Recently I was in a waiting room and saw a Spanish magazine there. One of the articles on the cover was: “Naci para ser mama” , in English that translates: “I Was Born to Be a Mother” . I thought about it and realized it was both a truism and countercultural.
It is a Truism, because God has created the human race, in fact, all sentient beings with the drive to procreate. It is written in our hearts and in our biology. We are driven to procreate, to pass on our experiences and wisdom. We are driven to raise a child to be exempt from the mistakes that our own parents made. We also want to live for something greater than ourselves. Raising children certainly meets that qualification.
But that statement: “I Was Born to Be a Mother” , is also countercultural. In our prevailing culture, children are often seen as a burden or an interference with the really “important” things that many adults want to do with their lives. To make such a statement about an inner drive and longing for parenthood is to contradict this modern narrative.
In the midst of the profound confusion of modernity, there are many couples wanting to conceive and yet who cannot. For many reasons this difficulty in conceiving is becoming more widespread and it comes in various forms. For some couples, their infertility has a known cause but not a known remedy, others have been able to conceive children, but have repeated miscarriages, others have had one or two children, but for unknown reasons now experience secondary infertility. Whatever the cause or symptoms, there is great suffering and agonizing among these couples. We can look at women in the Bible who were infertile. One was Hannah who read about in today’s reading (1 Samuel 1: 1-11). But there are others, for example: Sarah, Rebecca and Elizabeth. They experienced great pain and a sense of failure not only to themselves and their husbands but also to the whole community.
They can feel like they have failed at the most basic dimension of their marriage. Many feel powerless, as if they are stuck on a hope-followed-by-disappointment cycle. Some may feel isolated from friends and family and are constantly wounded or reminded of their pain by well-meaning but often insensitive comments from family and friends.
In the story of Hannah the sacred scripture shows the difficulty that can come from those who dislike you (Peninnah) and even from her husband, Elkanah who, while perhaps meaning well, tried to console his wife by saying that he was worth more than 10 sons. He clearly missed the point and fell short in empathizing with her feelings.
The experience of infertility can also cause a tremendous strain in the marriage as couples try to cope with this challenge and find ways to comfort each other. They also have to work very hard to develop a different trajectory for their marriage if children are not going to be a part of their lives.
And, so we come to the purposes of this Mass:
We want each of you to know that married couples are not facing their challenges alone. They are doing so with God. It is certainly easy to leave him out, especially with the illusory control that many have assumed over fertility. That would include contraception, abortion, and In Vitro Fertilization technologies. These latter technologies can be very seductive with the promise of a child, but to accede to them is to proclaim that God has forgotten you. He has not. Here is where we are called to trust Mother Church. She understands who man is and how God created us to love. We can have confidence that she will guide us to what will truly fulfill us.
The Church wants you to trust that God is in this with you. It doesn’t mean that he caused the infertility; God just doesn’t do that. Look at the Gospel reading today (John 9:1-7) where we see that Jesus’ disciples were expressing the common view that the man’s blindness had to be someone’s fault, the result of someone’s sin. Jesus says “No, it is so that the works of God may be made manifest through Him.” We don’t know why he allows it, but he doesn’t cause infertility and He is with you.
Keep in mind that your married love is not utilitarian; your one-flesh union is not simply a means to procreate. It is the total giving of yourself as a disinterested gift to your beloved. There is nothing incomplete or lacking in your covenantal love if that gift is made in accordance with the dignity God has invested in you as spouses. So, what does Our Lord want you to do?
First of all, ask Him for healing, in all its forms. Knowing that with God all things are possible, ask for physical healing of the cause of your infertility. There are many patron saints of infertility: St Rita of Cascia, St Anne, St Francis of Assisi, St Francis of Paola, and St. Gerard. Pray also for emotional healing from the pain, humiliation, loss and grief that you may be experiencing. And, pray for Spiritual healing, knowing that God has a plan for you. Trust the words of the Prophet Jeremiah from 29:11: “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you-oracle of the LORD-plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.”
We also know that God takes our failures and brokenness and, if surrendered to Him, He builds His plan upon this rubble. It actually becomes the foundation of God’s perfect plan. (Rom 8:28 “We know that all things work for good for those who love God.” )
Lastly, ask the Lord, how you, as a couple can more completely serve Him and fulfill the mission He has for us? For some it is by adopting children or becoming foster parents. For others it is by offering your gifts to help the Church in the faith formation of children. Or you may be called in a particular way to become servants of life to those who are lost in the culture of death all around us. As we close with a special prayer tonight, we will ask especially for Our Lord’s loving blessing on those couples who are infertile or who conceive but cannot bring the child to term, or those who are struggling with secondary infertility.
Father in Heaven, you are the author of life. In your generosity and love you have allowed men and women to share in this marvelous work of bringing new life into the world. We pray for your sons and daughters gathered here this evening that want so much to participate in the miracle of life. Please heal the causes of infertility for all those seeking your help to conceive.
Please give them hearts to trust you and your plan for them and their marriage. Give them wisdom to know how to comfort each other; send friends to encourage and lift them up; grant them patience with those how do not understand the cross they bear and the faith they need to find victory and new life through their suffering. We pray this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Post Mass comments from Cindy Leonard, coordinator of the Office of Natural Family Planning, who sponsored this event:
We are very happy that about a hundred people attended the Mass, both Catholic and non-Catholic couples alike. We were even happier that most stayed long afterwards, visiting with table hosts and meeting each other. Dr. Clint Leonard, Ob/Gyn, Dr. Deidre Wilson, Sr. Noreen Sharp with Adoption Services of Catholic Charities, and the Office of NFP hosted tables and had long lines of couples who shared their struggles with infertility. We provided a Resource List with internet links to blogs, books and helpful websites, an article about licit infertility procedures, lists of NFP only physicians and articles on Catholic teachings in the area of infertility. We had a basket of 3rd Class relics of St. Gerard along with a medal and holy card that were our gifts to each couple.
Couples expressed a beautiful spirit of gratitude for the Church for providing this Mass. We heard them say how much they were learning at the healthcare tables, that they had never heard before coming that night. We want them to come back next year and hope by that time someone will be inspired to start a Catholic support group for couples experiencing infertility. If they do they can count on support and guidance from the Office of NFP. I am very grateful for our celebrant, Fr. Charlie Goraeib, for generously giving his time and for his edifying homily. I am also thankful for Erin Campbell who chaired this event and gave so much of her time and love throughout all its planning stages to make it an event to inspire and long remember.
Post Mass comments from attendees Rhapsody and Nick Canepa :
Nick and I were just telling some friends about the Mass last night and how much we really loved the Mass. He mentioned how it made him feel more included in the Church, which I agree with. First, to see the other couples in attendance helped us know that we are not the only ones in the pews each week struggling with infertility issues. And second, since the Church tends to focus on the family in many ways – and we understand completely – after all, it IS the Domestic Church – sometimes it causes those of us without children to feel like we don’t always fit in. Fr. Charlie’s words really gave us both peace and confirmed that we ARE remembered by our Church. It was nice to hear him say that our marriage is no less of a marriage if we do not have children. The blessing by Fr. Charlie and the Deacons moved us both to tears – his words really touched our hearts. And although the St. Gerard Mass moved us to reconsider looking into NaproTechnology to see if it might help us one day conceive, it really has given us peace, knowing that if we never conceive, we are very much a part of this beautiful Church and just need to be open to God’s plan for us. Thanks again for planning this event and we’d love to help in any way for next year’s Mass if you need it. … Have a blessed day! Rhaps