“Gender” – as distinct from “sex” – is a term widely used today, but it is quite a new concept in history. While the term “gender” was used to denote masculinity and femininity as early as the Middle Ages (for example, in grammar), the idea that a human person’s masculinity or femininity could be separated from his or her bodily reality did not exist formally until the 1950s. Even then, the person at the origin of this concept – John Money – should give us pause, considering the controversy that surrounds him. There are many articles and books that examine the false separation of “gender” as a psychological experience and sexual difference as a biological reality, but that is not the purpose of this post.
MUR is sharing a simple resource document: a compilation of quotes from the last three pontificates, as well as other Church documents that address this phenomenon of “gender ideology” or “gender theory,” which is a position on anthropology (who a human being is) that is in conflict with the Christian one.
Please share this resource. Teachers, catechists, youth ministers, family life directors, and parents may find this compilation helpful in understanding and communicating about this topic:
“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.’”
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)
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).
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.
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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
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
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)
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
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.
This is the fifth post in our series about sexual difference.
- Common misconceptions about sexual difference (part one and part two)
- Sexual difference in Scripture and the Catechism
- Useful phrase #1: asymmetrical reciprocity
Sexual Difference & “Dual Unity”
In this post, we’ll look at a second helpful way of understanding sexual difference, one that is found in Pope John Paul II’s teachings on the theology of the body, where the Holy Father speaks of “double unity” or “dual unity.” Reflecting on the creation narratives of Genesis, John Paul II writes,
“We observed that the ‘definitive’ creation of man consists in the creation of the unity of two beings. Their unity denotes above all the identity of human nature; duality, on the other hand, shows what, on the basis of this identity, constitutes the masculinity and femininity of created man” (TOB, sec. 9.1, emphasis original).
“Unity,” then, refers to the common humanity and dignity that both men and women have – one humanity, participated in by both. In Eve, Adam finds another creature who, like himself, finds no “suitable partner” among the animals (Gen 2:20). He finds another creature created “in the image of God” (Gen 1:27). And so, as John Paul II writes, “Joy for the other human being, for the second ‘I,’ dominates in the words the man (male) speaks on seeing the woman (female)” (TOB, sec. 8.4).
Yet although man and woman are united in a common humanity, they are irreducibly different. As John Paul II puts it, “Man, whom God created ‘male and female,’ bears the divine image impressed in the body ‘from the beginning’; man and woman constitute, so to speak, two diverse ways of ‘being a body’ that are proper to human nature in the unity of this image” (TOB, sec. 13.2). The “duality” of human nature is precisely the sexual difference, masculinity and femininity.
For John Paul II, the “unity in the flesh” that takes place in the sexual encounter between man and woman has its foundation in their “unity in humanity”:
“When they unite with each other (in the conjugal act) so closely so as to become ‘one flesh,’ man and woman rediscover every time and in a special way the mystery of creation, thus returning to the union in humanity (‘flesh from my flesh and bone from my bones’) that allows them to recognize each other reciprocally and to call each other by name, as they did the first time” (TOB, sec. 10.2).
It is only because of man and woman’s unity-in-difference (two sexes within a shared humanity) that they are able to come together in the fruitful union of marriage. Without a shared humanity, this encounter would not be personal; and without being different sexes, this union “in the flesh” could not take place at all. For Pope John Paul II, the sexual difference is fundamentally “a reciprocal ‘for’ that can and must…serve the building of the unity ‘of communion’ in their reciprocal relations” (TOB, 41.4).
Next: Why Does Sexual Difference Matter?
Today’s post is the third in a series about sexual difference, in honor of National Marriage Week.
- Is sexual difference a wound or a societal construct? (Shedding light on popular claims, part one)
- Is sexual difference a chasm or just “gender roles”? (Shedding light on popular claims, part two)
In this post, we will examine Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) on the subject of sexual difference.
Jesus takes us back to the “beginning”
Both sections of the Catechism that discuss sexual difference (CCC, nos. 369-373 and nos. 2331-2336) are called “Male and Female He Created Them.” Indeed, they both guide us back to the creation accounts in Genesis (Gen 1:1-2:4 and 2:5-25). It is here, in Sacred Scripture, that we see the sexual difference of man to woman and woman to man for what it really is, an essential good arising from creation itself. The Church’s teaching on sexual difference takes its cue from Jesus, who, when questioned by the Pharisees about marriage and divorce, referred his listeners back to the “beginning”: “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’…” (Matt 19:4). 
