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Nature Part Three

Posted Oct. 29, 2019 by DOM No comments yet

Intro to Nature: Part Three

Today, we are going to address some ambiguities with regard to the way we often use the word “nature,” building on the last posts. Last time, we finished discussing Fr. Wallace’s two-fold conception of nature, breaking it down into (1) natural things and (2) their activities. When combined, natural things and their behaviors make up the whole world of nature. We emphasized strongly in our last post the importance of inherent natures, which are both the source of and that in virtue of which natural things live-out their particular behaviors and activities. In today’s post, we are going to talk in more detail about specific natures and why distinguishing them is so important for deciding what is natural and unnatural.

It is a mistake to use the word “nature” univocally, which means to treat all senses of a word as if they were the same. We often fail to distinguish “nature” in a general sense—the sense which characterizes the whole world of nature—from substances which have specific natures and activities which derive from those natures. We often do not realize that when we call something “natural” or “unnatural,” we actually mean that it’s either natural or unnatural in a certain way or a certain respect. Remember the example in our last post about the dog wearing a Halloween costume? For dogs to wear clothing is unnatural – it doesn’t belong to a dog’s nature to wear clothes. But we can still say that it is natural for human beings to wear clothing (we’ll discuss this in more detail later).

To make matters more complicated (or more fun depending how you look at it!) the same activity could be considered either natural or unnatural for a subject, depending on which way you look at it. For instance, it is “natural” for beavers to eat potato chips when they are offered them, insofar as they are animals, and animals need to eat to survive. If you starve a beaver and then offer it Doritos, it will eat them. But potato chips are not a typical food for a beaver. A beaver does not seek and find potato chips in its natural habitat; in fact, we would find it odd and “unnatural” for a beaver to seek out, eat, or crave potato chips. We know what a beaver is, and a potato-chip-eater is not what comes to mind. So in this case, it is the specific nature of the beaver that makes the eating of potato chips unnatural. Eating potato chips is both natural and unnatural for a beaver, depending on how you look at it.

Now, humans are defined as rational animals. Our rational nature is what sets us apart from other animals, and we engage in particular activities in virtue of our rationality. When we use our reason to deliberate and make decisions, when we use our free-will to act on our choices, this is natural for us. Recall what we said about how it is natural for human beings to wear clothing. St. Thomas makes this helpful distinction in the Summa (while discussing marriage, no less!):

A thing is said to be natural in two ways. First, as resulting of necessity from the principles of nature; thus upward movement is natural to fire. In this way matrimony is not natural, nor are any of those things that come to pass at the intervention or motion of the free-will. Secondly, that is said to be natural to which nature inclines although it comes to pass through the intervention of the free-will; thus acts of virtue and the virtues themselves are called natural; and in this way matrimony is natural, because natural reason inclines thereto in two ways.[1]

What St. Thomas explains here is that interventions on the part of our free will are unnatural in one sense, and natural in another. Using matrimony as an example, he explains that some things that humans do are not natural in the sense that they “just happen” according to the world of nature, e.g., the way that fire tending upwards “just happens.” However, some things that arise from intervention or force can be natural insofar as the impulse for them comes from our nature.  So, we don’t just somehow “become married” by natural forces; We choose to marry. However, we do so because we naturally seek union with someone of the opposite sex in order to help rear, educate, love our children. It is reasonable. Likewise, human beings wear clothing not only because it protects us from the elements, but also to adorn ourselves and to safeguard modesty. To wear clothing therefore follows from our nature, as it is a reasonable thing to do.

In our next and last post, we are going to wrap up our discussion on nature by using what we have learned to tackle a moral dilemma. Remember our friend from Part One, who argued that contraception is no different than any other “natural” process? Well, next we are going to show how this position falls into the very trap that we have been discussing today, and then we are going to formulate our response. Stay tuned!

[1] ST Suppl., Q. 41, Art. 1

About the Author: Bridget Groff is an M.A./Ph.D. student in the School of Philosophy at the Catholic University of America. She currently works part-time at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as an intern for the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

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Nature Part Two

Posted Oct. 16, 2019 by DOM No comments yet

Intro to Nature: Part Two

Today we are going to talk more about the 2nd way of conceptualizing nature as mentioned in the first post and see how it is related to the 1st way. [1]

Last time, we began by talking about Fr. William Wallace’s two-fold conception of nature: (1) What is free from human intervention and contamination and (2) activities or behaviors that originate from within an agent. Then, we took a closer look at the first conception and clarified the distinction between what is natural and what is artificial. Now, we are going to go into Fr. Wallace’s second conception.

In our first post, we talked about how Fr. Wallace’s first sense of the natural is to be contrasted with the artificial. In this post, we will see that his second sense of nature also gives way to an important contrast: natural activities are to be contrasted with activities that result from force and coercion. In order to make this contrast more apparent, let’s start by talking about activities and their agents. An activity is something done by an agent, and an agent is who or what does an activity. Let’s give a few examples of some activities and their agents: Human beings play sports, eat, watch television. Birds fly; dogs bark; beavers build dams. Notice that all of these agents are things that we identified as “natural” according to our first conception of nature. That is, none of these agents are artificial. It is, in fact, impossible for artificial things to be agents of activity. We see this clearly if we contrast the activities of a natural thing with those “activities” of an artificial thing, such as a kitchen appliance.

