Archbishop Chaput, Chairman-Elect for the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth at the USCCB, gave the Tocqueville Lecture at the University of Notre Dame on September 15th, 2016. The full text is available here. The middle section, reprinted here, examines the importance of a true understanding of human sexuality:
So, what does any of this have to do with sex, family and the liberty of the Church? I’ll answer the question this way.
I’ve been a priest for 46 years. During that time I’ve heard something more than 12,000 personal confessions and done hundreds of spiritual direction sessions. That’s a lot of listening. When you spend several thousand hours of your life, as most priests do, hearing the failures and hurts in people’s lives – men who beat their wives; women who cheat on their husbands; the addicts to porn or alcohol or drugs; the thieves, the hopeless, the self-satisfied and the self-hating – you get a pretty good picture of the world as it really is, and its effect on the human soul. The confessional is more real than any reality show because nobody’s watching. It’s just you, God and the penitents, and the suffering they bring with them.
As a priest, what’s most striking to me about the last five decades is the huge spike in people – both men and women — confessing promiscuity, infidelity, sexual violence and sexual confusion as an ordinary part of life, and the massive role of pornography in wrecking marriages, families and even the vocations of clergy and religious.
In a sense, this shouldn’t surprise. Sex is powerful. Sex is attractive. Sex is a basic appetite and instinct. Our sexuality is tied intimately to who we are; how we search for love and happiness; how we defeat the pervasive loneliness in life; and, for most people, how we claim some little bit of permanence in the world and its story by having children. The reason Pope Francis so forcefully rejects “gender theory” is not just because it lacks scientific support — though it certainly has that problem. Gender theory is a kind of metaphysics that subverts the very nature of sexuality by denying the male-female complementarity encoded into our bodies. In doing that, it attacks a basic building block of human identity and meaning — and by extension, the foundation of human social organization.
But let’s get back to the confessional. Listening to people’s sexual sins in the Sacrament of Penance is hardly new news. But the scope, the novelty, the violence and the compulsiveness of the sins are. And remember that people only come to Confession when they already have some sense of right and wrong; when they already understand, at least dimly, that they need to change their lives and seek God’s mercy.
That word “mercy” is worth examining. Mercy is one of the defining and most beautiful qualities of God. Pope Francis rightly calls us to incarnate it in our own lives this year. Unfortunately, it’s also a word we can easily misuse to avoid the hard work of moral reasoning and judgment. Mercy means nothing – it’s just an exercise in sentimentality – without clarity about moral truth.
We can’t show mercy to someone who owes us nothing; someone who’s done nothing wrong. Mercy implies a pre-existing act of injustice that must be corrected. And satisfying justice requires a framework of higher truth about human meaning and behavior. It requires an understanding of truth that establishes some things as good and others as evil; some things as life-giving and others that are destructive.
Here’s why that’s important. The truth about our sexuality is that infidelity, promiscuity, sexual confusion and mass pornography create human wreckage. Multiply that wreckage by tens of millions of persons over five decades. Then compound it with media nonsense about the innocence of casual sex and the “happy” children of friendly divorces. What you get is what we have now: a dysfunctional culture of frustrated and wounded people increasingly incapable of permanent commitments, self-sacrifice and sustained intimacy, and unwilling to face the reality of their own problems.
This has political consequences. People unwilling to rule their appetites will inevitably be ruled by them — and eventually, they’ll be ruled by someone else. People too weak to sustain faithful relationships are also too weak to be free. Sooner or later they surrender themselves to a state that compensates for their narcissism and immaturity with its own forms of social control.
People too worried or self-focused to welcome new life, to bear and raise children in a loving family, and to form them in virtue and moral character, are writing themselves out of the human story. They’re extinguishing their own future. This is what makes the resistance of so many millennials to having children so troubling.
The future belongs to people who believe in something beyond themselves, and who live and sacrifice accordingly. It belongs to people who think and hope inter-generationally. If you want a portrait of what I mean, consider this: The most common name given to newborn male babies in London for the past four years in a row is Muhammad. This, in the city of Thomas More.
Weak and selfish individuals make weak and selfish marriages. Weak and selfish marriages make broken families. And broken families continue and spread the cycle of dysfunction. They do it by creating more and more wounded individuals. A vast amount of social data shows that children from broken families are much more likely to live in poverty, to be poorly educated, and to have more emotional and physical health issues than children from intact families. In other words, when healthy marriages and families decline, the social costs rise.
