In a world where many children grow up without one parent or the other, it is perceived as ill-mannered to ask a question like the title of Paul Raeburn’s book: Do Fathers Matter? Many people dismiss this question as irrelevant, not worth asking, or even offensive.
To illustrate this point, journalist Raeburn begins his survey of the social and behavioral sciences regarding fathers with a striking anecdote. He was attending a writers’ conference and making conversation with another participant. When he told the woman the title of his book, she responded, “Well, of course they don’t” (15). As a single mother, she may have felt threatened by what Raeburn was learning about the importance of fathers.
In fact, Raeburn convincingly argues that fathers do matter to their children. Motivated in part by his own experience of fatherhood, he wanted to know more about this fundamental truth. At the same time, at various times in the book the reader senses Raeburn’s discomfort with the possible implications of this research. If fathers really are so important, it follows that intentionally depriving a child of a father is wrong. Raeburn is not quite ready to say that, even while he points out the facts about what a father’s presence gives to his children.
Raeburn begins his study of human fatherhood by looking at other mammals as well as other cultures. He notes that unlike the rest of the animal kingdom, “There is no example of a human society in which fathers do not help raise the children” (19). He suggests that one of the reasons this is the case is that human children need significant help to survive. Raeburn notes the work of the anthropologist Barry Hewlett with a group of pygmies in the Congo, among whom fathers are extremely active in infant and child care. “They show us that fathers can—and will—do more in the right circumstances” (26). When societies are structured in such a way that fathers are expected to do more, they do so. In the West, Raeburn argues, time with dad is seen as playtime, whereas in a number of other cultures, “quantity” time is valued in fatherhood, in other words, even if the child does not have dad’s undivided attention, he is present (26).
On the subject of genes and inheritance, Raeburn notes studies that show that the diet, habits, and environment of the father can alter even the genes that he passes on to his children. He also explains a number of studies about how the father affects and is affected by pregnancy and genetics. One notable fact for married readers: “The single most powerful predictor of the fathers’ engagement with their children is the quality of the men’s relationship with the child’s mother” (89). This is a great reminder that men and women should prioritize their relationship with one another as husband and wife even once children come along.
Raeburn uses studies of mice, monkeys, and other animals to illustrate that when males are given more responsibility for their offspring, both father and children are better off. Time spent with their infant, for example, changes the brains of fathers as well as mothers. Physically, fathers are different than non-fathers. Parts of the brain related to stress and brain hormones related to bonding were active in mouse “dads” and not in a control group, for example (102). Scientists also discovered that fathers are often preoccupied, almost “obsessed” with their child from the 8th month of pregnancy until birth, frequently experiencing “intrusive thoughts” about problems that could occur (131). And children whose fathers are more actively involved tend to develop stronger language skills, have more courage, and are better able to adjust to the unexpected. Much of this is believed to come from the way that fathers play with their children, which tends to be less protective and more “risky.” Raeburn notes, “Fathers’ unpredictability helps children learn to be brave in difficult situations or when meeting new people” (149).
Research on teenagers highlights the often-noted fact that absent fathers can lead to an earlier onset of puberty and earlier sexual activity in teenage girls. Effects on boys are not as clear, but teen boys are less likely to “engage in delinquent behavior” if the father is at home (222). Raeburn notes that all teenagers need to be aware of their parents’ acceptance of them, and this seems to be even stronger in relationships with the father. “The influence of father’s rejection can be greater than that of mothers,” he writes (179).
Raeburn also examines the effects of older fatherhood, which is more common today. Much is said about a woman’s biological clock, but since men are physically capable of fathering children for their entire adulthood, less has been said about theirs. There is increasing evidence, however, that a man’s age does affect his children genetically and increases the chances for certain disorders like autism or schizophrenia. Men and women have the healthiest children in their twenties, and this is fairly indisputable (201). There are about twenty problems that have been linked to advanced paternal age, and women whose partners are over 35 have three times as many miscarriages (187). Raeburn notes that sperm are more vulnerable to genetic damage than eggs are, since they are constantly being copied (190). This section is where the book veers most from a Catholic view, suggesting that it may be better to avoid children altogether if the risks of disorder are high. “Termination” is given as an option in case of Down Syndrome or other genetic disorders. Ironically, the interviewee from the American College of Medical Genetics says that it’s important for parents to have all this information because it “influences the health of someone whom nobody else can speak up for—the child” (200). It is impossible to understand how “speaking up” for a child would mean aborting them.
Raeburn writes about what fathers do in his final chapter, noting the great changes that historical shifts have made in family relations. “For most of human history, fathers were responsible for protecting their children and for teaching them the things they needed to know to survive and prosper” (212). Work is now almost always away from the family, and both men and women in 2012 are working more hours than in 1965 (213). Americans also work more than almost any other modern society, and the U.S. is one of the only countries without guaranteed paid maternity/paternity leave (214). Work-family conflicts are now common for both men and women, with both expected to earn money outside the home and keep the home running. Raeburn also notes that despite expectations of shared parenting, often women take on a larger role than men, and both parents find it much more difficult than they thought it would be.
