5 Things I’ve Learned from the Saints About Strengthening Marriage

When I found out about Caitrin’s blog, I knew she would be the perfect guest blogger for us! It’s so important that we get to know married saints as inspiration for our own marriage. I love how Caitrin gives us some great examples of holy couples and concrete ways we can strive toward sainthood as husband and wife.


I’ve always been interested in the lives of the saints.  Reading biographies of amazing holy people like St. Padre Pio, Pope St. John Paul II, and St. Augustine has been very inspiring to my faith.  I love knowing I have friends in heaven, and that I can reach out to these saints to pray for me in specific situations that they can relate to personally.  

But when I got married five years ago, I realized that none of my go-to saints were married. Who could I look to for inspiration in my marriage?  Who could I ask to pray for my husband and me, knowing that they had experienced the joys and trials of married life themselves?  I felt called to meet some married saints, so I began researching and reading.

I read about married saints from biblical times, like Sts. Elizabeth and Zechariah; from the early centuries of the Church, like St. Monica; from the Reformation Era, like St. Thomas More.  I even found some holy people on the road to sainthood who lived very recently — even during my own lifetime — like the Servants of God Cyprien and Daphrose Rugamba, who were killed in the Rwandan genocide in 1994.  

My research eventually became the basis for a book I am hoping to publish one day, as well as my own blog on Catholic marriage.  Though my new married saint friends lived all over the world and throughout history, I noticed some common elements in their lives.  These common elements helped the saints shape and maintain holy marriages, and they can do the same for all of us today.  So, let’s get to the list and learn from the saints

1. Learn — and live out — your marital vows

A marriage is a covenant with specific vows.  These vows are like our job description as married people.  And how can you do well at a job if you don’t know what you are expected to do?  On our wedding day, we each vowed to love our spouse freely, fully, faithfully, and fruitfully.  I call these the “Four F’s.”  Furthermore, we vowed to love our spouse for better or worse, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.  Some of these vows are more widely understood than others; most of us know what it means to love faithfully, for example.  However, we may need to look at a few of these vows more closely to better understand them.

Loving “freely” means that we are able to truly give ourselves to our spouses because we are not slaves to materialism or sin.  Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin, parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, offer a wonderful example of living simply in order to free your heart from the bonds of materialism.  They lived below their means and gave everything they could to the poor.  

The vow of “fruitful” love encompasses much more than just welcoming children into your family.  It can also mean offering the gifts (fruits) God has given you back to Him.  Sts. Elizabeth and Zechariah exemplified this vow when they offered their long-awaited son, St. John the Baptist, to God to prepare Jesus’ way.  

Finally, when we promised to love our spouse “until death do us part,” we may not have considered how the Christian perspective on death played into that vow.  Because we see the Church as the body of Christ, unbroken by death, we are called to pray for our spouse’s salvation while we are both alive on earth, while he or she suffers in Purgatory if we outlive them, and from heaven if we precede them into eternal life.  

St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine, certainly lived out this vow.  She prayed for her husband and wayward son until they both converted, then died peacefully, requesting only that she be remembered in prayer and in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  For more clarification on our specific marital vows, check out my blog at www.holiermatrimony.com!

2. Practice self-denial and mortification

Every saint I’ve ever read about — married, single or religious — practiced unique forms of self-denial and mortification.  St. Thomas More, advisor to the infamous King Henry VIII, secretly wore an itchy, uncomfortable hair shirt under his clothing for most of his adult life.  Bl. Barbe Acarie, mother of six and foundress of the Carmelite Order in France, often ate only one meal a day.  

These mortifications made them better spouses and better followers of Christ.  By saying “no” to themselves in small things, they knew that they were training themselves to say “yes” to their spouses and to God in bigger things, like Thomas More’s eventual martyrdom or the political exile of Barbe Acarie’s husband. 

As Catholic Christians, we believe that our suffering is valuable and meritorious when we unite it with Christ’s suffering on the cross.  Small, voluntary mortifications as well as deep, involuntary pain will all be redeemed when we lay it at Jesus’ feet.

3. Serve the “least of these” together

When Jesus called us to serve the “least of these,” He certainly meant to include the poor, but this title can refer to many other categories of people, too.  The “least of these” might be the sick, the elderly, or the spiritually thirsty.  Your helpless newborn baby or your ailing mother-in-law might be the “least of these” God is calling you and your spouse to serve right now.  Serving together with your spouse is a beautiful way to bond, creating a family mission you can rally behind.  

The Servants of God Cyprien and Daphrose Rugamba felt called to serve the material needs of the street children in Kigali, Rwanda, by starting a shelter.  Meanwhile, they also ministered to the spiritual needs of their local community by founding a new chapter of the Emmanuel Community there, meeting with small groups to pray and discuss their faith.  

Servants of God Cyprien and Daphrose Rugamba, photo by Karel Dekempe, license

Blessed Karl I and his wife the Servant of God Zita were the last emperor and empress of Austria-Hungary.  Despite their noble status, they always looked for ways to serve the “least of these” in their empire, for example by ordering that the royal carriages be used to bring coal to those suffering in the cold instead of transporting nobles such as themselves.  

These holy husbands and wives bonded through their acts of service, and they helped one another to be more like Christ in the process.

