It’s Valid. Period.

It’s Valid. Period.

(This is the post where it becomes evident that I once considered a career in Canon Law- the legal governance of the Catholic Church. Enjoy.)

It has come to my attention that there are many people, even members of the clergy, who do not know what the Catholic Church teaches about the validity of marriage with regards to infertility. This is a huge deal! How are we supposed to grow awareness and compassion among Catholics when even some of our priests don’t know if our marriages count? Yikes.

So, is a marriage suffering infertility still valid? YES. Of course.

Here is what you need to know:

Infertility has no bearing whatsoever on the validity of the Sacrament of Marriage. It is neither here nor there. Marriage is not only about children. It is also about the good of the spouses. (See Exhibit A.)

If perfect fertility were a requirement for marriage, then women past menopause wouldn’t be permitted to marry. Hysterectomies would come with annulment proceedings. Couples found infertile would be sent to the tribunals. Pre-marital fertility testing would be required. All kinds of ridiculous pandemonium would ensue.

This sounds crazy because it IS. We know from our good common sense that marriage is about more than fertility, or lack thereof.

So what DOES the Catholic Church officially teach about marriage with regards to physical infertility? The Code of Canon Law (the official “rule book”) states this clearly:

“Sterility neither prohibits nor nullifies marriage, without prejudice to the prescript of can. 1098″ –Canon 1084.3.

Boom.

And that Canon 1098 is all about being open and honest with your intended spouse:

“A person contracts invalidly who enters into a marriage deceived by malice, perpetrated to obtain consent, concerning some quality of the other partner which by its very nature can gravely disturb the partnership of conjugal life.”

In other words, the ONLY way that infertility would POSSIBLY become grounds for annulment is if you intentionally LIED about it and hid it from your spouse prior to marriage. Lying and deceit are never cool.

Bottom line: If you discovered infertility after marriage, or if knew you were infertile ahead of marriage (like me) and you were perfectly open and honest with your dearly beloved, your marriage is 100% valid, licit, and recognized before God and the Church.

Period.

And, much more beautifully, Pope Benedict XVI put it this way:

“I would like to remind the couples who are experiencing the condition of infertility, that their vocation to marriage is no less because of this. Spouses, for their own baptismal and marriage vocation, are called to cooperate with God in the creation of a new humanity. The vocation to love, in fact, is a vocation to the gift of self and this is a possibility that no organic condition can prevent. There, where science has not yet found an answer, the answer that gives light comes from Christ”.

The Crack

The Crack

I often cry at Mass, but I’ve never cried during a homily- until tonight. Tonight, I had tears streaming down my face the whole time. It was like God was using the priest to speak to directly to me.

This week’s gospel is the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. I can’t really replicate this homily here, but I’ll try to summarize.

We all have these walls we put up, from our hurts, our sin, our wounds. We put them up to protect ourselves, so we won’t get hurt again. Though these walls may protect us, they also don’t let anyone in- not even God. And as long as those walls are up, we can’t heal.

The woman obviously had something wrong in her life. She was at the well in the middle of the day, rather than in the morning with everyone else. She clearly wanted to avoid seeing the other women in the village.

You can picture Jesus smiling knowingly when he said, “Go get your husband.” And you can picture the woman say, rather hard and defensive, “I don’t have a husband.” There. There’s the sore spot. And Jesus reaches in with, “I know. You’ve had 5 husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.” There’s the wound. Clearly she must have been through some terrible things.

Later, she goes out to the very townspeople she had been avoiding and says, “This man told me everything I’ve ever done. Could he be the Christ?”

The only way to heal is to let the walls crack enough to let Jesus in. And he is the only one who can heal you. And he’ll use that very thing, that wound, to transform you and bring you to him. That wound is how you are going to glorify him.

He knows everything you’ve ever done. Learning that your life was not what you thought it was, discovering that you would never be a “normal” person, realizing that you could never again look at things the same way, feeling like an outcast, knowing that there would be no one else in your life who would really “get it”-that’s exactly what he’s going after. He’s going to reach in with his healing touch and turn that around so it can be used for good, to bring others to him. He’s going to help you tear down those walls.

And it all starts with a crack.

Hope and Lemonade. Or Limoncello.

Hope and Lemonade. Or Limoncello.

“The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” Psalm 147:11

One of the greatest consolations in the world is getting a glimpse of God making lemonade out of your lemons (or limoncello, paisan).

I finally know why I have MRKH/infertility. It’s because of the Fall of Man and the general evil and sin existing in the world from the beginning. That’s it. That’s all. That’s why.

What has recently become therapeutic for me is exploring the what now.

