We return today to the Holy Father’s apostolic letter, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love.) Pope Francis, following the groundwork laid by St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, reminds us that men and women are equal in dignity, but are distinct in the gifts they offer the world. It is a primary tenet of the Judeo-Christian tradition that humanity was created male and female and as with all God’s creation, both are fundamentally good.
This apostolic letter addresses many current issues and problems in the world that, even 50 years ago, would have been thought outlandish or impossible. The scourge of drug abuse and its burden on families, the idea that one can choose to “identify” as a different gender and the scientific advances that have made procreation outside of the conjugal act possible are all discussed.
It needs to be emphasized that “biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated”. On the other hand, “the technological revolution in the field of human procreation has introduced the ability to manipulate the reproductive act, making it independent of the sexual relationship between a man and a woman. In this way, human life and parenthood have become modular and separable realities, subject mainly to the wishes of individuals or couples”. It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality. Let us not fall into the sin of trying to replace the Creator. We are creatures, and not omnipotent. Creation is prior to us and must be received as a gift. At the same time, we are called to protect our humanity, and this means, in the first place, accepting it and respecting it as it was created. Para. 56
The letter expounds further that women, in the role of motherhood, are indispensable to children and families:
[W]e 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. Para. 173
The pope laments that fathers, in so many cases, are absent in today’s family. This leaves an enormous hole in the heart of the family and of a child.
God sets the father in the family so that by the gifts of his masculinity he can be “close to his wife and share everything, joy and sorrow, hope and hardship. And to be close to his children as they grow – when they play and when they work, when they are carefree and when they are distressed, when they are talkative and when they are silent, when they are daring and when they are afraid, when they stray and when they get back on the right path. To be a father who is always present. When I say ‘present’, I do not mean ‘controlling’. Fathers who are too controlling overshadow their children, they don’t let them develop”. Some fathers feel they are useless or unnecessary, but the fact is that “children need to find a father waiting for them when they return home with their problems. They may try hard not to admit it, not to show it, but they need it”. It is not good for children to lack a father and to grow up before they are ready. Para. 177
In the day-to-day life of our homes, we rarely think of the “grandeur” of the feminine or the “gifts of masculinity.” Nor does every family follow traditional roles; in some families, the father is at home with the children while the mother works outside the home, the father is the one who cooks and cleans and the mother is the one who maintains the car. The point made in this letter from Pope Francis is not that men and women should do certain things, but rather that men and women are different beings. We know we must care for the created world: we recycle, are careful with our use of water and so on. Yet many of us never give a thought to how we respect the masculine and feminine, the man and woman God created. Pope Francis, in this apostolic letter, gives us the opportunity to reflect on this.
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. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth.
God also said: See, I give you every seed-bearing plant on all the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food and to all the wild animals, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the earth, I give all the green plants for food.
And so it happened God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good. Gen. 1:27-31