A natural thing, like an animal, has a body that self-maintains; it eats, it moves around, it builds itself a shelter, etc., and all of these activities it does “spontaneously” [2] and from within. The animal doesn’t need to be told or convinced to do these things; it just does. This is because the animal has its own “source” of motion or activity—itself; its nature. This is, in fact, the definition of nature laid down by Aristotle in his Physics, “a natural principle of motion or rest in the thing to which it belongs primarily and in virtue of that thing, but not accidentally.”[3] Aristotle is saying that natural things, those things which come into being and function on their own, have an internal principle—something they possess— which accounts for this coming into being and functioning. For example, the beaver has a “beaver nature,” which accounts for what it is and what it does. In virtue of this nature, it builds dams. Building dams is one way that a beaver lives out its nature. Now, we can see that a nature, a “source” of activity, is much more than just what prompts an activity or sets an activity in motion. A thing’s nature is also that for the sake of which it performs all of its activities. In other words, a nature “dictates” the kinds of activities that promote and maintain the flourishing of the thing and its nature. Everything that a beaver does is done in virtue of its beaver nature and for its beaver nature; e.g., beaver nature dictates that the beaver build dams, and the building of dams in turn allows the beaver to flourish in accord with its very nature. This is what prompts our intuition that natural things, like animals, “do what comes naturally.” We know and anticipate that things will act according to the kind of thing that they are. For example, if a beaver grabbed a bag of chips in its paws and sat down next to us on the couch to watch Friends, we would be surprised.

Now that we understand the way in which natural things are agents of their activities, we are in a place to see how artificial things can never be agents of activity. A kitchen appliance, like a toaster, is an artificial thing. Human beings designed and fashioned it for the purpose of toasting—we decided what its function would be.  We decided how it would work as well. Because everything that the toaster does is pre-determined by the way we designed and built it, nothing that the toaster does can be said to originate from “within” the toaster itself in the way that actions arise from “within” natural agents. As we discussed above, for an action to arise “from within” an agent means both that the action is a result of the agent’s nature and that the action is done for the sake of the agent’s nature. The toaster, however, does not have its own source of activity, its own nature by which and for the sake of which it performs its functions. On the contrary: everything the toaster “does” is for the sake of the person using it. Toasters are actually for the sake of human nature. For this reason, nothing that a toaster does arises from “within.”

This is why activities that artificial things appear to do on their own are actually things that we have done to it. For example, we don’t physically heat up the coils of the toaster or make the toast pop up ourselves. It appears that these actions really do originate from “within” the toaster. However, the fact that we don’t do these things immediately or directly doesn’t mean that they therefore originate “from within” the toaster, that the toaster itself “does them.” Even though we do not heat the toaster ourselves, we nonetheless put in place the mechanisms that make it do so. In this way, everything that the toaster “does” is really just a by-product, so to speak, of the way we have designed the toaster to function for our ends, our sake, our nature.

Now that we have Aristotle’s account of nature, it is easy to explain why Fr. Wallace contrasts natural activities with those that arise from force or coercion. Sometimes, force or coercion is called “violence.” These terms—force, coercion, violence—have a negative connotation in our language, often meaning something that is intentionally mean or malicious. In this specific context, however, these terms don’t have any such implications. To act from force or coercion means that a thing is acted upon externally so that it does something opposed to its natural inclination. For example, rocks by their nature tend downward. If I pick up a rock and throw it in the air, I have just done violence to the rock. This motion is, therefore, unnatural for the rock. When Fr. Wallace says that natural behaviors are those which arise from within an agent and thus arise without force or coercion, he is emphasizing the fact that certain activities follow necessarily from the natures of things, and any activity done to a thing which is contrary to its nature is unnatural.

We now understand both senses of nature that Fr. Wallace distinguishes and how they are related. Sometimes, we talk about natural things, and sometimes we talk about natural activities or behaviors. However, these two senses of the natural are interdependent. Natural things possess natures that account for what they are and what they do; natural activities are rooted in and depend upon the natures of their agents. Thus it is only by combining natural things and their distinctive activities that we have a full picture of the natural world:

“Combining the two senses, we may characterize the world of nature as what is capable of coming into existence apart from human influence and as made up of things that have within themselves natures or internal sources of their distinctive activities. Nature is thus populated by plants and animals of various kinds, by chemical elements and compounds, by hosts of elementary particles. by galaxies, stars, and planets…” [4]

We now have also a better sense of the way we use the words “natural” and “unnatural.” Sometimes, we say “that’s unnatural” unqualifiedly when referring to an object, the thought being “this thing does not belong to the world of nature.” For example, we say that a plastic water bottle is unqualifiedly unnatural because it only exists because of human technology; it’s not a product of nature but of man. Sometimes, we say “that’s unnatural” when referring to the behavior of a specific, natural thing if we know that it has been done out of force or coercion. For instance, someone might see a dog dressed up for Halloween and say, “that’s unnatural.” What they are really saying is “it is unnatural for a dog to get dressed in a Halloween costume.” It is important not to conflate these two senses of the word “natural.” That is, it is important to consider that some things are not unnatural unqualifiedly but may be unnatural for a certain thing and in a certain respect. In our next post, we are going to talk more about the difficulties that arise if these two senses fail to be distinguished. Stay tuned!

