The Church’s Teaching on Marriage, Part One

It is often said that the Church is too concerned about sexual morality. The Church should rather be concerned about poverty, discrimination, and climate change. Such an accusation is a bit disingenuous in a culture which promotes premarital sex and is intent on imposing acceptance of homosexual relations, as well as gender ideology. Most adults will enter into marriage or other conjugal relationships. Sexual morality “is of the utmost importance for the personal lives of Christians and for the social life of our times” (Vatican Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics, at 2).

Yet, it is probably fair to say that Christ’s teachings on sex and marriage as related through His Church are rarely formally addressed in homilies or catechetical instruction, despite the rich exposition of this teaching by St. John Paul II reiterated in many respects by Pope Francis. Pope Francis has recognized that the Gospel of the family must be proclaimed. “Christian families, by the grace of the sacrament of matrimony, are the principal agents of the family apostolate, above all through ‘their joy-filled witness as domestic churches’” (Amoris Laetitia, at 200).

This three-part series which the Homiletic and Pastoral Review has so kindly agreed to publish is an effort to address this deficiency. Each section contains an exposition of the Church’s teachings set forth in various magisterial documents relating to sexuality and marriage. Most Catholics have not had the opportunity or disposition to read such documents. So, this presentation consists of direct quotes from the documents, with only occasional commentary offered by the author or other sources. Presented in a narrative format, for the most part, this work lets the documents speak for themselves. The reader can then directly experience the beautiful richness contained in these documents without the intervention of an intermediary.

The following are the cited Church documents which will be referenced by their abbreviations:

Amoris Laetitia, The Joy of Love [AL], Pope Francis, March 19, 2016

Between Man and Woman: Questions and Answers About Marriage and Same-Sex Unions [BMW], USCCB

The Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC]

Donum Vitae, Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation

[DV], Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, February 22, 1987

Evangelium Vitae, The Gospel of Life [EV], St. John Paul II, March 25, 1995

Familiaris Consortio, The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern

World [FC], St. John Paul II, November 22, 1981

Gaudium et Spes The Role of the Church in the Modern World,

[GS], Second Vatican Council, December 7, 1965

Humanae Vitae, On Human Life [HV]. July 25, 1966

Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons [PCH], October 1, 1986

Male and Female He Created Them [MFH], Congregation for Catholic Education February 2, 2019

Mulieris Dignitatem, On the Dignity of Women [MD], St. John Paul II, August 15, 1988

Responsum of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to a dubium
regarding the blessing of the unions of persons of the same sex [RD], February 22, 2021

Vatican Declaration on Sexual Ethics [DSE], December 29, 1975.

It is hoped that the series will be a useful resource to pastors counseling engaged couples and/or in their parishes’ Pre-Cana programs.

Marriage Is a Natural Institution

St. John Paul II and Pope Francis have provided a clear understanding of marriage as a natural institution created by God.

God is love and in Himself He lives a mystery of personal loving communion. Creating the human race in His own image and continually keeping it in being, God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion. Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being. (FC at 11)

Marriage [is] the covenant of conjugal love freely and consciously chosen, whereby man and woman accept the intimate community of life and love willed by God Himself which only in this light manifests its true meaning. The institution of marriage is not an undue interference by society or authority, nor the extrinsic imposition of a form. Rather it is an interior requirement of the covenant of conjugal love which is publicly affirmed as unique and exclusive, in order to live in complete fidelity to the plan of God, the Creator. (FC at 11, emphasis added)

“The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator.” CCC at 1603. Pope Francis confirms that “[t]he lasting union expressed by the marriage vows is more than a formality or a traditional formula; it is rooted in the natural inclinations of the human person.” (AL at 123)

“As an incarnate spirit, that is, a soul which expresses itself in a body and a body informed by an immortal spirit, man is called to love in his unified totality. Love includes the human body, and the body is made a sharer in spiritual love.” (FC at 11) There is an obvious biological complementarity between the male and female bodies which, when joined, can create human life. This is accompanied by a complementarity in the emotional and psychological structure of man and woman. This complementarity enables a man and woman to be attracted to each other, to give totally of themselves to each other in a lifetime communion, and to express this love in a bodily manner whose fruit can be the creation of human life. (cf. CCC, at 1602–04; at 1; HV at 8; Cf., FC at 3, 11, 20; MD at 7) This anthropological truth underpins a true understanding of marriage.

