2 Comments

The State’s Involvement in Marriage

On Procreation and Same-Sex Marriage

By William C. Mattison III, Ph.D.

Having taught marriage and sexuality to undergraduates for over ten years at four different Catholic universities, there are two things I have learned about college students’ perception of the current debate over legally-recognized same-sex marriage. First, students most often see this issue as one of equal rights, rather than a question of the substantive meaning of marriage. The most popular paradigm for understanding the contemporary case is a comparison to pre-civil rights laws banning interracial marriage. In that case, certain persons were unjustly barred from marrying the person of their choice. Students frequently see a similar dynamic at work in state prohibition of same-sex marriage. This assumption is also present in recent high level legal decisions in support of same-sex marriage. Second, the Catholic Church is losing the public debate on same-sex marriage. My students are far more receptive to the Church’s teaching on premarital sex than they are to the Catholic Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage. Those who are against same-sex civil marriage generally make, frankly, bad arguments against it. They speak vaguely about how heterosexual union is simply the “way it was meant to be.” Nearly ten years, ago, the first important State Supreme Court case in favor of same-sex marriage (Goodrich v. Massachusetts Department of Public Health) was decided. In the aftermath, the Chicago Tribune recorded Baptist minister Rev. Vernon Lyons’ reaction (5/18/04, A20): “Same-sex marriage is an oxymoron…. If we accept same-sex marriage, we may as well discard our rationality and accept square circles, dry rain, loud silence.” Surely Rev. Lyons, my students, and indeed all who oppose same-sex marriage must do better to explain why they hold this position. The failure to do so leaves same sex marriage supporters assuming there are no legitimate state reasons (even if there are religious reasons) to oppose same sex marriage.

This alleged failure of the Catholic Church to provide persuasive public arguments against homosexual marriage prompted a lively debate in Commonweal Magazine following the Goodrich decision (10/24/03). One of the participants, Paul Griffiths, argued that the Church should cease to engage the broader public in the debate over same-sex marriage, let civil law go its own way, and focus more on forming its own members in practices commensurate with the Church’s teaching on chastity. Again, the assumption here is that there are only intra-Church reasons for opposing same-sex marriage. Put differently, the assumption is that the intra-Church reasons to limit marriage to opposite sex couples are not applicable outside the Church.

In response to both those students unable to articulate good reasons against civil marriage for homosexuals, and those (like Griffiths) who claim that same-sex marriage should be legalized on the basis of an “empirically obvious” lack of public arguments against it, this essay examines possible state reasons for recognizing or prohibiting civil marriage for homosexual couples, primarily relying upon arguments from different members of the Massachusetts Supreme Court in the groundbreaking Goodrich case (though relying on several more recent cases where appropriate). A review of these decisions reveals that there is quite a substantive exchange occurring over the state interests in recognizing marriage. (The term “state interests” is used here to indicate legitimate governmental interests, be they at the federal or state level.) Two clear opposing positions have emerged. In line with this issue of The Crosier, the key distinction between these views is the extent to which procreation is a legitimate state interest in regulating marriage. In this essay I attempt to argue that there are legitimate and indeed more persuasive state reasons to limit marriage to opposite sex couples, based on the importance of procreation. Indeed such a state purpose is not only legitimate and important (with the man and woman proxy meeting the rational basis requirement), but the state interest in procreation as driving marriage is the only thing that makes sense of marriage law as it stands. Procreation, in other words, is why the state is involved in marriage.

A Question of Equal Rights?

Some of the benefits conferred by the state on people in a married relationship include income and estate tax benefits, and transferable (upon death of spouse) Social Security benefits. The highly publicized 2012 U.S. Supreme Court case that supported same-sex marriage, United States v. Windsor, repeatedly claims that there are over 1,000 federal statues alone implicated by who is eligible to marry. Other benefits are not conferred directly by the state, but by certain institutions based upon the state’s recognition of the marriage relationship, such as health insurance, bereavement policies, and hospital visitation rights. As currently debated in the public forum, same-sex marriage is simply a matter of equal rights. Heterosexual couples receive certain benefits from state recognition, same-sex couples do not, and thus there seems to be an arbitrary offense against equal rights on the part of the state.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court affirmed this line of thinking in its 4-3 decision to allow same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. Chief Justice Marshall writes that the state of Massachusetts failed to “identify any constitutionally adequate reason for denying civil marriage to same-sex couples.” Such exclusion is not compatible, she claims, with Massachusetts’ principle of “equity under law.” The state cannot be “arbitrary” or “capricious” in its legislation. The Court is responsible for assuring that “laws will apply equally to persons in similar situations.”

The key question then becomes, what constitutes similar situations? In order to determine which features of a relationship qualify it for civilly-recognized marriage, we must identify the state’s purpose in recognizing marriage in the first place. Why does the state recognize marriage? The majority ruling notes that marriage as recognized by Massachusetts law is a civil affair. “Civil marriage anchors an ordered society by encouraging stable relationships over transient ones. It is central to the way the Commonwealth identifies individuals, provides for the orderly distribution of property, ensures that children and adults are cared for and supported wherever possible from private rather than public funds, and tracks important epidemiological and demographic data.” Chief Justice Marshall goes on to note that a lower court judge endorsed the state position that “marriage’s primary purpose is procreation.” But she replies, “This is incorrect…. [I]t is the exclusive and permanent commitment of the marriage partners to one another, not the begetting of children, that is the sine qua non of marriage.” Marshall argues that the “marriage for procreation” position “singles out the one unbridgeable difference between same-sex and opposite sex couples, and transforms that difference into the essence of legal marriage.” Theruling concludes with the authoritative, “We construe civil  marriage to mean the voluntary union of two persons as spouses, to the exclusion of all others.” One of the most extraordinary things about this legal debate is that it centers on the procreativity of marriage. Chief Justice Marshall is correct that begetting children is not the sine qua non of marriage. A couple can of course be legitimately married without children. Even the Catholic Church which has always recognized procreation as an inherent end or good of marriage agrees with this. But recognizing this fact does not render the procreativity of marriage as accidental, or irrelevant, as Marshall suggests. The question must be asked, why does the state formally recognize “the exclusive and permanent commitment of the marriage partners to one another” in the first place?

Frank and Rick 

Two problems with Chief Justice Marshall’s position are examined here. The first is, if Chief Justice Marshall’s  view of the state interest in marriage is correct, why should civil marriage be limited to opposite sex and same -sex couples? Why can’t any two (or more) consenting adults who wish to establish a stable household have that relationship recognized? Consider a probable future court case that will help us determine whether current marriage law is a violation of equal rights. Frank and Rick are unmarried (heterosexual) best friends who share a home and have a loving, committed friendship which they both plan to maintain indefinitely. For the purposes of stability, and to gain certain benefits accorded to married persons, Frank and Rick wish to have their union recognized by the state. Their relationship involves close emotional bonds, shared financial endeavors, even common living arrangements. Under current marriage law, Frank and Rick are treated no differently than the committed homosexual couple.

The question is, should the benefits now accorded to married couples be accorded to Frank and Rick? I imagine most people would say that that Frank should receive neither Rick’s extended health benefits, nor his Social Security pension upon Rick’s death. I presume most people think Frank and Rick should neither share tax benefits, nor receive any civilly mandated bereavement policy (although we hope an employer would be sympathetic in such a situation). But the question is, why not? Their relationship shares many features of state-recognized marriage: a common household, close emotional attachments, stability, and consensual (albeit non-sexual) exclusivity. Marshall’s “sine qua non” features of marriage – exclusivity and permanence – are indeed present.

If the state were to accord the same-sex couple the benefits of civil marriage, on what basis would they be denied to Rick and Frank? On the basis of intimacy and emotional attachment? Adjudicating emotional intimacy hardly seems a state interest. The state does not even ascertain this with regard to heterosexual marriage! And are we really ready to label the other relationship less intimate? Is the state in the business of recognizing sexual relationships as an end in itself? It would seem not, since the law does not attempt to acknowledge non-married sexual relationships. The burden of the case for civilly recognized same-sex marriage is distinguishing same-sex unions from people in other committed relationships who might seek state recognition of their relationships in pursuit of benefits associated with marriage. In other words, why should the state draw a “marriage line” with homosexual and heterosexual couples on one side, and other committed relationships on the other? A failure to explain the rationale for this line on the part of same-sex union advocates is, ironically, a denial of Frank and Rick’s rights. According to Chief Justice Marshall’s reasoning for the state purpose of marriage, “equity under law” seems to demand that not only heterosexual and homosexual couples, but any two persons, must be able to enter into a permanent and exclusive state-recognized marriage.

An alternative proposal concerning legal recognition of same-sex couples is the establishment of “legal unions.” This would serve two purposes. First, it would affirm the distinctiveness of heterosexual marriage, for which the legal term “marriage” is reserved. Second, it would accord same sex couples certain rights that they are denied under current marriage law. The state thus draws one line (marriage) between heterosexual and homosexual couples, and another line (civil union) between homosexual couples and relationships like that of Frank and Rick. This solution attracts many as a sort of compromise. Yet it angers advocates of homosexual marriage who say it does not go far enough since it fails to equate heterosexual marriage and homosexual unions.

In any case, the rational basis on which some people would have their relationship civilly-recognized – and others would not – should be clearly articulated in a manner tied to the further state interest in such recognition.

What is the “sine qua non” of Marriage? 

Is there a similar burden on opponents of same-sex marriage to distinguish heterosexual couples from homosexual couples? Historically speaking there has been no such burden, and that is why current marriage law stands as it does. But today this marriage line is being questioned, and thus a rationale for it needs to be articulated. In the absence of such a publicly articulated rationale, my students and Rev. Lyons are unable to explain to others the reasoning behind their intuition that same sex marriage is not the same as heterosexual marriage.

In his dissenting opinion in the Goodrich case, Justice Robert Cordy, agrees with Chief Justice Marshall on one thing: Massachusetts marriage laws are “enacted to secure public interests and not for religious purposes.” Yet Justice Cordy has a different opinion of what those interests are. “Paramount among its many important functions, the institution of marriage has systematically provided for the regulation of heterosexual behavior, brought order to the resulting procreation, and ensured a stable family structure in which children will be reared, educated, and socialized.” Though he recognizes other “important” facets of marriage such as its “expressions of emotional support and public commitment,” “those features are not the source of the fundamental right to marry.”

Cordy focuses on procreation as the distinguishing feature of heterosexual marriage. “It is difficult to imagine a state purpose more important and legitimate than ensuring, promoting, and supporting an optimal social structure within which to bear and raise children. In fact, Cordy goes so far as to say that marriage is indeed a “fundamental right”, but that this right derives from “the underlying interest of every individual in procreation.”

Justice Cordy thus provides a public rationale for why heterosexual couples may be accorded marriage privileges and homosexual couples may not. He finds it eminently rational for a Legislature to conclude that “continuing to limit the institution of civil marriage to members ofthe opposite sex furthers the [state’s] legitimate purpose of ensuring, promoting, and supporting an optimal social setting for the bearing and raising of children.”

How could Cordy reasonably claim that the state’s interest in recognizing marriage rests on its interest in procreation? Is procreation the basi s of civil marriage? What about cases where marriage is not a milieu for having children? There are the cases of infertile couples, and those with no intention of having children.