4. Pray with your spouse (and with your kids)

If marriage is your vocation, you are called to walk your path to holiness and heaven hand in hand with your spouse.  This means that the two of you are encouraged to take up and live out spiritual practices like prayer together.  

Blesseds Luigi and Maria Quattrocchi were a couple from Italy that chose life for their daughter when they were pressured to abort for medical reasons, and who helped protect wanted people from the Nazis during World War II.  The Quattrocchis focused on developing spiritual habits for their whole family to enjoy, such as praying the Rosary together after dinner each evening.  

Blesseds Luigi and Maria Quattrocchi

St. Thėrèse’s parents, the Martins, inspired devotion to the Blessed Virgin in their daughters by encouraging the girls to adorn a statue of Mary with flowers during the month of May.  Which spiritual practices could you do together as a family?  The possibilities are endless!

5. Live a sacramental life

Beyond praying together and for one another, as Catholic married people we must commit to frequent reception of the Sacraments so that God’s grace can flow in our marriages and in our lives.  We believe that the Sacraments both symbolize and convey grace, which is the power of God working in us.  Each Sacrament conveys specific graces.  Our Baptisms marked us as God’s children; Confirmation offered us the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.  The graces conveyed in the Sacrament of Matrimony help us to live out our marital vows, giving us patience, charity and mercy for our spouse.

Sadly, we don’t always take advantage of those graces.  Then they are wasted, like the valuable talent (treasure) the servant buried in the field in Matthew 25:18. Other times, we let sin build up in our lives and get in the way of sacramental grace, like the moon eclipsing the light of the sun.  This is where the Sacrament of Confession comes in.  We can always come clean and start over anew!  

Ask God in prayer to help you avail yourself of the marital graces, and seek out the Eucharist and Confession as means to keep those graces flowing freely in your life.  Marriage is hard — too hard, in fact, for us to do well by our own strength.  But, armed with sacramental grace, we can approach the challenges of married life with God’s own amazing power!

All the married saints I have met have patterns of sacramentality.  Most participated in the Sacrifice of the Mass many days a week, or even twice a day.  Bl. Emperor Karl I even made sure to attend Mass on the battlefields where he commanded troops in World War II, and St. Thomas More rose as early as 4 a.m. so that he could have time for prayer and Mass before his long work day began.  The saints also tended to go to Confession monthly or more often, though I know they had less to confess than I do!  

These married saints also frequently reflected on the vows of their marital covenant.  Daphrose Rugamba pushed through years of rejection from her angry, atheistic, and philandering husband, pleading with God to refresh her with the marital graces she would need to live out her vocation better than she did the day before.  We can (and should) all do the same!  

These are just five of the many beautiful ways my role-models in marriage worked to strengthen and sanctify their marital covenants.  I encourage you to meet some married saint friends, too!  

And, when in doubt, look to the Holy Family.  Sts. Mary and Joseph are the ideal married couple, the couple to whom God entrusted His only Son.  They offer a wonderful example for us all to follow, showing us how best to live out all our marital vows, how to suffer for Christ, how to serve, and how to pray.  Ask for their intercession often as you prepare for, receive and fortify yourself with the sacramental graces that will aid you on your own path to holier matrimony!


Caitrin is a busy Coast Guard wife, mama of three under four, Catholic blogger and aspiring author.  She is originally from Virginia, currently living in Florida, and preparing for a military move to North Carolina in a few months.  She enjoys writing, playing the piano, long walks on the beach, and going out for tacos and margaritas with good friends! Check out her blog at Holier Matrimony.

What Catholic couples can do during Lent

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Every year, we like to propose a challenge for your marriage during Lent: pick one thing to do together throughout Lent. It’s easy to go overboard and pick several things to do, but just pick one or two!

We’ve really come to see the power of doing one small thing together and how that can lead us to holiness. While giving up sweets or alcohol or something like that isn’t a bad thing, just make sure you’re picking something that will have a positive impact on your marriage and spiritual life together.

And remember, it’s not supposed to be easy! When you’re deciding on what to do, it’s also good to remember the three pillars of Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. So while we’re encouraging you to pick only one thing to do together, you should still focus on all three pillars throughout Lent.

Ready for some ideas for what you can do during Lent with your spouse? In no particular order, here we go!

