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.
The Bishops of Virginia, represented by the Virginia Catholic Conference, filed an amicus curiae brief today with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. In January, District Court Judge Arenda Wright Allen struck down the provision in Virginia’s constitution that affirms marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The brief filed on behalf of the Virginia Catholic Conference explains, “Virginia’s interest in marriage is based in the Commonwealth’s foresight that changing the legal definition of marriage would unavoidably change the way Virginia’s citizens view marriage and make the Commonwealth’s marriage laws adult-focused rather than child-focused. If the message and function of marriage is changed in concept, the cultural significance attached to marriage will also change.”
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage voiced his support of the legal action. “The Bishops of the Catholic Church in the United States are united in their desire to preserve the institution of marriage, and we support the Virginia bishops in their effort to defend Virginia’s recognition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. For the good of children, it is critical that society preserve the true meaning of marriage.”
With the Virginia Catholic Conference, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) also filed an amicus brief in Bostic v. Schaefer, along with four other institutions. Oral arguments in this case were heard on May 13, 2014. The audio is available at the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
Updated Monday, May 19, 2014
Today, Pope Francis concluded his Wednesday catechesis on the Sacraments with a reflection on marriage. He began by explaining that marriage is “A sacrament that leads us to the heart of God’s plan, which is a plan of alliance with his People, with all of us, a plan of communion.” He then explained, “The image of God is a married couple, man and woman, not only man, not only woman, but rather both. This is the image of God: love, God’s alliance with us is represented in the alliance between man and woman.”
“We were created to love, as a reflection of God and his love. And in matrimonial union the man and woman realize this vocation, as a sign of reciprocity and the full and definitive communion of life.” When a man and a woman receive the Sacrament of marriage, “God is, so to say, ‘mirrored’ in them, he imprints in them the features and indelible nature of His love. Marriage is the icon of God’s love for us. Indeed, God too is communion: the three Persons of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit have always lived and live forever in perfect unity. And this is the mystery of marriage: God makes married couples into one existence. The Bible uses a strong term: it says one ‘flesh’ only, so intimate is the union between man and woman in marriage.” Pope Francis then concluded his catechesis by saying, “Married life is beautiful, and must be protected.”
Let us pray together for the courage to continue to protect the truth of marriage as the union of one man and one woman!
Pope Francis recently reflected on the Gospel reading of Mark in which the Pharisees, wishing to put Jesus to the test, asked him whether it is lawful to divorce. The Pope reminded his listeners that Jesus “goes right back to the days of creation.” Jesus explains, “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female; ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one. So they are no longer two but one flesh.’”
Pope Francis had much to say about this event and explained quite beautifully that “the Lord is here referring to the masterpiece of creation.” For God “created the light and saw that it was good.” Then “he created the animals, the trees, and the stars: all good.” But “when he created man” he said “that he was very good.” Pope Francis continued, “the creation of man and woman is the masterpiece of creation.” Also because God “did not want for man to be alone: he wanted him to be with his companion, his companion on the journey.” Pope Francis then explained that this moment was also “the beginning of love.” However, he added that “the Lord’s masterpiece was not finished there…the Lord holds up this love contained in the masterpiece of creation in order to explain the love he has for his people. Yet there is another step: when Paul needs to explain the mystery of Christ, he also does so in relation and in reference to the bride. For Christ is wedded: he wedded the Church, his people; as the Father had wedded his people Israel, so Christ espoused his people to himself.”
All of this, the Pope concluded, brings to mind the “plan of love”, “the journey of love of Christian marriage, which God blessed in the masterpiece of his creation with a blessing that can never be taken away. Not even original sin destroyed it.” And “when one considers this,” he quite naturally sees “how beautiful love is, how beautiful marriage is, how beautiful the family is, how beautiful this journey is.”
For Pope Francis’ full reflection, click here.
“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1: 38).”
Today we celebrate that great event when the Angel Gabriel visited Mary and asked her to be the Mother of God. The Annunciation is a huge solemnity in the Church because it commemorates that moment when God took on human flesh. This day exemplifies God’s love for us in so many ways. All throughout the Old Testament we read about examples when God’s love was rejected by His people. Time and time again, He offered opportunities to accept His love, all the while, allowing His people to choose Him freely (or not choose Him as was often the case). Mary’s fiat or “yes” is celebrated because unlike anyone in history before her, she was completely and unreservedly open to God’s will in her life.