Overall, Do Fathers Matter? was a good read and a conversation-starter. Men may appreciate learning how their fathers have impacted them, and how they in turn may impact future generations. Women may also be encouraged not to overlook the effect their fathers have on them and see how important it is to choose a husband who would be a good father. This would be a good book for couples to read together because it raises a few questions and challenges for modern men and women, and particularly for parents: Does mom ever interfere with “daddy time”? Does dad see changing diapers or wiping noses as “women’s work”? What work / at-home arrangement is best for your family? Fathers, how can you make sure you are affirming your teenage children?
(Review also posted at For Your Marriage)
Guest post from Father Carter Griffin, Vice-Rector Vocation Director of the Saint John Paul II Seminary of the Archdiocese of Washington
“I don’t think I’m called to the priesthood. I think I’m called to be a father instead.”
As the Director of Priest Vocations in the Archdiocese of Washington, I hear that a lot. In fact, I used to struggle with it myself… Until I realized that we don’t just call priests “Father” as a kind of consolation prize, a nod to a guy who most obviously is not a father – but because he is a father in the deepest sense imaginable.
Who, after all, is a father? A man who generates life. Who is a good father? A man who generates life and then helps to provide for his child, protect and heal his child from injury, and guide his child into a flourishing life. In biological fatherhood, giving life doesn’t end with conception; it starts with it. The same is true in the spiritual fatherhood of a priest. He gives life, in union with our mother the Church, at the baptismal font. But his fatherhood doesn’t end there – it just starts there. The whole purpose of the priest’s life, like that of all fathers, is then to provide for his new child, protect, heal, and guide him or her into a flourishing life. Think of what a priest does all day – feed with the Holy Eucharist, protect from sin, heal spiritual injuries, teach the faith, and guide the souls entrusted to his care.
A priest friend of mine once admitted that, in the seminary, he had heard talks about priestly fatherhood but suspected that it was all a little fanciful. Nice thoughts, to be sure, and true enough in their own way – but it was a stretch to think of priests as real fathers. He looked forward to being a priest, certainly, but didn’t think of himself as preparing for genuine fatherhood. Then it was one day after his ordination, when the parties were over and the friends and family had gone home, and the euphoria of his ordination had started to wear off, and he stood before his own congregation offering Mass. He looked out at the people entrusted to his care, people who looked at him with hope, with love, with encouragement…and with struggles, and hurts, and a deep hunger for truth and goodness and beauty and eternal life…and then he got it. He was there to serve them just as his own father had been there for his family. Every part of fatherhood that his Dad had exercised in the natural order, he was now exercising in the order of grace. It was a startling, somewhat frightening thought, but also thrilling and joyful. Not much different than his Dad probably felt the day he held his tiny son in his arms.
When a potential seminarian says to me that he thinks he’s called to be a father, I tell him “Good! That’s a prerequisite. You might be called to the priesthood!”
World Meeting of Families Catechesis Series
The USCCB Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth is excited about the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) being held in Philadelphia in September 2015. We are presenting a series of short articles focused on the WMOF Catechesis Love is our Mission: The Family Fully Alive and its implications for our daily lives. We will follow the timing suggested by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia by exploring one theme each month leading up to the World Meeting. The Archdiocese for Military Services has also published reflections, and Chapter 5 is linked here.
Parenting with the Strength of God
Secretariat for Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth
“Parenting is demanding” (no. 79). I don’t know anyone who would disagree with this statement. In fact a typical response, even from an adolescent, would be, “No kidding!” As a parent (father), of many children, the word “demanding” often seems like an understatement. Parenting is not for the faint of heart, nor is marriage. Marriage and children are great gifts, and can bring untold joy, yet they do not come without their challenges. St. Francis de Sales wrote: “The state of marriage is one that requires more virtue and constancy than any other: it is a perpetual exercise of mortification.” Of course I do not want to dis-sway anyone from getting married and having children, but I think it is good to be aware before going into it. Before you get married, you should humbly recognize that you and your future spouse cannot make marriage work all on our own, but instead see that “with God all things are possible” (Mt 19:26). Christian marriage and family life is about being open to “God’s grace in daily life … even in the midst of fatigue and domestic chaos” (no. 79). It is indeed in those very moments, of the ordinary, mundane, little, and the seemingly insignificant circumstances of life, that we as parents are able to experience “divine love” in a way that is unparalleled.
My wife and I had two children, and greatly desired another. After several months of “trying,” we were elated with the wonderful news that my wife was pregnant. This elation was soon replaced with intense anxiety from numerous threats of miscarriage. My wife was put on bed rest for the first three months because that seemed to be the only way to maintain the pregnancy. It was a stressful time for me, balancing care for her and our two young boys, keeping the house relatively clean, and working full time. But all of this became grace-filled. Those months, and others like them, served as a constant reminder to me and my wife that, as St. Paul taught, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10). I found myself often meditating on the preceding verse, “My grace is sufficient, my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). I knew that I could not do it on my own. As an imperfect parent I certainly “need help and strength from God, family, parish, and friends” (no. 80). My wife and I received this aid through great outpourings in the least expected ways, from meals to babysitting to—my favorite—friends who cleaned our home for us. These memories are treasures we share with our children and hope they pass on to theirs. How will you allow your domestic routine and life be “places were the Spirit shines through” (no. 80)?