  1. Pray together everyday, if you’re not already doing so. [It might be good to also read Praying For (and With) Your Spouse by the Popcaks.]
  2. Read Scripture daily. Maybe a Psalm a day or a chapter from one of the Gospels.
  3. Read Forever: A Catholic Devotional for Your Marriage by the Angels. We did this during Lent one year since it’s 6 weeks long. It only takes 5 minutes a day!
  4. Do the enrichment program Beloved: Mystery & Meaning of Marriage. If your church parish has a subscription to Formed.org, you could do Beloved for free! There are 6 sessions, so you can do one each week in Lent.
  5. Sign up for the Pray More Retreat. It’s a self-paced online retreat with talks, videos, and study guides. The topics look so good and would be great conversation starters!
  6. Wake up earlier to connect and pray together.
  7. Go on a marriage retreat.
  8. Take Natural Family Planning classes, if you haven’t done so yet (or have been putting it off!).
  9. Don’t watch TV. But be sure to replace that TV time with something better!
  10. Pray a daily Rosary.
  11. Go to daily Mass during the week (in addition to meeting your Sunday obligation).
  12. Donate extra money to your church or favorite charity.
  13. Volunteer at your church and in your community.
  14. Read Three Secrets to Holiness in Marriage: A 33-Day Self-Guided Retreat for Catholic Couples by the DeMattes.
  15. Commit to not spending any money (other than necessities and usual bills) during Lent. Have a “no spend Lent”, if you will.
  16. Pray a Divine Mercy chaplet every day.
  17. Invite someone over for dinner each week. Maybe it’s time to work on hospitality!
  18. Pick a day each week to do hardcore fasting, like what’s done on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Fasting together makes for some good accountability.
  19. Go to bed earlier. Make sure to pray together first!
  20. Commit to not having your phones by you when you’re spending time together at home. Enjoy each other’s company!
  21. Pick a person or family each week to bless in some way. Bring them a meal, offer to babysit, whatever you think might help them. (And don’t expect anything in return!)
  22. Pray an hour from the Liturgy of the Hours each day. This can be done with an app like iBreviary or Laudate, but I’m a big fan of the one-volume Christian Prayer. (And if you want to learn more about the Liturgy of the Hours, I recommend reading The Everyday Catholic’s Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours by Daria Sockey.)
  23. Make a weekly visit to an Adoration chapel.
  24. Learn a new devotion together, like the Seven Sorrows Rosary or the St. Michael chaplet.
  25. Read from Daily Companion for Married Couples each day.
  26. Read Intimate Graces: How Practicing the Works of Mercy Brings out the Best in Marriage by Teresa Tomeo and Dominick Pastore.
  27. Listen to a talk about Catholicism or marriage and family life each week. Catholic Productions has a great selection, and there are several awesome talks in their marriage and family life category. (Both CDs and MP3s are available.)
  28. Do one small act of love for each other every day. (Ladies, check out our 40 Days of Loving Your Husband!)
  29. Do the Stations of the Cross together each Friday.
  30. Do the enrichment program United in Love-United in Christ. We did this one year with a large group of couples at our church, and it was great! You could do it with a small group in your own home as well, meeting once a week for 6 weeks.

What ideas would you add to the list??

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Advent Challenge for Catholic Marriages: Simple but effective {updated for 2020}

Advent should be a calm and peaceful time, but often it’s the busiest time of the year! In the weeks leading up to Christmas, it’s very easy to get focused on shopping, parties, and everything else holiday-related.

But let’s not forget about our marriages.

Advent and marriage have a special link—both point us toward heaven.

Use this Advent season to draw closer to each other, to foster your relationship together, and to remind each other of the end goal—eternal life in heaven. And we’ve created something to help you do exactly that!

Enter: the 2020 Advent Challenge for Catholic Marriages. It comes with both a calendar and a guide!

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You can choose to just use the calendar, which contains a challenge each day to complete together. Or you can also use the blank calendar and fill in challenges of your own! Both have feast days listed. Then refer to the Advent marriage guide for more thoughts about each challenge.

Do not let these challenges stress you out. Skip a day, if necessary, or switch the challenges around to better suit your schedule. These challenges are to make sure you’re spending time together and praying together. Peace is the goal….not stress. 

The Advent challenge and guide is available in our shop! Add it to your cart by clicking the button below…

$3.99

 

We pray this will enrich your marriage and Advent season together!

What to do if you can’t go on a marriage retreat?

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If you’ve been following us for a bit, you know that we are big fans of marriage retreats. We try to go on one every year because it’s the perfect time to connect with each other and evaluate our marriage and family life.

But we hear all of the time how impossible it is for some couples to go on a retreat. They don’t have anyone to watch their kids. They don’t have any retreats offered in their area. They can’t find a good weekend to get away. They can’t leave their baby or special needs child for that long. 

There are numerous reasons why a couple can’t go on a retreat, and we totally get it.

What if you could go on a mini retreat in the comfort of your own home every single month?

What if you could meet one-on-one with an experienced and knowledgeable couple each month?

What if you had a community of other couples striving for holiness and joy in their marriage?

Well, friends, something like that actually exists. And it includes even more too!

Let us introduce you to our friends, Nathan and Sarah, the founders of Cana Feast. Here’s a little about them:

SarahandNathan

“We are Nathan and Sarah Bartel, married 20 years, with five beautiful children. Sarah holds a Ph.D. in theology, and Nathan has a Master’s degree in philosophy. After hitting some rough patches from the strains of life, marriage retreats gave us the skills and inspiration to find deeper joy and greater passion. We’ve been teaching engaged and married couples about how to strengthen their marriages for over 10 years. We are now on fire to bring that transformation to as many other couples as possible.”

Enter Cana Feast, their membership community for Catholic married couples. This is how they describe it in a nutshell:

“Cana Feast inspires Catholic marriages with greater joy and purpose. Couples nurture their relationship, walking the path of marriage discipleship with Jesus at the center. Every month we dive into a theme with a monthly virtual retreat night, a guest experts interview, a coaching call, and a resource review .pdf. Previous themes include Finances, NFP, Dates, Romance, Dreams and Goals, Love Languages, and Marital Intimacy.”

