In our second clip from Made for Each Other, Carrie ends with the comment, “Our sexual difference doesn’t compete; it complements.” Sexual unity and the coming-to-be of babies depend on the difference between man and woman. The husband gives his whole self (body, mind, heart, soul) to his wife; the wife gives her whole self to her husband. This happens in a particularly clear and dramatic way when the gift of the body is offered in marital intercourse. The spouses give themselves and receive each other in and through their difference. As Josh says, “every natural process of the body” can be done by oneself—“everything but making love and having children,” which depends upon the other person being different. Sexual difference is the avenue towards real union, a union that is also open to life.
Sexual difference concerns the whole person, as Carrie points out. Only through this difference can a man and a woman give themselves fully and love each other as spouses. This isn’t unjust discrimination; it’s an actual distinction, a matter of reality. Sexual intercourse in marriage is a way of communicating, it is a language spoken face-to-face. Part of the essential grammar of this language is sexual difference. Without it, marriage can’t be spoken of.[i]
Men and women are equal and different. Difference is a great and necessary good. “It’s constructive,” as Josh says. Sexual difference is what enables a man and a woman to form a unique bond for life, a union that is deeper than friendship and lasts until death. A husband gives to his wife what only a husband can give. Likewise, a wife gives to her husband what only a wife can give. And together, they give the world new life!
- Do you think sexual difference is understood and appreciated today? Why or why not?
- How can we help others reflect on the importance of sexual difference and complementarity?
[i] This is also why sex outside of marriage doesn’t make any sense. Sex itself speaks a language of total commitment and gift—faithful and indissoluble love. That’s the language of marriage. Sex outside of marriage always says something that is untrue. It’s pretending. Real love depends on truth, and truth depends on love (see Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical Caritas in Veritate [Washington, DC: USCCB, 2009], nos. 1-9).
In this segment of the video, Josh and Carrie discuss the way that marriage is not like being roommates who live together, but separately. Man and woman are made for each other in a way that is absolutely unique. We see this through their sexual difference, even if we just look to the human body as male or female. A man’s body does not make sense by itself, nor does a woman’s; only together is it possible to get the whole picture of humanity. At a deeper level, as Josh says in the video, there is also a longing of the one for the other. There are always and only two ways of being human: we cannot be the other, so we want to be with the other.
We are made for union and communion, to be in relation with others.[i] In Genesis, God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gn 2:18). God’s solution to man’s isolation is not to create another identical man. Rather, He creates a woman from the man’s side and gives the two to each other in the first marriage. “For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Mt 19:5; cf. Gn 2:24).
The two become one flesh in the physical act of sexual intercourse, in which the bodies of the man and woman cooperate in an act which may bring about the procreation of another human being. As Eve says, “I have produced a male child with the help of the LORD”(Gn 4:1). There is only one “combination” of human bodies that can produce new life: a man and a woman. If you accept the idea that human life has special value, then you should also accept that the (one and only) natural action that can bring this life into existence is, by that fact, unique in its power and importance to the world.
The truth of the human person, created male and female, and the truth of what marriage is, are not only concerns of religion or religious people—they are truths that affect everyone.
- Why is it important to society that marriage be based on sexual difference?
- Why is the fact of our being created male and female not simply a tool for the survival of the species?
 Even in those rare cases of atypical genetic or physical development, the fundamental question is whether the person is male or female. There are only “X” and “Y” chromosomes, there is no “other” sex. In such cases, we rely on natural science that can help determine biological sex. This knowledge will help the person to understand his or her sexual identity.
[i] See CCC, nos. 45, 371-372, 1603-1604, and 1877-1879.
But God did not create man a solitary being. From the beginning “male and female he created them” (Gn 1:27). This partnership of man and woman constitutes the first form of communion between persons.
–Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes (1965), no. 12[i]
What is marriage?
The question of what marriage is has been largely ignored in debates about who can get married. Before asking who can get married, one should ask what “marriage” is. What is this relationship that two (or more) people want the state to recognize, and why should society care about it?
Let’s see what definitions are out there and how they measure up to what we all kinda-sorta-in-our-bones know about what marriage is.
Google: the legally or formally recognized union of a man and a woman (or, in some jurisdictions, two people of the same sex) as partners in a relationship.
“Union… as partners in a relationship.” Well, what kind of relationship? What about business partnerships or siblings? What kind of union?
Merriam-Webster: a (1): the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law (2): the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage <same-sex marriage>
This one is interesting because, as you see, the authors have to resort to comparing “the state of being united to a person of the same sex” as being like “traditional marriage” in order to explain it. It’s definitely better than Google’s definition, since it gets to the parties “being united… in a consensual and contractual relationship” but once again, we could say that the same would apply to different kinds of “consensual and contractual relatinoships”.
Oxford Dictionary: The legally or formally recognized union of two people as partners in a personal relationship (historically and in some jurisdictions specifically a union between a man and a woman).
This is probably the most accurate definition of the way the majority of people understand marriage today: “union of two people as partners in a personal relationship.” It is worth asking, then, why the government has any interest in personal relationships.
It seems like all these definitions lack something.
If you really take the time to think about the definition of marriage, you will discover that there is only one definition of marriage that truly fits with who we are as human beings (body and soul, male and female) and seems to get at what is fundamental: marriage is the lifelong, exclusive union of one man and one woman, open to life.[ii]
This definition expresses what marriage is when it is lived truly, and this is a grace available to every married couple. But in this world of brokenness, we have all witnessed a general weakening of people’s understanding and living out this truth. The cultural and legal connections among marriage, sexual intercourse, childbearing, and childrearing have been slowly chipped away at, whether through acceptance of extra-marital sex and cohabitation on the one hand, or third-party reproduction on the other. One can easily see that our society as a whole has lost a consciousness of what men and women are called to be for one another.
