A few years ago, I was discussing the Church’s position on contraception with a friend of mine. He said, “Well, getting sick is natural, and we take medicine to stop the process of becoming ill. Why is taking birth control to stop the process of becoming pregnant any different?” I must admit, I was a little stumped. I knew that the two cases—becoming ill and becoming pregnant—were different, but I couldn’t quite parse out how. I had an intuition that it had something to do with the way my friend was using the word “natural.” Surely, I thought, getting sick and getting pregnant are two different kinds of natural processes. But how?
We all have a general—perhaps a vague—idea of what “natural” means. Such is obvious by the fact that we assume the existence of nature in our everyday language. When two dogs struggle against their leashes to sniff and inspect one another, we say, “Well, they’re just doing what comes naturally!” We say things like, “I hadn’t eaten breakfast or lunch, so naturally, I was starving come dinnertime.” Not only do we talk about the natural, but we also have an intuition that what is natural is good. For instance, many of us favor natural remedies as opposed to prescriptions. Many of us gravitate toward brands that include the word “natural” in the name, brands that promise products free of chemicals and food free of additives and preservatives.
As Catholics, we have an especially rich understanding of the natural as good. We take human nature to be the grounding for certain truths about the human person: that mankind was created male and female, that the human being is ordered toward procreation and family life, that the human being is by nature a social creature. All these things we regard as good insofar as they are integral aspects of human nature, and to live out these aspects of human nature is what enables the human being to flourish. When we recognize a common human nature and recognize this nature as good, we therefore know also that it is good for everyone to flourish. In other words, we recognize that to flourish is a right, so to speak, of each and every person. To recognize this fact gives way to the concept of human dignity, which means to respect and, indeed, to help our fellow human beings flourish and live-out their human nature. We cannot, therefore, truly know what it means to say that human beings have worth and dignity, what is good for mankind, without a concrete notion of human nature.
In 1993, St. Pope John Paul II published his encyclical Veritatis Splendor in view of widespread confusion and disagreement in the areas of ethics and moral theology. The mission of the encyclical was to recall and restate the fundamental truths of Catholic doctrine as it pertains to the Church’s moral teaching. The overarching theme of Veritatis Splendor is to affirm the natural and eternal law, to affirm and defend a real and immutable human nature, and to affirm the fact that “the power to decide good and evil does not belong to man, but to God alone.” (VS, no. 32) In other words, St. John Paul II teaches us in Veritatis Splendor that to know human nature and to know it as good and created by God are essential to understanding the Church’s moral teaching.
Taking for its inspiration St. John Paul II’s Veritatis Splendor, this blog series will answer questions about the Church’s teaching in the areas of human sexuality, marriage, and the family— with an eye toward human nature and natural law. For example: What does it mean to say that marriage is a natural institution? In what sense is marriage natural? Why are unity and procreation marriage’s natural ends?
In the blog entries to come, I hope to provide some clarity and insight into the nature behind Church teaching and to answer some of these tricky questions that sometimes leave us stumped. These are questions that Catholics and non-Catholics alike struggle with and, if left unanswered, can be a source of confusion, frustration, and anxiety. It is more important than ever to understand and promote the true nature of the human person and the true nature of marriage. It is more important now than ever to remember that nothing in God’s creation is arbitrary, that (in the words of Aristotle) “nature does nothing in vain”—to remember that not only is marriage unique, it is unique for a reason.
About the Author: Bridget Groff is an M.A./Ph.D. student in the School of Philosophy at the Catholic University of America. She currently works part-time at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as an intern for the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.
Surprise! You aren’t expecting one child; you’re expecting two… three… four…! How do Catholic families adjust to taking care of multiples? This episode features Paul Gondreau of Providence College, Stefan and Valeri Syski and Matt and Jill Kerr (triplets!).
Do you know the four temperaments? Which one are you? Today we focus on the temperaments and marriage. Some temperament matches are going to be “easier” than others, but no matter what temperaments you and your spouse have, you can still help each other get to heaven! This episode features Art and Laraine Bennett, the authors of The Temperament God Gave You (and others), Nick and Lucy van Schaijik, and Brady and Sarah Wilson.
Listen on Podbean:
When your parents get divorced, it’s not a one-time event. It remains with you for life. Today we continue the conversation with three adult children of divorced parents about the road to healing and how they seek to build up their own families. This episode features Dan Meola, Beth Sri, and LeeAnne Abel.
Bishop Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix spoke at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast on April 23, 2019. His full address is available; He spoke on the importance of continuing to preach the good news of marriage and family.
He spoke about gender ideology, among other topics, noting, “Any rejection of bodiliness will immediately target two beautiful but demanding and sometimes inconvenient realities: marriage and the child.”
Described in a popular book by Gary Chapman, the five love languages are five different ways that we human beings give and receive love; and some of them “speak” to us better than others. The thing is, we don’t even necessarily realize it, or how to talk about it. Today on Made for Love we’re talking about the five love languages in marriage with Francis and Julia Dezelski, Bryan and Liz Smalley, and Craig and Stephanie Rapp.