If you need help keeping your marriage a priority, Cana Feast is for you.

If you need guidance in how to live an authentic Catholic marriage, Cana Feast is for you.

If you want to grow into the husband and wife God created you to be, Cana Feast is for you.

For $24 a month, you get access to the Cana Feast community and all of the benefits we’ve described. That’s $288 a year for a priceless resource for your marriage. (Or you can pay $250 for an entire year upfront, at a 10% discount!)

We pay $275 to $325 to attend a marriage retreat each year, because our marriage is worth it. We have a date night category in our budget because our marriage is worth it.

Is your marriage worth $24 a month? $288 a year? Absolutely. For the convenience of accessing it straight from your home, it’s definitely worth it. 

If you’d like to join Cana Feast and use our link below, we will send our Date Night Guide as a thank you to anyone who signs up with our link! Just send us an email. 

Registration is only open until Thursday, November 12! If you’d like to get a taste of Cana Feast’s virtual retreats, you can sign up for their free marriage workshop, Catholic Marriage Joy. We used it in place of our marriage retreat this year (which was cancelled twice), and it was such a great alternative. (The workshop is only available until November 12 as well.)

Click here to join

Have any questions about Cana Feast? Let us know in the comments!

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The loss of fertility in our Catholic marriage: the grief, shame, and sorrow

Adrienne and I “met” on Instagram and became (long-distant) friends offline. When I found out about her story, I asked her to share here, because it’s the perfect example of why we shouldn’t make judgments about other people’s family size, because we very rarely know all of the details.

Nobody gets married and expects to deal with pregnancy loss, infertility, and even the complete loss of fertility. So often couples experience hard things and think they are the only ones, but that is never the case. That’s one of the reasons we started Surprised By Marriage. Through the crosses we experience, God can draw us closer to him and closer to each other. -Jen


It wasn’t something we saw coming. I didn’t even know the disease had been silently destroying me for years until 2015, when I was 32 years old. By then, we had already lost so much.

My husband and I were married in 2009. We had committed ourselves to a chaste relationship so our honeymoon was deeply special. We also brought home a tiny souvenir, though it would be two more weeks before I got a positive pregnancy test. 

Three months after the birth of our oldest daughter, we got pregnant again. This would come to be the first devastating loss we’d go through as a couple. At thirteen weeks pregnant, I lost our son. My husband baptized him in our bathroom, and we buried him at the Veterans cemetery where the sun rose and set just behind his grave everyday. 

Watching my husband cry as he baptized our first son in our home is burned in my memory forever. Losing our sweet John really taught us both how fragile life is. We both learned what a blessing both pregnancy and birth are. I would like to say the loss brought us closer, but this first loss taught us how not to grieve and process a miscarriage. We isolated ourselves from one another and failed to check in on each other. We didn’t come together in prayer. We were so broken in our grief, we were just trying to survive. It wasn’t until later that we circled back and admitted our mistakes during that time. 

The pain from adolescence returns

We would go on to have two more girls. As a teenager and young adult, I always had terrible cycles, which caused me deep embarrassment and shame. While the difficult cycles eased during the first couple of years after marriage, they became increasingly terrible again after our second daughter was born. After each birth, when my cycles returned, they were worse than before.

Following a very difficult pregnancy, our third child was born in December of 2013. Shortly after her birth, our daughter was diagnosed with failure to thrive. By the time she was five months old, she had already been admitted to the hospital for RSV and had significant health issues. Our other daughters were ages 4 and 2 at the time. Needless to say, life was overwhelming.

In June 2014, my husband was unexpectedly deployed. Days after his departure, I found out I was pregnant again. 

That night after testing, I miscarried again at five weeks. I could not deal with another miscarriage while my husband was gone. Without realizing it at the time, I went into denial and thought it was a false positive. He came home four months later, and soon after, we were pregnant again. Despite our youngest being less than a year old, we were thrilled. It was Thanksgiving morning when we found out, and I’ve never been more grateful on a Thanksgiving.

A pregnancy of joy and sorrow

That pregnancy, more than any others, felt laced with the Divine. There was a very distinct taste of Heaven during those first few months. I have never in my life been that completely joyful. I truly believe the Lord was preparing me for what was to come. 

In 2015, eighteen weeks into the pregnancy, I lost our second son. It was our third and most devastating loss. I found out at a routine appointment, when the Doppler was silent again. I remember screaming over and over, “Please, God, not again!” That night, I was admitted to Labor and Delivery for an induction as a woman labored and gave birth to a healthy baby next door. 

I felt as though I lived a sample of Christ’s Passion that night. My soul was burning in anguish as I labored through the night. A piece of me died that day. I didn’t understand why fertility and birth came so easily to some women but was so terribly hard for me. I wept to my husband, “What’s wrong with me?!” 

Finally, some answers

After my stillbirth, I finally started getting answers at a follow-up with my gynecologist. I found out that I had a clotting disorder, as well as endometriosis with adenomyosis—which is basically endometriosis’s evil sister. 

Unlike endometriosis, which is uterine tissue that grows on the outside of the uterus, adenomyosis grows within the walls of the uterus, slowly eating away and destroying the organ itself. There’s no treatment and no way to do corrective surgery (which can be done with endometriosis). With severe cases, most women end up needing a hysterectomy. My doctor told me I’d probably end up needing one, but that I had a good five years before then. I wish that had been true. 

