Background: We’re reading through the Viewer’s Guide that accompanies the video “Made for Life.” We’ve already looked at Part 1 (openness to life) and Part 2 (the gift of self and the gift of life). Today, in part 3, we’ll reflect on what it means that children are a “supreme gift,” how marriage is responsible stewardship of that gift, and what it means that procreation is participation in God’s creative action.
“Children are a gift and a blessing.”
While marriage includes many blessings, the gift of a child is incomparable. Children indeed are the “supreme gift” of marriage. [i] This is witnessed to both by spouses who rejoice at the birth of a son or a daughter, as Tyrone’s words above demonstrate, and by those couples who bear the sadness and pain of infertility or miscarriage. Every child is a gift because every child is a unique, irreplaceable human life. The human person “is the only creature on earth that God has wanted for its own sake.” [ii] In conceiving and giving birth to a child, husband and wife have the awesome responsibility of welcoming a new human life into the world: in fact, a person for whom the world was created, a person for whom God became man, a person called to live with God for all eternity. [iii]
Because every child is an unrepeatable gift, no one can claim a “right” to have a child. “A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift. The ‘supreme gift of marriage’ is a human person. A child may not be considered a piece of property, an idea to which an alleged ‘right to a child’ may lead.” [iv] The proper attitude of parents toward a child is joyful receptivity and awe that the Creator would entrust this new life to a mother and father. [v]
Because the child is always a gift, it would make sense that any consideration of marriage’s meaning would take children seriously into account. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Children today are often seen as a “product” to be manufactured or obtained at whatever cost, or discarded at will. [vi] Pop culture icons show off their children as if they were “trophies.” In all of these instances, the child is used as an object, not respected as a gift. The proposal to redefine marriage to include two persons of the same sex is a radical instance of “forgetting” the gift of the child. This proposal in effect subverts the most fundamental pro-child institution into a self-serving relationship defined in reference to the whims and desires of adults, not the needs of a child, the most vulnerable among us.
Marriage protects the gift that every child is. As the union of husband and wife, marriage is the natural and proper context wherein every child ought to be welcomed as a gift. Children deserve to be conceived in love and received into an environment grounded in the unity between a mother and a father. In this way, marriage is uniquely made for stewardship over life, stewardship of the gift of children. Human experience across every human society attests to the singular role of marriage in keeping together a mother and a father in their shared task of parenting, of being stewards of the gift of new life. [vii]
The truth that every child is a gift also reminds us that husband and wife are not the ultimate source of life. Instead, every child traces his or her origin directly back to God and can truly call him “my Father.” In the video, Cora and Ernie share the meaning of their son Matthew’s name, “gift of God”; truly every child is a gift of God. “God ‘willed’ man from the very beginning, and God ‘wills’ him in every act of conception and every human birth.” [viii] Every human soul is “created immediately by God—it is not ‘produced’ by the parents.” [ix] In conceiving and giving birth to new life, a husband and a wife participate in God’s creative action. [x]
This capacity to participate in bringing forth new human life—the capacity to procreate—is inscribed within the personal, bodily reality of the human person, created male and female. Only a man and a woman, as husband and wife, have the capacity to welcome the gift of the child as a unique human life who springs “from the very heart” of their marital self-giving. [xi] As the bishops have explained, “Participating in the creative work of God means participating in the self-emptying or self-giving love of God, the rendering of one’s whole being into a gift.” [xii]
Today’s Sunday Pope Quote comes from a particularly beautiful section of Bl. John Paul II’ 1994 Letter to Families, one that is packed with rich reflection on childbearing, children, motherhood, and fatherhood. As we ponder during Respect Life month on the gift of life “in all its grandeur and beauty,” the late Holy Father reminds us here of the radical (in the eyes of the world) teaching of the Catholic Church: Every child is willed by God and wanted by Him, no exceptions. There is no such thing as an “unwanted” child. Because of this, parents are called to have an attitude of joyful receptivity toward the children, both actual and hoped-for, that are entrusted to them but are not their product or possession. Radical indeed!
