By their very nature, the institution of matrimony itself and conjugal love are ordained for the procreation and education of children, and find in them their ultimate crown.
–Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes (1965), no. 48[i]
How are marriage and life connected?
Everyone knows “where babies come from” and that marriage, commitment, or really any knowledge of the other person is not strictly necessary. So why is “Life” (or “Children”) one of the four themes for the Marriage: Unique for a Reason initiative? To answer this question, it’s necessary to answer a couple of other questions first:
- What are human beings?
- What do human beings require to flourish?
What are we? There are many helpful definitions of the human being out there that get at our unique constitution: rational animals, ensouled bodies or embodied souls, individuals-in-relation, or, to be a bit more technical about it: “A man, woman, or child of the species Homo sapiens, distinguished from other animals by superior mental development, power of articulate speech, and upright stance.”[ii] We are at the “top of the food chain” even though we are by no means the strongest of animals, and we are the only animals able to consider our own being and destiny. And yet, despite these inherent capacities, we are, at the same time, the most helpless of all animals when we are infants. We take the longest time to become “self-sufficient” and require other creatures to care for us and educate us for years. We cannot survive without our parents or some other adult human being who is willing to step into the place of a parent. And since our senses develop in utero, we know the smell of our mother[iii] and the sound of her voice[iv] and can recognize her when we are born. Our mother’s physical presence can calm us down as infants. There is also evidence that the presence of an involved father during pregnancy reduces the risk of death for the infant for the first year[v] and his physical or mental status can affect his baby’s health.[vi]
In view of these facts, what do human beings need in order to flourish? We need a mother and a father—and not only when we are infants, but all the way through adulthood![vii] If this is how we have been created, it makes sense that in God’s plan, a new human being would come-to-be within a relationship that would (at least attempt to) guarantee that this human being would be cared for by his or her mother and father for all of life. Marriage—the permanent, faithful, fruitful union of one man and one woman—is God’s first and primary way of taking care of each and every one of us from the beginning of our existence. We come-to-be in an act of sexual intercourse between a man and a woman; if that man and woman are married, we end up in the situation best suited to our human development.[viii] “Marriage as fundamentally pro-child, protecting the gift of the child and preserving the vital roles of mothers and fathers.”[ix] So that’s why “Children” is one of our considerations when we talk about the uniqueness of marriage.
The series we are beginning on the MUR blog accompanies short segments of the video Made for Life. In this video, married couples discuss the importance of openness to life to their marriages, and why children do best in homes with married mothers and fathers. During the next six weeks, we will explore these themes a bit more. Much of the posts will contain text found in the Viewer’s Guide of Made for Life. The questions provided can be used for personal reflection or for group discussion.
[i] Second Vatican Council. Gaudium et Spes. http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html
[ii] Oxford Living Dictionaries. “Human being”. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/human_being
[iii] There are a number of places to read about this, including: https://www.womenshealth.gov/itsonlynatural/addressing-myths/incredible-facts-about-babies-breast-milk.html and http://www.parenting.com/article/your-babys-sense-of-smell
[iv] Similarly, there are any number of articles on this, including: http://www.parenting.com/article/what-babies-learn-in-the-womb
[v] “Father Involvement in Preganancy Could Reduce Infant Mortality,” EurekAlert, June 17, 2010, www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2010-06/uosf-fii061710.php, as referenced in Paul Raeburn, Do Fathers Matter? (New York: Scientific American, 2014).
[vi] Prakesh S. Shah and Knowledge Synthesis Group, “Parental Factors and Low Birthweight, Preterm, and Small for Gestational Age Births: A Systematic Review,” American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 202, no. 2 (2010): 103-23, as referenced in Paul Raeburn, Do Fathers Matter? (New York: Scientific American, 2014).
[vii] So-called “grey divorce” has dramatically risen in the last decade, and adult children struggle when their parents split up. See one of these articles: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/24/fashion/weddings/never-too-old-to-hurt-from-parents-divorce.html?_r=0; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/terry-gaspard-msw-licsw/how-to-move-on-from-your-grey-divorce_b_5242932.html; https://www.hg.org/article.asp?id=32532
[viii] See, for example, W. Bradford Wilcox, “Even for Rich Kids, Marriage Matters,” Family Studies, December 19, 2013;“Why Marriage Matters: Thirty Conclusions from the Social Sciences,” Institute for American Values, 2011. Robin Wilson and W. Bradford Wilcox, “Bringing up Baby: Adoption, Marriage, and the Best Interests of the Child,” William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal. Vol. 14, No. 3, pp. 883-908, February 2006. David Ribar, “Why Marriage Matters for Child Wellbeing,” The Future of Children. Vol. 25, No. 2, Fall 2015. Paula Fomby and Andrew Cherlin, “Family Instability and Child Well-Being,” American Sociological Review. Vol. 72 (2007): 181–204, doi: 10.1177/000312240707200203. Wendy Manning, Pamela Smock, and Debarun Majumdar, “The Relative Stability of Cohabiting and Marital Unions for Children,” Population Research and Policy Review. Vol. 23 (2004): 135–59, doi:10.1023/B:POPU.0000019916.29156.a7. Kathleen Ziol-Guest and Rachel Dunifon, “Complex Living Arrangements and Child Health: Examining Family Structure Linkages with Children’s Health Outcomes,” Family Relations. Vol. 63 (2014): 424–37, doi:10.1111/fare.12071.