“Naturally, love is much more than an outward consent or a contract, yet it is nonetheless true that choosing to give marriage a visible form in society by undertaking certain commitments shows how important it is. It manifests the seriousness of each person’s identification with the other and their firm decision to leave adolescent individualism behind and to belong to one another. . . . This is much more meaningful than a mere spontaneous association for mutual gratification, which would turn marriage into a purely private affair. As a social institution, marriage protects and shapes a shared commitment to deeper growth in love and commitment to one another, for the good of society as a whole. That is why marriage is more than a fleeting fashion; it is of enduring importance. Its essence derives from our human nature and social character.” (AL at 131) Since marriage is inherent to humanity, we cannot alter the nature of marriage without damage to the nature of the person and society. (Cf. GS at 47–48; FC at 3)

Given its seriousness, this public commitment of love cannot be the fruit of a hasty decision, but neither can it be postponed indefinitely. Committing oneself exclusively and definitively to another person always involves a risk and a bold gamble. Unwillingness to make such a commitment is selfish, calculating and petty. It fails to recognize the rights of another person and to present him or her to society as someone worthy of unconditional love. If two persons are truly in love, they naturally show this to others. When love is expressed before others in the marriage contract, with all its public commitments, it clearly indicates and protects the “yes” which those persons speak freely and unreservedly to each other. This “yes” tells them that they can always trust one another, and that they will never be abandoned when difficulties arise or new attractions or selfish interests present themselves. (AL at 132)

Conjugal Love Answers a Significant Human Need for Communion and Requires Indissolubility

[The] conjugal communion sinks its roots in the natural complementarity that exists between man and woman and is nurtured through the personal willingness of the spouses to share their entire life project, what they have and what they are: For this reason such communion is the fruit and the sign of a profoundly human need. But in the Lord Christ God takes up this human need, confirms it, purifies it and elevates it, leading it to perfection through the sacrament of matrimony . . .

The gift of the spirit is a commandment of life for Christian spouses and at the same time a stimulating impulse so that every day they may progress toward an ever richer union with each other on all levels — of the body, of the character, of the heart, of the intelligence and will, of the soul — revealing in this way to the church and to the world the new communion of love, given by the grace of Christ. (FC at 19)

Conjugal communion is characterized not only by its unity, but also by its indissolubility: “As a mutual [total self-giving] of two persons, this intimate union, as well as the good of children, imposes total fidelity on the spouses and argues for an unbreakable oneness between them.”

Christ “wills and . . . communicates the indissolubility of marriage as a fruit, a sign and a requirement of the absolutely faithful love that God has for man and that the Lord Jesus has for the Church.” (FC at 20)

Natural Matrimony Has Been Elevated to a Sacrament

“The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.” (CCC at 1601) Thus, marriage “is a gift given for the sanctification and salvation of the spouses,” and is the particular way in which spouses live the universal call to holiness. (AL at 72; see also AL at 69.)

“‘Natural marriage, therefore, is fully understood in the light of its fulfilment in the sacrament of Matrimony: only in contemplating Christ does a person come to know the deepest truth about human relationships.’” (AL at 77) “‘Only in the mystery of the Incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. . . . Christ, the new Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and his love, fully reveals man to himself and makes his supreme calling clear.’” (Gaudium et Spes 22)

[C]onjugal love involves a totality, in which all the elements of the person enter — appeal of the body and instinct, power of feeling and affectivity, aspiration of the spirit and of will. It aims at a deeply personal unity, the unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul; it demands indissolubility and faithfulness in definitive mutual giving; and it is open to fertility . . . In a word, it is a question of the normal characteristics of all natural conjugal love, but with a new significance which not only purifies and strengthens them, but raises them to the extent of making them the expression of specifically Christian values. (FC at 13)

[T]he central word of Revelation, “God loves his people,” is likewise proclaimed through the living and concrete word whereby a man and a woman express their conjugal love. Their bond of love becomes the image and the symbol of the covenant which unites God and his people. (FC at 12)

By virtue of the sacramentality of their marriage, spouses are bound to one another in the most profoundly indissoluble manner. Their belonging to each other is the real representation, by means of the sacramental sign, of the very relationship of Christ with the church. (FC at 13)

“[C]onjugal love . . . is a particular reflection of that full unity in distinction found in the Trinity.” (AL at 161) Further, “[t]he word of God tells us that the family is entrusted to a man, a woman and their children, so that they may become a communion of persons in the image of the union of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Begetting and raising children, for its part, mirrors God’s creative work.” (AL at 29) Marriage is thus a reflection of the communion of love that is our Trinitarian God.