I’ve been dealt a lemon, thanks to the existing evil in the natural world. How am I going to give this lemon to God and let Him create something beautiful with it?

I’m coming to believe that this is what “hope” means for those dealing with suffering or grief. We get so hung up on “hope” meaning waiting for a baby, a miraculous cure, or whatever kind of candy we can get from the miracle store. But that’s not how it works. Hope means believing that there will be something beautiful to come. God will turn our lemons to lemonade, and our limes into Key Lime Pie. If we place our hope in Him, God will make sure that our suffering is used to create a greater good.

The best part is when you being to sense the wonderful things coming from His kitchen.

Someone Much Greater Than Me

Someone Much Greater Than Me

Ok, as promised, a post about my veil experience.

Let me start with the fact that in nearly 27 years of existence on this earth and as a Catholic, the only times I have ever worn a veil to Mass were for the sacraments of First Communion and Holy Matrimony. That’s it. A 2nd grader excited to dress like a bride, and an actual bride.

Other than those two events, I’ve never even thought about it. Growing up, my mom told me pre-Vatican II Catholic school stories of teachers bobby-pinning a paper-towel to her head at the last minute for Mass. Vatican II meant no longer having to wear yucky and embarrassing brown paper on your head. Yay for the better world we live in today!

I don’t want to get into a discussion of the wherefores and why-nots of wearing veils to Mass. Personally, I’m fine when people do. And it’s not really for me, because being as ridiculously self-conscious as I am, I hate the idea of drawing attention to myself (this girl feels nervous when her husband starts shouting talking loudly in a noisy restaurant).

Then I had my Burning-Bush moment.

Honestly, I know no other way to describe it.

It was a Thursday evening, about 6:15. The church was dark, except for the red candle near the tabernacle. As I began to pray, I felt this overwhelming sense, “Cover your head.” I mean, it came out of nowhere. I happened to be wearing a hoodie. I hesitated. “What would someone think if they saw me? Would they think less of me and think I was some kind of nut? Or would they think me more holy than I deserve?” “Stop worrying. Cover your head.” I put the hood up. It made me think of the way that God told Moses to take off his shoes in his presence in the burning bush. And then I felt at peace. Who cares what anyone thinks. Pride is my greatest struggle, I think. I prayed about that. And when I looked at the time, three quarters of an hour had passed. It was the most profound spiritual experience I’ve had in nearly a decade.

I know some modern Catholic authors say that women should wear veils because their bodies are sacred life-bearers. As a woman who’s body was created infertile, this never sat well with me. Clearly there must be more to this, right? I remember learning that Jewish men cover their heads in prayer as a physical reminder that God is above them. I like this. And this is what I felt that night. It was an acknowledgement that there is Someone much greater than me, very much above me, and this is what I was to do in his presence.

 

3 Things Infertile Couples Need from the Church

3 Things Infertile Couples Need from the Church

It has now been 10 years since I learned that I don’t have a uterus (MRKH). During this time, having sought the help of many faithful lay people, priests, theology books, saints’ writings, blog posts and support groups, I have noticed that there is a gaping hole in the body of Catholic publishing and public awareness. Catholics dealing with infertility have plenty of resources telling them what the church does and does not permit with regard to reproductive technologies. What they don’t have is enough spiritual support to help them walk the difficult road they face.

I love that Pope Francis talks about the Church as being a field hospital. It’s not just a place for the perfectly holy with perfectly working bodies who live in perfectly formed worlds. There is sin, there is suffering, and there is death. We live in a war zone.

I don’t know anything about pastoral techniques, and I don’t have a theology degree, but I have walked this particular road long enough to have a decent view of the landscape. Taking the last 10 years into account, this is what I would like the world to know:

Infertile people need help carrying this cross. They need validation of their suffering, confirmation of their place in the Body of Christ, and encouragement to walk the path set before them.

1. Validation of suffering.

Accepting infertility is a grieving process, not unlike grieving the death of a loved one. The pain is real. Don’t minimize it. Never tell someone to “get over it.” Even years later, something unexpected can trigger tears without warning (prime example: Facebook pregnancy announcements- especially with pictures). Your infertile friends are grieving. Minister accordingly. Ask them how they’re doing. Empathize. Tell them you love them. Help them feel loved. Help them know that God loves them and has a plan for them, in spite of their body’s failings. Don’t offer false hope, and beware of Prosperity Gospel squeaking its way in. Sometimes, more prayer isn’t going to make a baby. God will do what He wills, not what we will.

2. Confirmation of their place in the Body of Christ.

Simply put, many of us feel like we don’t belong. We’re surrounded by other couples who have been gifted with children.

