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National Marriage Week: Why does sexual difference matter at all? Why does it matter for marriage?

Posted Feb. 14, 2013 by Marriage Unique for a Reason 1 comment

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.

 

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National Marriage Week: Is sexual difference a chasm? Is it just about gender roles?

Posted Feb. 9, 2013 by Marriage Unique for a Reason No comments yet

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.

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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 Beginning

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[i] In his reflections on the creation accounts found in Genesis, Bl. Pope John Paul II points out that the first man, Adam, realizes that he is different from the rest of creation and experiences what he calls “original solitude”: “Man is alone because he is ‘different’ from the visible world, from the world of living beings” (TOB, 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).

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Sunday Pope Quote: Pius XI on the Union of Souls

Posted Nov. 18, 2012 by Marriage Unique for a Reason No comments yet

Pope Pius XI: “By matrimony, therefore, the souls of the contracting parties are joined and knit together more directly and more intimately than are their bodies, and that not by any passing affection of sense of spirit, but by a deliberate and firm act of the will; and from this union of souls by God’s decree, a sacred and inviolable bond arises. Hence the nature of this contract, which is proper and peculiar to it alone, makes it entirely different both from the union of animals entered into by the blind instinct of nature alone in which neither reason nor free will plays a part, and also from the haphazard unions of men, which are far removed from all true and honorable unions of will and enjoy none of the rights of family life.”

- Encyclical Casti Connubii, no. 7 (December 31, 1930), emphasis added

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"The gift for life…the gift of life."

Posted Oct. 2, 2012 by Marriage Unique for a Reason No comments yet

Note: We’ve been reading through the Viewer’s Guide for the video “Made for Each Other.” In the video, married couple Josh and Carrie reflect on the meaning of sexual difference. Each section of the Viewer’s Guide takes a quote from either Josh or Carrie and fleshes it out. The goal of the Viewer’s Guide is to help you, the reader, become more confident in promoting and defending the meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

In part 8 (the final part), we’ll think about what it means that marriage is a gift, and how marriage is an indispensable model for the world.


“The gift for life…the gift of life.”

Josh sums everything up in these concise words. Marriage is the gift for life and the gift of life. It’s unique and irreplaceable—the fundamental institution for life.

The Church affirms that the love of husband and wife is a great good in and of itself, even if, for non-deliberate reasons, they do not receive the gift of a child. Marriage uniquely bridges sexual difference without emptying the difference of man and woman of its meaning and value.

The Church also teaches that human marriage is a foreshadowing of the marriage between Christ and his Church and that sacramental marriage actually participates in and shows forth the love between Christ and his Church (see Eph 5:28-33).

Marriage lived in truth is an indispensable model of communion for the world and is always an affirmation of life. The love of husband and wife reminds the couple and the rest of the world that no one is completely an isolated individual, that we need one another at the most fundamental level. This love is meant to be the context for welcoming, forming, and educating new life. This is why marriage, as a personal relationship, has always been recognized to have great, public significance. The love of spouses, the responsibilities of mothers and fathers, and the rights of children—all are tied to the unique truth of marriage and its protection and promotion.

The Church will never waver in her teaching that marriage is the union of a woman and a man. Marriage is the union of two distinct persons: man and woman, who, in the sacrament, signify Christ and his Church and embody the very love between them. From the beginning, man and woman are made for each other. There is nothing else like it. To abandon sexual difference in marriage would be to abandon the quest for unity between men and women.

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"Every time we make love…we're making life…giving life…It's not just sex…I come alive, and there's a sense of forever in that."

Posted Sep. 21, 2012 by Marriage Unique for a Reason 2 comments

Note: Over the next few weeks, we’ll be reading through the Viewer’s Guide for the video “Made for Each Other.” In the video, married couple Josh and Carrie reflect on the meaning of sexual difference. Each section of the Viewer’s Guide takes a quote from either Josh or Carrie and fleshes it out. The goal of the Viewer’s Guide is to help you, the reader, become more confident in promoting and defending the meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

This is part 7 of the series, and we’ll reflect on what it means that married love is unitive and procreative, and also look at the deeper meaning of sex and the good of friendship.

“Every time we make love…we’re making life…giving life…It’s not just sex…I come alive, and there’s a sense of forever in that.”

