Also new from the USCCB, along with a new nationwide bulletin insert on “Marriage and the Supreme Court”: a list of “lead messages” on marriage redefinition. These points are intended to help clergy and leaders talk about marriage to those whom they serve, and to help everyone know what to say when marriage comes up in conversation with their friends, family members, neighbors, co-workers, etc.
The big picture
Marriage is a great gift to men, women, children, and society. The Church serves and strengthens marriage by providing pastoral care to engaged couples and marriages at all stages, and in any difficulty. The Church promotes and defends marriage by preaching and teaching about marriage’s authentic meaning.
Challenges facing marriage
Marriage needs to be strengthened, not redefined. Cohabitation, divorce, and contraception all erode marriage’s meaning as a public, total, lifelong, and fruitful communion of persons between husband and wife. The latest challenge to marriage, the proposal that sexual difference doesn’t matter, removes the very basis of marriage’s meaning as a one-flesh communion, open to children, making the definition of marriage in law (and thereby culture) open to limitless variation and ultimately meaningless.
Hot off the press: a new bulletin insert – for nationwide circulation in May and June – about “Marriage and the Supreme Court.” This bulletin insert is being shared with all of the U.S. bishops, along with a set of “lead messages” on marriage redefinition, which we’ll feature in a later blog post.
Content, in text form:
For the first time in our nation’s history, the Supreme Court is considering two cases about whether or not marriage should be redefined to include two persons of the same sex. These cases involve the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8, both of which define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
The Court is expected to rule on both cases by the end of June. A broad negative ruling could redefine marriage in the law throughout the entire country, becoming the “Roe v. Wade” of marriage. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has joined with many other organizations in urging the Supreme Court to uphold both DOMA and Proposition 8 and thereby to recognize the essential, irreplaceable contribution that husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, make to society, and especially to children.
What You Can Do
Pray, Fast, Sacrifice
The Bishops have encouraged Catholics to participate in a Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty during this Year of Faith. Visit www.usccb.org/life-marriage-liberty to learn more and commit to praying and fasting for life, marriage, and religious liberty.
The Bishops have also called for a second Fortnight for Freedom June 21-July 4. Visit www.Fortnight4Freedom.org.
Please consider contributing time, talent, and/or treasure to local or national efforts seeking to protect the unique meaning of marriage.
Advocate for Marriage (Lead Messages)
Be a witness for the truth of marriage in word and action. Take advantage of opportunities to speak about marriage’s unique meaning in conversation with friends, family, neighbors or co-workers. Share the truth in love.
Everyone has inviolable dignity and deserves love and respect. There are many ways to protect the basic human rights of all, but redefining marriage serves no one’s rights, least of all those of children.
What is marriage? Marriage is the permanent and exclusive union of one man and one woman, for the good of the spouses and for the procreation and education of children. One man, one woman—for life. (See Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, no. 48).
The difference is the difference. Men and women matter. They are equal but different. Sexual difference is essential to marriage.
Mothers and fathers matter. They aren’t interchangeable. Every child has a basic, natural right to come from and be raised in the loving marital union of his or her own father and mother.
Protecting marriage matters to everyone. It’s Catholic social teaching 101: pro-woman, pro-man, pro-child. Redefining marriage in the law says many false things: women – mothers – are dispensable; men – fathers – are dispensable; what adults want trumps what a child deserves and has a basic right to.
Visit MarriageUniqueForAReason.org for more resources on the authentic meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. For resources for engaged couples and married couples, visit ForYourMarriage.org and PorTuMatrimonio.org.
As was said yesterday, Illinois is one of the current battlegrounds for marriage laws. We’ve already shared some great teaching from Cardinal George of Chicago (a letter to parishioners and an article in the Chicago Catholic paper) and Bishop Paprocki of Springfield in Illinois (a letter to parishioners). Today we’ll look at another effort afoot in Illinois to catechize the faithful on the authentic meaning of marriage.
Marriage Toolkit from the Catholic Conference of Illinois [CCI]
Today we have an exclusive interview with a member of the defense of marriage team in Illinois who helped to develop a Marriage Toolkit, about which we’ve previously posted. Carlos Tejeda, the director of the marriage and family life office in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, spoke with Marriage: Unique for a Reason about the new Toolkit and what CCI hopes to accomplish with it.
Carlos said that the Toolkit was developed by a team of people from across the state, all of whom are members of the CCI’s defense of marriage department. (Other departments include Catholics for life, education, and social services.) Less than two years old, the defense of marriage department’s first major project was the Marriage Toolkit, which has been in the works since the department’s inception.