The event of the Annunciation teaches us a great deal about freedom. Often times, when we think of freedom, we see it as the ability to choose between “a” or “b,” without any pressure or influence to choose either one. We often believe that such an influence would be considered an infringement on our freedom. But when we look closer, this view of freedom is devoid of all truth. It assumes there is no difference between the options “a” and “b” and that the only good is the ability to choose. It never considers what is being chosen.
Authentic freedom, on the other hand, is shaped by truth. In the words of John Paul II, “Truth enlightens man’s intelligence and shapes his freedom.” Apart from truth, freedom cannot exist. Take for example persons considered “free” to “express their sexuality” through the use of pornography, a medium that completely disregards the truth of human dignity and what human sexuality is made for. Through this addicting “expression,” a person can quickly become a slave to the sin of pornography. Contrarily, we are most free when we are living according to the truth of our existence. Because she had never been touched by the stain of sin, Mary was completely free to embrace the will of God. She was completely free to live the life she was made to live.
Another lie society tells us is that our ability to choose is simply that, our choice. No one else needs to be involved and no one else should matter. We are autonomous, self-determining individuals, so the theory goes. The Annunciation shows us this is not the case. Mary’s willingness to participate in the event of the Incarnation has affected all of history. All of creation waited in anticipation of Mary’s “Yes.” We are all sharers in the benefit of Mary’s decision to choose the will of God. No choice we make is ever merely personal because we are all connected through our common humanity.
Finally, the Annunciation shows us that we can never truly separate faith and life. This is sometimes difficult to accept, especially within a culture that emphasizes the importance and necessity of separating “Church and state.” Today, it is considered normal to be “personally opposed” to something, but okay with it happening in the public realm. Our Catholic faith is different, however. There is no distinction between the public and private realm when it comes to living out our faith. Everything we do, whether it be eating, sleeping, talking or reading, should be done with an eye to who we are as created beings and why God made us. The Incarnation shows us that the physical matters. Salvation history occurs within history, it is a physical event.
There is a poem by Rev. John Duffy, C.S.s.R. which describes Mary’s first awakening after the Angel Gabriel appeared to her. In describing Mary, the poem explains “She was the Mother of the wandering Word, little and terrifying in her laboring womb. And nothing would again be casual and small, but everything with light invested (italics mine).” The Incarnation displays for us how involved God is in our daily lives. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son (John 3:16).” He is not some distant God who creates us and leaves us to figure things out on our own. Instead, God is invested in our lives at every moment. He holds us in being through love, in love, and for love. As John Paul II explained, “man remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love (Redemptor Hominis, no 10).” So nothing we do should be separated from this realization that God is Love and desires each of us to be united with Him in Love. When we realize this, “nothing [will] again be casual and small.”
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.
Intention: Marking the one-year anniversary of Pope Francis’ election this week, we pray that we may follow his humble example and better love “our brethren, especially the weakest and neediest” (Pope Francis, April 24, 2013).
Reflection: A year ago this week, Pope Francis captivated the world almost immediately with his humble simplicity, charisma and warmth. Throughout the past year, he has continued to teach us both by his example and his words, inspiring us to look beyond ourselves and encouraging us to “go in search of the people who are the very flesh of Christ” (Vigil of Pentecost, 2013).
In the message from Pope Francis for last year’s Day of Life, we are reminded that “even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live for ever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect.”
Let us ask the Lord how He is calling us to love all of our brothers and sisters, especially the weakest and neediest, and follow where He leads.
Did You Know? The Vatican website features an online book of images and quotes from Pope Francis over the last year.
In honor of Pope Francis’ one-year anniversary as pontiff, we put together a compilation
of some of his memorable quotes on marriage. Let us take this opportunity to thank the
Holy Spirit for the election of this holy man. Viva el Papa!
