In the Service of Life

This is the final post in a series reflecting upon my most recent retreat/learning experience.

The fundamental task of marriage and family is to be at the service of life. (CCC 1653)

Hearing those words echo in my head and heart.

Sitting there. Shaking. Sobbing.

Hearing Christopher share (in more depth than he had in the past) about his experience with secondary infertility.

Hearing these words:

The only fertility that matters is the fecundity of the cross. Mystical fertility is more real than physical fertility.

I was breaking in two. Being crushed and healed all at the same time. I kept repeating in my head, "He is with me. He is with me. In this agony, He is with me." It was more an act of desperation and will than an act of deep faith. I was clinging to the promise more than the belief.

These words. Both from the catechism and Christopher. They are true. We are all called to be in the service of life. Married couples have this call in a particularly unique and important way. Yet, the only fertility that matters is that of the cross. It is this precise reason why infertility hurts so deeply. Physical fertility is the symbol, the invisible made visible, of the fertility of the cross; the physical points to the mystical. Our Catholic faith is so rich in this, we are a sensual faith, we use our senses, our bodily-ness to experience that which we cannot see. Children are the invisible love of a married couple made visible; the invisible "one" that the "two" become made visible.

Yet, the visible is not required to make the invisible a reality. It is why children are not a requirement of marriage, but rather a gift. The only requirement is to be open to the gift; to be open to the invisible.

This leads to the question I have come back to so many times on this road, and I know others have as well: What does this then say about infertility? About being denied this gift? Is infertility just a horrible tragedy or is there something more? The catechism says this (emphasis mine):

Spouses to whom God has not granted children can nevertheless have a conjugal life full of meaning. Their marriage can radiate a fruitfulness of charity, of hospitality, and of sacrifice(CCC1654)

Is the fruitfulness of the cross not a fruitfulness of sacrifice?

Sacrifice is never easy. It is a dying to self, an acceptance of not getting what we want. It almost always involves suffering. Infertility certainly involves all of the above.

In fact, toward the end of Theology of the Body, Blessed John Paul II said that a whole other reflection could be written on suffering alone. He did have this to say in his Apostolic Letter on the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering in 1984: 

We could say that man suffers because of a good in which he does not share, from which in a certain sense he is cut off, or of which he has deprived himself. He particularly suffers when he "ought" - in the normal order of things - to have a share in this good, and does not have it. Thus, in the Christian view, the reality of suffering is explained through evil, which always, in some way, refers to a good.  (Salvifici Doloris 7)

Infertility is clearly a case of a good in which we do not share. Children are the invisible oneness and love of a married couple made visible. In the normal order of things, we should have this, and we do not.

Yet, why does God allow infertility? We know it was not part of His will for Adam and Eve, as he told them to be fruitful and multiply, yet he allows it to be a part of so many lives. Why?

While I'm not sure we will ever understand fully, my thoughts on this, after a long discussion with Mrs. Fitz, input from a priest, Christopher West's words quoted here, a study of the catechism and TOB, lots of prayer, and even more tears are these:

The pain of infertility points to the value of life. We live in a culture of death. A culture that insists on the "right" to kill unborn children, to contracept, to euthanize, to "selectively reduce" pregnancies of multiples or children with disabilities. We stand in our pain and suffering and through it say life has value. Life is important. Love is important. There is more to this life than what we see. If life had no value; if children were only "trophies"; if sex were only for pleasure, we would not hurt the way we do. There are so many disappointments in life; so many times we want something and do not get it. But infertility is just different. Anyone who has suffered from it knows that.

So while infertility is a horrible tragedy, a horrible suffering, it is not merely that.  It is proof that the culture of death has it all wrong. Infertility is a beacon of light pointing the world towards the importance of life. Of love. Of marriage. Of fertility.

God allows it as a contrast to the culture of death. God allows it so that we may be in the service of life.

I have quoted and recommended the song Blessings, by Laura Story, often in this space. To end this series, I come back to it. Specifically, the last lines (emphasis mine):

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can't satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise? 

My greatest disappointment, infertility, has revealed to me a thirst that this world cannot satisfy. The thirst for God. While a child would give me so much joy, even a child will not satisfy this thirst. Only God will.

