This is something I have been thinking about for a while now – how do I make visible The Gospel of Life as a barren woman? This is a hard question for reasons I will explain below.
For those of you unfamiliar with the phrase “The Gospel of Life” it is in reference to an encyclical that St. John Paul II wrote titled “Evangeliuum Vitae” about the worth, value, and dignity of every human person. It’s truly a beautiful encyclical. I read it in college and remember being deeply moved…I was literally highlighting every other sentence. Anyone else have books they’ve done that with?
Check out some of the gold nuggets that lie within (bold emphasis added):
“Man is called to a fullness of life which far exceeds the dimensions of his earthly existence, because it consists in sharing the very life of God. The loftiness of this supernatural vocation reveals the greatness and the inestimable value of human life even in its temporal phase.”
“To all the members of the Church, the people of life and for life, I make this most urgent appeal, that together we may offer this world of ours new signs of hope, and work to ensure that justice and solidarity will increase and that a new culture of human life will be affirmed, for the building of an authentic civilization of truth and love.”
“We are asked to love and honor the life of every man and woman and to work with perseverance and courage so that our time, marked by all too many signs of death, may at last witness the establishment of a new culture of life, the fruit of the culture of truth and of love.”
“These can be summed up as follows: human life, as a gift of God, is sacred and inviolable. For this reason procured abortion and euthanasia are absolutely unacceptable. Not only must human life not be taken, but it must be protected with loving concern. The meaning of life is found in giving and receiving love, and in this light human sexuality and procreation reach their true and full significance. Love also gives meaning to suffering and death; despite the mystery which surrounds them, they can become saving events. Respect for life requires that science and technology should always be at the service of man and his integral development. Society as a whole must respect, defend and promote the dignity of every human person, at every moment and in every condition of that person’s life.”
Now why is The Gospel of Life hard for me to think about? Because a subtle lie creeps into my brain with me hardly noticing and here it is:
The Gospel of Life means that to be a good and holy Catholic, you must have lots of children. More kiddos =more holiness.
I’ll be the first to say I believed it without knowing I did. Even before getting married, I wanted 10+ kiddos and to be a stay at home mom….for many good reasons and for the subtle lie I listed above. I am an extremely deep analyzer by nature, which makes me more sensitive to noticing this subtle lie creeping into others’ comments and actions – whether they mean to be reinforcing it or not.
Here is an example of something I saw on Facebook that could reinforce this thinking:
Or this typical conversation: “I’m from a “big Catholic family”…. one of thirteen children.” Typical response: “WOW, you’re mom MUST be a SAINT!”
Now, this above Facebook poster did NOT mean to hurt my little barren heart. I get what he’s saying. Life is beautiful. God’s abundant blessings were upon these women and their bursting-at-the-seams families. It truly is a witness to openness to life within marriage and extremely counter-cultural in a nation that is very anti-life on so many levels. It’s one aspect of The Gospel of Life.
I affirm this aspect and let me say again, I am NOT bashing the poster or saying he had malicious intention or wanted me to think that more kids = more holiness. I know he absolutely didn’t. Nor was he likely even aware of how someone battling infertility could interpret his status update.
Nonetheless, the status absolutely crushed me. I cried a deep painful cry after seeing it. Not because I was angry or jealous…but because of the absence of children who may never be in our marriage. The sadness that we can’t partake in furthering the Gospel of Life in that way since we can’t bear children.
But then something dawned on me…something that exposed that subtle lie in my thinking and put truth in its place.
The Gospel of Life is so much more than bearing lots of children. I thought of so many Catholic infertility bloggers that I have come to really care about. I decided to re-write that status I saw on Facebook in a new way:
I just hung out with the blogger friends in my Catholic Infertility Support Group. In attendance, 100+ women, 0 children, plus several adoption applications in process…to put this in perspective, 0 of our children were there and one of the adoption applications was ours… The Gospel of Life!!!
Even as a couple experiencing infertility, we STILL are witnesses to The Gospel of Life because it’s so much MORE than having lots of kiddos. It can’t be reduced to reproduction. It’s about rejecting anything that steals life and dignity from humanity – contraception, abortion, euthanasia, murder, treating a fellow man or woman with less dignity than their very being demands by existence, artificial means of reproduction, unjust laws, and so much more. Realizing this, it’s obvious that ALL persons, regardless of their state-in-life are able to witness to and uphold the Gospel of Life.
Catholic couples experiencing infertility or sub-fertility have to stand for The Gospel of Life in a different way than couples experiencing abundant and blessed fertility…but they no less witness to it despite feeling less at times. Not only do we stick out for not practicing contraception in marriage and being open to life during the marital act, we also have to battle the mainstream infertility culture that screams “IVF, IVF, IVF,” etc. It can be easy to feel rejected from the “fertile-Catholic-crowd” but also rejected from the “mainstream-infertility-crowd” so we have banded together for support in this arduous journey.
We stand for LIFE in just as beautiful a way despite feeling like we don’t. A way that may never result in the physical blessing of children. A silent way in some aspects. We can also stand for life in other ways that stretch far beyond our reproductive abilities or lack thereof.
I have asked God to forgive my silly thinking that more kids = more holiness. Sometimes I wonder if infertility wasn’t a gift to keep me from going to a very prideful place. Only the Lord knows and I will get the details in another life. It is interesting how these subtle lies can creep into my (and possibly others’) mind over time. Like unwritten rules and expectations everyone knows but never says. By God’s grace, these lies will continue to be replaced with all that is true, good, and beautiful.