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Aristotle remarked in the Nicomachean Ethics (1162a, 25-30) that
while men and women marry for reasons of usefulness and pleasure, their
"friendship may be based also on virtue, if the parties are good
And children seem to be a bond of union (which is the reason why childless
people part more easily); for children are a good common to both and what
is common holds them together." Chastity, which embraces openness
to children and the choice to stay together, is the key to a happy marriage.
The Bible makes it clear that married love is a great gift from God. This
is the message of the Book of Genesis and the Letter to the Ephesians.
Genesis makes two enormously important points about human beings. First,
they are made in the image and likeness of God. Second, seeing "it
was not good for man to be alone" (Gn 2:18), God created woman and,
by ordaining that the two become "one flesh" (Gn 2:24), made
the love of husband and wife a visible sign of his love for the world.
And, as Ephesians points out, by the redemptive activity of Christ, the
love of husband and wife is a signa kind of sacramentof the
mystery of the love between Christ and his Church (Eph 5:32). In marrying,
a man and woman establish a lifelong partnership, for their own good and
the good of their children. Because Christian marriage is a sign of Christs
covenant with the Church, its covenantal nature makes divorce impossible
for a man and woman joined in sacramental marriage. "To bear witness
to the inestimable value of the indissolubility and fidelity of marriage
is one of the most precious and most urgent tasks of Christian couples
in our time," according to Pope John Paul II. (Familiaris Consortio,
Soon after becoming Pope, our Holy Father devoted a famous series of Wednesday
audience talks to a theology of the body. It is a theology rooted in his
philosophical studies and one of its key insights concerns the bodys
"Right from the beginning," he said, the human body in its masculinity
or femininity includes "the nuptial attribute, that is, the capacity
of expressing love
in which the person becomes a gift and, by means
of this gift, fulfills the meaning of his being or existence." Does
the Catholic Church take a negative view of sex and seek to deny people
the pleasures of sexual expression? Critics say so, but theyre wrong.
As Pope Paul VI wrote in Humanae Vitae citing the Vatican
II document Gaudium et Spesthe Church teaches that conjugal
relations between a husband and wife are "good and worthy of human
dignity." Marital chastity preserves that goodness and protects that
Growth in friendship between husband and wife requires that they make
constant efforts to grow in love of God and neighbor and avoid sinnot
only sins against chastity but also sins like pride, anger, alcohol abuse,
drug addiction, laziness, holding grudges, withholding forgiveness, and
To do this, a Catholic couple must know their faith, receive the sacraments,
and strive for the perfection of charity. With Gods grace, mediated
especially through the sacrament of matrimony, as well as frequent reception
of the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist, wife and husband can conquer
their sins and disordered inclinations and love one another as Christ
loves the Church and the Church loves Christ. Then their marriage and
family life become manifestations of great beauty, sources of happiness
for themselves and their children, inspirations to others. Then they are
on the way to beingI write these words gladlymarried saints.
Contraception and natural family planning
The Catholic writer Flannery OConnor called the Churchs doctrine
on contraception "the most absolutely spiritual of all her stands."
Then this tough-minded realist about human nature added a catch: "With
all of us being materialists at heart, there is little wonder that it
Pope Paul VI stated the teaching clearly in his prophetic encyclical Humanae
Vitae (12): "There is an unbreakable connection between the
unitive and procreative meaning, and both are inherent in the conjugal
act. God established this connection, and man is not permitted to break
it through his own volition." Even so, peopleincluding many
Catholicsdo break that connection all the time. Does that have something
to do with our being, as Flannery OConnor said, "materialists
But after all, whats wrong with contraception? By contraception,
people willingly act against both the procreative, life-giving meaning
of conjugal intercourse and the unitive, love-giving meaning. Setting
ones will against, as well as acting against fundamental human purposes
like these, is moral evil: sin.
It doesnt help to say that one is avoiding procreation so that love
can be more freely expressed. The two things are so intimately linked,
Pope John Paul II points out, that "the conjugal act deprived of
its interior truth, because artificially deprived of its procreative capacity,
ceases to be an act of love."
What does someone who practices contraception communicate to his or her
spouse? "I love you deeplybut not completely, of course. I
give myself to you entirelybut only up to a point. I trust God unconditionallybut
weve got to look out for ourselves." This is a badly mixed
message, to say the least.
Things are very different with a husband and wife open to bringing a new
life into the world. They are prepared to live even more fully in service
to one another and to sacrifice for the common good of their family.
But what about couples who have a good reason to put off having a child?
Then the morally right answer is Natural Family Planning (NFP). NFP today
is not the calendar-rhythm method of the 1940s and 1950s. NFP refers to
scientifically proven, morally acceptable methods by which a couple determines
the womans fertile and infertile periods, with a view either to
conceiving a child or postponing conception. Both artificial contraception
and NFP can fail when not used properly, but the success rate of NFP is
fully comparable to that of contraception. And the rate of divorce among
NFP couples is much lower than among contracepting couples, thanks to
the high degree of communication, mutual consideration, and respect that
Homosexuality and same-sex unions
Widespread acceptance of contraception paved the way for approval of the
homosexual lifestyle and efforts to have same-sex unions accepted as marriages.
As with many other bad ideas, the logic is unassailable once you grant
the fundamental premise: that it is all right to separate the procreative
purpose of sexual intercourse from the unitive purpose. Of course the
same logic can just as well be used on behalf of other sexual practices
that are still generally considered unacceptable.