Married Couples Witness To the Irreplaceable Value of Indissoluble Fidelity

It is a fundamental duty of the church to reaffirm strongly . . . the doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage. To all those who in our times consider it too difficult or indeed impossible to be bound to one person for the whole of life, and to those caught up in a culture that rejects the indissolubility of marriage and openly mocks the commitment of spouses to fidelity, it is necessary to reconfirm the good news of the definitive nature of that conjugal love that has in Christ its foundation and strength. (FC at 20)

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. So, . . . I praise and encourage those numerous couples who, though encountering no small difficulty, preserve and develop the value of indissolubility: Thus in a humble and courageous manner they perform the role committed to them of being in the world a “sign” — a small and precious sign, sometimes also subjected to temptation, but always renewed — of the unfailing fidelity with which God and Jesus Christ love each and every human being. But it is also proper to recognize the value of the witness of those spouses who, even when abandoned by their partner, with the strength of faith and of Christian hope have not entered a new union: These spouses too give an authentic witness to fidelity, of which the world today has a great need. For this reason they must be encouraged and helped by the pastors and the faithful of the Church. (FC at 20)

Marital love is not defended primarily by presenting indissolubility as a duty, or by repeating doctrine, but by helping it to grow ever stronger under the impulse of grace. A love that fails to grow is at risk. Growth can only occur if we respond to God’s grace through constant acts of love, acts of kindness that become ever more frequent, intense, generous, tender and cheerful. Husbands and wives “become conscious of their unity and experience it more deeply from day to day.” The gift of God’s love poured out upon the spouses is also a summons to constant growth in grace. (AL at 134)

True Married Love Matures and Grows Through Respectful Communication

Pope Francis has noted:

A celestial notion of earthly love forgets that the best is yet to come, that fine wine matures with age. As the Bishops of Chile have pointed out, “the perfect families proposed by deceptive consumerist propaganda do not exist. In those families, no one grows old, there is no sickness, sorrow or death. . . . Consumerist propaganda presents a fantasy that has nothing to do with the reality which must daily be faced by the heads of families.” It is much healthier to be realistic about our limits, defects and imperfections, and to respond to the call to grow together, to bring love to maturity and to strengthen the union, come what may. (AL at 135)

So he gives some basic practical advice. “Learn to say ‘Please,’ ‘Thank you.’ ‘Sorry.’” (AL at 133) There must be dialogue which recognizes that “[o]ur way of asking and responding to questions, the tone we use, our timing and any number of other factors condition how well we communicate.” (AL at 136)

Give your spouse “quality time.” This means being ready to listen patiently and attentively to everything the other person wants to say. It requires the self-discipline of not speaking until the time is right. Instead of offering an opinion or advice, we need to be sure that we have heard everything the other person has to say. This means cultivating an interior silence that makes it possible to listen to the other person without mental or emotional distractions. Do not be rushed, put aside all of your own needs and worries, and make space. Often the other spouse does not need a solution to his or her problems, but simply to be heard, to feel that someone has acknowledge[d] their pain, their disappointment, their fear, their anger, their hopes and their dreams. (AL at 137)

He further advises:

Keep an open mind. Don’t get bogged down in your own limited ideas and opinions, but be prepared to change or expand them. The combination of two different ways of thinking can lead to a synthesis that enriches both. The unity that we seek is not uniformity, but a “unity in diversity,” or “reconciled diversity.” Fraternal communion is enriched by respect and appreciation for differences within an overall perspective that advances the common good. . . . The ability to say what one is thinking without offending the other person is important. Words should be carefully chosen so as not to offend, especially when discussing difficult issues. Making a point should never involve venting anger and inflicting hurt. A patronizing tone only serves to hurt, ridicule, accuse and offend others. Many disagreements between couples are not about important things. Mostly they are about trivial matters. What alters the mood, however, is the way things are said or the attitude with which they are said. (AL at 139)