While not every husband may put into words what Josh expressed, Josh is speaking about more than just personal experience. He’s getting at the deeper meaning of sex, of conjugal love, the love between husband and wife. The unique bond of spousal love is itself life-giving. This is what the Church means by the inseparability of the unitive and procreative aspects of the conjugal act. [i]

The Church’s teaching on marriage and sexual difference is deeply connected with her teaching on sex itself. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 2360), “Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. In marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and a pledge of spiritual communion.” Human sexuality in the context of marriage is an organic, holistic reality. Sex is both procreative and unitive, meaning that sex can lead to new life and unite the spouses. [ii]

How about we go deeper: Within the context of marriage, these three elements, sexual difference, spousal love, and natural procreation (fruitfulness), work together. [iii] A husband and wife’s love for each other directs their sexual energies exclusively toward their spouse. Spouses’ sexual activity brings them closer together, and may result in a child whom they both love. The child is equally the child of both husband and wife, now father and mother. And when these elements are together and respected, the child is welcomed as a gift. Also, as expressed by Josh and Carrie in their openness to life, married love is still called to be fruitful even without the blessing of a child. [iv]

The modern alternative to the Church’s teaching is that sex is a private recreational activity, that it may be deliberately made sterile and has no moral or social significance. In this view, it is “perfectly proper” to disconnect sex from marriage, from procreation and even from love. Sexual difference becomes reduced to a superficial and arbitrary social construct. The modern world teaches that we can have sex without babies, have babies without sex, and have either without any connection with one’s husband or wife. The modern world considers these legitimate expressions of our independence and freedom.

This downgrading of the sexual act to immediate pleasure, rather than the true and complete union of two persons, man and woman, has gone hand in hand with the increasing isolation between men and women. Sex in the context of marriage creates deep and meaningful connection between the sexes. But in modern society, sex is often focused on the self and on personal pleasure, rather than on mutual self-giving. In this context where sex is detached from marriage, sex ceases to be a union of anything, but rather simply and exclusively an occasion for mutual stimulation. Sexual acts performed with these attitudes do not create a union of persons but deter such a union. Instead of being a couple who give to each other, objectively the people are a pair of individuals who take from each other.

In this context as well, authentic and holy friendship, a good for all people, has suffered and has been devalued. The heroic recovery of the inseparable connection between chastity and true, virtuous friendship is needed today.



[i] See Pope Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae (1968), no. 12; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction Donum Vitae (1987), part 2, no. 4; and CDF, Instruction Dignitas Personae (Washington, DC: USCCB, 2008).

[ii] For more information on married love and the Church’s teaching on the difference between Natural Family Planning and contraception, see USCCB, Married Love and the Gift of Life (Washington, DC: USCCB, 2006).

[iii] See Angelo Cardinal Scola, The Nuptial Mystery, trans. Michelle K. Borras (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), 82-109 and 362-367.

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"That's why it's unique to a man and a woman."

Posted Sep. 7, 2012 by Marriage Unique for a Reason No comments yet

Note: Over the next few weeks, we’ll be reading through the Viewer’s Guide for the video “Made for Each Other.” In the video, married couple Josh and Carrie reflect on the meaning of sexual difference. Each section of the Viewer’s Guide takes a quote from either Josh or Carrie and fleshes it out. The goal of the Viewer’s Guide is to help you, the reader, become more confident in promoting and defending the meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Part 4 talks about the essential difference between marriage and same-sex “unions” and gives some helpful analogies.

“That’s why it’s unique to a man and a woman.”

Josh here states a simple yet central fact of human life and history. Marriage is unique to a man and a woman. This is not arbitrary or fabricated. There’s a reason for it: “That’s why…” In fact, there are many reasons. But they rest first on sexual difference. The difference is the difference. Without sexual difference, one can’t speak of marriage or anything analogous to marriage.

This clearly relates to the question of same-sex “marriage” and the various types of same-sex “unions.” The Church recognizes that this can be an emotional and difficult issue. It’s important always to consider the human person. Every human person is made in the image and likeness of God, with a dignity that can never be erased. [i] Every person deserves love and respect, as well as truth. “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (Jn 13:34). When the Church teaches difficult truths, she witnesses to Christ who “loved to the end” (cf. Jn 13:1).

The Church intends no disrespect for our brothers and sisters who experience same-sex attraction. The Church reminds us that we are all called to the Lord’s grace and mercy. Christ died for each and every one of us. The Church reaches out to persons who experience same-sex attraction. [ii] She calls all people to a life of holy fulfillment, that is, to a deeper and fuller union with Jesus Christ. As support along the way in a life of chastity and virtue, the Church speaks to the importance and great good of healthy and holy friendships, family and community support, prayer and sacramental grace. Any lack of respect, compassion, or sensitivity towards persons with a homosexual inclination is unacceptable. The protection and promotion of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is and must always be found within this context of love and respect for all persons.

