We finish this series on Made for Life with a clip of Katie and Pete talking about the way that marriage provides the “perfect” setting to raise a child. It takes a man and a woman to bring a new human being into the world. Two men or two women simply cannot do this. So if sexual difference is the basic necessity for conceiving a child, then it makes sense that sexual difference would also be important for raising that child. A mother and a father bring balance and ensure that children always have one person similar to and one persondifferent from them to look up to.
A child’s “first right” is to “be born in a real family,” that is, to be born to his or her own father and mother, bonded in marriage.[i] Protecting this right is a matter of social justice. As the bishops have taught, “To promote and protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman is itself a matter of justice. In fact, it would be a grave injustice if the state ignored the unique and proper place of husbands and wives, the place of mothers and fathers, and especially the rights of children, who deserve from society clear guidance as they grow to sexual maturity.”[ii]
It is sometimes claimed that what really matters for a child is the presence of any two loving, committed adults, regardless of their sex/gender. But there are major problems with this assertion. First, two men or two women are physically incapable of having a child together. Nothing they do can change this fact. Instead, two people of the same sex must either attempt to adopt a child or contract with a “third party” egg or sperm donor who contributes one-half of the child’s genetic material. This means that placing a child in the care of two men or two women deliberately separates that child from his or her father or mother in every single case. Then, those children are further denied the benefit of witnessing a healthy relationship between a father and mother and the experience of the parental love of either a man or a woman. Children deserve better.
- Why do you think the Church teaches that a child has a right to be born into a family?
- How does having a mother and father give the child the balance he or she needs?
- What other topics would you like to explore with Marriage Unique for a Reason? Leave a comment and let us know!
[i] Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, no. 244.
[ii] Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan, 22. The needs and rights of the child should be of fundamental concern for every society and community, as is acknowledged in “the principle, recognized also in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, that the best interests of the child, as the weaker and more vulnerable party, are to be the paramount consideration in every case.” CDF, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons (2003), no. 7, www.vatican.va/roman_curia/ congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20030731_homosexual-unions_en.html.
This week’s clip begins with Katie and Pete talking about how they play differently with their kids, and moves to Pete talking about society’s obligation to support that which is best for children.
That mothers and fathers are different is a common sense and intuitive statement. It does not mean that “All moms do X” or “All dads do Y” but rather that mothers and fathers, even when they do the exact same thing, do not do it the same way. Men and women just do things differently.
Why is this important and beneficial for children? Sociologically, we don’t know, we only know that it appears to be the case. Philosophically, we can understand it because we know ourselves to be one sex or the other, and therefore seeing both ways of being human every day informs our self-understanding as well as an understanding that there is always another way of being. And theologically, we can see that if sexually-differentiated humanity is really “the image of God,” then our image of God, our idea of who God is and how God loves us, will be incomplete without seeing the love of a man and a woman lived out before us.
And if we know that it’s important for kids to have a mother and a father, and that even if we don’t know why, children consistently do better in that environment, shouldn’t we promote and defend it?
- What are practical ways that you can promote and defend marriage today?
- What are examples from your own family of how masculinity and femininity is displayed and honored in a day-to-day way?
As discussed last week, single parents can still honor the importance of sexual difference by acknowledging the unique difficulties their families face, but two persons of the same sex who raise a child are unable to do so.
Two men or two women who claim to replace a mother and a father reject the vital role that parental sexual difference plays in the development of a child, especially the child’s sexual identity. Children look to their parents to figure out what it means to be a boy or a girl and how to relate to the opposite sex. When there is not a model in the home of one sex or the other, one of these developmental tasks the child faces necessarily and by definition is made incredibly difficult. How can John understand what it means to be a man when he primarily only sees two women interacting? How can Anna understand her worth as a woman if her two caregivers are both men? As adults, it can be hard to remember what it is to be a child, completely dependent on our parents and constantly absorbing things (largely unconsciously) that shape our understanding of the world. These things aren’t quantifiable or really even “proveable”. We know by faith, in a way, that based on the Catholic understanding of who the human being is, being raised by two men or two women wounds a child. Of course, these wounds are not incurable; the Divine Physician is always ready to heal and transfom the hurts that we sustain as children. But that does not mean that we do not do all that we can as a Church and society to prevent predictable suffering.
Too much of the discussion around marriage redefinition revolved around the supposed “rights” of adults to sexual and social “fulfillment” in a recognized legal partnership rather than the rights of children to know and be raised by their parents. (Or, ironically, one of the Justices argued that “children of same-sex couples” had the right for their “parents” to be recognized by the State, ignoring the fact that, by nature and rights, there are no “children of same-sex couples” except those procured by an unjust system.)
One of the reasons that it is hard to explain and defend the Church’s position on marriage is that, as a society, we have conceptually separated two things that should be together: marriage and having children. We must help our contemporaries to see that these two things belong together, so that we can minimize the damage that will be done to young lives by the choices of adults.
- What does it mean that single parents can still “honor” the importance of sexual difference in the lives of their children?
- Consider your experience as a child. What do you think you learned by watching your mother and father interact?
- Given that a child being raised in a same-sex household suffers a wound, how can the Church better support those children?
In this section of Made for Life, a single mother, Elizabeth, talks about her experience of raising her daughter alone; later in the video Elizabeth talks about what hopes she has for her daughter’s future.
Emphasizing the deep need every child has to be raised by a father and a mother does not mean that the Church looks down on single parents. On the contrary, the Church seeks to support single parents who are raising children without the support of a spouse because she recognizes how hard this situation can be. Often a single mother has made a heroic decision in giving her child life and a home despite knowing that the child’s father will not participate. Single parents work hard to provide a stable, loving home for their children in an un-ideal situation. As Elizabeth points out, most single parents did not expect to be “doing this” (raising a child) on their own. Something unexpected happened.
The situation of children being raised by a single parent (due to unforeseen circumstances) is very different from deliberately depriving a child of a mother or a father, which occurs (de facto) when children are raised by two men or two women. While single parents have the freedom to recognize the absence of a father—or a mother—in the lives of their children and talk with their children about this, the absence of either is likely going to be ignored in a same-sex household.[i] Most single parents, like Elizabeth, hope that their child will not have to go through what they did in raising them alone. As she says later in the video, Elizabeth hopes that her daughter marries “a wonderful Christian man who can guide her future family and be a wonderful father.”
We can and must support single parents without sacrificing the teaching that children deserve to know and be raised and loved by both their mother and their father.
- How would you explain to someone the difference between a single parent and two men or two women who are raising a child?