[1] See our previous post, Nature Part One.

[2] William A. Wallace, The Modeling of Nature: Philosophy of Science and Philosophy of Nature in Synthesis (Catholic University of America Press: 1996), 4

[3] Aristotle, Physics 2.1, 192b20–23.

[4] Wallace, 4.

About the Author: Bridget Groff is an M.A./Ph.D. student in the School of Philosophy at the Catholic University of America. She currently works part-time at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as an intern for the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

 

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Nature Part One

Posted Sep. 30, 2019 by DOM No comments yet

 

Intro to Nature: Part One

In his book, The Modeling of Nature, Fr. William Wallace, O.P. states the problem that we agreed to tackle in our last post: “though it is easy to form a general idea of nature and the natural, it is difficult to define nature precisely and to differentiate things and processes that are natural from those that are not.”[1] In this post and the posts to come, with the help of Fr. Wallace and others, we are going to nail down what the word “natural” means.

Fr. Wallace distinguishes two ways to conceptualize nature: (1) What is free from human intervention and contamination. So, natural versus artificial. Contrast, for instance, Lake Michigan and the man-made ponds in city parks. In this sense, natural things exist on their own, indifferent to mankind’s needs or desires. We did not “have a say” about whether Lake Michigan exists, but we did create various ponds for our own enjoyment. (2) Activities or behaviors that originate from within an agent without force or coercion.[2] For example, no one must remind beavers to build dams or ask bees to make honey. They just do. This sense of nature is what we mean when we say that things “do what comes naturally.”

Now, let’s take a closer look at the first sense of nature that Fr. Wallace distinguishes: that which is free from human influence (or: that which is opposed to the artificial). Think of all the things that we consider natural: plants, animals, bodies of water, rocks and rock formations, the planets, chemicals and compounds. We could even include natural phenomena like storms, natural disasters, or the water cycle. Now, what makes all of these things natural as opposed to artificial? The distinction that Fr. Wallace makes is that natural things exist or come into being on their own. Why does this make something natural? Well, if something comes to exist on its own, it means that it does so regardless of mankind’s needs, wishes, or desires. Recall our contrast between Lake Michigan and our man-made ponds. While we may use and enjoy Lake Michigan—use it for swimming, fishing, sailing, etc.—we did not create it for this express purpose. The man-made lakes, however, were designed by someone and deliberately placed in the park for us to use and enjoy.

Someone might object that the man-made ponds are still made out of natural things like rocks, water, and plants, and they might be populated by animals like fish or ducks. So, why can’t we consider them natural, like Lake Michigan? While it is true that the man-made ponds are made out of “natural stuff,” this still doesn’t change the fact that these natural things were arranged, configured, put there by someone else.

In fact, there are many examples of artificial things that are made from natural parts. For example, wooden furniture is “natural” insofar as it is carved from naturally-occurring wood. Cotton clothing is natural insofar as it is made from the cotton plant, and granite counter tops are natural insofar as they’re cut from slabs of naturally-occurring granite. Notice that all of these things are harvested, altered, and designed specifically for human purposes. That fact is what makes them artificial rather than natural. Imagine how out of place a wooden kitchen chair would look amidst a forest of redwood trees!

Now that we have this first sense of the natural squared-away… stay tuned for part two! In part two, we will discuss the second sense of nature that Fr. Wallace distinguishes and how it is both related to and different from the first.

[1] William A. Wallace, The Modeling of Nature: Philosophy of Science and Philosophy of Nature in Synthesis (Catholic University of America Press: 1996), 3.

[2] Ibid.

About the Author: Bridget Groff is an M.A./Ph.D. student in the School of Philosophy at the Catholic University of America. She currently works part-time at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as an intern for the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

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New Blog Series: The Nature of Marriage

Posted Aug. 30, 2019 by DOM No comments yet

Introduction: What is Nature?

A few years ago, I was discussing the Church’s position on contraception with a friend of mine. He said, “Well, getting sick is natural, and we take medicine to stop the process of becoming ill. Why is taking birth control to stop the process of becoming pregnant any different?” I must admit, I was a little stumped. I knew that the two cases—becoming ill and becoming pregnant—were different, but I couldn’t quite parse out how. I had an intuition that it had something to do with the way my friend was using the word “natural.”  Surely, I thought, getting sick and getting pregnant are two different kinds of natural processes. But how?

We all have a general—perhaps a vague—idea of what “natural” means. Such is obvious by the fact that we assume the existence of nature in our everyday language. When two dogs struggle against their leashes to sniff and inspect one another, we say, “Well, they’re just doing what comes naturally!” We say things like, “I hadn’t eaten breakfast or lunch, so naturally, I was starving come dinnertime.” Not only do we talk about the natural, but we also have an intuition that what is natural is good. For instance, many of us favor natural remedies as opposed to prescriptions. Many of us gravitate toward brands that include the word “natural” in the name, brands that promise products free of chemicals and food free of additives and preservatives.