Cordy acknowledges that “heterosexual intercourse, procreation, and child care are not necessarily conjoined (particularly in the modern age of widespread effective  contraception and supportive social welfare programs).” Nevertheless he claims that: “an orderly society requires some mechanism for coping with the fact that sexual intercourse commonly results in pregnancy and childbirth. The institution of marriage is that mechanism.” He goes on to say that this institution should be legally available “as long as procreation is theoretically possible.” This possibility holds true for opposite-sex, and not same-sex, couples. “Because same-sex couples are unable to procreate on their own, any right to marriage they possess cannot be based on their interest in procreation, which has been essential to the [United States] Supreme Court’s denomination of the right to marry as fundamental.”

One case that initially seems to strain Cordy’s line of argument is that of adoptive parents. If civil marriage law promotes the bearing and raising of children, what of adoptive parents? There is indeed a state response to adoption in the form of legal guardianship. Our legal system acknowledges adoption by non-married persons. In all states a person or couple can adopt a child. In all cases, a legal guardian is named. In a growing number of states, second parent adoption laws grant legal parent status to the first parent’s companion. (These laws apply both to homosexual and heterosexual couples).

At closer glance, these adoption laws re-affirm Cordy’s claim that state interest in children actually drives marriage law. If the state recognizes second parent adoption rights and any concomitant privileges (taxes, etc.) for non-married adoptive parents, note that (for either heterosexual or homosexual couples) it is the adoption of the child, and not the relationship per se, which engenders those privileges. The state is in effect recognizing two parents, not recognizing a relationship that is itself oriented toward parenthood. 

In the case of the heterosexual couple who marries, the state recognizes a tendency toward children that is not acknowledged in non-married heterosexuals because of the lack of the latter’s publicly stated intent to commit. In the case of the same-sex couple, there may be a willingness to publicly commit, but the state has no interest in recognizing this couple on the basis of a tendency toward children since the relationship per se is not oriented toward the bearing of children in the manner a heterosexual marriage is. Of course the same-sex couple may become adoptive parents. But as in the case of non-married heterosexual adoptive parents, it is the adoption of a child that places the same-sex couple’s relationship within the purview of state interest, rather than the relationship itself. 

As for the infertile couple, or the couple not intending to have children, it seems these cases are indeed outside the scope of what Cordy identifies as the basis of the fundamental right to marry(for more on infertile opposite  sex couples and those who have no intent to have children see Justice Zarella’s dissent in the 2008 Kerrigan case in Connecticut, mentioned below). Could such circumstances be readily ascertained (in the manner of the state-required blood test preceding marriage), Cordy might concede that this would indeed impact marriage law. But the law is often an instrument whose precision does not adequately match its intent. To more finely hone this law would require either declarations of intent to have children or accurate medical determinations of fertility. The prospect of these policies makes it clear why the law is left at the level of generality it is.

Cordy’s argument that the state’s involvement in the “marriage business” is ultimately about children does not mean that heterosexual marriage always entails children. Nor does it mean that children can only be born and well-raised in this milieu. It merely meets the burden of explaining why the state has a rational basis upon which to accord privileges to heterosexual marriage based upon the nature of that relationship.

The position articulated here, namely, that the state purpose in recognizing civil marriage is ultimately procreation, is susceptible to one further objection. Why should the state recognize marriage at all? Why not simply wait until individuals or couples, homosexual or heterosexual, become parents? This would actually be a far more interesting public debate. It would center on not only whether the state has any interest in providing stability and order in households where there are children, but also whether or not the state has any interest in encouraging the having of children, and whether civil recognition of marriage does that. In his dissenting opinion in the 2008 Connecticut case Kerrigan v. Commissioner of Public Health supporting same-sex marriage, Justice Zarella argues that the state interest in procreation includes not only protection of children but also the recognition of relationships that produce children. Cordy says something similar about the pedagogical function of civil marriage. Through such law, “society is able to communicate a consistent message to its citizens that marriage is a (normatively) necessary part of their procreative endeavor; that if they are to procreate, then society has endorsed the institution of marriage as the environment for it and for the subsequent rearing of their children; and that benefits are available explicitly to create a supportive and conducive atmosphere for those purposes.” The law thus serves an educative function.

Cordy’s claims about the fundamental right to marry deriving from the state interest in procreation are valid public arguments that are too infrequently raised in the contemporary debates over civil recognition of same-sex unions. Opponents of same-sex marriage generally fail to provide persuasive public arguments for their position. Proponents make facile claims about equal rights without attending to the denial of equal rights that gay marriage entails for  people like Frank and Rick. They also fail to recognize the more substantive claims about the nature of marriage that their position entails. Yet such substantive claims about the meaning of marriage, whether for or against legally-recognized same sex unions, are readily available in the public forum, as in the various opinions of the Massachusetts Supreme Court and other Courts on this issue. Before following Griffiths out of the public debate on this issue, the competing visions of marriage driving different positions on civilly-recognized same sex unions must be brought to the surface and evaluated. Our discussions over who should have their relationship recognized by the state must explicitly attend to the question of why the state is in the “marriage business” in the first place.

Leave a comment

The Relationship between Economy and Sexuality

Interview with Chad C. Pecknold, Ph.D.

Interview Transcribed by Katelyn Rogers (Crosier Staff)
How does the free market economy shape our thinking about sexuality?

If you tried to locate the place of market-exchange in ancient Athens, you could locate a very specific point on the city map. But look at any modern city and try to locate where market-exchange takes place. You cannot point out where the market is on our city maps. Why? The reason is because the economy dominates our lives in a way that it did not dominate the lives of the ancients. Or rather, the economy has come to constitute the common good of the city in a way that ancients would have found strange. But rather than say that the economy is our common good, what it really does is to obscure our vision of the common good by constantly inviting our participation in market exchange. The market has come to dominate our lives in a way which constantly tells us we have all these choices, but the choices are always trivial. The economy does not encourage us to ask about the common good. Although the market claims a kind of “moral neutrality,” it has a stake in encouraging us to choose the desirable. This means that life in the modern city is dominated by the logic of market choices, which means that what our economic arrangements encourage is a myth of choice which obscures our capacity to choose the good. And so a lot of our rhetoric around “choice” in America is founded upon a simple indifferentism to the good. But if you were not indifferent to the good, you wouldn’t think that a market was really free if all it did was obscure the good. But we see that indifference all the time. We might lament: “Well it’s sad that people use contraceptives or that people choose abortions or that they buy pornography.” But then we might lamentably answer that human beings are free to sin, and that it is not the market which encourages this, but our fallen nature. I wouldn’t disagree, but we shouldn’t imagine for a moment that this kind of arrangement should be called freedom. For St. Augustine, real freedom is the freedom to participate in the highest good. To the extent that our market economy discourages evil and encourages the good, I am all for it. But when the logic of the market claims a moral neutrality on the one hand, and then seems to multiply injustices of all sorts, and distracts us from the highest good, then it must not be viewed as genuinely free. What we think about sex is largely filtered through a society that is dominated by this economic mindset.

Where do you see the strongest manifestations of this mindset?

Let’s think about hospitals and universities. We are currently witnessing an economic crisis in healthcare and higher education. Why is that? There are short range answers to that question, but at the most fundamental level, I want to say that these crisis are connected to a similar tendency to detach education and healthcare from their historical sources. Hospitals and universities were both born out of what? Christian charity. The hospital was born as an act of the Church’s social charity. The university, likewise, was born out of the Church’s social charity for making disciples of all nations, making learners. Look at our healthcare and education crises right now. They are complex and distinct from one another, but they share a root problem: both hospitals and universities have not only lost their reference point to the Church, but many have also lost any reference to God, to the source of divine charity. What motivates hospitals and universities now?Charity? Sometimes. But most often, it is the profit motive driving our hospitals and universities, and this is at least part of what I am trying to say about how an economic mindset detaches us from the good. For centuries, hospitals and universities could live off the social capital they derived from being connected to the mission of the Catholic Church, but once that social capital is spent, the hospital and university increasingly have nothing left to motivate but profit. With some notable exceptions, the Church has been pushed out of both enterprises, and we should ask why. I think this shows that the economy, at least in certain respects, has become comprehensive of the social order in a way that the Catholic Church was once comprehensive of the social order. And I worry that this brings us back to the myth of choice again. We have the choice of participating in the market, or not. But the market participation is really not encouraging us to participate in the good of human nature – through medicine or education — it’s not encouraging us to participate in God’s goodness. This is our most fundamental crisis.

How do you connect birth control to the economy, specifically in advertising? Where do you see this undercurrent of market moral neutrality kind of coming up in the way that we advertise?

Take Trojan commercials, for example. Trojan commercials are not actually selling condoms. Contraceptive commercials are not even really selling sex. Notice what contraceptive commercials almost always highlight: intimacy, sensuality, and freedom of expression. It sells an “intimate moment” but draws attention away from the fact that it is actually a technology for preventing the natural end of sexual union between a man and a woman. These advertisements sell us a desirable moment abstracted from the purpose of the contraceptive itself. We are sold desire without end. The procreative ends of physical acts of love-making are necessarily excluded from the sales pitch. In order to persuade us to rationally choose them, Trojan commercials need to detach sex from procreative ends, they to make us forget that the conjugal union has a final end, namely the creation of a new human being. What they need to sell us is something abstract like responsibility, or intimacy in the moment, and never draw our attention to the intelligibility of the act itself. This is why the commercial is so effective. It detaches sex from reality by making clear that what they’re selling is the intimacy of that particular moment. And this is why contraceptive companies are never selling sex. They are only selling a moment. They are only selling desire for the sake of desire. It is desire without end. You are not really allowed, or at least not encouraged, to think about what gives sexual action its intelligibility, or its purpose.

How does the economy use advertising for contraceptives, lingerie, and cosmetics to affect women’s sexuality?

Again and again women are encouraged to think about their value in terms of a category of desire, as objects rather than as rational persons. And similarly to contraceptive advertising, marketing towards women almost never sells cosmetics or lingerie or clothes in general. What it always sells is the desire to be desirable. It promises that you can become desirable through market exchange, and that these products are capable of making you beautiful. The market says you’re made beautiful by conformity to ever-changing standards of beauty. And it will sell you the products, and tell you what beauty is, and what it looks like to become “desirable.” But again, this is desire without end. We are never encouraged to think about desire as having a procreative end, and we are especially not encouraged to think about this desire as having a theological end. After all, it is faith that says it is only God who makes us beautiful according to His unchangeable beauty. But the market is constantly changing what it means to be beautiful, constantly deconstructing human identities as it seeks to increase profits. The result is that many women constantly struggle with body image problems because they are constantly chasing the changeable standard for desirability that they are being sold. Until women can see their beauty comes from God, they’ll be vulnerable to that marketing of desire without end.

What about men? Men are targeted as often as women. Where do you see the market using male sexuality?

