Note: Over the next few weeks, we’ll be reading through the Viewer’s Guide for the video “Made for Each Other.” In the video, married couple Josh and Carrie reflect on the meaning of sexual difference. Each section of the Viewer’s Guide takes a quote from either Josh or Carrie and fleshes it out. The goal of the Viewer’s Guide is to help you, the reader, become more confident in promoting and defending the meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
In the first section, we’ll look at the basic meaning of marriage and the role of reason and faith.
“We were made for each other, as a man and a woman.”
Carrie states something that is very basic. 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. God’s plan for men and women is a great one.
Marriage is the lifelong, exclusive union of one man and one woman. It is more than a legal category. Marriage is a communion of persons, a communion of love between husband and wife meant to be the source of the family and society. God’s vision and plan for marriage is not idealistic. That’s why Jesus referred his interlocutors back to the beginning (see Mt 19:4-6; Mk 10:6-8). [i]
We are meant for union and communion, to be in relation with others. [ii] In Genesis, the first book of the Bible, God says, “It is not good for man to be alone.” God’s solution to man’s isolation is not to create another identical man. God’s creation of the animals does not satisfy the longing Adam feels for communion. God creates woman from the body of the man and gives man and woman to each other. Then God says, “For this reason, a man shall leave his mother and father and cling to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Mt 19:5; cf. Gn 2:24). This is the first marriage.
Even our friends and neighbors who do not accept the truth of the Bible can see the point here. The two becoming one flesh refers to the physical act of sexual intercourse, as well as to the spiritual communion between the man and the woman. People from every religion, or no religion at all, can confirm the power and uniqueness of a man and a woman “becoming one flesh” with each other in marriage.
In other words, the truth of marriage between one man and one woman can be known by human reason through the natural moral law (the law according to the nature of the person, not just biological or physical laws), always with the help of God’s grace. The truth of marriage is not only a concern of the Church or religion—it’s truth for everyone. As Catholics, we also understand that faith sheds light on marriage. Christ raised marriage between the baptized to be a sacramental image of his love for the Church. Faith and reason don’t conflict here. In fact, they never do. [iii]
Next: more about sexual difference and complementarity
Yesterday, Sunday August 26, the universal Church heard St. Paul’s beautiful words about marriage in his letter to the Ephesians: “‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ [Gen 2:24] This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.” (Eph 5:31-32)
Yesterday, then, was a fitting Sunday for the Catholic bishops of Scotland to declare “National Marriage Sunday.” In light of a debate about marriage’s definition currently going on in Scotland, they asked all parishes to read aloud the following pastoral letter about marriage.
A Message for Marriage Sunday
from the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland
In all things, we as Catholics look to Jesus Christ as our model and teacher. When asked about marriage He gave a profound and rich reply: “Have you not read that the Creator, from the beginning, ‘made them male and female’, and said: ‘This is why a man must leave father and mother and cling to his wife and the two become one body’.” (Matthew, 19: 4-5)
In the Year of Faith, which begins this October, we wish to place a special emphasis on the role of the family founded on marriage. The family is the domestic Church, and the first place in which the faith is transmitted. For that reason it must have a primary focus in our prayerful considerations during this period of grace.
We write to you having already expressed our deep disappointment that the Scottish Government has decided to redefine marriage and legislate for same-sex marriage. We take this opportunity to thank you for your past support in defense of marriage and hope you will continue to act against efforts to redefine it. We reaffirm before you all the common wisdom of humanity and the revealed faith of the Church that marriage is a unique life-long union of a man and a woman.
In circumstances when the true nature of marriage is being obscured, we wish to affirm and celebrate the truth and beauty of the Sacrament of Matrimony and family life as Jesus revealed it; to do something new to support marriage and family life in the Catholic community and in the country; and to reinforce the vocation of marriage and the pastoral care of families which takes in the everyday life of the Church in dioceses and parishes across the country.
For that reason, in the forthcoming Year of Faith we have decided to establish a new Commission for Marriage and the Family. This Commission will be led by a bishop and will be composed mostly of lay men and women. The Commission will be charged with engaging with those young men and women who will be future husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, and with those who already live out their vocation to marriage and parenthood in surroundings which often make it hard to sustain and develop the full Catholic family life we cherish.
