In our last post, we discussed the difference between infertility and impotence, stressing that infertility is not an impediment to marriage and that infertile couples can still be fruitful and open to life. We ended our last discussion by considering the fact that some methods of treating infertility may be perfectly acceptable and even praiseworthy, while others are seriously immoral. In this post, we will consider one such treatment: In vitro fertilization (IVF). While it has become a commonplace treatment for infertility, IVF is not compatible with the ends of marriage nor the human good as such.
So, what is IVF? In vitro fertilization is the process by which several human eggs are aspirated from a woman’s ovary, mingled with her partner’s (or someone else’s) sperm, and then grown in a petri dish (in vitro is Latin for “in glass”). When conception takes place, the embryos are then implanted in the woman’s womb in the hope that at least one of the embryos will survive. This process is gravely immoral for several reasons.
First, IVF bypasses the conjugal act between husband and wife. The embryo is not “generated” through an act of love; instead, it is “generated” through a highly controlled laboratory procedure. The doctors and lab technicians are the agents of conception, while the husband and wife merely supply the sperm and egg, the necessary “ingredients.” The husband and wife watch the conception of their child “from a distance,” so to speak, and the act of conception thereby becomes a thoroughly un-intimate and impersonal process.
Secondly, the means by which the “ingredients” for IVF are obtained are gravely immoral. The sperm is often collected by masturbation, which is in itself a serious abuse of the reproductive organs and an act of unchastity. It is not uncommon that clinics provide pornographic materials to those providing sperm samples. In this way, pornography and masturbation become normalized, viewed as a part of a medical procedure. Furthermore, if the man who provides the sperm is the woman’s husband, masturbating (especially with the aid of pornography) is also an act of adultery.
Thirdly, because the doctor aspirates multiple eggs from the woman’s womb, multiple embryos – each a human life – are grown in the petri dish. The doctors and technicians generate multiple embryos because they know that most if not all of the embryos will die inside the womb. Many women also freeze extra embryos, which are often disposed of later. These extra embryos exist as “insurance” in the event of embryonic failure, but they are not valued in themselves; they are not seen and cared for as the individual human lives that they are. Because the conception of a human life is the goal of IVF, participants may feel that they view human life as extraordinarily valuable. In reality, however, IVF is radically anti-life. When multiple embryos are generated, the participants are full of hope and value each embryo as a “potential human being.” When an embryo dies, however, it becomes “useless,” and the participants suddenly cease to view the embryo as valuable. After the process is complete, they may convince themselves that only the successful embryo was a human being all along. There are also cases in which multiple embryos are successful, but the husband and wife only want one child. This is called “selective reduction.” In this case, the participants may choose which of the babies they want, and the doctor then kills the “extra” or “undesired” babies.
The participants of IVF essentially deem some embryos human beings and not others; they only care about the successful embryo, but they do not effectively value human life as such. And if more than one embryo is successful, some participants may also arbitrarily decide which baby is worth keeping. In both cases, the participants think their personal discretion is what determines whether the embryos or fetuses are human beings.
In a word, IVF reduces the procreative end of marriage to a technical process whereby many human lives are discarded. Rather than elevating or helping the natural process of conception, IVF eliminates it. The husband and wife’s desire for children, while natural and praiseworthy, does not justify the immoral means by which they achieve this end. With this being said, we cannot understate the inherent dignity and value of children conceived through IVF. All children, regardless of how they were conceived, are made in the image and likeness of God. However, the means by which a child is conceived may not always respect the child’s right to be born of a loving marital act of a husband and wife.
 Check out this Church document for a more detailed discussion of this point. “The child has the right to be conceived, carried in the womb, brought into the world and brought up within marriage: it is through the secure and recognized relationship to his own parents that the child can discover his own identity and achieve his own proper human development. The parents find in their child a confirmation and completion of their reciprocal self-giving: the child is the living image of their love, the permanent sign of their conjugal union, the living and indissoluble concrete expression of their paternity and maternity.” Also check out this list of resources from the USCCB on reproductive technology.
 Check out Life-Giving Love in an Age of Technology, esp. 13-14.
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!).
Catholics have a well of spiritual insight to dip into to prepare for the birth of a child. On today’s episode, you’ll hear from Mary Haseltine, author of Made for This: The Catholic Mom’s Guide to Birth, Haley Stewart (from the popular blog Carrots for Michaelmas) and birth stories from a few of Sara’s friends, including a baby who was born in the car in the driveway of the hospital: good catch, dad!