“Marriage is between a man and a woman.” Interview with Corriere della Sera (March 5, 2014)
“From the beginning the Creator blessed man and woman so that they might be fruitful and multiply, and so the family then is an image of the Triune God in the world.” Address to the Extraordinary Consistory (February 20, 2014)
“The family is experiencing a profound cultural crisis, as are all communities and social bonds. In the case of the family, the weakening of these bonds is particularly serious because the family is the fundamental cell of society, where 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. Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will.” Evangelii Gaudium, no 66 (Nov 24, 2013)
“The second point: the family is founded on marriage. Through their free and faithful act of love, Christian spouses testify to the fact that marriage, insofar as it is a sacrament, is the foundation of the family and strengthens spousal union and the couple’s mutual gift of self.” Address to the Pontifical Council for the Family (Oct 25, 2013)
“What is marriage? It is a true and authentic vocation, as are the priesthood and the religious life. Two Christians who marry have recognized the call of the Lord in their own love story, the vocation to form one flesh and one life from two, male and female.” Meeting with the Young People of Umbria (October 4, 2013)
“Today, there are those who say that marriage is out of fashion…They say that it is not worth making a lifelong commitment, making a definitive decision, ‘forever’, because we do not know what tomorrow will bring. I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries.” Address to World Youth Day Volunteers, Brazil (July 28, 2013)
“There is neither real promotion of the common good nor real human development when there is ignorance of the fundamental pillars that govern a nation, its non-material goods…[such as] the family, the foundation of coexistence and a remedy against social fragmentation.” Address to the Community of Varginha, Brazil (July 25, 2013)
“The first setting in which faith enlightens the human city is the family. I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage. This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses can become one flesh (cf. Gen 2:24) and are enabled to give birth to a new life, a manifestation of the Creator’s goodness, wisdom and loving plan.” Lumen Fidei, no 52 (June 29, 2013)
Posted: March 13, 2014
February 23, 2014
Before creating 19 new Cardinals yesterday, Pope Francis addressed the College of Cardinals on Thursday morning and introduced their topic of discussion during the Extraordinary Consistory.
“During these days, we will reflect in particular on the family, which is the fundamental cell of society. From the beginning the Creator blessed man and woman so that they might be fruitful and multiply, and so the family then is an image of the Triune God in the world.”
Pope Francis continued, “Our reflections must keep before us the beauty of the family and marriage, the greatness of this human reality which is so simple and yet so rich, consisting of joys and hopes, of struggles and sufferings, as is the whole of life. We will seek to deepen the theology of the family and discern the pastoral practices which our present situation requires. May we do so thoughtfully and without falling into ‘casuistry’, because this would inevitably diminish the quality of our work. Today, the family is looked down upon and mistreated. We are called to acknowledge how beautiful, true and good it is to start a family, to be a family today; and how indispensable the family is for the life of the world and for the future of humanity.”
–Address of Pope Francis to the Extraordinary Consistory, February 20, 2014 (bold added)
Reflection: Marriage, the union of one man and one woman, is a unique kind of relationship because in marriage, a husband and wife give themselves to one another completely. Before he became Pope John Paul II, Karol Wojtyla explained in his book Love and Responsibility, “The essence of [married] love is self-giving, the surrender of one’s ‘I.’” This means that married love is unselfish. A husband and wife are called to treat each day as a new opportunity to think of the other’s needs above their own. If this gift of self is lacking, he explained further, there is a danger that they may treat one another as objects to be used. With authentic love within the marriage of one man and one woman, however, giving oneself is never simply a total self-emptying. Through this giving, there is also a simultaneous receiving of one’s spouse’s gift of self in return. This reciprocal giving and receiving of love within marriage allows for a true and unique “communion of persons.”*
*For a deeper understanding of the meaning of “communion of persons,” visit the USCCB 2009 pastoral letter Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan, pages 10-11.
Did You Know? Pope Francis will be meeting with engaged couples for the Feast of Saint Valentine! Under the title “The Joy of Yes Forever!,” the event is expected to have several thousand participants. These couples from all around the world are looking forward to receiving advice and the blessing from the Holy Father as they embark on their high calling to image Christ’s love for His Church. More information on this event can be found here.