As Catholics, we have an especially rich understanding of the natural as good. We take human nature to be the grounding for certain truths about the human person: that mankind was created male and female, that the human being is ordered toward procreation and family life, that the human being is by nature a social creature. All these things we regard as good insofar as they are integral aspects of human nature, and to live out these aspects of human nature is what enables the human being to flourish. When we recognize a common human nature and recognize this nature as good, we therefore know also that it is good for everyone to flourish. In other words, we recognize that to flourish is a right, so to speak, of each and every person. To recognize this fact gives way to the concept of human dignity, which means to respect and, indeed, to help our fellow human beings flourish and live-out their human nature. We cannot, therefore, truly know what it means to say that human beings have worth and dignity, what is good for mankind, without a concrete notion of human nature.

In 1993, St. Pope John Paul II published his encyclical Veritatis Splendor in view of widespread confusion and disagreement in the areas of ethics and moral theology. The mission of the encyclical was to recall and restate the fundamental truths of Catholic doctrine as it pertains to the Church’s moral teaching. The overarching theme of Veritatis Splendor is to affirm the natural and eternal law, to affirm and defend a real and immutable human nature, and to affirm the fact that “the power to decide good and evil does not belong to man, but to God alone.” (VS, no. 32)  In other words, St. John Paul II teaches us in Veritatis Splendor that to know human nature and to know it as good and created by God are essential to understanding the Church’s moral teaching.

Taking for its inspiration St. John Paul II’s Veritatis Splendor, this blog series will answer questions about the Church’s teaching in the areas of human sexuality, marriage, and the family— with an eye toward human nature and natural law. For example: What does it mean to say that marriage is a natural institution? In what sense is marriage natural? Why are unity and procreation marriage’s natural ends?

In the blog entries to come, I hope to provide some clarity and insight into the nature behind Church teaching and to answer some of these tricky questions that sometimes leave us stumped. These are questions that Catholics and non-Catholics alike struggle with and, if left unanswered, can be a source of confusion, frustration, and anxiety. It is more important than ever to understand and promote the true nature of the human person and the true nature of marriage. It is more important now than ever to remember that nothing in God’s creation is arbitrary, that (in the words of Aristotle) “nature does nothing in vain”—to remember that not only is marriage unique, it is unique for a reason.

About the Author: Bridget Groff is an M.A./Ph.D. student in the School of Philosophy at the Catholic University of America. She currently works part-time at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as an intern for the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

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Made for Love Ep 32: The Love Languages

Posted Feb. 8, 2019 by DOM No comments yet

Happy National Marriage Week!!!! (Feb 7-14) Check out For Your Marriage for lots of events and special posts for this week.

Described in a popular book by Gary Chapman, the five love languages are five different ways that we human beings give and receive love; and some of them “speak” to us better than others. The thing is, we don’t even necessarily realize it, or how to talk about it. Today on Made for Love we’re talking about the five love languages in marriage with Francis and Julia Dezelski, Bryan and Liz Smalley, and Craig and Stephanie Rapp.

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Made for Love Ep 22: Childbirth: Life-Giving Love

Posted Oct. 2, 2018 by DOM No comments yet

Catholics have a well of spiritual insight to dip into to prepare for the birth of a child. On today’s episode, you’ll hear from Mary Haseltine, author of Made for This: The Catholic Mom’s Guide to Birth, Haley Stewart (from the popular blog Carrots for Michaelmas) and birth stories from a few of Sara’s friends, including a baby who was born in the car in the driveway of the hospital: good catch, dad!

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Made for Each Other: Short Segments for Study

Posted Jan. 1, 2017 by DOM No comments yet

Introduction
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.

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Bishop DiLorenzo on Marriage

Posted Sep. 14, 2016 by DOM No comments yet

Catholic Diocese

Statement posted September 13, 2016

More than a year after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage, and despite recent statements from the campaign trail, the Catholic Church’s 2000-year-old teaching to the truth about what constitutes marriage remains unchanged and resolute.

As Catholics, we believe, all humans warrant dignity and deserve love and respect, and unjust discrimination is always wrong. Our understanding of marriage, however, is a matter of justice and fidelity to our Creator’s original design. Marriage is the only institution uniting one man and one woman with each other and with any child who comes from their union. Redefining marriage furthers no one’s rights, least of all those of children, who should not purposely be deprived of the right to be nurtured and loved by a mother and a father.

We call on Catholics and all those concerned for preserving this sacred union to unite in prayer, to live and speak out with compassion and charity about the true nature of marriage – the heart of family life.

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Faithful Witness to Marriage

Posted Aug. 5, 2016 by DOM 1 comment

This article was originally posted on the USCCB blog here.

By Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, Bishop Richard J. Malone and Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski

Questions revolving around marriage and human sexuality are deeply felt in our homes and communities. We join with our Holy Father Pope Francis in affirming the inviolable dignity of all people and the Church’s important role in accompanying all those in need. In doing so, we also stand with Pope Francis in preserving the dignity and meaning of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The two strands of the dignity of the person and the dignity of marriage and the family are interwoven. To pull apart one is to unravel the whole fabric.

When a prominent Catholic politician publicly and voluntarily officiates at a ceremony to solemnize the relationship of two people of the same-sex, confusion arises regarding Catholic teaching on marriage and the corresponding moral obligations of Catholics. What we see is a counter witness, instead of a faithful one founded in the truth.

Pope Francis has been very clear in affirming the truth and constant teaching of the Church that same-sex relationships cannot be considered “in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.”(1) Laws that redefine marriage to deny its essential meaning are among those that Catholics must oppose, including in their application after they are passed.(2) Such witness is always for the sake of the common good.