This news story from The New York Times highlights in a helpful way the extent to which many people have effectively divorced themselves from the reality of the human being as a bodily entity faced with biological facts. Two same-sex couples (four women) are suing a New Jersey state commissioner over an insurance mandate about infertility coverage which they claim discriminates against them. The complaint? “It defines infertility as the inability to impregnate another person, the inability to carry a pregnancy to live birth or the inability to conceive after one or two years of unprotected sex, depending on the woman’s age.” While this definition may sound innocuous, the women in the lawsuit claim discrimination because this definition could never apply to them, and hence coverage for “infertility treatment” is inaccessible.
“Where do babies come from?” is a child’s question with a concrete, physical, objective answer. When a mom (for example) answers this question from her precocious four-year-old, she may not go into detail, but she will at the very least include a man and a woman in the answer. Indeed, babies come from a specific action requiring two persons of the opposite sex. Even with immoral procedures like IVF, which separates the coming-to-be of a child from a couple’s intimacy, a male and female contribution is required.
Given these foundational facts, two women can’t be fertile together, no matter how much they want to “start a family,” and no matter if both of them individually are healthy and fertile. As Mat Staver, founder and chairman of the Liberty Counsel law firm said, the policy “does not discriminate against same-sex couples. These women have chosen to engage in sexual relations that cannot produce a child and now they want the insurance company to pay for their personal choices.”
Further, children are not a right; they are not owed to anyone. Pope Francis reminds us of this in Amoris Laetitia when he writes about the right children have to the love of both their mother and their father, together. “Without this, a child could become a mere plaything” (no. 172). Addressing the idea that children are one’s right, the pope says:
The choice of adoption and foster care expresses a particular kind of fruitfulness in the marriage experience, and not only in cases of infertility. In the light of those situations where a child is desired at any cost, as a right for one’s self- fulfilment, adoption and foster care, correctly understood, manifest an important aspect of parenting and the raising of children. They make people aware that children, whether natural, adoptive or taken in foster care, are persons in their own right who need to be accepted, loved and cared for, and not just brought into this world (no. 180, emphasis mine).
Children are a gift from God, meant to be received by the couple through a loving act of sexual intimacy and not demanded as a right by any means possible.
Another problematic aspect of the lawsuit is that it minimizes the real experience of infertility. These women claim to understand a pain that is inaccessible to them. Two women may deeply desire a child, but at no time could they realistically have thought that they would be able to have one together (ever) or to have one without scientific intervention (for one of them). They could not wonder, each time they physically expressed their love for one another, whether this would be the moment that their child would come into existence. They could not experience a time of waiting and anticipating, only to be disappointed. For those who have actually suffered from infertility, comparing these two situations can be painful and even offensive. Further, true infertility treatment seeks to heal the underlying medical reasons for a couple’s infertility so that they are able to conceive a child together. The “treatment” described in the article does no such thing, and in fact “treats” nothing.
The article does provide a great opportunity to think about a beautiful phrase, not without its pain, that comes from the experience of many Catholic married couples: “We experience infertility.” We… Not I. This comes from a deeper understanding of fertility and infertility, given the truth of the human person and our call to marital love and the gift of self. An individual man or woman may have “working organs” and in that sense be “fertile”; but fertility (and therefore infertility) more properly belongs to a couple who is united in a procreative act of intercourse. A man or a woman cannot have a child by him- or herself because we are a sexually reproductive species. Being fertile, then, does no individual person any good unless they are united to someone of the opposite sex. Only in a marital union does fertility take on its full meaning.
In a world where many children grow up without one parent or the other, it is perceived as ill-mannered to ask a question like the title of Paul Raeburn’s book: Do Fathers Matter? Many people dismiss this question as irrelevant, not worth asking, or even offensive.
To illustrate this point, journalist Raeburn begins his survey of the social and behavioral sciences regarding fathers with a striking anecdote. He was attending a writers’ conference and making conversation with another participant. When he told the woman the title of his book, she responded, “Well, of course they don’t” (15). As a single mother, she may have felt threatened by what Raeburn was learning about the importance of fathers.
