What does the Church mean when it insists that parents are the primary educators of their children? Today we’ll talk about some of the different ways that Catholic families engage in education, from homeschooling to co-ops to Catholic schools to public schools. This episode features Mary Pat Donoghue, Executive Director for the Secretariat of Education at the USCCB, Tom Burnford, President and CEO of the National Catholic Educational Association, Jay Boren of St. Benedict in MA, Sara and Andy Sefranek, and Lindsay Schlegal, author of Don’t Forget to Say Thank You: And Other Parenting Lessons That Brought Me Closer to God.
Here’s Lindsay Schlegal’s website with more of her writing!
And this is a link to St. Benedict Classical Academy, the school that Jay Boren runs in MA.
Do you know the four temperaments? Which one are you? Today we focus on the temperaments and marriage. Some temperament matches are going to be “easier” than others, but no matter what temperaments you and your spouse have, you can still help each other get to heaven! This episode features Art and Laraine Bennett, the authors of The Temperament God Gave You (and others), Nick and Lucy van Schaijik, and Brady and Sarah Wilson.
Listen on Podbean:
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!
Humanae Vitae Part 1
On today’s Made for Love, we look at Humanae Vitae from the perspective of fifty years of change. What is HV all about? Have Pope Paul VI’s predictions come true? This episode features Bishop Ricken (Green Bay), Bishop Rassas (Auxiliary in Chicago), Dr. John Grabowski of CUA, Sister Helena Burns, fsp, Dr. Theresa Notare of the USCCB’s NFP office, and Dr. Lionel and Janet Yaceczko.
Here’s the 1968 Encyclical Humanae Vitae that we are talking about today. That’s the Vatican translation, as Dr. Lionel Yaceczko reads it on the podcast. Here’s another translation, by Dr. Janet Smith (scroll down to find the encyclical).
The USCCB NFP office is keeping an up-to-date list of events and resources for the anniversary.
Here’s Dr. John Grabowski’s faculty page at the Catholic University of America.
See last week’s press release about the Kansas and Oklahoma laws that keep Catholic (and other) adoption and foster care agencies in service!
Bishops have Moms, too!
On this episode of Made for Love, bishops speak about their mothers and celebrate the gift that motherhood is for the Church and the world. Bishops Caggiano (Bridgeport), Mansour (Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn), Paprocki (Springfield, IL), Ricken (Green Bay), and Sis (San Angelo).
Today’s video is about the phenomenon of third-party reproduction and its effects on children.
This technological “advance” has made it possible for men or women to become parents without knowing the other person (or persons!) whose gamete or uterus is involved in the process. The gamete or body comes from a “third party.”
This topic is relevant to marriage redefinition because, as Alana noted elsewhere, “if you redefine marriage, you redefine parenthood.” We have seen this being played out all over the country, such as in cases where two women want to be listed on a birth certificate as the parents of the child, effectively lying to both the child and society about the child’s origins. The child has no right, in this system, to the knowledge of who supplied the other half of his or her DNA.
Doesn’t this sound like “baby-selling,” as Alana put it? How can we advocate for the rights of children in these cases, and more fundamentally, to advocate against the use of technologies like this in the “production” of human beings?
In addition, the long term risks to women who are “egg donors” are essentially unknown.
In this clip, Kelli Wild speaks about her work with couples who choose to entrust their children to the adoption process. She says that it is not an easy path, and that it must be “laced in love.”
It may not be possible for someone who has never gone through it to truly understand a woman’s experience when she gives her child to another couple to raise, but empathy can go a long way.
One of the things that we can learn to do as a culture is to honor this choice and to be conscious of our language about it. The phrase that was traditionally used was that a woman “gave up” her baby to adoption, while the phrase that perhaps better captures the truth is that she “gave her baby to” a couple to raise, when she knew that she was not able to do so. That is an expression of the authentic love of a mother—willing to bear all the uncomfortable and painful moments of pregnancy and birth for the sake of her child, even though she will not enjoy the consolation of their smiles, giggles, or “I love you, mom” in future years.
While we should always support a woman who is committed to mothering her child on her own, if the circumstances demand it, we should also rightly honor the gift a birth mother gives when she chooses adoption.