“Show affection and concern for the other person.” (AL at 140) He also suggests something that may not be an obvious necessity to growth in marriage:

[F]or a worthwhile dialogue we have to have something to say. This can only be the fruit of an interior richness nourished by reading, personal reflection, prayer and openness to the world around us. Otherwise, conversations become boring and trivial. When neither of the spouses works at this, and has little real contact with other people, family life becomes stifling and dialogue impoverished. (AL at 141)

Erotic Love in Marriage: A Gift of God, Not for Selfish Pleasure or Domination

Pope Francis, relying heavily on the magisterium of St. John Paul II, states:

God himself created sexuality, which is a marvelous gift to his creatures. If this gift needs to be cultivated and directed, it is to prevent the “impoverishment of an authentic value.” Saint John Paul II rejected the claim that the Church’s teaching is “a negation of the value of human sexuality,” or that the Church simply tolerates sexuality “because it is necessary for procreation.” Sexual desire is not something to be looked down upon, “and there can be no attempt whatsoever to call into question its necessity.”

To those who fear that the training of the passions and of sexuality detracts from the spontaneity of sexual love, Saint John Paul II replied that human persons are “called to full and mature spontaneity in their relationships,” a maturity that “is the gradual fruit of a discernment of the impulses of one’s own heart.” This calls for discipline and self-mastery, since every human person “must learn, with perseverance and consistency, the meaning of his or her body.” Sexuality is not a means of gratification or entertainment; it is an interpersonal language wherein the other is taken seriously, in his or her sacred and inviolable dignity. As such, “the human heart comes to participate, so to speak, in another kind of spontaneity.” In this context, the erotic appears as a specifically human manifestation of sexuality. It enables us to discover “the nuptial meaning of the body and the authentic dignity of the gift.” In his catecheses on the theology of the body, Saint John Paul II taught that sexual differentiation not only is “a source of fruitfulness and procreation,” but also possesses “the capacity of expressing love: that love precisely in which the human person becomes a gift.” A healthy sexual desire, albeit closely joined to a pursuit of pleasure, always involves a sense of wonder, and for that very reason can humanize the impulses.

In no way, then, can we consider the erotic dimension of love simply as a permissible evil or a burden to be tolerated for the good of the family. Rather, it must be seen as [a] gift from God that enriches the relationship of the spouses. As a passion sublimated by a love respectful of the dignity of the other, it becomes a “pure, unadulterated affirmation” revealing the marvels of which the human heart is capable. In this way, even momentarily, we can feel that “life has turned out good and happy.” (AL at 150–52)

Hence, sex cannot be used for manipulation, selfish pleasure, or domination of one’s spouse.

It is, after all, a fact that sex often becomes depersonalized and unhealthy; as a result, “it becomes the occasion and instrument for self-assertion and the selfish satisfaction of personal desires and instincts.” In our own day, sexuality risks being poisoned by the mentality of “use and discard.” The body of the other is often viewed as an object to be used as long as it offers satisfaction, and rejected once it is no longer appealing. Can we really ignore or overlook the continuing forms of domination, arrogance, abuse, sexual perversion and violence that are the product of a warped understanding of sexuality? Or the fact that the dignity of others and our human vocation to love thus end up being less important than an obscure need to “find oneself”? (AL at 153)

Pope Francis continues:

Every form of sexual submission must be clearly rejected. This includes all improper interpretations of the passage in the Letter to the Ephesians where Paul tells women to “be subject to your husbands” (Eph 5:22). This passage mirrors the cultural categories of the time, but our concern is not with its cultural matrix but with the revealed message that it conveys. As Saint John Paul II wisely observed: “Love excludes every kind of subjection whereby the wife might become a servant or a slave of the husband . . . The community or unity which they should establish through marriage is constituted by a reciprocal donation of self, which is also a mutual subjection.” Hence Paul goes on to say that “husbands should love their wives as their own bodies” (Eph 5:28). The biblical text is actually concerned with encouraging everyone to overcome a complacent individualism and to be constantly mindful of others: “Be subject to one another” (Eph 5:21). In marriage, this reciprocal “submission” takes on a special meaning, and is seen as a freely chosen mutual belonging marked by fidelity, respect and care. Sexuality is inseparably at the service of this conjugal friendship, for it is meant to aid the fulfilment of the other. (AL at 156)

Marital love may change over the years but it need not grow old.

