All posts tagged: marriage

Humanae Vitae and the Mystical Call of Chastity

How do we understand chastity? For many, the very word implies restraint, and restraint is not exactly the most exciting thought. The Ancient Greeks thought of chastity as a subspecies of temperance,[1] and if there is one virtue more alien to today’s so-called “late capitalism,” it is probably temperance—and not just in matters sexual. For others, talk of chastity brings to mind purity rings and virginity pledges, almost as if chastity is defined primarily by sexual abstinence before marriage. Hence we often speak of being chaste before marriage, but hardly ever about being chaste in marriage. Yet it seems to me that the paradigm of Christian chastity is not, in fact, abstinence, but marital sexual union. This thought may well be what distinguishes an authentically Christian understanding of sex from mere social conservatism or prudishness. For chastity, as Elizabeth Anscombe wrote, “is simply the virtue whose topic is sex, just as courage is the virtue whose topic is danger and difficulty.”[2] But why, many would object, does sex need its own, dedicated virtue—does this not …

The Sacraments of Love and Death

Marriage Marriage exalts a husband and wife through the humble, transparent, and irrevocable gift of self[1] to the other, “in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.”[2] In marriage, the husband and wife pour out themselves to live for the salvation of one another in Christ, through the fidelity, continence, and permanence[3] of the Holy Spirit. The sacrament of marriage lifts the natural union[4] between man and woman into the divine love of the Paschal mystery, Christ and the Church,[5] and the Trinity. The transcendence of marriage originates in God’s act of creating man and woman[6]—in His bestowal of the vocation of complete companionship.[7] God fashioned Adam and Eve in His image and likeness, commissioning them a role in His creative work.[8] Marriage commemorates God’s faithfulness to humanity as expressed throughout salvation history[9] and fulfilled in Christ. Marriage impresses the “indelible character of God’s creative love”[10] and bears witness to the eschatological love of the communion of saints in Christ.[11] By His incarnation, Christ assumes and purifies human love, marking it with …

Natural Family Planning and the Myth of Catholic Contraception

Is our culture close to turning a corner on Humanae Vitae, half a century after its promulgation and the widespread rejection of it that followed? There are reasons for cautious optimism. The historical context of the encyclical is important, given that it came just 38 years after Pope Pius XI’s Casti Connubii, which had already reaffirmed the longstanding Christian prohibition on contraception. What occasioned Humanae Vitae was really the emergence of the pill, which unlike barrier methods of contraception did its work inside the body, and so looked scarcely different from confining sexual intercourse to the woman’s infertile period.[1] But while the pill is still the contraceptive of choice for many, there is now growing disquiet about its side effects. This is significant not just from the perspective of health but also a feminist one: We once thought the oral contraceptive liberating, but today the discourse is shifting towards recognizing that women are made to disproportionately bear the hormonal burden of birth control. Additionally, given our contemporary attraction to all things organic and natural, there …

Single Life Is More Fundamental for Christianity than both Married and Religious Life

The question of single life and its place within the Church has once again become significant of late. Not only are men and women marrying later in life, but many people are finding that quite virtuous pursuits of career or service have not allotted them the time to invest in finding a partner. Online dating options alone cannot overcome the loneliness that is structured into the economic and social autonomy of most adults. Various youth and church groups, while well intentioned, are seriously ill-equipped to address all the challenges of singlehood. The complexity and challenges of the larger cultural and social matrix is important to keep in mind when considering any understanding of the single life. Here, the challenges of modernity assert themselves rather aggressively for our context is characterized in particular by forgetting. This seems an outlandish claim in a world saturated with information. But if we understand this correctly, it means that modernity is particularly skilled at forgetting the ideas, people, events, and history that shape its current perspective and reality. In the …

The Blessing of Marital Monotony

To be entirely romantic a thing must be irrevocable. —G.K. Chesterton When I am shopping for an anniversary card, I am almost always drawn to the cheesy ones that feature elderly couples on the front. You know the type: An aged man and woman seated on a park bench and leaning into one another, or maybe it is a B&W shot from behind as the pair stroll side by side down a country lane. I have been buying cards like that for Nancy since we were first married—maybe even before we were married if memory serves—because I have always believed they capture something essential about the Catholic nuptial vocation. Namely this: That the absolute core of sacramental marriage is the vow. “Growing old together” is not just a heartwarming Hallmark sentiment. It is the very foundation of a sanctifying, and thus successful, marriage commitment. Note that I did not say anything about “happy” marriage, although unqualified permanence certainly makes such happiness possible. If either party to a marital union reserves the right, either openly or …