The family is where children discover how to be human. It’s where they learn how to respect and love other people; where they see their parents sacrificing for the common good of the household; and where they discover their place in a family story larger than themselves. Raising children is beautiful but also hard work. It’s a task for unselfish, devoted parents. And parents need the friendship and support of other likeminded parents. It takes parents to raise a child, not a legion of professional experts, as helpful as they can sometimes be.
Only a mother and father can provide the intimacy of maternal and paternal love. Many single parents do a heroic job of raising good children, and they deserve our admiration and praise. But only a mother and father can offer the unique kind of human love rooted in flesh and blood; the kind that comes from mutual submission and self-giving; the kind that comes from the complementarity of sexual difference.
No parents do this perfectly. Some fail badly. Too often the nature of modern American life helps and encourages them to fail. But in trying, parents pass along to the next generation an absolutely basic truth. It’s the truth that things like love, faith, trust, patience, understanding, tenderness, fidelity and courage really do matter, and they provide the foundation for a fully human life.
Of course some of the worst pressures on family life come from outside the home. They come in the form of unemployment, low pay, crime, poor housing, chronic illness and bad schools.
These are vitally important issues with real human consequences. And in Catholic thought, government has a role to play in easing such problems – but not if a government works from a crippled idea of who man is, what marriage is, and what a family is. And not if a government deliberately shapes its policies to interfere with and control the mediating institutions in civil society that already serve the public well. Yet this could arguably describe many of the current administration’s actions over the past seven years.
The counterweight to intrusive government is a populace of mature citizens who push back and defend the autonomy of their civil space. The problem with a consumer economy though – as Christopher Lasch saw nearly 40 years ago — is that it creates and relies on dependent, self-absorbed consumers. It needs and breeds what Lasch called a “culture of narcissism,” forgetful of the past, addicted to the present and disinterested in the future. And it’s hard to argue with the evidence. In his inaugural speech of 1961, John F. Kennedy could still tell Americans, quite confidently, to “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Today I wonder how many of us might find his words not only naïve and annoying, but an inversion of priorities.
If we want strong families, we need strong men and women to create and sustain them with maturity and love. And as a family of families, the Church is no different. The Church is strong when her families and individual sons and daughters are strong; when they believe what she teaches, and then witness her message with courage and zeal.
She’s weak when her people are too tepid or comfortable, too eager to “fit in” or frankly too afraid of public disapproval, to see the world as it really is. The Church is “ours” only in the sense that we belong to her as our mother and teacher in the family of God. The Church does not belong to us. We belong to her. And the Church in turn belongs to Jesus Christ who guarantees her freedom whether Caesar likes it or not.
The Church is free even in the worst persecution. She’s free even when many of her children desert her. She’s free because God does exist, and the Church depends not on numbers or resources but on her fidelity to God’s Word. But her practical liberty — her credibility and effectiveness, here and now, in our wider society — depends on us. So we should turn to that issue in the time remaining.
The word “reciprocity” originated in the middle of the 18th century, from the Latin word meaning “moving backward and forward.”[i] It is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “The practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit.”[ii]
Reciprocity is a frequently-used term when referring to the relationship between the sexes. Many theologians, in particular, pair it with the word “asymmetrical,” so today we will look at these two words together.
Human beings like to have reciprocal relationships. With our relatives, friends, and particularly spouses, we do not like to feel as if one person does all the “giving” and the other all the “receiving,” (or, more cynically, the “taking”). We want to experience our relationships as balanced—even if our idea of balance does not match up with that of other people or society at large. Reciprocity means, in relationships, that there is a giving and a giving-back in love. As the actor in Made for Each Other says, marriage is not 50-50, it’s 100-100. But imagine if one spouse, Jack, feels they are giving 100% in the relationship, and the other, Jill, suspects that Jack is really only giving 75% of his effort into it, holding back on X, Y or Z. Trouble is bound to follow.
When I was in high school, I remember getting frustrated with my parents’ relationship, in which, from my perspective, my mom “did everything.” According to my enlightened (i.e., teenaged) mind, their relationship lacked reciprocity. Years later, I found out that my parents did not see it that way. My mom’s doing the chores was her way of showing love (acts of service), which is not the same as my dad’s.[iii] This is a reminder that reciprocity in a relationship cannot be measured from the outside.
