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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.
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Leisure, a Good Problem for Mothers

Women will increasingly play a part in the solution of the serious problems of the future…” Yes, I nodded as I read the late Pope John Paul’s “Letter to Women.” Then I was baffled. The first serious problem listed that women will help solve is ‘leisure time.’ How is leisure time a serious problem, I wondered? I must not understand the meaning of leisure.

In my thinking, leisure was my time, time to do what I wanted, watch TV, go to a movie, shop, have coffee with a friend. Leisure time was on par with entertainment; I made no conscious distinction between the two. For me, leisure even had something to do with distracting myself from ‘real life,’ a chance to sort of ‘get away from it all’ before entering back to my real world where piles of laundry need to get off the dining room table so dinner can get on it!

Not long after I started this quest for the meaning of leisure, my son Nick plopped his college books on the counter. “Here’s one you should read Mom!” It was Joseph Pieper’s, Leisure The Basis of Culture. There’s that word again, and shockingly, Pieper was calling leisure, the basis of culture! This must be the kind of leisure to which Pope John Paul alluded.

What Pieper shows in this little classic is that true leisure is not distracting ourselves with weekend get-ways and endless activities. Nor is leisure like Steven Covey’s analogy where we take time to sharpen the saw on Sunday to more efficiently grind through the work week on Monday.

Leisure,’ says Pieper, ‘is an altogether different matter.’ From the Latin word scola, leisure means school for the preservation “of freedom, of education and culture, and of that undiminished humanity which views the world as a whole.” In other words, leisure saves us from being chained to the utilitarian view that work and progress are all there is. It keeps us from overvaluing the sphere of work. (Pieper)

As Americans, we live at a frenetic pace, often more concerned with getting or doing than with being and becoming. Once while frantically trying to get out the door to take my daughter Beth to ballet, I remember zipping kids in snowsuits, shoving mis-matched boots on little feet, strapping children in car seats then running back to the house in search of overdue library books. Already 5 minutes late, I floored the pedal of the big van and sped to ballet with thoughts racing. Pulling up to the studio I rambled, “Hurry, Beth, you’re late.” Silence. “Beth?” It was in this moment I realized that in all the rush, I had left my daughter behind. She was at home. The detailed duties of driving, shuffling and organizing were done, yet in the process; the ‘person’ was left behind.

This incident is analogous to modern life. As mothers we do many things. We keep the household running. We check off lists and go full speed, but could it be that in this robot-like mode, we run the risk of ‘leaving our own person behind’? Bringing leisure into our life has something to do with not forgetting the person.

Lack of leisure is a serious problem because without it, we tend to live a utilitarian mode of being. In the hectic pace, we are often not even aware enough to lament the loss of our development. We are too busy doing. This is a serious problem! Our sense of worth becomes wrapped up with what we can do, what we can accomplish. Leisure helps us cultivate space to ask the big questions and nurture a sense of wonder. Who am I? What is life about? Am I really living? Leisure helps us see a larger, truer horizon of reality.

Pope John Paul in his “Letter to Artists” said, “Every genuine art form in its own way is a path to the inmost reality of man and of the world.” This is where literature comes in. Through reading works from our tradition we are helped to ask, “Who am I? What am I working so hard for? Who am I resting in? Reading literature can be an experience of coming to know the truth of life more deeply.

As long as we are thinking, feeling human beings who love and suffer and die, we must have meaning in our lives and literature from our tradition was founded on what is good and true and beautiful. These works help preserve and educate us to a moral order that is consistent with the truth of the person and of reality. Great books have a way, without preaching or moralizing of helping us recognize what is human.

Being a mother includes a lot of daily grind, hum-drum. Truly there are a lot of tasks to do. Experiencing leisure through literature has helped me not escape my vocation but to see that within the ordinary, something incredibly substantial is going on! The joys and heartaches and plain old hard work of being a mom can be lived with a deeper “yes” and depth of vision.

Women have been commissioned to bring leisure back into our lives and the lives of others. So this summer, don’t just gaze at that the hammock out your kitchen window, take your book, read, and don’t feel guilty. You are helping to reclaim leisure!

by Marcie Stokman

(Marcie is the founder of Well Read Mom a nationwide reading group for women. wellreadmom.com Marcie and Peter have 7 children live in northern MN.)


