This is the text of a talk given by Tim Rohr on 3/8/13 at the St. Therese Chapel in Hagatna, Guam.
For the first seven years of his pontificate, Pope John Paul II used the occasion of his weekly audiences to speak and teach about marriage. These addresses were compiled into a single work which is now called Theology of the Body.
That the Pope spent seven years, every week, teaching about marriage, should tell us that as our Supreme Pastor, he saw that the fundamental problem with the church and the world was a problem with marriage, and more specifically, a problem with our fundamental understanding of who we are as men and women, male and female.
This should not surprise us. When John Paul II first began this series of talks, it was 1979. The sexual revolution had been raging for nearly a decade, and in its wake were millions of aborted children, rampant divorce, destroyed families, and otherwise very damaged people - in short, the Culture of Death, as the Pope would later famously call it.
Pope John Paul recognized that the fundamental problem was that we had been lied to by the world and we had believed the lie. We had been told “if it feels good, do it.” We had been told that “all you need is this pill and you can enjoy consequence-free sex forever.” We had been told that no-fault divorce was the answer to painful marriages and the key to self-fulfillment.
John Paul II, at the dawn of his pontificate, wanted to beat back that lie and chose to do it in the same way that Jesus did 2000 years earlier, by restoring marriage, and thus what it means to be male and female, to its original innocence and dignity.
In Matthew 19, Jesus is challenged by the Pharisees for his teaching on marriage as follows:
Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?” He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no man must separate.” They said to him, “Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss [her]?” He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.
John Paul II uses these words “from the beginning it was not so”, to construct the whole of his Theology of the Body which has as its goal, the same goal as Jesus at this moment in Scripture: to restore marriage to its origins, to God’s original design.
Jesus refers to God’s original plan for marriage when he says: “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’...?” The reference is to Genesis 1:27 which says: “God created man in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
But let’s put this verse in context beginning with Gen 1:26 through 28:
Then God said: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth. God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female* he created them. God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.
Now before we go on, let us remind ourselves that Pope John Paul spent nearly seven years developing this one passage. And here’s why. Man is the pinnacle of creation, and all creation is made subject to him. Thus when man falls, all creation falls with him. The whole world is wounded because of man’s disobedience.
God became man to restore man to God, but also to restore the whole of creation to its original order. But for that to happen, man, to whom all creation remains subject, must first be restored. Yet, though the saving work of Christ had given man the means of salvation, it was still up to man, having free will, to return on his own to his original image.
Thus John Paul asks us first to examine the words: “let Us make Man in Our image.” Notice first that this is God, himself, speaking. Notice next, that God, speaks in the first person plural: “let US make man in OUR image.” Who is he talking to? The angels? No, the angels, being created beings themselves, cannot create. Only God can. Thus he can only be speaking to the other persons of the Blessed Trinity.
Right at the beginning of Scripture, at the dawn of creation, we clearly see that God is not a single person, but a community of persons: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit, the Trinity. Thus when God makes man “in OUR image”, man too is a community of persons, or at least he is designed to be, because only in this way can man fully image the Trinity.
Next, the scripture tells us that man is made male and female: “male and female he created them”. In short, in this version of creation (there is another) man is made a couple from the beginning, a married couple, but to fully image the Trinity, to fully image God, there must be a third. Thus God continues with the words “be fertile and multiply.”
I wrestled with how to explain this because it is important to know that the command to be fertile is not a separate act, some sort of afterthought to creation. It is part of the same creative act. Man is made, at the moment of his creation, a single, inseparable, life-giving community of persons which, because man exists in time, a child will follow, but because God does not exist in time, the child is already “now”.
So just as the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, a third person, a child, proceeds from the man and the woman, completing the trinity of persons and thus imaging God. This is not only “God’s Love Made Visible”, this is God, who IS LOVE, made visible.
NATURAL STERILITY AND CELIBACY
Now, before we go on, allow me to make a point about natural sterility. As married persons, we only have control over the procreative act, not procreation. In other words, we cannot bring about new life. We can only engage in an act which has the capacity to produce new life. However, the creation of that new life is ultimately up to God, not us.
Thus the conjugal act is no less meaningful for a naturally sterile couple than it is for a fertile couple, since neither has control over anything other than the marital act itself.