Abercrombie and Fitch comes to mind. They have had a lot of bad press recently. But they are not unique. If I am in a mall with my son, I think twice about what he must think of those images of half-naked young men. Think of the confusing messages being sent to our young men when they see these shirtless objects of sexual desire. What does that communicate to our sons? Are they supposed to have their shirts off at all times, and are they supposed to have a body which could only be constructed through six hours in a gym every day? They have a body befitting a warrior or a pro-athlete, but this is clearly not their purpose. The A&F guy is clearly made for war or athletics, but the seductive pose suggests that they have been detached from these ends which naturally suggest themselves. These marketing images are intended to sell clothes, but what they really sell is the body as an object of sexual desire.

It’s terrifying how it’s all connected.

This is a big challenge for the Catholic. The Catholic wants so to join with society. And it has always done so. That’s the Catholic instinct: to draw all things together in the light of God’s love and truth. There have always been orders which have made comprehensive claims, and the Church has always been good at demonstrating that her claims are more comprehensive, coherent with the shape of reality, and the elevation of humanity. But the comprehensive claims of a new global economic culture present a new set of challenges for the Catholic.

What is that challenge?

Think about New York City or Washington, D.C. and point to where the market resides. As I said at the outset, you can’t. It’s everywhere. The market dominates, and holds all the diverse parts together as a whole. But the Catholic Church proclaims that God holds all the diverse parts of the world together as a whole, and that the Church is an icon of this higher kind of comprehensiveness. But if theology is routinely excluded we are doomed. If our hospitals, universities, marriage, nature itself are constantly being cut off from reference to the good of nature, or most especially to God himself, then we are in trouble. Indeed, the market itself, motivated by profit rather than a substantive vision of the good, can become a kind of false universal, a false cattolica. We don’t know exactly how to deal with that challenge, and I think admitting that is the first step to a good Catholic response. And this I think is part of the reason why our arguments, Catholic arguments, pro-life arguments, often don’t work. They don’t work because they arise out of a competing universal. This enables many to also view Catholicism as a private interest group which doesn’t really refer to a true universal. And the prolife arguments seem to only have moderate success to the extent that they’ve somehow tied themselves to the arguments that the state can accept. I think as long as we play by these rules, we’re always going to have a hard time. We’re going to have a hard time in the fight against abortion because the market-shaped myth of choice is a powerful narcotic which dulls our culture’s attentiveness to the reality of human nature. We’re also going to have a hard time in the fight against contraceptives. Many Americans – Catholic and non-Catholic – do not understand the Church’s teaching on contraceptives because they don’t have a real understanding of human nature. Instead, they have an individualist, voluntarist understanding of the human person; an understanding of the person as constituted by his or her own desires. That “desire without end” mentality is very powerful. So what you have is a competing anthrpology, and until you’ve challenged the anthropology of the ambient culture it’s going to be difficult to make genuinely persuasive pro-life arguments. We should continue to make the arguments, but we have to be mindful of the ways in which our arguments can be like “ships passing in the night,” because the indifferentist immediately comes back with: “Well, that’s all fine and good for you.” How are you going to convince someone that abortion is objectively evil because it ends the life of a human person created in God’s image if the person you are addressing thinks that we are not constituted by good or evil acts, but only by good or evil desires? How do you combat that if people have already bought into the idea that human anthropology is constituted by desire? If all moral choices are legitimated through the will, the intellectually serious arguments of the Catholic may well fall on deaf ears. This is an even more fundamentally serious problem that the economic culture we have discussed.

Finally, can you tie the theme of this inteview back into the issue of human dignity and the value of human life? Particularly as how reducing the person to desire relates to the topic?

Right. The fundamental problem is not the economy, or the market or the state. The fundamental problems facing a pro-life mission have to do with how our culture has distorted the nature of the human person. Rather than understanding the human as created in the image of God, our culture sees the human person as constituted by his or her own desires. “Desire for desire’s sake” is a powerful strategy for detaching our love of ourselves and our neighbors from God, and it is a problem that has to be squarely faced. Because every human life is created in God’s image, and bears a similarity to God, the human being is never simply a human being. The human being is always an icon for God’s presence in the world, and this is why every human being is sacred, because they reflect the greater glory of God. From conception to death, then, killing a human person is the vain attempt to kill God’s image in humanity as a whole, to detach the human person from God. But it cannot be done. God became flesh to tell us so.

Leave a comment

On Contraceptives

An Interview with Fr. James Brent O.P., Ph.D.

Interview conducted by Mallory Nygard and Andrew Miller (Crosier Staff)
It is common knowledge that the Catholic Church does not condone the use of contraception in marriage. Perhaps we should begin with a definition. What is the definition of contraception? 

Contraception, as the Church understands it, is a specific kind of act, i.e. it is a deliberate choice of a specific kind of action. Contraception, we can say, is “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible.”(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2370 quoting Human Vitae, 14.)

Contraception is engaging in sexual intercourse while deliberately suppressing the fertility of it. A couple that has sexual intercourse without deliberately suppressing the fertility of it, but merely happens to be infertile on account of biological circumstances such as the time of month, the age of the woman, low sperm count, etc., is not engaging in contraceptive sex, since the infertility of their intercourse is not deliberately willed. 

It is more revealing to say that contraception is self-sterilized sex. It is self-sterilized because the infertility of the act comes from the intellect and will of the persons who are having sex. The Church teaches that self-sterilized sex is wrong. To call the teaching a “condemnation,” however, frames the issue immediately in an adversarial or juridical context. The teaching that self-sterilized sex is wrong is a not so much a norm as it is a light. 

Okay, you will have to explain the bit about light. But first, what is the difference between the Church’s opposition to contraception and its acceptance of Natural Family Planning?

Natural Family Planning is a very broad expression that refers to fertility awareness and various uses one may make of that awareness. Let me explain.

People have long known that women are not continuously fertile, but that women are fertile in a way that is periodic and cyclical. As a corollary, a woman is infertile in a way that is periodic and cyclical. The Church has long taught, and it was reaffirmed by Pope Pius XI in Casti Conubii in 1930, that it is not wrong or sinful for a couple to have sex during the infertile time of the woman’s cycle. Such intercourse would happen to be infertile but would not be self-sterilized sex. The infertility of it is merely a biological circumstance of the act. The Church does not say that sex is wrong because it is infertile or right because it is fertile, but only that self-sterilized sex is wrong. Pope Pius XI also taught that it is no sin if a couple, knowing that the woman was in her fertile phase, chose to abstain from sexual intercourse during that time in order to avoid conception. Pope Paul VI reaffirmed this teaching. To abstain from sex during a time known to be fertile is not self-sterilized sex because it is not sex at all. It is precisely abstaining from it.

With the development of science, there are now relatively easy ways for people to know with a high degree of exactitude when a woman will be fertile or infertile. All women, married or not, are able to learn the signs of ovulation, and so be aware of their fertility and the differences it makes at various levels of their being. Let us call such knowledge “fertility awareness.” Fertility awareness, generally speaking, empowers women with knowledge of their own bodies, allows them to make wise choices (and not just about sex), and is useful for multiple good purposes. Many couples, especially those who have difficulty conceiving a child, rely upon fertility awareness in order to conceive a child. Furthermore, fertility awareness tends to enhance relationships since it calls upon the man to know the woman’s being more completely, and to adjust his behavior accordingly. In keeping with the tradition, the Church teaches that when the requirements of responsible parenthood give a couple a serious reason to do so, there is no sin in practicing periodic abstinence to space or limit conception. What is wrong is self-sterilized sex, and an NFP couple does not ever engage in that.

What are the Church’s reasons for saying that contraception is wrong but Natural Family Planning is not?

Since Natural Family Planning is not one kind of act but many (i.e. term covers both fertility awareness and relying upon it for a whole variety of purposes), I  think we need to refocus the question. On the one side, there is self-sterilized sex. On the other side there is periodic abstinence. These descriptions are more revealing of what the couple chooses in each act. The Church teaches that the intention to avoid conception is not intrinsically evil (though it can
become evil in certain circumstances). There are, however, two distinct ways for a married couple to avoid conception. One way is to abstain from sex during the period when one knows the sex will be fertile (or abstain altogether). The other way is deliberately to modify one’s sexual intercourse, rendering it infertile, and yet to indulge in this self-modified intercourse anyways. The former practice of periodic abstinence is not essentially contrary to the dignity of the human person, (though it can be wrong in particular circumstances). Self-sterilized sex, on the other hand, is contrary to the dignity of the human person or, as Pope Paul VI put it, unworthy of the human person. Self-sterilized sex is essentially a base pleasure.

The Church’s reasons for saying that self-sterilized sex is wrong are many. The Church, obviously, bases her teaching first of all on divine revelation handed on in Scripture and Tradition. They both say that self-sterilized sex is wrong. Genesis 38:3-10 tells the story of Onan whom the Lord slew for choosing coitus interruptus. The tradition has so consistently interpreted the passage this way that coitus interruptus long went by the name of “Onanism,” and so “Onanism” became a name applied generally to all morally equivalent actions. Among the Jews, it was a given that Onanism was evil, and the same belief continued into the time of Jesus. For Jesus this was a given, just as number of points in the law were givens, and so he did not mention it in particular. The long held Jewish belief continued into the minds of the Apostles. The New Testament, therefore, tells us in two places that no one who practices pharmakeia can enter the Kingdom of Heaven. In ancient times, the term pharmakeia (typically translated “sorcery”) referred to mixing potions for a variety of purposes, often ritualistic purposes, and often for purposes of sterilizing sex or inducing abortion. St. Paul names it as one of the works of the flesh in Gal. 5:20-1 and says those who practice it cannot enter the Kingdom. Rev. 22:15 names those who practice pharmakeia as being forever outside the New Jerusalem and the blessed life. Ancient pharmakeia sometimes prevented conception, and sometimes terminated it. Such a distinction was probably unclear to those who practiced it, since their hearts were set more vaguely on sex-made-consequenceless (the use of such potions in pagan rituals was also an issue, but not the only one). Ancient peoples sometimes but rarely distinguished between contraception and abortifacients just as few people who use the pill today distinguish between the two. “The pill,” in most cases, is in fact abortifacient, i.e. abortion-causing, but almost everyone calls it contraception. Contemporary contraception is scientifically exact pharmakeia

In keeping with the Scriptures, the Fathers of the Church commonly preached against pharmakeia. They well knew of the people’s common complaint of not being able to afford more kids, and addressed it in their homilies, but with exhortations to stay away from pharmakeia. The Mediaeval theologians later elaborated more exactly the reasons why, and some of their reasons can stand their own ground as properly philosophical arguments. So, the Church gives philosophical arguments in addition to arguments based in Sacred Scripture, and makes them part of her total teaching effort, but for those arguments to be persuasive requires the listener to be open to the conclusion and also have a good amount of sagacity. Due to the Fall, such dispositions are rare in matters of human sexuality. It took a millennium for people to convert from ancient practices, and sin there has always been, but by the time of modernity Christians unanimously opposed contraception. My own grandmothers thought it was obvious that contraception is evil and considered women who thought otherwise to be gullible. In fact, it was not until the Lambeth conference in 1932 that a Christian group thought it could change the teaching.

What are some of the philosophical reasons?

Let us start with a general observation about sexual sin.

