Oct. 27, 2013
On October 22nd, we celebrated Blessed John Paul II’s feast day. Throughout his life, Blessed John Paul II emphasized the essential importance of the family for society.
“The future of humanity passes by way of the family.
It is therefore indispensable and urgent that every person of good will should endeavor to save and foster the values and requirements of the family. I feel that I must ask for a particular effort in this field from the sons and daughters of the Church. Faith gives them full knowledge of God’s wonderful plan: they therefore have an extra reason for caring for the reality that is the family in this time of trial and of grace. They must show the family special love. This is an injunction that calls for concrete action.
Loving the family means being able to appreciate its values and capabilities, fostering them always. Loving the family means identifying the dangers and the evils that menace it, in order to overcome them. Loving the family means endeavoring to create for it an environment favorable for its development. The modern Christian family is often tempted to be discouraged and is distressed at the growth of its difficulties; it is an eminent form of love to give it back its reasons for confidence in itself, in the riches that it possesses by nature and grace, and in the mission that God has entrusted to it. ‘Yes indeed, the families of today must be called back to their original position. They must follow Christ.’”
Sep. 27, 2013
Intention: For married couples and families who are struggling financially or living in poverty – that God would provide for their needs and increase their trust in Him.
Reflection: Marriage matters to society. When a bride and groom become husband and wife on their wedding day, a new family is formed. Each family is an interdependent mini-society, born from the communion of husband and wife. As Bl. John Paul II said, the family is a “cradle of life and love.” It is the place where we learn to love and be loved.
For good reason, then, marriage and the family play a key role in Catholic social teaching (see ch. 5). The Church’s interest in marriage is not limited to religious concerns because marriage is not just a religious reality; it has major social implications, too. The Church’s concern for the poor overlaps with her concern for marriage because family breakdown has economic implications. For example, sadly, single mothers and their children are more likely to suffer from economic hardship.
Because marriage impacts each and every person in society, the Church strives to promote, strengthen, and defend marriage and the family. We pray today for all families who are struggling financially, that they would know the peace of the Lord.
Did you know? Today, we celebrate the feast day of St. Vincent de Paul. Born in France in 1580, St. Vincent was renowned for his work with the poor and sick. He founded both the Congregation of the Mission (known commonly as the Vincentians) and the Daughters of Charity. St. Vincent’s holy life inspired Bl. Frederic Ozanam to found the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which now serves the poor in 148 countries.
- Learn about the Bishops’ Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty
- Sign the pledge to fast on Fridays for life, marriage, and religious liberty
- Join the Call to Prayer Facebook event
The flawed anthropology of “sexual orientation” & the need for a renewal of anthropology and chastity (4th of 7 in a series)
Aug. 28, 2013
Note: This post is fourth in a series of posts about what we can learn from the Supreme Court’s June 2013 DOMA decision, and how that can help us better promote and defend marriage. This series is based on a July 2013 talk by staff of the USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.
- #1: Background to the Supreme Court cases
- #2: Unspoken assumptions & reframing the debate
- #3: What do you say that marriage is? The need for a comprehensive vision
In its decision on DOMA, the Court continued the trend of treating sexual orientation as a “class” marker. In other words, people who define themselves as having a homosexual orientation are de facto part of a “class” that deserves special protections from the government. The term “continued the trend” was used because it is common now to see, for example, in anti-discrimination legislation the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” used as two discrete categories of persons that may not be discriminated against.
The Catechism states that “every sign of unjust discrimination must be avoided” in regards to persons with same-sex attraction (no. 2358).
But the problem with treating “sexual orientation” as a description of a class of people is that it proposes a deeply flawed [understanding of] anthropology, or understanding of the human person. Christian anthropology teaches that each person is called to accept his or her sexual identity as a man or as a woman (Catechism, no. 2333). This is consistent with the understanding that man – male and female – is a unity of body and soul (Catechism, no. 362-368). Our identity as human persons is intimately connected with our identity as a man or as a woman. In short, the body matters.
What the language of “sexual orientation” does, anthropologically, is separate one’s identity from one’s bodily nature as a man or woman, placing a premium on one’s desires and inclinations. The body then becomes a “bottom layer” – essentially meaningless matter – over which one’s “real” identity – comprised of desires and inclinations – is super-imposed. 
Practically speaking, treating “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as classes of persons is problematic because courts and laws tend to treat these categories not only in terms of inclinations but also behaviors. This in turn leads to religious liberty conflicts, such as questions for Catholic institutions about non-discrimination in hiring those involved in same-sex “marriages”, since they could be (and have been) sued under non-discrimination laws for firing an employee who publicly entered a same-sex “marriage.”
Tip number three: Keep talking about Christian anthropology and chastity.