We finish this series on Made for Life with a clip of Katie and Pete talking about the way that marriage provides the “perfect” setting to raise a child. It takes a man and a woman to bring a new human being into the world. Two men or two women simply cannot do this. So if sexual difference is the basic necessity for conceiving a child, then it makes sense that sexual difference would also be important for raising that child. A mother and a father bring balance and ensure that children always have one person similar to and one persondifferent from them to look up to.
A child’s “first right” is to “be born in a real family,” that is, to be born to his or her own father and mother, bonded in marriage.[i] Protecting this right is a matter of social justice. As the bishops have taught, “To promote and protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman is itself a matter of justice. In fact, it would be a grave injustice if the state ignored the unique and proper place of husbands and wives, the place of mothers and fathers, and especially the rights of children, who deserve from society clear guidance as they grow to sexual maturity.”[ii]
It is sometimes claimed that what really matters for a child is the presence of any two loving, committed adults, regardless of their sex/gender. But there are major problems with this assertion. First, two men or two women are physically incapable of having a child together. Nothing they do can change this fact. Instead, two people of the same sex must either attempt to adopt a child or contract with a “third party” egg or sperm donor who contributes one-half of the child’s genetic material. This means that placing a child in the care of two men or two women deliberately separates that child from his or her father or mother in every single case. Then, those children are further denied the benefit of witnessing a healthy relationship between a father and mother and the experience of the parental love of either a man or a woman. Children deserve better.
- Why do you think the Church teaches that a child has a right to be born into a family?
- How does having a mother and father give the child the balance he or she needs?
- What other topics would you like to explore with Marriage Unique for a Reason? Leave a comment and let us know!
[i] Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, no. 244.
[ii] Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan, 22. The needs and rights of the child should be of fundamental concern for every society and community, as is acknowledged in “the principle, recognized also in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, that the best interests of the child, as the weaker and more vulnerable party, are to be the paramount consideration in every case.” CDF, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons (2003), no. 7, www.vatican.va/roman_curia/ congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20030731_homosexual-unions_en.html.
This week’s clip begins with Katie and Pete talking about how they play differently with their kids, and moves to Pete talking about society’s obligation to support that which is best for children.
That mothers and fathers are different is a common sense and intuitive statement. It does not mean that “All moms do X” or “All dads do Y” but rather that mothers and fathers, even when they do the exact same thing, do not do it the same way. Men and women just do things differently.
Why is this important and beneficial for children? Sociologically, we don’t know, we only know that it appears to be the case. Philosophically, we can understand it because we know ourselves to be one sex or the other, and therefore seeing both ways of being human every day informs our self-understanding as well as an understanding that there is always another way of being. And theologically, we can see that if sexually-differentiated humanity is really “the image of God,” then our image of God, our idea of who God is and how God loves us, will be incomplete without seeing the love of a man and a woman lived out before us.
And if we know that it’s important for kids to have a mother and a father, and that even if we don’t know why, children consistently do better in that environment, shouldn’t we promote and defend it?
- What are practical ways that you can promote and defend marriage today?
- What are examples from your own family of how masculinity and femininity is displayed and honored in a day-to-day way?
As discussed last week, single parents can still honor the importance of sexual difference by acknowledging the unique difficulties their families face, but two persons of the same sex who raise a child are unable to do so.
Two men or two women who claim to replace a mother and a father reject the vital role that parental sexual difference plays in the development of a child, especially the child’s sexual identity. Children look to their parents to figure out what it means to be a boy or a girl and how to relate to the opposite sex. When there is not a model in the home of one sex or the other, one of these developmental tasks the child faces necessarily and by definition is made incredibly difficult. How can John understand what it means to be a man when he primarily only sees two women interacting? How can Anna understand her worth as a woman if her two caregivers are both men? As adults, it can be hard to remember what it is to be a child, completely dependent on our parents and constantly absorbing things (largely unconsciously) that shape our understanding of the world. These things aren’t quantifiable or really even “proveable”. We know by faith, in a way, that based on the Catholic understanding of who the human being is, being raised by two men or two women wounds a child. Of course, these wounds are not incurable; the Divine Physician is always ready to heal and transfom the hurts that we sustain as children. But that does not mean that we do not do all that we can as a Church and society to prevent predictable suffering.
