An initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops


Subjectivism and Egoism: Love and Responsibility Series (Post #19)

Posted Oct. 16, 2017 by DOM No comments yet

“Emotion can develop and adapt itself to the shape which a man consciously wills”[i] Wojtyla writes at the beginning of the next section of Love and Responsibility. Human beings can mold their feelings, gradually, by conscious thoughts and choices.  If you’ve ever gone to therapy, you’ve experienced this: thinking about something differently changes how you feel about it. “The integration of love requires the individual consciously and by acts of the will to impose a shape on all the material that sensual and emotional reactions provide.”[ii] So even if a man and woman are strongly attracted to each other (bodily and emotionally), it is their choices that will determine whether love will grow.

Wojtyla makes a quick distinction here. Subjectivity is just a fact of human life and experience. A person experiences the world from the “inside,” i.e. with one’s distinct point of view. Subjectivism is when subjectivity is raised up as the only or the highest criteria by which to evaluate love. In other words, as long as two people feel in love, that’s all that matters. While it’s absurd, Wojtyla says, to think of love without emotion, it is equally absurd to reduce it to emotion alone. In fact, “emotion has its dangers,” he writes, and “may affect one’s apprehension of the truth.”[iii] Emotion may blind a person to facts; he or she gets caught up in the feelings of love and judges the relationship’s goodness based on these feelings. When this happens, Wojtyla warns that emotion may be detached from realty (“He’s so wonderful… okay, he hit me that one time, but…”), and the objective rules of behavior may be replaced by “authenticity” (i.e. since we really love each other, we can have sex even though we’re not married yet). “Genuine emotion,” writes Wojtyla, “may inform an act which objectively is not good.”[iv] When it comes to the relationship of man and woman, true and strong (and good!) feelings can lead to actions that are not truly loving. They do not correspond to the value of the person and their ultimate happiness. Just because it “feels right” doesn’t mean it is right. This is what Wojtyla means by the subjectivism of values. “Pleasure becomes the only value, and the only scale by which we measure values.”[v] It is not hard to imagine what would happen in a world where everyone just looked for pleasure at the expense of everything else. It ain’t pretty.

This is how egoism grows in a relationship, Wojtyla writes. An egoist only cares about himself or herself, and this means that an egoist cannot love. The crazy thing is that, as Wojtyla points out, there can be a “bilateral accommodation between egoisms,” because egoism “permits calculation and compromise,” even while it excludes love.[vi] So there could easily be a relationship that looks pretty good from the outside but is really still based on two egoisms: two people who are both self-centered but want to be “in a relationship” enough to make certain concessions. Pleasure is really the only goal of each of them, whether sensual or emotional. Perhaps surprisingly, Wojtyla notes that, “Emotional egoism can be the cause of unchastity in a relationship between the man and woman just as surely as sensual egoism, though in a different way.”[vii] (The book Emotional Virtue touches on this!)

Wojtyla ends this section with an exhortation to always seek to integrate the objective and subjective sides of love, even though this takes “special effort.”[viii]

[i] Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), p. 153.

[ii] Ibid, p. 153.

[iii] Ibid, p. 154.

[iv] Ibid, p. 154.

[v] Ibid, p. 155.

[vi] Ibid, p. 157.

[vii] Ibid, p. 158.

[viii] Ibid, p. 158.

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The Resentment of Chastity: Love and Responsibility Series (Post #17)

Posted Oct. 9, 2017 by DOM No comments yet

This whole next section of Love and Responsibility is entitled, “The Rehabilitation of Chastity.” This is a strange title, no? Why would chastity need to be rehabilitated? Did it hurt itself?

“Rehabilitation restores [a person or thing]’s good name and right to respect,”[1] Wojtyla writes. When it’s put that way, it doesn’t take much consideration to see that the virtue of chastity does need rehabilitation in our culture. Is there any other virtue (i.e. objectively good quality) that is as ridiculed on television, movies, magazines, or music? Is there any other virtue that people are ashamed of embarrassed to own in mixed company? Can you imagine a party, for example, where someone says, “Yeah, I’m pretty disciplined, like, I get up at 7 every day, even on weekends because I know it’s good for me,” and another person says “WHAT? Are you KIDDING? That is so lame! You’re a loser,” and then points it out to others as a freakish quality? I don’t think so.