The Toolkit’s Aim, and Promotion Strategy
The inspiration for the Toolkit was the realization that helping people understand the truth of marriage is, as Carlos described it, “a difficult task.” Taking the successful USCCB Respect Life program as a model, the Marriage Toolkit aims to make that “difficult task” of catechizing about marriage more manageable for priests and laity alike.
According to Carlos, what the CCI hopes to accomplish with the Marriage Toolkit is to get a concrete, usable resource into the hands of parishioners, parish staff, pastors, and even non-Catholics – anyone who desires a resource that can help them articulate the truth of marriage in a difficult cultural setting.
There are a variety of avenues that will be used to promote the Marriage Toolkit. The main channel will be at the parish level, through parish staff and pastors. Carlos said that a long-term goal of the defense of marriage department is to have a designated representative at each parish or parish cluster who can relay information from the CCI to the parish. The Illinois Catholic Advocacy Network, or ICAN, provides another way of promoting the Toolkit. Through ICAN, which is run by the CCI, Illinois residents can receive updates on a variety of issues via text message or email. Monthly mailings to priests and parishes, and a priest gathering in the Spring, provide additional opportunities for sharing the Toolkit. And Carlos said that he is making himself available for presentations to parish staff and other groups to get the word out in a more personal manner.
Specific sections: Q&A and Courage
Speaking of the Toolkit’s content, Carlos said that the Q&A section is particularly important. He said that when people read through the questions and answers silently, away from conversation and the adrenaline such a heated topic brings, they can begin to build their confidence about this topic that will aid them when that “teachable moment” arrives. Quoting another member of the defense of marriage department, Carlos said that the long-term goal is for every Catholic to “understand, articulate, and embrace” the Church’s teaching on marriage. All three are important, but often a person might be comfortable with only one or two. The questions and answers included in the Toolkit help foster all three: understanding, articulating, and embracing what the Church tells us about marriage.
Carlos also highlighted the section of the Toolkit that identifies Courage as a ministry for persons with same-sex attraction who want to live a life of chastity. He noted that the Church is our Mother, and if a mother has a child with a difficulty, she doesn’t just let him be burdened, but instead she helps him. People with same-sex attraction are children of the Church. They need clarity on the Church’s teaching, yes, but they also need to be equipped to live out chastity, a call applicable to everyone. In other words, both clarity and pastoral action – truth and charity – are essential.
Finally, Carlos noted that the main task now for the defense of marriage department is to share and implement the Marriage Toolkit. Depending on what the Illinois legislature does with the pending marriage redefinition bill, the context of the Toolkit could change. For example, religious liberty implications of marriage redefinition could be brought more to the forefront. But regardless of political outcomes, the goal of the Marriage Toolkit remains the same: equipping Catholics and all people of good will to understand, articulate, and embrace the timeless teachings of the Church on marriage and sexual difference.
- Read the Catholic Conference of Illinois’ Marriage Toolkit [PDF]
- Sign up for the Illinois Catholic Advocacy Network
- Read the letters on marriage by Cardinal George and Bishop Paprocki, read at all masses January 5/6 in Chicago and Springfield in Illinois, respectively
- Read Cardinal George’s article: “Legislation creating ‘same-sex’ marriage: What’s at stake?”
The Catholic Conference of Illinois [CCI] has released a valuable new resource for clergy and the laity in their efforts to promote and defend marriage: a Marriage Toolkit entitled “Understanding & Promoting the Catholic Church’s Teaching on Marriage“ [PDF]. As explained in a press release, “The toolkit is designed to help Catholic individuals and parish communities understand, explain and promote the Catholic Church’s teaching to the following questions:
- What is marriage?
- Why is the definition of marriage important?
- Why does the Church endure the repercussions of taking a stance on marriage which is contrary to popular social trends and media advocacy?
- And, most importantly, why should you care about marriage?”
In order to answer these questions, the Toolkit provides an extensive Q&A on the subject, suggestions for further resources (including the Marriage: Unique for a Reason website), tips for homilists and catechists on giving marriage-related homilies and reflections, and information about the apostolate Courage, a ministry for persons with same-sex attraction. All of these components are available as stand-alone hand-outs.
The Toolkit is a joint effort developed by the Defense of Marriage Department of the CCI. Previously in 2009, the CCI produced a pamphlet explaining the link between civil union legislation and full marriage redefinition: “Promotion Civil Unions to Undermine Marriage” [PDF].