[ix] USCCB, Made For Life Viewer’s Guide, p. vii.
The final section we are going to discuss from Made for Each Other has to do with what is traditionally called the two “ends” (or purposes, reasons for existing) of marriage. The Church teaches that because marriage is the total gift of one spouse’s life to the other, it entails both the gift of love and the gift of children. Marriage is the gift for life and the gift of life. It’s unique and irreplaceable—the fundamental institution for life.
The Church affirms that the love of husband and wife is a great good in and of itself, even if they do not receive the gift of a child. Human marriage is a foreshadowing of the marriage between Christ and his Church and sacramental marriage participates in and shows forth this love (see Eph 5:28-33).
Marriage lived in truth is an indispensable model of communion for the world and an affirmation that life is good. The love of husband and wife reminds us all that no one is an isolated individual, that we need one another at the most fundamental level. This love is meant to be the context for welcoming, forming, and educating new life. This is why marriage, as a personal relationship, has always been recognized to have great, public significance. The love of spouses, the responsibilities of mothers and fathers, and the rights of children—all are tied to the unique truth of marriage and its protection and promotion.
The Church will never waver in her teaching that marriage is the lifelong union of a woman and a man, open to life. From the beginning, man and woman are made for each other. There is nothing else like it.
- How is marriage the “gift for life” and the “gift of life”?
- The public proposal to “redefine” marriage to include persons of the same sex is fairly recent. How is it connected to a larger confusion around the meaning of the person and sex?
- How is this meaning inseparable from the truth of marriage as the union of one man and one woman?
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. (Mt 19:5)
In this section of Made for Each Other, Josh and Carrie explore what sexual difference may look like in a given couple. Men and women are, as Carrie puts it, “different in ways that will always matter.” Biology is important, but the body and the person are not reducible to biology. Sexual difference involves the whole person, body and soul.
The body reveals the person. We’re not souls trapped in bodies. We’re “body-persons.” We don’t just have a body. We are our bodies. (We even have words for people who are without one or the other—a corpse is a body that is missing a soul; a ghost is (perhaps) a soul missing a body.) The body of a man and the body of a woman are distinct, personal realities. In addition, as Pope St. John Paul II taught, these bodies have a “spousal meaning.”[i] The body, in its masculinity or femininity, reveals that we are persons who are made to be a gift to others and to be received as a gift by others.
Every human person shares the same nature (human) and the same dignity, made in the image of God. Our sexual identity as a man or a woman is the way in which that humanity is manifested. This identity is meant to be acknowledged and accepted as a gift from God.[ii] It has significance for all the various ways we relate to others: we are a daughter or a son, a sister or a brother, a mother or a father.
While some play down the reality of sexual difference or limit it to the differences between female and male anatomy, sciences such as neurobiology, evolutionary psychology, endocrinology, histology, and reproductive physiology—to name a few—point to the intricate, unique, and complementary physiologies of women and men. We may have conversations differently; take risks differently; form and process relationships differently; respond to threats differently. These differences do not imply that one sex is superior to the other. Men and women are just different. Admitting this does not diminish either sex but serves to enhance the possibility of their unity in love.
Of course, men and women differ among themselves, as well as differing from each other. Sex differences in each and every trait need not be present in each and every individual woman or man. But the way a trait is lived out will always be distinct, whichever person, man or woman, is exhibiting it. For example, the way that St. Joan of Arc was a soldier was not the same as a man’s way.
Our gender, which can be distinguished but not separated from our sex, is a fundamental “given” in our lives. Male and female are two different ways of being human, body and soul.
- What does it mean to say that “the body reveals the person”?
- How do equality and difference go together when speaking of man and woman? How does complementarity depend upon difference?
 See Amoris Laetitia, no. 56.
[i] See TOB, 13:1–16:2. See also Pope John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio, no. 37, and Veritatis Splendor, no. 15.
