Made for Life, Part 5: “We were open to life, whether through…giving birth or through the adoption process.”
Nov. 29, 2012
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.
[i]. Language is powerful and affects our thinking. We must be cautious, therefore, of accepting the culture’s description of two men or two women as “parents.” “Parenting” is not gender neutral but means “mothering and fathering.” Also, two men or two women cannot really be “parents” of the same child.
[ii]. See USCCB, Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan, 14: “The marital union of a man and a woman is a distinctive communion of persons. An infertile couple continues to manifest this attribute.”
[iii]. Bl. John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, no. 14.
[iv]. Bl. John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, no. 93.
Nov. 27, 2012
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.
[i]. See Bl. John Paul II, Letter to Families, no. 11: Every new birth is a “paschal sign,” a sign of the new life of Easter, and reflects “the victory of life over death brought about by the Lord’s Resurrection.”
[ii]. See Mt 18:1-5, 19:13-15; Mk 9:33-37, 10:13-16; and Lk 9:46-48, 18:15-17.
Nov. 15, 2012
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.
Oct. 31, 2012
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]
[i]. Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, no. 50.
[ii]. Gaudium et Spes, no. 24.
[v]. One of the reasons modern techniques of reproductive technology, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), are problematic is because they treat the child not as a gift, but as a product. When the coming-to-be of a child is separated from an act of loving sexual union between the child’s parents, the child’s generation becomes a technique to be mastered, instead of gift to be welcomed as an intrinsic part of self-giving love. As our society’s use of reproductive technology continues, we see more and more instances of treating children like products: disposal of “defective” embryos; “spare” embryos frozen for years, even decades; “selective reduction” of “excess” implanted embryos; and so on. A proper and coherent respect for the child as a gift rejects all reproductive technology that separates sexual love from the gift of life, since by doing so the child is reduced to a product, a result of advanced technology.
[vi]. Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae), highlighted the larger backdrop behind the disvaluing of human life: “When the sense of God is lost, the sense of man is also threatened and poisoned. . . . Life itself becomes a mere ‘thing,’ which man claims as his exclusive property, completely subject to his control and manipulation. . . . Birth and death, instead of being primary experiences demanding to be ‘lived,’ become things to be merely ‘possessed’ or ‘rejected’” (Washington, DC: USCCB, 1995), no. 22. Abortion and euthanasia are tragic examples here.
[vii]. Various thinkers over the centuries have acknowledged the particular role of the institution of marriage for the sake of children. For examples, see references cited in Brief of Amici Curiae U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, et al., Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. United States Department of Health and Human Services (January 27, 2011), 17f. See also Don S. Browning, Marriage and Modernization: How Globalization Threatens Marriage and What to Do About It (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2003).
[viii]. Pope John Paul II, Letter to Families, no. 9 (emphasis in original).
[ix]. CCC, no. 366.
[x]. See Karol Wojtyła (Pope John Paul II), Love and Responsibility, trans. H. T. Willetts (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), 227.
[xi]. CCC, no. 2366.
[xii]. USCCB, Pastoral Letter Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan, 16.
Oct. 23, 2012
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.”
[ii]. See Letter to Families, no. 11: “The indissolubility of marriage flows in the first place from the very essence of the gift: the gift of one person to another person” (emphasis in original).
[iii]. Letter to Families, no. 11: “When a man and woman in marriage mutually give and receive each other in the unity of ‘one flesh,’ the logic of the sincere gift of self becomes a part of their life.”
[iv]. In Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI lists “the characteristic features” of conjugal [married] love as fully human, total, faithful and exclusive until death, and fecund [fruitful] (no. 9). Pope John Paul II expands upon Paul VI’s description of love by reflecting on how a husband and wife “speak” the message of married love through the “language of the body.” He writes, “The human body speaks a ‘language’ of which it is not the author. Its author is man, as male and female, as bridegroom or bride: man with his perennial vocation to the communion of persons” (Catecheses on the theology of the body [TOB], no. 104:7 [emphasis in original]). This means that the language of love is given to men and women, who are then called to “speak” this language truthfully to each other. The body—as male or female—is essential to “speak” the language of love. Pope John Paul II continues, “[The human person] is constituted in such a way from the ‘beginning’ that the deepest words of the spirit – words of love, gift, and faithfulness – call for an appropriate ‘language of the body.’ And without this language, they cannot be fully expressed” (TOB, no. 104:7).
