Openness to God’s Blessings

Family Matters
Curtis and Michaelann Martin
From the Jul/Aug 2000 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

Being open to life is a means of growing in holiness.

We have been blessed with five wonderful children, and we are expecting a sixth at the end of this month. It’s amazing how a large family can attract attention in today’s world. A frequent challenge is the grocery store. The kids really do very well, but it’s still a sight to see mom and her little ducklings trailing behind with a shopping cart or two. Michaelann is frequently asked: “Are those all yours?” Questions like this tend to catch you off
guard. Your mind is racing to think of a life-affirming response. One of our friends shared a good idea. She has eight children, and when the question arises, she smiles and says, “Yes! We’re Catholic,” and then after a brief pause, “and we are trying to take over.” This usually leaves the inquirer a bit confused. “Is she serious?” Well, in a way she is.

One of the most dramatic changes in our culture has been the shift from an attitude that views children as a blessing to one that views them as a burden. Fertility is now considered a disease. This month alone 16,200,000 women will take medication to “cure” them of fertility (the birth control pill). Another 16,800,000 women and 6,600,000 men have sterilized their bodies. In all, two out of every three women who could become pregnant are using some form of contraception.[1]

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Ours is not the first culture to declare war on our children. In fact, the diabolical temptation for parents to abandon and even destroy their children is a recurring theme in human history. As David Chilton noted:

“From the first book of the Bible to the last, this is the basic warfare of history. The Dragon is at war with the Woman and her Seed, primarily Jesus Christ. . . . The most striking example of this pattern on a large scale occurs throughout the history of Israel, from the Exodus to the Exile: the covenant people’s perennial, consistent temptation to murder their own children.”[2]

The reason so many people fear children is that the Evil One has shifted our focus from the blessing of children to their cost. Yes, children are expensive-financially, emotionally, and physically. Whatever you have, your children are going to want it, and want it to a degree that will challenge your limits of generosity. Children will cause you to suffer. As Christians, we don’t deny these facts, we simply view them in light of the fullness of truth.
Children are a blessing from God. The only way to evaluate whether children are worth the cost is to ponder their value. When a married couple comes together in marital intimacy, there is a possibility that our loving God may bless that union with a new life. This child is created in the image of God and he or she is called to live forever with Him in eternal blessedness. Once we realize this, we understand that their value far outweighs their cost.

The key to fostering a truly pro-life attitude is to keep our minds focused on the goodness of God’s plan for our lives (cf. Jer. 29:11). Our Heavenly Father has given us a blueprint for happiness in our married life. We need look no further than the very first commandment He gave us: “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28). Our world seems to have forgotten that the unselfish love of Christ is the pathway to everlasting happiness. For most of us, this
pathway leads to marriage and parenting.

As parents, we can see the wisdom of the Almighty’s plan. What better invention than children to teach heroic generosity? Children have a profound and positive influence on their parents. We have found ourselves doing things for our children that we never would have dreamed of doing for anyone else, and we even find joy in doing it!

At the heart of Christ’s teachings about openness to life is the most central teaching in all of Christianity. In Scripture, just before we are told to “be fruitful and multiply,” we are informed that we have been made “in the image and likeness of God.” This is a profound truth. God is, in His very essence, a community of life and love, and He has made each of us to be like Him and to be with Him.

From all of eternity God the Father, who is perfect goodness, perfect beauty, perfect truth, and infinite love, gives of Himself. His self-gift is complete and total; He holds nothing back. His gift of self is so complete, so perfect that it is the Son. The Son is “God from God, light from light.” Because the Son has received everything from the Father, He too is perfect goodness, beauty, and truth. In infinite love He imitates His Father and gives Himself
completely, holding nothing back, and their mutual love is so real that it is the Holy Spirit. Each of the three Persons of the Trinity lives an eternal and perfect act of love, so it is true that “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8). We were made by this love and we are made for this love. Marriage is designed by God to be a living image of His love. Husband and wife are to love each other and hold nothing back. Their love is so real and powerful that with God’s
blessing they may end up changing its diapers.

Contraception flies in the face of this beautiful teaching. Right in the depths of marital love contraception says, “No!” Instead of a total self-gift, the spouses begin to withhold themselves from each other. “I love you” is changed into “I love what you do for me, or how you make me feel, but I don’t love you, at least not your maternity/paternity.” But that’s what marital intimacy is about. God has designed marital intimacy so that the love-giving and
life-giving aspects be separated without doing violence to ourselves. Often couples may have to accept that the blessing of children may not be given, but that’s a far cry from intervening by way of drugs, chemicals, or some other action to intentionally render our lovemaking sterile.

Unfortunately, the world’s fear of children has crept into many people within the Church. We know many couples whose parents have lost the faith and have counseled their own children to use birth control, offering any number of excuses. It’s rare to find parents of the “baby boomer” generation who actually encourage their now-adult children to be open to having children.

So what’s the answer? Through Baptism we became children of God. Our loving Father has provided a wonderful owner’s manual for His children. It is called the Holy Bible, and is supplemented by the rich teachings of the Holy Catholic Church. Many popes and early Church Fathers, knowing that we, a weak, broken people, would need encouragement and guidance, have written beautiful documents, sermons, and letters just so Christians could have a well-lit path to follow. This path ultimately leads to heaven, but begins with the road to holiness in this life. We hope these documents will shed light on your worldview
so that after this lesson all might better understand the awesome call of parenting found in the Sacrament of Marriage. Never in the Scriptures is having children mentioned as a liability or punishment.