- How can the Church and society best support single parents, while holding up the natural family as the ideal?
In many ways this is one of those truisms that we know through experience: mothers and fathers matter. It is common sense, and it is part of all of our pasts; whether our mother or father were present or absent defines, in many ways, our childhoods. But there are some today who claim that it really doesn’t matter if you have a father or a mother as long as you have people who love you. The redefinition of civil marriage to include persons of the same sex essentially redefines parenthood as well.[i]
Marriage is a pro-child institution. It is not just about the satisfaction of adult desires. Marriage is not something private—it’s a public institution with public roles and responsibilities. The love between husband and wife naturally opens up to include the child, the family, and the greater society. This openness is simply not possible for persons of the same sex, who cannot form a spousal union that is open to the gift of life. They cannot “have a child” together; it’s simply and objectively impossible. Society has, therefore, a legitimate interest in and a just obligation toward protecting and promoting the natural family based on marriage between a man and a woman.
The family is the place where the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society are born and raised. As the “sanctuary of life,”[ii] the family deserves to be valued and aided by society. This is why the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges is unjust. In addition to telling a lie about what marriage is, it undermines the social good of natural marriage and the rights of children. Society’s well-being and very existence are bound up with marriage and the family; we must work to overturn this decision, just as we hope one day to overturn the unjust decision in Roe v. Wade.
- Does our society treat the family founded on marriage as fundamental?
- What are the reasons that society has, for centuries, privileged the natural family based on marriage between a man and a woman?
[i] This was mentioned in the MUR video Made for Freedom (around 3:44 in the video), with Alana Newman who is a child and advocate for children of third-party reproduction. Alana points out that the redefinition of marriage opens the door for a major increase in third-party reproduction, since two men or two women who “marry” will necessarily need to utilize the reproductive capacities of another person to “have a child.”
[ii] Pope John Paul II, On the Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum (Centesimus Annus) (Washington, DC: USCCB, 1991), no. 39.
Marriage is “made for life” because marriage is the safest and most proper place for God to create other human beings. Why? Because it ensures, as much as possible, that the child will receive the care he or she needs and deserves from both “halves” of his or her origin. The sexual act in marriage is imbued with meaning and consequence, and marriage is the only human relationship that can be considered worthy of bringing new life into the world. Married couples vow themselves into a union that is outward-directed, open to life. You could not really love someone and at the same time say, “But I would never want to have a child with you.” Would that be love? 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]
Pope St. John Paul II taught, “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.”[ii] When a man and woman marry, they are at the same time promising that the only way that they are going to give life to “a third” is with one another.[iii] If either the man or woman experiences infertility, whether permanent or temporary, this is not a cross carried by him or her alone, but rather is a joint cross carried by the couple together. This is part of what the Church means when she teaches that the unitive and procreative meanings of married love are inseparable.
In embracing each other, husband and wife embrace their capacity to conceive a child. This does not mean that a child will be—or should be—conceived from every act of sexual intimacy. It simply means that they are not closed to this natural gift.
As our interviewees say at the end of this clip: each child is a gift of God!
- Why is it difficult for people to understand that married love involves openness to life?
- What does it mean to say that “being open to children” at the same time “opens yourself up to your spouse”?
- How are openness to life and sexual difference related?
[i] USCCB, Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan (Washington, DC: USCCB, 2009), 13.
[ii] Familiaris Consortio, no. 14.
[iii] This is one of the ways to understand why the Church holds that in vitro fertilization or surrogacy and the like are immoral; they are ways of creating life that circumvent this promise. Those who resort to these kinds of medical interventions refuse to accept the cross in this situation and often make use of another person’s reproductive capacity (via sperm or egg “donation”).
By their very nature, the institution of matrimony itself and conjugal love are ordained for the procreation and education of children, and find in them their ultimate crown.
–Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes (1965), no. 48[i]
How are marriage and life connected?
Everyone knows “where babies come from” and that marriage, commitment, or really any knowledge of the other person is not strictly necessary. So why is “Life” (or “Children”) one of the four themes for the Marriage: Unique for a Reason initiative? To answer this question, it’s necessary to answer a couple of other questions first:
- What are human beings?
- What do human beings require to flourish?
What are we? There are many helpful definitions of the human being out there that get at our unique constitution: rational animals, ensouled bodies or embodied souls, individuals-in-relation, or, to be a bit more technical about it: “A man, woman, or child of the species Homo sapiens, distinguished from other animals by superior mental development, power of articulate speech, and upright stance.”[ii] We are at the “top of the food chain” even though we are by no means the strongest of animals, and we are the only animals able to consider our own being and destiny. And yet, despite these inherent capacities, we are, at the same time, the most helpless of all animals when we are infants. We take the longest time to become “self-sufficient” and require other creatures to care for us and educate us for years. We cannot survive without our parents or some other adult human being who is willing to step into the place of a parent. And since our senses develop in utero, we know the smell of our mother[iii] and the sound of her voice[iv] and can recognize her when we are born. Our mother’s physical presence can calm us down as infants. There is also evidence that the presence of an involved father during pregnancy reduces the risk of death for the infant for the first year[v] and his physical or mental status can affect his baby’s health.[vi]
In view of these facts, what do human beings need in order to flourish? We need a mother and a father—and not only when we are infants, but all the way through adulthood![vii] If this is how we have been created, it makes sense that in God’s plan, a new human being would come-to-be within a relationship that would (at least attempt to) guarantee that this human being would be cared for by his or her mother and father for all of life. Marriage—the permanent, faithful, fruitful union of one man and one woman—is God’s first and primary way of taking care of each and every one of us from the beginning of our existence. We come-to-be in an act of sexual intercourse between a man and a woman; if that man and woman are married, we end up in the situation best suited to our human development.[viii] “Marriage as fundamentally pro-child, protecting the gift of the child and preserving the vital roles of mothers and fathers.”[ix] So that’s why “Children” is one of our considerations when we talk about the uniqueness of marriage.
The series we are beginning on the MUR blog accompanies short segments of the video Made for Life. In this video, married couples discuss the importance of openness to life to their marriages, and why children do best in homes with married mothers and fathers. During the next six weeks, we will explore these themes a bit more. Much of the posts will contain text found in the Viewer’s Guide of Made for Life. The questions provided can be used for personal reflection or for group discussion.
