Marriage: God’s most stunning creation

Archbishop Aquila

Valentine’s Day is around the corner and many people are thinking about how they can best show their love to someone. Although it is countercultural, the Church holds up faithful, Christ-centered marriage as the most satisfying and complete answer to this question.

This past week Pope Francis paid tribute to spouses who live out their marriage with unity and fidelity. They give the world what he called “an example of true love” that serves as “a silent sermon to all.” As the Church joins numerous other churches in celebrating National Marriage Week, Feb. 7-14, the gift of marriage lived well must be at the center of our witness.

For instance, Pope Francis once told the story of a couple that he met who were celebrating 60 years of marriage. He asked them if they were happy and they responded, “We are in love.” Their love enabled them to persevere through the difficulties of raising children and the inevitable sorrows and sufferings of life, such that they could tell the pope that after 60 years, they are still in love. Is this the hopeful, positive vision of marriage that we are promoting?

Their beautiful witness is a sign that real, lasting love is possible despite the significant drop in marriage rates, the rise in divorce and the increasingly short-lived nature of relationships we see today. Through the graces offered in marriage, holiness and genuine happiness can be found, a fact that is supported by many numerous sociological studies.

At the same time, there are many signs pointing to marriage declining in the U.S. The rate of married people has declined from a high of 72 percent in 1960 to around 50 percent in 2016. Another sign of the health of marriage from a Catholic perspective is how open people are to children. The Center for Disease Control’s recently released 2017 data shows that the country hit a 30-year low this past year with a birthrate of 1.76 births per woman — 2.1 children per woman is considered the replacement rate. Colorado came in even lower at 1.63 births per woman.

These results should prompt us to question how much we are doing to support and encourage marriage and to foster a culture of life within them. We must help Catholics understand the three goods of marriage: fidelity to one’s spouse, a lifelong commitment and the gift of children. In addition to promoting understanding, we should ask what we are doing to encourage openness to life and to support those who have children in our parishes, neighborhoods and world.

Some practical ideas that parishes can consider include: hosting events that model good dating practices, recruiting mentor couples for accompanying engaged couples preparing for marriage, and providing financial, emotional and spiritual support for struggling families. I am sure there are many other innovative ways that faithful people can create to respond to this reality, some of which already exist, such as the Building Family Culture retreats offered by Dr. Jared Staudt, the Marriage Missionaries apostolate, Marriage Encounter retreats and Families of Character.

As people of faith, we should above all take hope in the truth that holiness and happiness in marriage are possible with God’s help. St. Therese of Lisieux offers us the example of her parents, who were declared saints in 2015. She wrote of Louis and Zelie Martin: “God gave me a father and a mother who were more worthy of heaven than of earth.”

“Marriage,” as Pope Francis has stated, “is the most beautiful thing that God has created,” since it reflects the unity and love of God. May we as a Church work to support and strengthen marriage so that the silent, daily witness of married couples reflects God in our midst and builds up our society.

COMING UP: Thomas Fitzsimons: The unsung Catholic Founding Father 

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As our nation celebrates the day of its independence and subsequent founding as a country on July 4, a look back some lesser-knowCatholic history of this historic event seems warranted.  

George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin: these are names every American knows. Pull out your wallet and you’ll likely see at least one of their faces on the money you carry aroundAnd while this nation was founded on principles rooted in Christianity, none of these men were Catholic. In fact, of the men history calls the Founding Fathers of America, only two were. 

Many may already be familiar with Founding Father Charles Carroll, a Catholic and signer of the Declaration of Independence, and whose brother John was the first Catholic bishop assigned to what would become the United States. However, Carroll was not the only Catholic who played a role in the founding of our country. The other was Thomas Fitzsimons, a name that is not mentioned much (if at all) in U.S. history classes but deserves to be recognized nonetheless.  

The unwieldy named Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, published in 1887, paints a vivid picture of Fitzsimons and the way his faith informed his character. While the other Founding Fathers were meeting and deliberating about the Declaration of Independence, Fitzsimons joined the Continental Army anfought on the frontlines against the British army. 

Captain Fitzsimons commanded his company of militia until 1778, when France entered the war. British troops withdrew from Pennsylvania and began to focus on the southern states. It was at this time that Fitzsimons became more involved in politics at the state level. In 1782, he became a delegate at the Continental Congress. In 1786, he was elected as a Pennsylvania state legislator and served for three terms until 1789. In 1787, he was selected to represent Pennsylvania at the Constitutional Congress, where the United States Constitution was written and ratified. He, along with Daniel Carroll, were the only two Catholics to sign to Constitution. 

Born in Belfast, Ireland in 1741, not much else is known about Fitzsimons’ family. He had three brothers – Nicholas, Andrew and John – and one sister, Ann. He and his family immigrated to America as early as 1760, where they became residents of Philadelphia. It was here that Fitzsimons would stake his claim as a businessman and politician. 

In 1763, Fitzsimons married Catharine Meade, whose brother, George Meade, would later go into business with Fitzsimons and build one of the most successful commercial trade houses in Philadelphia. Throughout his life, Fitzsimons was in close correspondence with Bishop John Carrollthese letters revealed insights into the Catholic Founding Father’s personal life. In a letter to Bishop Carroll in 1808, Fitzsimons wrote of being married to Catharine for 45 years. Additionally, local baptismal records show that he and Catharine stood as sponsors at the baptisms of three of Meade’s children. 

In 1774, Fitzsimons began his first foray into politics when he was elected as one of 13 Provincial Deputies who were given authority to call a general meeting of the citizens. It is believed he was the first Catholic to have ever held public office in the budding United States. Even so, anti-Catholic bigotry was common at the time and did exist within some of his fellow statesmen, such as John Adams, who once said in an address to the people of Great Britain that the Catholic faith was “a religion that has deluged your island in blood and dispersed impiety, bigotry, persecution, murder and rebellion through every part of the world.” 

Fitzsimons’ first stint in public office was brief, only lasting from May to July, but it was a foreshadowing his future involvement in state affairs. As the Revolutionary War broke out in 1775, Fitzsimons formed a company of soldiers to fight against the British army. He was assigned to the Third Battalion under Col. Cadwalader and Lieut. Col. John Nixon, who was the grandson of a Catholic. Behind the scenes, as George Washington and the like organized committees and framed what would become the Declaration of Independence, Fitzsimons ascended to the rank of Captain and continued to serve his country as a soldier and patriot.

In addition to his tenure as a commanding officer and politician, Fitzsimons also found success in other ventures. In 1781, he helped found the Bank of North America, the United States’ first de facto central bank, and served as its director until 1803. The latter years of his life were spent primarily in private business, but he maintained a consistent interest in public affairs; even Fitzsimons wasn’t exempt from the old adage, “once a politician, always a politician.” 

Through all of these endeavors, and even after befalling troubled financial times in the early 1800s, Fitzsimons remained a diligent philanthropist. He gave immense support to St. Augustine’s Catholic Church in Philadelphia and was invested in the improvement of public education in the commonwealth. As one of his contemporaries wrote after his death in 1811, “he died in the esteem, affection and gratitude of all classes of his fellow citizens.” 

Fitzsimons was buried in the graveyard of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Philadelphia, which is now part of Independence National Historical Park. His name may not be a household one like Washington or Jefferson, but Fitzsimons can be remembered as something of an unsung Founding Father of the United Statesa man whose life of quiet faith, humble service and admirable patriotism exemplifies the values that this country was founded upon in a simple yet profound way.