Too much of the discussion around marriage redefinition revolved around the supposed “rights” of adults to sexual and social “fulfillment” in a recognized legal partnership rather than the rights of children to know and be raised by their parents. (Or, ironically, one of the Justices argued that “children of same-sex couples” had the right for their “parents” to be recognized by the State, ignoring the fact that, by nature and rights, there are no “children of same-sex couples” except those procured by an unjust system.)
One of the reasons that it is hard to explain and defend the Church’s position on marriage is that, as a society, we have conceptually separated two things that should be together: marriage and having children. We must help our contemporaries to see that these two things belong together, so that we can minimize the damage that will be done to young lives by the choices of adults.
- What does it mean that single parents can still “honor” the importance of sexual difference in the lives of their children?
- Consider your experience as a child. What do you think you learned by watching your mother and father interact?
- Given that a child being raised in a same-sex household suffers a wound, how can the Church better support those children?
In this section of Made for Life, a single mother, Elizabeth, talks about her experience of raising her daughter alone; later in the video Elizabeth talks about what hopes she has for her daughter’s future.
Emphasizing the deep need every child has to be raised by a father and a mother does not mean that the Church looks down on single parents. On the contrary, the Church seeks to support single parents who are raising children without the support of a spouse because she recognizes how hard this situation can be. Often a single mother has made a heroic decision in giving her child life and a home despite knowing that the child’s father will not participate. Single parents work hard to provide a stable, loving home for their children in an un-ideal situation. As Elizabeth points out, most single parents did not expect to be “doing this” (raising a child) on their own. Something unexpected happened.
The situation of children being raised by a single parent (due to unforeseen circumstances) is very different from deliberately depriving a child of a mother or a father, which occurs (de facto) when children are raised by two men or two women. While single parents have the freedom to recognize the absence of a father—or a mother—in the lives of their children and talk with their children about this, the absence of either is likely going to be ignored in a same-sex household.[i] Most single parents, like Elizabeth, hope that their child will not have to go through what they did in raising them alone. As she says later in the video, Elizabeth hopes that her daughter marries “a wonderful Christian man who can guide her future family and be a wonderful father.”
We can and must support single parents without sacrificing the teaching that children deserve to know and be raised and loved by both their mother and their father.
- How would you explain to someone the difference between a single parent and two men or two women who are raising a child?
- How can the Church and society best support single parents, while holding up the natural family as the ideal?
In many ways this is one of those truisms that we know through experience: mothers and fathers matter. It is common sense, and it is part of all of our pasts; whether our mother or father were present or absent defines, in many ways, our childhoods. But there are some today who claim that it really doesn’t matter if you have a father or a mother as long as you have people who love you. The redefinition of civil marriage to include persons of the same sex essentially redefines parenthood as well.[i]
Marriage is a pro-child institution. It is not just about the satisfaction of adult desires. Marriage is not something private—it’s a public institution with public roles and responsibilities. The love between husband and wife naturally opens up to include the child, the family, and the greater society. This openness is simply not possible for persons of the same sex, who cannot form a spousal union that is open to the gift of life. They cannot “have a child” together; it’s simply and objectively impossible. Society has, therefore, a legitimate interest in and a just obligation toward protecting and promoting the natural family based on marriage between a man and a woman.
The family is the place where the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society are born and raised. As the “sanctuary of life,”[ii] the family deserves to be valued and aided by society. This is why the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges is unjust. In addition to telling a lie about what marriage is, it undermines the social good of natural marriage and the rights of children. Society’s well-being and very existence are bound up with marriage and the family; we must work to overturn this decision, just as we hope one day to overturn the unjust decision in Roe v. Wade.
- Does our society treat the family founded on marriage as fundamental?
- What are the reasons that society has, for centuries, privileged the natural family based on marriage between a man and a woman?
[i] This was mentioned in the MUR video Made for Freedom (around 3:44 in the video), with Alana Newman who is a child and advocate for children of third-party reproduction. Alana points out that the redefinition of marriage opens the door for a major increase in third-party reproduction, since two men or two women who “marry” will necessarily need to utilize the reproductive capacities of another person to “have a child.”
[ii] Pope John Paul II, On the Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum (Centesimus Annus) (Washington, DC: USCCB, 1991), no. 39.