We encourage you to check out this valuable new resource. The entire toolkit can be downloaded as a PDF here.
Washington State is one of four states with marriage referendums on the ballot in November. Specifically, Referendum 74 offers voters a chance to repeal the marriage redefinition law signed by Governor Gregoire in February 2012. Bishop Blase J. Cupich wrote an August 3 letter to his parishioners about Referendum 74, including reflections on why the Church urges voter to reject the marriage redefinition law.
In his letter, Bishop Cupich acknowledges the strong emotions and convictions present on both sides of the debate. He writes, “My genuine hope is that we all can value the coming vote on Referendum 74 as an opportunity to have a substantial public debate regarding this critical issue, carried on with respect, honesty and conviction.” He affirms the Church’s teaching on the human dignity of all persons and reminds parishioners that no one may “misuse…this moment” to incite hostility towards persons with same-sex attraction.
As an attachment to his letter, Bishop Cupich offers six points of consideration “based on the light of reason” why voting “no” to the marriage redefinition law is the best choice, in the hopes that readers can calmly and reasonably discuss with their friends and family the potential societal consequences of redefining marriage.
Bishop Cupich’s points include:
- The new marriage law does not expand marriage but redefines it “in terms of a relationship between two people” without reference to union of man and woman or to that union’s potential to create new life.
- Redefining marriage leads to redefining parenthood, as has been seen in places like Canada and Spain, where words like “father” and “mother” have been replaced by terms like “Parent 1” and “Parent 2” or “Progenitor A” and “Progenitor B.” As the Bishop puts it, “words matter, especially words like mother and father, which have real depth and meaning.”
- If marriage is redefined so that sexual difference is not essential, why, logically, would marriage not be open for further redefinition, such as allowing more than two persons to be married, allowing close kin to be married, and so on?
- Marriage is not a product of either the church or the state, but “is written in our human nature.”
In conclusion, Bishop Cupich promised that in the weeks to come he would provide more reflections about marriage “based on what we believe God has revealed to us about creation, the meaning and value of marriage and family, and the way we are called to live as Christ’s disciples.” These reflections will be accessible at the Inland Register, the website of the Spokane diocese, and the website of the Washington State Catholic Conference.
- Bishop Blase J. Cupich, A Letter to Parishioners: Referendum 74
- Bishop Blase J. Cupich, Some Reflections on Referendum 74
“I want to explain the Church’s teaching on marriage when it comes up in conversation…but I just don’t know how!”
Has this thought ever crossed your mind? If so, you’re not alone! Articulating what the Catholic Church believes and teaches about marriage can be difficult, especially in a cultural climate where many of its main tenets are rejected.
One strategy is to return to the sources. That is, become knowledgeable about the Church’s authoritative teaching on marriage, as found in major papal and episcopal documents and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Frequent consultation of these main sources helps us to become ever more fluent in the “language” of the Church when she speaks about marriage. And when difficult questions come up in conversation or surface in the media, it’s helpful to know where to turn for solid answers.
But where to begin? Below, we offer an introduction to a few of the many important documents about marriage. We encourage you to become acquainted (or perhaps re-acquainted) with the Church’s beautiful and timeless teaching on marriage.
*Note: the following is not meant to be an exhaustive list. Additional sources will be highlighted in future posts.
1. USCCB, Pastoral Letter Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan (2009)
- Why it matters: It’s the most recent document on marriage from the entire body of U.S. bishops, approved in 2009.
- Mini-book, 58 pages long
- Part One: Marriage in the Order of Creation (The Natural Institution of Marriage)
- Part Two: Marriage in the Order of the New Creation (The Sacrament of Matrimony)
- Identifies four “fundamental challenges” to marriage: contraception, same-sex unions, divorce, and cohabitation (pp. 17-27).
- Reflects on marriage as a vocation and offers advice to married couples seeking to grow in virtue (pp. 43-45).
- “For all who seek to find meaning in their marriage will do so when they are open to accepting the transcendent meaning of marriage according to God’s plan” (p. 4).
- “Male and female are distinct bodily ways of being human, of being open to God and to one another – two distinct yet harmonizing ways of responding to the vocation to love” (p. 10).
- “The marital vocation is not a private or merely personal affair. Yes, marriage is a deeply personal union and relationship, but it is also for the good of the Church and the entire community” (p. 44).