During our Holy Father’s remarkable visit to us last year, he reminded us that all politicians “are called to defend and preserve the dignity of [their] fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics.”(3) Catholic politicians in particular are called to “a heroic commitment” on behalf of the common good and to “recognize their grave responsibility in society to support laws shaped by these fundamental human values and oppose laws and policies that violate [them].”(4)

Faithful witness can be challenging—and it will only grow more challenging in the years to come—but it is also the joy and responsibility of all Catholics, especially those who have embraced positions of leadership and public service.

Let us pray for our Catholic leaders in public life, that they may fulfill the responsibilities entrusted to them with grace and courage and offer a faithful witness that will bring much needed light to the world. And may all of us as Catholics help each other be faithful and joyful witnesses wherever we are called.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, New York, is chairman of the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth; and Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami, is chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. 

—–
1 Amoris Laetitia (2016), no. 251.
2 See USCCB, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (2015), no. 23; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons (2003), no. 5 
3 Address to Congress, September 24, 2015. 
4 Faithful Citizenship, no. 39.

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USCCB Chairmen Urge Support for the “First Amendment Defense Act”

Posted Jul. 13, 2016 by DOM No comments yet

CnLSOb7XgAAI8IbUrging support for the First Amendment Defense Act Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, issued the following statement on July 12, 2016:

Today the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing on the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA). The USCCB has been vocal in support of this legislation, as it would provide a measure of protection for religious freedom at the federal level. FADA is a modest but important step in ensuring conscience protection to faith-based organizations and people of all faiths and of no faith who believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, protecting them from discrimination by the federal government. The increasing intolerance toward religious belief and belief in the conjugal meaning of marriage makes these protections essential for continuing faith-based charitable work, which supports the common good of our society. Faith-based agencies and schools should not lose their licenses or accreditation simply because they hold reasonable views on marriage that differ from the federal government’s view.

The definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, universally held for centuries, has nothing to do with disrespect for others, nor does it depend on religious belief. Rather, it is based on truths about the human person that are understandable by reason. Faithful to its commitment to serve the best interests of society, the Catholic Church will continue to promote and protect the truth of marriage as foundational to the common good. The Church will also continue to stand for the ability of all to exercise their religious beliefs and moral convictions in public life without fear, and to witness to the truth.

We are pleased to support the First Amendment Defense Act, and we urge Congress to pass this important legislation.

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Intern Post: Reflection on The Spirituality of Marriage and the Family from Amoris Laetitia

Posted Jun. 6, 2016 by Sara Perla No comments yet

Many of my friends who grew up in nominally Catholic households have lamented to me that their family home lacked the richness of the faith that they later came to know through their own practice and study. They went to Mass and Sunday school as kids, maybe said grace before meals or a little bedtime prayer, but otherwise their families didn’t live in a distinctively Catholic way.  In hindsight, these young adults consider themselves impoverished by an upbringing that was essentially secular, and they intend for their own marriages and families to have a deeply Catholic character. They prioritize the sacraments, strong catechesis, spiritual and corporal works of mercy, awareness of the liturgical calendar, balancing penance and celebration, and hospitality. Living those things out seems like a daunting task because they are not inheriting a tradition from their families so much as trying to create a new one in the wake of a cultural shift that undermines their efforts.

In the ninth chapter of Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis offers us some ideas about what Catholic family life can look like. He cites Vatican II, saying that lay spirituality “will take its particular character from the circumstances of… married and family life,” (313).   He says, “The spirituality of family love is made up of thousands of small but real gestures,” (315). Through the next several paragraphs he specifically mentions family prayer, supporting one another, caring for one another, showing mercy, giving complete attention to others, and welcoming those outside the family with hospitality. These suggestions are not simply lifestyle choices, take ‘em or leave ‘em. Rather, these concrete actions reflect the life of Christ himself who is present in the family through the grace given to every baptized person and especially through the real graces of the sacrament of marriage.

With all this talk about marriage and family, it might be tempting for those of us who are unmarried to ignore the Church’s advice because it seems irrelevant to this moment in our lives. However, even as a single person, the Pope’s words about marriage are meaningful  because  they help me to prepare my heart for the marriage the Lord wants for me, instead of the woefully inadequate “Hollywood” version that has been so culturally ingrained. It is tempting to imagine that finding a spouse will tie up all the loose ends in my life and, like the movies, the credits will roll and we’ll live happily ever after. But the Pope warns us all that spouses need “a certain ‘disillusionment’ with regard to one another,” (320) and I think the same can be said of those who are looking for a spouse. I can’t expect another person to fulfill me completely. I am taking to heart his note about “spiritual realism” and the warning that “one spouse not presume that the other can completely satisfy his or her needs,” (320) which is a message that is desperately needed by those of us immersed in popular culture. Additionally, the “small but real gestures” that characterize the spirituality of the family can be practiced by anyone anywhere. For example, we are all called to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, but “feed the hungry” takes on a new urgency when “the hungry” is a distraught 2-year-old tugging on your shirt. Likewise, to “bear wrongs patiently” is practically a heroic virtue when you have to bear the wrong of a sibling who has no remorse and will likely wrong you again. Within our families we have abundant opportunities to practice the virtues that sanctify us and open us to deeper union with the Lord.