The Cruciform Shape of the Family

Embarking on the journey of marriage and family life is filled with many joyful moments but also with moments of suffering. This suffering is inherently relational, meaning that by entering into commitments such as marriage and parenthood, we open ourselves up to the possibility of being wounded by such commitment. For example, think of the newlyweds who ache with overwhelming love for one another, a mother who labors to meet her child, the infertile couple who longs to conceive, the parents who suffer with and for a sick child, or the elderly man who sits at his dying wife’s bedside after a lifetime shared together. As we can see, suffering takes a unique, relational shape in the context of marriage and family life. This shape reflects Christ’s suffering in the sense that he entered into relationship with mankind, therefore opening himself up to such relational wounds—wounds of love. When we gaze upon Christ crucified, we see not only the horrific suffering of his Passion but also a sign of hope in his Resurrection. However, it …

Editorial Musings: The Charism of Infertility

Over the last year, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the sacrament of marriage while teaching a course to undergraduates on precisely this topic. As I teach this course, I’m always amazed by the gift of sacramental marriage in ecclesial life. The couple’s consent binds them not simply to one another but to one another through Christ. The couple becomes in the sacrament of marriage an icon of Christ and the Church, mediating Eucharistic love to the world. The couple does so through family life, the charism of mundaneness that renews every aspect of the created order. It is precisely in this context that I have come to recognize that couples struggling with infertility have a particular charism within the sacrament of marriage itself. When I tell people that my spouse and I cannot have children (at least thus far), there is always one of two reactions. The first is a question: Have you heard about the Creighton Model of treating infertility? We say yes. The second reaction is a well-intentioned (though deeply idiotic) …

Marriage as Mission: The Implications of the Charism of Marriage

The role of the Holy Spirit in the nuptial union of a couple can be understood in light of the charism given to the couple by the Spirit. It is this gift that the couple is called to give back to the Church through participation in her mission. Grounded in the baptismal identity of all Christians, the charism of marriage implies that the baptismal vocation will be taken up in the nuptial and familial life of the couple. Practicing this form of participation in the mission of the Church includes the call to evangelize in real ways, concretely through the social doctrines of the Church. Thus, the charism of marriage should be considered in marriage formation as couples learn to foster their charism and discern its implications in their own lives. We can then consider: If marriage formation was approached as a fostering of charism, how might the identity and role of married persons and their families in the Church evolve? As the charism of marriage implies a mission in marriage, how might this new …

Joy and Parenting

There is a common sentiment, one which I shared as a single person, that the place where you live is simply a practical location to store food and clothing, sleep, charge your cell phone, and relax away from all the tasks and commitments of life. This was how I felt about my dorm room in college, a cinder block cube where I seldom worked and where I would certainly never have invited anyone for dinner. Until recently, I never actually owned a home, so many of the spots I dwelled in were temporary and shared. This did not negate the possibility of experiencing these places as a kind of home, but I lived more of my life away from the home than in it. It was not until I married and we started our family that I started to treat the place we lived as a place that meant something more than a cozy nook to eat and sleep in. The phrase “domestic Church” coined in the Dogmatic Constitution of the Second Vatican Council (Lumen Gentium, §11) establishes the home of Christian families as “the first school of Christian …

The Deacon’s Wife: Exploring Her Role in the Catholic Church

“How wonderful the bond . . . one in hope, one in desire, one in discipline, one in the same service!” (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], §1642) The identity of the wife of the permanent deacon exists in a uniquely uncharacterized, uncategorized reality. Examining both universal and national declarations and norms only validates the difficulty of finding any substantive (certainly, any consistent) theological understanding of this most particular relationship between Marriage and Holy Orders, wife and husband.[1] Indeed, while this most relevant dynamic has been addressed in part, it remains a lacuna within the theological tradition of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church. Whereas the husband in this marriage is ontologically changed by the sacrament of Holy Orders, which confers upon him “an imprint that cannot be removed and configures [him] to Christ, who made himself the ‘deacon’ or servant of all” (CCC §1570), the wife in this marriage does not in any capacity participate in this particular sacramental characterization. Even as husband and wife “are no longer two, but one flesh,” (Mt 19:6, …