- Additional Resources:
2. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (1997)
- Why it matters: The Catechism conveys the essential content of the Catholic faith (including its teaching on marriage) in a complete and summary way. Divided into easy-to-digest paragraphs, the Catechism also provides numerous footnotes for further study.
- Structure and key sections:
- 904 pages, divided into four parts and 2,865 paragraphs
- The sacrament of matrimony: nos. 1601-1606
- See especially “The goods and requirements of conjugal love” – nos. 1643-1654
- Sexual difference: nos. 369-373 and 2331-2336
- The love of husband and wife: nos. 2360-2379
- Offenses against the dignity of marriage: nos. 2380-2391
- “God created man and woman together and willed each for the other” (no. 371).
- “The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator” (no. 1603).
- “Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity” (no. 2333).
- “Fecundity is a gift, an end of marriage, for conjugal love naturally tends to be fruitful” (no. 2366).
- Additional Resources:
3. Bl. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (1981)
- English title: On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World
- Why it matters: Promulgated in response to the 1980 Synod of Bishops, Familiaris Consortio reads like a “little summa” of the theology of marriage and the family. Its pastoral advice, which touches on a diverse range of topics from women and society to responsible parenthood to mixed marriages to divorce, is grounded on a robust anthropology of the human person and theology of marriage and the family. It calls the family to a simple but profound mission: “Family, become what you are!”
- 86 sections
- Part One: Bright Spots and Shadows for the Family Today
- Part Two: The Plan of God for Marriage and the Family
- Part Three: The Role of the Christian Family
- 1) Forming a Community of Persons
- 2) Serving Life
- 3) Participating in the Development of Society
- 4) Sharing in the Life and Mission of the Church
- Part Four: Pastoral Care of the Family: Stages, Structures, Agents and Situations
- “Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being” (no. 11).
- “Every act of true love toward a human being bears witness to and perfects the spiritual fecundity of the family, since it is an act of obedience to the deep inner dynamism of love as self-giving to others” (no. 41).
- “The future of the world and of the church passes through the family” (no. 75).
- Additional Resources
- Commentary by Dr. Joseph Atkinson, associate professor of Sacred Scripture at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family: “A Family Manifesto – How to Read Familiaris Consortio” (originally appeared in Crisis Magazine, Dec. 2001)
4. Bl. John Paul II, Letter to Families (1994)
- Why it matters: Promulgated during the Year of the Family, John Paul II addressed this letter “not to families ‘in the abstract’ but to every particular family in every part of the world” (no. 4). A perfect complement to the longer Familiaris Consortio, Letter to Families invites families to reflect on their identity (especially its likeness to the Triune God) and their mission (building a civilization of love).
- 23 sections
- Part One: The Civilization of Love
- Includes: marital covenant and communion, sincere gift of self, and responsible parenthood
- Part Two: The Bridegroom is with You
- Includes: reflections on the wedding at Cana, the sacrament of marriage, and Mary
- “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” (no. 11).
- “Freedom cannot be understood as a license to do absolutely anything: it means a gift of self. Even more: it means an interior discipline of the gift” (no. 14).
- “Families are meant to contribute to the transformation of the earth and the renewal of the world, of creation and of all humanity” (no. 18).
February 7 through 14 is National Marriage Week, a collaborative effort to strengthen marriages and emphasize the benefits of marriage to husbands, wives, children, and society. It’s an appropriate time to think again about what makes marriage unique. What sets it apart from any other relationship on earth? In an age when many of us have experienced the wounds that come from broken marriages and families, and when unfortunate confusion about the meaning of marriage abounds, we are called to witness to a truth and a hope much deeper and much more real than we often see on TV or hear on the news. One way to assist us in this witness is to return to the basics and reflect once more on the unique, irreplaceable beauty of marriage.
Men and Women Matter: Let’s Start with the Human Person
Anthropology – the study of the human person – is an indispensable starting point for thinking about marriage. After all, marriage has to do with persons; it is a personal relationship. We must ask, “What does it mean to be a human person, as a man or as a woman?” Fundamentally, three points are important:
- Imago Dei: Human persons, male and female, are created in the image and likeness of God; every human person has inviolable dignity and worth.
- Vocation to love: Because “God is love” (see 1 John 4:8), human persons, as male and female created in God’s image, are given the vocation, and the responsibility, to love (see CCC, no. 1604 and FC, no. 11).
- Male and female: The body (masculine or feminine) is not an afterthought but is essential to the identity of the human person created in the image of God.