When my friends describe what they hope to give their families they usually have specific ideas about praying the rosary as a family or being involved in ongoing community service and the like. However, they usually find a way to express that what they mean when they describe various devotions and practices is that they want their whole lives to be ordered toward the mystery of God’s love. The specific actions are expressions of a real desire to know, love, and serve the Lord. Pope Francis says that “spirituality becomes incarnate in the communion of the family,” (316). As Jesus’ day-to-day life was ordered to the will of the Father, so too the family is called to live their daily lives for Him.

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AL Bootcamp: Week 4

Posted May. 16, 2016 by DOM No comments yet

May 16

“You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye” (Mt 7:5).

Pope Francis: “The Gospel tells us to look to the log in our own eye (cf. Mt 7:5). Christians cannot ignore the persistent admonition of God’s word not to nurture anger: ‘Do not be overcome by evil’ (Rm 12:21). ‘Let us not grow weary in doing good’ (Gal 6:9). It is one thing to sense a sudden surge of hostility and another to give into it, letting it take root in our hearts: ‘Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger’ (Eph 4:26)” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 104).

Meditate on one of these Scripture passages today. Try to repeat it to yourself throughout the day, especially when you are tempted to anger.

May 17

“Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Eph 4:26).

Pope Francis: “My advice is never to let the day end without making peace in the family. ‘And how am I going to make peace? By getting down on my knees? No! Just by a small gesture, a little something, and harmony within your family will be restored. Just a little caress, no words are necessary. But do not let the day end without making peace in your family’. Our first reaction when we are annoyed should be one of heartfelt blessing, asking God to bless, free and heal that person” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 104).

Tonight, think over your day and your relationships with your family. Figure out if there’s anyone you should apologize to before bed, and do it.

May 18

“Love does not brood over injury” (1 Cor 13:5).

Pope Francis: “Once we allow ill will to take root in our hearts, it leads to deep resentment. The phrase ou logízetai to kakón means that love ‘takes no account of evil’; ‘it is not resentful’. The opposite of resentment is forgiveness, which is rooted in a positive attitude that seeks to understand other people’s weaknesses and to excuse them… Something is wrong when we see every problem as equally serious; in this way, we risk being unduly harsh with the failings of others” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 105).

Today, pay attention to whether you are falling into the trap of making much out of little. As the well-known book holds, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” Think about your grievances in light of eternity.

May 19

“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).

Pope Francis: “Today we recognize that being able to forgive others implies the liberating experience of understanding and forgiving ourselves… We need to learn to pray over our past history, to accept ourselves, to learn how to live with our limitations, and even to forgive ourselves, in order to have this same attitude towards others” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 107).

Mother Mary Francis, a Poor Clare, wrote to her sisters once that the quickest way to “kill” charity is to be too hard on yourself. If you hold yourself to an unrealistic standard, you will do the same to others. Accept your own imperfections today with a laugh and a trusting prayer for mercy.

May 20

“Love does not brood over injury” (1 Cor 13:5).

Pope Francis: “All this assumes that we ourselves have had the experience of being forgiven by God, justified by his grace and not by our own merits. We have known a love that is prior to any of our own efforts, a love that constantly opens doors, promotes and encourages. If we accept that God’s love is unconditional, that the Father’s love cannot be bought or sold, then we will become capable of showing boundless love and forgiving others even if they have wronged us” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 108).

When you experience forgiveness, you know what a gift it is and can then extend it to others. God’s love precedes anything that you do. Today, focus on letting your family members see that your love for them is not dependent on their actions.

May 21

“Love rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor 13:6).

Pope Francis: “The expression chaírei epì te adikía has to do with a negativity lurking deep within a person’s heart. It is the toxic attitude of those who rejoice at seeing an injustice done to others. The following phrase expresses its opposite: sygchaírei te aletheía: ‘it rejoices in the right’” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 109).

The idea of being glad at someone else’s misfortune is such a common temptation that there’s actually a word for that in German: schadenfreude. It’s an ugly thing. Today practice “rejoicing in the right” by noticing at least one thing your spouse or child(ren) does and acknowledging it with a heartfelt “thank you”.

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AL Bootcamp: Week Three

Posted May. 8, 2016 by DOM No comments yet

May 9

“Love is not rude” (1 Cor 13:5).

Pope Francis: “To love is also to be gentle and thoughtful, and this is conveyed by the next word, aschemonéi. It indicates that love is not rude or impolite; it is not harsh. Its actions, words and gestures are pleasing and not abrasive or rigid. Love abhors making others suffer. Courtesy ‘is a school of sensitivity and disinterestedness’ which requires a person ‘to develop his or her mind and feelings, learning how to listen, to speak and, at certain times, to keep quiet’ (Octavio Paz, La llama doble, Barcelona, 1993, 35)” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 99).

It is easy to take things for granted in the family and to drop the “niceties” that we use for “company.” But Pope Francis always reminds us to say, “Please,” “Thank you,” and “May I?” to our family members. Here he’s asking us to be intentional about gentleness. Tonight, at dinner, make a conscious effort to speak with courtesy.

May 10

“Love is not rude” (1 Cor 13:5).

Pope Francis: “Every day, ‘entering into the life of another, even when that person already has a part to play in our life, demands the sensitivity and restraint which can renew trust and respect. Indeed, the deeper love is, the more it calls for respect for the other’s freedom and the ability to wait until the other opens the door to his or her heart’” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 100).

