Radiating Fruitfulness: Sacrifice

Radiating Fruitfulness: Sacrifice

We made it! I made it! Welcome to the third and final installment of my first series, “Radiating Fruitfulness: Charity, Hospitality, Sacrifice,” where we explore what it means for a marriage to be fruitful, even for those of us not blessed with children. If you’re just joining us, feel free to¬†check out Part 1: Radiating Charity and Part 2: Radiating Hospitality.

Radiating Sacrifice

Somehow that title doesn’t have the same ring¬†as the last two. The word “sacrifice” doesn’t exactly fill us with warm fuzzies, does it? Still, the Catechism points to sacrifice as a way in which all marriages are fruitful. What does this mean?

Sacrifice means giving something of ourselves, offering something up, as a gift to God. Sacrifice is an act of love, and an exercise in trust. We know that we will be ok without these things, because God is our strength. Christ gave is own life as a sacrifice on the cross, to redeem us. We in turn take up our crosses daily, uniting our suffering to his.

We know that marriage comes with sacrifice. We vow to love and honor each other “in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.” Even in the good times, placing the needs of your spouse before yourself isn’t always the easiest thing to do. Sanctification in marriage comes from a daily dying to yourself for the sake of the other. “No, I’m not going to stay at the office later than I have to, because I have a wife who needs me.” “Sorry, I’m going to have to cancel my plans to take care of my husband who’s not feeling well.” “Yes, I’ll hold my tongue in front of your mother.”

Those things are little, and yet we know there are bigger sacrifices that come with love.

“No, we’re not going to live together before marriage because we trust that God has a plan for us, and that sex belongs in marriage, period.”

And then, the struggle of the infertile:

“No, doctor/mom/dad/brother/cousin/myself, for the thousandth time, we refuse to engage in IVF. Yes, we know that that is our only chance for a biological child. Yes, we are suffering, more than you realize. But we trust that God has a plan for us, and that new life is sacred. We make this sacrifice because our souls are more important to us than the fulfillment of our dreams, because our greatest dream is the Kingdom of God.”

What good, truly, comes from these sacrifices? If we look with human eyes, we only see the pain. In the first instance- “My spouse is encroaching on my comfort.” In the second- “Quaint, archaic¬†rules¬†are getting in the way of how I want to live.” In the third- “Old men in Rome are dictating whether or not I can have children.”

If we look with eyes of faith, we see the Glory of God. When we sacrifice and die to ourselves, we open our hearts and become holier people, and that holiness radiates outward.

Like St. Therese’s “Little Way”, we are growing in holiness through small, everyday sacrifices. In the first instance, sacrificing your own comfort to tend to the needs of another bears witness to the love and patience of the Father. ¬†In the second instance, bearing witness to the truth of sexuality goes so far against the grain that it angers those who can’t bear the light. While many won’t have to courage to say it out loud, more than one will be touched by this witness. And on a much more personal note, couples can attest to the many blessings and graces that flow after marriage as a result of this sacrifice.

In the third case, perhaps the witness is more silent. Perhaps not many will know that refusing IVF¬†comes with an immense suffering on your part. But I promise, it is worth it. Graces flow from obedience. In the words of Our Lady of Lourdes, “I cannot promise you happiness in this world, only in the next.” Couples dealing with infertility are on the front lines of the culture wars. Our witness to the dignity of life and the sanctity of marriage matters. It is perhaps a still, small voice- but one that has the power to open eyes and change hearts.

 

We know that all love bears fruit. It is my hope that this series might be a small comfort to my brothers and sisters who are suffering in the throws of infertility. I promise you, your marriage has a purpose. God has a plan. I pray that all who read this will experience the healing touch of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and that whether or not you have children, your marriage will bear much fruit, for his greater glory.

+AMDG+

 

RadiatingFruitfulness

Advertisements

Radiating Fruitfulness: Hospitality

Radiating Fruitfulness: Hospitality

In this series, we’ve been exploring what it means when the Catechism states that all marriages can “radiate a fruitfulness of charity, hospitality, and sacrifice.” If you missed the beginning, check out part 1, Radiating Charity.