A month later, in August of 2015—thanks in huge part to our Creighton provider and my gynecologist—we found out I was pregnant again. My anxiety was extremely high during that pregnancy. I was on blood thinners, progesterone, baby aspirin, and extra methylated folate. My prayers for a healthy baby were both constant and desperate. I needed this child to survive. 

One late night in April of 2016, after laboring for several hours, I gave birth to my third son. I held my son to my chest as both of us cried. I had finally given birth to a healthy son. God is so good.

Adenomyosis and its destruction

My cycles returned that summer, but my health deteriorated quickly. I was in bed all the time in immense pain. It wasn’t until November that I had another laparoscopy to remove endometriosis. My gynecologist found almost none…but he did find that the adenomyosis had eaten a hole through my uterus and destroyed it. My Creighton provider said that between my charts and laparoscopy results, we were sure to lose any pregnancies if we were even able to get pregnant again. 

My health continued to worsen. I could no longer get out of bed most days. My entire abdomen was in debilitating pain, and I was hemorrhaging. In an emergency appointment, my doctor leaned across his desk. “I know you wanted a larger family. I’m sorry. But we have to do this.” He was crying. I grabbed my husband’s hand and wept. 

The surgery was scheduled for his next available operating day. In the few days between, I begged for a miracle and pleaded for another answer. Proverbial doors and windows slammed in my face. I felt deep sweeping grief and shame. As a Catholic wife and mother, I felt I had failed. As I prayed through the emotions and we sought counsel from two priests, my husband patiently stood as a sounding board to my thoughts while affirming me we were doing the right thing—the only thing left to do. I needed a hysterectomy.

The morning of the surgery, I felt surprising peace. My doctor kept comforting me. My husband prayed with me. The day before, I had received Anointing of the Sick. I felt as ready as I would. Just before being wheeled back, I took my last pregnancy test. 

The grief and shame of hysterectomy

For the year following the surgery, I felt deep shame at the loss of my fertility. There were no books that I could find by Catholic women in my situation. Many Catholic women asked when we were going to have more children. Someone told me that having a hysterectomy was against Church’s teachings and another told me I’d committed a mortal sin.** This just added to my grief, pain, and shame.

During it all, my husband stood by, affirming me that my womanhood was still precious, insisting that I’d been brave and strong. He was angry for me and grieved with me. My husband accepted with great peace and saintly strength the cross laid upon our shoulders. Looking back, I’m grateful for his strength and prayer during my physical and emotional recovery. He truly lived out, in his quiet way, “in sickness and in health.” It taught us the importance of communicating our feelings and being receptive to the other’s feelings. We realized how critical it is to check in on one another. While we did the best we could, there are always lessons on how we can be more fully present for our spouse. 

I don’t feel the shame of the hysterectomy anymore. I can talk about it and feel the pain without it paralyzing me. The grief of losing my babies and my fertility will probably hurt for the remainder of my time in this life. But I’ve learned this over and over: God never lets Satan win. He always brings greater good out of suffering. Though I may never see it on this side of Heaven, joy always comes in the morning. 

Adrienne Stravitsch is an Army wife and mother of four children on earth. She has experienced multiple pregnancy losses as well as infertility. When she’s not homeschooling or loving on her husband and children, she can be found with her nose in a book or writing behind a keyboard. You can find her on Instagram @stravgirl, or her blog, Trust with Wild Abandon.


**Church teaching regarding a hysterectomy is explained in this post on the Vatican’s website (as a follow-up to this document). A hysterectomy is licit when medical experts deem the uterus incapable of carrying a pregnancy to term.

To the small Catholic families: God loves you too

Everyone knows about the verse in Genesis, where God commands Adam and Eve to have children:

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it’…”

Genesis 1:27-28b, Revised Standard Version

The very first thing God told Adam and Eve was to be fruitful and multiply! We vow on our wedding day to be open to children. Not enough is said about the importance of the dual purposes of marriage (procreation and union of the spouses). Marriage is rightly ordered towards having children and educating them. 

But what if a couple is not blessed with children? Are they less loved by God? Is their marriage somehow not living up to the command to be fruitful and multiply?

Of course not. Unfortunately, couples who are unable to have children are often left behind and forgotten. There seems to be this underlying notion that in order to be a good Catholic couple, you need to have all the babies. And that couldn’t be further from the truth!

Sometimes God doesn’t send all the babies

The truth is God doesn’t give a bunch of babies to every couple. Sometimes he doesn’t send any. But it has nothing to do with how much God loves that particular couple or with them not being fruitful. It’s all about what God wants you to do and how he wants you to bring his love to the world. 

Married couples with no children or not as many children as they would like still have so much to offer the world and to the Church. God has a big plan for you, whether you have one kid or ten kids. But we can’t know how God is calling us to be fruitful if we’re too focused on what God hasn’t given us.

If you are a couple who wants children and it just hasn’t happened, this post is for you. If you are a couple who has children but not as many as you hoped for, this post is for you. If you’re struggling with knowing what God wants you and your spouse to do because the babies aren’t coming, this post is for you. If you think all you’re supposed to do in life is get married and have babies, this post is for you.