Infertile couples need to know that their marriage has a purpose in itself, with or without children, which are a gratuitous gift from God and not a prerequisite to a faithful union or a required demonstration of fruitfulness. Being “open to life” means being open to whatever life God has planned for you, be it 10 children, no children, overseas missionary work, or anything else. Growing up in a family, it’s natural to expect children-but what right do we have to expect a gift? If we teach that certain technologies are wrong because children are a gift and not a right, then we need to carry that through and emphasize the fact that marriage is not made complete by the blessing of children- sacramental marriage is already complete to begin with. This teaching tends to get lost. We need to remember that children are not the only manifestation of fruitfulness in marriage. They are most obvious, but not the only. Let’s talk about other manifestations of fruitfulness: Charity, Hospitality and Sacrifice.

3. Encouragement to walk the path set before them.

Following the teachings of the Magisterium in the case of infertility may be the hardest thing that many of these couples have ever done in their lives. With some forms of infertility, the the only way to fulfill the good, natural, and burning desire for a biological child is through illicit treatments. Laying down these God-given desires and freely choosing to forgo these technologies (sometimes out of pure obedience rather than agreement) is a tremendous sacrifice. It is truly dying to oneself. This self-sacrifice can go on for years, or even a lifetime. If you know someone dealing with infertility who is trying to follow Church teaching- encourage them. Recognize their desire to please the Lord. Don’t beat them down with doctrine and never, ever say, “just adopt.” Adoption is a unique calling, one that the couple needs to discern separately.

The best thing that anyone ever said to me upon expressing my frustration with Church teaching was, “God gives us these rules for a reason. He knows what is ultimately going to make you happy. Somehow, I don’t think that IVF is going to make you happy.” Those words have stuck with me ever since they were said some six years ago, and they have become the biggest source of encouragement for me along this path. True, these words won’t work for everyone, but there is something out there to give life to The Way for each person who desires to walk it. At the end of the day, the best thing you can do is to help us to see the beauty of the Church’s teachings. Help us stay strong in our belief that this road is worth it. Be a friend along the road, even if it’s the Via Dolorosa.

Finding Our Purpose

This morning on Pinterest, I was reminded of St. Catherine of Siena’s famous quote, “If you are who you were meant to be, you will set the world on fire.” Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my purpose, the purpose of marriage, and the purpose of our marriage in particular.

Building the Kingdom. That doesn’t only mean co-creating children, necessarily. It means living to the fullest in your state of life. Christianity without suffering isn’t Christianity, it’s Paganism. We can all be nice and get along. What makes Christianity different? It’s our willingness to bear wrongs patiently in the name of our God. Its taking up your cross daily, and striving to live according to the Gospel.

We want to adopt someday. We’ve visited several local agencies and are forming a plan of how to go about this. For some reason though, I don’t feel that now is the time to start this process. We’ve only been married for a year, we have some debts we’d like to pay, and some traveling we’d like to do. We’d like to be in a position where I could stay home with the baby at least two or three days a week.

I feel like God is calling us to something else right now. I just don’t know what it is. And yes, we still have major emotional breakdowns whenever someone we know announces a pregnancy, but that has more to do with grief and less to do with adoption. Does it makes sense to say we’re peaceful about our current childlessness, yet grieving our infertility?

And so we will keep praying, keep loving, keep being. We know that God has plans for us, and so far He has only led us to beautiful, beautiful things.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11

“Our Hearts Are Restless”

“Our Hearts Are Restless”

Now that January is almost over, it’s time to assess how I’m doing with my resolutions. I’m happy to report that 2 out of 3 are going remarkably well. I’ve stuck to my Jorge Cruise diet, and I feel great. I’ve even lost about 5 pounds so far. SNAPS!
My second resolution was to enjoy my house more. This one is definitely working out for me. I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing differently. Maybe it was an attitude adjustment. Either way, I’m really enjoying it. Also, my job is becoming more bearable when I think about the reason I have to go to work.

My third resolution was to grow deeper in my Catholic faith. This one has been a little tricky. My participation in the Sacraments is about where it has always been. James and I always go to Sunday Mass together, and that will never change. I’ve been to Confession once this year, and will go again soon.

It’s not this outward participation that is my problem, though. My prayer life is minimal compared to what it used to be in the past. I seem to be experiencing some sort of aversion to long prayers. I think that what I need to do is just force myself into a habit of prayer. Love is an action, not a feeling. Loving God requires commitment, like marriage. You know that you love him, but sometimes you have to remind yourself, and act lovingly even when you don’t feel like it. You have to “put in the time” whether you want to or not. Eventually, it will pay off.

Perhaps this is a little bit like St. John of the Cross and his “Dark Night of the Soul”. I don’t seem to be interested in praying, yet I have a desire to be more interested in praying. I’ll just pray anyway. As St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O Lord.”