There are a variety of sexual acts (masturbation, fornication, homosexual activity, self-sterilized sex, etc.) that the Church says are wrong but many people cannot see the reason. They ask: “What is the harm?” We would do well not only to ponder that question, but also ask why the answer is not easy to see. What makes all these sexual activities seem just fine, and makes it so hard for us to see why they are in reality harmful? I suggest the following consideration. With other sins besides sexual sins the damage done is often visible. When I punch another human being, I see a bloody nose. The damage is outward, visible, physical. The harm of sexual sin is very often not like that. The harm of sexual sin, I want to suggest, is first and most fundamentally interior, invisible, spiritual. Sexual sin violates the heart. In fornication, for example, what one experiences outwardly, visibly, physically is very pleasurable and often deeply comforting at a psychological level. In so many of its most immediately perceptible aspects, fornication is just great. Yet those who practice it are, at first, left with a strange and often inexplicable disturbance of spirit. This disturbance signals that something deep has been lost, something deeper than the psychological level, something in the heart. What has been lost has been called by many names: innocence, purity, etc.. St. Thomas calls it the bonum honestum. I call it radiant purity. Radiant purity is a special quality, proper to the chaste, of spiritual beauty emanating from a life wisely lived according to the ensemble of all of the heart’s deepest loves. When people indulge in sexual activity contrary to a wisely orchestrated ensemble of loves, radiant purity is lost. There is a signal to the one who loses it – a disturbance of the spirit – yet this signal does not survive all resistance. Repeated fornication without repentance eventually silences the heart’s cry for purity, chastity, innocence. What replaces that cry is a progressively deeper set of rationalizations, and finally a sort of inner death. In such spiritual death no one remembers purity, innocence, the radiance of the chaste. It all seems extremely foreign,  laughable, and detestable. Hence, Pope Gregory the Great named hatred of God, aversion from supernatural realities, blindness to the destruction of sexual wrongdoing, and other dark things as fruits of sexual sin. The state of our society displays his point.

In general, therefore, what makes a sexual act to be wrong is that it is contrary to what you yourself want most for yourself, it is contrary to being the kind of person that you yourself want to become. What you really and originally want in the depth of your heart is (among other things) to be innocent, pure, radiant, but what you become by sexual wrongdoing is impure. And one of the final effects of unrepented sexual sin is the loss of any desire for purity, a kind of mutation of the heart.

So it is with self-sterilized sex. What you originally and really want in your own heart is to be pure, to be free, to affirm and be affirmed as a personal totality in the marital act, to be ever open to life, to know God, and you want ten thousand other good personal qualities wisely orchestrated. Who has the sagacity to name all the desires of your heart? Whatever they all may be, chastity is integration. It is the integration of one’s sexuality into the whole ensemble of your heart’s desires. Self-sterilized sex cuts against all of these things that you yourself really want. It cuts against this spiritual quality of radiant purity by placing pleasure above openness to life. It cuts against freedom by gradually enslaving the person and undermining self-mastery. It cuts against the total affirmation of the other in the marital act because it deliberately insists upon the suppression of the person’s fertility – a form of disrespect. It sets the stage for every form of disrespectfulness. It cuts against being ever open to life, and speaking theologically it is rebellion against God’s wisdom. When it goes on unrepented, there is a kind of mutation of the heart to the point that one can only ask: “what could possibly be wrong with it?” Self-sterilized sex, like all sexual sin, is personally dis-integrating. One can look around at our society for abundant experiential corroboration of that claim. Mary Eberstadt has a good book documenting the effects of contraceptives in our society, Adam and Eve after the Pill. For all of these reasons, self-sterilized sex is “unworthy of the human person” (Humane Vitae, 14). 

How has the use of contraception influenced our culture especially our understandings of sexuality and marriage? 

I would take a look at Mary Eberstadt’s book for a full description.

Earlier you said the Church’s teaching on contraception is not just a norm but a light. Could you explain that?

Let us consider two examples. Consider a mother who tells who small child: “eat your vegetables or you will get sick.” Now, consider a judge in court who says to someone: “put that cell phone away or you will be fined.” Both make similar statements. Both use practical language: “do this or else…” But what a difference there is between the mother and the judge! The mother aims not to threaten the child, but to educate him about himself. It is not an adversarial context, but a context of love. Loving the child, she aims to explain to the child the way he is set up as a human being. Trusting his mother, he gradually learns that vegetables are what he really wants even though they seem bad because they are repugnant in many respects. Armed with this knowledge of himself, he grows in his ability freely to choose good healthy foods, and will eventually learn to do so by habit. The judge, on the other hand, aims not to educate the cell phone user but to put his will in check – to control his behavior. It is an adversarial context, and the judge aims to threaten and bind. In the first context, the love-wisdom-pedagogy context, the truth of the speaker’s “do this or else” language is based on what the listener is – the listener’s nature. It reveals the listener to himself. In the adversarial-power-control context, however, the truth of the “do this or else” language is based on something outside the listener and is based merely on the speaker’s will. The judge invents, imposes, enforces a norm about cell phone usage. The mother does not invent, impose, or enforce the truth about vegetables being healthy. Rather, she knows the way things really are, lives by it, reveals it, and points out the dangers and deceptions of doing otherwise. The judge establishes a norm. The mother illuminates the truth. How do you see your relationship with the Church? Do you interpret her moral teachings as if it were an adversarial context or a love context?

What are the positive results of living chastely, following the teachings of the Church?

Over the years, I have been blessed to watch the conversions of a number of young adults all over the country – both male and female. All of them at one point were living what the world says is a good, happy, and free way to live. They were sexually active in every way contrary to the teaching of the Church. What they experienced, however, was the opposite of goodness, happiness, and freedom. Like the prodigal son, by their own choices they all turned their own lives into a pig pen. So many times I have seen Jesus Christ reach into people’s lives, call them out of their way of life, overwhelm them with his mercy, and transform them. Through a long process called repentance I have seen them changed before my very eyes. The change usually takes years (since the consequences of sexual sin are so deeply internalized), but as soon as it starts the person comes back to life. There is a new innocence. There is a new freedom. There is healing from a broken heart. There is a new sense of worth that can be found in Christ Jesus. Christ knows how to wash us in his blood, and make us white again. All I can say is that when I consider the “before and after” in each person’s life, the spiritual beauty of the chaste ones is beyond words.

Leave a comment

Aristotle on the Family

Philosophy in the Catholic Church

By Jeffery Dirk Wilson, Ph.D

Why should a Catholic be interested in what Aristotle has to say about the family? Church teachings are clear, after all. Who needs a pagan Greek philosopher in such a case? To answer that question, we need to consider the circumstance of the committed Catholic in America today.

How can a Catholic, committed to the Church’s teaching as universal truth, talk about that truth to non- Christians, Christians of other ecclesial communities, and even to many fellow Catholics? We are told that though we are entitled to our beliefs, we do not have a right to impose them on others. Our beliefs belong to the private sphere of activity, but “imposing them on others” shifts into the public sphere of lawmaking. “Beliefs” are religious, while laws have to do with politics. What is called “separation of church and state” becomes a separation of religious faith and public policy. In a sense, John F. Kennedy acknowledged this second separation as a stipulation for Catholics to participate in the public life of the United States. On September 12, 1960—less than two months before the general election in which he would be elected president—he addressed the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, an organization of Protestant clergy, in order to counter the concerns about his status as a Catholic. In what has become a literary monument in America’s long history on the subject of church and state, he said, “Whatever issue may come before me as—on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject—I will make my decision . . . in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates.” (Kennedy). Kennedy’s stipulation is in full force fifty-three years later for Catholics operating in the political realm. A Catholic arguing theologically simply has no credibility in the American public square.

The good news is that the Catholic Church not only has a theology, but also a philosophy. The normative, though not exclusive, philosophy of the Catholic Church—reading Aeterni Patris with Fides et Ratio—is Thomism, the philosophical thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. Here is a problem, however, in using St. Thomas as an authority in conversations with non-Catholics: he isperceived more as a theologian than as a philosopher and thus is disqualified by non-Catholiclisteners. Even when considered as a philosopher, he is a Catholic philosopher; indeed, he is pre-eminently the Catholic philosopher. St. Thomas, however, shows us a way to talk with those who have no interest in Catholic teaching on the family. Aquinas holds Aristotle in high regard.In fact, he calls Aristotle “the philosopher.” This high esteem suggests the idea that Aristotle (384-322 B.C.)—the pagan Greek philosopher who seems not to have known Judaism and who lived before the advent of Christianity—might provide the basis for Catholic conversations with non-Christians, non-Catholic Christians, and even with Catholics who want to distinguish their private lives from their participation in the public square. What does Aristotle have to say about the family? By examining just one specific passage, Nicomachean Ethics 8.1162a15-30, we learn much about how to talk with our neighbors about what the Church teaches without even mentioning that the Church teaches it.

In his Ethics, Aristotle discusses what it means to be a good human being, which for him was co-extensive with being a good citizen. He begins the work by observing that all human endeavors “aim at some good.” (Aristotle 1.1094a1-2). A few lines later, he concludes that politics is the “master art” of the good (Eth. Nic.1094a25-28). In other words, the standards and processes by which a human becomes good (i.e., morally and intellectually good in the fullness of humanity) are political. While Aristotle recognizes various private spheres, they are not compartmentalized in some strictly separated way. Private spheres not only play their parts in public life, they substantially (though not solely) determine the character of public life. The entirety of the Nicomachean Ethics is a kind of citizen’s prelude to Aristotle’s Politics, as he makes clear in the final chapter of the Ethics. He addresses the notion that the life of the household is a strictly private—nobody-else’s-business—kind of sphere by evoking Odysseus’s unhappy visit to the Cyclopes where “each man lives as he pleases . . . ‘to his own wife and children dealing law’. Now it is best that there should be a public and proper care for such matters; but if they are neglected by the community it would seem right for each man to help his children and friends towards excellence [virtue].” (Eth. Nic. 10.1179b27-23). The Cyclopes were considered, in Homer as well as by Aristotle, to be sub-human. Aristotle points to the separation of the household from the common life of the political community as one reason why the Cyclopes were not fully human. The right constitution of the household is essentially constituent to the right kind of political community.

The discussion about the family in the Ethics comes in Books 8 and 9 where Aristotle unfolds his philosophy of friendship. Aristotle begins—in one of the most lyrical passages of his entire corpus—by stating, “Between man and wife friendship seems to exist by nature; for man is naturally inclined to form couples—even more than to form cities, inasmuch as the household is earlier and more necessary than the city, and reproduction is more common to man than with the animals.” (Eth. Nic. 8.1162a16-20). First, Aristotle holds that marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman, and between one man and one woman. That point is all the more significant because in the fourth century Greek world in which he lived, male homosexuality was rampant. The Greeks of both fifth and fourth centuries B.C. never proposed homosexual marriage as an alternative for monogamous heterosexual marriage. The 21st century American who wants to argue for homosexual marriage might point out that Aristotle links marriage of man and woman to procreation, and that one of the things which makes same-gender marriage practicable today is the technological ability to separate sex from reproduction, even if one holds the view that children are a necessary end of marriage to begin with, which many do not. That point is easily countered, since same-gender sex has always separated sex from reproduction in that homosexual sex, either male or female, cannot result in the procreation of a child.