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Adoption in the Family

 My sister, Sage Marie Simpson, is a wonderful, beautiful, and amazing blessing for our household. I was around 5-and-a-half when I first heard rumors that our family would be graced with her amazing presence at home. When you’re this old, you don’t fully understand what it means to adopt someone. I vividly remember the first time that my Mom and Dad told me that we were getting a new sister. According to my Mom, my older brother Tony said, “Oh cool!”, while my younger brother John asked if she could sleep in his room. I, on the other hand, asked the ever-pressing question for a five-year-old: “Can I go and play ball?” Despite this comment, I remember being very excited, much like my brothers obviously were. As the next few months played out, our family made a number of significant changes. These changes, both adding another permanent member to our family and moving to a new neighborhood, resulted in a new lifestyle for me and my family. While initially this shift was hard, it was never something that our family could not overcome and did not want. We were fortunate enough to move to a place where there were many children the same age as us, which made it easier on my parents to keep us busy and take care of our new sister. In fact, many of the changes that resulted from the adoption and the move that initially appeared to be burdens turned out to be blessings.

With a new chapter in our family’s life, a few things began to come easier. For instance, my mom noted a distinct lowering in our family’s general roughness due to the presence of a new baby. As part of our adoption process, we also made use of the Food Bank program, which allowed adoptive families like ours to buy large amounts of food that had been donated for very little money. There was never a shortage of food in our household, but even so, I remember the countless times when I was young that my Mom would yell at me for stealing our “Sagie Food” from the basement. Beyond these shifts in our family’s environment, I believe that Sage brought our family closer together in many ways, the way any new life can. When people have a common love (in our case, Sage), it can often lead them to love one another even more deeply.

As Sage grew older she was faced with a fair amount of confusion, beginning sometime around the age of ten when my parents told her that she was adopted. When Sage found out that she was adopted, there was a distinct change in how she acted for a while; in school, she often acted out and required frequent disciplinary action. In talking with my sister later on, it became clear that during that time she felt in a certain sense as if she didn’t belong in our family. A sense that, because she didn’t have the same biological mother as all of us, that she somehow wasn’t equal in our family. I think coming to terms with the fact that your adoptive house and family is truly home is the hardest part of any adoption. I spoke to my sister for the first time only recently about being adopted, and was unsure of what to expect. After stumbling over how to phrase my question for some time, I finally asked her, “Do you think that you’ve come to terms with the thought that you were adopted?” I ended up receiving a very mature response from my 14-year-old goofball sister: “There’s always a part of me that knows that I’m not the same. Biologically we’re different. Home, to me though, is the place you can go where you’re most loved. That’s why I know that this is my home.” When she said this I had to hold back my tears because I knew that she truly felt normal, at home, and loved, as I had hoped she would since we first brought her home.

When I graduated from my middle school, Sacred Heart of Jesus, I was in a class of 28 people, about half of whom were in some way or another involved with adoption. These families, many of whom had brought adopted children into their homes, were both normal and some of the most loving people I’ve ever come to know. Even more than being totally normal, the overall happiness of their families appeared to have been greatly benefited by adoption. I saw firsthand the strength of how much one of my classmates in particular loved their adopted sister (in addition to my own first-hand experience with Sage), and it was truly beautiful. I believe that adoption is not only an expression of God’s love from the adoptive family, but also from the biological mother of the child. By choosing life over abortion, the mother has sacrificed not only comfort and convenience, but the opportunity to raise the child, for life, and that is an incredibly beautiful act.

Sage is my sister, inside and out, and I can honestly say that I don’t know where I or my family would be today without her. She has a wonderful life as a part of our family thanks to the adoption process, one which she would most likely not have otherwise. Adoption, rather than impossible, is both completely natural and a beautiful display of life and love. It is absolutely an option for everyone out there and adds a new, enriching dynamic to any family. Adoption has been a beautiful and amazing part of my life and I know it has similarly graced the lives of so many others. The kind of love demonstrated by my family and all the families I have known for their adopted children is truly a testament to the fact that no matter where you were born, there is always a place to be loved.


Hidden From the Learned

By Monsignor Thomas J. Richter, Rector of the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Bismarck, ND

His name is Andy. He’s my brother. He has Down’s Syndrome. He is not Down’s Syndrome, as it is often said; rather, he has Down’s Syndrome. In the same way that people are not cancer, they have cancer, Andy has Down’s Syndrome.

One could say that he is a man of obsessions, rightly understood. I do not know if it is the case with every person who has Down’s Syndrome. Nevertheless, it is with Andy. He is a man of innocent obsessions. For example, for years every day he would eat Ketchup sandwiches. (Yes, it is exactly what you think.) We grew up on a farm and for years Andy had a seemingly personal relationship with our John Deere tractor. He would talk to it; he would hug the tires; he would show it pictures; he would sleep in it.