In fact, Raeburn convincingly argues that fathers do matter to their children. Motivated in part by his own experience of fatherhood, he wanted to know more about this fundamental truth. At the same time, at various times in the book the reader senses Raeburn’s discomfort with the possible implications of this research. If fathers really are so important, it follows that intentionally depriving a child of a father is wrong. Raeburn is not quite ready to say that, even while he points out the facts about what a father’s presence gives to his children.
Raeburn begins his study of human fatherhood by looking at other mammals as well as other cultures. He notes that unlike the rest of the animal kingdom, “There is no example of a human society in which fathers do not help raise the children” (19). He suggests that one of the reasons this is the case is that human children need significant help to survive. Raeburn notes the work of the anthropologist Barry Hewlett with a group of pygmies in the Congo, among whom fathers are extremely active in infant and child care. “They show us that fathers can—and will—do more in the right circumstances” (26). When societies are structured in such a way that fathers are expected to do more, they do so. In the West, Raeburn argues, time with dad is seen as playtime, whereas in a number of other cultures, “quantity” time is valued in fatherhood, in other words, even if the child does not have dad’s undivided attention, he is present (26).
On the subject of genes and inheritance, Raeburn notes studies that show that the diet, habits, and environment of the father can alter even the genes that he passes on to his children. He also explains a number of studies about how the father affects and is affected by pregnancy and genetics. One notable fact for married readers: “The single most powerful predictor of the fathers’ engagement with their children is the quality of the men’s relationship with the child’s mother” (89). This is a great reminder that men and women should prioritize their relationship with one another as husband and wife even once children come along.
Raeburn uses studies of mice, monkeys, and other animals to illustrate that when males are given more responsibility for their offspring, both father and children are better off. Time spent with their infant, for example, changes the brains of fathers as well as mothers. Physically, fathers are different than non-fathers. Parts of the brain related to stress and brain hormones related to bonding were active in mouse “dads” and not in a control group, for example (102). Scientists also discovered that fathers are often preoccupied, almost “obsessed” with their child from the 8th month of pregnancy until birth, frequently experiencing “intrusive thoughts” about problems that could occur (131). And children whose fathers are more actively involved tend to develop stronger language skills, have more courage, and are better able to adjust to the unexpected. Much of this is believed to come from the way that fathers play with their children, which tends to be less protective and more “risky.” Raeburn notes, “Fathers’ unpredictability helps children learn to be brave in difficult situations or when meeting new people” (149).
Research on teenagers highlights the often-noted fact that absent fathers can lead to an earlier onset of puberty and earlier sexual activity in teenage girls. Effects on boys are not as clear, but teen boys are less likely to “engage in delinquent behavior” if the father is at home (222). Raeburn notes that all teenagers need to be aware of their parents’ acceptance of them, and this seems to be even stronger in relationships with the father. “The influence of father’s rejection can be greater than that of mothers,” he writes (179).
Raeburn also examines the effects of older fatherhood, which is more common today. Much is said about a woman’s biological clock, but since men are physically capable of fathering children for their entire adulthood, less has been said about theirs. There is increasing evidence, however, that a man’s age does affect his children genetically and increases the chances for certain disorders like autism or schizophrenia. Men and women have the healthiest children in their twenties, and this is fairly indisputable (201). There are about twenty problems that have been linked to advanced paternal age, and women whose partners are over 35 have three times as many miscarriages (187). Raeburn notes that sperm are more vulnerable to genetic damage than eggs are, since they are constantly being copied (190). This section is where the book veers most from a Catholic view, suggesting that it may be better to avoid children altogether if the risks of disorder are high. “Termination” is given as an option in case of Down Syndrome or other genetic disorders. Ironically, the interviewee from the American College of Medical Genetics says that it’s important for parents to have all this information because it “influences the health of someone whom nobody else can speak up for—the child” (200). It is impossible to understand how “speaking up” for a child would mean aborting them.
Raeburn writes about what fathers do in his final chapter, noting the great changes that historical shifts have made in family relations. “For most of human history, fathers were responsible for protecting their children and for teaching them the things they needed to know to survive and prosper” (212). Work is now almost always away from the family, and both men and women in 2012 are working more hours than in 1965 (213). Americans also work more than almost any other modern society, and the U.S. is one of the only countries without guaranteed paid maternity/paternity leave (214). Work-family conflicts are now common for both men and women, with both expected to earn money outside the home and keep the home running. Raeburn also notes that despite expectations of shared parenting, often women take on a larger role than men, and both parents find it much more difficult than they thought it would be.