The book of Genesis gives us not one, but two accounts of the creation story. The first (Gen 1:1-2:4) has a distinct rhythm (“Then God said…And so it happened…And it was good”), a clear progression of events, and the crucial anthropological verse: “God created man in his image…” (1:27). The second account (Gen 2:5-25) has a very different feel. Here, we get a glimpse of the interior life of the first humans, and we are allowed a window into the first encounter between Adam and Eve. Taken together, the two accounts illuminate different aspects of the human condition. According to John Paul II, “When we compare the two accounts, we reach the conviction that this subjectivity [in the second account] corresponds to the objective reality of man created ‘in the image of God’” (TOB, sec. 3:1).
What does the “beginning” reveal to us about sexual difference?
- Sexual difference is willed by God as something good: “God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them…God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good” (Gen 1:27, 31). Contrary to the myths of Aristophanes and Pandora (see this earlier post), sexual difference is not a wound or a lack, but is a blessing given to men and women by their Creator. The difficulties that sadly befall the relationship between the sexes are not part of God’s original plan, but are some of many tragic consequences of the Fall (see Gen 3:1-19).
- Men and women share an equal dignity and equal intimacy with God: “Man is a person, man and woman equally so, since both were created in the image and likeness of the personal God” (CCC, no. 2334; quoting MD, no.6). This point is said beautifully in the story of the creation of Eve from Adam’s rib (Gen 2:18-25). The original Hebrew uniquely captures the significance, as Fr. José Granados and Carl Anderson explain:
“Most of us probably interpret the account of Eve’s creation of how a male human being named ‘Adam’ got himself a wife. The picture changes somewhat when we learn that the name ‘Adam’ is actually a play on the Hebrew word for earth: hā’adāmāh. For, as John Paul II points out, it’s only after the woman is created that the Bible first uses the Hebrew word for man in the sense of ‘male’: ˈiš. When Eve appears on the scene, a new vocabulary suddenly emerges along with her: The text shifts from hā’adāmāh, which emphasizes man’s connection with the earth, to ‘is, which it then immediately pairs with the word for ‘woman’: ˈiššāh.” [ii]
They conclude, “Far from degrading women to an inferior status, then, the story of Adam’s rib actually underscores that Adam and Eve, male and female, are identical in their dignity and their common humanity” [iii]. Both Adam and Eve come directly from the hand of the Creator. As the Catechism puts it, “Man discovers woman as another ‘I,’ sharing the same humanity” (CCC, no. 371).
- Sexual difference reveals that men and women are created for communion with each other. When God created Eve and brought her to Adam, he cried out joyfully, “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen 2:23). The author of Genesis connects Adam’s exuberant cry to the institution of marriage: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body” (Gen 2:24). Centuries later, Jesus quotes this verse in response to the Pharisees’ question about divorce, and he adds, “So they [husband and wife] are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate” (Mt 19:6).
Sexual difference, present as a blessing from the very beginning of creation, is therefore the necessary foundation of marriage. Indeed, as the Second Vatican Council stated, the companionship between man and woman is nothing less than “the primary form of interpersonal communion” (GS, no. 12). As the Catechism says,
“Man and woman were made ‘for each other’ – not that God left them half-made and incomplete: he created them to be a communion of persons, in which each can be ‘helpmate’ to the other, for they are equal as persons (‘bone of my bones…’) and complementary as masculine and feminine” (CCC, no. 372).
Sexual difference, inscribed in each person’s body, reveals to us a fundamental truth about human nature: we are not meant to be solitary creatures. Instead, we are created for communion with others, a communion uniquely witnessed by the free, total, and fruitful gift of self exchanged between husband and wife for a lifetime.
Next: Two Phrases about Sexual Difference to Put in Your Back Pocket
 See Bl. John Paul II’s reflections on these words of Jesus, as well as on the creation accounts in Genesis, in the first section of his audiences on the theology of the body: TOB, nos. 1-23.