Even more than the question “what is marriage?” perhaps, the question “who is the human person?” goes unasked and thus unanswered (see FAQ #1). As Catholics, we have an immense treasury of insight into who the human person is – a study called anthropology, a treasury of truth about the human condition that applies to everyone, not only Catholics. As faulty anthropologies work themselves more deeply into our nation’s laws and policies, we must be tireless in present what Bl. John Paul II called an “adequate anthropology,” that is, an understanding of the human person that fits who man is as a unity of body and soul, created male and female and called to love (see Bl. John Paul II’s audiences of Jan. 16, 1980 and April 2, 1980).
Bringing it back to the human person also helps defend against the charge that the Church is being selective and only cares about married people. Not true. Christian anthropology, rightly understood, is a message of freedom for every person. In particular, Church teaching on the universal vocation to chastity is an avenue through which to approach questions of sexuality, gender, love, and marriage. Everyone – married and single, those who struggle with same-sex attraction and those who don’t – is called to chastity, because everyone is called to integrate their sexuality within themselves and to love authentically (see Catechism, nos. 2337-2347).
 Important here is the distinction between person, inclination, and act employed in the Church’s moral teaching. Every person, male and female, is created in the image of God with full human dignity. Every person is a gift, created to be a child of God. This identity of the person goes deeper than any inclination. Further, the Church teaches that, while homosexual acts are always sinful and contrary to the true good of the person, the experience of same-sex attraction is not sinful in itself. Because of free will, men and women can choose which inclinations or desires to act on. Actions – and the inclinations toward them – can be either objectively ordered toward the good, meaning toward the flourishing of the person, or not. But the person, regardless of the inclinations they experience, can never be described as fundamentally flawed or disordered. In other words, pointing out anthropological problems with the concept of “sexual orientation” does not mean that persons who describe themselves as having a particular orientation are problematic or flawed. Instead, it is questioning the underlying presuppositions about who the human person is (the philosophical field of study called anthropology) embedded within the concept of “sexual orientation” as it is generally used in law and culture.
May. 26, 2013
Sunday, May 26 is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. In his 1988 apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem, Bl. John Paul II wrote about the likeness between the Trinity and human persons.
Bl. John Paul II: God, who allows himself to be known by human beings through Christ, is the unity of the Trinity: unity in communion. In this way new light is also thrown on man’s image and likeness to God, spoken of in the book of Genesis. [link] The fact that man “created as man and woman” is the image of God means not only that each of them individually is like God, as a rational and free being. It also means that man and woman, created as a “unity of the two” in their common humanity, are called to live in a communion of love, and in this way to mirror in the world the communion of love that is in God, through which the Three Persons love each other in the intimate mystery of the one divine life.
May. 12, 2013
Visit our Facebook page to share this quote with mothers you know!
May. 10, 2013
Intention: For mothers: that they may discover the depths of love through their gift of themselves to their children, and in so doing, serve as a witness of the love to which we are all called.
Reflection: In his Letter to Families, Pope Blessed John Paul II reminds us that we can’t “fully find [ourselves] except through a sincere gift of self” (no. 11, quoting Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, no. 24). The self-sacrifice of a mother’s care for her child reveals the continuous gift of self that love entails and invites others to follow her example. There is no doubt that “love is demanding,” as Bl. John Paul II said. However, “this is precisely the source of its beauty: by the very fact that it is demanding, it builds up the true good of man and allows it to radiate to others.”
We must keep our eyes fixed on Christ, who helps us to see the people in our lives through his eyes and love them with his heart. As we celebrate this Mother’s Day, remembering our own mothers’ gift of life to us, let us take seriously our own call to self-sacrificial love, allowing that love to radiate to others.
Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!
Bl. John Paul II, pray for us!
Did you know? We’ve all heard it said that our hearts become bigger the more we love, but did you know that during pregnancy, a mother’s heart actually physically increases in size? (See: Health on the Net Foundation and British Journal of Radiology).
Also, read more about how we can follow the most perfect example of motherhood in the newest Life Issues Forum column, “Mary, Pro-Life Inspiration.”
- Learn about the Bishops’ Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty
- Sign the pledge to fast on Fridays for life, marriage, and religious liberty
- Join the Call to Prayer Facebook event
Apr. 28, 2013
Today, April 28, is the feast day of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, a married saint whom we profiled earlier in our married saints series. In honor of St. Gianna’s feast day, today’s Sunday Pope Quote comes from the 2004 mass in which Bl. John Paul II canonized St. Gianna along with five others.
Bl. Pope John Paul II: “Gianna Beretta Molla was a simple, but more than ever, significant messenger of divine love. In a letter to her future husband a few days before their marriage, she wrote: ‘Love is the most beautiful sentiment the Lord has put into the soul of men and women’.
Following the example of Christ, who ‘having loved his own…loved them to the end’ (Jn 13:1), this holy mother of a family remained heroically faithful to the commitment she made on the day of her marriage. The extreme sacrifice she sealed with her life testifies that only those who have the courage to give of themselves totally to God and to others are able to fulfill themselves.