Overall, Do Fathers Matter? was a good read and a conversation-starter. Men may appreciate learning how their fathers have impacted them, and how they in turn may impact future generations. Women may also be encouraged not to overlook the effect their fathers have on them and see how important it is to choose a husband who would be a good father. This would be a good book for couples to read together because it raises a few questions and challenges for modern men and women, and particularly for parents: Does mom ever interfere with “daddy time”? Does dad see changing diapers or wiping noses as “women’s work”? What work / at-home arrangement is best for your family? Fathers, how can you make sure you are affirming your teenage children?
(Review also posted at For Your Marriage)
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.
Happy Mother’s Day from Pope Francis and Amoris Laetitia!
“Let us consider the moving words of Psalm 131. As in other biblical texts (e.g., Ex 4:22; Is 49:15; Ps 27:10), the union between the Lord and his faithful ones is expressed in terms of parental love. Here we see a delicate and tender intimacy between mother and child: the image is that of a babe sleeping in his mother’s arms after being nursed. As the Hebrew word gamûl suggests, the infant is now fed and clings to his mother, who takes him to her bosom. There is a closeness that is conscious and not simply biological” (no. 28).
On pregnancy and expecting a child:
“Pregnancy is a difficult but wonderful time. A mother joins with God to bring forth the miracle of a new life. Motherhood is the fruit of a ‘particular creative potential of the female body, directed to the conception and birth of a new human being’. Each woman shares in ‘the mystery of creation, which is renewed with each birth’. The Psalmist says: ‘You knit me together in my mother’s womb’ (Ps 139:13). Every child growing within the mother’s womb is part of the eternal loving plan of God the Father: ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you’ (Jer 1:5)… A pregnant woman can participate in God’s plan by dreaming of her child. “For nine months every mother and father dreams about their child… You can’t have a family without dreams. Once a family loses the ability to dream, children do not grow, love does not grow, life shrivels up and dies’ (nos. 168-169).
“Expectant mothers need to ask God for the wisdom fully to know their children and to accept them as they are” (no. 170).
“With great affection I urge all future mothers: keep happy and let nothing rob you of the interior joy of motherhood. Your child deserves your happiness. Don’t let fears, worries, other people’s comments or problems lessen your joy at being God’s means of bringing a new life to the world. Prepare yourself for the birth of your child, but without obsessing, and join in Mary’s song of joy: ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit exults in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant’ (Lk 1:46-48). Try to experience this serene excitement amid all your many concerns, and ask the Lord to preserve your joy, so that you can pass it on to your child” (no. 171).
On a child’s need for a mother:
“We cannot ignore the need that children have for a mother’s presence, especially in the first months of life. Indeed, ‘the woman stands before the man as a mother, the subject of the new human life that is conceived and develops in her, and from her is born into the world’. The weakening of this maternal presence with its feminine qualities poses a grave risk to our world. I certainly value feminism, but one that does not demand uniformity or negate motherhood. For the grandeur of women includes all the rights derived from their inalienable human dignity but also from their feminine genius, which is essential to society. Their specifically feminine abilities – motherhood in particular – also grant duties, because womanhood also entails a specific mission in this world, a mission that society needs to protect and preserve for the good of all” (no. 173).
“A mother who watches over her child with tenderness and compassion helps him or her to grow in confidence and to experience that the world is a good and welcoming place. This helps the child to grow in self-esteem and, in turn, to develop a capacity for intimacy and empathy” (no. 175).
On society’s need for mothers:
“‘Mothers are the strongest antidote to the spread of self-centered individualism… It is they who testify to the beauty of life’. Certainly, ‘a society without mothers would be dehumanized, for mothers are always, even in the worst of times, witnesses to tenderness, dedication and moral strength. Mothers often communicate the deepest meaning of religious practice in the first prayers and acts of devotion that their children learn… Without mothers, not only would there be no new faithful, but the faith itself would lose a good part of its simple and profound warmth… Dear mothers: thank you! Thank you for what you are in your family and for what you give to the Church and the world’. (no. 174).
For more from Pope Francis on motherhood, read his catechesis from January 7, 2015!