Bl. Pope John Paul II: “God ‘willed’ man from the very beginning, and God ‘wills’ him in every act of conception and every human birth. God ‘wills’ man as a being similar to himself, as a person. This man, every man, is created by God ‘for his own sake‘. [GS 24] That is true of all persons, including those born with sicknesses or disabilities. Inscribed in the personal constitution of every human being is the will of God, who wills that man should be, in a certain sense, an end unto himself. God hands man over to himself, entrusting him both to his family and to society as their responsibility. Parents, in contemplating a new human being, are, or ought to be, fully aware that God ‘wills’ this individual ‘for his own sake’.”
- Letter to Families, no. 9 (italics original, bold added)
This November voters in four states will face ballot questions about the definition of marriage. In Maryland and Washington State, voters will have the chance to stop legislation redefining marriage to include two persons of the same sex, while in Maine proponents of the redefinition of marriage are getting a second chance after a 2009 referendum stopped a similar law. Minnesotans, on the other hand, will have the opportunity to enshrine the definition of marriage as a union of one man and one woman in their constitution.
Since the Church teaches that “No human law can abolish the natural and original right of marriage, nor in any way limit the chief and principal purpose of marriage ordained by God’s authority from the beginning: ‘Increase and multiply,’” (Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, 12) it is only fitting that the bishops in these states have responded with pastoral teaching.
In Maryland, where Question 6 asks voters whether they are ‘for’ or ‘against’ the legislature’s attempt to redefine marriage, Cardinal Edwin F. O’Brien, then apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, wrote a column in the Baltimore Sun, “A radical redefinition of marriage”. The Cardinal called marriage a “unique human relationship — the only such one capable of bringing life into the world.” We are trying to protect the definition of marriage because it is “what is best for society — not out of some hostility toward our sisters and brothers who are attracted to others of the same sex.”
Earlier bishops’ columns, as well as handouts prepared by the Maryland Catholic Conference, can be found on the Maryland Catholic Conference’s website.
Question 1 in Maine asks voters: “Do you want to allow the State of Maine to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples?” Portland’s Bishop Richard J. Malone (now of Buffalo) sent a 26-pages letter to his flock, “Marriage: Yesterday – Today – Always” (PDF). He uses this letter as an opportunity “to reflect with you, through this pastoral letter, 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.” We looked at highlights from the bishop’s letter in an earlier blog post. Bishop Malone also spoke about marriage as the building block of civilization in this video:
Minnesotans will have a chance to adopt Amendment 1 this November, which would amend Minnesota’s state constitution to read that “only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota.” The state’s bishops collectively published A Brief Catechesis on Marriage, where they explain that marriage is “a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman in an enduring bond of love.” Bishop John Quinn of Winona testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee (PDF) and Bishop Paul Sirba of Duluth testified before the House of Representatives Civil Law Committee (PDF). Catholics in Crookston received a letter from Bishop Michael J. Hoeppner. In New Ulm, Bishop John M. Levoir produced a video. Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis gave an interview to the National Catholic Register about the marriage referendum, and wrote a column about why the marriage amendment “deserves our support.” Archbishop Nienstedt had earlier produced a video about marriage and the importance of the marriage amendment (below) that was sent to Catholics throughout Minnesota.
The Minnesota Catholic Conference website has a page dedicated to the marriage referendum with many additional articles, handouts, and resources.
Referendum 74 in Washington State gives voters a chance to “approve” or “reject” a bill to redefine marriage to include two persons of the same-sex. The state’s bishops collectively issued a pastoral statement, Marriage and the Good of Society: A Pastoral statement regarding Referendum 74 (PDF). Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle and his auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, M.Sp.S. sent a letter to the faithful (PDF) this past April. In August, Spokane Bishop Blase J. Cupich published three documents about the definition of marriage: A Letter to Parishioners: Referendum 74, Some Reflections on Referendum 74, and “Believing in Marriage”. And in October, Bishop Joseph J. Tyson of Yakima sent A Pastoral Letter on Marriage and Referendum 74 (PDF) to his flock.
Archbishop Sartain (Seattle) and Bishop Cupich (Spokane) have also produced videos about marriage and Referendum 74:
Background: We’re reading through the Viewer’s Guide to “Made for Life,” a video about the gift of children and the need for fathers and mothers. In the last installment, we looked at what openness to life means and why love and life are inseparable. In this section, we’ll reflect on the unique gift of self in marriage and how that gift of self opens to the gift of life.