Monogamous marriage between a man and woman is, Aristotle says, “by nature.” Aristotle’s understanding of nature includes the modern sense of “how things are,” but Aristotle adds “at their highest and best.” (Politics 11252b32-33). Aristotelian nature begins with what we observe but concludes with the optimum. For example, Aristotle sees that it is in the nature of an apple to rot, but he does not think a rotten apple fulfils the nature of an apple, because he thinks that an apple is for some end (e.g., eating). It is the apple perfect in its ripeness which fulfills the nature of apple. So, there is what is natural, i.e., what will happen if you let it, and there is nature, i.e., what a thing is at its highest and best for some end. Since the days of Sir Francis Bacon (A.D. 1561-1626), Aristotle’s biological view of the world has been attacked. Even so, when Bacon and those who join him in rejecting Aristotle’s biology go to an orchard or produce section in the grocery store, they universally prefer ripe apples to rotten ones. That is to say, in practice we are all Aristotelians acting upon the premise that nature is not merely what happens, but what a thing is at its best. It is in this highest and best sense of nature that Aristotle says, “Between man and wife friendship seems to exist by nature.” Someone might complain that this is a very human-centered view of the world. In some ways, it is, but clearly questions concerning marriage and family are necessarily more human centered than those concerning apples. If, when eating apples, we want nature at its highest and best, surely in marrying and forming families it is all the more imperative and desirable to seek optimal nature.

How easy it would have been for Aristotle to have written, “Between man and wife marriage seems to exist by nature”! How lovely that where he might have said, “marriage,” he writes, “friendship”! Even though reproduction is inherent to marriage, reproduction is in no way the only condition for marriage. Aristotle observes, “With other animals the union extends only to this point [for reproduction], but human beings live together not only for the sake of reproduction but also for the various purposes of life.” (Eth. Nic. 8.1162a20-22). The good life requires friendship, (Eth. Nic. 8.1155a3). and marriage is, by nature, at its highest and best, a friendship between one man and one woman. Aristotle has already given an account of three kinds of friendship, based respectively on utility, pleasure, and virtue. (Eth. Nic. Book 8, chapters 1-4). The friendship of marriage must at least be useful and pleasant. One of the benefits of marriage is the division of labor (Eth. Nic. 8.1162a24-25). Anyone who has lived alone for a prolonged period knows how difficult it is to get everything done. Husband and wife can take on different responsibilities for the household and work together. There are lots of chores which, when done alone, are tedious, but when done with someone else, can actually be fun. Whether in the kitchen or the yard, planning a vacation or doing taxes, “‘Two going together’” is the best, says Aristotle, quoting and then elaborating a Greek proverb, “for with friends men [human beings] are more able both to think and to act.” (Eth. Nic. 8.1155a15-16). Husband and wife take the qualities each has uniquely, and transform them into a shared common good (Eth. Nic. 8.1155a23-24). Professor Russell Hittinger of the University of Tulsa defines “the common good” as “what cannot be cashed out.” (Hittinger). Put severely, the common good is what cannot be divided in a divorce settlement. A synergy emerges when working together which cannot result from working alone. Such synergy supervenes upon the activity. It inheres in the sharedness of the activity.

Aristotle also says that children are a common good in marriage (Eth. Nic. 8.1162a27-29). We can easily miss a subtle and important point here. In marital sex, husband and wife take what each has uniquely—maleness and femaleness—and transform them into a common good shared together. This distinguishes marital sex from mere animal reproductive sex or, for that matter, human recreational sex. The unitive power of creating and preserving a common good supervenes on marital sex. It is an indivisible common good of which conceiving a child is a wondrous sign. This must be part of what Aristotle means when he says that “reproduction is more common to man than with other animals.” (Eth. Nic. 8.1162a19-20). Yes, certainly, he means the simple biological fact that humans can and do have sex at any time while other animals only have sex when the female is in heat. But why do humans have sex in season and out? It is the unitive nature of human sexual intercourse which makes it qualitatively other than mere animal reproduction. Modern technology has made it possible to separate human sex and reproduction, but it has not and cannot separate human sex from the unitive power to create and preserve common good between man and woman. When women and men seek sexual pleasure independent of marital commitment they crash on this truth, fragmenting and alienating the human person. This was one of Paul VI’s concerns in Humanae vitae. Promiscuity is destructive of truly human being. In a day when even Catholics have stopped listening to Paul VI, perhaps we can get them to hearken unto Aristotle.

The friendship of virtue is the third and best kind. If the husband and wife are themselves virtuous, then their marriage can be a friendship of virtue as well as a friendship of utility and pleasure. Of course, some measure of moral and intellectual virtue is necessary in the friendships of utility and pleasure. I can only have a friendship of utility with my auto mechanic as long as he both knows how to maintain and repair my car and charges me fairly and, on my side, as long as I pay him fully and promptly. The friendship of pleasure shall only last a brief time if my friend is forever forgetting his wallet when we go out for pizza. It is not any fun to be with someone who takes advantage of another. In marriage, utility and pleasure must imply the knowledge of mutual good will, which is the essential criterion of any friendship (Eth. Nic. 8.1155b27-1156a5). In the friendship of virtue, however, the virtue of each friend is the primary basis. That we enjoy each other’s company and that we are perhaps useful to each other may play their parts, but the essential thing to ground a relationship is to be steadfastly true. Aristotle said that marriage can be a friendship of virtue. Everything he says in Book 9, Chapters 8-10, about friendships of virtue is applicable to this brief discussion of marriage. Indeed, much of what Aristotle says there about the friendship of virtue is pre-eminently true when marriage is founded as such a friendship. Aristotle finds much in popular wisdom on which to build his own views. A friend “acts for his friend’s sake, and sacrifices his own interest.” (Eth. Nic. 9.1168a33-34). Reading that passage with 8.1162a16-29, for “friend of virtue,” let us substitute the word “spouse.” The spouse is one’s second self: “All the proverbs, too, agree with this, e.g. ‘a single soul’, and ‘what friends have is common property’, and ‘friendship is equality’, and ‘charity begins at home’: for all these marks will be found in a man’s relation to himself; he is his own best friend and therefore ought to love himself best.” (Eth. Nic. 1168b6-10 and Eth. Nic. 9.1169a12-13). Husband and wife love each other as extensions of themselves. Thus, their love becomes a very high order common good which penetrates all their activities, knitting them ever more intimately one.

In his Politics, Aristotle says—and this is one of his most famous pronouncements—that the human being “is by nature a political animal” (1.1253a3). In the passage being examined from the Nicomachean Ethics, he affirms that human beings are even more coupling than political (Eth. Nic. 8.1162a17-18). In the context, I think it is fair to translate this as “more marrying than political.” He explains the truth of this, “The household is earlier and more necessary than the city.” (Eth. Nic. 8.1162a18-19). The household or family, is foundational to human life, in general, and foundational to the political community, in specific. The political neglect of the family endangers the commonwealth of the civil body politick, for the family is the first good common to the larger community. For things to be well with the political whole, things must be well with household parts. For Aristotle, politics begins at home, and a politics which neglects the household endangers the commonwealth.

A Catholic can make a strong case for the basics of our Church’s teaching on the family without reference to encyclicals or theology. Our old friend, Aristotle, is there to help us. This is no accident. The underlying claim here is that Catholic teaching on the family is consistent with human reason and discoverable through human reason. Pope Benedict XVI, in what is most commonly known as his “Regensburg Address,” asks, “Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God’s nature merely a Greek idea?” He answers, “I believe that here we can see the profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the Biblical understanding of faith in God.” He points to “the intrinsic necessity of a rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek inquiry.” He goes on to insist, “The faith of the Church has always insisted that between God and us, between his eternal Creator Spirit and our created reason, there exists a real analogy” (Benedict XVI) When Catholics want to enter the debate on public questions, and especially in matters that relate to legislation, administrative acts, or court decisions, we cannot be effective by citing our Biblical faith or the eternal Creator Spirit. We can, however, argue from Greek inquiry and human reason. We may not be able to get prayer and the Bible into the public schools, but there is no principled obstacle to getting Aristotle into the schools. He is our stealth weapon in the culture wars, because we know that if we can get people to realize how much they already agree with Aristotle (who is buying rotten apples, after all?), then we shall have carried them half-way to accepting our Church’s teaching on the family

Works Cited
Aristotle, The Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation. ed. Jonathan Barnes. 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995), 1.1094a1-2.
Benedict XVI, Faith, Reason and the University: Memories and Reflections, September 2, 2006, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2006.
Kennedy, John F. “Transcript: JFK’s Speech on His Religion”. NPR.org. 5 December 2007. 6 October 2013.
Russell Hittinger, Lecture, Dominican House of Studies, Washington, D.C. January 26, 2012.
Leave a comment

Sex and the City of God

Exploring the Connection between Sex and Life Issues

By John S. Grabowski, Ph.D.

According to recent reports and columns in the New York Times, in his September interview, Pope Francis decried the Church’s recent “obsession” with issues such as homosexuality, abortion, and birth control, and “brushed aside the contraception wars” (New York Times [New York], 19 September, 2013; and 21 September, 2013). Missed in this outburst of unabashed ideological jubilation masquerading as journalism or serious commentary was the heart of the Pope’s message in his recent interview: the Church’s need to re-focus itself on the proclamation of Jesus Christ and the salvation he offers to those who encounter him. This is consonant with the message of his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei. There, speaking about faith as a kind of gaze, he stated: “faith- knowledge does not direct our gaze to a purely inward truth. The truth which faith discloses to us is centered on an encounter with Christ, on the contemplation of his life, and on the awareness of his presence.” (Pope Francis 2013, no. 30). In this, he was doing no more than articulating a theme prominent in the teaching of both of his predecessors, who themselves were seeking to focus the Church’s attention on the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, that Christ “reveals man to himself” (Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes 1965, no. 22).

Even less noticed in the public mis-reportage of Pope Francis is his continuation of the teaching of his predecessors—and indeed the whole of the Catholic tradition—on the fundamental significance of sexual difference for an understanding of marriage and the place of sex within it. Speaking of faith’s illumination of the reality of the family Pope Francis teaches: 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 born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgement 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. (Pope Francis 2013, no. 52). The Pope here speaks of the way in which faith deepens our perception of the goodness and meaning of a natural human reality—the life-giving sexual union of male and female in marriage. Like his predecessors, he allows biblical revelation to direct our gaze to the fundamental connection between sex and life, describing the begetting of children as “a sign of the love of the Creator who entrusts us with the mystery of a new person” (Pope Francis 2013, no. 52).

Freud famously linked sex (eros) and death (thanatos) in a struggle at the heart of existence. Christian tradition, as evidenced by the teaching of recent popes, has focused instead on the link between sex and life. While this association may seem to be obvious or self-evident, recent social and political developments indicate that it is not. In fact, the connection seems to be increasingly obscure within our culture and many of its practices. Hence I will argue in what follows that an adequate engagement of issues affecting human life requires attention to the prior reality of sex and its life-giving potential. I will proceed by first following Pope Francis’ lead to briefly consider the link between sex and human life in creation accounts of Genesis. I will then note a few examples of how this link has become increasingly tenuous and opaque to our own culture. Finally, I will mention the relevance of this link for those married and unmarried Christians who find themselves within our present cultural milieu.