[i] Second Vatican Council. Gaudium et Spes. http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html
[ii] Oxford Living Dictionaries. “Human being”. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/human_being
[iii] There are a number of places to read about this, including: https://www.womenshealth.gov/itsonlynatural/addressing-myths/incredible-facts-about-babies-breast-milk.html and http://www.parenting.com/article/your-babys-sense-of-smell
[iv] Similarly, there are any number of articles on this, including: http://www.parenting.com/article/what-babies-learn-in-the-womb
[v] “Father Involvement in Preganancy Could Reduce Infant Mortality,” EurekAlert, June 17, 2010, www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2010-06/uosf-fii061710.php, as referenced in Paul Raeburn, Do Fathers Matter? (New York: Scientific American, 2014).
[vi] Prakesh S. Shah and Knowledge Synthesis Group, “Parental Factors and Low Birthweight, Preterm, and Small for Gestational Age Births: A Systematic Review,” American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 202, no. 2 (2010): 103-23, as referenced in Paul Raeburn, Do Fathers Matter? (New York: Scientific American, 2014).
[vii] So-called “grey divorce” has dramatically risen in the last decade, and adult children struggle when their parents split up. See one of these articles: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/24/fashion/weddings/never-too-old-to-hurt-from-parents-divorce.html?_r=0; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/terry-gaspard-msw-licsw/how-to-move-on-from-your-grey-divorce_b_5242932.html; https://www.hg.org/article.asp?id=32532
[viii] See, for example, W. Bradford Wilcox, “Even for Rich Kids, Marriage Matters,” Family Studies, December 19, 2013;“Why Marriage Matters: Thirty Conclusions from the Social Sciences,” Institute for American Values, 2011. Robin Wilson and W. Bradford Wilcox, “Bringing up Baby: Adoption, Marriage, and the Best Interests of the Child,” William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal. Vol. 14, No. 3, pp. 883-908, February 2006. David Ribar, “Why Marriage Matters for Child Wellbeing,” The Future of Children. Vol. 25, No. 2, Fall 2015. Paula Fomby and Andrew Cherlin, “Family Instability and Child Well-Being,” American Sociological Review. Vol. 72 (2007): 181–204, doi: 10.1177/000312240707200203. Wendy Manning, Pamela Smock, and Debarun Majumdar, “The Relative Stability of Cohabiting and Marital Unions for Children,” Population Research and Policy Review. Vol. 23 (2004): 135–59, doi:10.1023/B:POPU.0000019916.29156.a7. Kathleen Ziol-Guest and Rachel Dunifon, “Complex Living Arrangements and Child Health: Examining Family Structure Linkages with Children’s Health Outcomes,” Family Relations. Vol. 63 (2014): 424–37, doi:10.1111/fare.12071.
[ix] USCCB, Made For Life Viewer’s Guide, p. vii.
This news story from The New York Times highlights in a helpful way the extent to which many people have effectively divorced themselves from the reality of the human being as a bodily entity faced with biological facts. Two same-sex couples (four women) are suing a New Jersey state commissioner over an insurance mandate about infertility coverage which they claim discriminates against them. The complaint? “It defines infertility as the inability to impregnate another person, the inability to carry a pregnancy to live birth or the inability to conceive after one or two years of unprotected sex, depending on the woman’s age.” While this definition may sound innocuous, the women in the lawsuit claim discrimination because this definition could never apply to them, and hence coverage for “infertility treatment” is inaccessible.
“Where do babies come from?” is a child’s question with a concrete, physical, objective answer. When a mom (for example) answers this question from her precocious four-year-old, she may not go into detail, but she will at the very least include a man and a woman in the answer. Indeed, babies come from a specific action requiring two persons of the opposite sex. Even with immoral procedures like IVF, which separates the coming-to-be of a child from a couple’s intimacy, a male and female contribution is required.
Given these foundational facts, two women can’t be fertile together, no matter how much they want to “start a family,” and no matter if both of them individually are healthy and fertile. As Mat Staver, founder and chairman of the Liberty Counsel law firm said, the policy “does not discriminate against same-sex couples. These women have chosen to engage in sexual relations that cannot produce a child and now they want the insurance company to pay for their personal choices.”
Further, children are not a right; they are not owed to anyone. Pope Francis reminds us of this in Amoris Laetitia when he writes about the right children have to the love of both their mother and their father, together. “Without this, a child could become a mere plaything” (no. 172). Addressing the idea that children are one’s right, the pope says:
The choice of adoption and foster care expresses a particular kind of fruitfulness in the marriage experience, and not only in cases of infertility. In the light of those situations where a child is desired at any cost, as a right for one’s self- fulfilment, adoption and foster care, correctly understood, manifest an important aspect of parenting and the raising of children. They make people aware that children, whether natural, adoptive or taken in foster care, are persons in their own right who need to be accepted, loved and cared for, and not just brought into this world (no. 180, emphasis mine).
Children are a gift from God, meant to be received by the couple through a loving act of sexual intimacy and not demanded as a right by any means possible.
Another problematic aspect of the lawsuit is that it minimizes the real experience of infertility. These women claim to understand a pain that is inaccessible to them. Two women may deeply desire a child, but at no time could they realistically have thought that they would be able to have one together (ever) or to have one without scientific intervention (for one of them). They could not wonder, each time they physically expressed their love for one another, whether this would be the moment that their child would come into existence. They could not experience a time of waiting and anticipating, only to be disappointed. For those who have actually suffered from infertility, comparing these two situations can be painful and even offensive. Further, true infertility treatment seeks to heal the underlying medical reasons for a couple’s infertility so that they are able to conceive a child together. The “treatment” described in the article does no such thing, and in fact “treats” nothing.
The article does provide a great opportunity to think about a beautiful phrase, not without its pain, that comes from the experience of many Catholic married couples: “We experience infertility.” We… Not I. This comes from a deeper understanding of fertility and infertility, given the truth of the human person and our call to marital love and the gift of self. An individual man or woman may have “working organs” and in that sense be “fertile”; but fertility (and therefore infertility) more properly belongs to a couple who is united in a procreative act of intercourse. A man or a woman cannot have a child by him- or herself because we are a sexually reproductive species. Being fertile, then, does no individual person any good unless they are united to someone of the opposite sex. Only in a marital union does fertility take on its full meaning.
World Meeting of Families Catechesis Series
The USCCB 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.
Chapter Ten: Choosing Life
Dr. Theresa Notare
Secretariat for Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth
Happiness in life requires courage and work. Happiness comes at a price. Want to play the guitar like a rock star? You will have to take music lessons and practice for hours daily. Want to have a strong, lean body? You will have to eat healthy food and exercise regularly. The list is endless. Hard work and sacrifice are a prerequisite to true, mature happiness.