What Lent Means to Me

Throughout my years growing up in a Catholic family, I always looked forward to Lent. Kind of weird, I know. But I think it was because of all the traditions. I liked going to Stations of the Cross on Fridays, and watching the priest and altar servers walk from station to station, praying, kneeling, and chanting the Stabat Mater. It was 7:30 on a friday night, and the church was packed. Then we’d have cheese pizza in the church basement afterwards.

Faith was important in my family, and Lent represented it all: the promise of redemption and the knowledge that, though we screw up sometimes, God loves us more than we could ever imagine. Lent was a chance to get more serious about spirituality, say more rosaries, go to Mass, go to Confession, and remember how much God loves us.

A wise priest once told me that truth is important, but not more important than love. Sure, you have plenty of people who know all the ins and outs of theology, philosophy, and church history, but without love they truly are, as St. Paul said, “a sounding brass or a clanging cymbal”. Then there’s the other extreme, people who are so open and accepting that they don’t have the will or the desire to speak the truth when necessary. As they say (and this applies to both extremes), “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” We cannot lose sight of the truth, but we cannot lose sight of love either. We need both.

That is what Lent means to me. Yes, we screw up. Yes, we should be better. But God loves us anyways, and is always there to forgive us. It’s not about how many times you mess up, or how bad you’ve been. It’s about the fact that God loves us so much that he was willing to become one of us, and suffer an excruciating death for the chance that we might love him back.

This is why we have our Faith.

So many things in life are completely out of our control. I don’t know about you, but right now I feel like I’m at the breaking point. There’s way too much stress and not enough things that I can actually enjoy. Today I made a list of all the things that are bringing me down that I can’t do much about. Then, I made a list of what I can do to make my life better.

Trying to cheer myself up in the midst of all the turmoil in the world and upheaval in my life, I decided to start spending more time doing something I’ve always loved. I’ve decided to read more. I’ve decided to learn more of the skills I need to get the job I really want. As for my living situation, I can’t afford to improve it in the traditional sense, and I can’t move in with James since we’re not married yet, but I can make a plan to make myself a home. I can stay out of the house as long as possible. I can stay at libraries and Panera’s and Starbuck’s writing on my laptop (that I have yet to buy). I know it sounds ridiculous, but I need to do something. I really want a home. No, I’m not “homeless” in the traditional sense, but we had to leave our house in the mortgage crisis and move in with my grandmother, and I’ve felt “without a home” since December 2010. Isn’t there a psychological term for that? I need to do something.

I will not be “homeless” forever. James has been the one constant in the last year, and every time I’m with him, I feel at home. No, we still don’t have a wedding date. But as soon as he gets a job we’ll set one, and then I’ll have a light at the end of the tunnel. Right now I’m still in an “S” curve. His uncle (a priest) encouraged us to pray 1,000 Memorare’s to the Blessed Virgin. We’re coming close to 500 this week. I’ve always believed in the power of prayer. It has never failed me in the past. I know God doesn’t always answer things in the way you’d like him to, and he always has his reasons. Still though, this has been a serious test of faith. Praying for a job is starting to feel like praying for a pony.

My mom says that her father always told her that times like these are why we have our faith. I have to constantly remind myself that God has a plan and that this isn’t as stupid and meaningless and hopeless as it seems. Maybe there’s an answer I haven’t found yet. I hope it’s coming soon.

Christmas and the promise of a new life

Another Christmas Eve is here, and all I can think about it how different it’s going to be this year. I’m in a new place in life: James and I are engaged, he’s finally done with college, and I was fortunate enough to have a steady job all year. Sure there were plenty of problems this year, but all of that is ok for now, because James and I have each other and the promise of a new life together starting sometime soon.

This year, for the first time in 5-6 years, I’m not cooking. I was really bummed at first, since I love cooking our major Italian feast we do every year. Today, though, I’m glad I don’t have to worry about 15 eggs worth of fresh pasta and can just go to James’s parents’ house and relax this evening.

Why is it that life is nothing but one change after another, yet humans still can’t get used to it? Something about the holidays always highlights this feeling. People always long for those golden years, whenever they were, when Christmas was perfect and the same every year. Christmas is way different for me this year, but it’s going to be ok. Despite everything else, one wonderful change is that we’re engaged. Even though we don’t have a date, we’re getting married soon. I think at Christmas, like every other time of year, we just have to have faith that everything is going to work out for the best. Maybe that is what Christmas means anyways. The day Jesus was born was not the day that he saved us, but it WAS the day that we receive the promise of hope, that God has a plan, and that all things will work out for good in the end.

Merry Christmas!