God’s vision and plan for marriage is an ideal but it is not idealistic. As Pope Francis taught in Amoris Laetitia, “in no way must the Church desist from proposing the full ideal of marriage, God’s plan in all its grandeur.”[iii] And again, he writes, “Married couples are grateful that their pastors uphold the high ideal of a love that is strong, solid, enduring and capable of sustaining them through whatever trials they may have to face.”[iv] Marriage is a communion of persons, a communion of love between husband and wife, meant to be the source of the family and society. That’s why, when the Pharisees questioned Jesus about divorce, He refered back to creation, when Adam and Eve were given in relationship to one another for life (see Mt 19:4-6; Mk 10:6-8).[v]
The series we are beginning on the MUR blog next week accompanies short segments of the video Made for Each Other. In this video, actors playing Josh and Carrie discuss the importance of sexual difference to marriage and the complementarity between man and woman. During these four 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 Each Other. The questions provided can be used for personal reflection or for group discussion.
[i] See Austin Flannery, ed., Vatican Council II: Volume 1: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, new rev. ed. (Northport, NY: Costello Publishing, 1996).
[ii] See CCC, nos. 1601-1605.
[iii] Amoris Laetitia, no. 307.
[iv] Amoris Laetitia, no. 200.
[v] See Pope John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body (TOB), trans. Michael Waldstein (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2006), 1–4 (audience numbers); Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Veritatis Splendor (Washington, DC: USCCB, 1993), nos. 22 and 53.
In today’s clip, Ryan Anderson addresses three truths that should serve to undergird society’s upholding of the unique relationship of marriage. They are:
- Anthropological (men and women are distinct and complementary)
- Biological (procreation requires both a man and a woman)
- Social (that children deserve both a mother and a father)
Ryan notes that these truths have been cross-culturally acknowledged. People from many different times and places recognized that the relationship between a man and a woman, the only one that naturally leads to the birth and upbringing of children, is unique and worthy of protection. The natural family is not something that society made up; rather, laws and culture recognized it as a fundamentally human reality. We are each born to a mother and a father, and we deserve to have a relationship with those people who brought us into existence.
While this is a basic truth of humanity, the understanding of it as such has been gradually chipped away through societal changes. Increasing non-marital childbearing, divorce rates, separation between sex and procreation through either (on the one hand) contraception or abortion or (on the other) in vitro fertilization, scientific experiments on embryonic human life, etc. have all served to dull our sense of the relationship that should exist between men, women, and their children. Despite any thoughts or feelings that two people subjectively may have about their relationship, when they come together in a sexual act, they are participating in that-which-creates-life. And at that point, when life is created from an act that they chose, the man and woman are no longer the only people involved or the only people who get to define their relationship. They have a responsibility to the person they created by virtue of the simple fact that they created them. The child did not choose to come into existence, and he or she becomes the recipient of whatever heritage his or her parents offer. When this heritage is stability and a dedication to the child’s growth and education, it is no more than what the child deserves. Marriage provides justice for the child.
If you have children, spend a little time today in prayer recalling that they are gifts. Think about how they were not owed to you and that you did not “deserve” them or have a “right” to them. If you do not have children, pay attention today to the way that others speak of their children and seek to remind them that they are gifts.
Another idea is to tell a family story (or two) at lunch about your parents and some of their interactions, and/or how you seek to be a good mother or father to your children.
More than a year after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage, and despite recent statements from the campaign trail, the Catholic Church’s 2000-year-old teaching to the truth about what constitutes marriage remains unchanged and resolute.
As Catholics, we believe, all humans warrant dignity and deserve love and respect, and unjust discrimination is always wrong. Our understanding of marriage, however, is a matter of justice and fidelity to our Creator’s original design. Marriage is the only institution uniting one man and one woman with each other and with any child who comes from their union. Redefining marriage furthers no one’s rights, least of all those of children, who should not purposely be deprived of the right to be nurtured and loved by a mother and a father.
We call on Catholics and all those concerned for preserving this sacred union to unite in prayer, to live and speak out with compassion and charity about the true nature of marriage – the heart of family life.
This article was originally posted on the USCCB blog here.
By Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, Bishop Richard J. Malone and Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski
Questions revolving around marriage and human sexuality are deeply felt in our homes and communities. We join with our Holy Father Pope Francis in affirming the inviolable dignity of all people and the Church’s important role in accompanying all those in need. In doing so, we also stand with Pope Francis in preserving the dignity and meaning of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The two strands of the dignity of the person and the dignity of marriage and the family are interwoven. To pull apart one is to unravel the whole fabric.
When a prominent Catholic politician publicly and voluntarily officiates at a ceremony to solemnize the relationship of two people of the same-sex, confusion arises regarding Catholic teaching on marriage and the corresponding moral obligations of Catholics. What we see is a counter witness, instead of a faithful one founded in the truth.
Pope Francis has been very clear in affirming the truth and constant teaching of the Church that same-sex relationships cannot be considered “in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.”(1) Laws that redefine marriage to deny its essential meaning are among those that Catholics must oppose, including in their application after they are passed.(2) Such witness is always for the sake of the common good.
During our Holy Father’s remarkable visit to us last year, he reminded us that all politicians “are called to defend and preserve the dignity of [their] fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics.”(3) Catholic politicians in particular are called to “a heroic commitment” on behalf of the common good and to “recognize their grave responsibility in society to support laws shaped by these fundamental human values and oppose laws and policies that violate [them].”(4)
Faithful witness can be challenging—and it will only grow more challenging in the years to come—but it is also the joy and responsibility of all Catholics, especially those who have embraced positions of leadership and public service.