Your marriage can still be fruitful without children

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, there is a section on “the openness to fertility.” The Catechism quotes St. Pope Paul VI by saying children are “a supreme gift of marriage” and that “it is in them that [marriage] finds its crowning glory.” For a couple without kids, those words can sting a little, right? A lesser known quote in that section, though, is paragraph 1654:

“Spouses to whom God has not granted children can nevertheless have a conjugal life full of meaning, in both human and Christian terms. Their marriage can radiate a fruitfulness of charity, of hospitality, and of sacrifice.” 

Catechism of the Catholic Church, par 1654

Yes, children are blessings and contribute to the good of parents. But even without children, your marriage can still be fruitful. 

St. Pope John Paul II talks about marriage in his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio and refers to St. Pope Paul VI’s quotes about children. But he also adds this:

“It must not be forgotten however that, even when procreation is not possible, conjugal life does not for this reason lose its value. Physical sterility in fact can be for spouses the occasion for other important services to the life of the human person, for example, adoption, various forms of educational work, and assistance to other families and to poor or handicapped children.”

John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, no. 14

St. Pope John Paul II spent much of his priesthood with couples and knew intimately the struggles in marriage. (How else could he have written Love and Responsibility and Theology of the Body??). He must have known many couples who struggled with infertility and knew that they could still (and did) live fruitful and meaningful lives. 

Marriage isn’t just for procreation

If you read more of St. Pope Paul VI’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes (which is quoted in the Catechism, as mentioned above), you’ll also read this:

“Marriage to be sure is not instituted solely for procreation; rather, its very nature as an unbreakable compact between persons, and the welfare of the children, both demand that the mutual love of the spouses be embodied in a rightly ordered manner, that it grow and ripen. Therefore, marriage persists as a whole manner and communion of life, and maintains its value and indissolubility, even when despite the often intense desire of the couple, offspring are lacking.”

Paul VI, Gaudium et Spes, no. 50, emphasis added

Your marriage is not worth any less if you don’t have children, and St. Josemaría Escrivá has a beautiful response to this. When asked his opinion about the meaning of the lives of childless couples, he said:

“If in spite of everything God does not give them children, they should not regard themselves as being thwarted. They should be happy, discovering in this very fact God’s Will for them. Often God does not give children because He is asking more. God asks them to put the same effort and the same kind and gentle dedication into helping their neighbours as they would have put into raising their children, without the human joy that comes from having children. There is, then, no reason for feeling they are failures or for giving way to sadness.”

Josemaría Escrivá, Conversations, 96

Read the rest of his answer here

God is writing your story through infertility

It’s hard to see what God is doing in the midst of the pain and suffering of infertility, but God uses everything. Many couples are able to look back on their journey of infertility and see the blessings from it. 

One couple sees infertility as a blessing because it led them to their two adopted sons. 

My friend realized (through her infertility journey) that she has other gifts that bear fruit.

Because of our experience with infertility at the beginning of our marriage, we were able to be more available to family and friends, especially those with children. We were able to serve our community and church in ways that are more difficult now that we have children. We were able to be foster parents in a world that desperately needs them. We learned not to judge a family by its size, because we knew firsthand that infertility and pregnancy loss are not always visible to an outsider. Because of infertility, we are better spouses, better parents, and better members of our Church community.

And now that we’re experiencing secondary infertility, we know God has a reason for it. Maybe it’s because he has something else in store for us, or maybe he’s asking us to grow in trust. Either way, our family is perfect exactly how we are, because that’s what God intended for us at this precise moment in time.

To all the small Catholic families out there….God loves you too. More than you will ever know this side of heaven.

“God in his providence has two ways of blessing marriages: one by giving them children; and the other, sometimes, because he loves them so much, by not giving them children. I don’t know which is the better blessing.”

– St. Josemaría Escrivá

Waiting Together – An Advent Devotional for Couples {2019}

Last year, some blogging friends and I worked together to produce our first Advent devotional for Catholic couples. We saw a need and wanted to fill it!

We initially weren’t planning on doing another one this year…but changed our minds at the last minute. So we’re a little later than last year, but we’re still in time for Advent. 😅

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Along with the ladies at Hail Marry, we updated the 2018 devotional to work for 2019. It’s the same format, so I’ll just use last year’s explanation:

Do you want a simple way for you and your spouse to prepare for Christmas together? Waiting Together is an Advent devotional specifically for Catholic couples! Each day in Advent, we give you the Gospel reading for the day, a reflection, questions to discuss together, and a prayer. That’s it! It will take you less than 10 minutes each day. (Most days will probably only take 5 minutes. Easy peasy, right?)

We did change up the design a bit, and we took out all of the challenges (Check out our Advent challenge if you want those!). Plus, we lowered the price!

Full disclosure: many of the reflections are the same from last year….but there are several new ones. And this year we are offering the first 3 days of the devotional for free!

Download a free excerpt

Click the button above to get the excerpt. 😊

Here’s a quick rundown of the details of Waiting Together:

  • 79-page color PDF download
  • Created for Catholic couples
  • Each week has a different theme (hope, faith, joy, and peace)
  • Each day has the Gospel reading for the day, a reflection to read, questions to discuss together, and a prayer
  • Starts on the first day of Advent and ends on Christmas

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We are so excited about this devotional, because one of our goals is to encourage couples to keep their marriage a priority while fostering a prayer life together…and this devotional helps you do exactly that!