Where does marriage fit into this? Well, the Catechism tells us that “the vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator” (CCC, no. 1603). In other words, marriage comes into existence at the same moment that man and woman are created. Marriage is a particularly significant way that men and women can live out their vocation to love (see FC, no. 11).
Gift and Promise: Essential characteristics of marriage
Keeping in mind the nature of the human person – created male and female and called to the vocation of love – let’s now talk about the essential characteristics of marriage. As with any work of defining terms, it’s important to identify those things that make marriage unique, different from any other type of relationship. Yes, there are characteristics marriage shares in common with other relationships between people (for example, affection, longevity, shared interests, and so on). But marriage is a unique bond. If we were to explain to a visitor from Mars what makes marriage different from other relationships, what would we say?
The following list identifies those properties without which marriage wouldn’t be marriage – just like without peanuts, peanut butter wouldn’t be the same thing. We’re talking about essential characteristics – those things that are part of marriage’s very essence.
Marriage is total (gift of self)
Pope Paul VI describes beautifully what is meant by the totality of marriage in Humanae Vitae:
“It is a love which is total – that very special form of personal friendship in which husband and wife generously share everything, allowing no unreasonable exceptions and not thinking solely of their own convenience. Whoever really loves his partner loves not only for what he receives, but loves that partner for the partner’s own sake, content to be able to enrich the other with the gift of himself” (HV, no. 9).
The totality of marriage, then, refers to the immensity of the gift husband and wife give to each other – a gift not just of time, or money, or possessions, but a gift of their very selves. This gift is total because husband and wife hold absolutely nothing back from each other. As we’ll see, the “totality of the gift” helps illuminate the other characteristics of marriage.
Marriage is faithful and exclusive (a truthful gift)
Precisely because the gift of one’s self exchanged in marriage is total, it can only be given to one person at a time! (Picture the parody of a man saying to woman after woman, “I’m all yours!” “And yours!” “And yours!”) The totality of the gift demands exclusivity.
As the Catechism puts it,
“By its very nature conjugal love requires the inviolable fidelity of the spouses. This is the consequences of the gift of themselves which they make to each other. Love seeks to be definitive; it cannot be an arrangement ‘until further notice’” (CCC, no. 1647).
Marriage is forever (the gift of one’s future)
Contained within the gift of self that one gives in marriage is the gift of one’s future—the promise. Again, how could the gift be total if a time limit were placed on it? As Bl. Pope John Paul II said, a total self-gift must include “the temporal dimension”:
“If the person were to withhold something or reserve the possibility of deciding otherwise in the future, by this very fact he or she would not be giving totally” (FC, no. 11).
But how can anyone promise their future to another person…today? Here we see the awesome beauty of a vow: in one moment, on one day, husband and wife promise each other every moment, every day that is to come. The vow they exchange on their wedding day “takes up” every future moment, freeing husband and wife to know that they are entirely given to each other – forever.
Marriage is life-giving (the gift of one’s fertility)
We read in the Second Vatican Council document Gaudium et Spes, “Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the begetting and educating of children” (GS, no. 50). One way to understand this is to think that in giving themselves completely and unreservedly to each other in marriage, husband and wife give each other the gift of their fertility. In fact, the capacity to procreate new life is inscribed in the very nature of man and woman and in their coming together as “one flesh.”
As Bl. John Paul II explains, “the conjugal act ‘means’ not only love, but also potential fruitfulness” (TOB, no. 123.6). To be clear, this doesn’t mean that a child will – or should – be conceived in every marital act. What it does mean is that the love expressed by husband and wife is of its very nature both unitive and procreative: “one as well as the other [meaning] belong to the innermost truth of the conjugal act” (TOB, no. 123.6). To pledge everything to one’s spouse includes pledging the possibility of becoming a mother or a father together.
Next: What are the bishops doing to promote and protect marriage?
Welcome back to this series on sexual difference! So far we have looked at various ways that our culture describes sexual difference (here and here) and have delved into Scripture and the Catechism on the subject. Now, in Part 3, we will examine two phrases – “asymmetrical reciprocity” and “double unity” – that, despite being mouthfuls, are incredibly helpful in illuminating sexual difference.
In his book The Nuptial Mystery, Angelo Cardinal Scola offers the phrase “asymmetrical reciprocity” as a way to understand sexual difference. He writes that “nuptiality,” the complex phenomenon of male-female interactions, “manifests a reciprocity between me and another. This reciprocity bears a very peculiar characteristic which I call ‘asymmetry’” (92). (more…)