“You give yourself, then, totally and completely . . . saying ‘I love you so much, I’m going to give myself to you as a gift, and I am open to whatever that brings and whatever God wants.’”
Katie is speaking here about the very foundation of what makes marriage “made for life”: the total gift of self between a man and a woman as husband and wife. We have already mentioned this gift of self in marriage, but it deserves some more attention. Indeed, every person is called to a generous and sincere gift of self. [i] But marriage is a unique instance of self-gift. In marriage, husband and wife give not just part of themselves to each other, but give all—their whole person, body and soul. This gift of self in marriage is not something temporary like a loan; it is meant to last for a lifetime. [ii] It is a total, lifelong gift of husband to wife and wife to husband. [iii]
A husband and a wife’s total gift of self in marriage, with its lifelong permanence, makes their bond absolutely unique and different from any other relationship between two people. Although two persons of the same sex can have an authentic and holy friendship, only a man and a woman can pledge themselves to each other in marriage. Through their sexual difference, only a husband and a wife can speak the “language” of married love—total, faithful, and fruitful self-gift [iv]—not only with their words, but also with their bodies. [v]
The couples in Made for Life all bear witness to the fact that the gift of self in marriage, which begins with the spouses, does not end with them. As Pope Paul VI taught, married love is fruitful because “it is not confined wholly to the communion of husband and wife; it also aims to go beyond this to bring new life into being.” [vi] Precisely because husband and wife are “made for each other,” their bond is “made for life,” made for fruitful love and for the adventure of fatherhood and motherhood by being open to the gift of a child.
[i]. See Gaudium et Spes, no. 24: “Man is the only creature on earth that God has wanted for its own sake . . . [and] can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself.”
In his homily October 7 at the opening mass for the Synod of Bishops gathered in Rome to discuss the New Evangelization, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the connection between marriage and evangelization. (The Gospel and the First Reading of that Sunday both spoke about marriage.)
Pope Benedict XVI: The theme of marriage, found in the Gospel and the first reading, deserves special attention. The message of the word of God may be summed up in the expression found in the Book of Genesis and taken up by Jesus himself: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen 2:24; Mk 10:7-8). What does this word say to us today? It seems to me that it invites us to be more aware of a reality, already well known but not fully appreciated: that matrimony is a Gospel in itself, a Good News for the world of today, especially the dechristianized world. The union of a man and a woman, their becoming “one flesh” in charity, in fruitful and indissoluble love, is a sign that speaks of God with a force and an eloquence which in our days has become greater because unfortunately, for various reasons, marriage, in precisely the oldest regions evangelized, is going through a profound crisis. And it is not by chance. Marriage is linked to faith, but not in a general way. Marriage, as a union of faithful and indissoluble love, is based upon the grace that comes from the triune God, who in Christ loved us with a faithful love, even to the Cross. Today we ought to grasp the full truth of this statement, in contrast to the painful reality of many marriages which, unhappily, end badly. There is a clear link between the crisis in faith and the crisis in marriage. And, as the Church has said and witnessed for a long time now, marriage is called to be not only an object but a subject of the new evangelization. This is already being seen in the many experiences of communities and movements, but its realization is also growing in dioceses and parishes, as shown in the recent World Meeting of Families.
- Homily at the Holy Mass for the Opening of the Synod of Bishops (Oct. 7, 2012), emphasis added
This past Sunday October 14, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore gave the homily at a mass for Life and Liberty at the National Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. Archbishop Lori, the chairman of the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, addressed an overflowing crowd with powerful words about the gift of life and the importance of religious liberty, our first freedom.
In his homily, the Archbishop made the connection between protecting life and defending marriage. Noting that since the passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973, “over 50 million unborn children have lost their lives through abortion,” he remarked, “Human life is further undermined by the dismantling of the most fundamental unit of society, the family, by seeking to upend marriage as a God-given institution that is unique for a reason, namely, as a relationship of love between one man and one woman.”