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: In his Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, Blessed John Paul II called attention to the need for pastoral care of families that bear the cross of difficult family situations. “Loneliness and other difficulties are often the lot of separated spouses, especially when they are the innocent parties.” He continued by explaining that “the ecclesial community must support such people more than ever…and it must help them to cultivate the need to forgive which is inherent in Christian love…” Troubled or broken marriages are particularly difficult for the children, who naturally identify their existence with the love between their mother and father. When that love no longer appears to exist, a deep rooted loss of self may begin to be felt. Although it may be very difficult, with the help of God’s grace, it is always possible to heal from the wounds of division. As Blessed John Paul II emphasized, “No one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone, especially those who ‘labor and are heavy laden (no. 85).’”
Did You Know? Today is the first day of National Marriage Week. Join us from February 7-14 in the campaign to strengthen marriages and build a stronger marriage culture by promoting and defending the truth of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. For information on how you can participate, visit the National Marriage Week website.
Today, the Church celebrates the World Day for Consecrated Life! You may be asking, what does consecrated life have to do with marriage? Why would a website dedicated to the promotion and defense of marriage want to place special emphasis on consecrated life? Well, the two states of life have much more in common than may first appear.
When someone makes a promise to live a specific state, he or she is actually giving the whole of themselves present and future. The promise someone makes either in marriage or celibacy, is inclusive of one’s whole being, a total gift of oneself. Those who are called to live as consecrated, not only point to the beauty of consecrated celibacy, but also uphold the beauty and dignity of marriage while living out their vow of celibacy.
In his apostolic exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, Blessed John Paul II explains that marriage and celibacy are two ways of expressing and living the one mystery of the covenant of God with His people. In fact, each of the two states of life actually reveals the interior meaning of the other. So, “whoever denigrates marriage also diminishes the glory of virginity (FC, 16).” He continues, “when human sexuality is not regarded as a great value given by the Creator, the renunciation of it for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven loses its meaning (FC, 16).”
The celibate person awaits in a bodily way, the eschatological marriage of Christ and the Church. Celibacy is a higher state of life because the celibate person anticipates the relationship we are all called to have with God in heaven. Celibacy reminds us of the life to come; that we are all made to be united with God. At the same time, marriage discloses what is at the heart of virginity. By looking at marriage, we are able to correctly understand celibacy as spousal love.
Again, Blessed John Paul II explained that “celibacy keeps alive in the Church a consciousness of the mystery of marriage and defends it from any reduction and impoverishment (FC, 16).” Let us pray that we may be given the grace to defend the integrity of both states of life.
Visit the USCCB website for more information on the World Day for Consecrated Life.
Today, April 28, is the feast day of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, a married saint whom we profiled earlier in our married saints series. In honor of St. Gianna’s feast day, today’s Sunday Pope Quote comes from the 2004 mass in which Bl. John Paul II canonized St. Gianna along with five others.
Bl. Pope John Paul II: “Gianna Beretta Molla was a simple, but more than ever, significant messenger of divine love. In a letter to her future husband a few days before their marriage, she wrote: ‘Love is the most beautiful sentiment the Lord has put into the soul of men and women’.
Following the example of Christ, who ‘having loved his own…loved them to the end’ (Jn 13:1), this holy mother of a family remained heroically faithful to the commitment she made on the day of her marriage. The extreme sacrifice she sealed with her life testifies that only those who have the courage to give of themselves totally to God and to others are able to fulfill themselves.
Through the example of Gianna Beretta Molla, may our age rediscover the pure, chaste and fruitful beauty of conjugal love, lived as a response to the divine call!”
– Homily at the Canonization of Six New Saints (May 16, 2004), emphasis added
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 is a short little quote from Bl. Pope John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio.
Bl. John Paul II: “All members of the family, each according to his or her own gift, have the grace and responsibility of building day by day the communion of persons, making the family ‘a school of deeper humanity’ [GS 52]: This happens where there is care and love for the little ones, the sick, the aged; where there is mutual service every day; when there is a sharing of goods, of joys and of sorrows.”
– Familiaris Consortio, no. 21
Today’s Sunday Pope Quote comes from a homily given by Pope Benedict at the 2011 World Youth Day in Madrid. The context is a reflection on vocations.
