Feb 8, 2006
“Male and Female He Created Them”: On Marriage and the Family, by Jorge Cardinal Medina Estevez (Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2003), 236 pp., $14.95 at www.ignatius.com, (published originally in Spanish as “Y los creo varon y mujer”: Escritos sobre el matrimonio y la familia).
If you decide to travel as far north as you can, you will eventually come to the North Pole. If that’s not far enough north for you, you can try to go further. But, you will discover that, despite your best intentions, no matter which way you turn, your next step will be to the south, away from the north you desire.
Christ is the pole of compassion. He is compassion itself. If you try to be more compassionate than Christ, you will find yourself being less compassionate, no matter how good your intentions or how hard you try.
So, in every age and place, Christians must remember not to step away from Our Lord’s teachings in an effort to be compassionate. No matter how hard those teachings seem to be, they are far more compassionate than any possible alternative. Nowhere is this more true than in the areas of human sexuality, marriage and the family.
We have the dubious privilege of living in the first human society in history to have no idea of what sex is all about. Other societies have had mistaken or incomplete ideas about sex, but ours is the first to fail to understand that it has something to do with the relationship between a man and a woman. The reasons for our confusion on this point are several, but one is a misplaced compassion that deters us from speaking the truth about sex and marriage simply and directly.
Cardinal Medina Estevez of Chile, labors under no such misconceptions. Formerly the Prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, he wrote the first version of “Male and Female He Created Them” in 1981, as a homage to the fiftieth anniversary of Pope Pius XI’s encyclical, Casti Connubii. His aim was, in his own words, “to set forth Catholic doctrine [on marriage] with fidelity and precision ….” Its text revised and expanded up until its Spanish publication in 1997, his work succeeds in presenting a clear and simple explanation of Christian marriage.
The Cardinal begins by acknowledging that “[n]o human institution is so deeply rooted in the heart of man and of woman as marriage and the family,” but that, despite the high regard for marriage throughout human history, “[t]his most noble institution, … like all of human existence, bears the disruptive and debasing marks of sin.” He continues:
The disordered sexual appetite has distorted the relationship of love between man and woman, to the point where the word “love” is used nowadays to describe situations that have little or nothing to do with the profound experience that the term implies. The word “love” is sometimes used in ways that are truly a sacrilege or at least a deformed and grotesque caricature. [emphasis in original; compare the discussion of “love” in Pope Benedict XVI’s recently-issued first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, nos. 2-5.]