👇 Click the button below to purchase

$4.99

 

You can print it out yourself or read it on any device. (I’m a big fan of emailing PDFs to my Kindle – here are instructions on how to do that.) Let us know if you have any questions! Happy Advent!

Gift Guide for Catholic Couples

There are so many occasions that we buy gifts for couples or just our spouse—birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, Christmas, etc. We’re all about buying meaningful gifts that will enrich marriages—whether it’s a fun board game, a book about prayer, or an item that reminds us of our faith…just to name a few.

We wanted to include gifts specifically for couples, or gifts that have options for both men and women. Here is our gift guide!

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Many of these links are affiliate. If you click through and make a purchase, we may receive a small commission. Read our privacy policy for more information.

Clothing and Jewelry

Saintsgoals shirts from Annunciation Designs

Devotionals and Journals

Books are a great option too! To see our favorite marriage books, check out our Recommendations page.

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A Spouse Who Prays by Katie Warner

Food and Drink

Catholic Curio’s St. Nicholas cookie cutter and how all of the cookies can be decorated!

Multimedia and games

Wall rosaries from SmallThingsGr8Love

Art and decor

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Tobit marriage quote from Just Love Prints

Catholic Prayer Gifts

Prayer space set from Sweet Little Ones, which includes a prayer notepad, also sold separately

Stocking Stuffers or Easter basket fillers

Saint pencils from Catholic Curio

Miscellaneous

  • Gift certificate for a marriage retreat
  • Gift card to a restaurant (to be used for a date night!)—you could even pair it with our Date Night Guide
  • My Catholic Keepsake Book from Thy Olive Tree – for couples expecting a baby
  • Cards from Good Portion Co to go with your gift – there is every kind from the sacraments to Christmas to housewarming

What other gifts for Catholic couples should we add to the list??

When you’re resentful about NFP

Let me start off by saying that I am in no way minimizing anyone’s frustration with Natural Family Planning (NFP). I only hope to provide some insights and encouragement during those times of struggle. We’ve been there, so we get it!

Earlier this week, I wrote about 3 difficult truths regarding NFP and reasons why it’s still worth it. And I think a good follow-up to that is what to do when we’re becoming resentful about NFP. Because let’s be real, sometimes it’s really, really hard. I have some thoughts…

Sex is not everything in a marriage. 

It’s important, absolutely, but it’s not everything! And it’s really easy to forget that. The beauty of NFP is that it forces you (or it should) to be intimate in other ways – which is just as important. When Jesus said “the two become one flesh,” he meant it physically, but also emotionally, spiritually, and in every other kind of way. Those periods of abstinence give you the perfect opportunity to work on that. And contrary to what the world tell us, we don’t need sex. Just look at all of the awesome celibate priests and religious!

We will not find fulfillment in our spouse. 

This realization hit me during our most difficult period of using NFP last year. We should be seeking fulfillment in God. If we’re looking for our spouse to fulfill our needs, we will always be disappointed. God, on the other hand, does not disappoint. 

“To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not disappointed.” – Psalm 22:5 (RSV-2CE)

Reevaluate why you’re using NFP. 

This is going to be an unpopular thought, perhaps, but it is one of the biggest parts of NFP. We shouldn’t decide to use NFP to either avoid or achieve a pregnancy and then not discuss it with our spouse again until months later. NFP requires constant discernment! 

We’re using NFP because we are still open to another baby if God is asking that of us…or even be willing to wait to have a baby if that is what we’ve discerned is best. What may be a valid reason to avoid a pregnancy now may not be a valid reason in a year or two, and vice versa. Now that leads me to the most important part…

 

Prayer and NFP: the Forgotten Component

We cannot discern what God is asking of us without prayer. A couple should be constantly praying about this, individually and together. God may be asking us to be open to another baby. Or he may be asking us to wait. Or he might be asking us to bear fruit in other ways!

 

Our experience

There have been times when we’ve discerned that it is not a good time for me to get pregnant. But there have also been times where we felt God prompting us to be open even though we did not feel completely ready. Is it terrifying? Absolutely. I have difficult pregnancies, and the first year with a baby is also difficult for us.

But God knows what we can handle better than we do. A big part of NFP is trusting that God will plan our family better than we can ourselves. Even though Logan and I both don’t want to have a dozen kids (or even half that), we also know our circumstances could change. So we are open to change, and that’s only possible through prayer and God’s grace.

 

Ask yourself these questions

If you think your family is complete, ask yourself: Am I constantly praying about this? Are my spouse and I praying about it together? Do I see my fertility as a gift? Are we open to God’s will, even though we don’t necessarily understand it?

If you’re thinking about having another child, ask yourself: Is my marriage doing well? Am I giving enough to my spouse and children? Do we already feel stretched thin – emotionally, physically, and financially? Is God asking us to bear fruit in other ways?

It’s possible that God may be asking you to be open to a baby, despite less than ideal circumstances. It’s also possible that God may be asking you to wait, even though you don’t really understand why. Both scenarios are okay! The important thing is to bring it to prayer. 