Pope Benedict XVI: During this prayer vigil, I urge you to ask God to help you find your vocation in society and in the Church, and to persevere in that vocation with joy and fidelity. It is a good thing to open our hearts to Christ’s call and to follow with courage and generosity the path he maps out for us.
“The Lord calls many people to marriage, in which a man and a woman, in becoming one flesh (cf. Gen 2:24), find fulfilment in a profound life of communion. It is a prospect that is both bright and demanding. It is a project for true love which is daily renewed and deepened by sharing joys and sorrows, one marked by complete self-giving. For this reason, to acknowledge the beauty and goodness of marriage is to realize that only a setting of fidelity and indissolubility, along with openness to God’s gift of life, is adequate to the grandeur and dignity of marital love.”
– Homily at Prayer Vigil with Young People, World Youth Day, Madrid (Aug. 20, 2011), emphasis added
A few weeks ago, we read through the Viewer’s Guide for the video “Made for Each Other,” which is about sexual difference and complementarity. Now, in this Respect Life month of October, we’re going to read through the Viewer’s Guide for the second video in the Marriage: Unique for a Reason series, “Made for Life.”
“Made for Life” features real-life married couples and parents who share their reflections on what it means to be open to life, why fathers and mothers matter for children, what it means that children are a gift, and so on. Their reflections aim to help viewers understand the life-giving nature of married love and why that matters to what marriage is.
In the first section, we look at what openness to life means and why love and life are inseparable.
“Being open to children is so foundational. When you’re open to children, you’re not just opening yourself to the possibility of the gift of life, but you’re [also] opening yourself up to your spouse.”
Marriage is made for life. It is a singular institution that brings a man and a woman together as husband and wife, who vow themselves into a union directed not only toward themselves but simultaneously to the gift of new life. As Katie relates, this openness to life is part and parcel of married love, and it is deeply personal, that is, it accords with the nature of the human person. Openness to life also accords with the nature of love itself. As the bishops of the United States taught in their pastoral letter on marriage, “It is the nature of love to overflow, to be life-giving.” [i]
Marriage is the natural human context wherein a child is properly conceived and welcomed into life as the “supreme gift of marriage.” [ii] And in this stance of openness and welcoming, meant to mark every aspect of married love, a husband and a wife grow closer to each other. They share themselves fully with each other, inviting deeper trust and the freedom that comes from each spouse making a gift of himself or herself to the other. Being open to one’s spouse and being open to children is one and the same choice and act. As Pope John Paul II taught, “Thus the couple, while giving themselves to one another, give not just themselves but also the reality of children, who are a living reflection of their love, a permanent sign of conjugal unity and a living and inseparable synthesis of their being a father and a mother.” [iii]
In other words, in marriage, love and life are inseparable. This is what the Church means when she teaches that the unitive and procreative meanings of married love are inseparable. [iv] In embracing each other, husband and wife embrace their capacity to conceive a child and are called to do nothing deliberate to close part of themselves to the gift of the other. This does not mean that a child will be—or should be—conceived from every act of sexual intimacy. Marriage is not a mechanical factory for the mass production of children. The Church teaches couples in their openness to life to practice responsible parenthood by discerning whether or not they have serious reasons, in keeping with God’s plan for marriage, to postpone becoming a father and a mother here and now. [v]
The inseparable connection of love and life means that husband and wife are called to give everything to each other in their acts of intimacy—including their capacity for fruitfulness. Otherwise, their gift of self would not be total. Being open to each other, open to receiving the gift of the other, and therefore being open to life, is not something optional for marriage. Instead, it is at the core of marriage, and only a man and a woman can make the radical promise that marriage entails: “A man and woman united in marriage as husband and wife serve as a symbol of both life and love in a way that no other relationship of human persons can.” [vi] This is why marriage can only be between a man and a woman. Persons of the same sex lack the sexual difference that is the necessary foundation for a husband and wife’s ability to live both “gifts”—the total gift of self exchanged between them in marriage, which includes their openness to the gift of a child. [vii]
"Every time we make love…we're making life…giving life…It's not just sex…I come alive, and there's a sense of forever in that."
