In late January or early February, the Pope begins the judicial year with an address to the Roman Rota, the Church’s appellate court. In 2002, Pope John Paul II used the occasion to discuss how indissolubility is good for both the family and the common good, because annulments are large part of the tribunal’s work.
I want to examine indissolubility as a good for spouses, for children, for the Church and for the whole of humanity.
A positive presentation of the indissoluble union is important, in order to rediscover its goodness and beauty. First of all, one must overcome the view of indissolubility as a restriction of the freedom of the contracting parties, and so as a burden that at times can become unbearable. Indissolubility, in this conception, is seen as a law that is extrinsic to marriage, as an “imposition” of a norm against the “legitimate” expectations of the further fulfilment of the person. Add to this the widespread notion that indissoluble marriage is only for believers, who cannot try to “impose” it on the rest of civil society.
Marriage “is” indissoluble: this property expresses a dimension of its objective being, it is not a mere subjective fact. Consequently, the good of indissolubility is the good of marriage itself; and the lack of understanding of its indissoluble character constitutes the lack of understanding of the essence of marriage. It follows that the “burden” of indissolubility and the limits it entails for human freedom are no other than the reverse side of the coin with regard to the good and the potential inherent in the marital institution as such. In this perspective, it is meaningless to speak of an “imposition” by human law, because human law should reflect and safeguard the natural and divine law, that is always a freeing truth (cf. Jn 8,32).
—John Paul II, Address to the Prelate Auditors, Officials, and Advocates of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota 28 January 2002. (italics original, bold added)
Pope Francis celebrated his inauguration mass on the Feast of St. Joseph (March 19). His whole homily is worth reading, but here is some of what he had to say about St. Joseph as protector of Jesus and Mary:
How does Joseph exercise his role as protector? Discreetly, humbly and silently, but with an unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand. From the time of his betrothal to Mary until the finding of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem, he is there at every moment with loving care. As the spouse of Mary, he is at her side in good times and bad, on the journey to Bethlehem for the census and in the anxious and joyful hours when she gave birth; amid the drama of the flight into Egypt and during the frantic search for their child in the Temple; and later in the day-to-day life of the home of Nazareth, in the workshop where he taught his trade to Jesus.
The vocation of being a “protector”, however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about. It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time, protect their parents. It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness. In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of God’s gifts!
I implore the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, Saints Peter and Paul, and Saint Francis, that the Holy Spirit may accompany my ministry, and I ask all of you to pray for me! Amen.
– Pope Francis: Homily at the Mass for the inauguration of the Pontificate 19 March 2013 (emphasis added)
Please pray for the pope as he begins his Petrine ministry.
At 8:00 p.m. Italian time on Thursday, February 18, Pope Benedict XVI concluded his pontificate and the Church entered a time of “Sede Vacante,” the time in between the end of one pontificate and the election of a new pope. For helpful materials on the Sede Vacante, please see this USCCB resource page.
Thank you, Pope Benedict, for your leadership of the Church during your eight years as pope! In a particular way, thank you for your consistent and courageous teaching on the meaning of marriage. You have given the Church a wealth of insight on what marriage is and why it matters to the world.
Please visit the Church Teaching page and click on Pope Benedict XVI to see a selection of the many, many addresses, speeches, and exhortations on marriage by our now-Pope Emeritus, such as:
“God created us male and female, equal in dignity, but also with respective and complementary characteristics, so that the two might be a gift for each other, might value each other and might bring into being a community of love and life.” – Homily at the closing mass of the 7th World Meeting of Families in Milan (June 3, 2012)
“Dear friends, all human love is a sign of the eternal Love that created us and whose grace sanctifies the decision made by a man and a woman to give each other reciprocal life in marriage. Live the period of your engagement in the trusting expectation of this gift.” – Address to engaged couples (Sept. 11, 2011)
“Marriage has a truth of its own – that is, the human knowledge, illumined by the Word of God, of the sexually different reality of the man and of the woman with their profound needs for complementarity, definitive self-giving and exclusivity – to whose discovery and deepening reason and faith harmoniously contribute.” – Address to Members of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota (Jan. 27, 2007)
We will continue to share Pope Benedict’s wisdom about marriage, the human person, and the family here on Marriage: Unique for a Reason. Thank you, Holy Father Emeritus.
Bl. John Paul II: Man’s need for truth and love opens him both to God and to creatures: it opens him to other people, to life “in communion”, and in particular to marriage and to the family. In the words of the Council, the “communion” of persons is drawn in a certain sense from the mystery of the Trinitarian “We”, and therefore “conjugal communion” also refers to this mystery. The family, which originates in the love of man and woman, ultimately derives from the mystery of God. This conforms to the innermost being of man and woman, to their innate and authentic dignity as persons.
- Letter to Families, no. 8, emphasis added
Today’s Sunday Pope Quote comes from the next-to-last Wednesday audience of Pope Benedict XVI, given on Ash Wednesday, February 13, 2013. As reported by Vatican Radio, thousands of pilgrims in excess of the 3500 ticket-holders gathered to hear the Holy Father’s words, given two days after his surprising announcement that he would “renounce the ministry of the Bishop of Rome” on February 28, 2013. In his remarks, Pope Benedict reflected on the meaning of conversion, a traditional Lenten theme, and on what it means to live as a Christian in today’s society.
Pope Benedict XVI: “Today we can no longer be Christians as a simple consequence of the fact that we live in a society that has Christian roots: even those born to a Christian family and formed in the faith must, each and every day, renew the choice to be a Christian, to give God first place, before the temptations continuously suggested by a secularized culture, before the criticism of many of our contemporaries.