We see in our culture a serious resentment of chastity. People laugh at it. They don’t see it as a positive value; they don’t want to attain it. In fact, some people can’t even comprehend people who do. What these people know is that it is not easy, and the fact that some (albeit, few) people do strive for it is a judgment on their own actions. “So in order to spare ourselves the effort, to excuse our failure to obtain this value, we minimize its significance, deny it the respect which it deserves, even see it as in some way evil.”[2] Consider how Cosmo or even Seventeen encourages sexual experimentation as “natural” or “healthy” even while ignoring objective evidence that it is harmful and often leads to profound unhappiness. Consider how one man’s confession that he really tries hard never to look at pornography can make other men feel angry at him.

People make arguments against the goodness of chastity in a way that they don’t about any other virtue. One argument is physical—that it is “unhealthy” to “repress” your sexuality. News flash: no one ever died from not having sex! Another argument is that chastity is the enemy of love; that love cannot grow between a man and a woman if the sexual expression of it is reserved for marriage. “It is arguments of this sort that particularly encourage the growth of resentment,”[3] Wojtyla notes. This argument, when it takes root, makes the person who is striving for chastity feel guilty or selfish. Think about the classic line, “If you really loved me, you would…” How many teenagers (or adults, for that matter!) have succumbed to this false argument and regretted it? Real love doesn’t ask anyone to do something that is not good for them.

Sex does not somehow “produce” love. On the contrary, if the desire of the man or woman is simply to “possess” the other person (sexually or emotionally), love will be stunted; it will not grow. “Love develops on the basis of the totally committed and fully responsible attitude of a person to a person.”[4] It is a deep and serious thing. “Only the correct concentration of particular sensual and emotional elements around the value of the person entitles us to speak of love,”[5] Wojtyla says. Everything has to come together—this is the miracle!—attraction, emotion, and the will (or commitment). This is only possible when the persons have attained the virtue of chastity. “The word ‘chaste’ (‘clean’) implies liberation from everything that ‘makes dirty,’”[6] Wojtyla writes. Seeing a person as an object or using him or her for the sake of pleasure is what makes a sexual action “dirty” (i.e. unworthy of the persons committing it). Chastity is the specific virtue that guards the person in this vulnerable sphere of sexuality, where the effects of original sin (a tendency toward selfishness) are so strong.

[1] Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), p. 143.

[2] Ibid, p. 143.

[3] Ibid, p. 144.

[4] Ibid, p. 145.

[5] Ibid, p. 146.

[6] Ibid, p. 146.

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Adult Children of Divorce

Posted Jun. 30, 2017 by DOM No comments yet

The conversation about divorce often discusses its impact on children in various ways, but doesn’t always take up the question of how divorce affects those children when they become adults.

Since many adults today are facing struggles and difficulties because their parents divorced, it may be time to face the fact that divorce is not a one-time event. It comes up at every holiday, every family celebration, every family tragedy.

In Amoris Laetitia, quoting the Relatio from the 2015 Synod, Pope Francis offers a kind of examination of conscience for people who have divorced: “how did they act towards their children when the conjugal union entered into crisis; whether or not they made attempts at reconciliation; what has become of the abandoned party; what consequences the new relationship has on the rest of the family and the community of the faithful; and what example is being set for young people who are preparing for marriage.”

This last point is perhaps the biggest question for those adult children whose parents have separated. How do they learn to trust that love will not “fail,” in their case? Knowing that they have a higher chance of divorce because of this family history,[1] how do they face the future with hope?

How can the Church do more to reach out to adult children of divorce and help them to heal from this experience?

[1] Here is a link to one study that shows this, though there are many that corroborate it:

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WMOF Catechesis Chapter 10: Choosing Life

Posted Aug. 19, 2015 by DOM 1 comment

World Meeting of Families Catechesis Series
The USCCB is excited about the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) being held in Philadelphia in September 2015.  We are presenting a series of short articles focused on the WMOF Catechesis Love is our Mission: The Family Fully Alive and its implications for our daily lives. We will follow the timing suggested by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia by exploring one theme each month leading up to the World Meeting.