Add “asymmetrical” to “reciprocity” and you have a closer approximation of the love of God. He always gives first. Our relationship with Him is always asymmetrical in that way. When we give to God, it is in response to Him who loved us first—“In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
Marriage is also asymmetrical in a number of ways, many of which are based on sexual difference. The most obvious example is that of childbearing. It is indisputable that the woman gives more of herself to the infant for the nine months of gestation and a certain length of time after birth than the man does. This is not “fair” or “equal”; it may not even seem “complementary” since there is not really a parallel for the man. But it can (and must) be integrated into a relationship of reciprocity, albeit “asymmetrical”. A husband can certainly respond to the needs of his wife, especially after having a child, by supporting and encouraging her in any number of ways. Meanwhile, a man may be able give more of himself in some other way. For example, traditionally it is the man who kneels down to ask a woman to marry him; in this way he is imaging an “asymmetrical” type of love, a love that takes the first step and places itself at the service of the other. Marriage is full of little imbalances which, paradoxically, result in true balance.
[i] “Reciprocity.” Oxford Dictionaries. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/reciprocity (accessed February 23, 2016).
[iii] If you’ve never heard of the 5 love languages, check out Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages.
For the final February reflection on complementarity, MUR looks to Sr. Prudence Allen’s article, “Man-Woman Complementarity: The Catholic Inspiration” for insight. Allen is one of the most influential Catholic theologians in this particular area, and this article focuses on the historical development of the concept of integral complementarity which was mentioned last week.
Integral complementarity holds together the two elements of identity (equal dignity) and difference when it comes to the sexes. Allen writes, “When one of the two fundamental principles of gender relation—equal dignity and significant difference—is missing from the respective identities of man and woman, the balance of a complementarity disappears into either a polarity or unisex theory.”[i] Balance is a key word to keep in mind whenever the issue of complementarity arises.
Allen reviews briefly the historical development of theories on gender and sexual difference, pointing out that “fractional complementarity” (such as Plato’s idea of two “halves”) easily leads to stereotypes of what a man or a woman should do or is capable of, usually placing men in a superior position. On the other hand, ideologies like Marxism reject any acknowledgment of difference in preference of a unisex approach. Radical feminism seems to go in both directions at various times, taking a more fractional view in order to place women above men, or looking to abolish (forcibly, if necessary) any difference between the sexes.
To look at a Catholic understanding, Allen turns to Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) and Dietrich von Hildebrand. Stein sees that the bodily difference between male and female is but a fraction of the whole picture, and that the true difference is metaphysical, since “Matter serves form, not the reverse.”[ii] Pointing out that a woman is created in such a way as to support life from within while a man does so in a detached form leads, Stein believes, to a fundamentally different experience of the world. She sees this as a woman being inwardly receptive and more personal and holistic in her thinking while a man is more outwardly focused and compartmentalized in his thinking. Allen notes that Stein’s thought has some weaknesses as to particular characteristics of masculinity and femininity, but she made a large contribution. Von Hildebrand emphasizes, like Stein, the metaphysical dimension of complementarity. Both man and woman are complete persons, in no way incomplete if they are not married, for example. When a man and a woman come together, though, “the effect is synergetic” and something new happens. Allen describes this with the formula 1+1à3.[iii] It is worth noting that this is not limited to the gift of a child (as wonderful as that is!) but applies in all areas where collaboration results in something that is greater than the sum of its parts.
The rest of Allen’s article (which I encourage you to read in full) is a survey of the excellent and unparalleled contributions of Pope St. John Paul II to this field of knowledge. His work deepened complementarity to the ontological level—in other words, he saw the difference between man and woman at the level of being, at the very center of their existence.
In conclusion, Allen writes that while the world and secular society vacillate between the two poles of polarity and sameness, the Catholic faith steps in to offer an integrated view in which man and woman are called together to “transform the world through a new evangelization of cooperation and interpenetrating work.”[iv]
Nowadays, statements about sexual difference are never without controversy. Science is always conducted by human beings, none of whom can be completely objective, and everyone’s experience necessarily comes into play when this topic is discussed. We can all find exceptions to every so-called “rule” about what men or women are good at, or are like.
