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]
[i]. USCCB, Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan (Washington, DC: USCCB, 2009), 13.
[ii]. Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, no. 50, in Vatican Council II: Volume 1: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, ed. Austin Flannery (Northport, NY: Costello Publishing, 1996). All subsequent citations of Vatican II documents refer to this edition.
[iii]. Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, no. 14.
[iv]. For more on the Church’s teaching about the inseparability of the unitive and procreative meanings of the sexual act, see Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], no. 2366; Gaudium et Spes, no. 51; Pope Paul VI, On the Regulation of Birth (Humanae Vitae) (Washington, DC: USCCB, 1968), no. 12; Letter to Families, no. 12; Familiaris Consortio, nos. 29 and 32; and Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan, 11-21. Also see Pope John Paul II’s commentary on Humanae Vitae in Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body (TOB), trans. Michael Waldstein (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2006), nos. 118:–132:6 (audience and section numbers), especially nos. 118:2-6.
[v]. At the heart of “responsible parenthood” is the prayerful discernment by husband and wife whether or not to postpone pregnancy for “just reasons” (See CCC, nos. 2368-2370; see also Humanae Vitae, no. 10). The Second Vatican Council taught that responsible parenthood “involves a consideration of [the spouses’] own good and the good of the children already born or yet to come” as well as consideration of the spouses’ “situation on the material and spiritual level, and, finally, an estimation of the good of the family, of society, and of the Church” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 50). Responsible parenthood responds to the objective moral order established by God and written into the procreative capacity of husband and wife (see CCC, no. 2368). In this way, responsible parenthood preserves “the total meaning of mutual self-giving” and can mean not only postponing a birth, but also increasing one’s family (CCC, no. 2368, quoting Gaudium et Spes, no. 51). For more about responsible parenthood, see Pope Benedict XVI, Charity in Truth (Caritas in Veritate) (Washington, DC: USCCB, 2009), no. 44; Letter to Families, no. 12; TOB, nos. 121:1-6; and Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (Washington, DC: Libreria Editrice Vaticana–USCCB, 2004), nos. 232-234.
[vii]. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that homosexual acts “close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity” (no. 2357).