It can be hard to wait for your spouse to open up to you, if you know that there is something on his or her mind. Sometimes when it comes to waiting for big things, it helps if we practice by waiting for small things. Today, if you have a treat in your lunch, save it for after work.

May 11

“Love is not rude” (1 Cor 13:5)

Pope Francis: “To be open to a genuine encounter with others, ‘a kind look’ is essential… [it] helps us to see beyond our own limitations, to be patient and to cooperate with others, despite our differences. Loving kindness builds bonds, cultivates relationships, creates new networks of integration and knits a firm social fabric… In our families, we must learn to imitate Jesus’ own gentleness in our way of speaking to one another” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 100).

It can be very difficult to look kindly at a child who is acting out, or at our spouse when he/she doesn’t hear what you said for the nth time. Today, look at your family members and say to yourself, “Jesus is looking at them right now too.” That can help change the way that you see them.

May 12

“Love does not seek its own interests” (1 Cor 13:5).

Pope Francis: “We have repeatedly said that to love another we must first love ourselves. Paul’s hymn to love, however, states that love ‘does not seek its own interest’, nor ‘seek what is its own’. This same idea is expressed in another text: ‘Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others’ (Phil 2:4)” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 101).

There is a paradox in the Christian life: the love of self and the love of neighbor are intimately connected. Today, plan to savor a moment “with” yourself at some point – over a cup of coffee or with a good book perhaps.

May 13

“Love does not seek its own interests” (1 Cor 13:5)

Pope Francis: “Saint Thomas Aquinas explains that ‘it is more proper to charity to desire to love than to desire to be loved’; indeed, ‘mothers, who are those who love the most, seek to love more than to be loved’. Consequently, love can transcend and overflow the demands of justice, ‘expecting nothing in return’ (Lk 6:35), and the greatest of loves can lead to ‘laying down one’s life’ for another (cf. Jn 15:13)” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 102).

Recall a particular way in which your own mother sought to love rather than to be loved. If she’s still alive, give her a call today to thank her for that memory. If she has passed away, pray for her. Entrust her to the care of Our Lady of Fatima.

May 14

“Love is not quick-tempered” (1 Cor 13:5).

Pope Francis: “The word [St. Paul] uses next – paroxýnetai – has to do more with an interior indignation provoked by something from without. It refers to a violent reaction within, a hidden irritation that sets us on edge where others are concerned, as if they were troublesome or threatening and thus to be avoided. To nurture such interior hostility helps no one” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 103).

Sometimes we overreact to something that happens in our day because secretly in our hearts we have been brooding over a hurt or a slight that happened earlier. Today, be on guard against that. Acknowledge a hurt sooner rather than later and seek to heal it through the mercy of Jesus.

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Intern Post: The Mercy of Indissolubility

Posted Apr. 7, 2016 by DOM No comments yet

Growing up with three brothers, I remember a lot of forced apologies being exchanged back and forth between us. My parents would make us say the words before we were actually ready to apologize for (or forgive) whatever nastiness was inflicted that day. But however hurt or angry we were at the moment, there was never a question in our minds about whether we loved one another. We belonged to each other and wouldn’t have had it any other way. Being family and loving one another went hand-in-hand.

Love sees beyond what is broken, rude, selfish, or mean in the other person’s action and reaches out a hand to heal the relationship. By making my brothers and me practice forgiveness in the everyday offenses of life, my parents were leading us to understand mercy: it makes things right between us.

Throughout the Old Testament we see a cycle of betrayal and mercy played out between Israel and the Lord.  Over and over, Israel abandons God for their own desires, but the Lord continually draws her back to himself because he chose her and he is faithful to the covenant he made. In the book of Hosea in particular, the relationship of a married couple is used to reveal the steadfastness of God’s love for Israel. No matter what she does, He remains faithful.

A sacramental marriage helps those who witness it to understand God’s fidelity to his people. Indissolubility is a gift of mercy, because it makes the relationship of the couple true to what love is: a complete gift of oneself that can’t be taken back. A person in love does not promise their beloved the next three years; they promise forever![1] “The gift of indissolubility means that despite the vicissitudes and suffering that come with human failure and sin, the sacramental marriage bond remains an abiding source of mercy, forgiveness, and healing.”[2] To deny the indissolubility of marriage would be an affront against the sacrament of marriage because it would deny the reality of grace and its power to heal and perfect a person.

I came across a beautiful reflection about marriage recently on a blog site. A woman was reflecting on her experience of learning to have mercy on her husband who was struggling with clinical depression. She said, “Through mercy, God taught me to love my husband as we all deserve to be loved—with a love devoid of self, thinking only of the good of the other person.”[3] While her husband was sick, she, “picked up his cross for him, as Jesus does for us, and bore his malaise and withdrawal in loving silence.” By showing mercy rather than demanding justice, the couple was able to maintain peace and goodwill during his illness. Mercy itself is not a cure for depression, but it helped this couple to preserve their relationship in a difficult time. The wife realized that she needed to be kind and selfless, and not seek justice but rather have mercy, and finally when she did that she found, “I no longer cared about justice.”