[ii] See CCC, nos. 2332-2333.
The USCCB joined a number of other religious organizations in filing an amicus curiae brief with the Supreme Court for the case Gloucester County School Board v. G.G.
The case involves a “transgender boy” (biological girl), identified as “G.G.,” who seeks to use the boys’ restroom at her public high school. The student sued under Title IX (which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex) and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The district court dismissed the case, but the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, ruled in favor of the student. The Gloucester County School Board sought review before the U.S. Supreme Court and received a temporary stay from the high Court that prohibits the student from using the boys’ restroom while the case is on review. In October, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. Other federal lawsuits of the same kind (student vs. school board) are on hold until this case is settled.
The religious organizations on the brief note, “The religious liberty we cherish is threatened by the Fourth Circuit’s decision adopting the Department of Education’s expansion of Title IX beyond any plausible interpretation.” For, “Major religious traditions—including those represented by amici—share the belief that a person’s identity as male or female is created by God and immutable.”
In our second clip from Made for Each Other, Carrie ends with the comment, “Our sexual difference doesn’t compete; it complements.” Sexual unity and the coming-to-be of babies depend on the difference between man and woman. The husband gives his whole self (body, mind, heart, soul) to his wife; the wife gives her whole self to her husband. This happens in a particularly clear and dramatic way when the gift of the body is offered in marital intercourse. The spouses give themselves and receive each other in and through their difference. As Josh says, “every natural process of the body” can be done by oneself—“everything but making love and having children,” which depends upon the other person being different. Sexual difference is the avenue towards real union, a union that is also open to life.
Sexual difference concerns the whole person, as Carrie points out. Only through this difference can a man and a woman give themselves fully and love each other as spouses. This isn’t unjust discrimination; it’s an actual distinction, a matter of reality. Sexual intercourse in marriage is a way of communicating, it is a language spoken face-to-face. Part of the essential grammar of this language is sexual difference. Without it, marriage can’t be spoken of.[i]
Men and women are equal and different. Difference is a great and necessary good. “It’s constructive,” as Josh says. Sexual difference is what enables a man and a woman to form a unique bond for life, a union that is deeper than friendship and lasts until death. A husband gives to his wife what only a husband can give. Likewise, a wife gives to her husband what only a wife can give. And together, they give the world new life!
- Do you think sexual difference is understood and appreciated today? Why or why not?
- How can we help others reflect on the importance of sexual difference and complementarity?
[i] This is also why sex outside of marriage doesn’t make any sense. Sex itself speaks a language of total commitment and gift—faithful and indissoluble love. That’s the language of marriage. Sex outside of marriage always says something that is untrue. It’s pretending. Real love depends on truth, and truth depends on love (see Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical Caritas in Veritate [Washington, DC: USCCB, 2009], nos. 1-9).
In this segment of the video, Josh and Carrie discuss the way that marriage is not like being roommates who live together, but separately. Man and woman are made for each other in a way that is absolutely unique. We see this through their sexual difference, even if we just look to the human body as male or female. A man’s body does not make sense by itself, nor does a woman’s; only together is it possible to get the whole picture of humanity. At a deeper level, as Josh says in the video, there is also a longing of the one for the other. There are always and only two ways of being human: we cannot be the other, so we want to be with the other.
We are made for union and communion, to be in relation with others.[i] In Genesis, God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gn 2:18). God’s solution to man’s isolation is not to create another identical man. Rather, He creates a woman from the man’s side and gives the two to each other in the first marriage. “For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Mt 19:5; cf. Gn 2:24).
The two become one flesh in the physical act of sexual intercourse, in which the bodies of the man and woman cooperate in an act which may bring about the procreation of another human being. As Eve says, “I have produced a male child with the help of the LORD”(Gn 4:1). There is only one “combination” of human bodies that can produce new life: a man and a woman. If you accept the idea that human life has special value, then you should also accept that the (one and only) natural action that can bring this life into existence is, by that fact, unique in its power and importance to the world.
The truth of the human person, created male and female, and the truth of what marriage is, are not only concerns of religion or religious people—they are truths that affect everyone.
- Why is it important to society that marriage be based on sexual difference?
- Why is the fact of our being created male and female not simply a tool for the survival of the species?
 Even in those rare cases of atypical genetic or physical development, the fundamental question is whether the person is male or female. There are only “X” and “Y” chromosomes, there is no “other” sex. In such cases, we rely on natural science that can help determine biological sex. This knowledge will help the person to understand his or her sexual identity.
[i] See CCC, nos. 45, 371-372, 1603-1604, and 1877-1879.