Let us pray for our Catholic leaders in public life, that they may fulfill the responsibilities entrusted to them with grace and courage and offer a faithful witness that will bring much needed light to the world. And may all of us as Catholics help each other be faithful and joyful witnesses wherever we are called.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, New York, is chairman of the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth; and Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami, is chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.
1 Amoris Laetitia (2016), no. 251.
2 See USCCB, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (2015), no. 23; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons (2003), no. 5
3 Address to Congress, September 24, 2015.
4 Faithful Citizenship, no. 39.
Many of my friends who grew up in nominally Catholic households have lamented to me that their family home lacked the richness of the faith that they later came to know through their own practice and study. They went to Mass and Sunday school as kids, maybe said grace before meals or a little bedtime prayer, but otherwise their families didn’t live in a distinctively Catholic way. In hindsight, these young adults consider themselves impoverished by an upbringing that was essentially secular, and they intend for their own marriages and families to have a deeply Catholic character. They prioritize the sacraments, strong catechesis, spiritual and corporal works of mercy, awareness of the liturgical calendar, balancing penance and celebration, and hospitality. Living those things out seems like a daunting task because they are not inheriting a tradition from their families so much as trying to create a new one in the wake of a cultural shift that undermines their efforts.
In the ninth chapter of Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis offers us some ideas about what Catholic family life can look like. He cites Vatican II, saying that lay spirituality “will take its particular character from the circumstances of… married and family life,” (313). He says, “The spirituality of family love is made up of thousands of small but real gestures,” (315). Through the next several paragraphs he specifically mentions family prayer, supporting one another, caring for one another, showing mercy, giving complete attention to others, and welcoming those outside the family with hospitality. These suggestions are not simply lifestyle choices, take ‘em or leave ‘em. Rather, these concrete actions reflect the life of Christ himself who is present in the family through the grace given to every baptized person and especially through the real graces of the sacrament of marriage.
With all this talk about marriage and family, it might be tempting for those of us who are unmarried to ignore the Church’s advice because it seems irrelevant to this moment in our lives. However, even as a single person, the Pope’s words about marriage are meaningful because they help me to prepare my heart for the marriage the Lord wants for me, instead of the woefully inadequate “Hollywood” version that has been so culturally ingrained. It is tempting to imagine that finding a spouse will tie up all the loose ends in my life and, like the movies, the credits will roll and we’ll live happily ever after. But the Pope warns us all that spouses need “a certain ‘disillusionment’ with regard to one another,” (320) and I think the same can be said of those who are looking for a spouse. I can’t expect another person to fulfill me completely. I am taking to heart his note about “spiritual realism” and the warning that “one spouse not presume that the other can completely satisfy his or her needs,” (320) which is a message that is desperately needed by those of us immersed in popular culture. Additionally, the “small but real gestures” that characterize the spirituality of the family can be practiced by anyone anywhere. For example, we are all called to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, but “feed the hungry” takes on a new urgency when “the hungry” is a distraught 2-year-old tugging on your shirt. Likewise, to “bear wrongs patiently” is practically a heroic virtue when you have to bear the wrong of a sibling who has no remorse and will likely wrong you again. Within our families we have abundant opportunities to practice the virtues that sanctify us and open us to deeper union with the Lord.
When my friends describe what they hope to give their families they usually have specific ideas about praying the rosary as a family or being involved in ongoing community service and the like. However, they usually find a way to express that what they mean when they describe various devotions and practices is that they want their whole lives to be ordered toward the mystery of God’s love. The specific actions are expressions of a real desire to know, love, and serve the Lord. Pope Francis says that “spirituality becomes incarnate in the communion of the family,” (316). As Jesus’ day-to-day life was ordered to the will of the Father, so too the family is called to live their daily lives for Him.
“Love endures all things” (1 Cor 13:7).
Pope Francis: “In family life, we need to cultivate that strength of love which can help us fight every evil threatening it” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 119).
What is an evil that is threatening your family today? This may be from within (resentment, exhaustion, sin) or without (technology, entertainment, financial hardship). How are you fighting it?
“Love endures all things” (1 Cor 13:7).
Pope Francis: “I am sometimes amazed to see men or women who have had to separate from their spouse for their own protection, yet, because of their enduring conjugal love, still try to help them, even by enlisting others, in their moments of illness, suffering or trial. Here too we see a love that never gives up” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 119).
Do you know anyone in the situation that Pope Francis mentions here? Reach out to give that family a hand. If you do not know anyone personally, consider a donation to a domestic violence ministry.
“Love never fails” (1 Cor 13:8).
This is the conclusion of the AL Challenge. Did you make it through? Share your stories via Facebook.
“Love believes all things” (1 Cor 13:7).
Pope Francis: “This trust enables a relationship to be free. It means we do not have to control the other person, to follow their every step lest they escape our grip. Love trusts, it sets free, it does not try to control, possess and dominate everything. This freedom, which fosters independence, an openness to the world around us and to new experiences, can only enrich and expand relationships” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 115).
The erosion of trust in a relationship can happen slowly, but Pope Francis gives us a picture of what it looks like when trust fades: the desire to control the other out of fear. In prayer today, ask for the grace to deepen your trust in your spouse.
“Love believes all things” (1 Cor 13:7).