First, however, a word of definition is in order as to how I am using the ambiguous and often highly controversial term “sex”. Before it becomes something that we do, sex is something that we are. That is, sex is first a description of our being. The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it well: “Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul. It especially concerns affectivity, the capacity to love and procreate, and in a more general way the aptitude for forming bonds of communion with others” (CCC, 2nd ed., 1997, no. 2332). It used to be common to refer to sexual differentiation as “gender”, but since this term has become a technical term in some feminist discussion with a specialized (and debated) meaning, I will avoid it here. Instead, I will speak of sexual differentiation as denoting the existence of the human person as male or female, and sexual activity as the bodily gift of oneself to another through genital sexual expression.

The very first chapter of the Bible confronts us with the reality of a sexually differentiated humanity as an aspect of the image of God. Man (adam) is both “male and female” (cf. Gen. 1:27). This image is exercised as human dominion over creation (cf. Gen. 1:26 and 1:28), in which humanity reflects God’s authority in creation by acting as its steward. But it is also reflected in the mutual relation of male and female which is the basis of all human life and community. Genesis 1:28 tells us that this union of male and female is “blessed,” meaning that it becomes life-giving principle in the world as it leads to the creation of new human life bearing the image of its Creator.

The second and older story of creation describes the relationship of male and female in covenantal language (cf. Gen. 2:21-24), and intimates that sexual intimacy is the sign which ratifies the covenant of marriage (cf. Gen. 2:25; see Grabowski 2003, 21-38). The story does not explicitly mention the connection of sexual activity with the gift of human procreation, but this connection is supplied by the wider canonical context—not only Genesis 1:28 but Genesis 4:1 as well. Blessed Pope John Paul II, in his Theology of the Body catecheses, describes sexual activity as an aspect of “the language of the body” in which the body communicates the interpersonal gift of self precisely through its masculinity and femininity. Genesis 4:1 links this gift with the life-giving potential of sex under the rubric of “knowledge.” In sexual union, man and woman not only come to “know” each other more truly as spouses (“Adam knew his wife Eve” [Gen 4:1a]), but as potential parents (“and she conceived and bore a son, saying I’ve conceived a man with the help of the Lord”[Gen. 4:1-b-d]; see John Paul II 2006, 205-14). An awareness of the connection between sex and the gift of human life permeates the whole of the Catholic tradition. For Saint Augustine, the good of offspring (bonum proles) was the chief good of marriage, and only sexual activity between husband and wife aimed at this end was “without fault” (Augustine 1995, no. 6, p.17). For Saint Thomas Aquinas, the goodness of marriage as natural reality was evident to reason, and therefore practical reason could identify offenses against it, such as adultery, fornication, divorce, or polygamy, as contrary to the primary precepts of natural law. With the rise of a more developed sacramental theology in the Middle Ages, Thomas and other scholastic thinkers also gave increasing attention to the interpersonal aspects of marital sex (i.e., fidelity, friendship, and pleasure), contextualizing without repudiating the primary orientation of sex to the creation of human life. This growing interpersonal focus of Catholic reflection on marriage would flower in 20th century personalist thought. Pope Paul VI, in his landmark encyclical Humanae Vitae, acknowledged this development in his teaching concerning the “inseparable connection” between the “unitive” (i.e., interpersonal) and procreative meanings of human sexuality (Paul VI 1968, no. 11).

But as innovative as this teaching may seem, it was this encyclical’s traditional reiteration of the prohibition of contraception that drew most of the public attention and sparked most of the controversy. In spite of its prophetic warnings of what would happen to human relationships and sex itself if contraception were to be widely adopted and used, by 1968, the wider culture of the industrialized world and many within the Church had already accepted contraceptive use as a necessary and welcome part of modern life. The results exceeded even the dire warnings of Paul VI. Contraception effectively severed the cords of faith and reason which had bound marriage, sex, and childbirth together, making them dissociated realities to be combined (or not) at the discretion of individuals. The sexual revolution, powered by oral contraception, turned the culture of the industrialized world upside down, producing staggering increases in rates of extra-marital sex, divorce, and abortion (Eberstadt 2013).

We continue to witness the fallout of this revolution in our own day in a variety of areas as our post-Christian culture becomes more and more distant from the light of faith which once shaped it. It suffices here to point to three significant examples. First, many Christians in the United States have professed dismay as state after state has jumped on the bandwagon to legalize same-sex marriage. However, they fail to realize that this is simply the logical outcome of the dissociation of marriage from childbearing, the effects of widespread recourse to contraception, abortion, and divorce. If marriage is not a divinely ordained institution, but merely a contrivance in which individuals pursue a private happiness, there are not good arguments to be made against its further redefinition in this way. Second, other Christians describe themselves as “pro-life”, but have no moral qualms with contraceptive use by individuals or couples. This not only closes a blind eye to recent history, but it ignores other important facts as well, such as the abortifacient character of some contraceptives or the fact that, contrary to the rhetoric of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, legalized contraception has led to an increase in abortions in every place where it has been adopted. Third, the utter confusion about the meaning of sexual activity and its connection to life is both flaunted and reinforced by the rising flood of pornography in culture, media, and on the internet. Pornography completes the dissociation of marriage, sex, and procreation, creating a vicious circle that empties sexual expression of any element of interpersonal meaning beyond momentary physical pleasure in sexual release.

It is difficult to live within such a culture without being affected by the pain which such confusion creates. A growing number of studies catalogue the wounds done to people’s minds and hearts by divorce, the hook-up culture, abortion, and compulsive use of pornography. Pope Francis’ description of the Church in his recent interview as a “field hospital” where the wounded are treated rings true in the face of such widespread pain. Both married and single Christians face new challenges in living out their baptismal promises and trying to offer a countercultural alternative with lives of fidelity and chastity in the midst of devastation. Chastity is not primarily following a set of rules, but a growth in the integration of our sexual drives and search for love into the fabric of an authentic human and of Christian friendships. When we fail and fall short, the answer is not lowering the bar of Christian morality, but recourse to God’s mercy made available through Christ and the Church (see Grabowski 2003, 159-63).

Thus, the defense of human life in a culture such as that of the United States and Europe requires a renewed attention to the multifaceted reality of human sexuality to which it is connected. While reason itself ought to be able to discern the connection between marriage, sex, and the generation of new human life, this seemingly obvious set of connections appears to have become increasingly opaque to many in the culture around us. Hence, as Pope Francis reminds us, our consideration of these basic human realities has to be illuminated by faith—faith that is the fruit of the encounter with Christ. This faith can dispel the darkness generated by our own personal sin and the evil which has permeated the culture around us, overcoming it with the mercy and healing of the gospel.

Works Cited
Augustine, Saint. De bono conjugali (On the Good of Marriage). In The Fathers of the Church 15. Washington, DC: CUA Press, 1955.
Bruni, Frank. “The Pope’s Radical Whisper.” Op-ed column. New York Times. 21 September, 2013.
Benedict XVI, Pope. Encyclical Letter. Deus caritas est. Vatican translation. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2005.
Carnes, Patrick. Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction. Center cIty, MN: Hazelden, 2001.
Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd edition. Trans. U.S.C.C. Washington: U.S.C.C., 1997.
Eberstadt, Mary. Adam, Eve and the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution. San Francisco: Ignatius, 2013.
Francis, Pope. Encyclical Letter. Lumen fidei. Vatican translation. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2013.
Grabowski, John. Sex and Virtue: An Introduction to Sexual Ethics. Catholic Moral Thought Series. Washington: CUA Press, 2003.
John Paul II, Pope. Encyclical Letter. Veritatis splendor. Vatican translation. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1993.
———–. Man and Woman He Created Then: A Theology of the Body. Ed. And trans. Michael Waldstein. Boston: Pauline, 2006.
Paul VI, Pope. Encyclical Letter. Humanae vitae. Vatican translation. Accessed October 14, 2013.
“Pope Says Church Is ‘Obsessed’ With Gays, Abortion and Birth Control.” New York Times. 19 September, 2013.
Second Vatican Council. Pastoral Constitution on the Church. Gaudium et spes. Vatican translation. Accessed October 11, 2013.
Leave a comment

Keeping Clear of the Rhetorical Mud

Talking Publicly about the Pro-Life Cause

By Kevin Fields

When I was an undergrad, I served as an intern for a local elected official. One day, a staffer started screaming from his office. I ran in to find him frantically tuning for the news station on his television. A state official from another political party announced their resignation from civil office due to a scandal of vice. The staffer began to celebrate the news and call his peers with delight. It was disheartening to see a co-worker rejoice over the personal demise of a political opponent. The incident deterred me from pursuing a career in politics and campaigning. If God was calling me to public service, He wanted me to pull people out of the mud, not jump into it.

As witnesses for the respect of natural life and human sexuality, we do not seek to tarnish those who disagree with us. We recognize their dignity as children of God. Therefore, we must avoid the exclusive rhetoric that does not help pull our neighbors from the mud. If our rhetoric sustains division and emboldens an “us and them” mentality, progress will be slow. For example, using the terms “heterosexual” and “homosexual” fuels this division. Such terms reflect bodily attraction, as in a “heterosexual” is attracted to someone of the opposite gender. Terms of human distinction cannot serve as primary messages in the rhetoric of sexuality and respect for human life. We want our message and response to be promulgated from God’s concrete reason, not from what is expedient in the abstract secular world. This means avoiding both fragmentation and creating enemies. If we put extra effort in our rhetoric and message delivery, the dialogue about sexuality and pro-life issues will lead to a conversion of hearts. 

While our dialogue must be simple and full of zeal, our method for dialogue dictates how we must communicate. When our dialogue involves social media, people can fail to decipher a civil tone from a confrontational tone. Word choice is crucial. Words of courtesy and professionalism need to be added to convey our respect. Because of character limits in social networking, primacy must be given to words that support our message instead of words that condemn other people. 

For spoken dialogue, parliamentary language may produce an opposite effect from written dialogue. While such language establishes a polite tone, phrases such as “with all due  respect” and “in response to my esteemed friend” dilute the effects of our strong message. Ideally, publicly spoken words will already convey a diplomatic tone. Therefore, we can jump right into the core of our message. In both arenas of dialogue, we must avoid diving headfirst into the rhetorical mud and instead offer a clear message for others to understand and embrace.

In the discussion of sexuality, here are some key points in using the right rhetoric:

  •  See the Church’s teaching with fresh eyes. When was the last time you looked up the Church’s teaching on sexuality? Whether it has been a month or several years, pick up the Catechism of the Catholic Church and read the Church’s message (CCC 2331-2400) as if you were reading it for the first time. By clearing out biases from political movements and secular influences, we can renew ourselves with a fresh understanding of what God is teaching us.
  • Exemplify the Church’s teaching on Love. Those who have found their vocation should live out their calling from God to the fullest. Those called to marriage should not shy away from loving their spouse unconditionally and should be open to the possibility of children. Those called to the priesthood or consecrated life should not shy away from living a life dedicated to love of God and the Church. Vocations from God that are answered lead to true respect for human life and greater love for all of God’s children. 
  • Do not be discouraged by messages and acts of hate. A response from others must not undermine the love that we have for each and for every human being on earth. We must not cease in loving and praying for those that disagree with our message of love. If you feel pain as a result of another’s words or actions to your peaceful message, turn to Jesus and bring that suffering to Him by praying before the Cross.

