Oftentimes, those in a season of infertility are encouraged to discern ways to cultivate spiritual fruit in their lives and to live out this season of their marriage in service to the Church – particularly through involvement in parish life. Couples may find joy and fulfillment in teaching a religious education class at their local parish and taking on the responsibility of praying for their students – their spiritual children, in one sense. Others may cultivate spiritual fruit by volunteering with youth ministry or spearheading Confirmation retreats. Others, particularly those who have experienced the difficult cross of miscarriage or loss of a child, may serve the Church through their involvement with a miscarriage or bereavement ministry.
These are all beautiful ways to cultivate spiritual fruit in the absence of biological children. But what about the couple who is mostly homebound, dealing with significant health issues, or whose emotional burden is currently too heavy of a cross to serve the Church in a physical capacity? Can they still cultivate spiritual fruit and find joy and fulfillment in the absence of both biological children and the ability to be involved with a parish community? Absolutely!
I became largely homebound in my first year of marriage and spent most of the next year bedridden due to chronic illness which had begun to manifest during my engagement. Just a few months into getting married, my husband and I learned that biological children would never be a possibility for us and discerned that we were to continue living out our marriage in a Josephite arrangement. With time, we experienced a deep peace as we came to a better understanding of our vocation. This also challenged us to think about how we can cultivate fruit in our marriage, not only in the absence of biological children, but also in our season of physical separation from the Church and the Sacraments. We realized that prayer is the most important way we can cultivate spiritual fruit in our marriage and stay close to God.
Prayer is a necessary aspect of our Christian lives. As St. Teresa of Calcutta wrote, “prayer is as necessary as the air, as the blood in our bodies, as anything to keep us alive – to keep us alive to the grace of God.” Prayer is also the only way we can serve the Church in our current circumstances, and often, the only thing I can do. I was previously very involved with my former parish, having served as Co-Coordinator of Young Adult Ministry and a teacher of religious education. When my season of separation from the Church began as a result of my debilitating illness, I began to feel empty and purposeless; I was no longer able to serve the Church in a physical capacity and therefore I felt useless to God and His people. I was undervaluing the incredible gift of prayer, one of the greatest ways anyone can serve the Church.
I like to see the fruits of my works, and this is likely an issue of pride. When serving as Co-Coordinator of Young Adult Ministry, it brought my heart great joy to see young adults coming together and enjoying time in prayer and fellowship. As a religious education teacher, it brought me joy when one of my first-grade students told me they went to Mass that weekend and was excited to pray the Our Father.
With prayer, however, one does not always see the fruit, and this was a fact with which I greatly struggled. Yet, prayer is the foundation of the Christian life because it gives us the opportunity to communicate with God and to discern His will. Prayer also gives us the opportunity to serve and save souls. St. Therese of Lisieux shared with God her desire to become a great missionary. It brought her great joy to ponder on the souls she could save through her ardent love of Jesus and zeal for missionary work. One might wonder what God was doing when He placed her in a cloister instead of in a mission parish in a foreign country, yet God knew exactly what He was doing when He made her one of the greatest missionaries of all time (and a Doctor of the Church!) through her incredibly devout and contemplative prayer life – a prayer life that saved many souls. The Church now recognizes St. Therese as the Patroness of Missions (you can read more about her incredible prayer life and mission work here).
In the absence of children and in our inability to partake in parish life, my husband and I are still able to pray, a powerful action that helps lead us closer to God and bring to His feet the intentions placed before us by others as well as the ones we already hold in our hearts. Though we may never see the fruit of our prayers in this life, we trust that no prayer goes unheard by the Lord and that regardless of earthly outcome, all will be made “beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). So, back to our mission field we go as we pray for the Holy Church and her people!
A. Rossi is a 20-something Catholic convert in her third year of marriage. She loves spending time with her husband, reading, writing, crafting, and advocating for those with chronic illness and rare diseases.