Eventually my wife was taken off bed rest, the pregnancy progressed nicely and we were blessed with the birth of our third son—who had to be induced, somewhat ironically, two weeks past his due date.
Intention: We pray for all men, that they may joyfully discover and live their spiritual fatherhood.
Reflection: St. Joseph was a “just man”: truly Mary’s husband and a spiritual father to Christ. On Father’s day this year, let us contemplate the spiritual dimension of fatherhood. The Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life, enables men to generate life not only physically, but also spiritually: by guiding, protecting, and modeling lives of virtue for others.
Pope Francis offered a very clear message today to members of BICE (International Catholic Child Bureau), a Catholic NGO that works to protect the rights and dignity of the child worldwide:
“On a positive note, we must reaffirm the right of children 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.”
Click here for his full address.
Save the date!
The second March for Marriage will be held in Washington, D.C. on June 19, 2014. Organized by the National Organization for Marriage, this year’s march will be an important opportunity to promote and defend the beauty of marriage as the unique two-in-one-flesh communion of husband and wife.
In an April 7th letter sent to all the bishops of the United States, Bishop Richard J. Malone, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, and Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone, chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, encouraged participation in the march. “The March for Marriage will be an important means to promote and defend marriage for the good of our culture, to pray for our federal and state governments, and to stand in solidarity with people of good will. It also complements well the bishops’ Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty (www.usccb.org/life-marriage-liberty). This is a critical time for marriage in our country, as marriage amendments are being struck down by federal courts and appeals of these decisions are being made. We are deeply grateful for any support you can offer for this march.”
Here are 4 Ways you can get involved and support the March for Marriage:
1.) Spread the Word!
You can help spread the word through social media by posting why you support the March for Marriage by adding the hashtag #Marching4Marriage. Some examples are below:
- I support #Marching4Marriage because kids deserve a mom and a dad.
- I support #Marching4Marriage because running a business shouldn’t mean shutting the door on your beliefs.
- I’ll be #Marching4Marriage because sexual difference is essential to #marriage.
- I support #Marching4Marriage because marriage is the very foundation on which our society stands.
2.) Organize a group to come to DC!
Whether it be a group of friends, your church youth group, an entire diocesan trip, or you and your family, consider traveling to DC in June to defend marriage!
3.) Participate in the National Marriage Lobby Day!
On June 19th, once the March for Marriage has concluded, there will be an opportunity to visit your elected officials and their staff to explain why you defend authentic marriage. For more information on participating in Lobby Day, click here.
4.) Join the Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty!
There are many different ways to participate in the Call to Prayer, both as an individual and as a community. Find out how you can get involved here.
To stay up-to-date on detailed information regarding the March, sign up for alerts at www.marriagemarch.org.
Intention: We pray for all fathers, that through the example of St. Joseph, they may fully embrace their vocation and accept the privilege and responsibility of caring for their children as St. Joseph cared for Jesus.
Reflection: On Wednesday, we celebrated the Solemnity of Saint Joseph. In his Apostolic Exhortation, “The Guardian of the Redeemer,” John Paul II referred to St. Joseph as “the guardian and cooperator in the providential mystery of God (no 14).” He explained that together with Mary, Joseph was the first guardian of Christ: “St. Joseph was called by God to serve the person and mission of Jesus directly through the exercise of his fatherhood (no 8).”
It is interesting to note that St. Joseph’s fatherhood and specific role in the plan of salvation would not have been possible apart from his marriage to Mary: “Joseph’s fatherhood – a relationship that places him as close as possible to Christ…comes to pass through marriage to Mary, that is, through the family (no 7).” Let us pray that every husband and wife will be brought closer to Christ through their marriage to one another.
A further reflection on St. Joseph’s participation in the plan of salvation can be found here.
Did You Know? Pope Francis has a deep devotion to St. Joseph. Last year, he chose the Solemnity of St. Joseph as the date for his inaugural Mass. A sign of Pope Francis’ devotion to this Saint can be seen on his coat of arms. Next to the star representing Mary is the spikenard flower, which is often used to represent St. Joseph.
Among Saint Joseph’s many titles such as “mirror of patience”, “lover of poverty”, “terror of demons”, “pillar of families”, a particularly interesting one is “the guardian of the mystery of God.” In his Apostolic Exhortation Redemptoris Custos, John Paul II emphasized the importance of this title and the role St. Joseph was given to play in God’s plan of salvation.
Joseph was one of the first to share in the mystery of the Incarnation with Mary. This “sharing” was in a real way an actual participation in Mary’s “yes” at the Annunciation. In taking Mary as his wife instead of divorcing her, “what Joseph did united him in an altogether special way to the faith of Mary. He accepted as truth coming from God the very thing that she had already accepted at the Annunciation (no 4).” Mary and Joseph were one in their desire to follow the Will of God. In a particular way, Joseph silently and courageously took upon himself the many sufferings that Jesus and Mary would bear over the years. Whether by accepting the mysterious nature of Mary’s pregnancy, making the long journey to Bethlehem with no place to stay, and later escaping into Egypt to save Jesus’ life, Joseph fully embraced the supreme honor and responsibility of caring for Mary and Jesus.
