August 10th is also special to us because it is the Feast Day of St. Lawrence, the patron saint of cooks. As many of you know, Dave and I love to cook together, so it's only fitting that we started dating on his feast day.
Who is Saint Lawrence?
This famous martyr of Rome lived in the third century. He was one of seven deacons who were in charge of giving help to the poor and the needy. When a persecution broke out, Pope St. Sixtus II was condemned to death. As he was led to execution, Lawrence followed him weeping. "Father, where are you going without your deacon?" "I am not leaving you, my son," answered the pope. "In three days you will follow me." Full of joy, Lawrence gave to the poor the rest of the money he had on hand. He even sold expensive church vessels to have more to give away. The prefect of Rome, a greedy man, thought the Church had a great fortune hidden away. He ordered Lawrence to bring the Church's treasure to him. The saint said he would, in three days. Then he went through the city and gathered together all the poor and sick people supported by the Church. He showed them to the prefect and said: "This is the Church's treasure." The prefect was furious. In his anger he condemned Lawrence to a slow, cruel death. The saint was tied on top of an iron grill over a slow fire that roasted him. God gave him so much strength and joy that Lawrence is said to have joked. "Turn me over, I'm done on this side" he said to the judge. Before he died, he prayed that the city of Rome might be converted to Jesus. He prayed that the Catholic faith would spread all over the world. Lawrence died on August 10, 158. His feast spread throughout Italy and northern Africa. Emperor Constantine built a beautiful basilica in Lawrence's honor. St. Lawrence is among the saints mentioned in the First Eucharistic Prayer at Mass. (taken from Saint of the Day)
Saint Lawrence is an inspiration to me, because he truly knew where the Church's treasure lay. It wasn't in the buildings or in the possessions, but rather in her people, in the bond of charity and peace between them, in the ability of the sick and suffering to carrying on empowered by the strength and joy of Christ. That is the Church's treasure. While few of us have, to date, been asked to experience martyrdom to the same degree as St. Lawrence and the point of death, we are most likely familiar with the little martyrdoms of life. The physical suffering of sickness that we or those we love experience, the loss of a job, the loss of our investments, our car breaking down right when we need it the most, being wronged by someone at work or in our own home, the bareness of infertility, and the many other little deaths to self that arise as we each pursue our vocation of marriage, single or religious life. I guess the question is, are we, like St. Lawrence, able to endure these matyrdoms, big or small, with the God's spirit of strength and joy?
In my own personal experience with infertility, the answer is sometimes yes and sometimes no. Some days are better than others and I've noticed that the good days usually correspond to times when my soul is in a state of grace (after confession) and when I'm most open to surrendering my will and embracing God's plan for my life. When these conditions exist, I am truly able to carry on amidst the turmoil of the situation with a supernatural inner strength and joy. I can only imagine that this is exactly the source of St. Lawrence's strength and joy...his own abandonment to the Divine Providence of God and His trust in His unfailing love. True joy in suffering is only possible once we embrace the cross we are being asked to carry.
The Gospel reading from today's mass highlights this idea beautifully:
When we, like the grain of wheat, "fall to the ground and die" renouncing our own desires in this world, then we give God Almighty permission to come in to our lives and the situation and enable us to produce much fruit. Our own situations and how we persevere through them empowered by His grace, can produce much spiritual fruit not only in our lives, but in the lives of bystanders who observe this. If there is any one lesson that I can say Dave and I have learned from the journey through infertility it is exactly that. When we died to ourselves and our own desires to keep the journey private and instead surrendered to God and His plans for us and began to share the journey with others, it was then that we began to see transformations.
One of the biggest examples of this for me has been is this blog. I would have never thought that I would be one to blog and certainly not to share the deep thoughts of my heart. But I really felt God asking me to do it...and so I am. Who am I writing for? Honestly, I'm not sure. Originally I thought it was just for my family and close friends, to keep them updated on my surgery and recovery. But now I realize that there are so many others out there who are reading and whose lives are being touched by our journey and the reflections of this blog. Many of you I have never even met. So why am I blogging? Perhaps to encourage those also on the way of the cross of infertility. Perhaps to encourage those struggling to embrace their own personal crosses of suffering. Perhaps as a way of further sharing the teachings of the Catholic church with those who wish to know more. Perhaps just to get my own thoughts "out." Only God Himself knows why I'm blogging, I certainly don't. I am surrendering this entire project to Him, that's for sure, and already I have seen firsthand how this surrender to His guidance is bearing much fruit. Thank you all for your comments, your support, your encouragement and your questions. May God be praised.