Marriage is “made for life” because marriage is the safest and most proper place for God to create other human beings. Why? Because it ensures, as much as possible, that the child will receive the care he or she needs and deserves from both “halves” of his or her origin. The sexual act in marriage is imbued with meaning and consequence, and marriage is the only human relationship that can be considered worthy of bringing new life into the world. Married couples vow themselves into a union that is outward-directed, open to life. You could not really love someone and at the same time say, “But I would never want to have a child with you.” Would that be love? As the bishops of the United States taught in their pastoral letter on marriage, “It is the nature of love to overflow, to be life-giving.”[i]
Pope St. John Paul II taught, “The couple, while giving themselves to one another, give not just themselves but also the reality of children, who are a living reflection of their love, a permanent sign of conjugal unity and a living and inseparable synthesis of their being a father and a mother.”[ii] When a man and woman marry, they are at the same time promising that the only way that they are going to give life to “a third” is with one another.[iii] If either the man or woman experiences infertility, whether permanent or temporary, this is not a cross carried by him or her alone, but rather is a joint cross carried by the couple together. This is part of what the Church means when she teaches that the unitive and procreative meanings of married love are inseparable.
In embracing each other, husband and wife embrace their capacity to conceive a child. This does not mean that a child will be—or should be—conceived from every act of sexual intimacy. It simply means that they are not closed to this natural gift.
As our interviewees say at the end of this clip: each child is a gift of God!
- Why is it difficult for people to understand that married love involves openness to life?
- What does it mean to say that “being open to children” at the same time “opens yourself up to your spouse”?
- How are openness to life and sexual difference related?
[i] USCCB, Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan (Washington, DC: USCCB, 2009), 13.
[ii] Familiaris Consortio, no. 14.
[iii] This is one of the ways to understand why the Church holds that in vitro fertilization or surrogacy and the like are immoral; they are ways of creating life that circumvent this promise. Those who resort to these kinds of medical interventions refuse to accept the cross in this situation and often make use of another person’s reproductive capacity (via sperm or egg “donation”).
By their very nature, the institution of matrimony itself and conjugal love are ordained for the procreation and education of children, and find in them their ultimate crown.
–Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes (1965), no. 48[i]
How are marriage and life connected?
Everyone knows “where babies come from” and that marriage, commitment, or really any knowledge of the other person is not strictly necessary. So why is “Life” (or “Children”) one of the four themes for the Marriage: Unique for a Reason initiative? To answer this question, it’s necessary to answer a couple of other questions first:
- What are human beings?
- What do human beings require to flourish?
What are we? There are many helpful definitions of the human being out there that get at our unique constitution: rational animals, ensouled bodies or embodied souls, individuals-in-relation, or, to be a bit more technical about it: “A man, woman, or child of the species Homo sapiens, distinguished from other animals by superior mental development, power of articulate speech, and upright stance.”[ii] We are at the “top of the food chain” even though we are by no means the strongest of animals, and we are the only animals able to consider our own being and destiny. And yet, despite these inherent capacities, we are, at the same time, the most helpless of all animals when we are infants. We take the longest time to become “self-sufficient” and require other creatures to care for us and educate us for years. We cannot survive without our parents or some other adult human being who is willing to step into the place of a parent. And since our senses develop in utero, we know the smell of our mother[iii] and the sound of her voice[iv] and can recognize her when we are born. Our mother’s physical presence can calm us down as infants. There is also evidence that the presence of an involved father during pregnancy reduces the risk of death for the infant for the first year[v] and his physical or mental status can affect his baby’s health.[vi]
In view of these facts, what do human beings need in order to flourish? We need a mother and a father—and not only when we are infants, but all the way through adulthood![vii] If this is how we have been created, it makes sense that in God’s plan, a new human being would come-to-be within a relationship that would (at least attempt to) guarantee that this human being would be cared for by his or her mother and father for all of life. Marriage—the permanent, faithful, fruitful union of one man and one woman—is God’s first and primary way of taking care of each and every one of us from the beginning of our existence. We come-to-be in an act of sexual intercourse between a man and a woman; if that man and woman are married, we end up in the situation best suited to our human development.[viii] “Marriage as fundamentally pro-child, protecting the gift of the child and preserving the vital roles of mothers and fathers.”[ix] So that’s why “Children” is one of our considerations when we talk about the uniqueness of marriage.
The series we are beginning on the MUR blog accompanies short segments of the video Made for Life. In this video, married couples discuss the importance of openness to life to their marriages, and why children do best in homes with married mothers and fathers. During the next six weeks, we will explore these themes a bit more. Much of the posts will contain text found in the Viewer’s Guide of Made for Life. The questions provided can be used for personal reflection or for group discussion.