 

Check your motivation

A big question that we should also ask ourselves: Are we being motivated by selfishness?

Many people assume that those couples avoiding pregnancy are being selfish. First of all, we can never assume to know what’s going on in another couple’s hearts or marriage. And trying to achieve a pregnancy can be selfish, depending on your circumstances. That’s why it’s so important to pray about it constantly!

If we are feeling resentment towards NFP, it may mean we have some more discerning to do. God doesn’t want us to be resentful – he wants us to be at peace. 

 

If NFP is your cross

For the couples who are using NFP to avoid pregnancy for extended periods or even indefinitely because of circumstances out of their control (i.e. pregnancy causing too much risk to the mother’s health and baby), pray for the grace to embrace your cross. Know that God sees you, loves you, and your suffering is not in vain.

But do know that prayer is still a vital component of using NFP. Even if God is not asking you to be open to a biological child, is he asking you to be fruitful in other ways? Adoption is one beautiful way, but there are plenty of other ways that your marriage can bear fruit. Bring it to prayer and ask for the Holy Spirit to guide you both.

 

Contraception is not a solution

It’s also important to remember that the alternative – using contraceptives – would not make everything easier. Contraception is unhealthy for us physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Separating the unitive aspect from the procreative aspect of the conjugal act impedes our marriage vows because God created sex to be both unitive and procreative.

”These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple’s spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family.” – Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2363

Dietrich von Hildebrand also makes an excellent point “that we cannot tailor the will of God to human desires or permit a sin just because avoiding it entails great sacrifice” (from the intro of his book Love, Marriage, and the Catholic Conscience). NFP can be difficult because of abstinence, but you’re still being faithful to God’s design for married love.

Just like striving for holiness isn’t easy (remember the narrow gate?), NFP isn’t always easy. You also may not see the fruits right away. But trust that using NFP is the best option for your marriage and your family…because it is.

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3 difficult truths about NFP (and why it’s still worth it)

When Logan and I learned Natural Family Planning (NFP) as an engaged couple, a lot of focus was put on the benefits of practicing NFP. And while people are thankfully being more open these days about the struggles of NFP, I wanted to share 3 difficult truths that Logan and I have realized over the years that weren’t discussed in our NFP classes. But make sure you keep reading to find out why we think it’s still worth it!

  1. There may be more abstaining than you think. People often say that you only have to abstain for about a week each month when you practice NFP. And for people with normal cycles, maybe that’s true! But I’m guessing many people don’t have completely normal cycles (*raises hand*). So during times we’re trying to avoid a pregnancy, we’re often abstaining for half of my cycle, and sometimes longer.
  2. You’re abstaining during the times you really want to have sex. Since one of the reasons sex exists is to procreate, it’s only natural that God created our bodies to want to unite during the times that baby-making is possible. Pheromones are real, y’all. Logan is more attracted to me when I’m ovulating! And the desire is greater for me during those times too. So the fact that we have to practice self-control during those times and abstain? Whew. Not easy.
  3. It’ll make you reconsider your reasons for postponing/avoiding pregnancy on a regular basis; pretty much every month, but usually more often than that. And depending on how crazy my cycle is being (which happens often, thanks to PCOS and other issues), we have to decide what kind of chances we want to take and really talk about why we’re choosing to abstain. It’s not really fun, if I’m being honest. (Because are we being selfish? Do we really have valid reasons to avoid? Am I truly being open to God’s will? All thoughts that cross my mind alllll the time.)

All of that being said…we love NFP! We appreciate this gift that the Church has given us. God wants us to discern what is best for our marriage and our family, and NFP plays a huge part in that. So it’s only fair to also share reasons why NFP is still worth it for us…and since we think the benefits outweigh the cons, we’re sharing even more reasons.

  1. It leads to more communication and prayer between us. This one particular night last year, we literally sat and talked and prayed for 20 minutes about whether or not we should have sex that night – because it was a potentially fertile day, and we were still not sure if we were ready for another pregnancy. 20 minutes! (In the end, we both discerned to go for it…and we were glad we did.)
  2. It helps us grow closer in other ways. During the times that we discern to abstain, we still want to connect in a special way. So we have to figure out other ways to do that! That’s led to some really fun moments playing games, working on projects together, reading a book together, or just enjoying each other’s company. Sex is a big part of marriage, yes, but it’s not everything.
  3. The waiting builds up anticipation. Call it a honeymoon effect, if you will. (Although I know some people disagree with this.) It’s really exciting to finally come together again after abstaining for a period of time! Of course abstaining is hard, but it does make sex even more special.
  4. There are numerous health benefits. NFP is completely natural, it helps you understand how your body works, and many women are able to identify health issues. Even if you’re not trying to achieve or avoid a pregnancy, using NFP is a great way to maintain health.
  5. We are constantly discerning God’s will because of NFP. It really has helped us continue to pray about what God is asking of us. NFP helps us plan our family, yes, but it also reminds us that we should be seeking God’s will in all things. Our fertility is just part of it!

So there you have it. Even though NFP is harder than we thought it would be, it’s still worth it for all of these reasons and more.

What’s a difficult truth you’ve learned about NFP? What’s a reason you think it’s still worth it?

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