I have to admit, writing part 2 has been a real challenge. What exactly is “fruitfulness of¬†hospitality”? Honestly, I had to do¬†a lot of background reading and thinking to even have an outline for this post. I’ve wondered about this question for an entire decade.¬†Why did I expect to have this figured out in a week?¬†Am I¬†in over my head? Oh but I have to write this. Ok. Here we go:

 

Part 2: Radiating Hospitality

What does hospitality mean, anyways? Let’s start with the Google definition.

hos·pi·tal·i·ty
ňĆh√§sp…ôňątal…ôdńď/
noun
  1. the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.

The Old Testament includes a number of stories that illustrate the sacred nature of hospitality. Angels disguised as house-guests are a recurring theme, and God continually rewards the generous heart.

These stories reflect a culture in which hospitality was held as a sacred virtue. We see this lived out in the life of Jesus. There are many stories of him visiting people and having dinner at their homes. We know he ate with¬†Levi, Zacchaeus, Peter’s in-laws, Mary and Martha, a Pharisee, and many others. Much of his teaching was delivered over a dinner table. His first miracle was supplying¬†wine to a wedding feast. Another miracle involved feeding¬†5,000 people. He made breakfast for his friends after his Resurrection. The night before he died was spent breaking bread with the apostles, giving his own flesh as bread for the life of the world, and commanding them to “Do this in memory of me.” Jesus invites us to his table, where he¬†gives himself to us in the form of bread.

At our wedding homily, the priest¬†talked about how heaven is described as a wedding feast. It’s everyone together, happy, celebrating and full of love. Only minutes old, our marriage was already fruitful in that it was bringing all those people there together. This continues, not only in the parties we host or the dinners we share, but in our desire to let our home be a safe harbor for others. I really do believe that “radiating a fruitfulness of hospitality” means that the love you share spreads¬†to create a welcoming environment for those around you. Just like the dinner scenes in the New Testament, your new family (even if it’s a family of two) can be a place where others can experience the warmth and healing comfort of God’s love.

When two people marry, their home becomes each other and the love that is shared between them. Marriage brings forth a new life, one that is designed to be open and welcoming. The grace of the sacrament fosters an environment for sharing, visiting, and loving one another. This is how marriage radiates a fruitfulness of hospitality.

RadiatingFruitfulness

Check out Part 3: Radiating Sacrifice

Previous: Part 1: Radiating Charity

New Series! Radiating Fruitfulness

New Series! Radiating Fruitfulness

The Sacrament of Marriage is always fruitful. It always brings forth new life, even without the gift of children. Understanding this outside of the context of parenthood can be difficult, but it is nonetheless true. Even the Catechism mentions this.

“Spouses to whom God has not granted children can nevertheless have a conjugal life full of meaning, in both human and Christian terms. Their marriage can radiate a fruitfulness of charity, of hospitality, and of sacrifice.” (CCC 1654)

I’ve often read these lines and wondered what they meant. What does this mean for my life, for my marriage?¬†Why does infertility get such little mention in the Catechism, as if it were an afterthought? ¬†Of course, the Catechism is a summary, not the exhaustive body of Catholic thought. Still, not much has been written on the subject.

In a way, perhaps those of us suffering infertility have a unique gift. When we are denied the obvious signs of fruitfulness, we are invited to discover the beauty and gift that Sacramental Marriage is in and of itself.

This is a new series exploring what it means for a Catholic marriage to “radiate¬†fruitfulness” through charity, hospitality, and sacrifice.

Part 1: Radiating Charity

The Catechism defines charity as “the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.” (CCC 1822)

Charity, sometimes called “love”, is the highest of the virtues: It is what animates and inspires¬†the others.