[i] Second Vatican Council. Gaudium et Spes. http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html
[ii] Oxford Living Dictionaries. “Human being”. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/human_being
[iii] There are a number of places to read about this, including: https://www.womenshealth.gov/itsonlynatural/addressing-myths/incredible-facts-about-babies-breast-milk.html and http://www.parenting.com/article/your-babys-sense-of-smell
[iv] Similarly, there are any number of articles on this, including: http://www.parenting.com/article/what-babies-learn-in-the-womb
[v] “Father Involvement in Preganancy Could Reduce Infant Mortality,” EurekAlert, June 17, 2010, www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2010-06/uosf-fii061710.php, as referenced in Paul Raeburn, Do Fathers Matter? (New York: Scientific American, 2014).
[vi] Prakesh S. Shah and Knowledge Synthesis Group, “Parental Factors and Low Birthweight, Preterm, and Small for Gestational Age Births: A Systematic Review,” American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 202, no. 2 (2010): 103-23, as referenced in Paul Raeburn, Do Fathers Matter? (New York: Scientific American, 2014).
[vii] So-called “grey divorce” has dramatically risen in the last decade, and adult children struggle when their parents split up. See one of these articles: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/24/fashion/weddings/never-too-old-to-hurt-from-parents-divorce.html?_r=0; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/terry-gaspard-msw-licsw/how-to-move-on-from-your-grey-divorce_b_5242932.html; https://www.hg.org/article.asp?id=32532
[viii] See, for example, W. Bradford Wilcox, “Even for Rich Kids, Marriage Matters,” Family Studies, December 19, 2013;“Why Marriage Matters: Thirty Conclusions from the Social Sciences,” Institute for American Values, 2011. Robin Wilson and W. Bradford Wilcox, “Bringing up Baby: Adoption, Marriage, and the Best Interests of the Child,” William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal. Vol. 14, No. 3, pp. 883-908, February 2006. David Ribar, “Why Marriage Matters for Child Wellbeing,” The Future of Children. Vol. 25, No. 2, Fall 2015. Paula Fomby and Andrew Cherlin, “Family Instability and Child Well-Being,” American Sociological Review. Vol. 72 (2007): 181–204, doi: 10.1177/000312240707200203. Wendy Manning, Pamela Smock, and Debarun Majumdar, “The Relative Stability of Cohabiting and Marital Unions for Children,” Population Research and Policy Review. Vol. 23 (2004): 135–59, doi:10.1023/B:POPU.0000019916.29156.a7. Kathleen Ziol-Guest and Rachel Dunifon, “Complex Living Arrangements and Child Health: Examining Family Structure Linkages with Children’s Health Outcomes,” Family Relations. Vol. 63 (2014): 424–37, doi:10.1111/fare.12071.
[ix] USCCB, Made For Life Viewer’s Guide, p. vii.
“The fact that connects us all, as human beings, is the fact that everybody comes from a mother and a father.”
Alana Newman speaks in today’s clip with a forceful rhetorical statement, that if we tweak this fundamental fact of human existence, we are “robbing [someone] of their humanity.” She speaks from personal experience of the pain of a child who is denied the right to know her father. Did you know that children who are born of third-party reproduction do not have any rights to know who their natural father (or mother) is? Alana speaks about this later in the video, saying that when she learned that the sperm donor was Polish, she flew to Poland so that she could know something of her heritage in that way. Her experience led Alana to start a project called Anonymous Us, a story collective of children from third-party reproduction. She also put a number of these stories into a book that was recently published.
Today, take the opportunity to think about what knowing your natural parents, and thus their families as well, has meant to you; or, if you have been unable to know one or both of them, consider this loss and how you have been able to overcome it. Think of a single parent that you know, and ask yourself if there is a way for you to help them as they raise their child, particularly if you can act as a mentor in the place of a missing parent. While you can never replace that loss, you could help the child navigate it.
 Third-party reproduction is the term used to describe when the reproductive faculties or material of a third person (whether this person is known to the person/couple or not) are used in some way to “make” a child for the other person/couple. The most common form of third-party reproduction is artificial insemination, in which a man “donates” his sperm (he is paid for this), which is then used to fertilize a woman’s ovum. Other forms use a “donated” egg or even an embryo of another couple.