Chapter Ten: Choosing Life
Dr. Theresa Notare
Secretariat for Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth

Happiness in life requires courage and work. Happiness comes at a price. Want to play the guitar like a rock star? You will have to take music lessons and practice for hours daily. Want to have a strong, lean body? You will have to eat healthy food and exercise regularly. The list is endless. Hard work and sacrifice are a prerequisite to true, mature happiness.

As people of faith, we know that happiness arises from living a life that is in harmony with God’s will and leads us to fulfill our purpose. Chapter Ten of the catechism for the World Meeting of Families highlights this when it says that: “God made us for a reason… to love as He does” (no. 189). When we “understand that love is our mission,” this truth will “shape many other areas of life” (Ibid.). This can be clearly seen in marriage and family which, when founded on Christ, is a school of love.[1]

The vows in a Catholic marriage speak of the self-gift that the husband and wife make to each other in Christ. This requires “dying to self” as the two put aside “I” to become “we.” Married love, including its sexual expression, is holy. When lived in accord with God’s plan, conjugal love should “reverence God’s vision of human sexuality.”[2] This requires that the couple trust in God’s plan for their marriage, including whether and/or when they are able to have children. It may also ask for courage since Catholic couples will have to reject contraception which does harm to God’s design.

Many married Catholics do not realize the deep happiness that they can have in their marriages when God is at the center of everything. They can express God’s love for one another while they also honor His design, including their sexual lives. Sexual intercourse, as willed by God, is a holy time for husband and wife. It fortifies their union and is the worthy place for receiving new life. Honoring God’s will does not mean that couples can’t regulate the number of children in their families. When they need to postpone or avoid pregnancy, they may continue to honor God’s design by practicing one of the methods of Natural Family Planning (NFP).

NFP methods respect God’s gift of fertility by learning about it in a thoughtful way.  No drugs or devices are introduced into the conjugal act; rather, the bodies of both man and woman are fully respected in their life-giving potential, and “listened” to. If a couple needs to avoid a pregnancy they refrain from sex when they are fertile. When they realize that God may be calling them to have a child, because of their knowledge of NFP they would also know the best time to attempt a pregnancy. This, of course, takes study

and practice (most NFP methods require charting the signs of fertility). All NFP methods also require self-discipline since periodic sexual abstinence is the NFP means to avoid pregnancy. This can be very difficult, but it is doable with the help of grace and the habit of self-discipline which is common to all virtues.

When couples persevere in learning and using NFP, they reap many benefits. All NFP methods are effective for both attempting to achieve or avoid pregnancy. They are also good for the body since no devices or drugs are used. In fact, NFP methods are the “organic” way to live with human fertility—they do not pollute the environment. Most importantly, NFP methods teach married couples to understand their bodies and to communicate with each other about their fertility and their relationship. These conversations can foster deeper couple communication that can improve their relationships. NFP research confirms this benefit showing that NFP couples feel respected by their spouses.[3] NFP helps married couples commit to real happiness—the deep happiness of living life according to God’s plan!

[1] See the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1657.
[2] Committee for Pro-Life Activities, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Human Sexuality from God’s Perspective, Humanae vitae 25 Years Later,” (1993); available at:
[3] L. VandeVusse, L. Hanson, R. J. Fehring, A. Newman, J. Fox, “Couples’ views of the effects of natural family planning on marital dynamics,” Journal of Nursing Scholarship 35, no. 2 (2003):171-176.


Chapter 9- Mother, Teacher, Family: The Nature and Role of the Church

Posted Jul. 22, 2015 by DOM 1 comment

World Meeting of Families Catechesis Series

The USCCB is excited about the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) being held in Philadelphia in September 2015.  We are presenting a series of short articles focused on the WMOF Catechesis Love is our Mission: The Family Fully Alive and its implications for our daily lives. We will follow the timing suggested by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia by exploring one theme each month leading up to the World Meeting.