Pope Francis: “Those who know that their spouse is always suspicious, judgmental and lacking unconditional love, will tend to keep secrets, conceal their failings and weaknesses, and pretend to be someone other than who they are. On the other hand, a family marked by loving trust, come what may, helps its members to be themselves and spontaneously to reject deceit, falsehood, and lies” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 115).
In a trusting context, one has no need to hide. Children who grow up in this context will know that they will be accepted always, and so will have the courage to own up to shortcomings. Examine your conscience today about whether you’ve fallen into suspicion, unfair judgment, or seeming to withhold your love due to a shortcoming of a family member.
“Love hopes all things” (1 Cor 13:7).
Pope Francis: “Panta elpízei. Love does not despair of the future. Following upon what has just been said, this phrase speaks of the hope of one who knows that others can change, mature and radiate unexpected beauty and untold potential” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 116).
A common phrase of spouses is, “Oh, he/she will never change.” While it’s not your job to change your spouse, it’s also not true that people do not grow and change over time with the help of God. After all, don’t you? Ask the Lord to increase your hope.
“Love hopes all things” (1 Cor 13:7).
Pope Francis: “[Hoping all things] does not mean that everything will change in this life. It does involve realizing that, though things may not always turn out as we wish, God may well make crooked lines straight and draw some good from the evil we endure in this world” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 116).
Supernatural hope keeps our eyes on eternity. Today, entrust problems into God’s hands and ask him to “make the crooked straight.”
“Love hopes all things” (1 Cor 13:7).
Pope Francis: “[In heaven], the person’s true being will shine forth in all its goodness and beauty. This realization helps us, amid the aggravations of this present life, to see each person from a supernatural perspective, in the light of hope, and await the fullness that he or she will receive in the heavenly kingdom, even if it is not yet visible” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 117).
C.S. Lewis wrote that a soul in glory will be so beautiful that we can hardly look at him or her. Pray tonight for all the members of your family to attain to the Kingdom through Christ’s grace.
“Love endures all things” (1 Cor 13:7).
Pope Francis: “Panta hypoménei. This means that love bears every trial with a positive attitude. It stands firm in hostile surroundings. This ‘endurance’ involves not only the ability to tolerate certain aggravations, but something greater: a constant readiness to confront any challenge. It is a love that never gives up, even in the darkest hour” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 118, emphasis original).
Every family endures hard times. Recall one such hard time with your spouse, and try to see what good God may have drawn out of it, or, if you can’t see that yet, what you hope he will draw out of it.
Check out the newest video in the MUR series on marriage and religious freedom! Please share it and spread the word.
“You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye” (Mt 7:5).
Pope Francis: “The Gospel tells us to look to the log in our own eye (cf. Mt 7:5). Christians cannot ignore the persistent admonition of God’s word not to nurture anger: ‘Do not be overcome by evil’ (Rm 12:21). ‘Let us not grow weary in doing good’ (Gal 6:9). It is one thing to sense a sudden surge of hostility and another to give into it, letting it take root in our hearts: ‘Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger’ (Eph 4:26)” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 104).
Meditate on one of these Scripture passages today. Try to repeat it to yourself throughout the day, especially when you are tempted to anger.
“Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Eph 4:26).
Pope Francis: “My advice is never to let the day end without making peace in the family. ‘And how am I going to make peace? By getting down on my knees? No! Just by a small gesture, a little something, and harmony within your family will be restored. Just a little caress, no words are necessary. But do not let the day end without making peace in your family’. Our first reaction when we are annoyed should be one of heartfelt blessing, asking God to bless, free and heal that person” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 104).
Tonight, think over your day and your relationships with your family. Figure out if there’s anyone you should apologize to before bed, and do it.
“Love does not brood over injury” (1 Cor 13:5).
Pope Francis: “Once we allow ill will to take root in our hearts, it leads to deep resentment. The phrase ou logízetai to kakón means that love ‘takes no account of evil’; ‘it is not resentful’. The opposite of resentment is forgiveness, which is rooted in a positive attitude that seeks to understand other people’s weaknesses and to excuse them… Something is wrong when we see every problem as equally serious; in this way, we risk being unduly harsh with the failings of others” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 105).
Today, pay attention to whether you are falling into the trap of making much out of little. As the well-known book holds, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” Think about your grievances in light of eternity.
“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).
Pope Francis: “Today we recognize that being able to forgive others implies the liberating experience of understanding and forgiving ourselves… We need to learn to pray over our past history, to accept ourselves, to learn how to live with our limitations, and even to forgive ourselves, in order to have this same attitude towards others” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 107).
Mother Mary Francis, a Poor Clare, wrote to her sisters once that the quickest way to “kill” charity is to be too hard on yourself. If you hold yourself to an unrealistic standard, you will do the same to others. Accept your own imperfections today with a laugh and a trusting prayer for mercy.
“Love does not brood over injury” (1 Cor 13:5).
Pope Francis: “All this assumes that we ourselves have had the experience of being forgiven by God, justified by his grace and not by our own merits. We have known a love that is prior to any of our own efforts, a love that constantly opens doors, promotes and encourages. If we accept that God’s love is unconditional, that the Father’s love cannot be bought or sold, then we will become capable of showing boundless love and forgiving others even if they have wronged us” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 108).
When you experience forgiveness, you know what a gift it is and can then extend it to others. God’s love precedes anything that you do. Today, focus on letting your family members see that your love for them is not dependent on their actions.
“Love rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor 13:6).
Pope Francis: “The expression chaírei epì te adikía has to do with a negativity lurking deep within a person’s heart. It is the toxic attitude of those who rejoice at seeing an injustice done to others. The following phrase expresses its opposite: sygchaírei te aletheía: ‘it rejoices in the right’” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 109).