Also, a point about celibacy. Celibacy, whether it is voluntary, such as that which is embraced by those who enter religious life, or involuntary, such as that which must be lived by those who find themselves single, either as the result of the death or illness of a spouse, or simply never having married despite a desire to, ultimately, celibacy anticipates the state to which we all are destined, heaven, where we will finally be joined to our only true spouse, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thus the Book of Revelation reveals heaven as the eternal Wedding Feast of the Lamb. Marriage on earth only prefigures and images that which we will experience in heaven. This is important because, for most of us, even those of us who are currently married, will, as mentioned, through death, illness, or something otherwise, find ourselves at some point, single, and will need to embrace celibacy not as a loss or a curse, but as a preparation for heaven.
NOW, BACK TO MARRIAGE
I left off by saying that the conjugal act is how we most closely image God because the creation of man as male and female and the command to be fruitful and multiply, is all a single act. There is no separation of the unitive and procreative aspects of marriage. There is no “first the couple” and “then the children”. This is why the marriage ceremony, with the public exchange of vows and rings means nothing until the couple privately exchanges their vows and bodies in the act which has the capacity to produce a child, i.e. “consummate the marriage.”
And herein lies the problem. Many couples opt to put off having children UNTIL - until they finish their education, until they have enough money to buy a house, until they’re ready (whatever that means). The reality is, the intent to NOT allow their union to be fruitful, by whatever means (extreme circumstances notwithstanding), essentially violates and negates their vows. They are simply NOT married.
This is not the “mean-old church” coming up with some medieval rule to saddle a young couple with children, this is the Church keeping to God’s original design as set forth in Genesis 1: “male and female he created them...be fertile and multiply.”
This is not to say that at some point in the marriage it may be necessary to space or limit children for grave reasons through natural means as per the teaching of the popes, but the Church does say that if we do not intend to be fruitful from the outset, then we do not have a valid marriage.
There is a gray area here that I don’t pretend to have an answer to. As just mentioned, spacing children through natural means is considered by the Church to be moral when, as the Catechism says, “just cause” is present. However, the context of this teaching, especially as it appears in Humanae Vitae and the Catechism, is always in the context of an existing marriage, not a marriage-to-be.
In other words, because married partners are already sacramentally bound to each other under the unitive aspect of marriage, their bodies belong to each other. So in the case where “just cause” is present, married people are in conformity with the moral law when they intentionally engage in the conjugal act exclusively during the infertile periods.
Couples who intend to be married are not thus bound, and if “just cause” to avoid children is already present before the marriage, then it calls into question whether or not the couple is actually ready to marry.
Yet, I would venture to guess that natural family planning, or periodic abstinence, is taught to many pre-cana couples, not as a way to deal with difficult circumstances down the road, but as a way to start their marriage. Natural or not. Starting a marriage with the intent not to conceive from the outset calls into question the validity of the marriage and it certainly does not image our Trinitarian God.
At this point though, I would advise anyone who thinks differently to consult your pastor on the matter. Ultimately, your soul is in his care, not mine. I am only objectively restating the purpose of the marriage covenant as I have received it and as I see it.
However, I bring this up because marriage, at least God’s design for it to be a fertile, life-giving union, as found in Genesis 1, has never more been endangered. As we speak the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing arguments for same-sex marriage, and by June there will be a ruling that may very well make same-sex marriage the law of the land as Roe v Wade did with abortion.
However, same-sex marriage never would have made it this far had not heterosexuals already gravely weakened the institution . We hear much about the tragic rate of divorce, but to bring this closer to home, did you know that Guam has the highest divorce rate in the world? According to the Guam Statistical Year Book there are 5.5 divorces per 1000 people in 2011. (1) According to the United Nations Demographic Yearbook, the nation with the highest divorce rate is Russia which has a divorce rate of 5.0 divorces per 1000 population. Guam is not considered a nation so we are not ranked by the U.N., but our divorce rate is a full half a point higher than Russia, making our divorce rate the highest in the world.
Did you also know that thanks to certain lawmakers whom we elect, Guam is the second easiest place in the world to get a divorce, requiring only a 7 day stay, and that as recently as 2005, Guam was the mail order divorce capitol of the world, and we were averaging a staggering 9.5 divorces per working day.
You may say that most of those divorces are outsiders, and maybe they are. But what does that say about us, an 85% Catholic island which has willingly allowed our Catholic homeland to become a divorce mecca? Just google the words Guam and divorce and you’ll see what I mean.
And while we can blame some of our divorce rate on our scandalous divorce tourism policy, we can’t blame our child abuse rate on anyone but ourselves. Child abuse is an indicator of family fragmentation and thus marital collapse, and the Guam Statistical Yearbook shows that in 2011 a total of 3294 children were abused or neglected. This is equal to a rate of 72.94 child abuse cases per 1000 child population. By contrast the national average is 10.22. What? We, our 85% Catholic island abuses and neglects its children at 7 times the rate of the rest of the nation?