Walker Texas Ranger was his longest and strongest obsession. He dressed like him; he will still wear a sheriff’s badge and cowboy hat for special occasions in imitation of him. He would talk about him all the time and to everyone: his classmates, his teachers, the priest, the doctor, the person at the checkout counter at the local grocery store, the bag boy, any person who telephoned our house and Andy happened to answer, etc. My mother had to regularly give Andy directives to tone down the hero-worship of Walker. She did this because it could become annoying to others and because, due to impaired speech, when Andy said the word “Texas” it sounded closer to “Sexas” and when he said the word “Ranger” it sounded more like “Changer”. Having her son speak to the whole world about “Walker Sexas Changer” caused my humble mother to blush on several occasions. The present obsession that brings him the most discouragement and sadness is the Minnesota Vikings. That needs no further explanation. They have that effect on every one of their fans.

Andy is special, in many ways. He attended the special education program of the large local public high school. The special education students received their “diplomas” at the same ceremony with all of the other students. There were more than 400 students who graduated that day, but there was only one that the entire student body stood in ovation. It was not the quarterback, it was not a cute cheerleader, it was not the student body president, it was not the homecoming queen. It was Andy.

I was ordained a priest in 1996. My first assignment was being the parochial vicar at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Bismarck. As part of my duties, the rector of the Cathedral had me start a Wednesday evening catechism class for the parishioners who attended the public high schools. Up to that time, catechism classes ended with 8th grade. So, I called all the high school kids in the parish and personally invited them. Some of the kids that showed up I had never seen. At the first class after I introduced myself, one of the kids – sitting way in the back of the room – raised his hand and said, “Can you say your name again?” I said again, “Father Richter.” He then asked, “Are you Andy’s brother?” I smiled. It was humbling and heartwarming to know that in that young man’s eyes I was known as Andy’s brother, not the other way around. It may be the same way in God’s eyes, and I would not mind that.

Some years ago my mother and I were having a conversation about the spiritual life. At one point in the conversation, I asked her where she most commonly experienced the consoling presence of God. Without a pause, she said, “Each morning when I give Andy a hug.” Andy is truly special.

Andy was born November 28, 1978, two days before the feast day of his namesake St. Andrew the Apostle He was fragile, like all babies, but even moreso. He was helpless like all babies, but more. He did not walk for years and did not talk for even more. He needed us; he really needed us. That’s the truth. We knew that.

There is another truth that I kind of, sort of, knew in 1978, but not really; however, after having Andy in our family for 35 years, I have come to learn it and embrace it with great conviction. It’s a simple truth, and a beautiful one. But it’s a truth that is not easily embraced in a culture that does not respect the dignity of human life in all its stages, not because this truth is not known, but because it is feared. I think it is feared because it exposes us; it exposes the powerlessness of the powerful; it exposes the dependence of the independent; it exposes the lack of freedom in those who want freedom of choice for ignoble reasons; it exposes what is hidden from the clever and the learned. It is feared in the ways Jesus is feared. It is resisted in the ways we resist the good news of the Gospel.

The simple truth is this: my family needed Andy. Yes, he needed us. But we needed him more. He needed us for the needs of the body; we needed him for the needs of the soul. He needed us for life on earth; we needed him for life in heaven. More than 2,000 years ago, our precious and good God sent to us our gift of salvation in the life of a Baby. The Father saved us by giving us a Baby. He still does. And to my family’s sweet surprise and great joy, He did that in a special way, by giving us a baby with Down’s Syndrome!


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Fathers and Life

For many of us, growing up with a father is a normal part of life; our fathers are (or were) always there and, frankly, we take them too often for granted. The presumption on our part is easily seen if we consider President Barack Obama’s recent appeal, entitled “My Brother’s Keeper”, to all Americans to help curb and reduce the social ills associated with the extremely high, and growing, population of children who grow up fatherless. Though the trend towards fatherless households has rapidly increased during the last twenty years, its existence was acknowledged and its disastrous consequences diagnosed over forty years ago in the Moynihan Report, published by then Assistant Labor Secretary and later Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (see, Kathleen Parker, “Keeping the Father with the Family” The Washington Post, 2 March 2014, A 21). As both Moynihan’s original report asserted and the judgments of numerous studies since have confirmed, children, especially boys, growing up in fatherless homes have a disproportionate tendency to do poorly in their school studies, to become juvenile delinquents, and, eventually, to become incarcerated. The appeal of President Obama to the public for help in dealing with the problems that arise out of fatherless homes – problems likely to increasingly infringe upon our society in light of recent statistics indicating rates of over fifty-percent of births outside of marriage among certain groups— is a form of tacit recognition of the essential and irreplaceable role that fathers play in the raising of children.