You may remember the dust-up in 2005, when Harvard University President Larry Summers made remarks about the fewer number of women in the “hard sciences,” such as physics. He suggested that some of this disproportion may be due to an innate difference in male and female mathematical ability. He was made to apologize for his statement, which had been perceived as highly controversial and demeaning to women. Without delving into this particular issue, we should consider whether differences like this must be regarded as negative, if they do exist. Perhaps the fact that a statement about difference is taken to be negative by so many reveals a deep cultural bias toward particular skills or aptitudes, such as higher mathematics, which, more often than not, are skills that are typically associated with men rather than women.
Where is the outcry when someone points out the innate difference between men and women when it comes to multitasking? As a rule (which always admits exceptions), women are much more naturally skilled at it; they (or “we,” since the writer is a woman) can keep track of many things at the same time. Why is that skill seen as any less important than an aptitude for higher mathematics?
This strange value scale is also tied to the way that caregivers of all kinds tend to be less valued than other positions in the workforce, despite being possibly the most important for the overall health of the community. Think of stay-at-home parents, teachers, nurses, or social service providers. Should people who fulfill those roles really be considered less important or valuable than others?
Instead of these negative ways of viewing sexual differences, let’s look at how the Church treats them. Pope St. John Paul II wrote that being made in the image of God and called to the gift of self “applies to every human being, whether woman or man, who live it out in accordance with the special qualities proper to each.”[i] A man giving himself necessarily looks and is experienced differently from a woman giving herself. This is not only on the bodily level in sexual union, but before that, through their spiritual exchange and contributions to those around them. In fact, according to St. Edith Stein, the soul has “priority” in the difference of the sexes—in other words, the soul is masculine or feminine and that is why the body is, not the other way around, since the soul is the “form” of the body.[ii] It is sexual difference that allows persons to give themselves away, whether that is in marriage or virginity, and this is not only positive but also a source of new life (as Peter and Katie talk about in Made for Life).
Next week, we’ll get more into this “integral complementarity” model which seems to be the best fit for the work of Pope St. John Paul II in the area of sexual difference, and is expounded by Prudence Allen and a number of other theologians.
[i] Mulieris Dignitatem, no. 7.
[ii] For more detailed explanation of Stein’s philosophy, and others, please see Prudence Allen, RSM, “Man-Woman Complementarity: The Catholic Inspiration” in Logos 9:3, Summer 2006.
This post is by no means exhaustive, or even representative, of all the thinking about male-female complementarity that has been done in the field of philosophy. It is simply a sample of ideas on the topic that may prove helpful.
Aristotle (384-322 BC) talks about complementarity in terms of the division of labor in the family. He writes about the friendship of husband and wife in Nicomachean Ethics (Book VIII, Chapter xii). Noting that the home is “prior and more necessary” than the political world, Aristotle asserts that work is divided between the two in order to provide for one another. He also argues that children, the common good of the couple, are what bind them together. Aquinas (1225-1274) points out that man and woman united in marriage are meant to be educators for their children, not only procreators (Question XLIX, second article).
Social commentator G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) wrote an essay entitled “The Equality of Sexlessness” in which he joked that, “When all are sexless, there will be equality. There will be no women and no men. There will be but fraternity, free and equal. The only consoling thought it that it will endure but for one generation.”[i] In his writing, he continually affirms the importance of domestic life for all of society, since it shapes the future generations, and he points out that children “require to be taught not so much anything as everything.”[ii] This, he says, is why women are such incredible multi-taskers and “janes of all trades.”
Christian theologian Gilbert Meilaender (b. 1946) penned an essay on male-female friendship arguing that friendship between persons of different sexes is always qualitatively different from same-sex friendship. Basing some of his reflections on the aforementioned Nicomachean Ethics, Meilaender says that friends enjoy sharing in activities together, knowing that another person likes the same things they like. “The friend must be ‘another,’” he writes, “but not entirely ‘an-other,’” as with someone of the opposite sex. They understand each other differently. This is observable through common experience. “I know exactly how you feel,” is more likely to be said truly to someone of the same sex. Meilaender postulates that conversation always changes, even if the topic does not, when a person of the opposite sex joins in. (This is supported by the popular book genre that promises to help readers interpret the other sex’s speech, such as You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation). Miscommunication between the sexes is also a ripe field for the scope of comedy, as seen in this fictional conversation by Dave Barry.