Archbishop Lori also drew connections between religious liberty and marriage. He spoke at length about a current severe threat to religious liberty, the so-called “contraceptive mandate” issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, which the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty has fought tirelessly. He then said, “Indeed, many of the secularist threats to religious liberty seem to hinge on the Church’s teaching with regard to the sanctity of human life – whether it’s the Church’s teaching on the immorality of abortion, or the obligation of couples to be open to the gift of new life, or marriage as between one man and one woman, the unique relationship that begets new human life and is meant to be the matrix in which it is nurtured.”
For more on the connection between marriage and religious liberty, go to the Religious Liberty FAQs for more information.
USCCB News Release:
BISHOPS’ DEFENSE OF MARRIAGE CHAIR DECRIES LATEST DOMA RULING
- Concept that marriage is between one man, one woman grounded in nature
- Children deserve to be raised by their biological parents
- Public good demands that unique nature of marriage be respected by law
WASHINGTON—In response to a decision on October 18 by a divided federal appeals court panel to strike down part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, issued the following comment expressing disappointment over the ruling.
“The recognition that marriage is and can only be the union of one man and one woman is grounded in our nature, being clear from the very way our bodies are designed. This recognition obliges our consciences and laws. It is a matter of basic rights—the right of every child to be welcomed and raised, as far as possible, by his or her mother and father together in a stable home,” Archbishop Cordelione said. “Marriage is the only institution whereby a man and a woman unite for life and are united to any child born from their union. The public good demands that the unique meaning and purpose of marriage be respected in law and society, not rejected as beyond the constitutional pale. Redefining marriage never upholds the equal dignity of individuals because it contradicts basic human rights. The ruling yesterday is unjust and a great disappointment.”
On October 18, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed, by a 2-1 vote, a U.S. District Court decision striking down section 3 of DOMA as unconstitutional. Section 3 defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman for purposes of federal law.
DOMA was approved by a broad, bi-partisan majority of Congress in 1996, and signed into law by President Bill Clinton. DOMA recognizes for purposes of federal law that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, and it also protects the rights of states to uphold this definition of marriage in the face of laws from other states that might be adverse to such definition.
For three weeks this October (7-28), bishops from around the world have been meeting in Rome for a Synod on the New Evangelization. During this time, bishops can give what’s called an “intervention,” which is a very short address on something related to the topic at hand, namely the New Evangelization. On October 15, Archbishop Emeritus Vincenzo Paglia, who is the President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, gave the following intervention. He explicitly linked marriage and the family with the New Evangelization, emphasizing that the family is not just the object (the recipient) of evangelization but also the subject (the actor) of evangelization, an entity called to evangelize in a unique and very needed way.
Archbishop Paglia’s intervention (emphasis added):
“In his opening homily, the Holy Father underlined: “Matrimony is a Gospel in itself, a Good News for the world of today” because it “is based upon the grace that comes from the triune God”. The union between man and woman speaks strongly about God. It is a Good News because it answers the rooted need for an inscribed family, from its origins, deep within man and woman. God said: “It is not right that the man should be alone. I shall make him a helper” (Gen 2:18). Man is nothing by himself: everything relies on inter-dependence. Yet, so much of Western history has been conceived as the liberation from any tie, even family ties. The explosion of the family seems like the number one problem of today’s society, even if few realize this. This does not hold true for the Church, truly an “expert in humanity”, as Paul VI said. We cannot be silent. And not because we are conservative or defenders of an obsolete institution. The stability itself of society is at stake. Of course, it is urgent, very urgent, for a more careful cultural reflection for the Family to become the center of politics, of economy, of culture, and a more attentive strategy to defend its rights on national and international levels.
“Another aspect must be underlined. While being a minority, there are many Christian families that live, even heroically, faithfulness and marital and familial commitment. This extraordinary light of love should be placed in the candelabra so that it may illuminate and warm this world of ours so saddened and blurred. The Church must become more the family of families, even the wounded ones, living a mutual movement of give and take. What is opened here is the broad spectrum of the family as the subject of evangelization. John Paul II asserted: “the future of evangelization largely depends on the domestic church”. Experience tells us that the Church attracts if it is truly [lived] in a familial way. And if we find pastoral infertility in so many corners of the world, isn’t it because we have become more of an institution than a family? Living the Church in a familial way and the family as a small church – is the challenge of a Church of Communion, the one hoped for by Vatican Council II – even today we will taste the joy of the first Christian community when “day by day the Lord added to their community those destined to be saved” (Act 2:47).”