(The Guam data for the above can be sourced here.)
But you don’t need these statistics to tell you this is true. Just read the daily police blotter in the PDN: family violence, family violence, terrorizing, family violence, family violence...
And of course the worst violence is the unborn children we allow to be put to death at the rate of one child every 1.3 days, where one child is aborted out of every 10 who are born, where 62% of those children are aborted by mothers who are Catholic or who most likely come from Catholic families, and where abortion regulation is the most liberal in the nation because of the obstinate opposition to pro-life legislation by certain lawmakers who were educated in our Catholic schools, but more so because most of use, by not examining the people we vote for, allow this situation to continue.
(See Guam abortion reports here.)
MARRIAGE AS SPIRITUAL WARFARE
Now, enough of the bad news and time for the solution, and the solution, as John Paul II illustrated in his first talk on marriage, is found in the words of Jesus: “in the beginning it was not so.” Married people should meditate every day, or at least mull over, Genesis 1:26-28: “Let us make man in our image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them...be fertile and multiply...” This is God’s plan.
But let me conclude by addressing two stumbling blocks to returning to God’s plan, one temporal and one spiritual. The temporal reality is that for the most part we who are still in our childbearing years, limit our fertility or at least our willingness to multiply, by our checkbook. To be blunt, money determines our openness to life. We excuse ourselves from the responsibility to procreate because we believe that it is more expensive to live today. Let’s talk straight about this.
Indeed while the consumer price index does show a ten-fold increase in the cost of living since 1960, the Social Security Administration also shows a ten-fold increase in average incomes. Thus it is no more expensive to live today than it was in 1960. So why does it feel like it? Because we want more.
Today we spend 10 times more on sports than we did in 1960, 37 times more on travel, 43 times more on games, 54 times more on hair care and cosmetics, 60 times more on pets, and 178 times more on our “phone” bill - which of course is not our “phone” bill, but the cost of assuaging our incessant need to be permanently connected to the rest of the world through an ever expanding array of gadgets that we just have to have.
True, the cost of housing is 72 times more than it was in 1960, which, when compared to only a ten-fold increase in wages, represents a significant financial burden. However, some of that is our own doing. While family size has nearly halved since 1960, the average square footage per home over the same period has more than doubled. In other words, we demand bigger homes for smaller families.
And of course there is healthcare, which today costs 30 times more than it did 50 years ago. However, the real “elephant in the room” is the cost of education, specifically “higher education”.
Today we spend 146 times more per family on education than we did in 1960. And since 1985, college costs have exploded, increasing a staggering 498.49%. By comparison, healthcare costs have grown at less than half that rate.
(The cost of living data for the above can be sourced here.)
While there is probably little we can do about the cost of health care except take better care of ourselves, there is much we can do to reduce the cost of everything else including education. Larger families like mine are increasingly pursuing homeschooling options for everything from pre-k through college. But we can talk about that another day. The fact is that most of our monetary obstacles to obeying the command to “be fertile and multiply” are of our own choosing. Sadly, in the end, our children are all that we have, and all that we can take to heaven. We must ask: Where is our treasure?
MARRIAGE AS WARFARE
Lastly, let me address perhaps the biggest obstacle of all to Marriage as God’s Love Made Visible, and the one which we are least prepared for. Once we understand that we, as married people, are the image of God, that we are “God’s love made visible”, then we must also understand that our marriage is ground zero for the Evil One.
Satan hates God, but cannot attack him directly. So he attacks the next closest thing: us, married people. We image God. Satan hates God. Satan attacks his image. Once we understand this we can begin to fight back against the powers and principalities which sleep not in their efforts to make our marriages a living hell and eventually to drag our souls into an eternal hell.
In the book HOW TO ACT RIGHT WHEN YOUR SPOUSE ACTS WRONG, the author’s central point is to understand that your spouse is not your enemy, the devil is. This understanding will save your marriage when nothing else can.
In the Revelation, Chapter 12 we read, beginning at Verse 7:
Then war broke out in heaven; Michael* and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to...where... (the) earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
For some reason, many of us modern Catholics believe that the Devil and his evil angels are chained up in hell. They are not. In fact, as in the vision of Pope Leo XIII and expressed in the prayer he composed to St. Michael, “Satan and all the evil spirits prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.”