Fruit of the Spirit and fullness of the Law, charity keeps the commandments of God and his Christ: “Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.” (CCC 1824)

And of course, the most famous and beautiful passage ever written about charity comes from St. Paul:

“Charity is patient and kind, charity is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Charity does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Charity bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13)

When we are called to marriage, we are called to be Christ to one another. Our vocation is to love with our whole selves- and this love, by nature, expands outward. It becomes a beacon of hope in our world of darkness.

A loving marriage provides a stable home base for the spouses from which they can step out and share their love with everyone they meet. Some concrete examples of this include community involvement, mentoring, sharing your wisdom with others, being an example of Christian living, and encouraging others to walk in the light.

The love between a husband and wife becomes an energy that transforms their world. Case in point: a wounded woman who thought she had nothing to offer realizes that she is valuable. Through her vocation to love her husband and his vocation of loving her, she learns to open her heart and soul to the world. And through his vocation to love his wife, and her vocation of loving him, a man learns that he is needed. He learns he can be a provider, a hero, that he is strong and able, that he has a purpose.

They say that behind every great man is an even greater woman. The truth is that true love transforms. It makes us become the best version of ourselves.

“All because two people fell in love.”

Radiating Fruitfulness: Charity, Hospitality, Sacrifice. What it means for #marriage to be fruitful, even in #infertility. #Catholic #Christian

 Check out Part 2: Radiating Hospitality

Check out Part 3: Radiating Sacrifice

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 ‚áí 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:

‚ÄúI 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‚ÄĚ.

A Letter From the Girl in the Pew

A Letter From the Girl in the Pew

Hi, it’s me. Can we talk? Remember that homily you preached at that wedding about a year ago? You know, the one where you said in a booming voice from the pulpit,

“The purpose of marriage, really, is children.”

Yes, that’s the one. Remember how you went on and on backing up that point?¬†Remember how at the reception later, people were telling you how great it was, how true, how important? Remember how I stood there in that circle and nodded, agreeing that you have a gift for wedding homilies?

I lied.

Yes, I lied to a priest. To spare your feelings, of course.

I hated your homily that day. It wasn’t even my wedding, so why should I care?

Because it Hurt. Like. Hell.

You knew I was in the pew. You knew that I have MRKH. You knew that my husband and I will never be able to conceive.¬†Was it your intention to say that our marriage has no purpose? That¬†our marriage is useless? Or ¬†that maybe it’s just second class? Were you¬†trying to make us feel unwelcome and unneeded?

It may not seem like much to you, but to me it was a complete betrayal. You’ve told us to “be happy for others” but do you realize what you’re saying?

When Jesus carried his cross,¬†he didn’t do it with a smile. And I’ll bet that when he fell, his comfort was not in the Romans yelling at him to get up and keep moving. You wouldn’t tell Jesus to quit saying¬†“Why have you abandoned me?”¬†and just be happy for those people who get to not be crucified today, would you?

Now of course, I’m not Jesus. I don’t claim to be. But like him (and like you), I have a cross. We all do.

You wouldn’t tell an amputee with phantom pain to be happy for everyone who still has all of their limbs. When your friend suffers an abusive relationship, you don’t tell them to be happy for everyone whose heart was never broken. No, no one would say that because it misses the point and ignores the wounds that these people carry. We all deserve compassion and understanding. We all deserve to be loved.

We love you very much. Perhaps that is why this hurts so much.

And in case you would like a little reminder, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states (paragraph 1660) that marriage has TWO purposes: (1) the good of the spouses and (2) the generation and education of children. These are both true, and we cannot overemphasize and ignore one or the other. If children were all that mattered, then my marriage wouldn’t be valid, and IVF would be encouraged. If the spouses were all that mattered, then we wouldn’t have to be “open to life”. Both matter. Both are important.

Otherwise, our struggle is in vain.

My Country Valentine

My Country Valentine

With Valentine’s Day upon us, I wanted to take a moment to thank God for sending me my best friend James, and blessing us with the most beautiful marriage. It is better than I ever imagined, and sweeter than I ever deserved.