It is important to note that Joseph’s fatherhood is tied to his marriage with Mary. In fact, “Joseph’s marriage to Mary is the juridical basis of his fatherhood (no 7).” God chose to have His only Son enter the world in a family. In the beginning of the Old Testament, we are told of a married couple, Adam and Eve, through whom “the source of evil was unleashed on the world (no 7).” It seems fitting therefore, that God would desire to bring salvation to the world through the marriage of Mary and Joseph. In this way, “the savior began the work of salvation by this virginal and holy union, wherein is manifested his all-powerful will to purify and sanctify the family – that sanctuary of love and cradle of life (no 7).”
Through Christ’s being born into and growing up in a family, we see the importance placed upon marriage and the family within salvation history. Each family today is given the opportunity to imitate the Holy Family and therefore participate in salvation history in a distinct way. Each family is a “domestic Church” where, as Pope Francis explained, “we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another; it is also the place where parents pass on the faith to their children (Evangelii Gaudium, no 66).” Each family is also given the opportunity to ask St. Joseph to guard and protect them as he guarded and protected Mary and Jesus. Let us never hesitate to ask this powerful saint to intercede on behalf of our families. St. Joseph, pray for us!
March 19, 2014
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, Chairman for the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, strongly endorsed the State Marriage Defense Act of 2014 (S. 2024) introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). A companion bill (H.R. 3829) was previously introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representative Randy Weber (R-TX).
In a February 28 letter of support to Senator Cruz, Archbishop Cordileone noted that the Department of Justice is the most recent federal agency “to use a ‘place of celebration’ rule rather than a ‘place of domicile’ rule when determining the validity of a marriage for purposes of federal rights, benefits, and privileges.”
“By employing a ‘place of celebration’ rule, these agencies have chosen to ignore the law of the state in which people reside in determining whether they are married. The effect, if not the intent, of this choice is to circumvent state laws defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman,” said Archbishop Cordileone.
Archbishop Cordileone urged the U.S. Senate to pass the State Marriage Defense Act of 2014 and encouraged members to join as cosponsors of the bill stating, “Marriage needs to be preserved and strengthened, not redefined. Every just effort to stand for the unique meaning of marriage is worthy of support.”
The full press release can be found here.
Archbishop Cordileone: Marriage Protection Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is needed
Amendment is only remedy against judicial activism
Elemental truth of marriage deserves highest protection in law
February 19, 2014
WASHINGTON—Expressing strong support for the federal Marriage Protection Amendment (H. J. Res. 51) introduced by Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) in the U.S. House of Representatives, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco said, “The amendment would secure in law throughout the country the basic truth known to reason that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.” Archbishop Cordileone , chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, made the comments in a February 19 letter of support to Rep. Huelskamp.
Referencing recent federal court decisions striking down a number of state marriage laws, Archbishop Cordileone said, “An amendment to the U.S. Constitution is the only remedy in law against this judicial activism that may ultimately end with federal judges declaring that the U.S. Constitution requires states, and consequently the federal government, to redefine marriage.” He added, “Just as Roe v. Wade mandated a constitutional right to abortion throughout the country, we now have the possibility of another bad decision mandating a constitutional change in the meaning of marriage in order to promote (at least to begin with) ‘marriages’ between two people of the same sex throughout the country. Your proposed Marriage Protection Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is, therefore, a needed remedy.”
Archbishop Cordileone also said, “Preserving this elemental truth is necessary for the good of society at large and for the good of children who deserve the love of both a mother and a father, neither of whom is expendable. Indeed, marriage is the only institution that unites a man and a woman to each other and to any child conceived of their union.” Archbishop Cordileone also commented on the nature of the recent federal court decisions by saying, “Federal court opinions that essentially redefine marriage to be merely a state recognized arrangement of intimate adult relationships ignore the truth about marriage, which deserves the highest protection in law.”
Archbishop Cordileone urged the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the Marriage Protection Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and encouraged members to join the resolution as cosponsors.
Archbishop Cordileone’s letter can be found online.
For H.J. Res. 51 to amend the U.S. Constitution, it must be approved by two-thirds of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate and then be ratified by three-fourths of the states.
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.
Reflection: Under challenging circumstances, some parents expecting a baby may discern that choosing what’s best for their child means generously placing him or her with an adoptive mother and father. That selfless, courageous decision is far from easy, so it’s vital that we give birthparents our support.
As Cardinal O’Malley encouraged us, “Obviously, we must never abandon our commitment to the unborn child, a precious human being made in the image and likeness of God. But we must learn to focus more on the woman in crisis. We must listen with empathy to be able to communicate the Gospel of Life” (Homily, Opening Mass of the 2013 National Prayer Vigil for Life).
Remembering our own adoption as children of God through Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:5), let us support those who may be considering adoption – both those we know personally in our own lives and those whom we may not have even met.
Did You Know? November is National Adoption Month! In “The Blessing of ‘Unanswered Prayers’: An Adoption Story,” MaryPat St. Jean shares her family’s experience of welcoming four adopted children into their home.