In the course of every marriage physical appearances change, but this hardly means that love and attraction need fade. We love the other person for who they are, not simply for their body. Although the body ages, it still expresses that personal identity that first won our heart. Even if others can no longer see the beauty of that identity, a spouse continues to see it with the eyes of love and so his or her affection does not diminish. He or she reaffirms the decision to belong to the other and expresses that choice in faithful and loving closeness. The nobility of this decision, by its intensity and depth, gives rise to a new kind of emotion as they fulfill their marital mission. For “emotion, caused by another human being as a person . . . does not per se tend toward the conjugal act.” It finds other sensible expressions. Indeed, love “is a single reality, but with different dimensions; at different times, one or other dimension may emerge more clearly.” The marriage bond finds new forms of expression and constantly seeks new ways to grow in strength. These both preserve and strengthen the bond. They call for daily effort. None of this, however, is possible without praying to the Holy Spirit for an outpouring of his grace, his supernatural strength and his spiritual fire, to confirm, direct and transform our love in every new situation. (AL at 164)

The Family — a Community of Life and Love — Emerges From Married Love

The love between husband and wife results in the formation of the primary community of persons — the family. St. John Paul II tells us:

According to the plan of God, marriage is the foundation of the wider community of the family, since the very institution of marriage and conjugal love is ordained to the procreation and education of children, in whom they find their crowning.

In its most profound reality, love is essentially a gift; and conjugal love, while leading the spouses to the reciprocal “knowledge” which makes them “one flesh,” does not end with the couple, because it makes them capable of the greatest possible gift, the gift by which they become cooperators with God for giving life to a new human person. Thus the couple, while giving themselves to one another, give not just themselves but also the reality of children, who are a living reflection of their love, a permanent sign of conjugal unity and a living and inseparable synthesis of their being a father and a mother. (FC at 14)

The family was created “as an ‘intimate community of life and love.’” (FC at 17) “[T]he essence and role of the family are in the final analysis specified by love. Hence the family has the mission to guard, reveal and communicate love, and this is a living reflection of and a real sharing in God’s love for humanity and the love of Christ the Lord for the church, his bride.” (FC at 17; emphasis in original)

“In matrimony and in the family a complex of interpersonal relationships is set up — married life, fatherhood and motherhood, filiation and fraternity — through which each human person is introduced into the ‘human family’ and into the ‘family of God,’ which is the church.” (FC at 15)

Hence, Pope Francis discusses the benefit of fraternal relationships among the siblings:

Growing up with brothers and sisters makes for a beautiful experience of caring for and helping one another. For “fraternity in families is especially radiant when we see the care, the patience, the affection that surround the little brother or sister who is frail, sick or disabled.” It must be acknowledged that “having a brother or a sister who loves you is a profound, precious and unique experience.” Children do need to be patiently taught to treat one another as brothers and sisters. This training, at times quite demanding, is a true school of socialization. In some countries, where it has become quite common to have only one child, the experience of being a brother or sister is less and less common. When it has been possible to have only one child, ways have to be found to ensure that he or she does not grow up alone or isolated. (AL at 195)

He also points out that family love must extend to elderly parents:

Saint John Paul II asked us to be attentive to the role of the elderly in our families, because there are cultures which, “especially in the wake of disordered industrial and urban development, have both in the past and in the present set the elderly aside in unacceptable ways.” The elderly help us to appreciate “the continuity of the generations,” by their “charism of bridging the gap.” Very often it is grandparents who ensure that the most important values are passed down to their grandchildren, and “many people can testify that they owe their initiation into the Christian life to their grandparents.” Their words, their affection or simply their presence help children to realize that history did not begin with them, that they are now part of an age-old pilgrimage and that they need to respect all that came before them. Those who would break all ties with the past will surely find it difficult to build stable relationships and to realize that reality is bigger than they are. “Attention to the elderly makes the difference in a society. Does a society show concern for the elderly? Does it make room for the elderly? Such a society will move forward if it respects the wisdom of the elderly.”