This morning on my way to work, I was listening to Gus Lloyd on the Catholic Channel ask listeners about their song. People called in and said how many years they’ve been married, what their song is, and how it came to be their song. It was the sweetest show!

On our first Valentine’s Day together¬†James made me a mix tape (CD). Songs included Diamond Rio’s “Unbelievable”, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, Brian McKnight’s “Back at One”, ¬†and Westlife’s “On Angel’s Wings”, among others. Can you tell we were kids in the 90s?

He also included¬†“Amazed” by Lonestar, and¬†that was the one we danced to at our wedding. That is our song. But¬†we also have a few more that are close to our hearts.

Taylor Swift’s “Our Song” is pretty much the story of our first year of dating. Slammin’ screen doors, sneakin’ out late, talkin’ real slow¬†cause it’s late and your mamma don’t know… you get the idea. We were 20 and 22.

The song that always makes me feel super warm and fuzzy though is none other than Thompson Square’s “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not”. Cause yeah, he got down on one knee… and we planned it all out for the middle (beginning) of June.

So Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone, but most importantly to my handsome,¬†country music loving, best friend and husband James.

‚̧

Do you have a song that really speaks to you? What song just makes your heart melt?

The Honeymooners

The Honeymooners

The other night I came across a bunch of pictures from our honeymoon. So happy, so full of love.. so… exactly like the present.¬†We’re still on our honeymoon, mentally. Of course, we haven’t even been married for 2 full years yet.

Sure, a lot has happened, and we have a lot on our¬†plate right now with his refereeing, my infertility ministry and planning our upcoming UK¬†adventure. But looking at these pictures made me realize:¬†That’s us. And that is all that matters.

We’ve taken¬†a little step back from the craziness of life and dedicated every Sunday to spending time together as a family. Forget the rest of the world.¬†Sundays, we’re back on our honeymoon. Last Sunday, we went to the Walter’s Art Museum in Baltimore. Two weeks ago, we went to the movies. This week, we’re planning on¬†staying in and trying yoga together, then browsing travel books.

By the way, it all started with Whole 30. We’ve made physical health a priority in the last 28 days and it has paid off tremendously in our emotional and relational health as well. I’ve been wanting to make Sunday our family day of rest for a long time, but it wasn’t until our Whole 30 that this became a reality. There’s only a few days left, but I love what this program is doing for my life! I’m so excited to keep¬†living this Whole 30/Paleo¬†lifestyle throughout the year.

The Year of Wandering

The Year of Wandering

Trying to assess 2014 for the Connie Ann household is a tough one.¬†There were no major milestones or changes. Our cars kept running, our jobs kept paying, and the sun kept rising over the CA Observation Deck. Brownie continues to be simultaneously adorable and troublesome. It’s a good thing he’s cute.

We hosted a number of parties, including a family New Year’s Day lunch, a Memorial Day cookout, a late-summer s’mores party and a Christmas movie night. We attended 4 weddings: 2 in Maryland, 1 in Nevada and 1 in the beautiful mountains of Western New Jersey.

We took numerous weekends to Williamsburg, VA, and celebrated the 4th of July in the true spirit of 1776. We went to Jamestown and learned about the hardships of the earliest European Americans. We ate cheesesteaks in Philadelphia. We went on our Great Western Adventure and saw Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon and the Pacific Ocean for the first time.

We celebrated our first anniversary with a weekend staycation involving Mount Vernon, a stroll in Ellicott City and dinner in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. The next day we said goodbye to Skippy, my beloved childhood pet dutch bunny. He was 13, and very much loved.

2014 was a year of wandering. I wrote so much about my spiritual journey and the cross of permanent infertility. I spent a lot of time thinking about my purpose in life. We had very high highs and some deep lows, but both were spent side by side. It was a win for marriage. We don’t know where we are going, when or if we will adopt, or what our purpose is. I truly feel like a wandering soul. And even though I don’t know if the next year will bring any of the answers I seek, I do know that with James standing by me, it doesn’t matter. We will get where we are going, though we do not know the way.

