the truly firm foundation of the family, a foundation able to “endure all things”. According to the Apostle, love is not able to “endure all things” if it yields to “jealousies”, or if it is “boastful… arrogant or rude” (cf. 1 Cor 13:5-6). True love, Saint Paul teaches, is different: “Love believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:7). This is the very love which “endures all things”. At work within it is the power and strength of God himself, who “is love” (1 Jn 4:8, 16). At work within it is also the power and strength of Christ, the Redeemer of man and Saviour of the world.

Letter to Families, no. 14 (emphasis added)

About this series:

Every Sunday, the Marriage: Unique for a Reason blog will feature a short quote from either our current Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, or our late Holy Father, Bl. John Paul II (or occasionally another pope). These two men have given the world an immense treasury of wisdom about marriage, love, and the meaning of the human person, all of which are topics integral to the Church’s witness today. Their words are well worth reflecting on, as we have much to learn from these wise successors of St. Peter.

All Sunday Pope Quotes


Statement from Maryland Catholic Conference re: marriage redefinition in Maryland

Posted Feb. 24, 2012 by Marriage Unique for a Reason No comments yet

On Thursday, February 23, the Maryland State Senate unfortunately voted 25 to 22 in favor of a bill that would redefine marriage in Maryland. The bill had previously passed through the House by a narrow 72 to 67 margin and now makes its way to Governor O’Malley’s desk. The Governor, who had proposed the bill, is expected to sign it, which would make Maryland the eighth state to redefine marriage to the exclusion of sexual difference.

The Maryland Catholic Conference (MCC) released a statement yesterday lamenting the bill’s passage. They point out that the bill passed by “the narrowest of margins” and “was forced through the House with extraordinary political pressures and legislative maneuvers,” a point highlighted in a February 22 MCC statement following the House vote.

MCC writes in the February 23 statement, “Stripping marriage of its unique connection to parenthood erases from civil law the right of a child to a mother and father, and ignores an essential question of why government favors marriage between one man and one woman over all other relationships” (emphasis added).

The political battle over marriage in Maryland is far from over. Supporters of marriage’s perennial definition have the opportunity to bring the measure to voters with a referendum this November, provided that they can raise at least 55,000 signatures. The Maryland Catholic Conference sees this opportunity in a very positive light: “When this issue reaches the November ballot, we are confident that the citizens of Maryland will join voters in 31 other states in upholding marriage between one man and one woman.”

Read the entire statement from Maryland Catholic Conference.

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Ash Wednesday

Posted Feb. 22, 2012 by Marriage Unique for a Reason No comments yet

Today, Ash Wednesday, begins the liturgical season of Lent, a forty day preparation for the great feast of Easter. Traditionally, Lent is a time of increased prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as Christians seek to enter into Jesus’ Paschal Mystery of His suffering, death, and Resurrection.

In his Lenten Message this year, Pope Benedict reminded us that living the Christian life means recognizing the fundamental communion that exists among all people; by virtue of being human, we are all children of God, and therefore brothers and sisters. One effect of this profound communion is that we share responsibility for each other’s integral well-being, both physically and spiritually. As Pope Benedict explains, “The other is part of me, and…his or her life, his or her salvation, concern my own life and salvation. Here we touch upon a profound aspect of communion: our existence is related to that of others, for better or for worse. Both our sins and our acts of love have a social dimension.”

Both our sins and our acts of love have a social dimension. Our Holy Father’s short but powerful statement connects well with the Church’s teaching on marriage. Rather than being an entirely private relationship between a man and a woman, each and every marriage has a profound impact on the world. As the Second Vatican Council put it, “The well-being of the individual person and of human and Christian society is intimately linked with the healthy condition of that community produced by marriage and family” (GS, no. 47). The Church is concerned about marriage because she is concerned about the integral well-being of each and every person, who is invariably affected by marriage – or the lack thereof.

We invite you this Lent to join us in praying for the promotion and defense of marriage, using our prayer or your own.

Other resources for Lent:


Sunday Pope Quote: Benedict XVI on the family and the meaning of life

Posted Feb. 21, 2012 by Marriage Unique for a Reason 1 comment

Today’s Sunday Pope Quote : Beautiful words about the family from Pope Benedict, given during a pastoral visit to Palermo in Italy in October 2010. Some highlights from his address follow.

Pope Benedict XVI: “The family is fundamental because that is where the first awareness of the meaning of life germinates in the human soul. It germinates in the relationship with the mother and the father, who are not masters of their children’s lives but are God’s primary collaborators in the transmission of life and faith.”

“Each one of us needs fertile ground in which to sink our own roots, a ground rich with nutritious substances that make a person grow: these are values, but above all they are love and faith, the knowledge of God’s true face, the awareness that he loves us infinitely, faithfully, patiently, to the point of giving his life for us.”

“Divine love, which unites a man and a woman and makes them become parents, is capable of generating in the hearts of their children the seed of faith, that is, the light of the deep meaning of life.”

Address during a Meeting with Young People and Families of Sicily in Palermo, Italy (Oct. 3, 2010)

About this series:

Every Sunday, the Marriage: Unique for a Reason blog will feature a short quote from either our current Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, or our late Holy Father, Bl. John Paul II (or occasionally another pope). These two men have given the world an immense treasury of wisdom about marriage, love, and the meaning of the human person, all of which are topics integral to the Church’s witness today. Their words are well worth reflecting on, as we have much to learn from these wise successors of St. Peter.

Previous Sunday Pope Quotes


Married Saint: St. Philip Howard

Posted Feb. 17, 2012 by Marriage Unique for a Reason 1 comment

The basics:

  • Born June 28, 1557, in London
  • Died October 19, 1595, in the Tower of London
  • Canonized in 1970 by Pope Paul VI
  • Father of one son
  • Patron of betrayal victims and separated spouses

An image of St. Philip Howard.

In 1970, St. Philip Howard was named by Pope Paul VI one of the “Forty Martyrs of Wales and England.” Yet as with many martyrs, St. Philip’s early life was little indication of the supreme honor he would one day receive, dying for the sake of Christ.

Philip Howard was born in 1557 in an England that was still reeling from King Henry VIII’s establishment of the Church of England. During Philip’s childhood, “Bloody” Queen Mary was on the throne, a Catholic ruler who rejected the Church of England. Accordingly, Philip was baptized as a Catholic by the archbishop of York. He later pursued his education at Cambridge.

However, times were soon to change. Queen Elizabeth I succeeded Queen Mary, and the country once again became Protestant; more than that, Catholicism was strictly forbidden. As with so many Englishmen at the time, Philip’s father took the family with him back into the Church of England. Change was also happening in Philip’s home: his father remarried a woman with three daughters. At the young age of 14, St. Philip was given in marriage to one of these daughters, Anne; his other two brothers married the other two daughters.

St. Philip’s early years as a husband were none too pious. Climbing the career ladder was forefront in his mind, while family and faith fell by the wayside. His young wife, Anne, stayed admirably devoted to her inattentive and often moody husband, even as he spent more and more time at the Queen’s court, seeking to build his prestige and affluence. And yet it was here at Court that the seeds were sown for Philip’s later years of discipleship.

At the Queen’s court one day, Philip witnessed a theological debate between Anglican theologians and the Jesuit priest St. Edmund Campion. (St. Edmund would be martyred as a result of this dispute.) The words of St. Edmund took three years to penetrate Philip’s heart and mind, but when they did, he was solidly convinced of the truth of the Catholic faith. His conversion led him to devote more time to his wife and to prayer, and to generally amend his life. But it also caught the attention of the Queen who, recall, had outlawed Catholicism. After Philip wrote Her Majesty a letter – with feeling! – about his newfound faith, she had him thrown into the Tower of London.

In the Tower, Philip suffered all of the usual indignities. Confined to a small, unappealing space, and forbidden from seeing his wife or his newborn son, Philip suffered patiently, often repeating Jesus’ words from the Cross “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.” Finally, on October 19, 1595, 38-year-old Philip took leave of this life to receive the crown of a martyr. He left his last testament on the wall of his cell, as if to remove any doubt about why and for whom he died: Quanto plus afflictions pro Christo in hoc saeculo, tanto plus gloriae cum Christo in futuro (“The more afflictions we bear for Christ in this world, the more glory we attain with Christ in the world to come.”)

St. Philip Howard, husband and martyr, pray for those who are persecuted because of their faith in Jesus and their love of His Church. Give strength especially to those husbands and wives who are separated from each other under difficult circumstances. Pray in a particular way for the faithful of England, that they may stay rooted in the love of Christ.

St. Philip Howard, pray for us!


National Marriage Week: Closing Remarks from Bishop Cordileone

Posted Feb. 14, 2012 by Marriage Unique for a Reason 1 comment

Dear friends,

Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone

Today marks the end of National Marriage Week USA. It is no accident that its culmination falls on Valentine’s Day, which has long been regarded as a day to celebrate love. Indeed, love is a great gift; even more, love is “the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being” (Catechism, no. 1604). Every man and woman, created in the image of a God who is Love, is called to the vocation of love.

Reflecting on the gift of love moves us to reflect on the gift of marriage, which is a unique and privileged instance of love. As our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), among the many meanings given to the word “love” today, “one in particular stands out: love between man and woman, where body and soul are inseparably joined and human beings glimpse an apparently irresistible promise of happiness. This would seem to be the very epitome of love” (no. 2).

Marriage is indeed a great gift, and a great witness to the beauty of love. The lifelong, life-giving bond formed between husband and wife is a great good not only for them, but also for any children who come from their union, and for all of society. As National Marriage Week USA draws to a close, I encourage each of you to continue praying that all in our nation would recognize and protect the unique beauty of marriage.

May the Lord bless you abundantly,

Most Reverend Salvatore J. Cordileone
Bishop of Oakland
Chairman, Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage


National Marriage Week: Returning to the Sources

Posted Feb. 13, 2012 by Marriage Unique for a Reason No comments yet

“I want to explain the Church’s teaching on marriage when it comes up in conversation…but I just don’t know how!”

Has this thought ever crossed your mind? If so, you’re not alone! Articulating what the Catholic Church believes and teaches about marriage can be difficult, especially in a cultural climate where many of its main tenets are rejected.

One strategy is to return to the sources. That is, become knowledgeable about the Church’s authoritative teaching on marriage, as found in major papal and episcopal documents and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Frequent consultation of these main sources helps us to become ever more fluent in the “language” of the Church when she speaks about marriage. And when difficult questions come up in conversation or surface in the media, it’s helpful to know where to turn for solid answers.

But where to begin? Below, we offer an introduction to a few of the many important documents about marriage. We encourage you to become acquainted (or perhaps re-acquainted) with the Church’s beautiful and timeless teaching on marriage.

*Note: the following is not meant to be an exhaustive list. Additional sources will be highlighted in future posts.

1. USCCB, Pastoral Letter Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan (2009)

  • Why it matters: It’s the most recent document on marriage from the entire body of U.S. bishops, approved in 2009.
  • Structure:
    • Mini-book, 58 pages long
    • Part One: Marriage in the Order of Creation (The Natural Institution of Marriage)
    • Part Two: Marriage in the Order of the New Creation (The Sacrament of Matrimony)
  • Highlights:
    • Identifies four “fundamental challenges” to marriage: contraception, same-sex unions, divorce, and cohabitation (pp. 17-27).
    • Reflects on marriage as a vocation and offers advice to married couples seeking to grow in virtue (pp. 43-45).
  • Quotable:
    • “For all who seek to find meaning in their marriage will do so when they are open to accepting the transcendent meaning of marriage according to God’s plan” (p. 4).
    • “Male and female are distinct bodily ways of being human, of being open to God and to one another – two distinct yet harmonizing ways of responding to the vocation to love” (p. 10).
    • “The marital vocation is not a private or merely personal affair. Yes, marriage is a deeply personal union and relationship, but it is also for the good of the Church and the entire community” (p. 44).
  • Additional Resources:

2. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (1997)

  • Why it matters: The Catechism conveys the essential content of the Catholic faith (including its teaching on marriage) in a complete and summary way. Divided into easy-to-digest paragraphs, the Catechism also provides numerous footnotes for further study.
  • Structure and key sections:
    • 904 pages, divided into four parts and 2,865 paragraphs
    • The sacrament of matrimony: nos. 1601-1606
      • See especially “The goods and requirements of conjugal love” – nos. 1643-1654
    • Sexual difference: nos. 369-373 and 2331-2336
    • The love of husband and wife: nos. 2360-2379
    • Offenses against the dignity of marriage: nos. 2380-2391
  • Quotable:
    • “God created man and woman together and willed each for the other” (no. 371).
    • “The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator” (no. 1603).
    • “Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity” (no. 2333).
    • “Fecundity is a gift, an end of marriage, for conjugal love naturally tends to be fruitful” (no. 2366).
  • Additional Resources:

3. Bl. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (1981)

  • English title: On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World
  • Why it matters: Promulgated in response to the 1980 Synod of Bishops, Familiaris Consortio reads like a “little summa” of the theology of marriage and the family. Its pastoral advice, which touches on a diverse range of topics from women and society to responsible parenthood to mixed marriages to divorce, is grounded on a robust anthropology of the human person and theology of marriage and the family. It calls the family to a simple but profound mission: “Family, become what you are!”
  • Structure:
    • 86 sections
    • Part One: Bright Spots and Shadows for the Family Today
    • Part Two: The Plan of God for Marriage and the Family
    • Part Three: The Role of the Christian Family
      • 1) Forming a Community of Persons
      • 2) Serving Life
      • 3) Participating in the Development of Society
      • 4) Sharing in the Life and Mission of the Church
    • Part Four: Pastoral Care of the Family: Stages, Structures, Agents and Situations
  • Quotable:
    • “Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being” (no. 11).
    • “Every act of true love toward a human being bears witness to and perfects the spiritual fecundity of the family, since it is an act of obedience to the deep inner dynamism of love as self-giving to others” (no. 41).
    • “The future of the world and of the church passes through the family” (no. 75).
  • Additional Resources

4. Bl. John Paul II, Letter to Families (1994)

  • Why it matters: Promulgated during the Year of the Family, John Paul II addressed this letter “not to families ‘in the abstract’ but to every particular family in every part of the world” (no. 4). A perfect complement to the longer Familiaris Consortio, Letter to Families invites families to reflect on their identity (especially its likeness to the Triune God) and their mission (building a civilization of love).
  • Structure:
    • 23 sections
    • Part One: The Civilization of Love
      • Includes: marital covenant and communion, sincere gift of self, and responsible parenthood
    • Part Two: The Bridegroom is with You
      • Includes: reflections on the wedding at Cana, the sacrament of marriage, and Mary
  • Quotable:
    • “When a man and woman in marriage mutually give and receive each other in the unity of ‘one flesh,’ the logic of the sincere gift of self becomes a part of their life” (no. 11).
    • “Freedom cannot be understood as a license to do absolutely anything: it means a gift of self. Even more: it means an interior discipline of the gift” (no. 14).
    • “Families are meant to contribute to the transformation of the earth and the renewal of the world, of creation and of all humanity” (no. 18).



Sunday Pope Quote: Paul VI on the vocation and task of married couples

Posted Feb. 12, 2012 by Marriage Unique for a Reason No comments yet

Today’s Sunday Pope Quote comes from Pope Paul VI’s words to married couples, found in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae.

Pope Paul VI: And now We turn in a special way to Our own sons and daughters, to those most of all whom God calls to serve Him in the state of marriage. While the Church does indeed hand on to her children the inviolable conditions laid down by God’s law, she is also the herald of salvation and through the sacraments she flings wide open the channels of grace through which man is made a new creature responding in charity and true freedom to the design of his Creator and Savior, experiencing too the sweetness of the yoke of Christ. [see Mt. 11:30]

In humble obedience then to her voice, let Christian husbands and wives be mindful of their vocation to the Christian life, a vocation which, deriving from their Baptism, has been confirmed anew and made more explicit by the Sacrament of Matrimony. For by this sacrament they are strengthened and, one might almost say, consecrated to the faithful fulfillment of their duties. Thus will they realize to the full their calling and bear witness as becomes them, to Christ before the world. [See GS, no. 48] For the Lord has entrusted to them the task of making visible to men and women the holiness and joy of the law which united inseparably their love for one another and the cooperation they give to God’s love, God who is the Author of human life.

We have no wish at all to pass over in silence the difficulties, at times very great, which beset the lives of Christian married couples. For them, as indeed for every one of us, “the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life.” [Mt. 7:14; see Heb. 12:11] Nevertheless it is precisely the hope of that life which, like a brightly burning torch, lights up their journey, as, strong in spirit, they strive to live “sober, upright and godly lives in this world,” [Ti 2:12] knowing for sure that “the form of this world is passing away.” [See 1 Cor 7:31]

Humanae Vitae, no. 25

About this series:

Every Sunday, the Marriage: Unique for a Reason blog will feature a short quote from either our current Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, or our late Holy Father, Bl. John Paul II (or occasionally another pope). These two men have given the world an immense treasury of wisdom about marriage, love, and the meaning of the human person, all of which are topics integral to the Church’s witness today. Their words are well worth reflecting on, as we have much to learn from these wise successors of St. Peter.

All Sunday Pope Quotes

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National Marriage Week: What does sexual difference have to do with marriage?

Posted Feb. 10, 2012 by Marriage Unique for a Reason No comments yet

Today is the fourth day of National Marriage Week. On Tuesday, we reflected on what makes marriage unique, different from any other relationship on earth. Today the topic is more focused: why does sexual difference matter for marriage? In other words, why is marriage the union of one man and one woman?

What is sexual difference?

1)      The call to accept one’s sexual identity as a man or as a woman

As we did before, let’s begin with the human person, with an authentic anthropology. Crucial here is the fact that to exist as a human person means to be embodied. (When was the last time you met someone without a body?) Echoing Bl. John Paul II’s terminology, we can say that the body “reveals” man and is “an expression of the person” (TOB, 9.4 and 27.3). In other words, encountering a living human body means at the same time encountering a human person. The body is not just a shell or a conduit for one’s “real” self but is intimately and inseparably united with one’s identity, one’s “I”.

Further, to exist as a human person means to exist as a man or as a woman. The human body is fundamentally a gendered reality, not a gender-less (androgynous) one.[1] And because the body is a deeply personal reality and not just a biological fact, being a man or being a woman is not just a matter of anatomical features or “the shape of my skin.” Instead, one’s sexual identity – as a man or as a woman – affects a person at every level of his or her existence (biologically, psychologically, genetically, and so forth). As the Catechism puts it, “Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul… Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity” (CCC, nos. 2332 and 2333, emphasis in original).

2)      An irreducible and dynamic difference

What does sexual identity have to do with sexual difference? Simply this: when we speak of sexual difference, we mean both the existence of two distinct sexual identities (man or woman) and the built-in mutual relationship between them. In other words, sexual difference has to do with the irreducible and dynamic difference of man to woman and woman to man.

Why “irreducible”? Because sexual difference is primordial, basic, and unique. It is fundamental to human experience and reality. Unlike other differences between people, sexual difference undergirds everything that we are as human persons, male or female. Sexual difference cuts across geographic, ethnic, and other differences, being in fact more basic than these other differences.

Why “dynamic”? Because sexual difference distinguishes in order to unite. In fact, sexual difference is precisely what enables communion between man and woman to exist at all. (More on this soon.)

Put another way, sexual difference is a mutually referential kind of difference – we know woman fully only by knowing man, and know man fully only by knowing woman. The differences between them do not just set them apart but hint at something more, at a call to communion between them. This call to communion inscribed in man and woman is part of what Bl. John Paul II had in mind when he wrote the following:

“The person, by the light of reason and the support of virtue, discovers in the body the anticipatory signs, the expression and the promise of the gift of self, in conformity with the wise plan of the Creator” (VS, no. 48).

Sexual difference, then, far from being merely a biological or anatomical fact, communicates a wealth of truth about the human person! If we have the eyes to see, as Bl. John Paul II urges us to, we’ll see in the human person’s identity as man and woman the “anticipatory signs” of the “gift of self,” or, using the language of the Catechism, we’ll see the call to love, which is the “fundamental and innate vocation of every human being” (CCC, no. 1604).

Sexual difference and marriage

We are now well-poised to understand what sexual difference has to do with marriage. As a recap of Tuesday’s post, marriage is a unique relationship that has a number of essential characteristics (without which marriage wouldn’t be marriage):

  • Marriage is total (gift of self)
  • Marriage is faithful and exclusive (a truthful gift)
  • Marriage is forever (the gift of one’s future)
  • Marriage is life-giving (the gift of one’s fertility)

Sexual difference matters here: it is the ground (the foundation) of the capacity of husband and wife to exchange a mutual, total gift of their entire selves, a gift precisely at the center of what marriage is. Without sexual difference, this gift would not be possible. Put more specifically: the love between husband and wife involves a free, total, and faithful gift of self that not only expresses love but also opens the spouses to receive the gift of a child. No other human interaction on earth is like this!

Sexual difference, then, is not an optional “add-on” to an already existing entity called “marriage” (much like you might choose to add sprinkles to your ice cream – or not). Instead, sexual difference is at the very heart of what marriage is. It’s what capacitates man and woman to give themselves completely to each other as husband and wife. Sexual difference matters for marriage.

Interested in learning more? Check out the DVD “Made for Each Other,” its Viewer’s Guide and Resource Booklet, and all of the Sexual Difference FAQs. Also see the previous blog series on sexual difference.

[1] Even in circumstances when a person expresses ambiguous genitalia or departs from the XX/XY genetic standard, the anomaly is recognized precisely due to its discordance with healthy, normal presentation as male or female.


National Marriage Week: An example of faithful love, enduring unto death (Bl. Elizabeth Canori Mora)

Posted Feb. 9, 2012 by Marriage Unique for a Reason 4 comments

The basics:

  • Born November 21, 1774, in Rome
  • Died February 5, 1825, in Rome
  • Married January 10, 1796
  • Mother of two daughters
  • Beatified April 24, 1994, by Pope John Paul II

A holy card of Blessed Elizabeth.

In Blessed Elizabeth Canori Mora, we have a stunning example of married love that endures “unto death,” even in the midst of profound suffering. Born into a wealthy Roman family in 1774, Elizabeth spent much of her childhood in the care of Augustinian nuns in the countryside of Cascia. In her happy years there, her love for Jesus blossomed, and many thought that she might have a religious vocation.

However, in her teen years, Elizabeth developed tuberculosis and returned to her parents’ home to recuperate. Away from the convent, her desire for religious profession faded just as her interest in a certain young law student, Cristoforo Mora, grew. Discerning that God was calling her to the married state, Elizabeth exchanged marriage vows with Cristofero in 1796.

The first few months of their married life were sweet and joyful. Cristoforo delighted in showing off his young, beautiful bride. However, his affections started to become overshadowed by jealousy, and he began to restrict Elizabeth’s correspondences, wanting to have his wife “all to himself.” Jealously eventually degenerated into disinterest, and disinterest into rejection, and so yet within a few short years, Cristoforo grew cold toward his wife, and began what would be a long chain of infidelities.

A young mother now with two daughters, Elizabeth bore the cruelty and rejection of her husband bravely, offering all of her sufferings for his repentance and conversion. As Cristoforo spent his time philandering and squandering their resources, Elizabeth patiently struggled to make ends meet and ensure that their daughters, Marianna and Lucina, were properly cared for and educated. Even as friends and advisors urged Elizabeth to leave her unfaithful husband, she clung to the vows she had made and the grace of God that she trusted to sustain her.

Drawing her strength from prayer, mass, and her devotion to the Holy Trinity, Elizabeth never ceased loving Cristoforo and praying for him. She encouraged her daughters to do the same, never permitting rancor or anger to be directed at her husband and their father. Faithful until the last, Elizabeth offered her dying words for her husband’s conversion. And finally, after witnessing his holy wife’s holy death, Cristoforo experienced profound remorse for the anguish he had caused his family. Repenting of his sins, he amended his life, and in a turn of events that was due in no small measure to his wife’s intercession, Cristoforo lived the remaining years of his life as a Franciscan priest.

At Elizabeth’s beatification on April 24, 1994 (during the Year of the Family), John Paul II said this about the saintly wife and mother:

“For her part Elizabeth Canori Mora, amidst a great many marital difficulties, showed total fidelity to the commitment she had made in the sacrament of marriage, and to the responsibility stemming from it. Constant in prayer and in her heroic dedication to her family, she was able to rear her children as Christians and succeeded in converting her husband” (original source, in Italian).

And during the recitation of the Regina Caeli on Elizabeth’s beatification day, the Holy Father pointed to Elizabeth as a reminder to all that “love is stern as death” (Song of Songs 8:6) (original source available in Italian or Spanish).

A prayer: Blessed Elizabeth Canori Mora, we entrust to you all struggling marriages, and especially spouses who have been abandoned. May they know that their witness to marital fidelity is a treasure for the world and a sign of God’s never-failing love for his beloved children. Bring faithless spouses back to their families, and heal all of the wounds of sin and betrayal.

Blessed Elizabeth, pray for us!

**Note Bene: The heroic life of Blessed Elizabeth Canori Mora should not be taken as a suggestion of a course of action or a model for any given woman in a situation of domestic abuse, except in her perseverance in charity. In the time in which she lived, Blessed Elizabeth had little choice in terms of domestic arrangement, but she was able to cope with her suffering in an extraordinary way. The Bishops’ document “When I Call for Help” has advice for women today who experience domestic violence. Violence in a relationship is never healthy, as detailed at the For Your Marriage website, and thankfully women today can receive the help they deserve both for themselves and for their children to be safe.


National Marriage Week: How Are the Bishops Promoting and Protecting Marriage…and Why?

Posted Feb. 8, 2012 by Marriage Unique for a Reason 1 comment

Bishops are teachers

From the earliest days of the Church, Christians “devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles” (Acts 2:42). The bishops, as the successors of the Apostles, are teachers. For an apostle to teach means giving witness to the Truth. To teach the Truth means not only to teach the truth of faith, but also to remind men and women of the intrinsic dignity of reason. Human beings have the natural ability to know things as they really are by the light of reason. It is no wonder that the Catholic Church has maintained schools and universities throughout the world for centuries!

There is collaboration that takes place when one teaches and when one learns; and the bishops in the United States—in communion with the Bishop of Rome, the Pope—join together in a conference to collaborate on the issues that face our country and the Church in the United States.

Marriage is a truth accessible to both faith and reason

Marriage is one such reality that the U.S. Bishops are working to teach—or simply remind—the Church and our nation of its basic meaning and definition. Marriage is not only a teaching of faith, but is also a truth accessible to reason. In other words, we can and should have recourse to natural human reason in defending the truth of the Church’s moral teaching regarding marriage. Marriage is not simply a “religious” question; it’s a reality embedded in nature (the nature of the human person as male and female). The Church does not speak of marriage simply as a “religious” issue. Rather, it is a concern for civil society based on the natural law and the very truth of the human person, created as male and female.

The U.S. Bishop’s initiative, Marriage Unique for a Reason, under the auspices of the USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, is one way in which the Catholic Church in the United States is seeking to invite our nation to consider and reclaim the basic truth and beauty of the unchangeable meaning of marriage.


Marriage: Unique for a Reason: Resources for proclaiming the authentic meaning of marriage

The Marriage: Unique for a Reason initiative includes a number of resources, with more on the way.

Completed and ready to use:

In development:

St. Peter exhorts us, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Pt 3:15). The bishops’ apostolic mission of teaching helps us all to be ready to explain the meaning of marriage, a sign of great hope for the world.





National Marriage Week: Celebrating the Unique Beauty and Promise of Marriage

Posted Feb. 7, 2012 by Marriage Unique for a Reason 1 comment

February 7 through 14 is National Marriage Week, a collaborative effort to strengthen marriages and emphasize the benefits of marriage to husbands, wives, children, and society. It’s an appropriate time to think again about what makes marriage unique. What sets it apart from any other relationship on earth? In an age when many of us have experienced the wounds that come from broken marriages and families, and when unfortunate confusion about the meaning of marriage abounds, we are called to witness to a truth and a hope much deeper and much more real than we often see on TV or hear on the news. One way to assist us in this witness is to return to the basics and reflect once more on the unique, irreplaceable beauty of marriage.

Men and Women Matter: Let’s Start with the Human Person

Anthropology – the study of the human person – is an indispensable starting point for thinking about marriage. After all, marriage has to do with persons; it is a personal relationship. We must ask, “What does it mean to be a human person, as a man or as a woman?” Fundamentally, three points are important:

  • Imago Dei: Human persons, male and female, are created in the image and likeness of God; every human person has inviolable dignity and worth.
  • Vocation to love: Because “God is love” (see 1 John 4:8), human persons, as male and female created in God’s image, are given the vocation, and the responsibility, to love (see CCC, no. 1604 and FC, no. 11).
  • Male and female: The body (masculine or feminine) is not an afterthought but is essential to the identity of the human person created in the image of God.

Where does marriage fit into this? Well, the Catechism tells us that “the vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator” (CCC, no. 1603). In other words, marriage comes into existence at the same moment that man and woman are created. Marriage is a particularly significant way that men and women can live out their vocation to love (see FC, no. 11).

Gift and Promise: Essential characteristics of marriage

Keeping in mind the nature of the human person – created male and female and called to the vocation of love – let’s now talk about the essential characteristics of marriage. As with any work of defining terms, it’s important to identify those things that make marriage unique, different from any other type of relationship. Yes, there are characteristics marriage shares in common with other relationships between people (for example, affection, longevity, shared interests, and so on). But marriage is a unique bond. If we were to explain to a visitor from Mars what makes marriage different from other relationships, what would we say?

The following list identifies those properties without which marriage wouldn’t be marriage – just like without peanuts, peanut butter wouldn’t be the same thing. We’re talking about essential characteristics – those things that are part of marriage’s very essence.

Marriage is total (gift of self)

Pope Paul VI describes beautifully what is meant by the totality of marriage in Humanae Vitae:

“It is a love which is total – that very special form of personal friendship in which husband and wife generously share everything, allowing no unreasonable exceptions and not thinking solely of their own convenience. Whoever really loves his partner loves not only for what he receives, but loves that partner for the partner’s own sake, content to be able to enrich the other with the gift of himself” (HV, no. 9).

The totality of marriage, then, refers to the immensity of the gift husband and wife give to each other – a gift not just of time, or money, or possessions, but a gift of their very selves. This gift is total because husband and wife hold absolutely nothing back from each other. As we’ll see, the “totality of the gift” helps illuminate the other characteristics of marriage.

Marriage is faithful and exclusive (a truthful gift)

Precisely because the gift of one’s self exchanged in marriage is total, it can only be given to one person at a time! (Picture the parody of a man saying to woman after woman, “I’m all yours!” “And yours!” “And yours!”) The totality of the gift demands exclusivity.