But even the role that the President’s appeal acknowledges far undervalues the importance of fathers and fatherhood in human life. It is not simply that fathers provide the income, social stability, and social role-modeling that are so necessary for their offspring. They do, but those features point to something much more fundamental; fathers provide our first glimpse of what it might mean to call God ‘Father’. True, I am assuming that the fathers in question are good fathers, but that really is no obstacle: how far could we get in discussing carpenters if we had to answer objections about some particular person, identifying himself as a carpenter, but regularly failing to hit the nail on the head? No, we should stick to the perfect instance if we are to understand something according to its essential features, just as Plato long ago advised us. Somewhere or another, C.S. Lewis remarks that even he, endowed as he was with extraordinary intellectual abilities, would have been entirely at a loss to imagine what a term like ‘glory’ might mean when applied to God, if he had not experienced something like the sun piercing through the clouds at the end of a rainstorm. In a word, we need a human father’s love to get to know what calling God ‘Father’ means.

How does such indirect knowledge of God work exactly? Needless to say, it is, like most important spiritual truths, a bit mysterious. If we think of our fathers, if we consider how they, for example, provided for us in every sense– picking us and all our friends up when we needed a ride and no one else would come, but also counseling us when we were making decisions or going astray; consoling us in our losses, whether at sports or at school, but also disciplining us when we were in the wrong; leading us by moral example, but also making reference to the relevant moral standard when judging our own conduct—we begin to get a notion of how an entity that was Infinite could both be the Source of morality and the Creator of creatures destined to live by a moral law, creatures such as ourselves. To be sure, any human father falls infinitely short of our Father in Heaven, but he is nonetheless a sign of Him who is the Father of Lights. Even providing us with such basic things as food, clothing, and shelter, the minimal in many ways, can indicate the love of a father; often, now that he is gone, I imagine recall? how my own father worked extremely long hours as a traveling sales engineer, just to provide for our family’s basic needs. Observing such phenomena is surely helpful in coming to understand how God the Father could be so beneficent and generous, providing for each of us according to our needs even when, as ignorant or wayward children, we are unaware of what those needs are.

In a word, fathers and fatherhood have much to do with life, and in both a biological and more than a biological sense. Human life depends upon fathers (and mothers!) for its continuance, but it depends, too, on good fathers for its perfection and fulfillment. The beauty of the created order is such that a creature, by just being what it is, functions like a sign, pointing to the Uncreated Principle behind all creation (See St. Bonaventure’s Itinerarium mentis in Deum on this point). In this regard, fathers are like signs for those of us who are their children: they point to that Father of Whom our Lord said that He provides for us even more thoroughly than He does for the birds of the field (Matt. 6:26-34). Let us try to remember this truth, encouraging human fathers in every way we can in fulfilling their many roles; sociological, psychological, and, above all, spiritual.

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Figures of Christ: A Personal Perspective of Down Syndrome

Peter & Derek Kuebler

The Misconceptions of Down Syndrome

How often is the word “retard” carelessly used to insult another person? Typically, the intent of such an insult is to imply dull wits or poor judgment. Although this belittling of a person is not right in any case, here a larger problem is evoked – how society overall has a negative outlook on the mentally disabled. Down syndrome in particular, being “the leading cause of intellectual and developmental delay in the U.S. and in the world,” is especially prone to such destructive sentiment.1 Thus, there is a great need for an exposition of the misconceptions and facts surrounding Down syndrome, from an approach that is both personal and analytical.

To begin, those with Down syndrome are far from unintelligent. As a matter of fact, many are able to go standard schools and engage in the same classes that other children their age take. Furthermore, recent studies have shown that almost half of the Down syndrome population is in the mild intellectual disability range,2 and some are even capable of living independently and obtaining a college degree.3 Still others choose to get married.4 So why is Down syndrome so frequently subordinated? We suggest that considerable cause is due to the misconceptions and outdated facts that exist to this day.

The Global Down Syndrome Foundation points out that “Recent surveys in the U.S. of parents, doctors, and medical students indicate that outdated and inaccurate information about Down syndrome is being provided to pregnant women who are prenatally diagnosed or at birth” To put this into perspective, imagine a mother, already experiencing common stresses of pregnancy, discovering that she will give birth to a child with Down syndrome. Understandably, if she has no knowledge of the realities of the disability, then the expectations she has for her family may be devastated. This worry becomes sevenfold if a doctor informs the parents that their child may cause family dysfunction because of the many needs he or she will require. Admittedly, when compared to children without special needs, those with Down syndrome usually require more care since they are more commonly predisposed to certain health defects. But this does not indicate that the family will be any less bonded. In fact, the Global Down Syndrome Foundation provides supporting evidence that suggests just the opposite:

Despite potential challenges, personal accounts and studies show that many families that have a child with Down syndrome are stable, successful and happy, and that siblings often have increased tolerance, compassion and awareness. In fact, a major study on marriages and Down syndrome shows the divorce rate among parents of children with Down syndrome is lower than the national average.