“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

Romans 8:28

The Author of Life

The Author of Life

The infertility stories in the bible have one thing in common. They all end in a miraculous pregnancy. Abraham and Sarah conceived in extreme old age, despite the sins they committed in their distrust of God’s promise. Hannah cried in the temple and vowed to give her child to God, if only he would grant her request. God said yes, and Samuel was born. Elizabeth and Zachariah, the parents of John the Baptist were infertile and advanced in years, yet God answered their prayers, regardless of Zachariah’s doubt.

Some will¬†point to these stories and say that if you pray hard enough, you will¬†conceive a child. They claim that if you’re still not pregnant, it’s because you don’t have enough faith. There are even a number of books that espouse this notion.

I call bullshit.

You heard me.

The point of these biblical stories about miraculous cures of infertility point to one big TRUTH:

We are not the author of life. God is.

God is in charge. God has a plan. God has the ultimate power to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, in whichever way he chooses. Human beings may cooperate with God’s design, but we are not the ones in control. Period. He proves this time and time again in Scripture. Mary, a virgin, conceives.¬†Lazarus is raised from the dead. Job’s life goes in all over the place. The widow’s oil and flour is always replenished, and as God cares for the sparrows and the fields, so too will he care for you (Matthew 6:26).

In our world, there are many beautiful, wonderful, faithful women who never conceive. Infertility is a symptom of our fallen world. It is not their fault. It’s no one’s fault.

God gives each of us different gifts, depending on his plan for our life. This is why we pray for his will, and for and increase in faith and trust on our part. Just because God¬†can¬†doesn’t mean he¬†will. And even though he may say “no” or “not yet,” he always has a perfect plan.

Anything-Can-Happen October

A week ago (while we were on our Great Western Vacation), I got one amazing piece of news. I’ve been chosen as this month’s Adopt-A-Blogger by This Cross I Embrace, a wonderful blog that I’ve been following for years, and mentioned in this previous post. I am so incredibly grateful for this. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your prayers and support. If you’ve never heard of this beautiful prayer campaign, check this out:

Adopt-a-Blogger

I’ve been asked to write a few paragraphs about myself, and truth be told, I don’t know what to say. My infertility journey is a little unusual. At age 16, when I still hadn’t gotten my first period, my mom took me to a number of doctors until someone was finally able to figure out the issue. To everyone’s shock, we discovered that I was born with MRKH- a rare birth defect that affects 1 in 5000 women: I was born without a uterus, cervix, and, well- check this website out for more information, if you’re curious as to details. That kind of shock doesn’t just literally affect the course of your life- it also creates a huge identity crisis. Was I actually female? Was I still like every other girl? Why did God make me this way? What was the purpose of this? Why make me female and Catholic without any hope of becoming a mother?

That was 10 years ago. In that time, I’ve done a lot of grieving, and I’ve come a long way. I learned that having a uterus isn’t what makes someone a woman (even though in our English language, we refer to a girl’s first period as “becoming a woman”). I’ve learned that being a faithful Catholic does not mean that your marriage must produce 6+ children. I’ve learned that my life has meaning and value, and that God does have a purpose, even if I can’t see all of it at once.

I feel like Dorothy at the end of the Wizard of Oz. There’s nothing in that black bag of cures for me- yet if I’ve learned that if I really want happiness, I can find it in my own back yard.

James and I are looking forward to adoption, and hopefully we’ll be able to start the process in the Spring. In these past 10 years, I thought I had done my share of grieving, and it seemed that I had come to peace with¬†my own loss. But, oddly enough, marriage has made me start grieving again. I’m grieving for my husband’s loss. I’m grieving for our loss as a couple. I (and we) need healing and help with this grief. If you are so kind as to participate in this wonderful program with TCIE, please consider praying for our emotional healing and for us to get through this new stage of grief, and for us to have courage and success with adoption, if it is God’s will for us.

Thank you, and God bless.