Ultimately, Jesus Christ is the ideal example to emulate. Even though He once overturned tables in the Temple to get His point across, His message affirms peace and life. There is no confusion regarding what Christ taught His disciples and what Christ teaches us through the Gospels. He is always clear in His message of life and love. We are tasked to defend and promote a message from God in a world that is not centered on God. Our dialogue must mirror our life, and our life must mirror Christ. Let us lift our brothers and sisters out of the mud and together seek the kingdom of God.

Leave a comment

Chaplain’s Corner: The Heart of the Matter

By Father Edwin Dwyer

The pro-life movement is often reduced to mere political activity. It is certainly true that politics is at the forefront of the war for life. Tireless many have lobbied, campaigned, voted, and donated to chip away at the culture of death. It is fitting and proper that this work continues, and I commend anyone who is a part of this work.

The political front seems to be where all the major battles are, or at least all the ones that get the most attention. One state passes a parental notification law. Another state starts distributing the morning after pill at school. The media loudly covers these events. The fronts, however, are not necessarily where wars are won. Wars are won through more covert operations; the operations that undermine the enemy’s plan. The more these victories are won, the more the momentum on the front turns our way.

But what are these missions? On occasion Live Action will do a literal covert operation to expose various evils. But there is a different type of secret mission, and that is the mission of earning the trust of those at risk of obtaining an abortion. This is the genuine trust that one human being places in the hands of another about an incredibly personal matter, like an unexpected pregnancy.

Trust is fragile; it takes a long time to build and a moment to shatter. Those who find themselves in crisis pregnancies often do not believe that anyone, including Christians, will care for them, so they refuse to place their trust in them. A number of factors contribute to this problem; the media’s portrayal of believers is partially to blame, but so are the harsh interactions with some believers. Those of us who stand up for life should be vocal, but we should always be vocal with charity. People are always listening and forming perceptions, and the way in which we discuss life issues can sometimes be, literally, a matter of life and death.

The enemy will use propaganda to portray our beliefs as uncaring, judgmental, and harsh. The  best response is to make loving contact with all we meet. To communicate the same type of love that Christ communicated at the well when he spoke with the adulterous woman. In so doing, women will be more likely to turn to our helping hands in such crises rather than to Planned Parenthood. Christians need to have built up trust in our mission so that we may bring the beauty of these children to the light to the dark, secret moments of vulnerability. We have to fight the false portrayal of Christianity with authentic care for each person. Maybe nobody will ever come to you with a crisis pregnancy, but perhaps your witness will help build a community of trust which can then find the right financial, spiritual, and emotional support for the new mother and a life will be won.

Leave a comment

Chaplain’s Corner: The Pro-Life Discussion

By Brother Ryan Gebhart, OFM Cap.

The Pro-Life agenda has been a topic of discussion for quite some time now; our Holy Father Pope Francis commented on it recently, which stirred even more debate. Some have misconstrued his comments as a shifting of the doctrine away from the Pro-Life position toward the Pro-Choice stance. However, such comments miss the entire point of his statement. He called for a shift from discussion, to action. Unfortunately, the main actions promoted in our society are political ones. We’ve been divided once again and both sides view the other as ignorant or worse. But the question I would like to raise is how are we, as pro-lifers, supposed to act?

The death of every person is truly a tragedy and we have reached a point in our society where we can kill each other through indifference. I would like to ask everyone to consider how many of our sisters and brothers are killed by indifference.

There are so many people around us that we choose to ignore, toward whom we are indifferent. It is our way of either avoiding the problem at hand or worse, simply not caring that a person exists. When walking down the street do we notice the people around us and acknowledge their human dignity? Do we give our sisters and brothers a chance to enter our lives? Do we give them the chance to be loved in their human dignity or do we pretend to not notice them and keep them out of our hearts?

Imagine a world where we saw our sisters and brothers as they actually are; the incredible gift of every human person, the beauty inherent in each, the uniqueness that makes them who they are, but most importantly, the dear child of God that each person is. How would we act? Would we remain indifferent towards them? Would we be willing to stand up and defend them? Could we at least acknowledge them?

If we proclaim ourselves as pro-life let us love our sisters and brothers, not only the ones we are close to, but also those we keep distant and those we ignore. Let us be pro-all-of-life. Let us not pass by indifferently. What the world truly needs now is love shown to all its inhabitants. God desires His love shown to all our sisters and brothers. Love is a wonderful gift that by its very nature must be shared. By narrowing our pro-life view to only abortion and unnatural death, how many people are we ignoring and not loving? The Earth is full of people who are ignored and thus deprived of their proper dignity. Let us enter that mystery of love and truly respect all of human life at all stages.

Leave a comment

Womanliness: The Art of Being a Woman

By Amber Bennett

When God Made man, “He made them male and female” (Genesis 5:2). Male and female, as  biologically defined sexes, are tied to a deeper nature which transcends that biological definition. Womanliness, a deeply inherent femininity, contains within it a certain character which the feminine person participates in: a character inherent in the classically feminine roles of both motherhood and sisterhood. These interpersonal relationships can certainly be characterized and explained within their classic biological context, but what is more enlightening is how womanliness in a spiritual sense plays out in a woman’s daily life. This spiritual womanliness manifests through a variety of facets of character, in varying relative measure, in each woman. I have here narrowed these facets down to four broad categories—woman as nurturer or caregiver,  woman as mentor or guide, woman as role model, and woman as confidante. These facets are highly interconnected, and all are intimately present in every woman, though one or two tend to be most prominent. To invoke useful imagery, each type of woman will be named by a light which symbolizes a unique spiritual personality.

The woman who operates chiefly or best as nurturer or caregiver is one who is gifted with a profound sense for hospitality, who enjoys opening her home and her arms to those around her. She is that young woman who acts as a pseudo-mother to those around her, and who  is most fulfilled when she is operating as such. This woman, like a fireplace, operates as a nurturer. She finds joy in hosting people, in homemaking, and in opening herself to people who are hurting. People come to her when they are in pain because she exudes a sense of warmth and safety. She is spiritually a mother figure, even to her peers. She finds that she works best and is most fulfilled when acting as a mother. By fostering these nurturing gifts, a woman is able to contribute immensely to the health—physically and spiritually—and wholesomeness of the people around her.

The woman who is primarily a mentor or guide is often marked with wisdom; certainly as a woman grows older she becomes more adept at this. She is most fulfilled in the context of teaching or guiding her spiritual peers. She is like a bright sunlight, illuminating the truth for those around her. People come to her when they are uncertain and she is happiest when explaining things or giving advice. She also operates as a nurturer and these traits dovetail in her beautifully. As a mentor or guide, this woman serves also as a mother and with being a wife—her wisdom lets her cut clearly to the problems faced by those around her, and allows her to contribute to their growth and decisions. By serving in this manner she is able to help those around her reach their goals, and understand their own situations better.

There are those special women who by their strength of character inspire simply by who they are. These women make us want to become a better version of ourselves. As mothers these women, are those who their children model their lives after. As sisters to their peers they encourage those around them to lead lives of virtue. These women are like the North star in the lives of those around them, pointing the way to the right path. They often possess incredible peace. Simply being themselves, they are able to inspire those around them through their own ability to walk humbly with God. By the strength of their character and their devotion to virtue, women are able to lead those around them, even without realizing the effect they have.

Last is woman as confidante. This woman is able to heal others in and through fellowship. The woman who operates as a confidante is much like a lighthouse, one who does healing by means of fellowship. She is able to form a community, meeting someone where she is, providing an understanding and sympathetic ear in addition to her simple presence. By this woman’s fellowship she gives them strength, by simply being there. She fulfills their needs with a simple and unassuming presence. She is the sort of person to whom people come when they are failing, struggling, or frustrated, simply because they need someone who will listen.

Each of these distinct facets of womanhood overlap with one another, and every woman possesses them all in varying measure: the fireplace may both nurture and provide fellowship while the North star guides in addition to being a calming presence. Every woman has the ability to operate in each of these capacities, but all have the area in which they shine brightest.

The most beautiful thing about being a woman is that all women have these gifts, by nature of being women. How we choose to apply them, which attribute is our strongest, is unique to each woman. Our very beauty comes from the beauty and harmony we awaken inside those around us, through exhortation and leadership, through care-giving and compassion. The true art of being a woman, the true heart of our femininity, is our ability to apply the roles that we are biologically built to fulfill—sisterhood, and motherhood—to our spiritual and interpersonal interactions. We are built as mothers, wives, and sisters to our husbands, brothers, and children. By recognizing that these roles are not tied only to our physical selves, but also to our spiritual identities, we realize that there is much being asked of us in our daily lives. It is an art we must learn to practice that we already have intrinsically: the art of being a woman.

Leave a comment

Gender vs. Sexuality

The Root of Authentic Human Identity

By Father Carter Griffin

Gender bending is in vogue. To take one recent instance, a school in Wisconsin celebrated “School Spirit Week” with events that included a “Gender Bender Day” in which boys were
invited to dress like girls and girls like boys. These were children from kindergarten through the eighth grade. Perhaps in another age, such a stunt might have been relatively harmless. Today, however, it is not. We are living in the midst of a cultural tidal wave that began to crest at the Sexual Revolution and still has not peaked. The epicenter of its most destructive energy is focused on the traditional understanding of human sexuality and sexual behavior.

Like the Sexual Revolution itself, “gender bending” depends upon the unspoken and unexamined assumption that we can create our own sexual reality, that it is not an objective “given”. Biological sexuality is understood to be a mere chromosomal deviation, a slight DNA difference that results in the presence or absence of bodily organs that modern surgery has made optional and interchangeable. One’s gender, in contrast, is seen as a personal characteristic that one chooses, or at least discovers, influenced by cultural pressures and personal decisions. This rupture of body from spirit has contributed to a galloping, pervasive sexual confusion, no longer confined to the ivory towers of academic feminism, but also among the first graders at Tippecanoe School for the Arts and Humanities in Milwaukee.

By contrast, the traditional understanding of the human person, shared by almost every people and culture throughout history, is that sexuality is a “hardwired” characteristic of the whole person, body and soul, and is not something that we create. Without denying the role of cultural norms and personal choices, at its root sexuality is something that is given, something willed by God that contributes positively to salvation. We can only draw closer to God by the choices we make as persons, as sexual beings, as male or female. Sexual nature is not a parenthesis in the quest for holiness; it is at the heart of the quest. The very promise of the Resurrection means that created humans will be either male or female for eternity.

If sexuality is a positive good willed by God, then male and female persons must be ordered to each other in a helpful, that is to say  complementary, way. Admittedly, theories of sexual complementarity have an ambiguous history. They have, at times, been used to defend unflattering and even harmful stereotypes of masculine and feminine roles. The author and philosopher Prudence Allen calls this approach to sexual complementarity “fractional” since each was thought merely to complete the other. Allen, in contrast, argues for “integral” complementarity since males and females are complete in themselves, and yet elicit something  greater in the other. Men and women are each fully human, but together, they evoke something more – and when that complementarity is expressed in bodily union, they can even generate a new human being.

