Dear Mary Beth,
I’m in my early 50s, never married, and I’ve ﬁnally met a wonderful man! He’s slightly older than I am, a faithful Catholic, and also never married. Everything I read about Catholic marriage talks primarily about children. So what about us? What would be so special about our marriage, since we’re beyond child-bearing age?
This is a question that a lot of older, faithful Catholics deal with as the contemplate marriage, or re-marriage. Their faith is important to them, but they don’t see where a childless marriage ﬁts in to the Catholic scheme of things.
Here’s the thing. Marriage is about fertility. It’s about a husband and a wife giving themselves completely to each other in complete openness to God’s will, and God working through that openness to bring new life into the world. We see that most tangibly when that new life is physical — when a baby is conceived. That’s a beautiful thing — a new human person with an eternal soul comes into the world through the love of a husband and wife. We love that. We celebrate it.
But that doesn’t always happen. It doesn’t even happen most of the time.
Between some couples – those who are medically infertile or just past the age when they can conceive – it doesn’t happen at all. What then? Where is their fertility?
Here’s what we believe: God’s fertility is not limited to physical fertility. There are many, may ways to give life in this world, and God is not limited – or less likely to shower His Divine life – just because the physical capacity for procreation is no longer operational.
In Familiaris Consortio Blessed John Paul II said, “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.”
This is beautiful. But it’s important to note that it isn’t just to say (as is often said of singles), “You have more time because you don’t have kids, so you can do other stuff to help.”
But I believe the reality is much deeper. When a husband and wife given themselves to each other in sexual union, in complete openness to God’s will – He will bring forth life from that act. That life may not be physical, but it will be real.
He is there, in every conjugal act between a husband and a wife. And, if we are open to it, He will work through it to increase His life and His love in the world. And so, husbands and wives spiritually conceive in a way that is no less real that the conception of a child.
A priest once told me, “In this world, there is a lot of physical conception without spiritual conception. God needs people who are willing to conceive spiritually, to bring His life and His love into the world.”
Childless spouses, just like parents, need to give themselves not only to each other, but to the life or lives that result from their union. For the childless, this means a marriage that is not myopically focused on each other, but is instead open to the ways God is bringing life to the world through them, and calling them to participate, to share and participate in that love.
I count among my dearest friends several childless couples. They have done amazing things – fighting for the unborn, reaching out to those in need, making the world a better place. But I don’t believe they did those things on their own. They were a result, a response, to the grace God provided through their gift to each other.
So yes, Mary, later-in-life marriages are fertile. You just need to keep the focus on Him, and stand ready to nurture whatever new life He blesses you with.
Check out these heartwarming stories of middle-age marriages sparked on CatholicMatch: