On March 16, President Obama issued a statement in which he registered his opposition to the proposed North Carolina marriage amendment, which we have previously highlighted here. In response, Bishop Michael Burbidge of Raleigh and Bishop Peter Jugis of Charlotte have released a statement that reiterates the importance of marriage. In it, the bishops write:
As Catholics, we are FOR marriage, as we believe it is a vocation in which God calls couples to faithfully and permanently embrace a fruitful union in a mutual self-giving bond of love, according to His purposes. It is not only the union itself that is essential to these purposes, but also the life to which spouses are called to be open, the gift of children. Children have the right to the indispensable place of fatherhood and motherhood in their lives as they grow, are loved, nurtured and formed by those whose unique vocation it is to be a father and a mother through the bond of one man and one woman in marriage.
In addition, write Bishop Burbidge and Bishop Jugis:
In his comments on the upcoming referendum in our State, the President regrettably characterized the marriage amendment as a matter of discrimination. While we are respectful of the Office of the President, we strongly disagree with this assessment.
Read the entire statement.
Visit the Catholic Voice NC website.
Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Annunciation , the “announcement” given to Mary by the angel Gabriel that she was to be the mother of the Lord:
Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.”
. . .
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1: 30-31, 38).
For Christians, Mary’s “yes” to the angel marks the beginning of our salvation. Jesus Christ is true God and true man. The Son of God became flesh in Mary’s womb. In this way, the Annunciation also draws our attention to the astounding mystery of motherhood and pregnancy, that brief time when the unborn child is present but hidden from view, entirely nourished by his or her mother in an incredibly intimate relationship.
Bl. John Paul II spoke beautifully about motherhood – and the Annunciation – in his 1988 apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem:
Motherhood implies from the beginning a special openness to the new person: and this is precisely the woman’s “part”. In this openness, in conceiving and giving birth to a child, the woman “discovers herself through a sincere gift of self”. [Gaudium et Spes, no. 24]
. . .
Mary’s words at the Annunciation – “Let it be to me according to your word” – signify the woman’s readiness for the gift of self and her readiness to accept a new life (no. 18).
For John Paul, then, pregnancy and motherhood are not merely biological facts or processes. Instead, they constitute a very special sharing on the part of the mother – an openness and a welcome to the new child growing in her womb. John Paul goes on to say that this “special communion” with the unborn child “profoundly marks the woman’s personality,” developing her capacity to pay attention and attend to other persons (MD, no. 18).
The father, of course, is present too from the very beginning of a child’s life; it was the mutual gift of husband and wife in marriage that opened the couple to the gift of the child. But the father’s participation in pregnancy is in a real sense “outside” of the woman’s participation. As John Paul says, “in many ways [the father] has to learn his own ‘fatherhood’ from the mother” as he shares in her wonder and openness to the child in the womb (MD, no. 18, emphasis original).
The feast of the Annunciation provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the gift of children and the wonder of pregnancy, of mothering and fathering. We invite you to watch the short film “Made for Life,” which features married couples of various ages reflecting on openness to life, children, and their identities as fathers and mothers. The video is accompanied by a Viewer’s Guide that develops many of the points raised in the film.
 The Annunciation is normally celebrated on March 25, nine months before Christmas, but the fact that March 25, 2012 is a Sunday (the Fifth Sunday of Lent) means that the Annunciation is celebrated instead on March 26.
The Church teaches that a valid marriage bond is indissoluble, that is, it’s unable to be broken: “The love of the spouses requires, of its very nature, the unity and indissolubility of the spouses’ community of persons, which embraces their entire life: ‘so they are no longer two, but one flesh’” (CCC, no. 1644). In today’s Sunday Pope Quote, Pope Pius XII gives a beautiful word-picture of what indissolubility does and why it is a gift and a blessing.