- 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
Is defending marriage just about injuring others? No. Marriage matters for everyone. (5th of 7 in a series)
Note: This post is fifth 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
- #4: The flawed anthropology of “sexual orientation”
PART ONE: What we can learn from the Supreme Court
Post #5: Is defending marriage just about injuring others? No. Marriage is good for everyone.
In its ruling on DOMA, the Supreme Court said that laws that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman are inherently suspect because their only justification is a desire to “injure” a class of persons. Indeed, the Court does not mince words when it talks about the purpose of DOMA: “The principle purpose and the necessary effect of this law are to demean those persons who are in a lawful same-sex marriage” (p. 25, emphasis added). DOMA gave a “stigma” to such persons (p. 21) and it instructed them that their marriage is “less worthy” than other marriages (p. 25).
Worse, the Court said that DOMA – and presumably any law that defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman – lacks a “legitimate purpose” (p. 25). In other words, no rational reason exists that would justify a law defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. No reason, for example, such as the fact that only male-female relationships are capable of conceiving children, who have a vested interest in being raised by their married father and mother.
In his dissent, Justice Scalia rails against the Court’s dismissal of marriage proponents’ arguments as merely cloaks for irrational prejudice against those who desire to marry someone of the same sex. Scalia says that the Court thus made those who still argue for man-woman marriage “enemies of the human race” (p. 21, Scalia dissent). He writes, “In the majority’s judgment, any resistance to its holding is beyond the pale of reasoned disagreement” (p. 21). In other words, the book is closed. There is no room for disagreement. Scalia also said, “In the majority’s telling, this story is black-and-white: Hate your neighbor or come along with us” (p. 25).
Clearly that attitude is a daunting obstacle for those of us who seek to promote marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
Tip number four: Emphasize that promoting and defending marriage is good for everyone.
As stated already, one challenge we face is criticism that the Church is “obsessed” with marriage because she really only cares about married people; she is pro-married couples, but anti-everyone else. Of course we know this is false.
Catholic Social Teaching is a great help here, because it is very clear that marriage and the family matter to society. (And there is no question at all that “marriage” means what it always had for the Church: the union of one man and one woman). For example, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church [CSDC] describes the family (founded on marriage) as “the primary place of humanization” (no. 209), the “cradle of life and love” (no. 209), the “first and vital cell of society” (no. 2), the place where “one learns social responsibility and solidarity” (no. 213) and so on.
Marriage benefits society, first, by being what it is. The Compendium speaks beautifully of the “dynamism of love” that radiates out from the irrevocable vow that husband and wife give to each other (CSDC, no. 221). Their “yes” to each other lays the foundation for them to say “yes” to any children God gives them, and to say “yes” to all persons, seeing them as valuable for their own sake and not for what they can do and contribute.
And marriage of course benefits society by giving children the best possible chance to be born into a situation where their mother and father have already committed to each other and to any children born from their union. Not every married couple is blessed with children, but every child has a mom and a dad. As the quip goes, “When a child is born, chances are there’s a mother close by. The problem is: Who’s the father?” Marriage solves this cultural dilemma by bringing men and women together before children are conceived, to lay a solid foundation where they can be welcomed into a “sanctuary of life” (CSDC, no. 231ff).
Another way to show that marriage matters for everyone, and is not a mean-spirited jab at those who can’t or won’t get married, is to point out that all of us are sons or daughters. All of us have a father and a mother, and whether those two persons were and still are married to each other makes a great impact on our lives. This is a universal truth, and one that the Church argues should matter for public policy.
Finally, the fact that marriage matters for everyone gives us a way to connect promoting and defending marriage with the New Evangelization. Yes, the New Evangelization means reaching and re-catechizing those who have been baptized but not formed. Those who serve in various ministries can probably think of ways that they are doing this kind of evangelization. Our Catholic people certainly need instruction in the full meaning of marriage; one poll in March 2013 found that over half of Catholics support redefining marriage (although critics pointed out that only 36% of regular mass-goers said they were for redefining marriage). And they need to be given encouragement to stand firm in these teachings, a difficult task in the face of the Supreme Court’s judgment that defending marriage means harming and demeaning others. We of course need to dig deep into the rich, life-giving teaching of the Church on marriage and give it generously to those within the Church.
But there is another connection between the New Evangelization and marriage. In the face of such severe challenges to marriage, it can be tempting to throw up our hands and retreat from the public square, shutting the Church doors tight and vowing to “protect the Sacrament” come what may, but effectively giving up on marriage outside the Church walls. This might seem like a fix – you have your marriage, we have ours – but it would mean giving up on our responsibility to evangelize and it would mean giving up on the fact that marriage matters for everyone.
Contrary to what the Supreme Court said, the bishops are very clear that “to promote and protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman is itself a matter of justice.” (USCCB, Pastoral letter, Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan : p. 23)
In sum, the challenge of marriage redefinition isn’t going away. On the legal front, we can expect more court battles over marriage’s meaning, more ballot initiatives to defend or redefine marriage, and more challenges to other aspects of marriage. For example, one polygamy activist group celebrated the Court’s ruling, saying, “I think [the court] has taken a step in correcting some inequality, and that’s certainly something that’s going to trickle down and impact us.”
