The Bible extols fertility and fruitfulness as a sign of favor from God from the earliest pages of the Bible. We are commanded to “be fruitful and multiply.” Gen. 1:22, 9:7, 35:11. And God promises that, if they are faithful to his covenant, His followers will be rewarded with the blessings of offspring: “‘Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’” Gen. 15:5. God even chose to bring about our salvation by taking flesh and being born of a woman.
So what happens when a couple faces infertility? Have they been cursed by God? How are they supposed to interpret the cross they have been given? In particular, how are Catholic men called to respond?
This is the first of several posts about and for Catholic men as they deal (or fail to deal) with infertility. While women are usually open with their feelings and struggles, men are too often silent about their struggles with infertility. Although men have a natural desire to fix problems, infertility is a problem that has no easy solution; the mystery behind the cause and the gravity of the subject make any solution murky at best.
A man’s approach to infertility
Women experience the burden of fertility on a daily basis, with regular physical reminders of not being pregnant. Even though our physical experience of infertility is very different, men need to enter fully into the mystery and experience of being infertile. Men are called to step into the experience as men–to support their wives and to stand strong in the face of suffering.
Men do not often speak about the difficulties they experience being infertile. Whether they, their wives, or both are the source of the infertility, men see it as having failed. We are meant to be providers, protectors, and to solve our family’s problems. When we cannot do anything to change our fertility, men often feel helpless and sometimes hopeless. Other men have gone through this same series of emotions.
Before Abraham was blessed with Isaac, he asked God: “O Lord God, what will You give me, since I am childless?” (Genesis 15:2) The Lord responded by showing Abraham the stars of the sky and giving him the promise that his descendants would rival the numbers of the stars. It was then, we are told, that Abraham “believed in the Lord, and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” (Gen. 15:6). Abraham’s faith led him not only to receive God’s favor, but a son as well.
St. Joseph wondered about his own role and purpose when he was told that Mary was pregnant. He is an exemplar of the hope we should have as men as we take care of our families. God called him to protect Mary when he was not sure what was happening, but he fully embraced his role in the hope of God’s promise. Two traditions in the Church hold that St. Joseph was a young man who fell in love with Mary and was confused about Mary’s statement that she was with child. The other tradition holds that Joseph was an older man, likely a widower, who was called to protect Mary–but was nevertheless confused about what happened. In everything he did, St. Joseph acted in hope. Even when he did not know exactly what to hope for, it was the driver behind his actions.
St. Joseph’s bride, Mary, is our exemplar of love. Mary loved without reserve, devoting her entire self–soul and body–to carry out the Lord’s will. Although men usually prefer an active rather than a passive approach, Mary’s receptivity is a model for us about how to accept the love that God is offering. We must develop a receptive stance toward God to have Him lead us through the suffering into His embrace.
Infertility is, like other forms of suffering, a means through which we can grow closer to the Lord. By entering into the experience with faith, hope, and love, we can better discern the particular experience God has in store for us.