Pope Pius XII: In the face of such a law of indissolubility, human passion in every age, chained and repressed in the free satisfaction of its inordinate appetites, has sought in every way to throw off its yoke. Passion sees in this law only a hard tyranny, arbitrarily weighing down conscience with an unsupportable burden, with a slavery repugnant to the sacred rights of the human person. It is true; a bond can at times constitute a burden, a slavery, like the chains which bind the prisoner. But it can also be a powerful aid and a sure guarantee, like the rope which binds the alpine climber to his companion during the ascent, or the ligaments which unite the parts of the human body, making its movements free and easy. This is clearly the case with the indissoluble bond of marriage” (emphasis added).
- Audience with newlywed couples on April 22, 1942, from Dear Newlyweds: Pope Pius XII Speaks to Married Couples, trans. James F. Murray Jr. and Bianca M. Murray (Kansas City, MO: Sarto House, 1961), p. 88.
Check out this new website filled with resources about the meaning of marriage: Marriage Ecosystem. From the home page:
Marriage is like an ecosystem. An ecosystem is a functional unit consisting of living things in a given area, linked together in a particular way. One of the wonderful things about an ecosystem is how it can be perceived as a unit, with each creature contributing to the welfare of the entire system. If one of the species dies in an ecosystem, the entire ecosystem is affected.
This critical social institution is more than the sum of many parts. When one part is removed or altered, the entire ecosystem begins to wobble and threatens to collapse. It plays a stabilizing role in society, both in people’s day to day lives and also in our society as a unit. We hope by reading our site, you will understand why we call it an ecosystem. We also hope you’ll understand why it’s important to treat it as we might treat any other ecosystem: with respect, care, and appreciation (emphasis original).
This train of thought – marriage as an ecosystem – is reminiscent of the concept of “human ecology” used by Pope Benedict in his encyclical 2009 Caritas in Veritate. There, the Holy Father writes:
There is need for what might be called a human ecology, correctly understood. The deterioration of nature is in fact closely connected to the culture that shapes human coexistence: when “human ecology” is respected within society, environmental ecology also benefits.
. . .
It is contradictory to insist that future generations respect the natural environment when our educational systems and laws do not help them to respect themselves. The book of nature is one and indivisible: it takes in not only the environment but also life, sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations: in a word, integral human development (no. 51, emphasis added).
Pope Benedict has spoken of “human ecology” elsewhere, for example in his 2007 message for the World Day of Peace:
Alongside the ecology of nature, there exists what can be called a “human” ecology, which in turn demands a “social” ecology. All this means that humanity, if it truly desires peace, must be increasingly conscious of the links between natural ecology, or respect for nature, and human ecology (no. 8).
The thread running through the Holy Father’s words – and through the concept of marriage as an “ecosystem” – is that the realities of creation (including men, women, and the particularly human sphere of action called “culture”) are deeply and fundamentally interconnected. Ignoring, overlooking, or misunderstanding one part has vast implications for the whole of reality.
In a March 14 column in the Rhode Island Catholic, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence gave five reasons why redefining marriage to exclude sexual difference is problematic and ill-advised.
Among his reasons, the bishop wrote that redefining marriage presumes to alter an institution that is based on the nature of the human person, created male and female:
Marriage between a man and woman was designed by God and has two fundamental purposes: It affirms the difference and the complementarity of males and females in a loving relationship, and it provides the foundation for the procreation and raising of children. Marriage thus described has been the fundamental unit, the building block of every human culture and society.
Bishop Tobin also noted that altering the definition of marriage “is a significant change in the human landscape; it’s a social experiment, the consequences of which may not be realized for many years to come.”
And the bishop highlighted the fact that changing the definition of marriage invariably leads to conflicts with religious liberty, as those who hold the immemorial definition of marriage, including the Church, would be viewed by the law as “intolerant” or “bigoted.” (The connection between marriage and religious liberty is a main theme of the Marriage: Unique for a Reason initiative, which includes a series of FAQs on marriage and religious liberty.)
In conclusion, Bishop Tobin promised that if the question of marriage redefinition surfaces again in the Rhode Island legislature, “the Diocese of Providence, joined by its allies in our community, will be fully engaged in the battle.”