Even more soberly, it seems reasonable to expect continuing clashes between the Church and the government over what marriage is and how much freedom the Church has to hold to the authentic meaning of marriage. Today these challenges are being felt by wedding businesses and government officials, among others. Tomorrow, could they be felt by marriage ministries such as marriage preparation and healing ministries? We say that not to speculate or be fear-mongers, but only to point out that the trend seems to be the government strong-arming people of faith to treat people in same-sex relationships as if they were married husbands and wives.
And on the pastoral front, we can expect more confusion about marriage’s meaning and purpose, evidenced by the quotes we’ve shared from the highest Court in the land. Unfortunately, that’s the situation we find ourselves in. As Justice Scalia stated in his dissent: “…we will have to live with the chaos created by this [decision]” (p. 8, Scalia dissent). But are we just going to live with this chaos? Not us. How about you?
Next: On to Part Two: Practical Ways to Promote and Defend Marriage
USCCB News Release: Archbishop Cordileone Calls Minnesota's Move to Redefine Marriage Shortly After Mother's Day the "Height of Irony"
USCCB News Release (May 15, 2013)
- Men and women bring different gifts to parenting
- Redefining marriage in law serves no one’s good
- Truth of marriage not going away
“It is the height of irony that the Minnesota legislature decided, and the governor signed into law, the redefinition of marriage just after we celebrated the unique gifts of mothers and women on Mother’s Day,” said Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco. Archbishop Cordileone chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage. He said further, “It is all the more so given the fact that in the last election Minnesotans were led to believe that there was no need to define marriage in the constitution, that nothing would change if the marriage amendment didn’t pass.”
“It also renders senseless the very idea of President Obama’s National Fatherhood Initiative, in that a bill now becomes law in Minnesota that effectively claims that a mother and a father together are superfluous and can be replaced by two men or two women,” he added.
Archbishop Cordileone noted that Minnesota is the third state in just over a week to redefine marriage in the law.
“There are many of us Americans, including many Minnesotans, who stand for the natural and true meaning of marriage. They know that men and women are important; their complementary difference matters, their union matters, and it matters to kids. Mothers and fathers are simply irreplaceable,” he said. “Instead of strengthening, the Minnesota legislature’s decision to redefine marriage weakens motherhood and fatherhood, and so strikes a blow to all children who deserve both a mother and father.”
“Some wish to believe that sexual relationships outside of the marital context of husband and wife are innocuous, choosing to ignore the fact that they are actually harmful to individuals and to society as a whole,” he added.
“We know that now is the time to redouble our prayers, efforts and witness. The truth of marriage is not going away,” Archbishop Cordileone said. “We know what it takes to work toward a culture of life even in the midst of laws that work against us. The same is true for rebuilding a culture of marriage. No matter what the horizon may bring, we will continue in charity and truth to stand for justice and for the most vulnerable among us.”
The Minnesota law highlights further implications of marriage redefinition in the law. For example, the law states that terms such as “husband,” “wife,” “mother,” and “father” that denote spousal and familial relationships in Minnesota law are to apply equally to persons in an opposite-sex or same-sex relationship. The law also states that “parentage presumptions based on civil marriage” will also apply, thus allowing for children to have two mothers or two fathers.
From the Minnesota Catholic Conference:
- Statement on Senate Vote to Redefine Marriage in Minnesota (May 13, 2013)
- Statement on House Vote to Redefine Marriage in Minnesota (May 9, 2013)
An open letter from Minnesota faith leaders to the Minnesota legislature, urging lawmakers not to redefine marriage (April 18, 2013)
Read other recent USCCB news releases:
- “Archbishop Cordileone Decries Serious Injustice in Delaware” (May 8, 2013)
- “Archbishop Cordileone Decries Marriage Redefinition in Rhode Island” (May 3, 2013)
- Redefining marriage in law is a serious injustice
- Children have a right to be raised by mother and father
- Changes meaning of terms regarding marriage, affects birth certificates
“The Delaware Senate passed an unjust bill that attempts to redefine marriage,” said Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.
“The claim of this bill to redefine marriage is in vain; marriage cannot be redefined, because its unique meaning lies in our very nature. It is also a serious injustice to the most vulnerable among us: children,” said Archbishop Cordileone.
Archbishop Cordileone went on to emphasize the importance of marriage for children. “Marriage is the only institution that unites a man and a woman to each other and to any child conceived of their union,” he said. “Our society either preserves laws that respect the fundamental right of children to be raised by their moms and dads together in marriage, or it does not.”
The Delaware bill also includes further implications of marriage redefinition in the law. For example, the bill states that terms such as “husband” and “wife” denoting a spousal relationship in Delaware law are to apply equally to persons in an opposite-sex or same-sex relationship. The bill also allows two “parents” of the same sex to be entered on the original birth certificate, thus allowing for two mothers or two fathers to be on the certificate.
The Governor of Delaware signed it into law.
This week’s intention: For all mothers and fathers facing a poor prenatal diagnosis or unexpected parenthood; that they may know the Lord’s deep love for them and their child and trust in His providential care.