Through the example of Gianna Beretta Molla, may our age rediscover the pure, chaste and fruitful beauty of conjugal love, lived as a response to the divine call!”
- Homily at the Canonization of Six New Saints (May 16, 2004), emphasis added
Apr. 7, 2013
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)
Feb. 24, 2013
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
Feb. 14, 2013
Happy Valentine’s Day! Today is the last day in National Marriage Week, and the last in our series on sexual difference.
So far in the series, we’ve looked at various ways that our culture describes sexual difference (part one and part two), examined Scripture and the Catechism on the subject, and added two helpful phrases to our repertoire of describing sexual difference (“asymmetrical reciprocity” and “double unity”). One important point remains to be discussed: Why does sexual difference matter?
Difference: the foundation of love
Before considering sexual difference specifically, let’s take one step back: why does difference matter? Our culture seems a bit schizophrenic on the topic of difference. On the one hand, it loudly celebrates “diversity” and the virtue most in vogue is, of course, “tolerance” for people different from you. But on the other hand, difference – especially between men and women – is often treated as suspect, as a thin veneer over inequality. In other words, equality is confused with sameness.
But in a world where everything is the same, love would be impossible. G.K. Chesterton explains why:
“I want to love my neighbor not because he is I, but precisely because he is not I. I want to adore the world, not as one likes a looking-glass, because it is one’s self, but as one loves a woman, because she is entirely different. If souls are separate, love is possible. If souls are united, love is obviously impossible. A man may be said loosely to love himself, but he can hardly fall in love with himself, or, if he does, it must be a monotonous courtship.” – Orthodoxy (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006), 128.
Difference, in other words, is what saves us from the fate of Narcissus. Difference – recognizing the other as other – is what prevents us from becoming entranced with our own reflection in a shoddy imitation of love.
But even if we accept Chesterton’s point and agree that difference is necessary for love, we might be tempted to think that sexual difference is just one of many differences between persons, such as race, height, or taste in music. What is unique about sexual difference, compared to other possible differences?
Taking bodily life seriously
First, the reality is that being human means being a man or a woman, embodied as male or female. (Even the difficult situations of those born with ambiguous genitalia are the exceptions that prove the rule. An intersex or hermaphroditic condition is not a new gender, but a combination of male and female characteristics.) Taking sexual difference seriously allows us to take the body seriously. It allows us to treat the body as an integral part of our identities, instead of a cage or shell. We are men or women both body and soul. We don’t just have a body—we are our bodies. (See the Catechism, nos. 362-368 on the human person as a unity of body and soul.)
Distinguishing in order to unite
Second, sexual difference is unique because it is inherently referential. Unlike other differences between individuals (height, ethnicity, etc.), which do not require the presence of an “other” to be understood, the bodily reality of a man is only fully understood in light of the bodily reality of a woman. Recall the point in part three of this series: the generic “Adam” is first referred to as “male – ˈiš” when he encounters Eve, the first “woman – ˈiššāh” (see Gen 2:18-25).
But the uniqueness of sexual difference doesn’t end there. The “referential” difference between man and woman does not simply distinguish between the two; it also serves as the foundation of their unity. Or, more accurately, sexual difference distinguishes in order to unite. Only because a man and a woman are sexually different are they capable of forming a complete union of body-persons; if they were the same, no such union would be possible.
In fact, the sexually-differentiated body reveals that man and woman are fundamentally “for” each other. As Bl. John Paul II explained, “The body, which expresses femininity ‘for’ masculinity and, vice versa, masculinity ‘for’ femininity, manifests the reciprocity and the communion of persons” (TOB, 14.4; see also Catechism, no. 371). Being male or female is not simply a matter of biology or anatomy; it is a witness to the call to love and communion that is inscribed within man and woman’s identity as body-and-soul (see FC, no. 11).
Open to the gift of the child
A third reason why sexual difference is unique is because it – and only it – makes two persons capable of welcoming a new child into the world. The “supreme gift” of the child (see GS, no. 50) depends on the sexual difference between father and mother. The spouses’ capacity for procreation, in turn, ensures that their sexual love does not become egotistic, an enclosed circle. The unity of spouses, wrote John Paul II, “rather than closing them up in themselves, opens them up towards a new life, towards a new person” (LF, no. 8).
The difference is the difference
To sum up: Difference is necessary for love; if all were one, love would be impossible. Love requires recognition of the “other” as “other.” But while there are many differences between persons, sexual difference – the difference of man to woman and woman to man – is a unique kind of difference. It is irreducible and primordial, fundamental to human nature and every human experience. In particular, it is the avenue toward full personal-bodily communion between a man and woman, and thus is necessary for a couple to experience the superabundant fruitfulness of conceiving a child. Both of these capacities – for union and for children – matter for marriage. In fact, they are essential for marriage. This helps us to understand why sexual difference – the difference of man to woman and woman to man – is an essential aspect of marriage. Without it, marriage is impossible.