[v]. As we saw in the first video, Made for Each Other, the sexual difference between men and women is not just a flat “biological” reality or an anatomical detail. Instead, it includes the whole person, body and soul, at every level of his or her existence. As Pope John Paul II explained, the body reveals the person. Encountering a living human body is encountering a human person—male or female—who is inseparable from his or her body. See TOB, no. 9:4.
Oct. 16, 2012
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]
[i]. USCCB, Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan (Washington, DC: USCCB, 2009), 13.
[ii]. Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, no. 50, in Vatican Council II: Volume 1: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, ed. Austin Flannery (Northport, NY: Costello Publishing, 1996). All subsequent citations of Vatican II documents refer to this edition.
[iii]. Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, no. 14.
[iv]. For more on the Church’s teaching about the inseparability of the unitive and procreative meanings of the sexual act, see Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], no. 2366; Gaudium et Spes, no. 51; Pope Paul VI, On the Regulation of Birth (Humanae Vitae) (Washington, DC: USCCB, 1968), no. 12; Letter to Families, no. 12; Familiaris Consortio, nos. 29 and 32; and Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan, 11-21. Also see Pope John Paul II’s commentary on Humanae Vitae in Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body (TOB), trans. Michael Waldstein (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2006), nos. 118:–132:6 (audience and section numbers), especially nos. 118:2-6.
[v]. At the heart of “responsible parenthood” is the prayerful discernment by husband and wife whether or not to postpone pregnancy for “just reasons” (See CCC, nos. 2368-2370; see also Humanae Vitae, no. 10). The Second Vatican Council taught that responsible parenthood “involves a consideration of [the spouses’] own good and the good of the children already born or yet to come” as well as consideration of the spouses’ “situation on the material and spiritual level, and, finally, an estimation of the good of the family, of society, and of the Church” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 50). Responsible parenthood responds to the objective moral order established by God and written into the procreative capacity of husband and wife (see CCC, no. 2368). In this way, responsible parenthood preserves “the total meaning of mutual self-giving” and can mean not only postponing a birth, but also increasing one’s family (CCC, no. 2368, quoting Gaudium et Spes, no. 51). For more about responsible parenthood, see Pope Benedict XVI, Charity in Truth (Caritas in Veritate) (Washington, DC: USCCB, 2009), no. 44; Letter to Families, no. 12; TOB, nos. 121:1-6; and Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (Washington, DC: Libreria Editrice Vaticana–USCCB, 2004), nos. 232-234.
[vii]. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that homosexual acts “close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity” (no. 2357).
Mar. 26, 2012
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.
Feb. 10, 2012
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.
Feb. 8, 2012
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.
Jan. 6, 2012
In honor of a season that directs our attention to a babe in a manger, we’d like to remind you of the resources about marriage and children available through Marriage: Unique for a Reason:
- “Made for Life” DVD: reflections from real married couples on what it means that children are a gift and why fathers and mothers matter
- “Made for Life” Viewer’s Guide: brief reflections on the DVD with discussion questions for groups
- “Made for Life” Resource Booklet: an aid to priests, deacons, catechists and teachers with more developed commentary plus tips for handing on the Church’s teaching
From the DVD: “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.”
“It’s kind of a beautiful miracle, that from our difference comes a brand-new life.”
From the Viewer’s Guide: “If sexual difference is important – necessary, in fact – for conceiving a child, then it makes sense that sexual difference would also be important for raising a child. In other words, the importance of sexual difference does not end at conception” (17).
“Beyond the distinctive talents and gifts of fathers and mothers, there remains a core difference between them. Only a woman can mother; only a man can father. Mothers teach femininity in a distinctive and vital way; fathers teach masculinity in a distinctive and vital way. This is not stereotyping. It is acknowledging and celebrating the unique gifts of women and men” (21).
From the Resource Booklet: “Even husbands and wives who are not blessed with children still form a total communion of persons, and still are called to be fruitful and generously loving” (xi).
“Marriage is the essential pro-child institution, and thus it is the essential pro-life institution. Children are meant to be welcomed into life as the gifts they are, and the loving union of a husband and a wife is the natural context that protects the child as a gift” (12).
You can read the written materials online or download and print them for free. Enjoy!