As people of faith, we know that happiness arises from living a life that is in harmony with God’s will and leads us to fulfill our purpose. Chapter Ten of the catechism for the World Meeting of Families highlights this when it says that: “God made us for a reason… to love as He does” (no. 189). When we “understand that love is our mission,” this truth will “shape many other areas of life” (Ibid.). This can be clearly seen in marriage and family which, when founded on Christ, is a school of love.
The vows in a Catholic marriage speak of the self-gift that the husband and wife make to each other in Christ. This requires “dying to self” as the two put aside “I” to become “we.” Married love, including its sexual expression, is holy. When lived in accord with God’s plan, conjugal love should “reverence God’s vision of human sexuality.” This requires that the couple trust in God’s plan for their marriage, including whether and/or when they are able to have children. It may also ask for courage since Catholic couples will have to reject contraception which does harm to God’s design.
Many married Catholics do not realize the deep happiness that they can have in their marriages when God is at the center of everything. They can express God’s love for one another while they also honor His design, including their sexual lives. Sexual intercourse, as willed by God, is a holy time for husband and wife. It fortifies their union and is the worthy place for receiving new life. Honoring God’s will does not mean that couples can’t regulate the number of children in their families. When they need to postpone or avoid pregnancy, they may continue to honor God’s design by practicing one of the methods of Natural Family Planning (NFP).
NFP methods respect God’s gift of fertility by learning about it in a thoughtful way. No drugs or devices are introduced into the conjugal act; rather, the bodies of both man and woman are fully respected in their life-giving potential, and “listened” to. If a couple needs to avoid a pregnancy they refrain from sex when they are fertile. When they realize that God may be calling them to have a child, because of their knowledge of NFP they would also know the best time to attempt a pregnancy. This, of course, takes study
and practice (most NFP methods require charting the signs of fertility). All NFP methods also require self-discipline since periodic sexual abstinence is the NFP means to avoid pregnancy. This can be very difficult, but it is doable with the help of grace and the habit of self-discipline which is common to all virtues.
When couples persevere in learning and using NFP, they reap many benefits. All NFP methods are effective for both attempting to achieve or avoid pregnancy. They are also good for the body since no devices or drugs are used. In fact, NFP methods are the “organic” way to live with human fertility—they do not pollute the environment. Most importantly, NFP methods teach married couples to understand their bodies and to communicate with each other about their fertility and their relationship. These conversations can foster deeper couple communication that can improve their relationships. NFP research confirms this benefit showing that NFP couples feel respected by their spouses. NFP helps married couples commit to real happiness—the deep happiness of living life according to God’s plan!
 See the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1657.
 Committee for Pro-Life Activities, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Human Sexuality from God’s Perspective, Humanae vitae 25 Years Later,” (1993); available at: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/natural-family-planning/catholic-teaching/upload/Human-Sexuality-from-God-s-Perspective-Humanae-Vitae-25-Years-Later.pdf.
 L. VandeVusse, L. Hanson, R. J. Fehring, A. Newman, J. Fox, “Couples’ views of the effects of natural family planning on marital dynamics,” Journal of Nursing Scholarship 35, no. 2 (2003):171-176.
Note: This post is seventh 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” and the need for a renewed emphasis on anthropology and chastity
- #5: Is defending marriage just about injuring others? No. Marriage matters for everyone.
- #6: What now? Practical ways to promote and defend marriage
PART TWO: Practical ways to promote and defend marriage
Post #7: How to use Marriage: Unique for a Reason
The audience that the bishops have in mind for the Marriage: Unique for a Reason project is Catholic young adults. The bishops reasoned that young adults are most bombarded and most susceptible to faulty messages about marriage, but the materials could certainly be used for older audiences too. The materials do not assume much in the way of prior catechesis, but they are written for a Catholic audience, not a generic or secular one.
The end-goal of the resources is inculcating a renewed understanding and appreciation of what the Church teaches in regards to marriage, and a sense of its reasonableness. The hope is that learning the Church’s timeless teaching can build confidence to promote and defend it.
The videos themselves are meant as a kind of “artistic introduction” to the topic that can spark questions and comments from the viewers. The written guides that accompany the videos can help “train the trainers” to get the right content to be confident in facilitating and answering questions. For example, the comment in Made for Each Other – “It’s not just about biology…” could open the discussion to talking about sexual difference as greater than just anatomy, about the spousal meaning of the body, about the role of science, etc. Or the line in Made for Life – “My husband plays in a way I don’t” – could lead into talking about the unique gifts of fathers and mothers and how sexual difference is more than different “roles.”
There are many settings in which to implement the Marriage: Unique for a Reason resources. Here are a few:
- Host a small-group event where you show one or more of the videos and lead a discussion.
- The videos also work well in a classroom setting, and are something that high school teachers or college professors could use with the same aim in mind. They can be used in RCIA as well.
- In the marriage preparation or enrichment setting, the videos could be used to help the participants gain a better understanding of their own marriage and how sexual difference matters to them. The leader might guide the discussion in that direction.
- The videos could also be helpful when you are training volunteers, for marriage prep or NFP, etc., to help them become more confident in what the Church teaches so that they can best help others.
Fundamentally, the videos and their companion resources are meant to “break open” the questions that need to be asked in the marriage debate: what is marriage? Why does sexual difference matter? What does marriage bring to society? And they aim to do that in a non-confrontational, invitational way.
Other ways you could use the Marriage: Unique for a Reason materials is to include one FAQ from the website in your newsletters or other communications. Or compile several for a simple bulletin insert or handout, and direct people to the website for more information.
The final “tip” we’d like to offer is something that we’ve learned over the past year in our work at the USCCB, and that is the importance of collaboration and the key importance of prayer. Specifically, we’ve helped to develop and promote the Bishops’ Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty, which began in December 2012 and is ongoing. The bishops urge Catholics to pray and fast for the causes of building a culture of life and marriage, and gaining religious protections. In particular, they encourage praying a daily rosary, attending adoration monthly, fasting and abstaining from meat on Fridays, and there are special petitions that can be read at mass, in English and in Spanish. The second annual Fortnight for Freedom (June 21 – July 4, 2013) was the 5th component of the Call to Prayer.
We’ve collaborated with several offices in furthering the Call to Prayer, particularly the pro-life office and religious liberty office. This was important not just because it shared the workload, but because these issues are tied together. Marriage is the “sanctuary of life,” and a pro-life society is a strong marriage society and vice versa. And as we’ve already talked about, marriage and religious liberty are strongly linked together.