Other archaic facts claim that 90% of Down syndrome pregnancies are terminated through abortion, and that the life expectancy of a person with Down syndrome is only 25 years. These out-of-date statistics, among many others, are severely misleading. In reality, a 2012 study shows that for the previous 15 years, termination rates are down to 67%. Moreover, “Life expectancy for people with Down syndrome has increased dramatically in recent decades – from 25 in 1983 to 60 today.”5 With advancements in medicine and psychology, it is becoming clearer now more than ever that “individuals with Down syndrome are more like others than they are different.”6

Knowledge from Experience

We have been blessed to have not one, but two siblings with Down syndrome. Tommy and Jimmy are our identical twin brothers, at fifteen years old. Now, it should be obvious that there is no way to describe Tommy’s and Jimmy’s personalities in a short article. They have countless unique traits apart from the world and apart from each other. However, we want to briefly characterize them in order to share their outstanding qualities and how we have learned from them.

In short, our experiences with our little brothers have provided a perspective of Down syndrome that no one could have otherwise. The incredible love that they share with the world is easily apparent; people who meet them know within five minutes that Tommy and Jimmy love to please anyone they are around. They are happy if you are happy, and they are upset if you are sad. Amazingly, after some long brainstorming, we could not think of anyone in the world that they actually dislike. In their eyes, every human being is a friend; they do not discriminate or look down on anyone. Surely, this is an attitude that everyone should strive for.

The two of us have learned from them because of this love, from the positivity that they emanate. To illustrate, Tommy and Jimmy find joy in every aspect of life. It does not matter if they are playing basketball or football, singing or dancing to music, or eating food; they always have a smile on their face. Through them we have come to understand that whether facing an enjoyable time or a difficult obstacle, one’s demeanor has a tremendous effect on the enjoyment he or she has.

Similarly, we have learned from the simplicity with which Tommy and Jimmy live their day-to-day lives. For example, they live in the present better than we ever could. Of course, they look ahead to almost every upcoming event: from holidays to school days, to seeing their friends, or even to hospital visits that would frighten most people. Yet, they never worry or stress as we do. Their carefree mentality manifests how they trust in both God and in those around them that everything will work out for the best. Witnessing this, we are challenged to emulate such trust.

All things considered, Tommy and Jimmy have greatly impacted our lives, as well as the lives of every member of our family and probably of every person they have met. We cannot imagine our family without the love Tommy and Jimmy show us, the happiness they have bring to our household, or the lessons they demonstrate to us. They will forever have the innocence which Jesus praised when he said to “become like children.”7 Further, they are not a financial burden and despite the many challenges they face, they are not unhappy people. Rather, they are Christ-like persons who are living examples of God’s love for the world, endowed by Him with a passionate benevolence and a keen sense of the good in others.

This is why the frequent and derogatory use of the word “retard” is unjust. In the careless employment of this word, the mentally disabled are cast in a false light – one which is ignorant of the amazing personhood they all contain. Consequently, this is all indicative of the larger mentality that most of society has. People focus too much on the differences between the mentally disabled community and themselves. In reality, those with Down syndrome, or any other disability, have much more in common with us than not. They give to society more than we know, and their presence is truly a blessing; anyone given the experience we have had with our brothers would strongly agree. Therefore, may they be welcomed everywhere in society – not out of acceptance, but out of gratefulness – for they are children of God, with shortcomings like anyone, but also with countless gifts.


1Facts and FAQ About Down Syndrome.” The Global Down Syndrome Foundation. Web. March 21, 2014. http://www.globaldownsyndrome.org/about-down-syndrome/facts-about-down-syndrome/.

2 “Misconception vs. Reality.” The Global Down Syndrome Foundation. Web. March 21, 2014. http://www.globaldownsyndrome.org/about-down-syndrome/misconceptions-vs-reality/.

3 Global Down Syndrome Foundation.

4 Ibid.

5 Down Syndrome Facts.” The National Down Syndrome Society. Web. March 21, 2014. http://www.ndss.org/Down-Syndrome/Down-Syndrome-Facts/.

6“Facts About Down Syndrome.” The National Association for Down Syndrome. Web. March 21, 2014. http://www.nads.org/pages_new/facts.html.

7 Matthew 18:3.

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Children of God, Family in God

The Value of People with Intellectual Disabilities

A person’s value to modern society is mostly dependent on two major factors: intellect and efficiency. Whoever can do the best work in the fastest amount of time gets the best job, the highest salary, the prestige. When someone has a disability beyond his or her control, a disability that affects his or her intellect and ability to produce fast results, that person is seen as less valuable. People with intellectual disabilities are often brutally bullied as adolescents, sneered at behind their backs as teens, or looked upon with pity as adults. Unfortunately, they are seen as a problem. However, the problem does not lie with the person with an intellectual disability. The problem lies with the perception of disabilities from the outside world. The problem lies in a cultural focus on intellect and utility. When we focus instead on understanding the value of people with intellectual disabilities as brothers and sisters in Christ, we are also able to achieve a more profound understanding of the value of true familial relationships.