The lack of historical memory is a serious shortcoming in our society. A mentality that can only say, “Then was then, now is now,” is ultimately immature. Knowing and judging past events is the only way to build a meaningful future. Memory is necessary for growth: “Recall the former days” (Heb 10:32). Listening to the elderly tell their stories is good for children and young people; it makes them feel connected to the living history of their families, their neighborhoods and their country. A family that fails to respect and cherish its grandparents, who are its living memory, is already in decline, whereas a family that remembers has a future. “A society that has no room for the elderly or discards them because they create problems, has a deadly virus”; “it is torn from its roots.” Our contemporary experience of being orphans as a result of cultural discontinuity, uprootedness and the collapse of the certainties that shape our lives, challenges us to make our families places where children can sink roots in the rich soil of a collective history. (AL at 192–93)

The Responsibility of Parents and a Mother’s Love

Pope Francis encourages parents to love their children without reservation:

Some parents feel that their child is not coming at the best time. They should ask the Lord to heal and strengthen them to accept their child fully and wholeheartedly. It is important for that child to feel wanted. He or she is not an accessory or a solution to some personal need. A child is a human being of immense worth and may never be used for one’s own benefit. So it matters little whether this new life is convenient for you, whether it has features that please you, or whether it fits into your plans and aspirations. For “children are a gift. Each one is unique and irreplaceable . . . We love our children because they are children, not because they are beautiful, or look or think as we do, or embody our dreams. We love them because they are children. A child is a child.” The love of parents is the means by which God our Father shows his own love. He awaits the birth of each child, accepts that child unconditionally, and welcomes him or her freely. (AL at 170)

St. John Paul II incisively states that “[t]he eternal mystery of generation, which is in God himself, the one and Triune God . . . is reflected in the woman’s motherhood and in the man’s fatherhood. Human parenthood is something shared by both the man and the woman.” (MD at 18)

[The] mutual gift of the person in marriage opens to the gift of a new life, a new human being, who is also a person in the likeness of his parents. Motherhood implies from the beginning a special openness to the new person: and this is precisely the woman’s “part.” In this openness, in conceiving and giving birth to a child, the woman “discovers herself through a sincere gift of self.” The gift of interior readiness to accept the child and bring it into the world is linked to the marriage union, which — as mentioned earlier — should constitute a special moment in the mutual self-giving both by the woman and the man. Id.

Motherhood involves a special communion with the mystery of life, as it develops in the woman’s womb. The mother is filled with wonder at this mystery of life, and “understands” with unique intuition what is happening inside her. In the light of the “beginning,” the mother accepts and loves as a person the child she is carrying in her womb. This unique contact with the new human being developing within her gives rise to an attitude towards human beings — not only towards her own child, but every human being — which profoundly marks the woman’s personality. . . . The child’s upbringing, taken as a whole, should include the contribution of both parents: the maternal and paternal contribution. In any event, the mother’s contribution is decisive in laying the foundation for a new human personality. Id. (emphasis added)

Pope Francis warns:

The sense of being orphaned that affects many children and young people today is much deeper than we think. Nowadays we acknowledge as legitimate and indeed desirable that women wish to study, work, develop their skills and have personal goals. At the same time, we cannot ignore the need that children have for a mother’s presence, especially in the first months of life. Indeed, “the woman stands before the man as a mother, the subject of the new human life that is conceived and develops in her, and from her is born into the world.” The weakening of this maternal presence with its feminine qualities poses a grave risk to our world. I certainly value feminism, but one that does not demand uniformity or negate motherhood. For the grandeur of women includes all the rights derived from their inalienable human dignity but also from their feminine genius, which is essential to society. Their specifically feminine abilities — motherhood in particular — also grant duties, because womanhood also entails a specific mission in this world, a mission that society needs to protect and preserve for the good of all. (AL at 173)

Love of a Husband for His Wife and His Children

St. John Paul II instructs that “[w]ithin the conjugal and family communion-community, the man is called upon to live his gift and role as husband and father.” (FC at 25)

Authentic conjugal love presupposes and requires that a man have a profound respect for the equal dignity of his wife: “You are not her master,” writes St. Ambrose, “but her husband; she was not given to you to be your slave, but your wife. . . . Reciprocate her attentiveness to you and be grateful to her for her love.” With his wife a man should live “a very special form of personal friendship.” As for the Christian, he is called upon to develop a new attitude of love, manifesting toward his wife a charity that is both gentle and strong like that which Christ has for the Church. Id.

