When we were teaching high school students about Catholic marriage, we used a Catholic Update titled The Sacrament of Marriage by Mary and James Kenny, written in the 1980s and still available at American Catholic.org. One section, Directed Toward Fruitfulness, discusses the blessings and the call to have children in a marriage. The next section, A Larger Fruitfulness, suggests that the fruitfulness of a marriage goes far beyond having and raising children. We have children and enjoy the fruits of having and raising them, but the Larger Fruitfulness has been and continues to be very important to us, as well. It is something that we talk about frequently.
This weekend Fr. Terry, in his homily, stated that we don’t need to have successful lives but fruitful ones. That idea has been in my mind all week especially as Bob and I have talked about this week’s post. There are many people I can think of who have had fruitful marriages beyond their children. For some it is an ongoing commitment they make and for others it is a one day or shorter period of time.
- Bob and Kay are a couple we came to know when we were both working to establish our new parish. They have been blessed with financial resources and have done a lot for others. When they retired they continued to use their gifts and talents by helping poor teenagers get legal help when they were accused of a crime.
- Steve and Michelle, a couple Bob has come to know, have made their home a Catholic Worker House in Dayton, Ohio. They provide a place for those who are fighting addictions to live as they try to reacclimatize into society.
- We have known several couples, especially Charlie and Patsy, who opened their home to children who had no home. We saw them take in babies if only for a few days or weeks or others for longer periods of time and older children with many special needs.
- Others, including members of our families, opened their homes to aging parents or took care of siblings with special needs. They did this while tending to the needs of their own families.
- We know of several couples who have spent Christmas Day with their children working at a soup kitchen. It made the lives of those who came for food blessed to share Christmas with a family but blessed their family as well.
- A couple, Tom and Judy, who had no children of their own, lead a teen group in their parish for many years. Those teens in many ways became their family. Those teens were part of their lives and they continued to be in the lives of the teens, even in adulthood. They attended their weddings, the baptism of their children and other events. They gave those teens a constant source of support no matter where their lives took them.
We were raised on farms in an area where everyone new and worked with their neighbors. When a farmer was ill at harvest time, his neighbors went into his fields and harvested crops before harvesting their own. When a mother was ill, the neighbors took care of the children and provided meals. We grew up seeing the fruitfulness of being involved in making the world a better place as simply normal behavior. So we enjoyed being newlyweds and were joyful as our family started to grow, but we always knew that we needed to go beyond our immediate family in service to others.
We started by working with several other couples in our parish religious education program and assumed that was where we would focus our gifts. Then we innocently made a Marriage Encounter weekend, thinking we were just getting away from our children for a little time together. Our world was turned upside down when we were asked to present the weekends. It was a very opening experience that gave us opportunities to grow and experience life in many wonderful ways and that keeps us working to support marriages today.
Along the way there were many other opportunities to be fruitful, many of which seemed just natural, and not some big commitment. We always opened our house to our children’s friends as they were growing up. When they were in college, some of their friends visited us multiple times and began to refer to our house as The Boeke Hotel. The support our relationship provided to our teaching, especially Rita’s, over many years, we saw as a fruitful result of our marriage. When a friend needed a place to stay after breast cancer surgery, we offered our house and some nursing care. On our recent trip to Israel we “adopted” a young couple and did everything we could to help them to have a good experience and feel support for their marriage.
I offer these as examples of how easy it can be to be fruitful and to help you see how you already are. A marriage relationship provides support, a safe haven, for reaching out to others. Our experience is that you don’t even have to go searching for opportunities. When you open your hearts to the possibility, it probably won’t be long until something will appear. Sometimes an opportunity appears attractive, but daunting. The most difficult part is getting past your fear of failure and saying “yes”. After that, with prayer and mutual support, you can do things you never thought possible.
When people ask us how we came to do all the things we’ve done, I like to say: “Mostly by saying ‘yes’. We highly recommend it. It has made our lives interesting and rewarding and fruitful in ways we never could have imagined.
Today’s scripture readings, reflection and prayer
Bob & Rita’s book: Forever and Day: An Invitation to Create a Marriage That Lasts a Lifetime is available on Amazon.com or by contacting us. Also available for Kindle and Nook. Treat yourselves to a retreat – at home, on your schedule. Book includes stories to stimulate your thinking, hints and tips to boost your relationship, and questions to stimulate your discussion.