It was through Best Buddies that I was first blessed with the opportunity to come to this understanding. Best Buddies is an international organization that fosters friendships between people with and without intellectual disabilities in an effort to promote a culture of inclusion. Through Best Buddies, I entered into the homes and lives of people with intellectual disabilities for the first time. I sat, humbled in their presence at Bethlehem House, a group home for some of our CUA best buddies in Washington, D.C., where CUA students go to celebrate mass and share dinner every Wednesday night. As soon as I walked in the door of Bethlehem House, it was compliments, hugs, and I-love-you’s galore. As I talked with our buddies there, they shared their lives with me. They shared with me. They gave to me. Suddenly, I was able to remove myself from any feeling of superiority. Since this first experience in Bethlehem House, I have come to realize that in my relationship with people with intellectual disabilities, I am not doing service, and I am not helping; I am being served, and I am being helped.

I have learned so much about family, friendship, and love through Best Buddies. I have been blessed to listen to the humble prayers of my friends with intellectual disabilities and to experience their simple yet profound faith—the faith that the Gospel encourages all of us to have. There is a certain kind of love that is frequently expressed by people with intellectual disabilities: a love without judgment, without expectation, completely vulnerable, and completely authentic. With Best Buddies it doesn’t matter how much money you make, where you work, what you’re wearing, or what grade you got on your last exam. All that matters is that you are human, that you are a son or daughter of God. In this way, my relationships through Best Buddies are like my relationships with my family members; we accept each other not for superficial reasons, but for the value that we see in one another as individuals. Bethlehem House is both a home and a family in the sense that it is a place where people feel safe, valued, and loved, a place where you can be comfortable with who you are. Through the familial love that is shared by people with intellectual disabilities, we are able to become more attuned to God’s love. People with intellectual disabilities are sons or daughters of God, our brothers and sisters in the family of the Church. They are a reminder and embodiment of simple, profound love. When we encounter a person with an intellectual disability in our family or community, we truly encounter Christ.

Given Christ’s preference for the poor, the vulnerable, the afflicted, and the downtrodden, it is fitting that I was able to experience this simple, strong, and real example of familial love in Bethlehem House. He loves all of us, but He shows his love for them in a special way. We encounter Christ when we encounter the people with whom He chooses to dwell. Jesus loves our brothers and sisters with intellectual disabilities, and He chooses to make His dwelling with them. As members of our Church family, people with intellectual disabilities serve as a constant reminder of God’s presence, just as our real families should as they strive to foster relationships inspired by the love and goodness of God. Being around family and people who value us as siblings, either by blood or through Christ, brings us to a closer embrace with Jesus. Our siblinghood in Christ and our life in God alone defines our value – not intellect or efficiency. People with intellectual disabilities are a gift to our Church and human families. As models of childlike faith, unencumbered by worldly things like grades, clothes, and money, they help us achieve a deeper understanding of our relationships with our fellow human beings. Through people with intellectual disabilities, as through our family members, we truly encounter Christ, and we are blessed to have them in our midst.

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Family! Become What You Are!

A Look into the Family as a Communion of Life

In his 1994 Letter to Families, Blessed John Paul II commented that the family is the way of the Church. By this, he meant that it is through the family that every human person receives and experiences his humanity and individuality. The family’s origin is rooted in the love with which God embraced the created world through his Son, Jesus Christ. This love, springing from the love of the Trinity, is first manifested in the world at the creation of man. Throughout his pontificate, John Paul II continually referred to the creation story portrayed in Genesis in order to understand this fundamental truth. Not only was the Pope attempting to disclose the integral dignity of the family, but he also wished to disclose the inherent dignity of the human person. John Paul II understood well that in order to uphold the dignity of the family, we must also understand and uphold the dignity of the human person.

The Pope communicated these thoughts and truths to the Church through his weekly Wednesday audiences given between September 1979 and November 1984. These reflections were collected into what is now titled, Theology of the Body. This composition highlighted much of John Paul II’s thoughts on anthology, theology and sociology. His previous writings composed before his pontificate, including Love and Responsibility, Person and Act, and several plays, The Jeweler’s Shop and Roman Triptych, also accentuate the Pope’s view of the human person. His view allows us to better understand our own experiences and place them within the context of reality.

There are many questions today about the meaning of the family. Is the family of any worth? Is there a true difference between a mother and a father? Are both necessary? What is the worth of a child? We must step with John Paul II into the depths of the truth revealed to us by the Book of Genesis in order to answer these questions. Much is at risk. Our culture must recover our true identity as man and woman in order to move forward into history the mankind. Without this step, we will no longer be able to recognize ourselves as human and risk loosing sight of the common good.