We wish to support too, those who are widowed, separated and divorced and all who need to feel the Church’s maternal care in the circumstances in which they find themselves. The new Commission will promote the true nature of marriage as both a human institution and a union blessed by Jesus. The Commission will be asked to develop an online presence so that prayer, reflection, formation and practical information on matters to do with marriage and family life can be quickly accessible to all. It will also work to produce materials and organise events which will support ordinary Catholic families in their daily lives. During the course of the coming year we will ask for your support for these initiatives.
Our faith teaches us that marriage is a great and holy mystery. The Bishops of Scotland will continue to promote and uphold the universally accepted definition of marriage as the union solely of a man and a woman. At the same time, we wish to work positively for the strengthening of marriage within the Church and within our society.
This is an important initiative for all our people, but especially our young people and children. We urge you to join us in this endeavour. Pray for your own family every day, and pray for those families whose lives are made difficult by the problems and cares which they encounter. Finally, we invite you to pray for our elected leaders, invoking the Holy Spirit on them, that they may be moved to safeguard marriage as it has always been understood, for the good of Scotland and of our society.
Read the press release here.
Today’s Sunday Pope Quote is from Pope Benedict XVI’s 2010 apostolic exhortation Verbum Domini. More specifically, it is from a section of the document entitled “The word of God, marriage and the family.”
Pope Benedict XVI: “In the face of widespread confusion in the sphere of affectivity, and the rise of ways of thinking which trivialize the human body and sexual differentiation, the word of God re-affirms the original goodness of the human being, created as man and woman and called to a love which is faithful, reciprocal and fruitful.”
– Verbum Domini, no. 85
Today’s Sunday Pope Quote: a gem from Bl. Pope John Paul II’s teaching on the theology of the body. This is one to really chew on – it contains a wealth of wisdom about men, women, the body, and love. Note: when John Paul uses the word “sex” he means not the act of sexual intercourse but man’s sexual identity as male or female.
Bl. John Paul II: “The body, which expresses femininity ‘for’ masculinity and, vice versa, masculinity ‘for’ femininity, manifests the reciprocity and the communion of persons. It expresses it through gift as the fundamental characteristic of personal existence. This is the body: a witness to creation as a fundamental gift, and therefore a witness to Love as the source from which this same giving springs. Masculinity-femininity – namely, sex – is the original sign of a creative donation and at the same time the sign of a gift that man, male-female, becomes aware of as a gift lived so to speak in an original way. This is the meaning with which sex enters into the theology of the body.
– Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, trans. Michael Waldstein, sec. 14.4; italics original, bold added
Today’s Sunday Pope Quote is not about marriage per se, but about the joy that is necessary for the work of the New Evangelization, of which proclaiming the truth about marriage is an important part!
Pope Benedict XVI: “Now, someone could ask whether it is right to be so happy when the world is so full of suffering, when there exists so much darkness and evil? Is it right to be so high spirited and joyful? The answer can only be ‘yes!’ Because saying ‘no’ to joy we do nothing of use to anyone, we only make the world darker. And whoever does not love himself cannot give anything to his neighbor, he cannot help him, he cannot be a messenger of peace.
“From our faith we know and every day we see that the world is beautiful and God is good. And because of the fact that he became man and dwelled among us we know it definitively and concretely: yes, God is good and it is good to be a person. We live in this joy, and from this joy we try to bring joy to others, to reject evil and to be servants of peace and reconciliation.”
– Address to pilgrims from Bavaria (August 6, 2012), translation from Zenit
On Tuesday, August 7, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York gave an address at the Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus, in Anaheim, CA. In his talk, peppered with delightful stories (we’ll let you read the one about Archbishop Sheen and the honeymoon suite for yourselves), the Cardinal concentrated on marriage and the beauty of married love.
Some great snippets:
“We Catholics are hopeless romantics, you know, when it comes to married love . . .
“Against all odds, we still believe that, when a man and woman vow that they’ll love and honor each other, ‘for better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, until death do us part,’ they really do mean it;
“We still hold fast to the teaching of the Bible that God so esteems marriage that He compared His personal, passionate, eternal love for Israel to that between a husband and a wife; that Saint Paul tells us that the love of Jesus for us, His Church, is just like that of a groom for His bride;
“We still have in our gut the Church’s timeless ‘Valentine’s Day card,’ that the love between a husband and a wife has the same characteristics as does that of God for us: it is faithful; it is forever; it brings about new life in children.
“We are such hopeless romantics that we contend the best way to get a hint of how God loves us now, and in eternity, is to look at how you, married couples, love one another. ‘The love of a man and woman is made holy in the sacrament of marriage, and becomes the mirror of your everlasting love . . . ,’ chants the Preface in the Nuptial Mass.”
