February 13, 2015


Male and female are God’s design

“Almost everything that marriage once brought together has now been split apart. Sex has been divorced from love, love from commitment, marriage from having children, and having children from responsibility for their care.”

We are going to be hearing a lot about marriage this year, here in the United States in preparation for the “World Meeting of Families” in Philadelphia in September, and worldwide in preparation for the Synod of Bishops’ assembly on “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization” at the Vatican in October.

Before that, though, we think it’s important to back up a bit to an important meeting that took place in mid-November at the Vatican that, unfortunately, didn’t get the coverage it deserved. Some 300 delegates from around the world and from many religions met for a colloquium called “Humanum: The Complementarity of Man and Woman.”

The quotation at the beginning of this editorial was part of an address by Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi to the United Kingdom. A prominent American evangelist, Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., also spoke. So did Muslim scholars, a Mormon leader, African-American Pentecostals, Anglican bishops, and representatives of Buddhist, Jain, Taoist, and Hindu traditions.

The common theme was the belief that all faiths and cultures include the belief that maleness and femaleness are part of God’s design, and that marriage is more than a mere partnership. One would think that such a meeting would attract the secular media, but it did not.

Of course, Catholic periodicals reported on the meeting. The Criterion did so on the front page of our Nov. 21 issue, although our story concentrated on the pope’s announcement that he will be coming to the United States for that meeting of families. The fact that the meeting started on a Monday limited our coverage. British journalist and author Austen Ivereigh (his latest book is The Great Reformer: Pope John and the Making of a Radical Pope) wrote a more thorough article for the Catholic weekly Our Sunday Visitor.

Pope Francis opened the meeting, describing marriage as “a unique, natural, fundamental and beautiful good for persons, communities and whole societies.” He said that children have a right to grow up with a father and a mother, and he warned against the politicization of marriage because marriage is “an anthropological fact” that should not be considered conservative or progressive.

Ivereigh reported that the colloquium included a series of six short movies that were shown between the talks. Filmed in Nigeria, Lebanon, Mexico, Argentina, France, Scotland and the United States, they explored the universal power and beauty of male-female bonding across cultures and social classes. Both experts and ordinary people expressed the idea that marriage is reflective of the divine architecture.

American law professor Helen Alvare is the spokeswoman for the series of videos. She said that its purpose is to find a new language for talking about marriage. “We need to figure out what God was saying when he made his image in two sexes, drew them to one another in a one-flesh union and put procreation there,” she said.

The six videos are available for free online at humanum.it/en. The episodes include “The Destiny of Humanity: On the Meaning of Marriage,” “The Cradle of Life and Love: A Mother and Father for the World’s Children,” “Understanding Man and Woman,” “A Hidden Sweetness: The Power of Marriage Amid Hardship,” “Challenge and Hope for a New Generation,” and “Marriage, Culture, and Civil Society.”

Alvare hopes that the videos can be turned into a parish program and shown in schools and movie theaters worldwide as part of marriage preparation. They are not idealistic films, she said. The stories they tell “combine the dose of beauty and reality that a couple really needs.”

After the quotation that began this editorial, Rabbi Sacks went on to say that the destruction of marriage in our society has resulted in a catastrophic new social divide between those born to married parents and those born outside marriage. The former, he said, have a vastly better chance of being happy, balanced, successful and fruitful.

That’s a message we must get across to our secular society.

—John F. Fink

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