Reflection: There are times in our lives when the path is unclear and the future uncertain. We may not know what lies beyond the present moment, and we may feel frightened and anxious. However, we are not alone. Each of us is deeply loved and cherished by the Father, and we can trust in His care for us, knowing that He pays close attention to our lives: “Not one [sparrow] falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Mt 10:29-31). Recognizing the Lord’s love, we can trust that the path on which He leads us is one that leads to our ultimate happiness – even if the path looks different from what we expect. Let us therefore run to our Blessed Mother and ask, as Pope Francis did in a tweet earlier this week, for her aid in helping us know and follow the voice of Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Did you know? The following is the optional closing prayer of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy: “Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion — inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.”
Resources are available at the end of this article for those facing poor prenatal diagnoses. If you or someone you know is facing a crisis pregnancy, call 800-712-HELP (4357) or text “HELPLINE” to 313131 for free, confidential help.
- 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
Pope Francis celebrated his inauguration mass on the Feast of St. Joseph (March 19). His whole homily is worth reading, but here is some of what he had to say about St. Joseph as protector of Jesus and Mary:
How does Joseph exercise his role as protector? Discreetly, humbly and silently, but with an unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand. From the time of his betrothal to Mary until the finding of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem, he is there at every moment with loving care. As the spouse of Mary, he is at her side in good times and bad, on the journey to Bethlehem for the census and in the anxious and joyful hours when she gave birth; amid the drama of the flight into Egypt and during the frantic search for their child in the Temple; and later in the day-to-day life of the home of Nazareth, in the workshop where he taught his trade to Jesus.
The vocation of being a “protector”, however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about. It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time, protect their parents. It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness. In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of God’s gifts!
I implore the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, Saints Peter and Paul, and Saint Francis, that the Holy Spirit may accompany my ministry, and I ask all of you to pray for me! Amen.
— Pope Francis: Homily at the Mass for the inauguration of the Pontificate 19 March 2013 (emphasis added)
Please pray for the pope as he begins his Petrine ministry.
Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse to Rhode Island Legislature: Remarks on redefining marriage and redefining parenthood
As we have mentioned, Rhode Island is one of several states currently facing proposals to redefine marriage to include two persons of the same sex. Bishop Thomas J. Tobin has spoken forcefully on the subject, urging the Rhode Island Legislature not to redefine marriage.
On Tuesday, the Rhode Island Legislature heard prepared remarks from Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D., founder and president of the Ruth Institute, a project of the National Organization of Marriage that aims to promote lifelong marriage to young people. In her statement, Dr. Morse reminded the legislators that she had spoken to them about two years ago, during Rhode Island’s 2011 debate over marriage redefinition, and that many things she predicted in those remarks have since come to pass in places where marriage has been redefined: children with three legal parents, custody disputes with three or more adults, attacks on religious liberty, and removal of gendered language from the law.
In her most recent remarks, Dr. Morse offers another series of predictions about what will happen in law and culture if marriage is redefined. These include:
- continuing the removal of sex differences from the law (example: according to Dr. Morse, the bill being considered in Rhode Island replaces “husbands” and “wives” with the gender-neutral term “parties,” as is anticipated to happen in Washington State; birth certificates in Spain name “Progenitor A” and “Progenitor B,” not “father” and “mother”, a move that the UK is currently debating)
- more aggressive attacks on the natural bond between father, mother, and child (example: blurring the distinction between parent and non-parent, such as if a woman “married” to the mother of a child is considered the child’s second parent, possibly to the exclusion of the child’s father)
Dr. Morse acknowledges that the supporters of marriage redefinition may or may not intend the foregoing. “But I predict,” she continues, “they will be the outcome, the logical result of your marriage policy.” In other words, despite any intentions to the contrary, redefining marriage in law will, as one consequence, entail redefining parenthood. (Dr. Morse details several other consequences.) And how could it not? Saying that men and women are exchangeable as spouses is tantamount to saying that men and women are exchangeable as parents, that fathers and mothers don’t matter to children. (It is commonplace to hear that the number “two” is what matters in parenting, not the gender of the parents, although this prevailing orthodoxy is being challenged by recent studies.) Redefining marriage, and redefining parenthood, are serious matters indeed, and Dr. Morse strongly encouraged the Rhode Island legislators to consider the wide-ranging effects of their decisions.
Dr. Morse’s prescient remarks are worth reading in their entirety. Read them here.
A great blog post from Cardinal Donald Wuerl (Washington, DC) on marriage and why it matters for society:
The Gift of Married Love
Marriage is a private relationship with a public significance. In the human love that brings a woman and man to marriage, we already hear God speaking to us of the beauty and fidelity of love, its transforming power, and its creative energy. In the sacrament of matrimony, God speaks to us of a fullness of human love. Our limited experience of love is only a sign and beginning of love that changes us into children of God, who share his own wondrous and unending life in love.