There seems to be general agreement in the world today that there are differences between the sexes, and that they are a result of both nature and nurture; there’s disagreement mostly about how different, and what those differences may imply. Next week we will go a little deeper into the possible meaning behind these differences.
[i] G.K. Chesterton, “The Equality of Sexlessness,” Brave New Family (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990) p. 101.
[ii] G.K. Chesterton, “The Emancipation of Domesticity,” Brave New Family, p. 112.
For the month of February, MUR will explore the concept of the complementarity of the sexes.
Complementarity is a word that comes up a lot when talking about marriage and trying to explain the Church’s teaching on it. Unfortunately, it sometimes has negative connotations, some of which can be downright offensive to either sex.
Today as we kick off Complementarity February (an MUR original), we are going to start with what complementarity is NOT.
It is not “You complete me,” a la Jerry Maguire.
It is not Plato’s conception of “two halves of the same soul” who were split apart by jealous gods (see The Symposium).
And finally, it is not even, “He’s helpless in the kitchen and she’s helpless with the car.”
Instead, complementarity is the awesome fact that everything Martha does, as a human being, she does as a woman. Everything Bob does, as a human being, he does as a man. Martha and Bob are different, and we thank God for that. When Martha and Bob fall in love, there is an vitality there that derives from their fundamental sexual difference.
I have never met a married couple who said, “Yeah, we’re basically the same.” Even when they share interests, philosophies, goals, skills, and ideas, a man and a woman in love always come up to an “otherness” that will never go away. He will never think the same way she does about X, Y, or Z. She will never react the same way he does to A, B, or C. Part of that is due to sexual difference. Complementarity means that a man finds in a woman, and vice versa, a whole person who experiences the world in a completely different way that is equally valid.
Pope St. John Paul II wrote: masculinity and femininity are “two reciprocally completing ways of ‘being a body’ and at the same time of being human—… two complementary dimensions of self-knowledge and self-determination and, at the same time, two complementary ways of being conscious of the meaning of the body.”[i] He means that being human means being a body-soul unity, a person with not only intelligence, will, emotions, and a soul but also a body that requires food, drink, sleep, exercise, and even to go to the bathroom. There are two ways of being a human person—a male way and a female way. These are not biological deterministic concepts because they are about the whole person, body and soul together.
When men and women are together — whether they are married or whether they are simply friends, co-workers, or acquaintances — there is something “creative” about their collaboration, as long as they are open to the others’ uniqueness. Neither should dismiss the other’s perspective, but neither can they fully enter into it. Pope Francis pointed out that these days we don’t always know how to handle this difference. He said, “For example, I ask myself, if the so-called gender theory is not, at the same time, an expression of frustration and resignation, which seeks to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it. Yes, we risk taking a step backwards. The removal of difference in fact creates a problem, not a solution.”[ii]
For too long, men and women defined their differences by what they were “able to do,” which both overemphasized and, at the same time, minimized the truth — the truth that men and women in many ways can do the same things, but they will not do them the same way.
In conclusion, here is a section from Mulieris Dignitatem, in which Pope St. John Paul II gave a list of female saints to consider: “Monica, the mother of Augustine, Macrina, Olga of Kiev, Matilda of Tuscany, Hedwig of Silesia, Jadwiga of Cracow, Elizabeth of Thuringia, Birgitta of Sweden, Joan of Arc, Rose of Lima, Elizabeth Ann Seton and Mary Ward” (no. 27). It would be difficult to find a more diverse group of women. As a parallel list for men, how about Joseph, husband of Mary, Ignatius of Loyola, John Vianney, Maximilian Kolbe, Padre Pio, Pier Giorgio Frassati, Martin de Porres, Francis and King Louis IX. God created us all to be saints, and none of us will be exactly like anyone else. The equality-in-difference of the saints shows us that men and women will always be masculine or feminine, and even more so when they are who God called them to be.
[i] John Paul II, Theology of the Body (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2006), p. 166. See also USCCB, Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan (2009), pp. 9-11.
[ii] Pope Francis, “On Man and Woman” General Audience, April 15, 2015).
This week at the Vatican there is an International & Interreligious gathering centering on “The Complementarity of Man and Woman in Marriage.” Archbishop Cordileone of San Francisco, the Chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage is among those attending.