In order to understand the family, we must first understand marriage. In Genesis, we see marriage presented as a covenant. This covenant is commitment not only between Adam and Eve, but firstly, between God and mankind. This covenant discloses God’s original plan for mankind. In this original plan, there was harmony between God and man and man and creation. There are two creation stories, books one and two of Genesis. We can learn from both account. In the first, God creates the heavens and the earth and from the earth, all the animals and living creatures spring forth. Finally, on the sixth day, God says “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (Gen. 1:26). God creates man in His own image and His own likeness.

In the second creation story, after Adam’s creation, God says, “It is not good for man to be alone”(Gen. 2:18). He presents to Adam all of the wild animals and birds of the sky. But it is noted, “for Adam, no suitable helper was found”. The animals were not a compatible help-mate for Adam. It is at this place that we recognize what John Paul II called, “original solitude”. Original solitude is the recognition that man has a unique and special relationship with his Creator. Unlike all the animals of the earth, Adam is the only one capable of responding to the love of God fully. This fullness is made possible by an intellect and will. Although man is flesh, he is also created in the image and likeness of God, meaning that he is also not only identified with creation, but he is also identified also his Creator in the possession of his spirit. Animals, although created by God, do not have the capacity to be in relation.

For John Paul II, this original solitude does not disappear after the Creation of Eve. God places Adam into a “deep sleep”. This deep sleep can be compared to an almost death for Adam. Adam is completely passive while God takes a rib from his chest and creates woman from the rib. It is noted here that God has sole motivation in creating Eve. Man has no control over her creation. This means that both man and woman possess equal dignity. This dignity springs forth form the fact that God created both from His own desire to do so.

After Eve’s creation, God takes her and presents her to Adam. Adam seeing Eve cries out, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman’ for she was taken out of man’”(Genesis 2:23). God gives Adam and Eve to each other. This presentation of Eve to Adam, is the first wedding, the first marriage between man and woman. It is in their sexual difference that Adam realizes that Eve is “bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh”. They are both human, but yet different in form and being. From these words, we know that Adam recognizes that Eve was “for” him. This sexual difference opens between them the capability to be in union with one another, in a way that Adam was not able to be in union with the animals. This is called “original unity”. Adam and Eve were in perfect harmony with one another and “they felt no shame”.

The Hebrew word for Eve, “kenegdo”, literally means, “to stand face to face with another”. This “first marriage” does not over-ride “original solitude”, Adam’s recognition of his need for communion, but rather adds another dimension to his desire. Adam, representing all of mankind, receives his identity from his own recognition that he needs a “help-mate”, that he is made for a communion not only with God, but with flesh. The original state before sin reveals this fully. Our bodies remind us that we, as man and woman, are not complete within ourselves. We need each other in order to become ourselves. We become ourselves by making a complete gift of self. This gift is possible within marriage. This “standing face to face with another” in marriage reflects mankind’s first covenant, or “standing face to face with God”. It is recognizing man’s unique ability to give the gift of self because he is the image and likeness of God, who first gave by creating man and woman.

Every man and woman’s love in marriage is first rooted in the Love of God. Man and woman can only give to each other because they first received their own existence from God. The marriage covenant, first seen in the unity between Adam and Eve, allows man and woman to go outside of themselves to communicate their own persons to one another, just as god had communicated Himself through creation. Before the fall, Adam and Eve existed in perfect accord with God and each other. After the fall, concupiscence entered the world and this harmony was disrupted. Man and woman were no longer able to freely communicate themselves, but rather, this communion with disrupted and replace with discord. Man, now affected y shame, did not easily trust God as the giver of life. Man and woman no longer receive each other as God’s gift to one another, but they are pitted against one another. Unity is interrupted. Man and woman no longer love with the love given to them by God. It is easier for man to live in isolation rather than communion. Spousal love is detached from its Source, God.

We will now focus on the redemption of this communion between man and God and man and woman. The love between spouses is meant to reveal to the world, the love of God for His creation. Because of the sin of Adam, this love no longer is able to fully radiate from man and woman. God though, does not turn his back on man. Instead, the Old Testament is story of God’s love for Israel, even in their refusal of His love. Each man has his origin in God’s love. Throughout salvation history, man has been blind to this origin. God, in His goodness and love, does not allow this blindness to conquer His love. Instead, He sends his only Son to redeem man (Jn. 3:16). Christ, in His self-giving on the Cross, becomes the Bridegroom of the Church. Christ comes to awaken us from our blindness. Although man’s desire for Love is weakened by original sin, it is not completely diminished. In every human experience is inscribed the desire for something beyond himself, for communion outside of the confines of his person. Christ came to make sense of these desires. In the Vatican II document, Gaudium et Spes, that “Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to himself, and makes his supreme calling clear”(G.et.Sp. 22).