We must also add that the Church has always understood that there may be very real and serious reasons why a couple should postpone having children. If a couple is undergoing physical, emotional, or financial difficulties, it’s morally acceptable to use the natural rhythms of a woman’s cycle to avoid a pregnancy. The Couple to Couple League does a wonderful job of explaining natural family planning (NFP) and distinguishing this form of responsible parenting from contraception.

Contraception is defined as the choice by any means to impede the procreative potential of a given act of intercourse. The couple chooses to engage in intercourse and in addition chooses to do something else to make sure that that specific act of intercourse does not result in a new life. In other words, they intentionally sterilize their acts of intercourse. Christopher West sums up the problem with contraception as follows:

“Contraception is also a violation of conjugal love which calls spouses to give themselves to each other in a complete and unconditional surrender and, at the same time, to receive the gift of the other completely and unconditionally. This is the ‘language,’ so to speak, of the marital embrace. Yet contraception contradicts this by saying, ‘I give you all of myself except . . . except my fertility. I receive all that you are except . . . except your
fertility.’ Fertility is an integral part of who we are as male and female, as husband and wife. To withhold fertility, or refuse to receive it as a gift in one’s spouse is a contradiction of the deepest essence of conjugal love precisely at the moment when this love should find its most honest, truthful expression.”[3]

This brings us back to NFP. The reason that NFP is an acceptable method for regulating births when there is a legitimate reason for doing so is because it isn’t contraceptive- in no way does it act against God’s plan for bringing life into the world. NFP is an effective and scientifically based method of regulating births or achieving pregnancy that involves determining when a couple is likely to become pregnant if they were to engage in intercourse and the choice to abstain from intercourse at that time. Never does the couple choose to impede the procreative potential of a given act of intercourse; never do
they contracept. At the time when pregnancy is most likely to occur there simply is no intercourse.

With NFP, the couple is called to prayerfully consider being open to receiving new life. Being responsible entails being generous and only abstaining from intercourse when there is a just reason for doing so. NFP enables the couple to act in complete accord with God’s design instead of acting against it by using some method of contraception. With NFP, a couple need never withhold anything of themselves from each other when they do engage in intercourse, and thus are able to respect the full truth of mutual self-giving. “For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children. It is their duty
to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood. . . .[Also, their behavior must] respect the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love; this is possible only if the virtue of marital chastity is practiced with sincerity of heart” (Catechism, no. 2368).

Talk Tips

  • Do we really believe that children are a blessing from God? Have we rejected God’s potential blessings or feared being open to receiving another
    blessing if He wills it for us? Have we been using NFP selfishly, without truly being open to God’s plan?
  • Have we lost a sense of make-believe and imagination? Have we lost a sense of spending playtime with our kids, enjoying them for who they are and how
    they think, exploring nature or going on long walks, because we are working to pay for all the stuff and daycare? Have we lost sight of God’s plan and
    our goal as a married couple?

Additional Reading

  • Catechism, nos. 1652, 2360-2400, on marital love
  • For more info on responsible parenting, contact the Couple to Couple League, P.O. Box 111184, Cincinnati, OH 45211, or call toll-free (800) 745- 8252.
  • Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, nos. 50-51
  • Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, nos. 11-16

Action Points

  • We want to challenge all couples to prayerfully consider God’s will for their fertility. Humbly ask God to shower you with the gifts of the Holy Spirit
    so that you will be able to discern whether you have a just and serious reason to postpone having more children. If you don’t, then pray for an open
    heart and mind to accept God’s blessings should He bless you with another child.

[1] The Alan Guttenmacher Institute, Facts in Brief: Contraceptive Use (1998).

[2] David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1987), 307-08.

[3] Talk given at The Homeward Bound Marriage Conference (1999), sponsored by Forming Families for the Third Millennium.

Personal Application

1.
In Psalm 127:3-5, we are given the word picture of a warrior with a quiver full of arrows. What does this image have to say about children? Who is the warrior? Is there a war in the year 2000? __________________________________________ __________________________________________

2.
In Psalm 128:1-4, we are given the image of an olive plant and many little shoots. What does fear of the Lord mean? What does it mean to walk in God’s ways? How does this relate to being open to children? Are children a blessing? Do we trust in Our Heavenly Father?
__________________________________________ __________________________________________

3.
Read Genesis 15:2 and Genesis 30:1. What do these stories speak about? Does it sound like these couples are suffering?
__________________________________________ __________________________________________

Read Catechism no. 2374 to see the deep compassion the Church has for
couples who cannot have children.

4.

Now let’s look at some success stories that deal with children. In Ruth 4:13-17, we read about Ruth conceiving. Who was the one in control of giving her a son? Who was Obed’s grandson? Wouldn’t it have been a great shame if Ruth didn’t want kids and rejected being open to them to the point of not allowing the Israelites to have the great King David? __________________________________________ __________________________________________

5.
Look to the great example of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1:1-11. The story of Hannah especially captivates the hearts of women. Who was in control of her fertility? Did she acknowledge God’s omnipotence? What did she do to show her faith and humility? How was she rewarded for her faith and patience? What was her promise to God? Did she keep it? __________________________________________ __________________________________________

6.
Skip ahead to 1 Samuel 2:21 to see how God rewards Hannah for her faith and obedience. What gifts did He give her? Did she reject them or think of them as a burden? What can we learn from these examples? __________________________________________ __________________________________________

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