Open to life. We’ve all heard it, and for the most part, think we know what it means.
For those who are outside the Church, or perhaps those Catholics who have done little more than get their feet wet in this beautiful thing we call Catholicism, the idea of being “open to life” sounds suffocating – just another outdated and domineering rule the Church has declared must be adhered to. Society as a whole certainly reiterates this assumption about being open to life. In their minds, it means that Catholics must have lots of babies!
The Truth About Being Open To Life In The Catholic Church
The truth about being open to life is that the term covers a myriad of individual realities for Catholic couples. There are typically two ways in which being open to life manifests. There are those couples who chose to use natural family planning (NFP) as a way to space their pregnancies and then there are those couples who chose a more providentialist approach, meaning that they do not do anything to avoid pregnancy, leaving the timing completely up to God. NFP is a Church-approved method for avoiding pregnancy that utilizes the natural patterns of a woman’s cycle to either achieve or avoid pregnancy. The difference between NFP and standard contraceptives is that NFP does not separate the unitive and procreative aspects of the marital act. When both aspects remain in place, the act can occur in cooperation with God’s Will.
For those couples who have taken the plunge into following this particularly beautiful and challenging Church teaching and who are living out their vocation of marriage faithfully to God and His Church, none of this is new information. They’ve heard it, read it, studied it, and lived it. Whether they are surrounded in the pews by a glorious gaggle of children or not, they understand what it means to be open to life.
Much of the time in Catholic circles, the idea of being open to life is associated only with those couples who have large families; those who have listened to God’s voice in their lives and acted in cooperation with His Will – repeatedly. There are many couples out there who have either followed an NFP method closely and ended up with an unexpected surprise (or several) or have taken just a slight risk and ended up likewise. These couples are indeed beautifully living what it means to be “open to life”. They are ready and willing to embrace the children that God gives them, even if they do not feel ready, or capable, or even willing. They promise God, by their willingness to follow Church teaching in this regard, to love this precious gift He has sent them…even if they’re not thrilled at the timing. Their large families are an outward sign of their willingness to trust in God and be open to the life that he gives them but they are not the only ones – only the most obvious.
There are so many other ways couples can live out their vocation of marriage being open to life, much of the time unbeknownst to those around them. There are couples sitting among us all in the pews of our churches whose openness to life is painful (and not in a labor and delivery, hospital bills, another mouth to feed kind of way). There are couples who, no matter how open to life they are, will never have children due to infertility. Though it may not be obvious to those on the outside of their marriage, these couples are open to life.
There are couples who have willingly accepted one, two, three, four, or even more babies even when they knew accepting another one would likely lead to another miscarriage. These couples are in our parishes and most of the time we never know the heartbreak they carry around. These couples are open to life.
There are couples who have one or two children and yearn to be that big family sitting in the pew in front of them but will never know how it feels to carry another child due to secondary infertility. These couples are open to life.
Miscarriage, stillbirth, infant loss, death of an older child, primary or secondary infertility, failed adoption, lots and lots of babies…the list goes on and on. And let’s face it…the openness to life demonstrated by these couples will never not be painful, not be challenging, not be difficult. But it will also never not be beautiful.
Oh yes, there are many dimensions to being open to life – and let’s face it…none of them are easy. The simple (oftentimes unfortunate) truth is that nothing about our faith lives should be easy. If your faith life is easy, it’s time to reevaluate because we are not called to live easy lives, especially in the area of our faith. We are called to live holy lives – saintly lives – and if it’s not hard, it’s not making us holy.
Being willing to cooperate with God in all circumstances and accept the gifts and the sanctification He gives you in order to do His will is being open to life. Sometimes that willingness to be open to life leads to literal new human life and other times it does not but it always points us to our own everlasting life and the everlasting life of our spouse. And what greater gift does our Lord give us than everlasting life…as long as we spend it with Him?
Photo by Vitolda Klein on Unsplash