“Porn Kills Love.” This slogan from “Fight the New Drug” resonates with Catholic teaching about pornography. This episode is about Catholics dealing with addiction to pornography. It includes DJ Hueneman, Jeff and Annette Kohn, Kevin and Krista Burridge, Patty Breen, and Perry West.
The 2005 USCCB statement “Create in Me a Clean Heart” (Also in Spanish) addresses the crisis of pornography in today’s world. There’s an abridged version if you are pressed for time! The conference also publishes pamphlets to help particular groups:
The USCCB’s For Your Marriage website also has resources and help for people dealing with pornography.
The journal Humanum has a beautiful witness story: The Cleansing of the Temple: Casting Pornography Out of Marriage
Catholics who are divorced go through a hard process, and can feel forgotten, marginalized, or unwanted at our parishes. How can we make sure that is not the case? This episode features Rose Sweet of Divorce Healing and Surviving Divorce, Patty Breen, Brad Grey, and Fr. Steve Porter.
Navigating cultural differences in marriage can be a challenge but brings great rewards. This episode features Dusan and Elizabeth Turcon, Christine and Ysias Martinez, Justin and Bernadette McClain, and Dunn and Mary Estacio.
Available on podbean:
Natural Family Planning, Part One!
Chastity doesn’t mean abstinence, but rather integrating one’s sexual impulses into love. That’s obviously important in marriage. Anticipating Natural Family Planning awareness week (July 22-28), we talk about NFP with Amy and Duston Stout, Mark and Leslie Wolf, and Rachel and Dax.
Tons of information on NFP is available at the USCCB website.
For example, here’s a page with current medical research about fertility awareness.
If you are interested in finding a class, here’s a directory that includes programs with distance learning.
National NFP Awareness Week is July 22-28, 2018. This year’s theme is “Generations of Love.”
And since Rachel talked about a few books in the podcast, here are links to those:
On today’s Made for Love, we continue to look at Humanae Vitae fifty years later. What is the Church’s teaching on the “transmission of life”? This episode features Chris and Becky Wilson, Sister Helena Burns, fsp, Chris Reynolds from the Couple to Couple League, Dr. John Grabowski of CUA, and Dr. Theresa Notare of the USCCB’s NFP office.
Here are the Resolutions of the Lambeth Conference of 1930.
Humanae Vitae Part 1
On today’s Made for Love, we look at Humanae Vitae from the perspective of fifty years of change. What is HV all about? Have Pope Paul VI’s predictions come true? This episode features Bishop Ricken (Green Bay), Bishop Rassas (Auxiliary in Chicago), Dr. John Grabowski of CUA, Sister Helena Burns, fsp, Dr. Theresa Notare of the USCCB’s NFP office, and Dr. Lionel and Janet Yaceczko.
Here’s the 1968 Encyclical Humanae Vitae that we are talking about today. That’s the Vatican translation, as Dr. Lionel Yaceczko reads it on the podcast. Here’s another translation, by Dr. Janet Smith (scroll down to find the encyclical).
The USCCB NFP office is keeping an up-to-date list of events and resources for the anniversary.
Here’s Dr. John Grabowski’s faculty page at the Catholic University of America.
Check out Bishop DiMarzio’s column on marriage in his Diocesan paper (Diocese of Brooklyn).
This is a great reminder that the Church’s defense of marriage as the union of one man and one woman has not ended because of the Supreme Court’s redefinition in 2015.
The Murphys, Dawsons, and Stouts all thought that because they studied theology, they would be really good at this marriage thing. But knowing the Theology of the Body, while that knowledge is certainly a gift, does not mean your marriage will be easy. The messiness and difficulty of marriage is part of the vocation; it doesn’t mean that you are failing. Listen to these stories of real marriage and its beauty.
Stacy and Nabil met in college. Their wedding day was the happiest day of Stacy’s life. But within a few years, they were divorced and Stacy was petitioning for an annulment. What happened? This episode explores the complex issue of annulment in the Catholic Church and features Stacy Thomlison, Fr. Bob Cannon of the Archdiocese of the Military Services, and Alice Heinzen, the marriage and family life director from the Diocese of La Crosse.
To learn more about the annulment process, speak to a priest at your local parish or call the marriage and family life director for your diocese. They will be able to listen to your story and help guide you.
To read up on Catholic teaching on annulments, head here for some FAQ’s: http://www.foryourmarriage.org/catholic-marriage/church-teachings/annulments/
There are links on the bottom of the article to Vatican documents about the annulment process, including the most recent revision that Pope Francis instituted. And here’s the USCCB webpage all about annulments.
Stacy is part of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, which is an effective evangelization ministry. I saw her give a talk to the National Council of Catholic Women, which was founded by the U.S. Bishops in 1920.
Here’s a story about Fr. Bob Cannon that gives more of his background (and a picture!) http://www.milarch.org/father-robert-r-cannon-ch-col-usaf-named-ams-chancellor/
Here are some articles that Alice Heinzen has written that you may be interested in: https://www.catholicmatch.com/institute/author/aheinzen/
Alice and her husband Jeff were able to speak to the bishops assembled in Rome for the Extraordinary Synod on the Family in 2014. Read their testimony here: https://zenit.org/articles/synod14-testimony-of-mr-and-mrs-jeffrey-heinzen-diocese-of-la-crosse-usa/