by Bethany Meola
All love bears fruit: this is the theme of chapter six of the World Meeting of Families catechesis.
Fruitfulness is part of the very definition of love: “It is the nature of love to overflow, to be life-giving” (USCCB, Marriage: Life and Love in the Divine Plan, p. 13). True love is never closed in on itself, seeking its own interests. Instead, love goes out, seeking the good of the other.
This truth about love—that it is always fruitful—is particularly meaningful for married couples like me and my husband, who have not, so far, been blessed with children.
Every child is a living, breathing, walking, talking billboard proclaiming loud and clear: “Love Is Fruitful! Marriage Is Fruitful!” According to St. John Paul II, children are a “living reflection” of their parents’ love (Familiaris Consortio, no. 14). And yet a child—the “supreme gift” of marriage—is not the only fruit of married love.
In fact, the first fruit of marriage is the marriage bond itself (World Meeting of Families catechesis, no. 105). When my husband and I said “I do” on our wedding day, a new family was born. In that moment, we were no longer two individuals, but became a union—a “we”—shaped by and also striving toward God’s own way of loving: total, faithful, and fruitful.
What does the fruitfulness of a childless marriage look like? In many ways, the same as that of a marriage with children: spousal love expressed in many different ways, such as forgiving each other after being hurt, making small daily acts of generosity, praying together, affirming each other, and opening our home to those in need of community.
One difference is that we are relatively more available for acts of service and hospitality than are couples raising children (WMOF catechesis, no. 103). For example, my husband and I look after an elderly widow without local family. We bring her groceries every week and check in frequently. And we’re involved in various ministries in our local church. Could we do this if we had children? Possibly. But the fact is, our time is not taken up (rightly) by the needs of children. And on the flipside, we need people to serve, to live out our marital fruitfulness in concrete ways!
And then there is the profound, and often hidden, fruitfulness of suffering. Every marriage—and every person— will travel through the “valley of tears” at some point. The world may say that suffering is sterile, but Jesus teaches
us the opposite: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (Jn 12:24). Jesus also said, “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit” (Jn 15:5). True sterility, then, is not the absence of children; it is the deliberate closing off of one’s marriage from the fruitfulness of the Holy Spirit and openness to the will of God. May we all live “in active readiness for God’s will” as it unfolds in our own lives (WMOF catechesis, no. 102) so that we can be the “rich soil” ready to receive the word of God “with a generous and good heart” and bear much fruit: “a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold” (Mt 13:8).
Bethany Meola is the Assistant Director of the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
The USCCB Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth is excited about the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) being held in Philadelphia in September 2015. We are presenting a series of short articles focused on the Prepatory Catechesis on the WMOF theme, Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive, and its implications for our daily lives (search “Love Is Our Mission” or “El Amor Es Nuestra Misión” on www.osvparish.com for the book).
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