The idea of being glad at someone else’s misfortune is such a common temptation that there’s actually a word for that in German: schadenfreude. It’s an ugly thing. Today practice “rejoicing in the right” by noticing at least one thing your spouse or child(ren) does and acknowledging it with a heartfelt “thank you”.
“Love is not jealous” (1 Cor 13:4).
Pope Francis: “Saint Paul goes on to reject as contrary to love an attitude expressed by the verb zelói – to be jealous or envious. This means that love has no room for discomfiture at another person’s good fortune (cf. Acts 7:9; 17:5)” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 95).
Sometimes things just seem so easy for other people. Today, when you are tempted to think that your spouse, children, or another relative just has an easier life than you do, remind yourself of how much God has done for you. Be content and pray for the grace to accept your own situation with a peaceful heart.
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female slave, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Ex 20:17).
Pope Francis: “True love values the other person’s achievements. It does not see him or her as a threat. It frees us from the sour taste of envy. It recognizes that everyone has different gifts and a unique path in life. So it strives to discover its own road to happiness, while allowing others to find theirs” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 95).
It is always difficult not to compare ourselves to other people, but that inevitably leads to sadness. Today, reflect upon the unique path that you have been on so far, and entrust yourself to God in confidence. Plan something fun with your family for next weekend so that you can appreciate your family as a gift.
“Love is not jealous” (1 Cor 13:4).
Pope Francis: “Love inspires a sincere esteem for every human being and the recognition of his or her own right to happiness. I love this person, and I see him or her with the eyes of God, who gives us everything ‘for our enjoyment’ (1 Tim 6:17). As a result, I feel a deep sense of happiness and peace” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 96).
Today, compliment members of your family, and try to choose something that you may never have said to them before. Think about what it means to see someone with “the eyes of God.”
“Love is not pompous, it is not inflated” (1 Cor 13:4).
Pope Francis: “The following word, perpereúetai, denotes vainglory, the need to be haughty, pedantic and somewhat pushy. Those who love not only refrain from speaking too much about themselves, but are focused on others; they do not need to be the center of attention. The word that comes next – physioútai – is similar, indicating that love is not arrogant. Literally, it means that we do not become ‘puffed up’ before others. It also points to something more subtle: an obsession with showing off and a loss of a sense of reality. Such people think that, because they are more ‘spiritual’ or ‘wise’, they are more important than they really are” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 97).
Do these words – haughty, pushy, puffed up – ever describe you? Make a concerted effort today to remember that even your good intentions and good deeds are gifts from God.
“Knowledge inflates with pride, but love builds up” (1 Cor 8:1).
Pope Francis: “Some think that they are important because they are more knowledgeable than others; they want to lord it over them. Yet what really makes us important is a love that understands, shows concern, and embraces the weak” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 97).
Is there a member of your family whom you pay less attention to because they aren’t as “smart” as you are? Reach out to them today with sincere interest in their life.
“But Jesus summoned them and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave’” (Mt 20:25-27).
Pope Francis: “It is important for Christians to show their love by the way they treat family members who are less knowledgeable about the faith, weak or less sure in their convictions… In family life, the logic of domination and competition about who is the most intelligent or powerful destroys love” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 98).
Families are always a “mixed bag” in terms of the practice of the faith. Think about the last time that you were with your extended family. Did you treat people kindly, even if they disagree with you or the Church? (This doesn’t mean watering down your love for your faith.) Are you approachable and gentle in your conversations?
Growing up with three brothers, I remember a lot of forced apologies being exchanged back and forth between us. My parents would make us say the words before we were actually ready to apologize for (or forgive) whatever nastiness was inflicted that day. But however hurt or angry we were at the moment, there was never a question in our minds about whether we loved one another. We belonged to each other and wouldn’t have had it any other way. Being family and loving one another went hand-in-hand.
Love sees beyond what is broken, rude, selfish, or mean in the other person’s action and reaches out a hand to heal the relationship. By making my brothers and me practice forgiveness in the everyday offenses of life, my parents were leading us to understand mercy: it makes things right between us.
Throughout the Old Testament we see a cycle of betrayal and mercy played out between Israel and the Lord. Over and over, Israel abandons God for their own desires, but the Lord continually draws her back to himself because he chose her and he is faithful to the covenant he made. In the book of Hosea in particular, the relationship of a married couple is used to reveal the steadfastness of God’s love for Israel. No matter what she does, He remains faithful.
A sacramental marriage helps those who witness it to understand God’s fidelity to his people. Indissolubility is a gift of mercy, because it makes the relationship of the couple true to what love is: a complete gift of oneself that can’t be taken back. A person in love does not promise their beloved the next three years; they promise forever! “The gift of indissolubility means that despite the vicissitudes and suffering that come with human failure and sin, the sacramental marriage bond remains an abiding source of mercy, forgiveness, and healing.” To deny the indissolubility of marriage would be an affront against the sacrament of marriage because it would deny the reality of grace and its power to heal and perfect a person.
I came across a beautiful reflection about marriage recently on a blog site. A woman was reflecting on her experience of learning to have mercy on her husband who was struggling with clinical depression. She said, “Through mercy, God taught me to love my husband as we all deserve to be loved—with a love devoid of self, thinking only of the good of the other person.” While her husband was sick, she, “picked up his cross for him, as Jesus does for us, and bore his malaise and withdrawal in loving silence.” By showing mercy rather than demanding justice, the couple was able to maintain peace and goodwill during his illness. Mercy itself is not a cure for depression, but it helped this couple to preserve their relationship in a difficult time. The wife realized that she needed to be kind and selfless, and not seek justice but rather have mercy, and finally when she did that she found, “I no longer cared about justice.”