The Holy Father opened the Colloquium with an address this morning, November 17. He reiterates:
“Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity. That is why I stressed in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium that the contribution of marriage to society is ‘indispensable’; that it ‘transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple’ (n. 66). And that is why I am grateful to you for your Colloquium’s emphasis on the benefits that marriage can provide to children, the spouses themselves, and to society.”
He continues, “May this colloquium be an inspiration to all who seek to support and strengthen the union of man and woman in marriage as a unique, natural, fundamental and beautiful good for persons, families, communities, and whole societies.”
Pope Francis also confirmed in this address that he will be coming to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families!
Intention: We pray for a deeper understanding of what it means to be created male or female.
Reflection: During a recent morning meditation, Pope Francis reflected on the Book of Genesis. “The creation of man and woman is the masterpiece of creation,” the Pope explained. God “did not want for man to be alone: he wanted him to be with his companion, his companion on the journey.”
Here the Bible shows us a very important truth; man and woman are equal, but different. This sexual difference is actually complementary. It is through the existence of woman that we are able to fully appreciate the uniqueness of man and vice versa. An example of this aspect of difference and complementarity can be seen in beautiful paintings where two complementary colors are used. When brought together, the two different colors look more vibrant and unique than they would have looked separately. The same can be said of man and woman. In the words of Blessed John Paul II, “femininity in some way finds itself before masculinity, while masculinity confirms itself through femininity.”
Did You Know? In his Theology of the Body, Blessed John Paul II explained that “man became an image of God not only through his own humanity, but also through the communion of persons, which man and woman form from the very beginning.” Through marriage, a husband and wife are able to be a true communion of persons by giving themselves and receiving the other in unselfish love. In this way, a husband and wife have the unique ability to reflect Trinitarian Love.
Marriage: Unique for a Reason is kicking off the first day of National Marriage Week with the release of its newest catechetical film, “El Matrimonio: Hecho para el amor y la vida.” “This is a one-of-a kind resource, and it is my hope that “El Matrimonio” will be a fruitful tool for advancing the conversation in both Spanish- and English-speaking communities on the true meaning of marriage,” said Archbishop Cordileone of the film. The 30 minute Spanish telenovela-style video and bilingual study guide is perfect for clergy, catechists, teachers, other leaders and viewers, as it explores five main themes: sexual difference and complementarity, children, the common good, religious freedom, and persons who experience same-sex attraction.
“The film’s story conveys real difficulties that numerous families encounter, but with compassion and without compromising the truth about God’s loving plan for marriage and family. In this way, the film portrays what we are all called to do: to love without compromising the truth, and to be witnesses to God’s plan with love and mercy. Love and truth go together. I pray that this film will provide opportunities for a deeper and more thoughtful study of, and increased reflection on the gift of marriage.”
For the full press release, click here.
At 8:00 p.m. Italian time on Thursday, February 18, Pope Benedict XVI concluded his pontificate and the Church entered a time of “Sede Vacante,” the time in between the end of one pontificate and the election of a new pope. For helpful materials on the Sede Vacante, please see this USCCB resource page.
Thank you, Pope Benedict, for your leadership of the Church during your eight years as pope! In a particular way, thank you for your consistent and courageous teaching on the meaning of marriage. You have given the Church a wealth of insight on what marriage is and why it matters to the world.
Please visit the Church Teaching page and click on Pope Benedict XVI to see a selection of the many, many addresses, speeches, and exhortations on marriage by our now-Pope Emeritus, such as:
“God created us male and female, equal in dignity, but also with respective and complementary characteristics, so that the two might be a gift for each other, might value each other and might bring into being a community of love and life.” – Homily at the closing mass of the 7th World Meeting of Families in Milan (June 3, 2012)
“Dear friends, all human love is a sign of the eternal Love that created us and whose grace sanctifies the decision made by a man and a woman to give each other reciprocal life in marriage. Live the period of your engagement in the trusting expectation of this gift.” – Address to engaged couples (Sept. 11, 2011)
“Marriage has a truth of its own – that is, the human knowledge, illumined by the Word of God, of the sexually different reality of the man and of the woman with their profound needs for complementarity, definitive self-giving and exclusivity – to whose discovery and deepening reason and faith harmoniously contribute.” – Address to Members of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota (Jan. 27, 2007)
We will continue to share Pope Benedict’s wisdom about marriage, the human person, and the family here on Marriage: Unique for a Reason. Thank you, Holy Father Emeritus.