As the Catechism puts it,

“By its very nature conjugal love requires the inviolable fidelity of the spouses. This is the consequences of the gift of themselves which they make to each other. Love seeks to be definitive; it cannot be an arrangement ‘until further notice’” (CCC, no. 1647).

Marriage is forever (the gift of one’s future)

Contained within the gift of self that one gives in marriage is the gift of one’s future—the promise. Again, how could the gift be total if a time limit were placed on it? As Bl. Pope John Paul II said, a total self-gift must include “the temporal dimension”:

“If the person were to withhold something or reserve the possibility of deciding otherwise in the future, by this very fact he or she would not be giving totally” (FC, no. 11).

But how can anyone promise their future to another person…today? Here we see the awesome beauty of a vow: in one moment, on one day, husband and wife promise each other every moment, every day that is to come. The vow they exchange on their wedding day “takes up” every future moment, freeing husband and wife to know that they are entirely given to each other – forever.

Marriage is life-giving (the gift of one’s fertility)

We read in the Second Vatican Council document Gaudium et Spes, “Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the begetting and educating of children” (GS, no. 50). One way to understand this is to think that in giving themselves completely and unreservedly to each other in marriage, husband and wife give each other the gift of their fertility. In fact, the capacity to procreate new life is inscribed in the very nature of man and woman and in their coming together as “one flesh.”

As Bl. John Paul II explains, “the conjugal act ‘means’ not only love, but also potential fruitfulness” (TOB, no. 123.6). To be clear, this doesn’t mean that a child will – or should – be conceived in every marital act. What it does mean is that the love expressed by husband and wife is of its very nature both unitive and procreative: “one as well as the other [meaning] belong to the innermost truth of the conjugal act” (TOB, no. 123.6). To pledge everything to one’s spouse includes pledging the possibility of becoming a mother or a father together.

Next: What are the bishops doing to promote and protect marriage?






Sunday Pope Quote: Benedict XVI on the importance of strengthening the family

Posted Feb. 5, 2012 by Marriage Unique for a Reason No comments yet

Today’s Sunday Pope Quote is a short-but-sweet excerpt from a message our Holy Father sent to bishops in Latin America and the Caribbean:

Pope Benedict XVI: One notes, however, with sadness, that homes are coming under increasingly adverse conditions caused by rapid cultural changes, by social instability, by the flows of migrants, by poverty, by educational programs that trivialize sexuality and by false ideologies. We cannot remain indifferent to these challenges. In the Gospel we find the light needed to respond to them without losing heart. Christ with his grace urges us to work with diligence and enthusiasm to accompany each one of the family members in discovering God’s plan of love for the human person. No effort is therefore wasted in promoting anything that can help to ensure that each family, founded on the indissoluble union between a man and a woman, accomplishes its mission of being a living cell of society, a nursery of virtues, a school of constructive and peaceful coexistence, an instrument of harmony and a privileged environment in which human life is welcomed and protected, joyfully and responsibly, from its beginning until its natural end.

Message on the Occasion of the Meeting of Bishops who head Episcopal Commissions for the Family and Life in Latin American and the Caribbean (March 28 – April 1, 2011; emphasis added)

About this series:

Every Sunday, the Marriage: Unique for a Reason blog will feature a short quote from either our current Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, or our late Holy Father, Bl. John Paul II (or occasionally another pope). These two men have given the world an immense treasury of wisdom about marriage, love, and the meaning of the human person, all of which are topics integral to the Church’s witness today. Their words are well worth reflecting on, as we have much to learn from these wise successors of St. Peter.

All Sunday Pope Quotes



Breaking: Washington state Senate votes today on bill to redefine marriage

Posted Feb. 1, 2012 by Marriage Unique for a Reason No comments yet

Today, Wednesday February 1st, the Washington state Senate is voting on a proposed bill that would redefine marriage to exclude sexual difference. The Senate Rules Committee had advanced the bill on Tuesday, approving it for a vote by the full chamber.

The bishops of Washington state have spoken out strongly against the bill. As previously reported here, all four Catholic bishops signed an open letter to the people of Washington: “Marriage and the Common Good: A statement on legislation to redefine marriage.”

Archbishop J. Peter Sartain also provided testimony against the bill in both the Senate (Committee on Government Operations, Tribal Relations & Elections) and the House (Judiciary Committee). Well-known marriage advocates Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse (Ruth Institute), Austin R. Nimocks (Alliance Defense Fund) and Christopher Plante (National Organization for Marriage) testified as well.

Find out more at the Washington State Catholic Conference’s website on marriage and the common good