One more reflection on the final part of the Gospel and then I'm done...promise. "Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me.” In our own journey along the way of the cross of infertility, we have made every effort to be faithful to the teachings of Jesus as preserved and present in the teaching of the Catholic Church. Because we serve our God, we follow Him and this Scripture passage promises that we will be with God and that He will honor this faithful service. While certainly this means that the reward will come in eternity, I also believe that we are rewarded and honored by God even in the midst of the trial as well.
I wish I could express how many times people have come to me full of pity saying things like, "I admire you so much for being faithful to the Catholic Church's teachings on fertility and bioethics. If you hadn't converted and become Catholic you would have so many other options available to you. It must be so hard on you." While I know that these individuals are well meaning and speaking straight from the heart, my own heart breaks and I have at times been moved to tears upon hearing this. Don't they realize that the fullness of truth and faith is found exactly in the teachings of the Catholic Church? This is where it's at! Dave and I do not mourn for the options that are lost to us (I can only assume they mean in-vitro fertilization, surrogate parenting, masturbating to obtain sperm samples, donor eggs, etc), but rather we absolutely REJOICE that in following God's plan, we were spared from the horrors of these practices. Not only do they reject the true nuptial meaning of the body as it is meant to be expressed in conjugal fidelity, but there are so many physical, emotional and spiritual damages that occur through them. I do not mean in any way to condemn or hurt those who have gone these routes, but I wish so much that each of us could see the truth! I wish so much that I could help to bring these truths to light for people. The truth is beautiful and it will set us free! (If you want to learn more on this, I have listed some great resources at the end of this post.)
Not only do Dave and I find joy and strength in obeying Church teaching, but we are rewarded in the midst of our struggles because our marriage is strengthened the infertility treatments developed and promoted by the Pope Paul VI Institute are a whopping 30%+ more effective than what the main-stream doctors are doing. Why wouldn't we want to follow Church teaching? This is where it's at! We are not sacrificing "results" by our obedience. On the contrary! Being obedient to God's teachings lead us in the path of truth and life towards a higher possibility of conception. It's the best of both worlds! (Why would do we even seem surprised that following God's plan would lead us to what is best for us?) By following the infertility treatments of NaPro Technology, not only are we being obedient in serving and following Christ, but we are honored and rewarded by God even now for doing so as these procedures both restore my body to health (not just mask or ignore the symptoms) and give us an even higher rate of conception that we would not see with other morally illicit procedures.
In the end, it comes back to the same virtues that the life of St. Lawrence witnessed....strength and joy. If we are faithful to God in following and serving Him in this life, He will provide us with the strength and joy we needed to endure anything that comes before us, and we will be content, honored and rewarded in this life and in the next.
God bless you all.
Father, you called Saint Lawrence to serve you by love and crowned his life with glorious martyrdom. Help us to be like him in loving you and doing your work. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.
St. Lawrence, pray for us.
* Christopher West's Marriage and the Eucharist, (available for a $1 donation) is an excellent overview of the Theology of the Body and the nuptial meaning of the body. If you order it today, it will probably be on your doorstep tomorrow.
* Marie Meaney's Embracing the Cross of Infertility is free and live-streamed at this link. It is a "must listen" for anyone who is journey along this way of the cross and is an excellent resource to have friends and family listen to so that they can better understand the journey you are on. She does a great job relating the emotions of the journey, in explaining the truths behind some main-stream options options, and in presenting the beauty and power of fertility practice that ARE in line with Church teaching.
* In Their Own Words: Women Healed. This book is filled with the testimonies of fifty women (and their husbands) whose lives have been enriched by the medical care at the National Center for Women's Health. The anecdotes draw the reader into the lives of women and men who have received help through the Creighton Model FertilityCare™ System and NaProTECHNOLOGY.
* Physicians Healed. Physicians Healed contain the stories of 15 physicians who do not prescribe contraceptives and who promote Natural Family Planning. These are powerful accounts of conversion, courage, and conviction. Learn what moved these doctors to risk losing patients, income, and the respect of their peers. Many physicians have been converted after reading this book.
* Janet Smith's Contraception Why Not? (New & Revised) is available on CD for $5 from One More Soul at www.omsoul.com. You can also access a transcript of the original talk for free. This is a great resource if you wish to understand the Church's teaching on contraception.