Today’s Sunday Pope Quote comes from a lesser-known writing of Bl. Pope John Paul II, Letter to Women, which was published in 1995.
Bl. Pope John Paul II: Dear sisters, together let us reflect anew on the magnificent passage in Scripture which describes the creation of the human race and which has so much to say about your dignity and mission in the world.
The Book of Genesis speaks of creation in summary fashion, in language which is poetic and symbolic, yet profoundly true: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). The creative act of God takes place according to a precise plan. First of all, we are told that the human being is created “in the image and likeness of God” (cf. Gen 1:26). This expression immediately makes clear what is distinct about the human being with regard to the rest of creation.
We are then told that, from the very beginning, man has been created “male and female” (Gen 1:27). Scripture itself provides the interpretation of this fact: even though man is surrounded by the innumerable creatures of the created world, he realizes that he is alone (cf. Gen 2:20). God intervenes in order to help him escape from this situation of solitude: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Gen 2:18). The creation of woman is thus marked from the outset by the principle of help: a help which is not one-sided but mutual. Woman complements man, just as man complements woman: men and women are complementary. Womanhood expresses the “human” as much as manhood does, but in a different and complementary way.
When the Book of Genesis speaks of “help”, it is not referring merely to acting, but also to being. Womanhood and manhood are complementary not only from the physical and psychological points of view, but also from the ontological. It is only through the duality of the “masculine” and the “feminine” that the “human” finds full realization.
– Letter to Women, no. 7
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.
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 second section, we’ll take a closer look at sexual difference and complementarity.
First section: the meaning of marriage, the role of reason and faith
“That connection…to be authentic, it has to be the whole person…Men and women are made for each other emotionally, sexually, psychologically.”
Carrie is talking about the “connection” or communion that is marriage. Marriage necessarily involves the whole person. That’s what the vows are about—a free and total promise of fidelity, permanence, and openness to life made to the other, in good times and bad, through thick and thin. Such vows can only be exchanged between a man and a woman. In other words, sexual difference is essential to marriage.
Sexual difference concerns the whole person, as Carrie points out. Only through this difference can a man and a woman give themselves fully and love each other as spouses. Only a man and a woman can commit to the other in such a way as to be married, to be husband and wife. This isn’t unjust discrimination; it’s distinction, a matter of simply respecting reality. The promise of marriage speaks a language. Part of the essential grammar of this language is sexual difference. Without it, marriage can’t be spoken of. [i]
“It’s constructive” as Josh says. It’s the avenue for life-giving love; a fundamental reference point for all human relationships. Sexual difference is what enables a man and a woman to form a unique bond for life. A husband gives to his wife what only a husband can give. Likewise, a wife gives to her husband what only a wife can give.
Next: sexual difference as the avenue towards true union and life; marriage is a unique commitment
Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago, published a short article about marriage and civil society on the Chicago Catholic blog this past Sunday: “Reflections on ‘Chicago values’”
In addition to commenting on current events, the Cardinal outlines basic catechesis on marriage:
It might be good to put aside any religious teaching and any state laws and start from scratch, from nature itself, when talking about marriage. Marriage existed before Christ called together his first disciples two thousand years ago and well before the United States of America was formed two hundred and thirty six years ago. Neither Church nor state invented marriage, and neither can change its nature.
Marriage exists because human nature comes in two complementary sexes: male and female. The sexual union of a man and woman is called the marital act because the two become physically one in a way that is impossible between two men or two women. Whatever a homosexual union might be or represent, it is not physically marital. Gender is inextricably bound up with physical sexual identity; and “gender-free marriage” is a contradiction in terms, like a square circle.
In a March 14 column in the Rhode Island Catholic, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence gave five reasons why redefining marriage to exclude sexual difference is problematic and ill-advised.
Among his reasons, the bishop wrote that redefining marriage presumes to alter an institution that is based on the nature of the human person, created male and female:
Marriage between a man and woman was designed by God and has two fundamental purposes: It affirms the difference and the complementarity of males and females in a loving relationship, and it provides the foundation for the procreation and raising of children. Marriage thus described has been the fundamental unit, the building block of every human culture and society.
