The late, great Pope John Paul II proclaimed the family the “domestic church.” Within the loving embrace of family, strengthened by the sacraments of the Church and guided by her teachings, we receive the graces we need to make it all the way to heaven.
Recently we read at Mass, “The gifts and the call of God are irrevocable…” (Rom 11:29). The gifts of the Holy Spirit enable us to cast aside vice and cultivate virtue, growing in perfection until we can be perfectly transformed in heaven. In this particular passage in Romans, the gifts and calling of which the Apostle speaks refers to God’s plan to redeem the human race – first through His covenant with Israel, then expanding to the Gentile world when the vast majority of Israelites did not recognize their Messiah when at last He showed His face.
And yet, this passage could also be applied to family life. Women by our very nature are called to motherhood — whether biological or spiritual, called to carry and nurture new life. Our children are true “gifts,” the fruit of total self-giving and active cooperation with the calling of God upon our lives. By conceiving children in the womb, we become co-creators with God as we bring forth life as an expression of married love.
So then, what is a couple to do when, after giving of themselves as generously and totally as they know how, they still do not conceive?
For some of us, this sorrowful longing presents an opportunity for penance, whether for our own sexual indiscretions or selfish choices — or on behalf of others, who sinned against God and against us. The bodily scars that prevent us from bearing children are a pale reflection of scars our Savior bore in His Passion.
For others, grief at being unable to conceive gives rise to an extraordinary calling of a different kind, an opportunity to cooperate with God’s plan of redemption in the life of some other person, especially a child who might otherwise never have a family.
In all cases, this kind of emptiness presents a consummate opportunity to trust. To have faith that God does not break our hearts out of spite or vindictiveness, but loves us and works only for our good. To hope in the power of God to bring life out of death, and good out of evil. Above all, to love … striving to remain open toward God and all those He puts in our path.
“Love Does Not Demand …”
In his first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul reminds us of the true meaning of love in a passage many can clearly remember from our own weddings:
“…[Love] does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:6-7).
This passage offers real protection from the temptation to run ahead of God in our eagerness to secure the blessings of family life. Love does not seek its own interests … but trusts in the wisdom of Mother Church. Love does not bemoan past injuries or injustices, but remains open to the possibility of grace. Above all, love endures, confident in the law of love that is higher and purer and stronger than we are ourselves.
And so, when the Church says that assisted reproductive techniques such as IVF and surrogacy do not uphold the dignity of a child, or protect his right to be conceived in the loving embrace of his parents who have been joined for life in the holy sacrament of matrimony, we can trust that this boundary is for our protection.
- It protects the lives of children, and prevents their abandonment in IVF labs and storage tanks.
- It protects couples that would otherwise sacrifice everything — financially, physically, emotionally, even with regard to marital privileges — to “achieve” pregnancy.
- It protects women. When we are in anguish, struggling to understand and accept the realities of our situation, the wisdom of Mother Church casts a light of peace and justice upon our path.
It is not always easy to accept our human limitations. We want to feel in control, in charge, invincible. We want to believe that if we just pray long enough and try hard enough … if we just do our part, God will bless us with our heart’s desire.
In this, the Book of Sirach offers these words of caution:
Rely not on your wealth; say not: “I have the power.” Rely not on your strength in following the desires of your heart (Sir 5:1).
When all is said and done, what is most important is not our own desires, but God’s desires for us. Our first calling is not “parent,” but “child” … a most beloved child of God, created in love and adopted by grace.