Socrates: So Bob, have you had a chance to think about what we talked about last time?
Bob: Yes, I have, and I realized that you are missing a really important fact.
Socrates: I am?
Bob: Yes. You are presenting the ideal. I’m talking about what’s real. There are a lot of children who, for lots of reasons, can’t be raised by their biological mother and father.
Socrates: I know that.
Bob: Well if that’s true, then it means that we have to accept the reality of the situation and try to do something good for the child, even if it is not ideal.
Socrates: You’re right. What are you proposing?
Bob: One of the ways we can help children is by allowing a same-sex couple to adopt them, thus creating a family.
Socrates: That’s a bit of a leap, isn’t it?
Bob: What do you mean?
Socrates: I mean that you looked compassionately at a tragic situation that many children find themselves in, and then jumped to a “solution” that doesn’t actually meet the need that they are experiencing.
Bob: I’m sorry; I still don’t quite follow you.
Socrates: Let’s say that a child is born to a mother and a father, who are both subsequently killed in a car accident. There is no other family, and the child is placed under the care of the state. That seems like the worst thing that can happen to the child, right?
Bob: Right. Even losing just one parent is terribly traumatic for a child.
Socrates: Exactly. So what has the child lost, when his or her parent dies?
Bob: The child has lost the real-life connection to and support of his or her mother and father; a relationship that should have guided the child into adulthood.
Socrates: Right. Like we talked about last time, a child would miss not just the functions that a mom and dad serve; he or she would miss the relationship to a person of each sex who relate to the child in a unique way, as well as the chance to observe the mom and dad relating to each other.
Bob: Yes, that’s right.
Socrates: Can you see how your solution—allowing two persons of the same sex to adopt—does not solve this problem?
Bob: You mean because the child will still be missing either a mom or a dad?
Bob: I guess you’re right, but the child is still missing his or her own mom and dad, no matter what adoptive situation comes up. I don’t think it’s that big of a difference to the child whether he or she is adopted by a man and a woman or two people of the same sex, as long as the child is loved.
Socrates: It is true that an adopted child usually loses a real-life connection to their biological parents (at least most of the time) and that’s sad, no matter what happens next.
Bob: Adoption is always a response to a non-ideal situation—to a need or a deprivation experienced. Is that what you mean?
Socrates: Yes. But when the child is adopted by a married mother and father, he or she will still be given a concrete and living relationship with both a mom and a dad. They will still experience those different relationships and be able to observe the relationship between the parents as a model.
Bob: But there are plenty of children who are adopted or being raised by single parents who do just fine .
Socrates: The question of single parenthood is an interesting one and actually distinct from the question of adoption by two persons of the same sex. Perhaps we can take it up again at another time.
All of the talk about marriage hinges on this question; often, when we ask it simply and directly, the answer is halting, hesitant, and surprising. When we ask a question like this, we should try to approach it with genuine curiosity and a willingness to try to figure out the truth. Socrates, for one, was always asking questions in order to help others come to understanding. So let’s try approaching marriage with this form of philosophical questioning in mind.
Socrates: What is marriage?
Bob: It’s when you love someone and commit to live together and have a family.
Socrates: A man loves his mother, lives with her and is family with her: is that a marriage?Bob: No, no—marriage is when you love someone you’re not related to, and then you choose to become related.
Socrates: Like adopting a child?
Bob: No, not like adoption. The person you love is another adult.
Socrates: What do you mean by love?
Bob: A close, intimate relationship whereby you desire to unite with the other person completely; you share a home with that person; you want to have a family together.
Socrates: Oh, then you must mean a man and a woman.
Bob: No, I didn’t say that. A man and a man could do the same thing.
Bob: Two men or two women could love each other just like a man and a woman can. They can care for the other person before themselves, share deep communication, and adopt children together.
Socrates: Oh I thought you said that they unite “completely” and that they have a family “together.”
Bob: I did.
Socrates: But two men or two women cannot physically unite completely; it is impossible. Likewise, they cannot have children because they do not have the capacity.
Bob: Don’t be so crass. The two people can express their love sexually, that’s all I meant.
Socrates: But that’s not what you said. You said that married people unite completely. Now you’re saying that they only unite mostly—financially, socially. In which case, I’m not sure why that relationship should be considered special compared to other relationships. You can unite that way with many people; there’s no reason for friendship to be exclusive. Also, what about two sisters living together and taking care of a younger sibling with special needs? Are they married?