Bishop Tobin also noted that altering the definition of marriage “is a significant change in the human landscape; it’s a social experiment, the consequences of which may not be realized for many years to come.”
And the bishop highlighted the fact that changing the definition of marriage invariably leads to conflicts with religious liberty, as those who hold the immemorial definition of marriage, including the Church, would be viewed by the law as “intolerant” or “bigoted.” (The connection between marriage and religious liberty is a main theme of the Marriage: Unique for a Reason initiative, which includes a series of FAQs on marriage and religious liberty.)
In conclusion, Bishop Tobin promised that if the question of marriage redefinition surfaces again in the Rhode Island legislature, “the Diocese of Providence, joined by its allies in our community, will be fully engaged in the battle.”
- Background: the Rhode Island Legislature approved civil unions for two persons of the same sex in 2011 but many proponents for marriage redefinition expressed discontent with civil unions and vowed to continue proposing marriage redefinition bills.
- Read Bishop Thomas J. Tobin’s entire column.
- Visit the Rhode Island Catholic Conference’s webpage on marriage.
Today, news from “across the pond.” The President and Vice President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales penned a pastoral letter on marriage that was to be read at parishes throughout England and Wales this past weekend, March 10 and 11. In their letter, Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster and Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark write that they plan to present “the Catholic vision of marriage and the light it casts on the importance of marriage for our society” (all emphasis added).
The Archbishops reflect on marriage both as a natural institution and as a sacrament:
The roots of the institution of marriage lie in our nature. Male and female we have been created, and written into our nature is this pattern of complementarity and fertility.
. . .
As a Sacrament, [marriage] is a place where divine grace flows. Indeed, marriage is a sharing in the mystery of God’s own life: the unending and perfect flow of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The letter also argues that “changing the legal definition of marriage would be a profoundly radical step.” Continuing, they explain:
The law helps to shape and form social and cultural values. A change in the law would gradually and inevitably transform society’s understanding of the purpose of marriage. It would reduce it just to the commitment of the two persons involved. There would be no recognition of the complementarity of male and female or that marriage is intended for the procreation and education of children.
On the Bishops’ Conference website, Archbishop Nichols and Archbishop Smith urge residents of England and Wales to sign an online petition organized by the grass-roots campaign Coalition for Marriage.
The terms “same-sex marriage” and “gay marriage” beg the question: What is marriage? Is it even possible for two persons of the same sex to be married? Using the terms “same-sex marriage” and “gay marriage” already presupposes (wrongly) that marriage comes in a variety of forms: “same-sex,” “opposite-sex,” “homosexual,” “heterosexual,” and so forth.
Put another way, the sexual difference and complementarity of husband and wife is not something that is added to a pre-existing thing called “marriage,” like you might add sprinkles to a sundae. Instead, male-female complementarity is at the very heart of marriage and part of its authentic definition. Marriage wouldn’t be marriage without a man and a woman, a husband and a wife. This is why adding alternative adjectives to the word “marriage” (“same-sex,” “gay,” and so on) produces not another “variety” of marriage, but a different thing entirely. It radically alters what marriage is in its very essence.
In contrast, the goal of the Marriage: Unique for a Reason website is to explain and illuminate the singular reality that the word “marriage” refers to: the faithful, fruitful, lifelong union of one man and one woman. A reality, you might say, without any adjectives. In the end, what’s at stake is precisely the authentic meaning of marriage. We invite you to explore the resources available on this website to understand why marriage is and can only be the union of one man and one woman.
- Isn’t marriage just love and commitment between two people?
- How is the love between a husband and a wife irreducibly unique?
Bl. Pope John Paul II: “In the light of the New Testament it is possible to discern how the primordial model of the family is to be sought in God himself, in the Trinitarian mystery of his life. The divine ‘We’ is the eternal pattern of the human ‘we,’ especially of that ‘we’ formed by the man and the woman created in the divine image and likeness. The words of the Book of Genesis contain that truth about man which is confirmed by the very experience of humanity. (more…)
Today’s post is the third in a series about sexual difference.
- Sexual Difference: Shedding light on popular claims (part one)
- Sexual Difference: 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. (more…)
Today’s post is the second in a series about sexual difference.
In Monday’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? (more…)