Bishop Richard Malone of Portland, Maine wrote a pastoral letter on marriage on the occasion of World Marriage Day, this past February 12, 2012: “Marriage: Yesterday – Today – Always.” The letter clearly reflects the bishop’s role as teacher (see CCC, nos. 888-892): it lays out the foundations for the Church’s teaching on marriage as found in sacred Scripture, sacred Tradition, and the natural law. It responds to the contemporary challenge of the proposal to redefine marriage but does so in the context of an expansive vision of marriage’s timeless beauty and essential place in society. In sum, Bishop Malone’s letter serves as a timely “mini catechesis” on marriage and a firm but gentle reminder of what society stands to lose if marriage is redefined in the law.
Part One: Introduction
- Goal: “to reflect with you…upon the greatness and the beauty of marriage – as an original gift of the Lord’s creation and, consequently, as a vocation and as the foundational institution of family and society” (p. 1)
- All are called to the vocation of holiness. Within this universal vocation is the call to holy orders, consecrated virginity, and marriage. (p. 2)
- Challenges to marriage: cohabitation, divorce, contraception, and marriage redefinition that rejects the essential place of sexual difference (p. 3-4; see USCCB, Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan , pp. 17-27).
- Maine law currently defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman, a union it describes as “of inestimable value to society” (p. 5).
Part Two: What is Marriage?
- A basic definition: “Marriage is the lifelong exclusive union of one man and one woman – a font of unitive life and love as well as the foundation of a stable family and society” (p. 6).
- Marriage is rooted in creation: “God created marriage in the very same breath as He created the human person” (p. 8).
- Every heart longs for communion; marriage is a unique kind of communion where man and woman “truly become one” (p. 9).
- Sexual difference matters to parenting, that is, to fathering and mothering: “The mother and the father, each in her/his own way, provide a loving space for the child, one by accenting union, the other by accenting distinction” (p. 10).
- “A child is meant to have a mother and a father. Children long for this and it is their right” (p. 10).
- Infertility does not diminish the goodness of a marriage: “The marital union of a man and a woman is a distinctive and complementary communion of persons. An infertile couple continues to manifest this attribute” (p. 12; see Love and Life, p. 14).
- Children are a gift and not something that spouses have a “right” to (p. 12).
Part Three: Marriage and the Natural Law
- Going to the roots: “Even the Church’s teaching about marriage is rooted in something far older and more fundamental than religious doctrine: it is the law of nature which furthers the order of creation and establishes the activities of all creatures” (p. 13).
- About natural law: Natural law is our participation in God’s eternal law (p. 12); natural law shows us what conforms to our human nature (good actions) and what is at variance with our nature (bad actions) (p. 13-14); natural law is immutable, enduring and unchangeable (p. 14); and natural law is “the source from which both civil law and Church law emerge” (p. 15).
- Natural law guides civil law to properly respect and foster the common good; marriage plays a key role in furthering the common good for all people (p. 17-18).
Part Four: Marriage: A Unique Relationship
- “Marriage is a unique union, a relationship different from all others. It is the permanent bond between one man and one woman whose two-in-one-flesh communion of persons is an indispensable good at the heart of every family and every society” (p. 18).
- Marriage is not… “the appearance of a union”… “a partial commitment”… “simply friendship” (p. 19).
- Marriage is… “more than just a loving relationship”… “more than just a committed relationship”… “more than just about access to certain state-sponsored benefits” (p. 20).
- What about benefits for unmarried persons? “The state has various legal means at its disposal to facilitate people’s ability to care for and support each other. We do not need to redefine marriage to accomplish this” (p. 20).
- The place of justice in the marriage debate: “To promote and protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman is itself a matter of justice” (p. 21).
Part Five: Marriage and the Good of Society
- For the good of children: “When we recognize true marriage and support it, we ensure that as many children as possible know and are known by, love and are loved by, the mother and father in the exclusive marital embrace” (p. 22).
- For all of society: “Everyone has a stake in a stable, flourishing, and loving society created and sustained in no small part by marriage between a man and a woman” (p. 22).
A Final Word
- “As your bishop, whose primary responsibility is that of teacher, it is my hope that this document will challenge everyone who reads it to embrace anew the truth, beauty and goodness of marriage as it has always been and always will be” (p. 23).
Read Bishop Malone’s pastoral letter, “Marriage: Yesterday – Today – Always“