Bob: No, the point is that there are two adults in a sexual relationship who commit to live together and have a family together.
Socrates: Oh, so what’s crucial for marriage, you say, is that the two people are in a sexual relationship of some committed kind, though not a kind that necessarily brings about a union of their bodies. How do they have a family, by the way?
Bob: Often, one of the two people has children from another relationship.
Socrates: From a relationship with someone from the other sex…
Bob: Yes. Or the couple can adopt. Or they can go through the process of third-party reproduction.
Socrates: In which case, the child would not have a parent of one sex or the other.
Bob: All a child needs is two people who love them. It doesn’t matter what sex they are.
Socrates: But you would agree that every child has a biological mother and father, correct?Bob: Yes, I agree with that. That’s a simple fact.
Socrates: Are a father and a mother exactly the same? Are they interchangeable?Bob: Well…no, not exactly. They do seem to interact with children differently and there is more research out there now (http://www.paulraeburn.com/books/do-fathers-matter/) showing how important fathers are to the development of children.
Bob: Okay, I will think about this more. But I don’t think parenting qualities or skills is the issue. Let’s talk about that next time.
World Meeting of Families Catechesis Series
The USCCB Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth is excited about the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) being held in Philadelphia in September 2015. We are presenting a series of short articles focused on the WMOF Catechesis Love is our Mission: The Family Fully Alive and its implications for our daily lives. We will follow the timing suggested by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia by exploring one theme each month leading up to the World Meeting. The Archdiocese for Military Services reflection on this chapter is here.
“The Best Way”
Theresa Notare, PhD, Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth
My mother met my father as a teenager. They dated after high school. When he returned from the Korean War, they married. Like most Catholics at that time, they quickly had four children. As we grew older, and much to my mother’s embarrassment, my father liked to boast to us that they followed the Church’s teaching on birth control. Also he soberly added that there was only one choice in life, even when it came to sex—to follow God’s will and commandments. It wasn’t always easy, he said, but it was the best way.
My father was not theologically sophisticated, yet instinctively he understood God’s design for love and marriage. Dad “got it.” He knew in his heart that every man and woman has an inherent dignity. This understanding shaped his spousal relationship with my mother. The witness of my parents continues to speak to my heart of what it means to be made in God’s image and how that reality impacts the nature of married love.
These thoughts about my parents’ marriage filled my mind when I read Chapter Two of the official catechesis for the 2015 World Meeting on the Family. The theme is about God’s mission of love and how it is revealed in the conjugal relationship. To be made in God’s image speaks both of God’s invitation to share in His life and of the inherent gifts that God gives to each man and woman. The capacity and the vocation to love, just like God, is the foundation for all of human life. It is essential for marriage. And, the conjugal embrace is caught up in God’s divine plan of married love and life.
Scripture and Tradition reveal that God created marriage to be a life-long union between a man and a woman marked by fidelity, permanence, and fruitfulness (see The Code of Canon Law, §1055, Humanae vitae, no. 9). Marriage is a radical call to love like God.
When a man and woman become one flesh in marriage, sex is, by its nature, both unitive and procreative. Procreation is the invitation by the Lord of life to share in the wonder of conceiving children. This is why the Church teaches that children are the supreme gift in marriage (see Gaudium et spes, no. 50). This is also why the Church teaches that “when married couples deliberately act to suppress fertility…by using contraception” they deny “part of the inherent meaning of married sexuality” and actually do harm to their unity (see Married Love and the Gift of Life, USCCB, 2006). This may seem like a hard saying in today’s world, but the burden is lifted when we realize who we are as made in God’s image and God’s vision for married love.
In one of my many conversations with my father, he once admitted that sometimes he had to go to his room, shut the door, pray and remember why he loved my mother. Doing the right thing, even with someone you deeply love, is not always easy. Both he and my mother lived their joint mission of married love, and my siblings and I knew that we were the primary recipients. We saw their joy, playfulness, and reverence for one another.
In the last years of his life, my mother nursed my father through a long illness. My father died at home in my mother’s arms. His last words to her were that she was the love of his life. Their love was easy and passionate. At times it was hard and sacrificial. They chose the best way, they lived God’s mission of married love.