Openness to life involves suffering with happiness. In our family’s case, the suffering usually has a name: cystic fibrosis.
Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder that occurs when both parents pass on the mutated gene to their child. This occurs at the moment of conception and is a one in four chance with each pregnancy. It has happened to my husband and me twice with seven children. Some have wondered why we would bring more children into the world to suffer and die but the truth is that every single person is born to a life of joys, sufferings, then death.
People, especially children, with health problems often bring out the best in others. They tend to be wiser, more perceptive, and even a little reckless (physically and/or emotionally), like Tiny Tim or Remus Lupin. Their force of life is palpable; their accomplishments are sweeter; their time is more costly. Our Catholic teaching on redemptive suffering does not wipe away our tears but it does soften the sharp edges and allow glimmers of goodness. From the Catechism:
“His compassion toward all who suffer goes so far that he identifies himself with them; ‘I was sick and you visited me.’ His preferential love for the sick has not ceased through the centuries.”
The Catechism also states: “By his passion and death on the cross, Christ has given a new meaning to suffering. It was henceforth to configure us to him and unite us with his redemptive Passion.”
This theological truth crashes up against parents’ fears and anguish. Do we really believe this? Can we order our lives according to this truth? Can we be generous with life? Even with cystic fibrosis?
The charming children’s Baltimore Catechism answers, “Why did God make us?” with, “God made us to show forth His goodness and to share with us His everlasting happiness in heaven.” That is fulfilled in a body dealing with cystic fibrosis. Cystic fibrosis cannot touch the power of our holy faith’s sacraments and the real graces they impart. We are called to live a vocational, considered life based on those sacraments; not an entitled, fast-food life based on “my life, my way.”
The Catechism teaches that Christian marriage is ordered toward the procreation and education of children, which are the supreme gift of marriage to the spouses who cooperate valiantly with the love of the Creator.
All humanity is valuable and it’s all in God’s hands, no matter how long or short, how fancy or poor, how sick or healthy. And that’s why we are happy to have our babies to love and teach, whatever their health. It’s a good, real life.
We came to this understanding through great turmoil. We were not only members of a denomination that taught divine health and wealth, but my husband was a pastor. Investigating the claims of the Catholic Church to be the church that Jesus established — the pillar and foundation of truth — led us to these teachings on redemptive suffering that healed our marriage and brought us into full communion. No longer did we blame each other for being a hindrance to our son’s healing; no longer did we wonder if we were really saved; no longer did we suspect who was harboring secret sin. The baby could grow up closer to Jesus because of suffering, sharing with him and receiving his comfort. So cystic fibrosis did not paralyze us. We can and will enjoy all our children and take care of them however they need to be taken care of. Having a gang of kids has made abundantly clear that cystic fibrosis is just one set of issues. We’re a family; we work together in love and sacrifice and get smarter and sweeter and stronger. If one needs to be at the hospital for two weeks, then the family figures it out. There are real blessings, just as our faith affirms:
“All your children will be blessed by the Lord and great will be the peace of your children (Is. 54:13).”
The writer is a Catholic convert and homeschooling mother who runs the popular blog site northerncffamily.blogspot.com. She lives in Wasilla, Alaska, with her husband and seven children.