It can be said of the practice of reconciliation that it “washes away small offenses, but it also protects from great offenses. Pardon confers a habitus of communion.” Mercy towards siblings, in my case, and a husband in the case of the blog contributor is an expression of a disposition toward communion. It is a desire to be united to the other person, even after they have hurt you. A married couple that frequently seeks and offers mercy reinforces their “togetherness” or communion so that when serious trials arise they have already practiced drawing towards one another. The indissoluble bond of marriage not only calls a couple to be merciful toward each other, but indissolubility also reveals God’s own mercy, because when he binds two people together in the sacrament, he gives them the graces they need to live it out.
 There is a new concept about marriage out there these days called a “wed-lease,” which turns marriage into something more like a business contract: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-high-divorce-rate-means-its-time-to-try-wedleases/2013/08/04/f2221c1c-f89e-11e2-b018-5b8251f0c56e_story.html. This is not true to what love is.
 “Ode to Feminine Genius: A Merciful Woman.” Catholic Sistas. Aug. 28, 2014. http://www.catholicsistas.com/2014/08/ode-feminine-genius-merciful-woman/
 Laffitte, J.(2015). The Choice of the Family. New York: Image, p. 143.
Written by the Spring Intern in the Promotion and Defense of Marriage Secretariat.
This is one of my favorite words in the realm of reflection on sexual difference because it reminds me that human being have limits that we must simply accept. Another term that is used to say the same thing is “insuperable.” One of the greatest lessons that we learn over and over again in relationships is: “other people are not me.” While this is certainly true in every case, between any two people, it is a particularly striking fact in the relationship between a man and a woman.
Taking the word in itself, irreducible denotes that a given thing is not-able-to-be-diminished. So not only can the thing not go away, it can’t even be lessened. We say sexual difference, then, is an irreducible difference. It cannot be any less than it is. A man cannot become somehow less a man in order to satisfy his wife, and a woman cannot be made somehow less a woman for her husband. In fact, in the union of marriage, each spouse will most likely find out for the first time just how different a man and woman are. Pope Francis preached in a homily for a celebration of Matrimony at the Vatican, “This is what marriage is all about: man and woman walking together, wherein the husband helps his wife to become ever more a woman, and wherein the woman has the task of helping her husband to become ever more a man.” Cardinal Scola of Milan writes, “You, woman, are as fully person as I, man. Yet you are this in a way that is radically different from my own, so decisive and so inaccessible. You are, precisely, other. Here we see all the force of the originality of man and woman.”[i] Thinking this way about sexual difference—as irreducible—can be a great help to the marital relationship, especially when it comes to expectations of understanding and agreement.
In Arabic, the word for “husband,” “wife” and “married couple” is one and the same: zawj.[ii] The language thus recognizes the mutual dependence and relationality of a man and woman in marriage, because it means “two persons, different from one another, bound together, who cannot manage without each other.”[iii] It highlights that the difference does not disappear in the unity.
In Chinese culture, the yin and the yang are symbols used to communicate a similar idea. “Though yin and yang look like opposites, they can’t exist independently. They embrace and coordinate each other, and also facilitate each other. One cannot exist or be defined without the other.”[iv] This Eastern concept can be helpful when thinking about the irreducible nature of the difference between the sexes: if the other is not, and never will be, you, only then can you be really tied to them in an inextricable way. Mirror images of ourselves cannot last.
[i] Angelo Cardinal Scola, The Nuptial Mystery (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2005), p. 281.
[ii] Wael Farouq, “We Exist in Relationship,” Not Just Good, but Beautiful: The Complementary Relationship between Man and Woman, eds. Steven Lopes and Helen Alvare (Walden, NY: Plough Publishing House, 2015), p. 46.
[iii] Ibid, p. 46.
[iv] Tsui-Ying Sheng, “The Union of Yin and Yang,” Not Just Good, but Beautiful, p. 141.
Echoing the themes of the Bishops’ Call to Prayer, Archbishop Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas wrote an article in the diocesan paper about the current threats to life, marriage and religious freedom– particularly the latter in light of the former!
In the last of the 5-week series, MUR is going over the FAQ #10 in Section 3: But isn’t it unjust discrimination to not allow two men (or two women) to marry?
The word “discrimination” is most often used to speak of the unjust treatment of persons based on race, sex, age, or disability. Indeed that has become the first definition of the word today, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (and others). We are taught from a young age that it is wrong to discriminate and that we should always seek to be inclusive and aware of our biases or prejudices. While unjust discrimination is still a serious problem in the U.S., the question of redefining marriage is unrelated to it.
Like most words, discrimination has multiple meanings. Marriage law always contains a certain type of discrimination because it makes distinctions. The second definition of discrimination is: “the ability to understand that one thing is different from another thing.”[i] That certainly describes noting the distinction between marriage and any other type of sexual relationship. There is a difference, and this difference is worthy of recognition by everyone, including the government. Acknowledging the real and essential differences between types of sexual relationships is not discriminatory.
It is not discrimination if a person who cannot swim is rejected for a position as a lifeguard or swim instructor. It is not discrimination when a man who cannot lift 25 pounds is not hired as a piano mover. And it is not discrimination when a man is not permitted to play in a women’s tennis tournament. In the same way, noting that two men or two women cannot be the procreative, comprehensive union that marriage is, is not (unjust) discrimination.
Only a man and a woman are capable of sexual activity that may yield children. The government has a strong interest in protecting the right of those children to a mother and a father and in reducing the likelihood that those children will become wards of the state. The civil law of marriage (until recently) served both these interests by legally bonding adult couples to any children they may create, and to each other.
