Open to life from the beginning

December 6, 2011

The young man stands at the front, dressed to the nines, looking sharp. But clearly feeling exposed and uneasy, he seems not to know what to do with his hands, nor which foot to stand on. All the while he looks intently toward the rear, waiting to catch that first glimpse of white-laced and veiled beauty coming toward him. In coming to the front, he has offered himself as a gift to her, and in coming up the aisle, she is presenting herself as a gift to him. Together as they face the altar, they present themselves as a gift to God, just as the gifts of bread and wine are presented at Mass — plain things of the world which will be transformed by grace into a holy and living sacrament.
Then at the climax of the marriage rite, the couple will be asked three questions just before stating their vows. “Have you come freely...?” “Will you love and honor...?” “Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the laws of Christ and His Church?” Their “yes” to the questions declares their love to be free, faithful, fruitful and total. Just the sort of love that God has for us. They bravely promise to love as God loves, to imitate Jesus, our eternal bridegroom. What a holy — yes, sacramental — act they perform.

Responsible parenthood
If they have pondered the three questions deeply, they are keenly aware of the radical step they take in becoming “one flesh.” If they fully understand the one about children, they know that their “yes” means a pledge to live responsible parenthood. This means they will be generous in welcoming children, prudent in evaluating their means to provide for the kids, and chaste in their lovemaking, in particular never using contraception. The marriage is open to life from the beginning.

Checkered past left behind
It wasn’t always that way for these two. They are children of today’s culture. They have delayed marriage for a number of years, while being “in relationship” (not love?) with a number of partners. The relationships were more or less sincere, but always flawed and ultimately broken, and most of them sinful. Now for each of them, this is the person and now is the time to stop saying “for now” and instead say “forever.” Deep inside, they know that what they are embarking on is cosmic, it is holy. They may not be able to formulate the idea, or say out loud what they know inside. But their hearts are open in a new way to hear the ancient wisdom of the Church, the world’s only source of the true meaning of marriage. If they get good guidance now, if someone presents all the Church’s knowledge of what makes a marriage, enthusiastically and unapologetically, their hearts resonate with the truth and beauty of the teachings. What seemed to make no sense at all, now makes perfect sense. She stops taking the pill. They take a class in Natural Family Planning, the best tool we know for practicing responsible parenthood with confidence. They embrace chastity (some call it ‘secondary virginity’) as part of preparing for the holy sacrament of matrimony.

Openness gives life to the marriage

Each and every time they come together in a marital embrace it is open to the possibility of life. They have prudently decided to wait awhile before the first baby, and use Natural Family Planning accordingly. But they discover a wonderful secret — even before procreating, their love-making is life-giving to the marriage. Natural sex is the best sex. Because each time they embrace, their body language authentically renews the free, total, faithful, fruitful gift of the vows they spoke at the altar.

The supreme gift

Finally the day comes when it’s right to learn firsthand the truth the Church expresses when she says that children are the supreme gift of marriage. Husband and wife come together knowingly at the time of fertility. The next day the young wife realizes the signs say she probably ovulated yesterday, and all through the day she carries a joyful secret that the miracle of new life may be happening in her body that very day. Some days later the good news is confirmed, and they welcome the new tiny person into the family. Open to life from its very beginning. From this point they will consider nothing but careful nurture of the delicate little person entrusted to their care. The “forever” they promised at the altar has become truly eternal in this new incarnation whose ultimate home is with God.

Happily ever after? 
Are you kidding? This is real life. The couple finds that marriage is at least three times harder than they ever expected. Some days it seems very fragile, just hanging by a thread. The bitterest obstacles are the self-inflicted wounds of their own checkered past. It takes all their gutty commitment to stay the course. But therein lies another sublime secret — that the hardest and most challenging things in life are also the most rewarding. They stumble, they fall, they pick themselves up seek and give each other’s forgiveness, as well as forgiveness from God. It’s their own way of the cross — difficult, painful, but ultimately glorious. †

Joe and Cinda DeVet are Natural Family Planning consultants for the Office of Family Life Ministry.