Love for his wife as mother of their children and love for the children themselves are for the man the natural way of understanding and fulfilling his own fatherhood. Above all where social and cultural conditions so easily encourage a father to be less concerned with his family or at any rate less involved in the work of education, efforts must be made to restore socially the conviction that the place and task of the father in and for the family is of unique and irreplaceable importance. As experience teaches, the absence of a father causes psychological and moral imbalance and notable difficulties in family relationships, as does, in contrary circumstances, the oppressive presence of a father, especially where there still prevails the phenomenon of “machismo,” or a wrong superiority of male prerogatives which humiliates women and inhibits the development of healthy family relationships. Id.

In revealing and in reliving on earth the very fatherhood of God, a man is called upon to ensure the harmonious and united development of all the members of the family: He will perform this task by exercising generous responsibility for the life conceived under the heart of the mother, by a more solicitous commitment to education, a task he shares with his wife, by work which is never a cause of division in the family but promotes its unity and stability, and by means of the witness he gives of an adult Christian life which effectively introduces the children into the living experience of Christ and the church. Id.

Pope Francis reiterates these essential points:

Men “play an equally decisive role in family life, particularly with regard to the protection and support of their wives and children. . . . Many men are conscious of the importance of their role in the family and live their masculinity accordingly. The absence of a father gravely affects family life and the upbringing of children and their integration into society. This absence, which may be physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual, deprives children of a suitable father figure.” (AL at 55)

“Fathers are often so caught up in themselves and their work, and at times in their own self-fulfilment, that they neglect their families. They leave the little ones and the young to themselves.” The presence of the father, and hence his authority, is also impacted by the amount of time given over to the communications and entertainment media. Nowadays authority is often considered suspect and adults treated with impertinence. They themselves become uncertain and so fail to offer sure and solid guidance to their children. A reversal of the roles of parents and children is unhealthy, since it hinders the proper process of development that children need to experience, and it denies them the love and guidance needed to mature. (AL at 176)

Introducing Children to Christ and His Church

Christian marriage and the Christian family build up the church: for in the family the human person is not only brought into being and progressively introduced by means of education into the human community, but by means of the rebirth of baptism and education in the faith the child is also introduced into God’s family, which is the church. (FC at 15; emphasis added)

The mission to educate demands that Christian parents should present to their children all the topics that are necessary for the gradual maturing of their personality from a Christian and ecclesial point of view. They will therefore . . . take care to show their children the depths of significance to which the faith and love of Jesus Christ can lead. Furthermore, their awareness that the Lord is entrusting to them the growth of a child of God, a brother or sister of Christ, a temple of the Holy Spirit, a member of the church, will support Christian parents in their task of strengthening the gift of divine grace in their children’s souls. (FC at 39)

The Second Vatican Council describes the content of Christian education as follows: “Such an education does not merely strive to foster maturity . . . in the human person. Rather, its principal aims are these: that as baptized persons are gradually introduced into a knowledge of the mystery of salvation, they may daily grow more conscious of the gift of faith which they have received; that they may learn to adore God the Father in spirit and in truth (cf. Jn. 4:23), especially through liturgical worship; that they may be trained to conduct their personal life in true righteousness and holiness, according to their new nature (Eph. 4:22–24), and thus grow to maturity, to the stature of the fullness of Christ (cf. Eph. 4:13), and devote themselves to the upbuilding of the mystical body. Moreover, aware of their calling, they should grow accustomed to giving witness to the hope that is in them (cf. I Pt. 3:15), and to promoting the Christian transformation of the world.” Id.