On the other hand, the sexual activity of two persons of the same sex never yields children, so the government does not have a very compelling interest in getting involved. The government does not care who your best friend is; you don’t need a license for friendship or cohabitation. It would be eminently reasonable, and in no way unjust, for law to distinguish between same-sex and opposite-sex relationships.
Likewise, it is reasonable that a professional serving a customer can distinguish between activities that express approval for same-sex sexual behavior and those that do not. The cases discussed in the next section deal with people who happily served each of their customers, with no thought to the person’s “private” life, until they were asked to do something directly celebrating their sexual relationship. These people simply declined to celebrate what they consider to be immoral behavior.
[i] “Discrimination.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/discrimination (accessed February 3, 2016).
For the month of February, MUR will explore the concept of the complementarity of the sexes.
Complementarity is a word that comes up a lot when talking about marriage and trying to explain the Church’s teaching on it. Unfortunately, it sometimes has negative connotations, some of which can be downright offensive to either sex.
Today as we kick off Complementarity February (an MUR original), we are going to start with what complementarity is NOT.
It is not “You complete me,” a la Jerry Maguire.
It is not Plato’s conception of “two halves of the same soul” who were split apart by jealous gods (see The Symposium).
And finally, it is not even, “He’s helpless in the kitchen and she’s helpless with the car.”
Instead, complementarity is the awesome fact that everything Martha does, as a human being, she does as a woman. Everything Bob does, as a human being, he does as a man. Martha and Bob are different, and we thank God for that. When Martha and Bob fall in love, there is an vitality there that derives from their fundamental sexual difference.
I have never met a married couple who said, “Yeah, we’re basically the same.” Even when they share interests, philosophies, goals, skills, and ideas, a man and a woman in love always come up to an “otherness” that will never go away. He will never think the same way she does about X, Y, or Z. She will never react the same way he does to A, B, or C. Part of that is due to sexual difference. Complementarity means that a man finds in a woman, and vice versa, a whole person who experiences the world in a completely different way that is equally valid.
Pope St. John Paul II wrote: masculinity and femininity are “two reciprocally completing ways of ‘being a body’ and at the same time of being human—… two complementary dimensions of self-knowledge and self-determination and, at the same time, two complementary ways of being conscious of the meaning of the body.”[i] He means that being human means being a body-soul unity, a person with not only intelligence, will, emotions, and a soul but also a body that requires food, drink, sleep, exercise, and even to go to the bathroom. There are two ways of being a human person—a male way and a female way. These are not biological deterministic concepts because they are about the whole person, body and soul together.
When men and women are together — whether they are married or whether they are simply friends, co-workers, or acquaintances — there is something “creative” about their collaboration, as long as they are open to the others’ uniqueness. Neither should dismiss the other’s perspective, but neither can they fully enter into it. Pope Francis pointed out that these days we don’t always know how to handle this difference. He said, “For example, I ask myself, if the so-called gender theory is not, at the same time, an expression of frustration and resignation, which seeks to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it. Yes, we risk taking a step backwards. The removal of difference in fact creates a problem, not a solution.”[ii]
For too long, men and women defined their differences by what they were “able to do,” which both overemphasized and, at the same time, minimized the truth — the truth that men and women in many ways can do the same things, but they will not do them the same way.
In conclusion, here is a section from Mulieris Dignitatem, in which Pope St. John Paul II gave a list of female saints to consider: “Monica, the mother of Augustine, Macrina, Olga of Kiev, Matilda of Tuscany, Hedwig of Silesia, Jadwiga of Cracow, Elizabeth of Thuringia, Birgitta of Sweden, Joan of Arc, Rose of Lima, Elizabeth Ann Seton and Mary Ward” (no. 27). It would be difficult to find a more diverse group of women. As a parallel list for men, how about Joseph, husband of Mary, Ignatius of Loyola, John Vianney, Maximilian Kolbe, Padre Pio, Pier Giorgio Frassati, Martin de Porres, Francis and King Louis IX. God created us all to be saints, and none of us will be exactly like anyone else. The equality-in-difference of the saints shows us that men and women will always be masculine or feminine, and even more so when they are who God called them to be.
[i] John Paul II, Theology of the Body (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2006), p. 166. See also USCCB, Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan (2009), pp. 9-11.
[ii] Pope Francis, “On Man and Woman” General Audience, April 15, 2015).
In this fourth of the 5-week series, MUR is going over the FAQ #3 in Section 2: What’s the difference between a husband and wife who can’t have children, and two persons of the same sex, who also can’t have children?
This is a great question and one that requires a bit of patience to find a satisfying answer. The soundbite answer is: A man and a woman, united in the sexual act, is always and only the type of act that can result in the conception of a child.
As the MUR FAQ puts it, even when a husband and wife do not in fact conceive a child (due to infertility, age, and so on), their sexual acts are still the kind of acts by which children are naturally conceived. In contrast, two persons of the same sex may be perfectly healthy, but will never be able to enter a one-flesh communion and thus unite in such a way that a child is conceived.
On the human level, the marriage between a man and a woman, regardless of whether they have children, is deeply affected by the relationship of each of them has to their parents. You see, every child has a mother and a father, and then grows up, and to some extent bases his (or her) understanding of marriage and relationships on what he saw between his own parents.
Let’s flip the question around a bit: if marriage is supposedly about children, then why allow couples who cannot procreate to be married?
Well, first of all, we never said that marriage is only about children. We’ll come back to that later.
