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A spiritual preparation for family life

Isabelle Gagnon

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Last week, on March 19, we celebrated the feast of St. Joseph as well as the beginning of a year dedicated to the "Amoris Laetitia family". As future parents, my husband and I have many doubts and questions about family, and the pope's reflections in Amoris Laetitia are helping us to see things more clearly. While I have already touched on several topics related to family and faith recently, let's discuss more in depth what preparation for family life entails, including the essential values that are specific to the family vocation.
Preparing for the unknown
For the last seven months, a little boy has been growing inside me. He has lived his entire life on Earth in my body, yet I am still waiting to meet him. This blend of closeness and discovery perfectly embodies the beauty and grandeur of God's gift. God gives what we cannot give ourselves, He has a capacity for creation that is completely beyond us, and at the same time He grants us the immense privilege of intimacy.
In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis writes that "all the somatic traits of the person are written in his or her genetic code already in the embryonic stage. Yet only the Father, the Creator, fully knows the child; he alone knows his or her deepest identity and worth"(Amoris Laetitia, 170).
Despite the plethora of books written about family, pregnancy, and children, the experience of conceiving and raising children is entirely new for every couple. My husband and I will certainly get to know our little boy a little better each day, as well as other children, God willing, but for today, and every day that comes, we will have to accept some of the mystery and rely on Providence in caring for our family.
Loving with peace of mind
In the Gospel according to Luke, we meet Martha, busying herself in service of the Lord, and Mary, who is instead sitting and listening to the Lord. When Martha asks what Jesus thinks about Mary not helping her, he answers:
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” –Luke 10:41-42
This passage says a lot about how we live out parental love. Sometimes we can feel like we are loving, while in reality we fall into worry and distraction.
Already during pregnancy, many worries can arise surrounding the health of the baby or of the mother, the dynamics of the couple, and the anticipation of the baby's arrival in the marriage. It takes great care to listen to the Lord and be joyful. The pope offers this prayer to pregnant women:
With great affection I urge all future mothers: keep happy and let nothing rob you of the interior joy of motherhood. Your child deserves your happiness. Don’t let fears, worries, other people’s comments or problems lessen your joy at being God’s means of bringing a new life to the world. (Amoris Laetitia, 171)
Putting up a resistance to this anxiety, especially during a pandemic when worry holds much sway, necessarily depends on God's grace. For couples expecting their first child, the anxious anticipation of change in the life of a married couple that a child brings must be combatted in a special way.
Love takes patience
Catholics are fortunate to be able to experience marriage preparation within the Church. Before diving head first and receiving the graces of the sacrament of marriage, future spouses are prepared for life as a couple, for the gift of self to the Lord and to each other. This love "is patient" and "does not brood over injury", as St. Paul tells us (1 Corinthians 13:4-5).
However, many of us find, once we are married, that the statements of the Hymn to Love are difficult to put into practice. We often prioritize our own interests over those of our spouse, become impatient for the little things – all the while forgetting our common hope – and run into communication challenges that hinder marital intimacy.
Pope Francis explains the preferred attitude in this way:
It does not matter if [other people] hold me back, if they unsettle my plans, or annoy me by the way they act or think, or if they are not everything I want them to be. Love always has an aspect of deep compassion that leads to accepting the other person as part of this world, even when he or she acts differently than I would like. (Amoris Laetitia, 92)
Considering the great peril of imperfection in loving our spouse, we may come to doubt our ability to welcome a child. That said, loving ourselves and our spouse with renewed patience takes a lifetime. It is through these two simultaneous efforts, and not on their perfect realization (God alone is holy!), that we will find the strength required to love our child in turn.
Following Christ in family life
This Year of the Family is also the fifth anniversary of the publication of Amoris Laetitia. This apostolic exhortation by Pope Francis explains in a no-nonsense style the various demands and inspirations to follow with regard to marriage and family life in the Catholic Church and, more generally, family life in 2021. We can still refer to it today in order to better understand the ways in which Christ invites us to follow Him in the vocation to marriage and family. The Lord offers us a beautiful path of sanctification, and, by His grace coupled with our efforts, each of our families can participate in His creation most joyfully and filled with His abundant love.
The Year of the Family began on March 19, 2021, and will end on June 26, 2022, with the 10th World Meeting of Families in Rome. Find more information about the events of the Year of the Family here.

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