By virtue of their ministry of educating, parents are through the witness of their lives the first heralds of the Gospel for their children. Furthermore, by praying with their children, by reading the word of God with them and by introducing them deeply through Christian initiation into the body of Christ — both the Eucharistic and the ecclesial body — they become fully parents, in that they are begetters not only of bodily life but also of the life that through the Spirit’s renewal flows from the cross and resurrection of Christ. Id.

The Church challenges each family to be:

“. . . an agent of pastoral activity through its explicit proclamation of the Gospel and its legacy of varied forms of witness, namely solidarity with the poor, openness to a diversity of people, the protection of creation, moral and material solidarity with other families, including those most in need, commitment to the promotion of the common good and the transformation of unjust social structures, beginning in the territory in which the family lives, through the practice of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.” All this is an expression of our profound Christian belief in the love of the Father who guides and sustains us, a love manifested in the total self-gift of Jesus Christ, who even now lives in our midst and enables us to face together the storms of life at every stage. In all families the Good News needs to resound, in good times and in bad, as a source of light along the way. All of us should be able to say, thanks to the experience of our life in the family: “We come to believe in the love that God has for us” (1 Jn 4:16). Only on the basis of this experience will the Church’s pastoral care for families enable them to be both domestic churches and a leaven of evangelization in society. (AL at 290)

By their witness as well as their words, families speak to others of Jesus. They pass on the faith, they arouse a desire for God and they reflect the beauty of the Gospel and its way of life. Christian marriages thus enliven society by their witness of fraternity, their social concern, their outspokenness on behalf of the underprivileged, their luminous faith and their active hope. Their fruitfulness expands and in countless ways makes God’s love present in society. (AL at 184)

“[F]amilies who are properly disposed and receive the Eucharist regularly, reinforce their desire for fraternity, their social consciousness and their commitment to those in need.” (AL at 186) “The Eucharist is the sacrament of the new covenant, where Christ’s redemptive work is carried out (cf. Lk 22:20). The close bond between married life and the Eucharist thus becomes all the more clear. For the food of the Eucharist offers the spouses the strength and incentive needed to live the marriage covenant each day as a “‘domestic church.’” (AL at 318) In order for “families to grow in faith,” the Church encourages “frequent confession, spiritual direction, and occasional retreats.” (AL at 227)

Richard P. Maggi, Esq. About Richard P. Maggi, Esq.

Richard P. Maggi, Esq., has been a litigation attorney for the past 40 years. He is also a commentator on religion and politics, having been published in Homiletic & Pastoral Review, First Things (web edition), Crisis Magazine, the Washington Examiner, Human Life Review, and Notre Dame Magazine. For seven years, four of which they were co-leaders, he and his wife were members of the Pre-Cana team at Our Lady of Peace Parish in New Providence, New Jersey.


  1. Avatar Bob Filoramo says:

    Thanks for citing so many rich documents on marriage. These could be incorporated in a course for engaged couples and married couples who may never have read or been taught what the Church teaches. Unfortunately, most young people do not get to witness great marriages first hand these days.One of the major “enemies” of a correct understanding of God’s plan for marriage is what St. John Paul 2 called the conscience forming mass media. The spiritual warfare is intense; the Devil hates marriage.
    Peace, Bob Filoramo, Warren, NJ

  2. Avatar William Mahon says:

    AS Always done very well and very clear

    Peace Fr. Bill

  3. Lots of good teaching in this article. The importance in the upbringing of the child failed to mention breastfeeding which is God’s plan for providing a good foundation for life and offers so many benefits to mother and child, even benefits which occur after the breastfeeding has ceased. St. John Paul II encouraged mothers to nurse for at least two years. This is something only mothers can do. And it is God’s way of spacing babies when natural breastfeeding is done. For more information on natural birth spacing, go to This option needs to be taught to new married couples as one option for family planning. One mother recently wrote saying that she spaced her three children 2.5 years apart using nothing but ecological breastfeeding (the Seven Standards) and with no abstinence. Mothers who follow the Seven standards usually go 1 to 2 years without menstruation. To experience an early return of menses would be an exception for a mother doing eco-breastfeeding. In the 60s a physiology teacher taught our class that the reproductive cycle does not end with childbirth, but it ends with the breastfeeding. How true!