Fundamentally, what’s missing in the assumption that persons of the same sex can marry is sexual difference. Two persons of the same sex are too similar to form a complementary union of persons. Bodily, two men or two women are “the same,” not different or distinct. Healthy and holy friendship is possible, but not conjugal union. A conjugal or marital union comes about only through sexual difference. Sexual acts between persons of the same sex are neither unitive nor procreative in kind. [iii] Such acts can never form a true union of bodies and persons and are contrary not only to the Church’s teachings but to the truth of their very persons as witnessed by the language of the body. [iv] On the other hand, spouses give themselves to each other in a sexually and personally distinctive way. Only a husband and a wife have the space or capacity to receive truly each other’s distinctive sexual gift, and only a husband and a wife can make a gift of their selves to the other in that way.

Take Josh’s analogy. Marriage is like water. The distinct elements of oxygen and hydrogen combine to make water, something totally new and unique. Without the different elements, water cannot exist. Likewise, without the difference of man and woman, marriage cannot exist.

Carrie’s analogy also helps. A woman and a man are like a violinist and cellist, respectively, who play the same piece of music (i.e., their humanity) in different but harmonious ways (i.e., as woman and as man). A man and a woman complement each other in a totally unique way. Without this complementarity grounded in sexual difference, marriage simply cannot be.

There’s nothing mean-spirited in recognizing and protecting the unique truth of marriage. It’s the truth of love and the truth of the person, and living in accord with the truth will always be what’s best for us. Even when difficult, the truth sets us free. 



[i] See Gn 1:26-27; 5:1-2, 9:6b-7; Wis 2:23; Sir 17:1; and Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes (1965), no. 12.

[ii] See Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 2357-2359. See also USCCB, Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care (Washington, DC: USCCB, 2006).

[iii] “Procreative in kind,” meaning: With the capacity to make life, or ordered to life. Even spouses who are infertile or sterile (through no fault of their own) or beyond child-bearing years still express their love in sexual acts that are “procreative in kind,” open to life, open to the other.

[iv] See Bl. John Paul II’s teachings on the theology of the body, sections 103:4-6; 104:1, 4, 7-9; 105:1-6; 106:1-4, and others throughout the text.

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"We were made for each other, as a man and a woman"

Posted Aug. 30, 2012 by Marriage Unique for a Reason No comments yet

Note: Over the next few weeks, we’ll be reading through the Viewer’s Guide for the video “Made for Each Other.” In the video, married couple Josh and Carrie reflect on the meaning of sexual difference. Each section of the Viewer’s Guide takes a quote from either Josh or Carrie and fleshes it out. The goal of the Viewer’s Guide is to help you, the reader, become more confident in promoting and defending the meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

In the first section, we’ll look at the basic meaning of marriage and the role of reason and faith.

“We were made for each other, as a man and a woman.”

Carrie states something that is very basic. Man and woman are made for each other in a way that is absolutely unique. We see this through their sexual difference, even if we just look to the human body as male or female. God’s plan for men and women is a great one.

Marriage is the lifelong, exclusive union of one man and one woman. It is more than a legal category. Marriage is a communion of persons, a communion of love between husband and wife meant to be the source of the family and society. God’s vision and plan for marriage is not idealistic. That’s why Jesus referred his interlocutors back to the beginning (see Mt 19:4-6; Mk 10:6-8). [i]

We are meant for union and communion, to be in relation with others. [ii] In Genesis, the first book of the Bible, God says, “It is not good for man to be alone.” God’s solution to man’s isolation is not to create another identical man. God’s creation of the animals does not satisfy the longing Adam feels for communion. God creates woman from the body of the man and gives man and woman to each other. Then God says, “For this reason, a man shall leave his mother and father and cling to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Mt 19:5; cf. Gn 2:24).  This is the first marriage.

Even our friends and neighbors who do not accept the truth of the Bible can see the point here. The two becoming one flesh refers to the physical act of sexual intercourse, as well as to the spiritual communion between the man and the woman. People from every religion, or no religion at all, can confirm the power and uniqueness of a man and a woman “becoming one flesh” with each other in marriage.