This week at the Vatican there is an International & Interreligious gathering centering on “The Complementarity of Man and Woman in Marriage.” Archbishop Cordileone of San Francisco, the Chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage is among those attending.
The Holy Father opened the Colloquium with an address this morning, November 17. He reiterates:
“Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity. That is why I stressed in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium that the contribution of marriage to society is ‘indispensable’; that it ‘transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple’ (n. 66). And that is why I am grateful to you for your Colloquium’s emphasis on the benefits that marriage can provide to children, the spouses themselves, and to society.”
He continues, “May this colloquium be an inspiration to all who seek to support and strengthen the union of man and woman in marriage as a unique, natural, fundamental and beautiful good for persons, families, communities, and whole societies.”
Pope Francis also confirmed in this address that he will be coming to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families!
In the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau in Southern Missouri, Bishop Johnston released a statement on September 30th regarding the Springfield City Council’s consideration of altering their “non-discrimination” ordinance to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
In the statement, Bishop Johnston points out that an alternative “creed” is being forced on people of faith, who are being persecuted for their beliefs about marriage:
“The rejection of inherent dignity is frequently accompanied by, or results from, a world view that replaces faith in God with faith in ‘progress,’ or ‘history,’ which is to say, blind faith in human technological power to recreate the world according to one’s own desires. Our cultural elites claim that, even in the context of marriage and parenthood, men and women, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, are interchangeable—even though our basic biology makes obvious that this is not the case in forming a family or bringing new life into the world. Judges, politicians, and some activists suggest that accepting this new secular doctrine, really a competing government-supported secular ‘religion,’ is the price we must pay for our membership in the American political community. Already some persons, who refuse to pledge full allegiance to this new creed, have lost their jobs, been driven out of business, or fined for living their convictions, what they believe—something many of us never thought would happen in America.”
And he poignantly notes: “In the name of preventing discrimination against some, they would impose it on others.”
Read the full statement here and support the bishop with your prayers.
The USCCB, when faced with similar situations at the federal level, has explained its opposition against the “Employee Non-Discrimination Act”.
The second March for Marriage will be held in Washington, D.C. on June 19, 2014. This is a great opportunity to visibly and powerfully demonstrate your support of the true definition of marriage as a unique bond between a man and a woman.
The March begins with a Rally from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the grounds of the Capitol before going to the Supreme Court. Archbishop Cordileone is one of the featured speakers.
The details for the event, including information about the “virtual march”, lobbying, and the gala that evening are available at www.marriagemarch.org.
Intention: Let us pray that the gift of motherhood may be better understood and appreciated within our culture today.
Reflection: It is very fitting that we celebrate Mother’s Day during the month dedicated to the most perfect mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. A mother plays an irreplaceable role in a child’s life. Without our mothers, we would not have been born and therefore would not have the capacity to live out our Catholic faith. In the words of St. John Paul II, “it is precisely those born of earthly mothers…who receive from the Son of God the power to become ‘children of God’ (Jn 1:12)…The history of every human being passes through the threshold of a woman’s motherhood (no 19).”
It is interesting to note that the Church is sometimes referred to as a mother. Just as a mother gives life to her children, so also the Church “brings forth to a new and immortal life the sons who are born to her in baptism (Lumen Gentium, no 64).” Mary, the most perfect mother, is the archetype, or model for the Church because of her unfailing belief and obedience to God’s will. “The Church indeed, contemplating [Mary’s] hidden sanctity, imitating her charity and faithfully fulfilling the Father’s will, by receiving the word of God in faith becomes herself a mother (LG, no 64).”
Did You Know? In 1965, Pope Paul VI wrote an Encyclical entitled “Mense Maio” (Month of May). In this document, he explained that “Since Mary is rightly to be regarded as the way by which we are led to Christ, the person who encounters Mary cannot help but encounter Christ likewise.”
Pope Francis offered a very clear message today to members of BICE (International Catholic Child Bureau), a Catholic NGO that works to protect the rights and dignity of the child worldwide:
“On a positive note, we must reaffirm the right of children to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity.”
Click here for his full address.
Pope Francis recently reflected on the Gospel reading of Mark in which the Pharisees, wishing to put Jesus to the test, asked him whether it is lawful to divorce. The Pope reminded his listeners that Jesus “goes right back to the days of creation.” Jesus explains, “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female; ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one. So they are no longer two but one flesh.’”