It can be said of the practice of reconciliation that it “washes away small offenses, but it also protects from great offenses. Pardon confers a habitus of communion.”[4] Mercy towards siblings, in my case, and a husband in the case of the blog contributor is an expression of a disposition toward communion. It is a desire to be united to the other person, even after they have hurt you. A married couple that frequently seeks and offers mercy reinforces their “togetherness” or communion so that when serious trials arise they have already practiced drawing towards one another. The indissoluble bond of marriage not only calls a couple to be merciful toward each other, but indissolubility also reveals God’s own mercy, because when he binds two people together in the sacrament, he gives them the graces they need to live it out.


 

[1] There is a new concept about marriage out there these days called a “wed-lease,” which turns marriage into something more like a business contract:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-high-divorce-rate-means-its-time-to-try-wedleases/2013/08/04/f2221c1c-f89e-11e2-b018-5b8251f0c56e_story.html. This is not true to what love is.

[2] Healy, N. (2014). The Merciful Gift of Indissolubility. Communio International Catholic Review, 41.2. Retrieved  from http://www.communio-icr.com/files/healy41-2.pdf

[3] “Ode to Feminine Genius: A Merciful Woman.” Catholic Sistas. Aug. 28, 2014. http://www.catholicsistas.com/2014/08/ode-feminine-genius-merciful-woman/

[4] Laffitte, J.(2015). The Choice of the Family. New York: Image, p. 143.

Written by the Spring Intern in the Promotion and Defense of Marriage Secretariat.

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A Culture of the Temporary: Pope Francis

Posted Nov. 2, 2015 by DOM No comments yet

Young People love Francis BrunoPhoto credit: Jeffrey Bruno
Pope Francis at the World Meeting of Families: Seven Great Quotes
Pope Francis’s trip to the United States in September centered on his appearance at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. Here is the fifth quote, from the meeting with bishops on September 26:

“Today’s culture seems to encourage people not to bond with anything or anyone, not to trust.”

As noted last week, fidelity as a virtue is no longer upheld in the culture. This is one contributing factor to the phenomenon that Pope Francis points to in today’s quote: young people are marrying at a far lower rate now than in the past. The capacity to bond with another person, to commit to them, and to entrust yourself to them, seem to be diminishing. The culture does not encourage qualities like trust, listening, patience, vulnerability, or commitment, all of which are necessary for marriage.

The fact of widespread divorce has resulted in many adult children who do not have personal experience or support of parents who have remained faithful to their spouses. They are understandably more anxious about making a lifetime commitment, because they fear that they, too, will “fail”.

Even if their parents are married, many young people buy into the lie that they need to “try the other person out” sexually before they make a commitment. Ironically, engaging in premarital sex with multiple partners actually diminishes the physical and chemical bond that forms through the sexual act, thus diminishing the likelihood of commitment rather than increasing it. This attitude toward sex plays directly into what Pope Francis calls the “throwaway culture.” Instead of seeing another person as a gift, a person who should be loved and never used, a man or woman sees the other as a possibility for “fun” or “release” without regard to their dignity or to the future.

Young adults often turn to cohabitation as a way of “easing in” to a commitment, which turns out to be counter-productive, as these relationships are less stable by design. Accustomed to living together without marriage, these couples also appear less likely to stay married when trouble comes. Researcher Brad Wilcox concludes that living in a cohabitating household is now the largest problem for children in America.

Social media and other forms of technology also seem to feed into a culture where there are no strong bonds between people. As MIT researcher Sherry Turkle notes, “Once we remove ourselves from the flow of physical, messy, untidy life — and both robotics and networked life do that — we become less willing to get out there and take a chance” (Alone Together). Connections through technological means are more frequent but less deep, and almost never require sacrifice. It is no wonder, then, that young people have a harder time choosing to commit to one person for the rest of their life, when they have not practiced faithful, sacrificial friendship.

Marriage, then, is like a revolt against the culture of the temporary. As Pope Francis said at World Youth Day in 2013: “I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries, to swim against the tide; yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes that you are incapable of responsibility, that you are incapable of true love.”

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Bishop Conley: “To Deny Reality”

Posted Sep. 17, 2015 by DOM 1 comment

Bp ConleyBishop Conley of the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska wrote a column in the Southern Nebraska Register entitled “To Deny Reality” referencing the Supreme Court decision that redefined marriage throughout the country.

Bishop Conley began the column speaking about the call to all human persons to “live in families patterned after the divine communion of the Most Holy Trinity, the divine family of God.” He continued on to say that, “Because God created us to live in the image of his divine communion, children have a natural right to live in families of one man and one woman.”

Bishop Conley used quotes from the 2003 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith “Considering Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons” which is still the touchstone Vatican document on this question. The bishop showed that the government has done harm to the common good by ignoring the fundamental value of the natural family, and said that “Catholics cannot deny reality.”

Drawing practical conclusions from the Vatican document, Bishop Conley explained to the faithful: “Catholics cannot directly facilitate any government action to sanction same-sex unions as marriage. And they must resist even cooperation in same-sex marriage.” He noted that this may sometimes mean leaving one’s position, which he called a “heroic witness.” He asked any Catholic who finds him- or herself in this position to speak to his or her pastor about it. And finally, Bishop Conley reminded his readers that God gives us the grace to be faithful to Him, and, “Everything we do should be in gratitude to that grace. And each of us should do all that we can to reveal that truth to the world.”

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