We encourage you to reach out to others in your diocese or region who are doing pro-life or religious liberty work and find ways to collaborate together. There is strength in numbers, and it’s so important, for example, to encourage pro-life folks to promote and defend marriage, and vice versa. (This would include your State Catholic Conference, particularly with regard to policy issues and aiding in communicating it to the faithful.) One idea is to host a seminar with the relevant offices – marriage and family life, pro-life, State Catholic Conference, etc. – on how catechesis and policy/advocacy work together.
The Call to Prayer also witnesses to the fact that prayer is key. Fundamentally, the battle is spiritual, and it’s a battle for souls. Prayer and fasting are essential, not optional. That is the vision behind the Call to Prayer – that we do what we can, but it is God who changes hearts and minds. We encourage you to check out the Call to Prayer website: www.usccb.org/life-marriage-liberty. There you can read about the five ways to participate and can sign up to receive weekly reminders to fast on Fridays, along with a different intention and reflection each week. There are also web banners to put up on your own website.
Note: This post is sixth 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” and the need for a renewed emphasis on anthropology and chastity
- #5: Is defending marriage just about injuring others? No. Marriage matters for everyone.
PART TWO: Practical ways to promote and defend marriage
Post #6: Doing your ministry well, and Marriage: Unique for a Reason
The current challenges we face in regards to marriage, as evidenced by the June 2013 Supreme Court decisions on two marriage cases (regarding DOMA and Proposition 8), does not mean that you have to fundamentally shift gears in your ministry or – worse – start several new programs to address these issues! That’s not what we’re suggesting, although we are going to tell you about what resources the USCCB has to offer that you may find helpful.
Instead, we encourage you to think about how the ministry you are doing right now can more effectively combat the growing sense that gender is irrelevant to marriage, and all the faulty anthropology that goes with that.
For example, perhaps a marriage preparation program could more intentionally teach the engaged couples about the distinct gifts of men and women, mothers and fathers. It could help them see the uniqueness of their roles as husbands and wives. Or perhaps in programs for young adults or even high school students, you could integrate more teaching on chastity and Christian anthropology, especially the theology of the body. We know many of you have been doing this yet so much more needs to be done.
We know you are abundantly aware that the people you serve are not coming to you as a “blank slate,” as it were, and have already been heavily influenced by the ideas we spoke about earlier, that the Supreme Court put so clearly for us. Being “neutral” toward marriage redefinition is no longer an option; being proactive is. Defending and promoting marriage go hand in hand, and while not everyone is called to engage in public policy advocacy work, all of us can intentionally promote and defend the uniqueness of marriage and help people see and articulate alternative responses to the dominant cultural messages on marriage.
Marriage: Unique for a Reason
One specific resource that may be of help to you in your ministry is the bishops’ initiative Marriage: Unique for a Reason. I imagine that many of you are somewhat familiar with this resource already, and may have already used it in your ministries.
Marriage: Unique for a Reason has four themes: sexual difference and complementarity, the gift of children and the need for fathers and mothers, marriage and the common good, and marriage and religious liberty. The order is important. The series starts with sexual difference because that is the most fundamental component – and the one most often overlooked – of marriage’s meaning. Starting with sexual difference helps to get at the roots of the issue and address the often unspoken assumptions. It also provides a solid anthropological grounding for the other three themes.
The second theme is about children and the need for fathers and mothers. This theme includes examining what fruitfulness is and why it’s at the heart of marriage. It considers the often overlooked justice issue in the marriage debate: justice for children, to have the best chance at having a mom and a dad. It also addresses the issues of infertility and single parents (see FAQs #3 and #5). The video for this theme is called “Made for Life.” It also comes with a Viewer’s Guide and Resource Booklet.
The third theme, marriage and the common good, relies heavily on Catholic Social Teaching about marriage and the family and their contribution to society (see FAQ #5). It also aims to reframe the debate about equality, rights, and so on, by reinforcing the inherent goodness of marriage for everyone in society (see FAQ #13). The video in this theme is forthcoming, but there are already FAQs available at Marriage Unique for a Reason.org.
The fourth and final theme, marriage and religious liberty, addresses the fact that redefining marriage in the law directly affects religious liberty (see FAQ #3). This video is also forthcoming, but FAQs are available.
And lastly, there is one video in Spanish – to be released later in 2013 – that incorporates all four themes in a longer, dramatic style. It’s called “El Matrimonio: Hecho para el amor y la vida” (Marriage: Made for Love and Life). The final version will be subtitled in English, and the accompanying Study Guide will be bilingual, so these resources will be suitable for mixed-language audiences.
I already mentioned the website: Marriage: Unique for a Reason.org. On that site are many FAQs about marriage, a regularly updated blog, a library of Church teaching, and more. We are in the process of updating the website to be more user-friendly and easy to navigate.
Next: Post #7: How to use Marriage: Unique for a Reason (and the importance of prayer)
Made for Life, Part 5: "We were open to life, whether through…giving birth or through the adoption process."
Background: This is part 5 of the Viewer’s Guide that accompanies the video “Made for Life.” Previous sections include: 1) openness to life; 2) gift of self and gift of life; 3) children as a gift; 4) the call to welcome a child and be a child. In part 5, we’ll look at the witness of infertile couples and of those couples who adopt a child. In that context, we’ll reflect on how openness to life is essential for all marriages, not just those that are blessed with children.
“We were open to life, whether through…giving birth or through the adoption process.”
As Kevin and Brenda witness in the video, openness to life has a meaning more profound than popularly recognized today. In the midst of recent attempts to “redefine” marriage, the objection is sometimes raised that there are many husbands and wives who are unable to have children. What makes them different from a relationship between two persons of the same sex, who also can’t have children of their own?
The truth is, there is an unbridgeable difference between a spousal union (a male-female couple united as husband and wife) and a relationship between two men or two women. This difference is sexual difference. First, conceiving a child requires the joint action of both a man and a woman. This intimate participation in conceiving a child is simply impossible for two persons of the same sex. Two men or two women cannot—ever—have a child together. [i]
Second, sexual union between a husband and wife is the kind of union apt for generation. That is, male-female intimacy is the natural route through which a child comes into the world. There are times when a husband and wife may be unable to conceive a child due to infertility or sterility (for reasons beyond their control) or advanced age. Still, their sexual union remains the kind of union that expresses total self-gift and openness to the gift of the child. [ii] The situation is very different for two persons of the same sex. Even if both are young and perfectly healthy, any sexual behavior between them can never form a true union and will never be able to welcome a new child into the world.