Pope Francis had much to say about this event and explained quite beautifully that “the Lord is here referring to the masterpiece of creation.” For God “created the light and saw that it was good.” Then “he created the animals, the trees, and the stars: all good.” But “when he created man” he said “that he was very good.” Pope Francis continued, “the creation of man and woman is the masterpiece of creation.” Also because God “did not want for man to be alone: he wanted him to be with his companion, his companion on the journey.” Pope Francis then explained that this moment was also “the beginning of love.” However, he added that “the Lord’s masterpiece was not finished there…the Lord holds up this love contained in the masterpiece of creation in order to explain the love he has for his people. Yet there is another step: when Paul needs to explain the mystery of Christ, he also does so in relation and in reference to the bride. For Christ is wedded: he wedded the Church, his people; as the Father had wedded his people Israel, so Christ espoused his people to himself.”
All of this, the Pope concluded, brings to mind the “plan of love”, “the journey of love of Christian marriage, which God blessed in the masterpiece of his creation with a blessing that can never be taken away. Not even original sin destroyed it.” And “when one considers this,” he quite naturally sees “how beautiful love is, how beautiful marriage is, how beautiful the family is, how beautiful this journey is.”
For Pope Francis’ full reflection, click here.
Intention: We pray for all fathers, that through the example of St. Joseph, they may fully embrace their vocation and accept the privilege and responsibility of caring for their children as St. Joseph cared for Jesus.
Reflection: On Wednesday, we celebrated the Solemnity of Saint Joseph. In his Apostolic Exhortation, “The Guardian of the Redeemer,” John Paul II referred to St. Joseph as “the guardian and cooperator in the providential mystery of God (no 14).” He explained that together with Mary, Joseph was the first guardian of Christ: “St. Joseph was called by God to serve the person and mission of Jesus directly through the exercise of his fatherhood (no 8).”
It is interesting to note that St. Joseph’s fatherhood and specific role in the plan of salvation would not have been possible apart from his marriage to Mary: “Joseph’s fatherhood – a relationship that places him as close as possible to Christ…comes to pass through marriage to Mary, that is, through the family (no 7).” Let us pray that every husband and wife will be brought closer to Christ through their marriage to one another.
A further reflection on St. Joseph’s participation in the plan of salvation can be found here.
Did You Know? Pope Francis has a deep devotion to St. Joseph. Last year, he chose the Solemnity of St. Joseph as the date for his inaugural Mass. A sign of Pope Francis’ devotion to this Saint can be seen on his coat of arms. Next to the star representing Mary is the spikenard flower, which is often used to represent St. Joseph.
In honor of Pope Francis’ one-year anniversary as pontiff, we put together a compilation
of some of his memorable quotes on marriage. Let us take this opportunity to thank the
Holy Spirit for the election of this holy man. Viva el Papa!
“Marriage is between a man and a woman.” Interview with Corriere della Sera (March 5, 2014)
“From the beginning the Creator blessed man and woman so that they might be fruitful and multiply, and so the family then is an image of the Triune God in the world.” Address to the Extraordinary Consistory (February 20, 2014)
“The family is experiencing a profound cultural crisis, as are all communities and social bonds. In the case of the family, the weakening of these bonds is particularly serious because the family is the fundamental cell of society, where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another; it is also the place where parents pass on the faith to their children. Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will.” Evangelii Gaudium, no 66 (Nov 24, 2013)
“The second point: the family is founded on marriage. Through their free and faithful act of love, Christian spouses testify to the fact that marriage, insofar as it is a sacrament, is the foundation of the family and strengthens spousal union and the couple’s mutual gift of self.” Address to the Pontifical Council for the Family (Oct 25, 2013)
“What is marriage? It is a true and authentic vocation, as are the priesthood and the religious life. Two Christians who marry have recognized the call of the Lord in their own love story, the vocation to form one flesh and one life from two, male and female.” Meeting with the Young People of Umbria (October 4, 2013)
“Today, there are those who say that marriage is out of fashion…They say that it is not worth making a lifelong commitment, making a definitive decision, ‘forever’, because we do not know what tomorrow will bring. I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries.” Address to World Youth Day Volunteers, Brazil (July 28, 2013)
“There is neither real promotion of the common good nor real human development when there is ignorance of the fundamental pillars that govern a nation, its non-material goods…[such as] the family, the foundation of coexistence and a remedy against social fragmentation.” Address to the Community of Varginha, Brazil (July 25, 2013)
“The first setting in which faith enlightens the human city is the family. I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage. This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses can become one flesh (cf. Gen 2:24) and are enabled to give birth to a new life, a manifestation of the Creator’s goodness, wisdom and loving plan.” Lumen Fidei, no 52 (June 29, 2013)
Posted: March 13, 2014
February 26, 2014
Pope Francis recently wrote a letter to every family throughout the world, asking for prayers for the upcoming Synod in October. He begins, “With this letter, I wish, as it were, to come into your homes to speak about an event which will take place at the Vatican this coming October. It is the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which is being convened to discuss the theme of ‘pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelization’. Indeed, in our day the Church is called to proclaim the Gospel by confronting the new and urgent pastoral needs facing the family.”