Cardinal Dolan affirmed the importance of vocations not only to the priesthood and consecrated life, but to marriage: “‘For an increase in vocations to the priesthood, consecrated life, and the Sacrament of Marriage‘ should perhaps become the new phrasing for a prayer of the faithful at every Mass, as we are sobered by the gloomy statistics that only 51% of our young people are approaching that sacrament, a piece of data you all somberly see verified even among your own children and grandchildren.”
And the Cardinal “tipped his zucchetto” to the Knights for their “indefatigable” work in defending marriage from the “well-choreographed, well-oiled crusade to conform marriage to the whims of the day instead of conforming our urges to God’s design, as revealed in the Bible, nature, and reflective reason.”
He closed with a reflection on the importance of marriage and the family for building what modern Popes have called a “civilization of love”: “The most effective guarantee of a civilization of love rather than the survival of the fittest: the culture of life over the culture of death; the law of the gift rather than the law of the ‘get’, solidarity rather than selfishness, is precisely the preservation of traditional marriage and family. When that goes, we all go.”
Cardinal Dolan’s whole speech is worth a read! Find the full version on Zenit 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
On Friday, July 27, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Bishop Salvatore Cordileone, bishop of Oakland and chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, to be archbishop of San Francisco. In an August 1st article in the National Catholic Register, Joan Frawley Desmond writes about this appointment and what it could mean for Archbishop-designate Cordileone and for San Francisco:
“During an era of more aggressive advocacy for same-sex ‘marriage,’ the striking appointment will yield unpredictable, possibly explosive consequences for both the local Church and the U.S. bishops’ national effort to defend traditional marriage and religious freedom against a hostile, increasingly secular culture.”
Desmond’s article includes several quotes from Archbishop-designate Cordileone about marriage:
“People need to understand that if they want to live by the principle that marriage is between a man and a woman, they are likely to be regarded as bigots and treated by society and the law as such.”
“Out of justice for children, we need to do the best that we can to help them grow up with their mother and their father, married to each other in a stable relationship.”
“If we don’t save marriage, things will get very dark. The idea that you can change the definition of marriage is a lie. If our society accepts this lie, it will fall.”
The installation ceremony will take place on the feast of St. Francis, October 4. More information can be found in the San Francisco Catholic newspaper.
Today’s Sunday Pope Quote comes from an apostolic letter written by Bl. Pope John Paul II in the Jubilee Year 2000, Novo Millenio Ineunte. In it, the Holy Father offers encouragement to those who build and strengthen the family – encouragement needed perhaps even more today than twelve years ago.
Bl. Pope John Paul II: At a time in history like the present, special attention must also be given to the pastoral care of the family, particularly when this fundamental institution is experiencing a radical and widespread crisis. In the Christian view of marriage, the relationship between a man and a woman — a mutual and total bond, unique and indissoluble — is part of God’s original plan, obscured throughout history by our “hardness of heart”, but which Christ came to restore to its pristine splendour, disclosing what had been God’s will “from the beginning” (Mt 19:8). Raised to the dignity of a Sacrament, marriage expresses the “great mystery” of Christ’s nuptial love for his Church (cf. Eph 5:32).
On this point the Church cannot yield to cultural pressures, no matter how widespread and even militant they may be. Instead, it is necessary to ensure that through an ever more complete Gospel formation Christian families show convincingly that it is possible to live marriage fully in keeping with God’s plan and with the true good of the human person — of the spouses, and of the children who are more fragile. Families themselves must become increasingly conscious of the care due to children, and play an active role in the Church and in society in safeguarding their rights.
– Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (2000): no. 47; bold emphasis added
Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago, published a short article about marriage and civil society on the Chicago Catholic blog this past Sunday: “Reflections on ‘Chicago values’”
In addition to commenting on current events, the Cardinal outlines basic catechesis on marriage:
It might be good to put aside any religious teaching and any state laws and start from scratch, from nature itself, when talking about marriage. Marriage existed before Christ called together his first disciples two thousand years ago and well before the United States of America was formed two hundred and thirty six years ago. Neither Church nor state invented marriage, and neither can change its nature.
Marriage exists because human nature comes in two complementary sexes: male and female. The sexual union of a man and woman is called the marital act because the two become physically one in a way that is impossible between two men or two women. Whatever a homosexual union might be or represent, it is not physically marital. Gender is inextricably bound up with physical sexual identity; and “gender-free marriage” is a contradiction in terms, like a square circle.