A few weeks ago, we read through the Viewer’s Guide for the video “Made for Each Other,” which is about sexual difference and complementarity. Now, in this Respect Life month of October, we’re going to read through the Viewer’s Guide for the second video in the Marriage: Unique for a Reason series, “Made for Life.”
“Made for Life” features real-life married couples and parents who share their reflections on what it means to be open to life, why fathers and mothers matter for children, what it means that children are a gift, and so on. Their reflections aim to help viewers understand the life-giving nature of married love and why that matters to what marriage is.
In the first section, we look at what openness to life means and why love and life are inseparable.
“Being open to children is so foundational. When you’re open to children, you’re not just opening yourself to the possibility of the gift of life, but you’re [also] opening yourself up to your spouse.”
Marriage is made for life. It is a singular institution that brings a man and a woman together as husband and wife, who vow themselves into a union directed not only toward themselves but simultaneously to the gift of new life. As Katie relates, this openness to life is part and parcel of married love, and it is deeply personal, that is, it accords with the nature of the human person. Openness to life also accords with the nature of love itself. As the bishops of the United States taught in their pastoral letter on marriage, “It is the nature of love to overflow, to be life-giving.” [i]
Marriage is the natural human context wherein a child is properly conceived and welcomed into life as the “supreme gift of marriage.” [ii] And in this stance of openness and welcoming, meant to mark every aspect of married love, a husband and a wife grow closer to each other. They share themselves fully with each other, inviting deeper trust and the freedom that comes from each spouse making a gift of himself or herself to the other. Being open to one’s spouse and being open to children is one and the same choice and act. As Pope John Paul II taught, “Thus the couple, while giving themselves to one another, give not just themselves but also the reality of children, who are a living reflection of their love, a permanent sign of conjugal unity and a living and inseparable synthesis of their being a father and a mother.” [iii]
In other words, in marriage, love and life are inseparable. This is what the Church means when she teaches that the unitive and procreative meanings of married love are inseparable. [iv] In embracing each other, husband and wife embrace their capacity to conceive a child and are called to do nothing deliberate to close part of themselves to the gift of the other. This does not mean that a child will be—or should be—conceived from every act of sexual intimacy. Marriage is not a mechanical factory for the mass production of children. The Church teaches couples in their openness to life to practice responsible parenthood by discerning whether or not they have serious reasons, in keeping with God’s plan for marriage, to postpone becoming a father and a mother here and now. [v]
The inseparable connection of love and life means that husband and wife are called to give everything to each other in their acts of intimacy—including their capacity for fruitfulness. Otherwise, their gift of self would not be total. Being open to each other, open to receiving the gift of the other, and therefore being open to life, is not something optional for marriage. Instead, it is at the core of marriage, and only a man and a woman can make the radical promise that marriage entails: “A man and woman united in marriage as husband and wife serve as a symbol of both life and love in a way that no other relationship of human persons can.” [vi] This is why marriage can only be between a man and a woman. Persons of the same sex lack the sexual difference that is the necessary foundation for a husband and wife’s ability to live both “gifts”—the total gift of self exchanged between them in marriage, which includes their openness to the gift of a child. [vii]
Bl. John Paul II: According to the plan of God, marriage is the foundation of the wider community of the family, since the very institution of marriage and conjugal love are ordained to the procreation and education of children, in whom they find their crowning (see GS, 50).
In its most profound reality, love is essentially a gift; and conjugal love, while leading the spouses to the reciprocal “knowledge” which makes them “one flesh,”(Gen 2:24) does not end with the couple, because it makes them capable of the greatest possible gift, the gift by which they become cooperators with God for giving life to a new human person. Thus the couple, while giving themselves to one another, give not just themselves but also the reality of children, who are a living reflection of their love, a permanent sign of conjugal unity and a living and inseparable synthesis of their being a father and a mother.
- Familiaris Consortio, no. 14 (emphasis added)
- FAQs on marriage and children
- Bl. Pope John Paul II’s writings on marriage on the Church Teaching page
About this series:
Every Sunday, the Marriage: Unique for a Reason blog will feature a short quote from our current Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, our late Holy Father, Bl. John Paul II, or another pope. These 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.