- Background: the Rhode Island Legislature approved civil unions for two persons of the same sex in 2011 but many proponents for marriage redefinition expressed discontent with civil unions and vowed to continue proposing marriage redefinition bills.
- Read Bishop Thomas J. Tobin’s entire column.
- Visit the Rhode Island Catholic Conference’s webpage on marriage.
Today’s Sunday Pope Quote is from the collection of addresses by Bl. Pope John Paul II known popularly as the “theology of the body.” In this brief quote, the Holy Father is concluding his exegesis on Jesus’ conversation with the Pharisees about divorce in Matthew 19:3-8. He’s calling attention to a phrase used by Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae and re-emphasizing its importance.
Bl. John Paul II: “In the answer to the Pharisees, Christ laid out before his interlocutors also this ‘integral vision of man,’ without which no adequate answer can be given to the questions connected with marriage and procreation. Precisely this integral vision of man must be built from the ‘beginning.’
“This point is valid for the contemporary mentality just as it was, though in a different way, for Christ’s interlocutors. We are, in fact, the children of an age in which, due to the development of various disciplines, this integral vision of man can easily be rejected and replaced by many partial conceptions that dwell on one or another aspect of the compositum humanum but do not reach man’s integrum or leave it outside their field of vision.”
Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body (sec. 23.3)
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.
Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, addressed the UN Human Rights Council on March 9 regarding a report on “Discriminatory Laws and Practices and Acts of Violence against Individuals based on their Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.” In his remarks, Archbishop Tomasi emphasized that the Catholic Church rejects violence against any one for any reason. In addition, the Church has repeatedly and specifically condemned violence against persons who experience same-sex attraction, calling such violence “deplorable,” for example, in a 1986 letter sent from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to all bishops. As that letter stated, “The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action, and in law.”
At the same time, Archbishop Tomasi raised a concern that the language of the above-mentioned UN report confused the just protection of persons from treatment antithetical to their dignity with the unjust proposal to redefine or further erode marriage. So while the report asserts that “States are not required, under international law, to allow same-sex couples to marry,” it goes on to say that States have an obligation “to ensure that unmarried same-sex couples are treated in the same way and entitled to the same benefits as unmarried opposite-sex couples.”
Commenting on this passage, Archbishop Tomasi told the Human Rights Council,
In this regard, the Holy See expresses grave concern that, under the guise of “protecting” people from discrimination and violence on the basis of perceived sexual differences, this Council may be running the risk of demeaning the sacred and time-honoured legal institution of marriage between man and woman, between husband and wife, which enjoyed special protection from time immemorial.”
Continuing, the Archbishop reminded those assembled that marriage makes a key and irreplaceable contribution to society:
Marriage contributes to society because it models the way in which women and men live interdependently and commit, for the whole of life, to seek the good of each other. The marital union also provides the best conditions for raising children; namely, the stable, loving relationship of a mother and a father; it is the foundation of the natural family, the basic cell of society.
Marriage’s identity explains the state’s responsibility toward it, explained Archbishop Tomasi: “States confer legal recognition on the marital relationship between husband and wife because it makes a unique and essential contribution to the public good.”
Finally, the Archbishop cautioned against the consequences of redefining marriage:
If marriage were to be re-defined in a way that makes other relationships equivalent to it, as has occurred in some countries and as the High Commissioner seems to be encouraging in her Report, the institution of marriage, and consequently the natural family itself, will be both devalued and weakened.
- Read the entire text of Archbishop Silvano Tomasi’s speech at News.Va: “Holy See addresses UN Human Rights Council on Gender”
- As reported by Catholic News Service: “Recognizing gay unions devalues marriage, official tells UN council“
In North Carolina, citizens will be asked on May 8th to vote on a marriage amendment that would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman in the state’s Constitution. In anticipation of the marriage amendment vote, both Catholic bishops in North Carolina have produced videos explaining what marriage is and why the marriage amendment matters.