He continued, “Such support on your part, dear families, is especially significant and more necessary than ever. This Synodal Assembly is dedicated in a special way to you, to your vocation and mission in the Church and in society; to the challenges of marriage, of family life, of the education of children; and the role of the family in the life of the Church. I ask you, therefore, to pray intensely to the Holy Spirit, so that the Spirit may illumine the Synodal Fathers and guide them in their important task. As you know, this Extraordinary Synodal Assembly will be followed a year later by the Ordinary Assembly, which will also have the family as its theme. In that context, there will also be the World Meeting of Families due to take place in Philadelphia in September 2015. May we all, then, pray together so that through these events the Church will undertake a true journey of discernment and adopt the necessary pastoral means to help families face their present challenges with the light and strength that comes from the Gospel.”
In concluding his letter, the Pope again emphasized the importance of prayer. “Dear families, your prayer for the Synod of Bishops will be a precious treasure which enriches the Church. I thank you, and I ask you to pray also for me, so that I may serve the People of God in truth and in love.”
For those looking for ways to participate in the Pope’s request, the U.S. Bishops have invited the faithful to join a nationwide movement of prayer, penance, and sacrifice for the sake of renewing a culture of life, marriage, and religious liberty. For more information on this “Call to Prayer,” visit usccb.org/pray.
Pope Francis’ full letter to families can be found here.
Archbishop Cordileone: Marriage Protection Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is needed
Amendment is only remedy against judicial activism
Elemental truth of marriage deserves highest protection in law
February 19, 2014
WASHINGTON—Expressing strong support for the federal Marriage Protection Amendment (H. J. Res. 51) introduced by Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) in the U.S. House of Representatives, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco said, “The amendment would secure in law throughout the country the basic truth known to reason that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.” Archbishop Cordileone , chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, made the comments in a February 19 letter of support to Rep. Huelskamp.
Referencing recent federal court decisions striking down a number of state marriage laws, Archbishop Cordileone said, “An amendment to the U.S. Constitution is the only remedy in law against this judicial activism that may ultimately end with federal judges declaring that the U.S. Constitution requires states, and consequently the federal government, to redefine marriage.” He added, “Just as Roe v. Wade mandated a constitutional right to abortion throughout the country, we now have the possibility of another bad decision mandating a constitutional change in the meaning of marriage in order to promote (at least to begin with) ‘marriages’ between two people of the same sex throughout the country. Your proposed Marriage Protection Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is, therefore, a needed remedy.”
Archbishop Cordileone also said, “Preserving this elemental truth is necessary for the good of society at large and for the good of children who deserve the love of both a mother and a father, neither of whom is expendable. Indeed, marriage is the only institution that unites a man and a woman to each other and to any child conceived of their union.” Archbishop Cordileone also commented on the nature of the recent federal court decisions by saying, “Federal court opinions that essentially redefine marriage to be merely a state recognized arrangement of intimate adult relationships ignore the truth about marriage, which deserves the highest protection in law.”
Archbishop Cordileone urged the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the Marriage Protection Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and encouraged members to join the resolution as cosponsors.
Archbishop Cordileone’s letter can be found online.
For H.J. Res. 51 to amend the U.S. Constitution, it must be approved by two-thirds of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate and then be ratified by three-fourths of the states.
