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Theme seven: Light in a Dark World Print
Guest column
Thursday, Nov. 26, 2015 -- 12:00 AM
Andy Galvin

In conjunction with the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia this past September, the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis of the Diocese of Madison is providing a monthly series on a particular theme on marriage and family. Each theme is a chapter in the preparatory catechesis developed for the event entitled Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive, available in paperback from or for free online at

Just consider how ridiculous it is that two people, from different families, upbringings, and life experiences, varying gifts and blessings in all the things that make up a person, different interests, personalities, behaviors and more, can successfully be joined in a lifelong commitment of love in marriage.

And on top of that, have children and parent them together such that a child is well-adjusted and ready to make a positive contribution to the world. It really is a phenomenal thing!

And yet, that is precisely what happens every day in families across the globe. The universal call of man and woman to the miracle of human communion is a truth of our humanity. It is a great light to our world when lived out authentically, but it is increasingly confused by a distorted understanding of love and relationship.

Called to love

Our monthly reflections to this point have focused primarily on the Church's beautiful vision of marriage that stems from natural law and God's salvific plan for humanity. We are made in God's image and likeness and thus are called to love. The pinnacle of that love is the gift of oneself to another in a permanent and faithful bond of love that is open to the incredible gift of life and can be lived out authentically in the vocations of marriage and celibacy.

The call to this type of love is stamped in our bodies as we are made either male or female and given a yearning to be with another. God stamped this plan for love in our bodies so that we would know this precisely. That is critically important because it serves as an icon here on earth of our eternal destination -- a life-giving communion of love for all eternity in heaven, as we meet Jesus Christ face to face.

But there are many real threats to this communion. First and foremost is the reality of our fallen condition. As St. Paul says, "For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do." At times, this can feel like the theme song of my marriage! We see the right thing, but frequently fall short of it because of our fallen nature. This is precisely why couples need to work on their marriage by improving communication, praying together, and growing in intimacy.

Poverty and economic hardship are also realities that have profound impacts on marriage and family life. Today, over 75 percent of children born into our poorest communities in this country are born to single parents. The care for the poor strengthens families and, as economic studies show, the care of families strengthens their economic conditions.

Threats to the definitive expression of married love

But today more profound threats hit the very meaning of marriage. Permanence, fidelity, and openness to life are the marks of marital love that truly image God's love.

Of the many expressions of love between persons, only couples that have committed to wedding vows can honestly express this type of love. Marital vows are expressed not only by the words spoken on the first day of their matrimonial bond, but also by their very bodies each and every time they express their love in the marital embrace.

Marital sex is more than just something couples do, but rather the defining way they express their committed love to one another, unique from every other human expression of love.

With this context, it's easier to see why the preparatory catechesis focuses on issues of sexual morality as the primary threats to marriage.

Pornography: gravely wrong

According to The Pornography Epidemic: A Catholic Approach by Dr. Peter Kleponis, the pornography industry in the U.S. in 2010 earned over $13 billion, exceeding the combined revenue of the three major television networks: ABC, NBC, and CBS.

In the same year, 25 percent of all search engine requests were for pornography. Twenty percent of men claimed to access pornography at work.

And it's not just adults, as the average age of first time exposure to pornography was 11 years in 2007. According to the same study, 90 percent of children between eight and 16 years of age have viewed porn online.

Just last week, the U.S. bishops overwhelmingly approved a statement on pornography saying "producing or using pornography is gravely wrong . . . It is a mortal sin if it is committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent."

Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, N.Y., described pornography as a "dark shadow in our world today."

What's the big deal? By viewing pornography, one reduces a person to a commodity, a thing to be used for one's own pleasure. Any exposure conditions our thoughts to view people as a source of personal gratification.

As the catechesis states, pornography "catechizes its consumers in selfishness, teaching its users to see other people as objects to satisfy our appetites." It "leaches away the capacity for self-denial, mature sexuality, and genuine intimacy with a spouse."

Research has confirmed that viewing pornography is addictive, creating chemical reactions in the brain in the same way drug and alcohol use does. Over time, the brain literally craves the visual stimulation. Couple this with the temptation of masturbation, and it's no wonder why pornography is becoming one of the most common factors in marital problems today.

Contraception: turning wedding vows to 'I do not'

In a similar manner, contraception is also a very real threat to marriage. This is clear if we keep in mind that sexual intimacy is more than just an action, it's an expression of the wedding vows.

Sex outside of marriage is fundamentally about sexual pleasure, because the individuals haven't committed themselves to one another in permanent fidelity, and in most cases they are not open to children.

A married couple has made the pledge to one another, but contraception turns the "I do" of their wedding vow to be open to life into an "I do not." Contraceptive sex distorts the meaning of the act away from its life-giving potential and towards physical gratification.

Same sex marriage? In all fairness, we can recognize the intense love that two men or two women may have for one another. But such a couple cannot perform the act that is a defining element of what marriage is.

When our society redefines marriage to include same-sex couples, it radically alters our understanding of marriage by separating sex from procreation and children and replaces it with emotional satisfaction and confused physical gratification.

When sex doesn't matter and the relationship is centered on emotional satisfaction, then marriage can ultimately be about any type of relationship.

Marriage and family are the foundation of society. Research confirms that marriage benefits men, women, and children alike in a plethora of ways, such that challenges to marriage ultimately become challenges to the human person.

As the preparatory catechesis affirms, "The Church has no choice but to resist this revisionism for the sake of protecting families, marriages, and children." We too must do our part by striving to raise our families so they can be lights in the gathering darkness.

Pornography is the elephant in the room in many families and it can be very difficult to discuss with spouses and children. The two most important things to do are to talk about the issue and hold each other accountable. Here are some resources to help:

Resources to fight pornography use

Informative websites

• National Center on Sexual Exploitation:

• The Brushfires Foundation:

• Fight the New Drug:

Help to stop pornography use

• RECLAiM Sexual Health:

• Covenant Eyes: Internet Accountability and Filtering.

Family programs

Covenant Eyes Parent Workshop Kit

Rescuing Our Youth from the Porn Trap: Parent primer from Reclaim

Andy Galvin is the marriage and family coordinator for the Diocese of Madison. He and his wife Chris are the parents of five children and attend the Cathedral Parish of St. Raphael in Madison.