When Two Become One: A Pastoral Teaching on the Definition, Purpose and Sanctity of Marriage by Archbishop Myers, Archdiocese of Newark

When Two Become One:
A Pastoral Teaching on the Definition, Purpose and Sanctity of Marriage

Marriage is as old as humankind. From the beginning, God created the human race in His own image and likeness. Sexual difference and complementarity have been present from the beginning as part of God’s creative plan. Equal in dignity but complementary in their sexual difference, men and women who are called to marriage are intended to form one-flesh unions. Thus, marriage can be seen as the “primordial sacrament” predating the Fall and surviving original sin. It provides the ideal context for children—citizens of the state and of the Kingdom—to be formed, nurtured and educated. It is therefore the fundamental building block of every society and of the Church, a matter of vital concern to both.

This pastoral relection is offered to the faithful of the Archdiocese of Newark to help them form their consciences, discern their vocations and, for the married, fulfill their vows. It is also ofered to other men and
women of good will—of every faith—who join us in the sincere hope of seeing family life lourish in northern New Jersey and throughout our state and our nation.

Because God loves and cares for us, He has revealed to us the nature, purpose, and meaning of marriage. his revelation is recorded in Sacred Scripture and Tradition; it is safeguarded and faithfully developed by the Magisterium, the teaching office of the Church. This gives Catholics the assurance of faith in the Church’s firm teaching on the nature of marriage. But marriage is also part of God’s creative plan and can be known through reason, unaided by revelation. he truth about marriage is, in other words, part of the natural law.

What is Marriage?

Marriage is a natural and pre-political institution. It is not created by law or the state, though governments rightly recognize it in law and protect and support it for the sake of the common good. Marriage is a human institution, to be sure, and spouses can enter into the bond of marriage only by freely choosing to do so. Its defining features and structuring norms are not pure products of human choice.

We cannot define and redefine marriage to suit our personal tastes or goals. We cannot make forms of relationship or types of conduct marital
simply by attaching to them the word “marriage.” The defining features and structuring norms of marriage are written in the design of creation and revealed to us by a loving God who has made marriage a powerful symbol of the mystery of His love for us.

Canon law and the Catechism of the Catholic Church both provide a straight forward deinition of marriage: “he matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring…” Thus, the essential elements of marriage include a communion of life (unity), permanence, fidelity, and an ordering toward fecundity (fruitfulness). It should be clear from this definition that the Church recognizes as valid and binding all true marriages, not simply those between Catholics or Christians or believers in God. It is true that Christ has elevated the marital covenant between baptized persons to the dignity of a sacrament. But considered as a natural human good, marriage is, in a profound sense, prior not only to the state, but even to the Church and the Abrahamic covenant that Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike recognize as foundational to salviic faith.

Even in this broadest sense, the unity of the marital covenant is a communion of life and love. Husband and wife give themselves each to the other for the whole of life. heirs is an open-ended commitment—a covenantal union for the whole of life (“for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health”), not a mere contract. It does not unite spouses just for the achievement of this or that specific project (even the profoundly important project of childrearing), but is intended to last for the whole of life (“until death do us part”) in its many diverse dimensions. Spouses pledge to be faithful to each other (“I promise to be true to you…) and to accept children lovingly from God.

This definition we know from faith as well as reason, and it is part of the authentic teaching of the Church. All Catholics, as the Second Vatican Council teaches, are called to give a religious assent of mind and will to this teaching. Some of this teaching, such as the belief about the permanence of marriage, has been proposed infallibly by the ordinary universal Magisterium and deined by an Ecumenical Council and requires the assent of faith.

What does the Catholic Church teach about persons with homosexual attractions?

There are 2,865 paragraphs in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Only three of them deal directly with the question of same-sex attraction. In two of these paragraphs (2358-59), the Church reaffirms the dignity and worth of people with “deep seated homosexual tendencies,” commanding that they be “accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” It also condemns any sort of unjust discrimination against them, and acknowledges the pain they may experience.

The Catechism calls those with same-sex attractions, as it does all Christians, to chastity and holiness (“Christian perfection”), aided by “disinterested friendship,” by “prayer and sacramental grace.” Most people ind these paragraphs unremarkable except for their pastoral sensitivity.

This leaves one paragraph that causes some misunderstanding. Paragraph 2357 deines what homosexuality is, states that it has taken diferent forms in diferent ages and cultures, and alludes to the lack of consensus among psychologists and other social scientists on its genesis. The paragraph continues by airming that the teaching of the Church founded on Sacred Scripture and Tradition has always and everywhere taught that homosexual acts are not in accordance with the natural law.

This teaching is not new but a reairmation of the moral norm that the only acceptable place for genital sexual expression is in a valid conjugal marriage based…on the sexual complementarity of the couple and the one lesh unity of husband and a wife.

Some mistakenly charge that Christ and His Church condemn or fail to love persons who experience romantic or sexual attraction to members of the same sex. On the contrary, while calling each of us to renounce all sinful behavior, Christ and His Church unequivocally love every last human person, in every condition of life: the unborn and the dying; the able-bodied and the sick; the young and the old; and men and women, whatever their inclinations.