[ii] Carl Anderson and Fr. Jose Granados, Called to Love: Approaching John Paul II’s Theology of the Body (New York: Doubleday, 2009): p. 45.
Today’s post is the second in a series about sexual difference.
In Thursday’s post, we shed light on two popular (but misleading) claims about sexual difference: that it is a wound or curse, and that it is a societal construct. In this post, we’ll look at two more popular ideas about sexual difference.
Is sexual difference an unbridgeable chasm?
If sexual difference is something more than a societal construct, are we obliged to think that men and women exist on opposite sides of the great Gender Divide chasm – or even on different planets? John Gray’s 1992 book Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus popularized this view and offered numerous translation devices for Martians and Venutians who wanted to progress from intergalactic gridlock to a tentative truce.
But, as we’ll see in the next few posts, sexual difference is not an unbridgeable chasm – if what is meant by that is that men and women occupy completely separate, parallel universes. Instead, as Mary Healy titled her book on the theology of the body, “Men and Women Are From Eden.” The fact that men and women share a common humanity gives them an abiding source of communion, a shared “difference” in comparison to the rest of the world. [i] Even further, sexual difference itself is the avenue toward the unique communion of persons found in marriage. This difference is the basis for the fruitful complementarity and collaboration between men and women.
Is sexual difference simply another way of saying “gender roles”?
Some may fear that the notion of sexual difference is really just archaic gender roles in disguise. Assertions like “All women are x” or “All men are y” suggest that an individual person can be summed up simply by his or her maleness or femaleness. You’re a man, so you must like football; you’re a woman, so you must be a chocoholic. Feminists and others roundly criticize this line of thinking, noting it as stereotyping or reducing personal complexities into gender-specific traits.
But sexual difference is much more than gender roles. Masculinity and femininity are neither just a matter of anatomy nor just a matter of different functions in the home and society (although they have something to do with both). Sexual difference has first to do with one’s identity as a man or as a woman. Maleness or femaleness reaches to the very core of one’s identity, shaping one’s personality “from the inside out.” The bishops’ 2009 pastoral letter on marriage put it beautifully: “Male and female are distinct bodily ways of being human, of being open to God and to one another – two distinct yet harmonizing ways of responding to the vocation to love” (p. 10).
Reducing sexual difference to a matter of rigid “function” ignores the depth of one’s sexual identity. A man may nurture, but he nurtures as a man; a woman may provide, but she provides as a woman. There may be biological or historical reasons for tasks that were typically assigned to men and women, but it’s important not to confuse sexual difference with these tasks (or think that masculinity or femininity is first a matter of doing; it is first a matter of being).
Onward and upward
The next post will take a look at what Scripture and the Catechism say to us about sexual difference. Also, for more on sexual difference and complementarity, check out the video Made for Each Other and companion materials (Viewer’s Guide and Resource Booklet).
Next: Sexual Difference: Back to the BeginningTOB, 5.6). This solitude is both a lack (“It is not good that the man should be alone” – Gen. 2:18) and a confirmation of man’s unique identity as a self-conscious, self-determining subject who is capable of “a unique, exclusive, and unrepeatable relationship with God himself” (TOB 6.2; see also 6.1).
John Paul II is clear that the experience of “original solitude” is shared by both man and woman. It is, in fact, the very foundation of their unity: “The communion of persons could form itself only on the basis of a ‘double solitude’ of the man and the woman, or as an encounter in their ‘distinction’ from the world of living beings (animalia)” (TOB, 9.2).
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
**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)
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.” So says the Entrance Antiphon for today, the third Sunday of Advent, known as “Gaudete Sunday” from the first word in the Entrance Antiphon: “Rejoice/Gaude.” The Collect, too, speaks of awaiting “the joys of so great a salvation” brought about by Jesus’ birth. It is fitting, then, to reflect on the following passage from Bl. John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, where the Holy Father speaks of the family’s role of bringing joy into the world.
Bl. John Paul II: The Christian family has a special vocation to witness to the paschal covenant of Christ by constantly radiating the joy of love and the certainty of the hope for which it must give an account: “The Christian family loudly proclaims both the present virtues of the Kingdom of God and the hope of a blessed life to come” (Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, no. 35).