Watch the North Carolina Bishops’ Videos:
Bishop Peter Jugis from Diocese of Charlotte
Bishop Michael Burbidge from Diocese of Raleigh
For more information about the Catholic efforts to defend marriage in North Carolina, see the Catholic Voice NC website.
Today, news from “across the pond.” The President and Vice President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales penned a pastoral letter on marriage that was to be read at parishes throughout England and Wales this past weekend, March 10 and 11. In their letter, Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster and Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark write that they plan to present “the Catholic vision of marriage and the light it casts on the importance of marriage for our society” (all emphasis added).
The Archbishops reflect on marriage both as a natural institution and as a sacrament:
The roots of the institution of marriage lie in our nature. Male and female we have been created, and written into our nature is this pattern of complementarity and fertility.
. . .
As a Sacrament, [marriage] is a place where divine grace flows. Indeed, marriage is a sharing in the mystery of God’s own life: the unending and perfect flow of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The letter also argues that “changing the legal definition of marriage would be a profoundly radical step.” Continuing, they explain:
The law helps to shape and form social and cultural values. A change in the law would gradually and inevitably transform society’s understanding of the purpose of marriage. It would reduce it just to the commitment of the two persons involved. There would be no recognition of the complementarity of male and female or that marriage is intended for the procreation and education of children.
On the Bishops’ Conference website, Archbishop Nichols and Archbishop Smith urge residents of England and Wales to sign an online petition organized by the grass-roots campaign Coalition for Marriage.
Today’s Sunday Pope Quote comes from an address given yesterday, March 9, from the Holy Father to U.S. bishops from Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota who were in Rome for their “ad limina” visit. (All emphasis added.)
Pope Benedict began his talk by referencing the other meetings he’s had this year with other bishops from the United States, in which they discussed current threats to freedom of conscience, religion, and worship. He continued:
In this talk I would like to discuss another serious issue which you raised with me during my Pastoral Visit to America, namely, the contemporary crisis of marriage and the family, and, more generally, of the Christian vision of human sexuality. It is in fact increasingly evident that a weakened appreciation of the indissolubility of the marriage covenant, and the widespread rejection of a responsible, mature sexual ethic grounded in the practice of chastity, have led to grave societal problems bearing an immense human and economic cost.
The Holy Father went out to specifically address the current proposals in the United States to redefine marriage by exiling sexual difference from the marriage covenant:
In this regard, particular mention must be made of the powerful political and cultural currents seeking to alter the legal definition of marriage. The Church’s conscientious effort to resist this pressure calls for a reasoned defense of marriage as a natural institution consisting of a specific communion of persons, essentially rooted in the complementarity of the sexes and oriented to procreation. Sexual differences cannot be dismissed as irrelevant to the definition of marriage. Defending the institution of marriage as a social reality is ultimately a question of justice, since it entails safeguarding the good of the entire human community and the rights of parents and children alike.
He then spoke beautifully about the virtue of chastity, needed by married and unmarried people alike:
In this great pastoral effort there is an urgent need for the entire Christian community to recover an appreciation of the virtue of chastity. The integrating and liberating function of this virtue (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2338-2343) should be emphasized by a formation of the heart, which presents the Christian understanding of sexuality as a source of genuine freedom, happiness and the fulfilment of our fundamental and innate human vocation to love. It is not merely a question of presenting arguments, but of appealing to an integrated, consistent and uplifting vision of human sexuality.
Finally, the Holy Father reiterated again the Church’s great concern for the littlest among us, children, who inordinately suffer from the eclipse of chastity and marriage in American society:
Let me conclude by recalling that all our efforts in this area are ultimately concerned with the good of children, who have a fundamental right to grow up with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships. Children are the greatest treasure and the future of every society: truly caring for them means recognizing our responsibility to teach, defend and live the moral virtues which are the key to human fulfillment.
Pope Benedict’s words – so current and so rich – provide a faithful compass for the work of the Marriage: Unique for a Reason project. They deserve to be read and re-read and contemplated in depth