The same git of reason that makes us the “crown of creation” thus enables us both to know and to choose to live by the moral truth about sexuality, unshackled by mere instincts or inclinations. In other words, Christ and His Church recognize that no person is simply bound by “un-freedom” to any form of sexual activity; rather, as human persons, each has the capacity to exercise sexual capacities on the basis of reasonable judgments and moral values. For this reason, the Church “refuses to consider the person as a ‘heterosexual’ or a ‘homosexual,’ as if these were identities or identity-forming features, and insists that every person has a fundamental identity: the creature of God and, by grace, His child and heir to eternal life.” he Church speaks instead of people with homosexual “inclinations” and calls them, like everyone, to live abundantly (Jn. 10:10), with integrity, in every arena—at home and at work, in Church and in society. In fact, the Church does not hold that homosexual attraction is necessarily an impediment even to marriage. Today and throughout history, there are and have been persons who experience same-sex attraction, even strong and predominant same-sex attraction, who also understand marriage and its value and have chosen to be joined to a person of the opposite sex in true matrimony. Many such persons have lived good, faithful, and even joyous married lives. It is a lie to say that they are living, or have lived, a lie; and the Church has never said that, and will never say it.

Authenticity, after all, cannot require following every emotional inclination, or never resisting any. For any fallen human being, this would make for a fractured, indeed a dissipated life. What authenticity requires is that we live according to the truth—including the moral truth—about our nature and dignity. Of course, not everyone is called to the
married state, and for some, it may be imprudent to marry: psychologically too difficult, or likely to put severe strains on the couple, for any number of reasons. Personal vocations can only be discerned by prayer and relection based on all our particular circumstances, and the Church can help us by spiritual direction and the example of the saints. For all, however, chastity, whatever its challenges, is what brings fullness of life and, with it, the git of greater holiness.

Should faithful Catholics defend the traditional teaching on marriage in the public square?

Besides the signiicance historically given to marriage even in the secular realm, the Church, in recognizing the same elements, also sees something more in Christian marriage: it is a sacrament in that it is a sign of the love of Christ for His Church.

Christian spouses, therefore, are signs of God’s self-sacriicial love for us. he way they lay down their lives in love and service to one another gives witness to how Christ mercifully loves each of us. In forming communities of life and love, they relect the Triune love of God.
However, honesty demands that we recognize that the current state of marriage in our Church and in our society oten acts as a counter sign. his means that many young people today have not experienced permanence and faithfulness in the familial relationships around them.
This impedes their appreciation of the truth about marriage and makes it diicult for them to make serious and permanent commitments which overcome self-regard in favor of the good of others and the common good. Most signiicant, within the marital environment, the dramatic increase in the number and the social acceptability of divorces (and more recently “no-fault” divorce) has produced a generation that knows marriage only as an unstable state meant to serve the individualistic happiness of the spouses alone, with reduced regard for their duty to their ofspring—the very opposite of the permanent and open-ended commitment that deines marriage as such.

Closely related to this, the widespread use of contraception in sexual relations makes it diicult for young people today to grasp the intrinsic meaning and relation between sexual activity and procreation that has always been one of the fundamental meanings of marriage, even in the secular realm. When couples choose to contracept, they hold back part of themselves (their fertility) and refuse to accept the other in his or her totality. his impedes the sign of the total git of self inherent in the marital act.

The prevalence of false ideologies about our nature afects how we think of our bodies. hese ideologies have degraded the body, treating it as separate from the identity of the person. Identity appears to rest only mind and will, and the body is regarded as part of a lower order of creation. To some, sexual activity is understood simply as a source of pleasure or recreation, or as a way of satisfying an appetite just like hunger or thirst. Its deeper meaning as a one-lesh unity of covenantal partners is lost.

The loss of the sense of fidelity and permanence within marriage and the loss of the centrality of ofspring within marriage (through contraception and abortion) in favor of pleasure, has contributed to the arguments for “same-sex marriage.” Worse, it has undermined the wellbeing of many children and contributed to numerous social problems affecting the common good.

One of the best services we can provide to our Church and our society is to commit or recommit to faithfully and lovingly living out our own commitments to marriage and celibacy for the Kingdom. Our children and our nation need the example of many, many faithful people fulilling in a joyful and self-sacriicing way their vocations. In particular, I ask all to renew their eforts to be child-focused families where the good of the children comes before career or “personal fulillment.” I call upon our archdiocesan oices and our parishes and schools to renew their eforts to be at the service of the families of northern New Jersey.

In addition, I call upon all Catholics, especially Catholic politicians who serve the common good, and other men and women of good will to defend the truth about marriage against those who would try to deconstruct or radically alter its meaning. Catholic citizens must exercise our right to vote in defense of marriage and life. This is our duty as citizens and believers.

To view the complete text of Archbishop Myers’ pastoral reflection on marriage, visit:


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