The painful cross of infertility does not mean that a couple’s marriage is not fruitful. As Pope John Paul II taught, “Physical sterility . . . can be for spouses the occasion for other important services to the life of the human person, for example, adoption, various forms of educational work, and assistance to other families and to poor or handicapped children.” [iii] In particular, the Church praises adoption as an expression of “true parental love,” which “is ready to go beyond the bonds of flesh and blood in order to accept children from other families.” [iv]
Adoption, as a response to a tragedy or loss, is never meant to be held up as an “alternative” to the natural family of father, mother, and their children. Instead, adoption “takes its form” from the natural family. There is a difference between generously responding to an abandoned child’s need for a mother and a father, on the one hand, and deliberately depriving a child of a mother and a father by placing him or her in the care of two men or two women.
In sum, openness to life is essential to every marriage. Husbands and wives who are not blessed with children of their own still exemplify the fruitful communion of persons in a way two persons of the same sex never can. This communion, built on the sexual difference between husband and wife, opens the door to adoption and to other generous forms of service while still respecting the beauty of sexual difference, the needs of children, and the indispensable place of mothers and fathers.
Background: The following is an excerpt from the Viewer’s Guide to the video “Made for Life.” Earlier sections include reflections on openness to life, the gift of self and the gift of life, and children as a supreme gift. In this section, we’ll look at the call to welcome a child, the call to be a child, and how children bring hope and joy to the world.
“The idea that we were adding on to our family brought great joy.”
“Since having children, it’s been the best reflection of God’s love that I could ever define or try to describe.”
To welcome a child is to welcome hope. Lashawntra and Kevin both attest to the love, joy, and hope experienced when a husband and wife welcome a child. The child stands as a sign at odds with the doomsdayers, those who turn life into constant worry and fretfulness, and counter to the overly self-assured, those who presume upon their own capacities without trusting and hoping in God. The child points to the higher way of hope, beyond despair and presumption, because the child reminds us, by his or her very existence, that life and love are stronger than death, [i] and that life is worth living.
How does this relate to marriage? Recall the scene in the video where the wife joyfully announces to her husband that a new little baby is on the way. Marriage, as the union of husband and wife, is the only relationship that, by its very nature, is made to welcome the hope that comes with each new human life, and to connect a child with his or her biological father and mother. The call—the vocation—to welcome a child is uniquely built within the essence of marriage. Husbands and wives who stand ready to welcome children are a decisive witness to joyful hope, despite whatever hardships and sufferings come in this life.
Jesus regularly pointed to the child. [ii] He knew that the child reveals to us our deepest identity and calling. This may seem ironic, since a little child is helpless, defenseless, and “non-productive” by worldly standards. Even the disciples had a difficult time understanding this at first. The great temptation over the centuries has been to overlook and dismiss the child. And yet remember Jesus’ words: “‘Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’” (Mt 18:3-4). All the successes and riches of the world don’t add up to the gift of being a child of God, the fundamental calling that unlocks the meaning of life. We are all called to become children of God (see 1 Jn 3:1), sons and daughters in Jesus, the Son of God (see Gal 4:4-7).
In the presence of an infant, we are reminded that we do not create ourselves, but are given by God, through the help of both our mother and father. The child unlocks for us the beauty of life as a sheer, undeserved, abundant gift from our heavenly Father. Life is meant to be lived in hope and in joy. Marriage, as the total, faithful, and life-giving union of a man and a woman, has the distinctive mission to share this hope and joy with the world.
The U.S. bishops met at their bi-annual plenary assembly in Baltimore this week, November 12-14. On Monday, November 12, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage and Archbishop of San Francisco, gave an oral report to the bishops on the work of the Subcommittee. His address touched on both catechetical initiatives and public policy advocacy work.
Marriage and the New Evangelization
The Archbishop began by referencing Pope Benedict XVI’s homily on October 7, where the Holy Father linked marriage and the New Evangelization. “Matrimony is a gospel in itself, a Good News for the world of today,” the Pope said. “Marriage is linked to faith, but not in a general way…There is a clear link between the crisis in faith and the crisis in marriage…Marriage is called to be not only an object but a subject of the new evangelization.” Archbishop Cordileone commented that Pope Benedict’s words are “sobering but also encouraging.” He added, “To forget the truth of marriage is to forget the truth of the human person and the very truth of God Himself. To rediscover marriage, on the other hand, and to faithfully live it out, hold a key to advancing the New Evangelization and the renewal of our culture.”
Archbishop Cordileone then updated the bishops on the ongoing catechetical work of the Subcommittee. He explained that two video resources have already been released: “Made for Each Other,” about sexual difference and complementarity, and “Made for Life,” about the gift of children and the need for fathers and mothers. He made special mention of the next video to be released, a Spanish-language video called “El Matrimonio: Hecho para el amor y la vida.” (Marriage: Made for Love and Life). This video will be in a “telenovela” dramatic style and, as the Archbishop explained, will include all four themes of the Subcommittee’s messaging: sexual difference, the gift of children, the common good, and religious liberty. The plot is based on a 50th anniversary party and the gentle witness of the long-married grandparents to their grandson and his girlfriend.
The Archbishop also made note that two more English videos are in development, one about marriage and the common good, and one about marriage and religious liberty. Regarding the Marriage: Unique for a Reason website, he thanked those bishops whose archdiocesan or diocesan websites include a Marriage: Unique for a Reason web banner.
Legal and Policy Issues
Remarking on the current legal and policy landscape, Archbishop Cordileone noted that “the urgency around the protection of marriage has grown and is reaching what could be called a critical mass.” He highlighted the referendums held on Election Day, saying that while voters have affirmed the authentic meaning of marriage 32 times in the past, unfortunately on November 6, three states (MD, WA, and ME) voted to redefine marriage in the law, while a fourth (MN) rejected a constitutional amendment that would have added an extra layer of protection to marriage. The Archbishop pointed out that in all four states, “heroic efforts were made in the face of being vastly outspent by those seeking to redefine marriage. . . . We were narrowing the gap and lost by just a small margin in all four states.”
The Archbishop thanked the pertinent bishops in referendum states, saying, “I know how hard you worked. We are in your debt and in debt to all the people who devoted great time, energy, sacrifice, and love in witnessing to the unique meaning of marriage and seeking its protection in your states. . . . This work is not in vain.” He added, “This is not a time to give up, but rather a time to re-double our efforts.”