But God did not create man a solitary being. From the beginning “male and female he created them” (Gn 1:27). This partnership of man and woman constitutes the first form of communion between persons.
–Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes (1965), no. 12[i]
What is marriage?
The question of what marriage is has been largely ignored in debates about who can get married. Before asking who can get married, one should ask what “marriage” is. What is this relationship that two (or more) people want the state to recognize, and why should society care about it?
Let’s see what definitions are out there and how they measure up to what we all kinda-sorta-in-our-bones know about what marriage is.
Google: the legally or formally recognized union of a man and a woman (or, in some jurisdictions, two people of the same sex) as partners in a relationship.
“Union… as partners in a relationship.” Well, what kind of relationship? What about business partnerships or siblings? What kind of union?
Merriam-Webster: a (1): the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law (2): the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage <same-sex marriage>
This one is interesting because, as you see, the authors have to resort to comparing “the state of being united to a person of the same sex” as being like “traditional marriage” in order to explain it. It’s definitely better than Google’s definition, since it gets to the parties “being united… in a consensual and contractual relationship” but once again, we could say that the same would apply to different kinds of “consensual and contractual relatinoships”.
Oxford Dictionary: The legally or formally recognized union of two people as partners in a personal relationship (historically and in some jurisdictions specifically a union between a man and a woman).
This is probably the most accurate definition of the way the majority of people understand marriage today: “union of two people as partners in a personal relationship.” It is worth asking, then, why the government has any interest in personal relationships.
It seems like all these definitions lack something.
If you really take the time to think about the definition of marriage, you will discover that there is only one definition of marriage that truly fits with who we are as human beings (body and soul, male and female) and seems to get at what is fundamental: marriage is the lifelong, exclusive union of one man and one woman, open to life.[ii]
This definition expresses what marriage is when it is lived truly, and this is a grace available to every married couple. But in this world of brokenness, we have all witnessed a general weakening of people’s understanding and living out this truth. The cultural and legal connections among marriage, sexual intercourse, childbearing, and childrearing have been slowly chipped away at, whether through acceptance of extra-marital sex and cohabitation on the one hand, or third-party reproduction on the other. One can easily see that our society as a whole has lost a consciousness of what men and women are called to be for one another.
God’s vision and plan for marriage is an ideal but it is not idealistic. As Pope Francis taught in Amoris Laetitia, “in no way must the Church desist from proposing the full ideal of marriage, God’s plan in all its grandeur.”[iii] And again, he writes, “Married couples are grateful that their pastors uphold the high ideal of a love that is strong, solid, enduring and capable of sustaining them through whatever trials they may have to face.”[iv] Marriage is a communion of persons, a communion of love between husband and wife, meant to be the source of the family and society. That’s why, when the Pharisees questioned Jesus about divorce, He refered back to creation, when Adam and Eve were given in relationship to one another for life (see Mt 19:4-6; Mk 10:6-8).[v]
The series we are beginning on the MUR blog next week accompanies short segments of the video Made for Each Other. In this video, actors playing Josh and Carrie discuss the importance of sexual difference to marriage and the complementarity between man and woman. During these four weeks, we will explore these themes a bit more. Much of the posts will contain text found in the Viewer’s Guide of Made for Each Other. The questions provided can be used for personal reflection or for group discussion.
[i] See Austin Flannery, ed., Vatican Council II: Volume 1: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, new rev. ed. (Northport, NY: Costello Publishing, 1996).
[ii] See CCC, nos. 1601-1605.
[iii] Amoris Laetitia, no. 307.
[iv] Amoris Laetitia, no. 200.
[v] See Pope John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body (TOB), trans. Michael Waldstein (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2006), 1–4 (audience numbers); Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Veritatis Splendor (Washington, DC: USCCB, 1993), nos. 22 and 53.
Today’s clip features Gloria Purvis. Gloria converted to the Catholic faith at the age of twelve after a profound experience before the Eucharist. In this clip, Gloria notes that the current trend of celebrating diversity notably ignores Christians as valuable members of a diverse society.
It seems that all beliefs are acceptable, and even celebrated, in the workplace unless (or until) these beliefs appear to challenge the current ethos of sexual “freedom.” If diversity is a true value, it requires tolerance, which is a virtue that applies especially when you disagree with the other.
Are you tolerant of others’ opinions on things, even when you think that they are wrong on an important issue? This does not mean compromising the truth or your own beliefs; it simply means respecting the person and his or her ability to reason and to come to a different conclusion than yours. St. Therese practiced not arguing about anything unless she felt that there was a moral obligation to do so. This is hard for some of us (the author possibly most of all!) and a good practice of self-control.