“The tests which modern society subjects Christians to, in fact, are many, and affect the personal and social life. It is not easy to be faithful to Christian marriage, practice mercy in everyday life, leave space for prayer and inner silence, it is not easy to publicly oppose choices that many take for granted, such as abortion in the event of an unwanted pregnancy, euthanasia in case of serious illness, or the selection of embryos to prevent hereditary diseases. The temptation to set aside one’s faith is always present and conversion becomes a response to God which must be confirmed several times throughout one’s life.”
- Wednesday audience (Feb. 13, 2013), Vatican radio translation
Pope Benedict XVI continues to speak and preach about marriage, giving us ample wise words to reflect on. Today’s Pope Quote comes from a recent papal address (January 19, 2013) given to the participants in the plenary meeting of the pontifical council Cor Unum. In this address, the Holy Father lays out two visions of the human person, and of what brings happiness. In doing so, he shows how intimately connected marriage is with what it means to be human, particularly man’s social nature.
Pope Benedict XVI: “The Christian vision of man is, in fact, a great ‘yes’ to the dignity of persons called to an intimate filial communion of humility and faithfulness. The human being is not a self-sufficient individual nor an anonymous element in the group. Rather he is a unique and unrepeatable person, intrinsically ordered to relationships and sociability. Thus the Church reaffirms her great ‘yes’ to the dignity and beauty of marriage as an expression of the faithful and generous bond between man and woman, and her no to ‘gender’ philosophies, because the reciprocity between male and female is an expression of the beauty of nature willed by the Creator.”
- Address (January 19, 2013), emphasis added
Today’s Sunday Pope Quote is a short little quote from Bl. Pope John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio.
Bl. John Paul II: “All members of the family, each according to his or her own gift, have the grace and responsibility of building day by day the communion of persons, making the family ‘a school of deeper humanity’ [GS 52]: This happens where there is care and love for the little ones, the sick, the aged; where there is mutual service every day; when there is a sharing of goods, of joys and of sorrows.”
- Familiaris Consortio, no. 21
Today’s Sunday Pope Quote comes from another recent address by Pope Benedict XVI, this time his homily for the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord (Jan. 6, 2013). While he does not mention marriage directly, the Holy Father offers guidance and exhortation to bishops (and all of us) to courageously preach the truth, even when it runs against the prevailing cultural headwinds (as the Church’s teaching on marriage most certainly does).
Pope Benedict XVI: “The humility of faith, of sharing the faith of the Church of every age, will constantly be in conflict with the prevailing wisdom of those who cling to what seems certain. Anyone who lives and proclaims the faith of the Church is on many points out of step with the prevalent way of thinking, even in our own day. . . . Therefore the courage to contradict the prevailing mindset is particularly urgent for a Bishop today. He must be courageous. And this courage or forcefulness does not consist in striking out or in acting aggressively, but rather in allowing oneself to be struck and to be steadfast before the principles of the prevalent way of thinking. The courage to stand firm in the truth is unavoidably demanded of those whom the Lord sends like sheep among wolves. ‘Those who fear the Lord will not be timid’, says the Book of Sirach (34:16). The fear of God frees us from the fear of men. It liberates.”
- Homily on the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord (Jan. 6, 2013), emphasis added
On December 21, Pope Benedict XVI spoke to the Roman Curia on the occasion of their annual Christmas greetings. His address was something of a year-in-review, looking at key moments from 2012. One such key moment was the World Meeting of Families in Milian from May 30 to June 3, which the Pope said showed that “despite all impressions to the contrary, the family is still strong and vibrant today.” And yet serious challenges remain, challenges that threaten the family “to its very foundations.” Today’s Sunday Pope Quote is actually a collection of quotes drawn from the Holy Father’s Dec. 21 reflections on the family and the human person. Here he goes to the heart of the cultural crisis of marriage and the family: ultimately it is a question of who the human person is and whether the given reality of being created male and female is to be accepted…or rejected.
“The question of the family is not just about a particular social construct, but about man himself – about what he is and what it takes to be authentically human.”
“Only in self-giving does man find himself, and only by opening himself to the other, to others, to children, to the family, only by letting himself be changed through suffering, does he discover the breadth of his humanity.”
“The attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother, and child, goes much deeper. While up to now we regarded a false understanding of the nature of human freedom as one cause of the crisis of the family, it is now becoming clear that the very notion of being – of what being human really means – is being called into question.”
“According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed.”
“Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned.”
“The child has lost the place he had occupied hitherto and the dignity pertaining to him. … From being a subject of rights, the child has become an object to which people have a right and which they have a right to obtain.”
“When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God, as the image of God at the core of his being. The defense of the family is about man himself.”
**Whoops! This post was meant to be shared on December 30th, the feast of the Holy Family. Sorry about that. Nonetheless, it’s a lovely reflection for any day.
Today is the feast of the Holy Family. It’s also the first day that Catholics are invited to participate in a special Holy Hour for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty as part of the bishops’ Call to Prayer movement. Today’s Sunday Pope Quote comes from Bl. John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio and is a reflection about the connection between the Holy Family and every family.
Bl. John Paul II: And now, at the end of my pastoral message, which is intended to draw everyone’s attention to the demanding yet fascinating roles of the Christian family, I wish to invoke the protection of the Holy Family of Nazareth.
Through God’s mysterious design, it was in that family that the Son of God spent long years of a hidden life. It is therefore the prototype and example for all Christian families. It was unique in the world. Its life was passed in anonymity and silence in a little town in Palestine. It underwent trials of poverty, persecution and exile. It glorified God in an incomparably exalted and pure way. And it will not fail to help Christian families – indeed, all the families in the world – to be faithful to their day-to-day duties, to bear the cares and tribulations of life, to be open and generous to the needs of others, and to fulfill with joy the plan of God in their regard.
- Familiaris Consortio, no. 86 (bold added)