In other words, the truth of marriage between one man and one woman can be known by human reason through the natural moral law (the law according to the nature of the person, not just biological or physical laws), always with the help of God’s grace. The truth of marriage is not only a concern of the Church or religion—it’s truth for everyone. As Catholics, we also understand that faith sheds light on marriage. Christ raised marriage between the baptized to be a sacramental image of his love for the Church. Faith and reason don’t conflict here. In fact, they never do. [iii]

Next: more about sexual difference and complementarity


[i] See Pope John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body (TOB), trans. Michael Waldstein (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2006), 1 – 4 (audience numbers); Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Veritatis Splendor (Washington, DC: USCCB, 1993), nos. 22 and 53.

[ii] See Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], nos. 45, 371-372, 1603-1604, and 1877-1879.

[iii] See CCC, no. 159.

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Sunday Pope Quote: Corpus Christi edition

Posted Jun. 10, 2012 by Marriage Unique for a Reason No comments yet

Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, or the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, a feast universally instituted by Pope Urban IV in 1264. St. Thomas Aquinas composed the office – or prayers – for this feast day, which includes the words for the well-known hymns Pange Lingua and Panis Angelicus. (n.b. In some areas of the world, such as Rome, Corpus Christi is celebrated on the Thursday following Most Holy Trinity Sunday.)

Today’s Pope Quote is from Bl. John Paul II’s 1988 apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem. Here the Holy Father speaks about the connection between marriage and the Eucharist, something we’ve highlighted before in the Sunday Pope Quotes.

Bl. John Paul II: We find ourselves at the very heart of the Paschal Mystery, which completely reveals the spousal love of God. Christ is the Bridegroom because “he has given himself”: his body has been “given”, his blood has been “poured out” (cf. Lk 22:19-20). In this way “he loved them to the end” (Jn 13:1). The “sincere gift” contained in the Sacrifice of the Cross gives definitive prominence to the spousal meaning of God’s love. As the Redeemer of the world, Christ is the Bridegroom of the Church. The Eucharist is the Sacrament of our Redemption. It is the Sacrament of the Bridegroom and of the Bride. The Eucharist makes present and realizes anew in a sacramental manner the redemptive act of Christ, who “creates” the Church, his body. Christ is united with this “body” as the bridegroom with the bride. All this is contained in the Letter to the Ephesians. The perennial “unity of the two” that exists between man and woman from the very “beginning” is introduced into this “great mystery” of Christ and of the Church.

- Mulieris Dignitatem, no. 26

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Sunday Pope Quote: Trinity Sunday Edition

Posted Jun. 3, 2012 by Marriage Unique for a Reason No comments yet

Today, on the Sunday dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity, here are two Pope Quotes that reflect on the connection between Trinitarian theology and anthropology, that is, between who God is (three Persons, one God) and who man is (created in God’s image).

Bl. John Paul II: “Being a person in the image and likeness of God thus also involves existing in a relationship, in relation to the other ‘I’. This is a prelude to the definitive self-revelation of the Triune God: a living unity in the communion of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

Mulieris Dignitatem, no. 7

Pope Benedict XVI: “In Mulieris Dignitatem, John Paul II wished to deepen the fundamental anthropological truths of man and woman, the equality of their dignity and the unity of both, the well-rooted and profound diversity between the masculine and the feminine and their vocation to reciprocity and complementarity, to collaboration and to communion (cf. n. 6). This “uni-duality” of man and woman is based on the foundation of the dignity of every person created in the image and likeness of God, who “male and female he created them” (Gn 1: 27), avoiding an indistinct uniformity and a dull and impoverishing equality as much as an irreconcilable and conflictual difference (cf. John Paul II, Letter to Women, n. 8).

“This dual unity brings with it, inscribed in body and soul, the relationship with the other, love for the other, interpersonal communion that implies “that the creation of man is also marked by a certain likeness to the divine communion” (Mulieris dignitatem, n. 7). Therefore, when men and women demand to be autonomous and totally self-sufficient, they run the risk of being closed in a self-reliance that considers ignoring every natural, social or religious bond as an expression of freedom, but which, in fact, reduces them to an oppressive solitude. To promote and sustain the real advancement of women and men one cannot fail to take this reality into account.”