Chapter Nine: Mother, Teacher, Family: The Nature and Role of the Church
Dr. Andrew Lichtenwalner
Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth

What’s in an Image?

The ninth chapter of the World Meeting of Families preparatory catechesis, “Mother, Teacher, Family: The Nature and Role of the Church,” begins in the following way: The Church has institutional forms because she must work in the world. But that does not exhaust her essence. The Church is the Bride of Christ, a “she,” not an “it.”

What do we think of when we hear the Church described as “Bride” and “Mother”? What’s our first impression? Does it have anything to do with us?

My mom and dad raised me in the Catholic faith and encouraged a love for the Church from my earliest years. I don’t recall them speaking about the Church as “Mother” at home the way they talked of God as “Father,” but I think they conveyed that sense to me very naturally and practically in the way they lived the faith—love for Christ and love for the Church go together.

I remember during grad school coming across the work of Henri de Lubac, a French Jesuit theologian who was later made a Cardinal by Pope St. John Paul II. De Lubac had a great love for the image of the Church as Mother. In seeking to perceive and grasp the nature of the Church, his personal experience led him to describe in a simple, childlike way  “the first of all words: the Church is my mother.” He said that the two words “Mother Church” (Ecclesia mater) express “the very reality of Christian life.”

How can the very reality of Christian life be conveyed by calling the Church our Mother? Because the Christian life is conceived and generated by her and lived in and through her. There is no Christian life without the Church.

To call the Church our Mother, which Pope Francis himself has done on many occasions, is not a mere pious expression or sentimentality. Christian discipleship hinges on the Church being our Mother, and the Church is only Mother because she is first the Bride of Christ. Encountering and following Jesus depends first and always on grace, which we receive from the Lord through the Church. The Church can only be fruitful in discipleship and truly a Mother if she is united to Christ, close to Him as His Bride. Without Him, we can do nothing.

The Church was loved into existence by Christ. The Fathers of the Church saw the Church being formed like the New Eve, drawn out of the pierced side of Christ on the Cross. The Church is not a haphazard byproduct or afterthought of the saving work of Christ but the intended fruit of Christ’s mission of redemption manifest with the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The world was created for the Church, the Bride of Christ, who as Mother would be the place of re-creation and regeneration in the Spirit.

In other words, Christ and the Church are inseparable. A Christian artist has expressed it well, saying that in Christ’s words: “You cannot care for Me, with no regard for her. If you love Me, you will love the Church.”

The image of the Church as the Bride of Christ, in addition to the image of the Church as the Body of Christ, powerfully conveys the mystery of the intimate union between Christ and the Church. The image of the Church as Mother conveys the fruitfulness that comes from being united in and with Christ. These images not only concern us but are about us. We are the Church in a real way. We are called to bear Christ to the world. As St. Augustine said to encourage Christians to live up to their identity: Be the bride.

As sinners, we know that we are in need of grace and do not always live up to the gift of holiness which marks the Church. The images of the Church as Bride of Christ and Mother encourage us to “press towards the mark” and to understand Christian discipleship as inseparable from loving the Church.

Even if we haven’t given the images of the Church as Bride of Christ and Mother much thought before, if we love the Church as Christ does, we are already living those images.






Spiritual Accompaniment: Evangelii Gaudium

Posted Apr. 15, 2015 by DOM 2 comments

MUR-art-of-accompanimentLessons from Evangelii Gaudium #12
Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation on the proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world, Evangelii Gaudium or “The Joy of the Gospel,” has many points that are relevant to the work of Marriage: Unique for a Reason.  This series will explore some of these themes and apply Pope Francis’s words to the culture of marriage and family in the United States.

Spiritual Accompaniment (nos. 169-173)

In evangelization, part of our task is to provide the attentive and loving presence of Christ to others, which entails being fully aware of and present often as we can. Pope Francis points out that our culture is “paradoxically suffering from anonymity and at the same time obsessed with the details of other people’s lives, shamelessly given over to morbid curiosity” (no. 169). In both of these cases—not knowing our next door neighbors but knowing all the details of our friend’s dinner from Facebook – we inadequately  recognize  the other people as unique children of God, with all of their particular needs, struggles, and gifts to offer. The culture is in dire need of Christ’s “closeness and his personal gaze” (no. 169). It is not only the task of ordained ministers and pastoral workers to make this presence known to others; instead, Pope Francis reminds us we must all be initiated into this “art of accompaniment” (no. 169). The clergy and the laity alike must foster a proper disposition towards others that “teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other” (cf. Ex 3:5).