Masculinity and femininity, then, are ordered to each other and point beyond each other to the fruit of generation. In fact, given this generative capacity inscribed in human sexuality, every man, simply by being a man, is called to fatherhood, and every woman, simply by being a woman, is called to motherhood. This parenthood will not always be biological, and even in the case of biological paternity, it does not end but rather begins with conception. For a man, being a good father extends to raising, teaching, and protecting his child, naturally and supernaturally, throughout life.

Extending this insight a bit further, if every man is called to be a giver of life, to be a father in one form or another, then it follows that every man should look upon others through the eyes of paternity. How different would our college campuses, our work environments, our very families look if every man were to recognize and embrace the high calling to fatherhood he has received simply by being a man! To take a particularly powerful example, how different would the Internet be if every man recognized pornography for what it is: a betrayal of his deepest calling to give and nurture life. How could the scourge of pornography last another day if each man understood that in viewing pornography, instead of protecting others as a father, he was preying upon them as a predator?

Fashionable theories about masculinity and femininity may appear to be innocuous, even tolerant and broad-minded. Gender bending games by children seem to be harmless when read in a news article. The theories underlying this approach to human sexuality, however, have had profoundly harmful effects in real human lives. When our sexuality is not something that we are given, a treasure to be guarded, but rather something we narcissistically create and manipulate, the fabric that unites men and women in mutual support begins to unravel and sexual norms that protect families and children collapse.

The effects of this fracturing are apparent throughout our culture today in broken marriages and in the lives of abandoned, abused, and unwanted children. Gender bending, by obscuring the responsibilities that come with masculinity and femininity, has obscured the deep calling that we each have to give, nurture, and protect life as men and women. These precarious intellectual experiments have left in their wake an untold number of victims in our culture, in our families, in our schools, and on the Internet. The victims are often silent and hidden, but the suffering they endure is real. Though in doing so one might provoke shrill charges of intolerance, it is nonetheless one’s duty in properly understanding human sexuality to resist perverse theories that give rise to human suffering.

Leave a comment

Chastity: An Overwhelming Yes

By Madeline Buday

In many conversations, the mere mention of the term produces a change of subject. Many have taken chastity, which represents love, freedom, and respect of the human person, and turned it into taboo. Chastity becomes synonymous with prudishness or even religious fanaticism. Chastity becomes having no fun. Chastity: another affront on our personal freedoms and rights.

Yet, upon examination, these notions of chastity are unfounded. Society has wholly misconstrued what it means to be chaste; in fact, even the very definition of chastity in the Oxford English Dictionary bespeaks this grievous misunderstanding. It posits chastity as “the state or practice of refraining from extramarital, or especially from all, sexual intercourse.” Compare that with the definition of chastity given in the Catechism, and the depth of deviation from chastity’s true meaning becomes clear: “Chastity is the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being” (Catechism 2337). The former is simply a partial means to executing a chaste life, whereas the latter describes its successful result, its end. Hence, while chastity is now viewed as part of the ‘thou shalt’ and ‘thou shalt not’ typically associated with Christianity, chastity in reality is an overwhelming yes. A yes to love. A yes to human dignity. A yes to the gift of human sexuality. A yes to freedom.

Chastity cannot just be boiled down to not having sex, as current culture would have it. While an aspect of chastity does mandate withholding from sex, it’s only done so that an unmarried couple may come to truly love and respect each other, and moreover so that the individual “maintains the integrity of the powers of life and love placed in him” (2338). Thus, a chaste person is not being prudish so much as he is exercising the virtue of temperance. This is an important distinction to draw, as the definition of being prude and being temperate are not so different in essence, though they have different connotations today. Many fail to recognize that by being chaste, and therefore temperate, a person is not denying himself anything, but is upholding his integrity as a person.

Furthermore, it is a blatant fallacy to assume that chastity takes away a person’s freedom. On the contrary, it releases man from bondage. Chastity can be understood as incorporating “an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom,” (2339). A chaste person is no longer “dominated by [his passions],” but “governs [them] and finds peace” as a result of his virtue (2339). Thus, chastity actually frees us from “all slavery to the passions,” and we are able to utilize our free will to its fullest potential. In a sense, chastity allows us to look beyond our superficial wants and desires to find what it is that we truly need, even apart from what it is that we desire. Chastity, however, encompasses more than just the individual, as “it also involves a cultural effort” (2344). Society as a whole can benefit from chastity, especially insofar as “chastity presupposes respect for the rights of the person;” chastity recognizes that human life, from conception to natural death, is born out of love, and is meant to exist in love (2344). Hence, there is “an interdependence between personal betterment and the improvement of society;” every person who embodies chastity will only serve to make the community that much better as through each person, society moves closer to embodying virtue (2344).

Hence, every person is called to practice chastity: young and old, married and widowed, single and dating, laity and clergy. That being said, chastity is represented in many different forms, from celibacy to conjugal chastity, and thus it should be practiced differently for different subgroups of people as it “is suited to their state of life” (2349). Single people are called to live out chastity in a manner that excludes sexual intercourse outside of marriage, to avoid any act of sexuality that would degrade their human dignity. Others, such as clergy, take a vow of celibacy, promising to refrain from all forms of sexual intimacy, a vow which in turn “enables them to give themselves to God alone with an undivided heart” (2349). People who are “engaged to marry are called to live chastity in continence,” which is to say they should spend the time before their marriage learning to respect and love each other without the distraction of carnal temptations. They should instead save for marriage that “expression of affection that belong[s] to married love” alone (2350). Finally, even married couples are called to live chaste lives through conjugal chastity, which is to say they must exercise temperance, and understand that their union must always “achieve the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life” (2363).

Thus, chastity is something for which every person should strive. Although it will not be easy at times, chastity should be considered “a gift from God, a grace, a fruit of spiritual effort” (2345). It should not be viewed as a restriction, but as a liberation. Hence, in it and through it, man will find peace and happiness, for chastity leads to the understanding of sexuality as God intended it to be.

Leave a comment

Sexuality: Integral to Humanity

A Personal Testimony

By Katelyn Rogers

Whenever I hear theologians or lay Catholics talk about sexuality, it inevitably leads to the use of the word “integral”. They proclaim how sexuality is integral to the human person; how understanding sexuality is integral to understanding yourself. But I wonder if we, as Catholics, understand what we mean when we say sexuality is “integral” to humanity. Do we understand how radical of a statement that really is? The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul. It especially concerns affectivity, the capacity to love and procreate, and in a more general way the aptitude for forming bonds of communion with others,” (CCC 2332). Basically, you are as much your body as you are your soul, so what your body does affects what your soul does, and vice versa. When we describe sexuality as being “integral”, we are saying that it is impossible to be human and not have a gender or sexual identity. Our very being hinges on this single aspect of our humanity. That means that a healthy understanding and embrace of our sexuality connects us more deeply with our humanity and makes us more ourselves. Conversely, a damaged understanding or full rejection of our sexuality takes us out of communion with our humanity and makes us less ourselves. How do I know that? Because I have lived both sides of the story.

In my house, being a woman meant being strong and self-reliant. You only asked for help if you had exhausted every possible way of handling the situation yourself. You had a career so that you would never be dependent on your husband to provide for you or take care of you. You spoke your mind fiercely and unapologetically because your opinion mattered. You never let your emotions get the better of you. You played sports because you were tough; got good grades because you were smart. You always fought back, never backed down, and never gave up. This understanding of who I was to become as a woman was the context I lived in when I was first sexually molested in kindergarten at the age of 5.

There are few experiences that will make you feel broken, worthless, weak, and vulnerable in the way that being abused will. You believe him when he says it is your fault or that you deserved it. Every part of you feels exhausted and in pain. The Catechism describes the damage of abuse by asserting that, “It does injury to justice and charity…deeply wound the respect, freedom, and physical and moral integrity to which every person has a right. It causes grave damage that can mark the victim for life. It is always an intrinsically evil act,” (CCC2356). The fear is the worst part of that damage, though. Because you are being torn apart inside, this pit opens up in your mind and heart and it’s constantly whispering worries at you. What if all guys are like your abuser? What if they all want to hurt you like he has? What if no one believes you? What if they believe you, but they blame you like you blame yourself? What is so wrong with you that you deserve this? Why are you not strong enough to stop it? What if you have to stay this broken forever? What if you are not good enough to be healed? What if there is no hope for you? I could go on. And on.

Your sexuality becomes a source of torment, so you turn it off, or at least, that is what I learned to do. I avoided physical contact with people outside of my family. I did not date or really allow myself to be in a room alone with a guy. I took my hole incident of abuse and stuffed it into a box and shelved it. Sometimes there would be a trigger that would bring back memories, but I got better and better at shoving those memories down and turning off my emotions. I embraced the idea of womanhood that I had been taught, and man was I good at it. I played over six different sports, graduated from high school as the salutatorian, never lost an argument (or so I liked to think), and never asked for help. I was tough, angry, and fierce. To everyone watching, I looked like I had everything in order and knew exactly who I was and where I was going. Underneath, that could not have been farther from the truth.

The whispers from the darkness within myself, my pit, had gotten worse. By freshman year of high school I was not deciding if I would kill myself, I was deciding how. I was so, so done. Everything I was doing was to please the people watching. All I wanted to do was curl into a ball and not move or feel or be. I wanted rest, I wanted to be at peace, and I wanted to be able to feel authentic joy. I was so tired of being broken, but I had no idea where to begin the healing process. I had no idea how to ask for help. My whole life, vulnerability and weakness had been my greatest enemies, and now they were my only hope for survival, but my pride and stubbornness got in my way. I wanted an escape, but what I needed was for someone to help me. I needed someone to know my pain and save me from being a victim of it. Any ideas on who might be a good fit for the job?

Jesus Christ. A man. He stepped in and transformed everything. He showed me that it is okay to be hurt, broken, and vulnerable. He showed me that just because I am suffering does not mean I have to be a victim and it definitely does not make me responsible for my own suffering. It is okay for me to have feelings, it is okay to let a friend hug me, and I do not have to be afraid of every guy I meet. Just because one person hurt me does not mean every person thereafter seeks to hurt me, too. Some of them, like Christ, may even seek to heal me.

So what does my testimony have to do with sexuality and why it is integral to humanity? In the height of my brokenness, when I accepted a false womanhood, because I did not know anything else, I sought to reject my own life through taking it. Why? Because in accepting false womanhood, I was unknowingly rejecting the very blueprint of who I am and how I am made to be. I am a Daughter of God which means that I am made to be a receiver, a nurturer, a caretaker, a comforter, and a teacher. My lack of awareness of this truth of my identity manifested itself as a fear of physical contact and a fear of male figures in general. Those were the symptoms, if you will, of my deeper, less visible illness. My actions, my understanding of my own identity, and my will to live became misguided and even fell apart when my sexuality was damaged. And guess what? As I heal the brokenness of my sexuality, all those other parts of me heal too. As I embrace authentic womanhood, I embrace my own sexuality, and thus my very humanity. I become more myself and my life begins to open itself to being lived abundantly. If you want to live your humanity to the fullest, you must fulfill your sexuality. You have to seek to understand it and heal it in the places it has been harmed. To live abundantly, you must have reverence for who you are – a son or daughter of God – and how that means you are made to be. The way you do that is through giving your life up to the One who saved it, as I learned and am still learning to. Sexuality, humanity, life – they are all intertwined and they are all interdependent.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.