– Familiaris Consortio, no. 52
Today’s Sunday Pope Quote comes from a particularly beautiful section of Bl. John Paul II’ 1994 Letter to Families, one that is packed with rich reflection on childbearing, children, motherhood, and fatherhood. As we ponder during Respect Life month on the gift of life “in all its grandeur and beauty,” the late Holy Father reminds us here of the radical (in the eyes of the world) teaching of the Catholic Church: Every child is willed by God and wanted by Him, no exceptions. There is no such thing as an “unwanted” child. Because of this, parents are called to have an attitude of joyful receptivity toward the children, both actual and hoped-for, that are entrusted to them but are not their product or possession. Radical indeed!
Bl. Pope John Paul II: “God ‘willed’ man from the very beginning, and God ‘wills’ him in every act of conception and every human birth. God ‘wills’ man as a being similar to himself, as a person. This man, every man, is created by God ‘for his own sake‘. [GS 24] That is true of all persons, including those born with sicknesses or disabilities. Inscribed in the personal constitution of every human being is the will of God, who wills that man should be, in a certain sense, an end unto himself. God hands man over to himself, entrusting him both to his family and to society as their responsibility. Parents, in contemplating a new human being, are, or ought to be, fully aware that God ‘wills’ this individual ‘for his own sake’.”
– Letter to Families, no. 9 (italics original, bold added)
Bl. John Paul II: According to the plan of God, marriage is the foundation of the wider community of the family, since the very institution of marriage and conjugal love are ordained to the procreation and education of children, in whom they find their crowning (see GS, 50).
In its most profound reality, love is essentially a gift; and conjugal love, while leading the spouses to the reciprocal “knowledge” which makes them “one flesh,”(Gen 2:24) does not end with the couple, because it makes them capable of the greatest possible gift, the gift by which they become cooperators with God for giving life to a new human person. Thus the couple, while giving themselves to one another, give not just themselves but also the reality of children, who are a living reflection of their love, a permanent sign of conjugal unity and a living and inseparable synthesis of their being a father and a mother.
– Familiaris Consortio, no. 14 (emphasis added)
- FAQs on marriage and children
- Bl. Pope John Paul II’s writings on marriage on the Church Teaching page
About this series:
Every Sunday, the Marriage: Unique for a Reason blog will feature a short quote from our current Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, our late Holy Father, Bl. John Paul II, or another pope. These men have given the world an immense treasury of wisdom about marriage, love, and the meaning of the human person, all of which are topics integral to the Church’s witness today. Their words are well worth reflecting on, as we have much to learn from these wise successors of St. Peter.
October is Respect Life month. This time each year, the USCCB Secretariat for Pro-life Activities releases a series of pamphlets, bulletin inserts, posters, and more that highlight various life issues. This year, one of the pamphlets focuses on marriage:
Written by professor Helen Alvaré, the pamphlet draws its title from Bl. Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Centesimus Annus: “It is necessary to go back to seeing the family as the sanctuary of life. The family is indeed sacred: it is the place in which life – the gift of God – can be properly welcomed and protected against the many attacks to which it is exposed” (no. 39).
In the pamphlet, professor Alvaré gives a basic catechesis on marriage, noting that the esteem with which the Christian faith views marriage, as a sacrament of Christ’s love for his Church, runs counter to a calculated or utilitarian view (what’s in it for me?). She also notes that while our society is becoming more and more forgetful of the essential meaning of marriage (man and woman together for life and open to children), the Catholic “model” of marriage, with self-donation at its heart, continues to “work,” meaning that it provides joy, stability, and purpose to men and women and their children.
The pamphlet ends with a description of marriage as “a grand calling, a dramatic part of existence”: “Marriage is not just one choice among many in a person’s life. It is not a mere contract with another person, more or less lasting, for an exchange of love and good times. . . . Catholics hold that marriage is a vocation, a ‘call.’ It is a way of life that offers continual opportunities to be in loving service to the other. . . .It is both a splendid reality and serious business.”
Marriage is indeed the sanctuary of life, a sanctuary worth upholding and defending.