Note: Over the next few weeks, we’ll be reading through the Viewer’s Guide for the video “Made for Each Other.” In the video, married couple Josh and Carrie reflect on the meaning of sexual difference. Each section of the Viewer’s Guide takes a quote from either Josh or Carrie and fleshes it out. The goal of the Viewer’s Guide is to help you, the reader, become more confident in promoting and defending the meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
This is part 7 of the series, and we’ll reflect on what it means that married love is unitive and procreative, and also look at the deeper meaning of sex and the good of friendship.
“Every time we make love…we’re making life…giving life…It’s not just sex…I come alive, and there’s a sense of forever in that.”
While not every husband may put into words what Josh expressed, Josh is speaking about more than just personal experience. He’s getting at the deeper meaning of sex, of conjugal love, the love between husband and wife. The unique bond of spousal love is itself life-giving. This is what the Church means by the inseparability of the unitive and procreative aspects of the conjugal act. [i]
The Church’s teaching on marriage and sexual difference is deeply connected with her teaching on sex itself. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 2360), “Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. In marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and a pledge of spiritual communion.” Human sexuality in the context of marriage is an organic, holistic reality. Sex is both procreative and unitive, meaning that sex can lead to new life and unite the spouses. [ii]
How about we go deeper: Within the context of marriage, these three elements, sexual difference, spousal love, and natural procreation (fruitfulness), work together. [iii] A husband and wife’s love for each other directs their sexual energies exclusively toward their spouse. Spouses’ sexual activity brings them closer together, and may result in a child whom they both love. The child is equally the child of both husband and wife, now father and mother. And when these elements are together and respected, the child is welcomed as a gift. Also, as expressed by Josh and Carrie in their openness to life, married love is still called to be fruitful even without the blessing of a child. [iv]
The modern alternative to the Church’s teaching is that sex is a private recreational activity, that it may be deliberately made sterile and has no moral or social significance. In this view, it is “perfectly proper” to disconnect sex from marriage, from procreation and even from love. Sexual difference becomes reduced to a superficial and arbitrary social construct. The modern world teaches that we can have sex without babies, have babies without sex, and have either without any connection with one’s husband or wife. The modern world considers these legitimate expressions of our independence and freedom.
This downgrading of the sexual act to immediate pleasure, rather than the true and complete union of two persons, man and woman, has gone hand in hand with the increasing isolation between men and women. Sex in the context of marriage creates deep and meaningful connection between the sexes. But in modern society, sex is often focused on the self and on personal pleasure, rather than on mutual self-giving. In this context where sex is detached from marriage, sex ceases to be a union of anything, but rather simply and exclusively an occasion for mutual stimulation. Sexual acts performed with these attitudes do not create a union of persons but deter such a union. Instead of being a couple who give to each other, objectively the people are a pair of individuals who take from each other.
In this context as well, authentic and holy friendship, a good for all people, has suffered and has been devalued. The heroic recovery of the inseparable connection between chastity and true, virtuous friendship is needed today.
- “We were made for each other, as a man and a woman.”
- “That connection…to be authentic, it has to be the whole person.”
- “Making love and having children…that depends on our difference.”
- “That’s why it’s unique to a man and a woman.”
- “It’s not just about biology…”
- “We share a common humanity, but our sexual differences are essential to who we are.”
Today’s Sunday Pope Quote comes from Bl. John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio (The family in the modern world). Here he is discussing what it means for married love to be fruitful…and it might surprise you how truly wide and deep this concept is!
Bl. John Paul II: “Fruitful married love expresses itself in serving life in many ways. Of these ways, begetting and educating children are the most immediate, specific and irreplaceable. In fact, every act of true love toward a human being bears witness to and perfects the spiritual fecundity of the family, since it is an act of obedience to the deep inner dynamism of love as self-giving to others.
“For everyone this perspective is full of value and commitment, and it can be an inspiration in particular for couples who experience physical sterility.
“Christian families, recognizing with faith all human beings as children of the same heavenly Father, will respond generously to the children of other families, giving them support and love not as outsides but as members of the one family of God’s children.
. . .
“Family fecundity must have an unceasing ‘creativity,’ a marvelous fruit of the Spirit of God, who opens the eyes of the heart to discover the new needs and sufferings of our society and gives courage for accepting them and responding to them.”
– Familiaris Consortio, no. 41