If homosexual "marriage" ever becomes the law of the land, the
views pronounced by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts when legalizing
it in that state will be imposed on the rest of the country. For instance,
these views include the notions that marriage is intended mainly to benefit
adults; that children do not need a mother and a father; that other ways
of raising children are as good as the mother-father way; and that marriage
is the creation of the state.
Then society will attempt to condition us to stop speaking of "husbands"
and "wives" and to speak of "partners." Children will
have to be taught about homosexual sex in marriage-preparation and sex-education
classes. Anyone who objects will be branded a "homophobe." Churches
that teach the contrary doctrine of their sacred books and traditions
will be called bigoted and threatened with legal coercion.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2357) presents the teaching
of the Catholic Church in these words:
"Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual
acts as acts of grave disorder, tradition has always declared that homosexual
acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural
law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed
from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances
can they be approved."
Recognizing same-sex unions as marriages would be a serious blow to traditional
marriage for it would demean the unique relationship of wife and husband.
It would be like giving a diamond and a piece of glass the same name"diamond"and
the same price.
Traditional marriage was already under assaultfrom cohabitation,
contraception, infidelity, and divorcebefore same-sex "marriage"
came along. But traditional marriages and families are essential to a
healthy society. For the sake of the common good, as well as individuals,
they should be defended and preserved.
At the same time, people with a homosexual orientation deserve the same
respect and fair treatment as everyone else. They should not be targets
of unjust discrimination and certainly not targets of violence. Called
to live chaste, holy lives, they should receive the support of the Christian
community in their efforts to practice chastity. The organization, Courage,
offers important ministry to aid those seeking to live chaste lives.
Education in chastity
Many persons and groups have roles in educating children and young people
in chastity. The need for such education is greater than ever today because
of the miseducation in unchastity that American children and young people
receive from other sources.
Parents should teach their children from an early age that chastity is
to be prized and cherished and that unchaste behavior is sinful. Parents
must of course be models of chaste behavior themselves. They can help
their children develop self-mastery by cautioning them against unchaste
thoughts and immodest behavior, and warning them againstwhen they
are young, denying them access tomovies, TV shows, Internet sites,
and other sources of lewdness and pornography.
Parents should chaperone childrens parties and social activities
and supervise dating. (Pre-pubescent and pubescent children shouldnt
date at all.) Catholic parents must see that their children learn and
practice the faith. In the present unhealthy cultural environment, faith
and virtuous behavior cant be taken for granted or left to chance.
Parishes and Catholic schools and religious education programs are obliged
to support and reinforce the teaching of conscientious parents. Bearing
in mind that they are role models as well as information sources, religion
teachers and catechistsindeed, all teachers, administrators, coaches,
librarians, and other staffshould know and observe the teaching
of the Church. Every class, subject, and activity, from science and literature
to athletics and the school play, is a potential setting for communicating
Like responsible parents, teachers face a daunting task today, given the
fact that children are bombarded with incitements to be unchaste and may
have hardly heard the word chastity, much less learned what it means and
been helped to live it out. Among other things, teachers need to encourage
their pupils to attend weekly Sunday Mass and receive the sacraments of
penance and the Eucharist regularly.
Parish priests should speak the truth about human sexuality and sexual
sin. Homilies, the sacrament of Penance, and sacramental preparation,
especially before marriage, are important occasions for doing this. Pastoral
sensitivity is always in order, but silence is not.
Careful instruction in Natural Family Planning should be part of marriage-preparation
programs. NFP should never be presented as merely a subject for discussion
that listeners are free to ignore. Where our own knowledge may be behind
the times, we bishops and priests need to update ourselves on Natural
Family Planning, Pope John Paul IIs theology of the body, and other
Let us take the Blessed Virgin Mary as our model and guide. As the Second
Vatican Council affirmed in Lumen Gentium (64), Mary "preserves
with virginal purity an integral faith, a firm hope, and a sincere charity."
Her special spiritual fruitfulness comes from purity and openness to the
Fathers will; by imitating her, we too can be spiritually fruitful.
But the Blessed Virgin is more than just someone to imitate. As mediatrix
of grace to those who call upon her with sincere devotion, she helps us
in our efforts to be holy. Loving us with a mothers compassion, she
wants Christ to be born in us individually and as a pilgrim Church. With
Gods grace, through Mary, may we all be chaste. "Blessed are
the pure in heart, for they shall see God." (Mt 5:8)
> Read Part
1 of "Practicing Chastity in an Unchaste Age"
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles, Columns, and Book Excerpts:
Male and Female He Created Them | Cardinal Estevez
Teens, Sex, and Real Love | Interview with Mary Beth Bonacci | Mary Beth Bonacci
From Catholicism to Radical Feminism and Back | An Interview with Lorraine V. Murray
The Truth About Conscience | John F. Kippley
Marriage and the Family in Casti Connubii and Humanae
Vitae | Rev. Michael Hull, S.T.D.
The Challenge of Marriage Preparation | Dr. Janet E. Smith
Entering Marriage with Eyes Wide Open | Edward Peters
Human Sexuality and the Catholic Church
| Donald P. Asci | Introduction to The Conjugal Act as a Personal Act
Who Is Married? | Edward Peters
Joseph F. Martino heads the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania.
This pastoral letter was released on December 8, 2004: the 150th anniversary
of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception; it is reprinted
here with permission.
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