“Creation is sacred. It has sacramental meaning. It reflects God’s glory. That includes our bodies. Our sexuality has the power to procreate, and shares in the dignity of being created in the image of God. We need to live accordingly.”
— From “Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive,” catechism of the 2015 World Meeting of Families
The week of February 7-14, National Marriage Week, brings with it a useful, if unintended, set of ironies.
Sunday, February 8, is the World Day of Marriage. While many of us here in Philadelphia are distracted by the work of preparing for September’s World Meeting of Families and the visit of Pope Francis, this is a good moment to pause. Great events – even papal Masses – come and go. That’s their nature.
But relationships rooted in Christian love are meant to endure. The love of a man and woman in marriage is a mingling of lives. It’s the cornerstone of human society not because two sovereign egos enter into a mutually agreeable contract, but because two people give themselves radically and irreversibly to each other. They become one flesh. The fertility of their love creates new life and thereby makes the future possible.
There’s nothing puritanical in the Catholic attitude toward sex; in marriage, it’s the intimate seal of a couple’s joy and unity. But for the Christian, sex can never be merely a biological detail. Our sexuality has a purpose. To the degree we conform our lives to that purpose, we deepen our experience of the love of God himself and enrich our own nobility as humans.
Setting aside one Sunday and one week in a year to celebrate marriage can barely scratch the surface of the huge task we face in renewing the dignity of marriage in our country. But it’s a good time to begin, or begin again, in that work; and to remember that healthy marriages are the only reliable guarantor of a culture’s worthwhile future.
The irony I mentioned at the start of this column is this. February 8 is also the National Day of Prayer for Survivors and Victims of Human Trafficking. Just as marriage, at its best, witnesses to the nobility and beauty of our sexuality, so human trafficking humiliates and degrades it. In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis attacked the barbarism of human trafficking as an “infamous network of crime [that] is now well established in our cities, and many people have blood on their hands as a result of their comfortable and silent complicity” (211).
As I wrote more than a year ago, worldwide slavery officially ended more than a century ago. Unofficially, it’s a growth industry. Hundreds of thousands of women and children – some estimates place the number as high as 1.2 million – are trafficked every year. Many come from poor countries and end up as prostitutes in the developed world. Others are forced to work for little or no money in hotels, sweat shops, massage parlors and in agriculture. Some are simply abducted. Some are homeless runaways.
For many others, well-organized criminal recruiting rings promise young people in the developing world an opportunity for marriage, good jobs or a better life in Europe and the United States. Then they break down their victims’ dignity with rape, blackmail and beatings, and use them as objects for labor and sex until their health collapses.
All of this sounds vicious, and of course it is; a word like “vicious” frankly understates the bitter suffering involved. The Holy See, religious communities and many other people of good will have worked to publicize the plague of human trafficking for years and to mobilize government action against it. The reason is obvious.
If every human being is made in the image of God and loved infinitely by his or her Creator, then human trafficking is a kind of blasphemy, a sacrilege; a crime against God himself and a brutal defacement of human dignity. The same reverence for human life that drives Christians to speak out for the poor, the disabled, the immigrant and the unborn child should lead us to work against human trafficking and to help its victims.
What we need to realize is that human trafficking isn’t something that only happens “out there” in some faraway foreign country. Many thousands of women and children are victims of trafficking right here in the United States every year. That includes Philadelphia, our home; our own backyard. And I hope that in the year ahead, more and more of our people in the Catholic community will become aware of human trafficking and get involved to end this kind of contempt for human dignity.
God created men and women to be his sons and daughters – children whom he loves, not mere animals; and vastly more than property, or trash, or chattel.
The lesson this week is this: On February 8 and every day going forward, we need to remember to live our sexuality with the dignity and purpose God intended, and to fight for that same dignity in the lives of others.
Resources for National Marriage Week can be found at www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family-week-2015.cfm. Useful materials also include For Your Marriage, Por Tu Matrimonio and Marriage: Unique for a Reason. Also highly recommended is the catechism of the 2015 World Meeting of Families, “Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive,” available in multiple languages from Our Sunday Visitor.
On efforts against human trafficking, a key resource is the Pennsylvania anti-trafficking website, www.patcoalition.org Another is Hugh Organ, associate executive director of Covenant House Pennsylvania, at 215.951.5411, x2118. Covenant House is a member of the Philadelphia Anti-Trafficking Coalition. Hugh Organ can also be reached by surface mail at: Covenant House Pennsylvania, 31 East Armat Street, Philadelphia, PA 19144; or by email at email@example.com. Or contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center directly at 1.888.3737.888.