by Jean Dimech-Juchniewicz in Facing Infertility: A Catholic Approach.
When God created Adam and Eve, he created them for one another. Men and women are made to physically and spiritually complement one another. When Adam saw Eve for the first time, he exclaimed in utter joy, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” And the author of Genesis continues, “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen 2:23–24). Though Adam enjoyed the intimate company of God his Creator, he still longed for and was not satisfied until he could physically and spiritually join himself to one like himself—a woman. Thus God established marriage as a communion of life and love by which a man and a woman share with one another a sincere gift of self.
Together in marriage, most especially in the loving act where the two become one flesh, men and women reflect the very image of God and his love for all of humanity. Yes, you read that correctly. Our Catholic faith teaches us that sex is good—in fact, sex is holy—and that it allows men and women to come together in a union that draws them into the loving union of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the Blessed Trinity. God created our bodies with a spousal meaning, to be given in a free and total gift of self. While this certainly finds a high point in sexual union, it involves a whole communion of life and love as couples live out each day of their married lives together. A husband makes of himself a gift to his wife every day, as does a wife for her husband. Christ elevated the covenant of marriage to the level of a sacrament, by which the spouses’ gift of self draws each person into a deeper relationship with God. In this way the sacrament of marriage becomes a vehicle for God to plant his love more deeply in our souls and sanctify us.
God gave us the gift of our sexuality to draw us closer to him through one another. The act of giving and receiving love during intercourse mirrors God’s giving of himself completely over to us, his creatures, in the person of Jesus Christ. “Marriage has God for its Author, and was from the very beginning a kind of foreshadowing of the Incarnation of his Son.” This sincere gift of self imbedded in the sexual intimacy of married love reflects Christ’s union with the Church as he gave the supreme gift of self when he died on the cross. His death, the gift of his very life for humankind, is the act that brought about our salvation and unites us with him. Because Christ’s union with the Church is reflected in the sacrament of marriage, Catholics often refer to Christ as the Bridegroom, to the Church as the Bride of Christ, and to the Mass as the wedding feast of the Lamb.
Sex, then, is of primary importance as far as our Catholic faith is concerned. It is a foretaste of the intimate union with one another and with God that we will enjoy in heaven. Sex makes visible the invisible mystery of God’s love, when lived out in the manner God intends. In fact, sex is the act through which the sacrament of Marriage is renewed and strengthened. Coming together as husband and wife, we renew with our bodies the promises we made on our wedding day. With our bodies, we say to each other, “I have come here freely to give myself to you. I will accept children lovingly from God. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”
Every time we come together with our spouse in the loving embrace of intercourse, we make a sincere gift of self to our spouse and commit ourselves to our wedding vows all over again. Each time we give ourselves physically to our spouse, we are freely and permanently promising ourselves to one another in an intimate communion of life and love that is open to the possibility of new life. These promises are not the Church’s creation. They are inscribed on the very act of sex itself, created and designed by God in precisely this way. “God, who is life and love, has inscribed in man and woman the vocation to share in a special way in his mystery of personal communion and in his work as Creator and Father.” Our faith merely articulates this truth for us, but it is God’s own spectacular invention.
Our sexuality is a gift from God, meant to be enjoyed by husband and wife to renew their love for one another and to work with God to create new life from that love. Our bodies and souls are intimately connected, so much so that what we do with one affects the other. This is why our sexual lives and our faith lives are so closely connected. This is why we should fully understand our faith’s teachings about marriage and sexuality before we make any medical decisions to resolve any possible infertility.
Unfortunately, most adult Catholics were never taught any of this—what Christopher West refers to as the Good News about Sex and Marriage in his book by that title. It is completely new information for most Catholics, but information that is vital to our decision-making process regarding infertility. In a nutshell, our Catholic faith teaches us that sex is designed for us by God for two main purposes that must never be separated: to bring husband and wife together in an intimate union of persons that seals and strengthens their mutual love for one another (the unitive purpose), and to cooperate with God in bringing forth new life through the procreation of children (the procreative purpose).
These two fruits of marriage, the unitive and the procreative, were inscribed on our human sexuality by God himself from the beginning of human existence. By its very nature, sex communicates a permanent union of life and love through the language of our bodies. It is an outward reflection of this inner reality. In order to come together in the way that God designed, every act of intercourse must be open to both unitive love and procreation. That’s simply the way God designed us. When spouses willfully separate these two elements, they are saying something with their bodies that isn’t true in their own hearts.
These deeply held beliefs about marriage and sexuality are not very popular in today’s society. Many people think of sex as a physically satisfying recreational activity that is completely detached from marriage and from having children. They consider sex to be a private matter governed by subjective personal opinions and feelings. In a misdirected effort to “liberate” sex from the bonds of Christian virtue and somehow elevate its value by making it socially acceptable for everyone—adult or child, married or unmarried, etc.—our society has actually decreased the value of sex and dehumanized it by divorcing it from the deep significance God intends. This has wreaked havoc for women, marriage, the institution of the family, and the value that our society places on human life.
Sadly, these distorted social mores have led to a situation where those who desire to become pregnant are counseled that they have “the right” to conceive and should do so at all costs, and where those who are pregnant and do not wish to be have “the right” to abort their unborn baby. Isn’t this painfully ironic? Apparently human life is only valuable when we want it to be. Those of us who beg to differ with the prevailing social opinions about sex are in the minority. Because of this, understanding and following the Church’s teachings about the treatment of infertility can be very difficult and unpopular. It can also make us feel very isolated.
The defining moral principal is this: fertility treatments that assist sex in achieving its natural end of procreation are praiseworthy; fertility treatments that replace sex violate Catholic moral principles. Indeed, they are gravely immoral and violate God’s design. Because of this, the Catholic Church promotes efforts to research and invest in the prevention and morally sound treatment of infertility.
In practice, the principles of
(1) every human being, even the tiniest human being newly conceived, has the right to live
(2) spouses have the right to become a father and a mother only through each other; and
(3) every child has the right to be conceived in the beauty and dignity of the mutual act of self-giving love between her parents.
generate a list of morally acceptable and unacceptable treatment options for infertility. Instead of thinking of them as lists of “Thou Shall” and “Thou Shall Not,” remember that we are trying to follow God’s will in the context of the faith of the Church that he gave us through his Son, Jesus Christ. He has come to us in our need in the desert, embraced us in all our sorrow, and promised to never leave us. We seek to follow Jesus as we journey through our infertility. He is guiding us into our future, protecting us, and loving us unconditionally. Following Jesus means doing God’s will as Jesus did, no matter where it leads us. If we truly seek to follow Jesus, our guide and friend, he will give us all the grace we need to do God’s will, even when it is unfathomably difficult. He will not let us carry our burden alone.