Continuing on in Revelation, we read:
But woe to you, earth and sea, for the Devil has come down to you in great fury, for he knows he has but a short time.
Then after giving an account of Satan’s attack on “the woman and her offspring”, who we can assume to be Mary and Jesus, it says:
“Then the dragon became angry with the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring, those who keep God’s commandments and bear witness to Jesus.”
Let’s repeat that. Satan, the dragon, goes “off to wage war against...those who keep God’s commandments...” That would be us. And the closer we adhere to the commandments, the sacraments, and the One Holy Catholic Church, the more we can expect to be attacked.
And married people, particularly sacramentally married people, who, scripture tells us are the very image of God on earth, wonder why their marriage has become a battleground. The great tragedy, is that due to lack of preparation for marriage as spiritual warfare, the couple, who should be on the same side warring together with Michael and his angels against the forces of hell, have been tricked into warring against each other.
Sadly, almost all teaching about marriage today centers around communication skills and compatibility exercises and little to nothing about the cosmic war that will rage round about a married couple the minute they engage in the sacramental embrace. Satan must laugh at the hell he can create with the subtle jabs and pokes of small words, wrong looks, and perceived attitudes. We succumb to these tricks so quickly first because we are most vulnerable to the person we are married to, but second, because we have had no warning, no training, no weapons, and no strategy to not only fight back, but to even recognize the enemy.
The Church teaches that marriage is a path to heaven. It is also a path to hell. The good news is that through the sacrament of marriage, and the continued reception of the sacraments of penance and the eucharist, we have all we need to win the war against hell and win heaven for our families, our spouses, and ourselves.
And here is where the Church is needed. Given the dramatic failure rate of Catholic marriages and the increasing collapse of Catholic families, pastors need to seriously review what it is we are doing or not doing in regards to everything relative to marriage and family, for the numbers - the divorces, the abortions, the child abuse cases, the out-of-wedlock pregnancies, the cohabitation, the fragmentation of family after family - tell us that either something is terribly missing or that we are doing something terribly wrong.
But meanwhile, we married people need to take control of our own destinies. We need to take our children back. We need to start teaching them and continue teaching them the truth at home instead of farming out their sacramental and moral formation to the classroom. “Drill this into your children” Deuteronomy says.
Empowering married people to take control of their destinies and return to God’s original plan for their marriage, to return to “the beginning” is why John Paul II did not simply put his thoughts into a book, but taught us publicly at his weekly audiences. Though he spent 7 years doing it and the collection of his addresses is now a tome, the whole of the Theology of the Body can be found in the words “from the beginning it was not so.”
Lastly, I’d like to finish by exposing the error of an innocent story that is often told at many weddings. The story is told of a pig and a chicken getting together to have breakfast. The pig is to provide the bacon and the chicken the eggs. The pig complains that he has to contribute 100% to a successful breakfast and the chicken, not so much.
The story is used to illustrate that in order for marriage to succeed, the self-donation of the spouses cannot be 50/50 but 100/100. It sounds nice and everybody smiles, but in fact, it is not only incorrect, it may possibly set up expectations that will soon lead to disappointment and divorce.
The real success ratio for marriage is 100 to 0, because this in fact, is precisely what unconditional love is: the willingness to love fully and keep one’s commitment not only when there is nothing in return, but even when one’s giving is met with disdain, insults, and hostile rejection, and with no hope of that situation every changing.
And here is where I’d like to promote a couple of books to you. HOW TO ACT RIGHT WHEN YOUR SPOUSE ACTS WRONG is an excellent book to start. Most books try to address marital issues and propose solutions or communication techniques to solve those problems. This book takes the approach that reconciliation may never be possible, that marriage may continue to be painful, that perhaps you are being called to one long sacrifice. That may sound negative, but our call as Christians is to ACT RIGHT, to DO RIGHT, no matter what the challenge.
Also, for those who want to delve more deeply into marriage, the book that helped me the most in understanding marriage is COVENANTED HAPPINESS, by Msgr. Cormac Burke.
Lastly, rather than attempt to read one of the many interpretations of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body by popular authors, I would recommend you read the words of the Pope himself which you can do by either purchasing the whole collection in book form or reading the individual addresses for free online. Just go to ewtn.com and search for Theology of the Body. It will come up as the first item.
This is a good resource article for John Paul II's Theology of the Body and the challenge of same-sex marriage: IN DEFENSE OF MARRIAGE
This is a good resource article for John Paul II's Theology of the Body and the challenge of same-sex marriage: IN DEFENSE OF MARRIAGE