Address to the Participants in the International Convention on the Theme “Woman and Man, the Humanum In Its Entirety” (Feb. 9, 2008)

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Pastoral Letter on Marriage from Maine's Bishop Malone

Posted Mar. 6, 2012 by Marriage Unique for a Reason 6 comments

Bishop Richard Malone of Portland, Maine wrote a pastoral letter on marriage on the occasion of World Marriage Day, this past February 12, 2012: “Marriage: Yesterday – Today – Always.” The letter clearly reflects the bishop’s role as teacher (see CCC, nos. 888-892): it lays out the foundations for the Church’s teaching on marriage as found in sacred Scripture, sacred Tradition, and the natural law. It responds to the contemporary challenge of the proposal to redefine marriage but does so in the context of an expansive vision of marriage’s timeless beauty and essential place in society. In sum, Bishop Malone’s letter serves as a timely “mini catechesis” on marriage and a firm but gentle reminder of what society stands to lose if marriage is redefined in the law.

Highlights:

Part One: Introduction

  • Goal: “to reflect with you…upon the greatness and the beauty of marriage – as an original gift of the Lord’s creation and, consequently, as a vocation and as the foundational institution of family and society” (p. 1)
  • All are called to the vocation of holiness. Within this universal vocation is the call to holy orders, consecrated virginity, and marriage. (p. 2)
  • Challenges to marriage: cohabitation, divorce, contraception, and marriage redefinition that rejects the essential place of sexual difference (p. 3-4; see USCCB, Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan [2009], pp. 17-27).
  • Maine law currently defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman, a union it describes as “of inestimable value to society” (p. 5).

Part Two: What is Marriage?

  • A basic definition: “Marriage is the lifelong exclusive union of one man and one woman – a font of unitive life and love as well as the foundation of a stable family and society” (p. 6).
  • Marriage is rooted in creation: “God created marriage in the very same breath as He created the human person” (p. 8).
  • Every heart longs for communion; marriage is a unique kind of communion where man and woman “truly become one” (p. 9).
  • Sexual difference matters to parenting, that is, to fathering and mothering: “The mother and the father, each in her/his own way, provide a loving space for the child, one by accenting union, the other by accenting distinction” (p. 10).
  • “A child is meant to have a mother and a father. Children long for this and it is their right” (p. 10).
  • Infertility does not diminish the goodness of a marriage: “The marital union of a man and a woman is a distinctive and complementary communion of persons. An infertile couple continues to manifest this attribute” (p. 12; see Love and Life, p. 14).
  • Children are a gift and not something that spouses have a “right” to (p. 12).

Part Three: Marriage and the Natural Law

  • Going to the roots: “Even the Church’s teaching about marriage is rooted in something far older and more fundamental than religious doctrine: it is the law of nature which furthers the order of creation and establishes the activities of all creatures” (p. 13).
  • About natural law: Natural law is our participation in God’s eternal law (p. 12); natural law shows us what conforms to our human nature (good actions) and what is at variance with our nature (bad actions) (p. 13-14); natural law is immutable, enduring and unchangeable (p. 14); and natural law is “the source from which both civil law and Church law emerge” (p. 15).
  • Natural law guides civil law to properly respect and foster the common good; marriage plays a key role in furthering the common good for all people (p. 17-18).

Part Four: Marriage: A Unique Relationship

  • “Marriage is a unique union, a relationship different from all others. It is the permanent bond between one man and one woman whose two-in-one-flesh communion of persons is an indispensable good at the heart of every family and every society” (p. 18).
  • Marriage is not… “the appearance of a union”… “a partial commitment”… “simply friendship” (p. 19).
  • Marriage is… “more than just a loving relationship”… “more than just a committed relationship”… “more than just about access to certain state-sponsored benefits” (p. 20).
  • What about benefits for unmarried persons? “The state has various legal means at its disposal to facilitate people’s ability to care for and support each other. We do not need to redefine marriage to accomplish this” (p. 20).
  • The place of justice in the marriage debate: “To promote and protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman is itself a matter of justice” (p. 21).

Part Five: Marriage and the Good of Society

  • For the good of children: “When we recognize true marriage and support it, we ensure that as many children as possible know and are known by, love and are loved by, the mother and father in the exclusive marital embrace” (p. 22).
  • For all of society: “Everyone has a stake in a stable, flourishing, and loving society created and sustained in no small part by marriage between a man and a woman” (p. 22).

A Final Word

  • “As your bishop, whose primary responsibility is that of teacher, it is my hope that this document will challenge everyone who reads it to embrace anew the truth, beauty and goodness of marriage as it has always been and always will be” (p. 23).

Read Bishop Malone’s pastoral letter, “Marriage: Yesterday – Today – Always