This means that Christ affirms man’s desire for communion. He firstly affirms that this desire is only fulfilled in man’s Creator. The communion between man and woman is a sign and points to this love and communion between man and God. Christ, who restores the communion between man and God, consequently restores the communion between man and woman. Jesus Christ, is perfect vulnerability and openness to God. He experiences no shame in His relationship with His Father. By consuming mankind into Himself through His cross and Resurrection, Christ brings both God and man together and restores the meaning of marriage.

Christ enables us to become sons and daughters of God the Father. He reconstitutes us into a relationship with God as His children. By assuming flesh, Christ becomes our brother in God and therefore we become children of God. It is from this filial relationship, man is able to receive love from His Father and in return love as a spouse. In Jesus, marriage is perfected. The purpose of Jesus is to bring creation back into communion with God and through His cross and Resurrection.

This concept of Jesus as the Bridegroom and the Church as the Bride, is given to us in Ephesians 5:25-27, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless”. It is evident here that Christ perfects creation and unites himself with her, the newly formed Church. In the book “Called to Love”, Carl Anderson and Jose Granados comment that, “in loving each other, Adam and Eve entered into a covenant with the original Giver, God”. In the same way, by entering into a loving relationship with Christ, our love of God the Father is restored. Equally, by seeing God as their Source of love, man and woman are able to once again love each other in a fruitful manner.

Referring back to Genesis, God tells Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and increase in number” (Gen. 1:28). Christian marriage expresses the indestructible bond between Christ and His Church. This union naturally seeks to expand itself. Just as the members of Christ’s body increase out of the Church’s love for him, the a couple naturally seeks to add others into the fold of their loving relationship. The core of this fruitfulness is the desire of each person for another third person to share in the love of the couple, the love that comes from it’s ultimate Source.

Marital love is fundamentally fruitful insomuch that it shares in the communication of God’s life to another. Man and woman have the privilege of sharing in God’s own creative power. In procreation, man and woman are privileged to partake in a greater unity that transcends themselves- the unity between the Creator and a new child. A child that comes from the union between man and woman also comes from the union between the couple and their Creator. There is no true creation without the ultimate Creator. Although man and woman create the flesh of the child, it is God that gives him his soul. Like the first Adam, with every child, God breathes life into each child. It is with this knowledge that we can say with the Psalmist, “Lord, you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb”(Psalm 139:13).

It is from this communion between spouses, that the communion between God and man becomes visible through the creation of a new person. Parents are collaborators in God’s plan for salvation. The family is meant to be not only a communion between persons, but a communion between God and man. A couple’s love, rooted in God, does not only benefit the family, but also radiates out, to all of society. A family rooted in love of God, who recognizes their communion as rooted in communion with God, protects and strengthens the dignity of each human being. The family is the “school” that teaches society about the common good. The common good is the basic understanding of the goodness that is communion- communion with God and communion with one another. This understanding protects us from viewing one another as objects, that is treating each other as things to be used for our own self interest.

Marriage is the common good of the spouses, as stated in John Paul II’s Letter to Families (10). This spousal covenant protects each spouse from selfishness and use. From this covenant, founded in God, the spouses are about to bring out each other’s humanity. This means, that the spouses are able to view each other as God views them- as good in themselves and created for their own sake. The Love that radiates from the family is a sign of the Love Christ the Bridegroom has for His Church. It reveals true love. The family allows the Church to be present and interactive with the world and show the world the true love of Christ.

As we have talked about, the center of family, is communion. The foundation of the family, the covenant of marriage, is made possible by God’s love which is first shown in His act of creation and giving of man and woman to each other. In Genesis, God communicates His life to creation by making man in His own image and likeness. From this likeness, man recognizes that he is made for communion. God then tells man to be fruitful and multiply, for their love to not merely stay between themselves, but to gratuitously over-flow, and by this gratuity, mirror God’s own act of creation. Despite man’s original fall, God persists in His covenant with mankind and sends His only Son to restore this relationship to proper harmony. In this way God once again communicates His life to mankind through the saving power of Christ. Christ is the pinnacle of this communication with mankind, as God becomes completely united to His creation.

In this way, the family continues as a communication of God’s love for creation. This love is highlighted most brilliantly in the Holy Family. The Holy Family is the model for each family in that Christ is the absolute center. The Holy Family lived in complete reception to and communion with the love of God by accepting Christ’s life, death and resurrection. My both Mary and Joseph’s ‘yes’ to God’s plans in their lives, they were able to truly radiate God’s love through their family. And so here, we see what John Paul II saw as the true nature of family life- a communion with God. As a Church, we must encourage and aid families to “become what they are”, so that God may work through them to continually reveal His Love and salvific work.


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