Marriage: Unique for a Reason is kicking off the first day of National Marriage Week with the release of its newest catechetical film, “El Matrimonio: Hecho para el amor y la vida.” “This is a one-of-a kind resource, and it is my hope that “El Matrimonio” will be a fruitful tool for advancing the conversation in both Spanish- and English-speaking communities on the true meaning of marriage,” said Archbishop Cordileone of the film. The 30 minute Spanish telenovela-style video and bilingual study guide is perfect for clergy, catechists, teachers, other leaders and viewers, as it explores five main themes: sexual difference and complementarity, children, the common good, religious freedom, and persons who experience same-sex attraction.
“The film’s story conveys real difficulties that numerous families encounter, but with compassion and without compromising the truth about God’s loving plan for marriage and family. In this way, the film portrays what we are all called to do: to love without compromising the truth, and to be witnesses to God’s plan with love and mercy. Love and truth go together. I pray that this film will provide opportunities for a deeper and more thoughtful study of, and increased reflection on the gift of marriage.”
For the full press release, click here.
Archbishop Cordileone: “You cannot be consistently pro-life without being pro-marriage: the two go together”
On Saturday, January 25th, thousands of people came together in San Francisco to witness to the sacredness and dignity of the human person, marking the 10th anniversary of the West Coast Walk for Life. Before the Walk, nearly 4,000 people met for mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral, where Archbishop Cordileone explained that the defense of life and defense of marriage movements go hand-in-hand. “You cannot be consistently pro-life without being pro-marriage: the two go together.” He explained further, “The pro-life movement is about more than saving the life of the baby. It’s about giving that baby all the care, love and nurturing he or she needs to grow up happy and healthy and to achieve his or her total potential in life…It’s especially about connecting that baby to where he or she came from: the mother and the father. And that, my friends, is the whole point of marriage: to connect husbands and wives to each other and to any children they bring into the world. There is no other institution that does that, that connects children to their mother and father. Marriage is primarily about the children, not the adults…”
Archbishop Cordileone continued, “My young people: your elders in the pro-life movement have stayed the course during some very hostile and dark times, and now the pro-life movement is stronger than it ever has been. Now it is your turn. It is this wider picture of the pro-life movement that is now the critical issue of the moment and, yes, I won’t hesitate to say it: it is under attack. Yes, marriage is under attack, but not just recently; this has been going on in our society for a very long time now, actually, for at least as long as the abortion-rights movement has been in existence. And it stands to reason, as both are manifestations of what Pope Francis so often refers to as the ‘throw away’ culture. A baby in the womb is thrown away because at least one of the two people who brought that baby into the world has thrown the other away, has rejected the other as someone worthy of commitment, self-surrender, and unconditional love. This is what marriage is and is for: not a privileged social status, not a government recognition of people’s love life, not a special relationship one stays in as long as one is deriving some immediate benefit from it, but a self-surrender of husband and wife to each other for the sake of the children they bring into the world – just like Christ and the Church, as St. Paul teaches us.
“Now the same contempt, accusations and name-calling are being hurled at those who stand for the truth of marriage as were hurled against those who stood for life a generation and two ago. But we cannot allow ourselves to be shamed into silence. The truth needs a voice, and you, my dear young people, are that voice for the next generation. And your voice must be heard so that – just as you now understand the harm that abortion does to women despite the lies perpetrated by the abortion industry – so future generations will understand that the natural truth of marriage benefits everyone and discriminates against no one; no one is harmed and everyone benefits when government enshrines in the law the right of everyone to have a mother and a father. But prepare yourselves: it will require heroic virtue, for there is a lot of reverse bullying going on these days.” (Bold added)
For Archbishop Cordileone’s full homily, click here.
Reflection: Along with Christmas, we will be celebrating the Feast of the Holy Family this weekend! The Holy Family stands as a great example for each of our families. Although they faced many trials and difficulties, Mary and Joseph were able to remain joyful through it all because Christ was with them. In the words of Pope Francis, “…true joy even remains during times of trial too, even in suffering, because it is not superficial joy but enters into the very depths of the person who entrusts himself to God and confides in him…Those who have met Jesus along the way have experienced a joy that nothing and no one can take away. Jesus Christ is our joy! His faithful love is inexhaustible!” So, even though our families may surely face many difficulties, we can remain joyful because we do not have to face these trials alone. Christ is with us!
Did You Know? Although Christmas Day was two days ago, the Christmas Season has only just begun! In fact, the Church continues celebrating until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord on January 12th. So, don’t take down those Christmas decorations just yet; keep the celebration going!