Moving to the federal level, Archbishop Cordileone said that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which was overwhelmingly passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in 1996, faces “sustained attack” in federal courts. He told the bishops that it is likely that the Supreme Court will choose at least one DOMA case to consider, with a decision by June 2013.
A second marriage-related case that could end up in the Supreme Court is California’s Proposition 8 case. (Background: Proposition 8, which defines marriage in the California state constitution as the union of one man and one woman, was approved by voters in 2008 but has been challenged in federal court and found unconstitutional.) The Archbishop pointed out that a negative decision by the Supreme Court in either the DOMA case or the Prop 8 case “would bring serious negative consequences to the institution of marriage, ultimately leading in all likelihood to marriage redefinition nationwide. In other words,” he added, “the ‘Roe‘ decision for marriage,” referencing the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion throughout the country.
Finally, Archbishop Cordileone highlighted the fact that the executive branch has pursued “considerable erosive activity” regarding the definition of marriage, “and it sadly has shown no signs of letting up.” He concluded by saying, “This is a situation of grave concern that requires our vigilant attention as well as our prayers.”
Spanish-language video trailer
Archbishop Cordileone ended his presentation by sharing with the bishops an extended trailer of the forthcoming Spanish-language video “El Matrimonio: Hecho para el amor y la vida” (Marriage: Made for Love and Life) that is currently in post-production. He explained that the storyline focuses on Hector and Rosa, a husband and wife celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, and their grandson Miguel, who is cohabiting with his girlfriend Maria. Miguel and Maria spend the night before the anniversary celebration at Hector and Rosa’s house, and their loving and faithful witness to the meaning of marriage challenges the two young people to re-examine their assumptions about marriage. Currently, the trailer can be viewed via the USCCB footage of Archbishop Cordileone’s presentation (fast forward to 1 hour 43 minutes).
In closing, Archbishop Cordileone thanked each of the bishops for their stewardship of the gift of marriage and family. He assured them of the Subcommittee’s assistance and invited their ongoing guidance and feedback.
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]
Background: We’re reading through the Viewer’s Guide to “Made for Life,” a video about the gift of children and the need for fathers and mothers. In the last installment, we looked at what openness to life means and why love and life are inseparable. In this section, we’ll reflect on the unique gift of self in marriage and how that gift of self opens to the gift of life.
“You give yourself, then, totally and completely . . . saying ‘I love you so much, I’m going to give myself to you as a gift, and I am open to whatever that brings and whatever God wants.’”
Katie is speaking here about the very foundation of what makes marriage “made for life”: the total gift of self between a man and a woman as husband and wife. We have already mentioned this gift of self in marriage, but it deserves some more attention. Indeed, every person is called to a generous and sincere gift of self. [i] But marriage is a unique instance of self-gift. In marriage, husband and wife give not just part of themselves to each other, but give all—their whole person, body and soul. This gift of self in marriage is not something temporary like a loan; it is meant to last for a lifetime. [ii] It is a total, lifelong gift of husband to wife and wife to husband. [iii]
A husband and a wife’s total gift of self in marriage, with its lifelong permanence, makes their bond absolutely unique and different from any other relationship between two people. Although two persons of the same sex can have an authentic and holy friendship, only a man and a woman can pledge themselves to each other in marriage. Through their sexual difference, only a husband and a wife can speak the “language” of married love—total, faithful, and fruitful self-gift [iv]—not only with their words, but also with their bodies. [v]
The couples in Made for Life all bear witness to the fact that the gift of self in marriage, which begins with the spouses, does not end with them. As Pope Paul VI taught, married love is fruitful because “it is not confined wholly to the communion of husband and wife; it also aims to go beyond this to bring new life into being.” [vi] Precisely because husband and wife are “made for each other,” their bond is “made for life,” made for fruitful love and for the adventure of fatherhood and motherhood by being open to the gift of a child.
[i]. See Gaudium et Spes, no. 24: “Man is the only creature on earth that God has wanted for its own sake . . . [and] can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself.”
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]
Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Annunciation , the “announcement” given to Mary by the angel Gabriel that she was to be the mother of the Lord:
Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.”
. . .
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1: 30-31, 38).
For Christians, Mary’s “yes” to the angel marks the beginning of our salvation. Jesus Christ is true God and true man. The Son of God became flesh in Mary’s womb. In this way, the Annunciation also draws our attention to the astounding mystery of motherhood and pregnancy, that brief time when the unborn child is present but hidden from view, entirely nourished by his or her mother in an incredibly intimate relationship.
Bl. John Paul II spoke beautifully about motherhood – and the Annunciation – in his 1988 apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem:
Motherhood implies from the beginning a special openness to the new person: and this is precisely the woman’s “part”. In this openness, in conceiving and giving birth to a child, the woman “discovers herself through a sincere gift of self”. [Gaudium et Spes, no. 24]
. . .
Mary’s words at the Annunciation – “Let it be to me according to your word” – signify the woman’s readiness for the gift of self and her readiness to accept a new life (no. 18).
For John Paul, then, pregnancy and motherhood are not merely biological facts or processes. Instead, they constitute a very special sharing on the part of the mother – an openness and a welcome to the new child growing in her womb. John Paul goes on to say that this “special communion” with the unborn child “profoundly marks the woman’s personality,” developing her capacity to pay attention and attend to other persons (MD, no. 18).
The father, of course, is present too from the very beginning of a child’s life; it was the mutual gift of husband and wife in marriage that opened the couple to the gift of the child. But the father’s participation in pregnancy is in a real sense “outside” of the woman’s participation. As John Paul says, “in many ways [the father] has to learn his own ‘fatherhood’ from the mother” as he shares in her wonder and openness to the child in the womb (MD, no. 18, emphasis original).
The feast of the Annunciation provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the gift of children and the wonder of pregnancy, of mothering and fathering. We invite you to watch the short film “Made for Life,” which features married couples of various ages reflecting on openness to life, children, and their identities as fathers and mothers. The video is accompanied by a Viewer’s Guide that develops many of the points raised in the film.
 The Annunciation is normally celebrated on March 25, nine months before Christmas, but the fact that March 25, 2012 is a Sunday (the Fifth Sunday of Lent) means that the Annunciation is celebrated instead on March 26.
Today is the fourth day of National Marriage Week. On Tuesday, we reflected on what makes marriage unique, different from any other relationship on earth. Today the topic is more focused: why does sexual difference matter for marriage? In other words, why is marriage the union of one man and one woman?