Which is the greater pain: Infertility or to not know Jesus? 

In my broken, sad, human state, I may think infertility. But, deep inside, in that place that cries out only for God, I know that to not know Jesus would be worse.

Infertility, this greatest disappointment, has drawn me to Him in a way nothing else in my life has. It is His mercy in disguise.

For this reason, I am, forever, in the service of life.


  1. Oh Rebecca, you are such a thoughtful writer. I love you reflection about infertility pointing to the service of life. You are in my prayers always!

  2. This is beautiful. I am in awe at the way God is using you -- and your service to life is so brilliant. I know it's painful, but the mere fact that God has revealed all this to you through your experiences -- that He has blessed you with this opportunity to grow so close to Him, is just breathtaking. All my love and prayers, dear friend.

  3. Thank you for writing from the heart.

  4. Wow. Thank you. Infertility is sooooo tough, but leads us to the cross and closer Christ if we let it. I have fought this for years, but am slowly on the road to allowing God to help me draw close to Him during this suffering.

  5. this is beautiful Rebecca. I have been praying so hard for you and your husband.

  6. Great post...I guess I haven't thought about our IF as being a service to God. hmmmm....It makes sense for because of IF we have grown closer to Him and His church...my dh is a very dedicated Knight...I have dedicated my life to helping children...who are God's children. You gave me some things to reflect on. And if my IF is a beacon of hope in this culture of death...so be it.

  7. This post is beautiful! I wonder if you could get it published....perhaps in First Things, the National Catholic Register, maybe America. (Email me if you would like to pursue this---I'm serious!)

    It makes me think that one of the ways IFers witness is attesting to the fact that biological parenthood is actually NOT our ultimate end, though it may seem like that. One could have eight children, and a marriage that doesn't witness to Christ. And one could have none and a marriage that does.

    Thank you so much for sharing this post...and all the parts of yourself.

  8. Wow, this just closed the loop. We should have you give talks on this. It takes my favorite quote one step further: "There is no sign unless something happens contrary to nature. The brightness of the sun is no sign, but an eclipse is." - Fulton Sheen. This also reveals how important it is to TALK about infertility though. This should seriously be distributed to priests everywhere.

  9. I can't tell you how much this means to me, Rebecca. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Seriously - I needed to hear this so badly, to be reminded of what fertility really is, of the truth that children point to but don't exhaust. I needed all of this, and I'm so grateful for your words.

  10. "Mystical fertility is more real than physical fertility." That's huge for me. I am currently staring down the face of another birthday and no change in my status, along with some really crappy looking things on my chart, both of which make me realize that even if I do finally get married, having children may not be a part of that picture (maybe I'm getting too far ahead of myself, but I have to realize the possibility). But my sister and I were just talking about some of the people in our lives that we would not have as much time for if we were not single. How they don't seem to have many people in their lives that might be praying for them, or being Christ in their life. And certainly what I add to the picture doesn't seem like much, but I pray that nothing will be too small if it helps them.

    It makes me sad that my parents don't yet have any grandchildren to hold and spoil. But my hope and prayer is that they will have a crazy number of "grandchildren" in heaven from us living out a vocation of holiness, even if we don't all get to live out our felt call to marriage the way that we would like (my sisters and I feeling called to marriage, but being very, very single, and my brother and SIL being open to life but suffering miscarriages and difficulty conceiving.)

    Thank you so much for your openness and sharing here. It brings tears to my eyes to think about how many people you have helped along that same path of drawing closer to Him just by talking about your experiences along the way.

  11. Love the ending! Great question: Which is the greater pain: Infertility or to not know Jesus? It really points out how small IF is compared to the GREAT loss we would have if we did not know Jesus.

    Thanks for sharing this!

  12. This was soo beautiful...thank you. God bless you!

  13. Beautiful, Rebecca. Your reflection brought me to tears and it is so true. I would rather choose infertility than never know God. It hurts typing it, but it's true. I know deep down in my heart that God has a special purpose and place for us who are infertile. Jesus suffered so much so that we may have life through His resurrection. We may be suffering now, but our rewards for our suffering will be great. We have to be patient ( which is something I have struggled with the most). Thank you again for sharing.