Christ’s love for the Church is the pattern for married life. “Love one another as I love you!” (John 15:12). Perhaps, this sounds a bit impossible. To a young couple preparing for marriage, the reality of Christ’s love being the pattern of their own love gets lost in the dream-like quality of what is thought to be a perfect love. Real teachers of this truth of married love are the couples with whom we celebrate our annual Jubilarian Mass, some of whom have been married for more than sixty years. These couples speak simply and beautifully of learning to love in a self-giving, self-sacrificing kind of way, of nurturing a love that can weather the stresses and strains of married love and family life. I invite you to listen to some of their wisdom.
In a society that is intent on changing the very definition of marriage and family, we must never tire of preaching the good news that “the intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws. God himself is the author of marriage” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1603).
This Christian understanding of marriage has a very public benefit. Christian marriage is for the good of society, not just the married couple and the Church. In a society where family life is collapsing and our social order is unraveling, the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage and the obligation of parents to their children is a timely remedy. First, it ensures that every child will have the benefit of having a mother and a father. Second, it creates a stable environment for children in a world in which we see many children generated by parents who take no responsibility for them. We observe the proliferation of gangs and individuals who feel alienated and often react violently by hurting others. Family life is under assault because marriage is devalued within our culture. As members of the Church, we are obliged to be all the more attentive to the challenges that weaken marriage as a social institution and an expression of God’s plan for the well-being of the human race. Residents of Maryland have the opportunity to address this issue at the ballot box this week. Insuring that the definition of marriage does not change is a gift to our children and to society.
Living marriage as a vocation with a life-long mission requires commitment, faithfulness, and sacrifice on the part of each of the spouses. This is a gift that flows from the gift they make of themselves to each other, which has to be definitive if it is to endure in the face of difficulties. At every stage marriages need to be nurtured through prayer and reflection and formation. I hope you will take advantage of the spiritual and educational resources for strengthening your marriage which may be found on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Website, “For Your Marriage.”
From Seek First the Kingdom, Cardinal Wuerl’s blog
Background: We’re reading through the Viewer’s Guide that accompanies the video “Made for Life.” We’ve already looked at Part 1 (openness to life) and Part 2 (the gift of self and the gift of life). Today, in part 3, we’ll reflect on what it means that children are a “supreme gift,” how marriage is responsible stewardship of that gift, and what it means that procreation is participation in God’s creative action.
“Children are a gift and a blessing.”
While marriage includes many blessings, the gift of a child is incomparable. Children indeed are the “supreme gift” of marriage. [i] This is witnessed to both by spouses who rejoice at the birth of a son or a daughter, as Tyrone’s words above demonstrate, and by those couples who bear the sadness and pain of infertility or miscarriage. Every child is a gift because every child is a unique, irreplaceable human life. The human person “is the only creature on earth that God has wanted for its own sake.” [ii] In conceiving and giving birth to a child, husband and wife have the awesome responsibility of welcoming a new human life into the world: in fact, a person for whom the world was created, a person for whom God became man, a person called to live with God for all eternity. [iii]
Because every child is an unrepeatable gift, no one can claim a “right” to have a child. “A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift. The ‘supreme gift of marriage’ is a human person. A child may not be considered a piece of property, an idea to which an alleged ‘right to a child’ may lead.” [iv] The proper attitude of parents toward a child is joyful receptivity and awe that the Creator would entrust this new life to a mother and father. [v]
Because the child is always a gift, it would make sense that any consideration of marriage’s meaning would take children seriously into account. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Children today are often seen as a “product” to be manufactured or obtained at whatever cost, or discarded at will. [vi] Pop culture icons show off their children as if they were “trophies.” In all of these instances, the child is used as an object, not respected as a gift. The proposal to redefine marriage to include two persons of the same sex is a radical instance of “forgetting” the gift of the child. This proposal in effect subverts the most fundamental pro-child institution into a self-serving relationship defined in reference to the whims and desires of adults, not the needs of a child, the most vulnerable among us.
Marriage protects the gift that every child is. As the union of husband and wife, marriage is the natural and proper context wherein every child ought to be welcomed as a gift. Children deserve to be conceived in love and received into an environment grounded in the unity between a mother and a father. In this way, marriage is uniquely made for stewardship over life, stewardship of the gift of children. Human experience across every human society attests to the singular role of marriage in keeping together a mother and a father in their shared task of parenting, of being stewards of the gift of new life. [vii]
The truth that every child is a gift also reminds us that husband and wife are not the ultimate source of life. Instead, every child traces his or her origin directly back to God and can truly call him “my Father.” In the video, Cora and Ernie share the meaning of their son Matthew’s name, “gift of God”; truly every child is a gift of God. “God ‘willed’ man from the very beginning, and God ‘wills’ him in every act of conception and every human birth.” [viii] Every human soul is “created immediately by God—it is not ‘produced’ by the parents.” [ix] In conceiving and giving birth to new life, a husband and a wife participate in God’s creative action. [x]
This capacity to participate in bringing forth new human life—the capacity to procreate—is inscribed within the personal, bodily reality of the human person, created male and female. Only a man and a woman, as husband and wife, have the capacity to welcome the gift of the child as a unique human life who springs “from the very heart” of their marital self-giving. [xi] As the bishops have explained, “Participating in the creative work of God means participating in the self-emptying or self-giving love of God, the rendering of one’s whole being into a gift.” [xii]