Setting aside the privacy issues and the horrifying idea of the government being allowed to peek into health records before issuing marriage licenses, hopefully the answer is still pretty clear: because a man and woman, no matter what, can share the whole of their lives with each other, uniting bodies, hearts, minds and souls. The community benefits from every witness of fidelity and love between a husband and a wife. Children in their extended families and neighborhoods can see in them a picture of love, of what is possible, even if their own parents are not together. They may choose to open their marriage to children through adoption, foster care, or other more temporary arrangements, or they may choose to serve in any number of different ways. They are still complements to one another.
A quick philosophy lesson before the next question: An accident means a trait or a quality that something has, that is not always or necessarily there. For example, color is often an accident; an apple doesn’t have to be red to be an apple. The essence, on the other hand, is what makes something be what it is. It’s not an apple if it’s a pear, even if the pear is red.
So here’s the question: Is the impossibility of conceiving a child an accident in the couple, or connected essentially to their relationship?
A man and a man, or a woman and a woman, cannot become parents together, by definition, by essence. Their infertility is a result of the nature of human beings, not to an accident of infertility in one or the other (or both).
Does that help?
In this 5-week series, MUR is going over a few of the FAQs on our website. This week we look at FAQ #10: Why does the Catholic Church care so much about marriage?
Short answer: Because it’s such a good thing for people and for society. In fact, nothing really compares to marriage when it comes to creating a stable environment for children, and a strong foundation for communities.
The Church’s ultimate goal is to help people to get to heaven. This is the gift that Jesus made possible by his passion and death, but it’s not automatic. We “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil 2:12) This means that participating in our redemption is a daily work, a lifelong journey. The Church’s deep desire is for all people to join in this work, to receive the abundant mercy that God is always offering. “For as long as we are alive it is always possible to start over, all we have to do is let Jesus embrace us and forgive us.”
So the Church cares about marriage because she cares about the salvation of married people. All married people. She knows that marriage is the context in which God, in most cases, wants to save people and show them His mercy. In experiencing the total love and acceptance of another human person, who is different but the same, a human being can come to understand God’s love and forgiveness. In having children with that person, giving life out of the union of sexual difference, spouses can come to understand God’s love in an ever deeper way through the overwhelming love they experience toward their children. These are great gifts of love in themselves, and at the same time, they point toward a higher love, a love which also expresses both difference (3 persons) and sameness (one God). This is a way to help them understand what it means to be a man or a woman. Pope Francis talked about this with engaged couples.
In addition to willing the salvation of all married persons, the Church wills the salvation of every one of their children, and as expressed above, there is no healthier context for children than in a home with a married mother and father. It is the best place in which a child can learn what love truly is, and how it includes sacrifice and hard work. In a home where at least one parent is voluntarily missing, children may question whether God’s love, too, is changeable or temporary. It will then be more of a challenge for them to internalize the concept of unconditional love and acceptance.
Much of this is evident through personal experience. Reflect on the people in your own life who either grew up in a home without one or the other parent, or experienced a parental divorce later in life. The Huffington Post is actually running a series right now on the children of divorce, including adults. (For Your Marriage has a round-up about this, if you’re interested.) There are also children who were raised with two parents of the same sex who have spoken about their wound of the missing parent.
In conclusion, marriage has significance not only to the persons contracting it, but to their families, their communities, and – really– the world.
For the next 5 weeks, MUR will be going over a few of the FAQs on our website. We are starting with #3: What is marriage?
Here is the Catechism definition: Marriage is the lifelong partnership of mutual and exclusive fidelity between a man and a woman, ordered to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of children (see CCC, no. 1601; CIC, can. 1055.1; GS, no. 48).
Let’s see how much is covered by that one sentence:
- Lifelong = no divorce, ends at the death of one of the spouses
- Partnership = each spouse gives the proverbial 100% and the two persons are equal
- Mutual = shared in common
- Exclusive = excluding all others
- Fidelity = faithfulness, sexual and emotional
- Ordered to = made, designed, or constructed in such a way as to do X
- Good of the spouses = what is good for both the man and the woman– heaven
- Procreation = helping God to bring new life into the world
- Education = parents are the first educators of their children
At the heart of married love, the Church says, is the total gift of self that husband and wife freely offer to each other, becoming “one flesh” and being open through one another to children, “who are a living reflection of their love” (FC, no. 14).
In other words, when a husband and wife unite in the sexual act, it is not just some form of pleasant recreation, but rather an expression of the unity they seek to live out on an everyday basis through sharing themselves with each other.
Marriage in the Catholic Church between a baptized man and a baptized woman has also been raised to be a Sacrament by Christ.
A sacrament (lowercase s) is a sign of something greater; it points beyond itself to some other reality, and is somehow tied to that reality. For example, the body is the sacrament of the soul. You know that I exist, and that I have a soul, because you see my body and it is a human body.
A Sacrament (with a capital S), on the other hand, is one of the seven formal Sacraments of the Catholic Church which come from Christ Himself to give his people the grace they need for the journey. Each one of the Sacraments has its roots in Scripture and Tradition. Marriage is a unique Sacrament, because it was always a (lowercase “s”) sacrament from the beginning of time. The union of man and woman always pointed beyond itself to something greater: the mystery of a God who is Love. But Jesus raised this natural sacrament to a formal Sacrament at the Wedding of Cana, revealing that it is a concrete sign of his union with the Church. He showed that the relationship of man and woman to one another was also meant to be open to God and his grace.
This also partly explains why the Catholic Church is interested in the civil definition of marriage, not just Sacramental marriage. The union of a man and a woman points to God, even when it is not a Sacramental bond.