While sufficient attention must be given to those whom we are accompanying spiritually, Pope Francis warns against a lapse into “a sort of therapy supporting their self-absorption” (no. 170). We must keep in mind that each individual achieves true freedom only in God, while sin binds us and makes us a dim version of who we are. Our path of accompaniment must be therefore be likened to a “pilgrimage,” towards the Father in a life of virtue (no. 171). We cannot condone wrong actions or encourage people to focus on themselves alone. Attainment of virtue is a process, a habitus that requires much patience and correction.

The Holy Father encourages “the art of listening, which is more than simply hearing,” as the best way to show our respectful and compassionate presence on the journey (no. 171). By listening we are reminded of the mystery of each person in their relationship to God. We can never know everything about this relationship from the outside. Because of this, we must always aid and correct others by recognizing and helping them to realize “the objective evil of their actions, but without making judgments about their responsibility and culpability” (no. 172). Through listening, prudence, and our own experience, we will come to learn the best ways in each situation to gain trust and encourage growth.

“Genuine spiritual accompaniment always begins and flourishes in the context of service to the mission of evangelization,” and this mission starts within the family (no. 173). Marriage is to be a place of spiritual accompaniment, where respect and compassion for one’s spouse abides. Being open with each other about your faults and failings in virtue, always with prudence and kindness, can be an opportunity for growth. Many married couples attest that no matter how well you know your spouse, they are still always a mystery. Make this week one in which you embody the art of listening.

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Evangelii Gaudium, Marriage and Family: Part Two

Posted Jan. 22, 2015 by DOM No comments yet

Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation on the proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world, Evangelii Gaudium or “The Joy of the Gospel,” has many points that are relevant to the work of Marriage: Unique for a Reason. This series will explore some of these themes and apply Pope Francis’s words to the culture of marriage and family in the United States.

From the Heart of the Gospel
Pope Francis writes in this section about how the deep and beautiful truths of the Gospel are often not communicated effectively in the modern world because of the focus of mass communications on the controversial or difficult moral teachings. He calls the pastoral ministers of the Church to concentrate instead on, “the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary” (no. 35).

Christian Marriage, which takes into account the basic human desire to love and be loved, to give life and receive it, is certainly one of the most beautiful and appealing aspects of the Gospel. Marriage is essentially a response to a love that precedes it— God’s love. “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16) that Christian spouses are able to love one another with His own love.

The Gospel transforms daily life; it enlivens our hearts with hope and trust in God. We experience the Holy Spirit through joy and peace, generosity and service. God is visible in gatherings of families—children running around playing while the adults converse, for example, and in religious communities—working together with smiles and unruffled patience. These are witnesses to the faith that are “most appealing and at the same time most necessary.”

Portait of a big family having a picnic at a vineyard

Why most necessary? Because there is fear in the modern heart. Getting married and raising a family based on Christ’s love has always been a daunting though enriching task embraced by many young people, but today many young people are delaying marriage or even not getting married at all. The most recent Pew research study, for example, showed that a record number of young adults in America are unmarried and that many young people do not see marriage as a priority. Cohabitation has increased, more children are born out of wedlock, and divorce is fairly common.

In these circumstances, the Gospel of the Family in the context of “the harmonious totality of the Christian message” (no. 39) is ever more necessary. Men and women need to hear and see that God can do even what seems impossible: bond two flawed human beings together for life, in love and fidelity. This is “the fragrance of the Gospel” (no. 39). Married couples, young and old, share your love visibly and inspire young people with your witness of fidelity!

Thank you for reading the second post of our Evangelii Gaudium – Marriage and Family blog post series. We hope you enjoyed it. Please stay updated through our blog and social media sites for future blog post!  Click on the image below to be directed to all published articles within the Evangelii Gaudium blog series.

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