What is sexual difference?
1) The call to accept one’s sexual identity as a man or as a woman
As we did before, let’s begin with the human person, with an authentic anthropology. Crucial here is the fact that to exist as a human person means to be embodied. (When was the last time you met someone without a body?) Echoing Bl. John Paul II’s terminology, we can say that the body “reveals” man and is “an expression of the person” (TOB, 9.4 and 27.3). In other words, encountering a living human body means at the same time encountering a human person. The body is not just a shell or a conduit for one’s “real” self but is intimately and inseparably united with one’s identity, one’s “I”.
Further, to exist as a human person means to exist as a man or as a woman. The human body is fundamentally a gendered reality, not a gender-less (androgynous) one. And because the body is a deeply personal reality and not just a biological fact, being a man or being a woman is not just a matter of anatomical features or “the shape of my skin.” Instead, one’s sexual identity – as a man or as a woman – affects a person at every level of his or her existence (biologically, psychologically, genetically, and so forth). As the Catechism puts it, “Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul… Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity” (CCC, nos. 2332 and 2333, emphasis in original).
2) An irreducible and dynamic difference
What does sexual identity have to do with sexual difference? Simply this: when we speak of sexual difference, we mean both the existence of two distinct sexual identities (man or woman) and the built-in mutual relationship between them. In other words, sexual difference has to do with the irreducible and dynamic difference of man to woman and woman to man.
Why “irreducible”? Because sexual difference is primordial, basic, and unique. It is fundamental to human experience and reality. Unlike other differences between people, sexual difference undergirds everything that we are as human persons, male or female. Sexual difference cuts across geographic, ethnic, and other differences, being in fact more basic than these other differences.
Why “dynamic”? Because sexual difference distinguishes in order to unite. In fact, sexual difference is precisely what enables communion between man and woman to exist at all. (More on this soon.)
Put another way, sexual difference is a mutually referential kind of difference – we know woman fully only by knowing man, and know man fully only by knowing woman. The differences between them do not just set them apart but hint at something more, at a call to communion between them. This call to communion inscribed in man and woman is part of what Bl. John Paul II had in mind when he wrote the following:
“The person, by the light of reason and the support of virtue, discovers in the body the anticipatory signs, the expression and the promise of the gift of self, in conformity with the wise plan of the Creator” (VS, no. 48).
Sexual difference, then, far from being merely a biological or anatomical fact, communicates a wealth of truth about the human person! If we have the eyes to see, as Bl. John Paul II urges us to, we’ll see in the human person’s identity as man and woman the “anticipatory signs” of the “gift of self,” or, using the language of the Catechism, we’ll see the call to love, which is the “fundamental and innate vocation of every human being” (CCC, no. 1604).
Sexual difference and marriage
We are now well-poised to understand what sexual difference has to do with marriage. As a recap of Tuesday’s post, marriage is a unique relationship that has a number of essential characteristics (without which marriage wouldn’t be marriage):
- Marriage is total (gift of self)
- Marriage is faithful and exclusive (a truthful gift)
- Marriage is forever (the gift of one’s future)
- Marriage is life-giving (the gift of one’s fertility)
Sexual difference matters here: it is the ground (the foundation) of the capacity of husband and wife to exchange a mutual, total gift of their entire selves, a gift precisely at the center of what marriage is. Without sexual difference, this gift would not be possible. Put more specifically: the love between husband and wife involves a free, total, and faithful gift of self that not only expresses love but also opens the spouses to receive the gift of a child. No other human interaction on earth is like this!
Sexual difference, then, is not an optional “add-on” to an already existing entity called “marriage” (much like you might choose to add sprinkles to your ice cream – or not). Instead, sexual difference is at the very heart of what marriage is. It’s what capacitates man and woman to give themselves completely to each other as husband and wife. Sexual difference matters for marriage.
Interested in learning more? Check out the DVD “Made for Each Other,” its Viewer’s Guide and Resource Booklet, and all of the Sexual Difference FAQs. Also see the previous blog series on sexual difference.
 Even in circumstances when a person expresses ambiguous genitalia or departs from the XX/XY genetic standard, the anomaly is recognized precisely due to its discordance with healthy, normal presentation as male or female.
Bishops are teachers
From the earliest days of the Church, Christians “devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles” (Acts 2:42). The bishops, as the successors of the Apostles, are teachers. For an apostle to teach means giving witness to the Truth. To teach the Truth means not only to teach the truth of faith, but also to remind men and women of the intrinsic dignity of reason. Human beings have the natural ability to know things as they really are by the light of reason. It is no wonder that the Catholic Church has maintained schools and universities throughout the world for centuries!
There is collaboration that takes place when one teaches and when one learns; and the bishops in the United States—in communion with the Bishop of Rome, the Pope—join together in a conference to collaborate on the issues that face our country and the Church in the United States.
Marriage is a truth accessible to both faith and reason
Marriage is one such reality that the U.S. Bishops are working to teach—or simply remind—the Church and our nation of its basic meaning and definition. Marriage is not only a teaching of faith, but is also a truth accessible to reason. In other words, we can and should have recourse to natural human reason in defending the truth of the Church’s moral teaching regarding marriage. Marriage is not simply a “religious” question; it’s a reality embedded in nature (the nature of the human person as male and female). The Church does not speak of marriage simply as a “religious” issue. Rather, it is a concern for civil society based on the natural law and the very truth of the human person, created as male and female.
The U.S. Bishop’s initiative, Marriage Unique for a Reason, under the auspices of the USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, is one way in which the Catholic Church in the United States is seeking to invite our nation to consider and reclaim the basic truth and beauty of the unchangeable meaning of marriage.
Marriage: Unique for a Reason: Resources for proclaiming the authentic meaning of marriage
The Marriage: Unique for a Reason initiative includes a number of resources, with more on the way.
Completed and ready to use:
- “Made for Each Other” – DVD and companion written materials on sexual difference and complementarity between men and women
- “Made for Life” – DVD and companion written materials on the gift of children and the indispensable need for fathers and mothers
- Marriage: Unique for a Reason website (www.marriageuniqueforareason.org) – FAQs about marriage, Church teaching library, blog and more
- Spanish-language DVD resource – comprehensive treatment of the four topics addressed in the English-language DVDs
- DVD resource about marriage and the common good
- DVD resource about marriage and religious liberty
St. Peter exhorts us, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Pt 3:15). The bishops’ apostolic mission of teaching helps us all to be ready to explain the meaning of marriage, a sign of great hope for the world.