Starting a Family and Being Open to Life
From the moment Tim and I become husband and wife on our wedding day, we will be a new family. It may seem odd to think of the concept of a family as just a husband and wife without children. Yet, as we’ve prayed these past few months about what it means to be a family as soon as we say our vows, we’ve come to understand a very important thing: the possibility of children is always in the picture and in order to love each other fully, Tim and I must be faithful to that possibility.
On our wedding day, before we say our vows, the priest will ask us to state our intentions for our marriage by asking us three questions:
Priest: Brooke and Timothy, have you come here to enter into Marriage without coercion, freely and wholeheartedly?
Brooke & Timothy: I have.
Priest: Are you prepared, as you follow the path of Marriage, to love and honor each other for as long as you both shall live?
Brooke & Timothy: I am.
Priest: Are you prepared to accept children lovingly from God and to bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?
Brooke & Timothy: I am.
By answering “yes” to these three questions, together Tim and I are saying that we freely and completely commit ourselves to each other and any future children we may have. Not only that, but we’re saying that we are open to the gift of those children, whenever God should choose to bless us with them. This receptive attitude, paired with the choice to not use any form of birth control, is what the Church calls “openness to life.” In being open to life, we understand that each time we come together as husband and wife, God may bless us with a child. For Tim and I then, and for all couples who are open to life, children are always in the picture, even before we conceive them, precisely because we know we could conceive them. Though we won’t yet be parents on our wedding day when we first become a family, we vow to be potential parents and to live out our marriage faithfully to that possibility.
It may sound like becoming a family still only focuses on children, or at least the possibility of them. However, in choosing to be open to life, we are also choosing to love each other as husband and wife most faithfully–and this builds up our little family as it already exists. When the priest asks us if we have come to be married freely and wholeheartedly and if we intend to love and honor each other, he’s not just asking about our wedding day! He is asking if this is what we intend to do every single day for the rest of our lives. In marriage, husbands and wives are called to make a free and total gift of themselves.
While this free and total gift plays out in every area of the couple’s life together, it is particularly evident in sexual union. When we come together as husband and wife, we are called to freely give everything we have and are to each other, and this gift includes our fertility – the possibility of parenthood. Without this entire gift of ourselves, we wouldn’t be loving each other wholeheartedly. Deciding to be open to life, then, is not just about the good of our future children: it is about the good of each other, too. Ultimately, it’s about the good of our marriage.
Being open to life isn’t something that Tim and I will begin to practice on our wedding day, though. It is something we are already practicing. It took us a long time to realize the important role being open to life plays in saving sex for marriage but through prayer and studying St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body we were able to understand the inseparable connection between being open to life and being able to give a total gift of ourselves in sex. Just as we wouldn’t be able to love each other faithfully after being married if we didn’t give a free and total gift of ourselves in sexual union, we aren’t able to give that gift before our wedding day, either. The freedom to give ourselves fully comes into being on our wedding day by virtue of the sacramental bond that we confer on one another through our vows. Freedom comes only from the lifelong commitment we make to one another, through which now we can faithfully give a total gift of self to each other.
Being a family, both before and after Tim and I have children, brings with it an essential call: to love freely and totally, and ultimately guide one another to heaven. Before we’re parents, this call will focus wholly on each other – on being the best husband and wife we can possibly be and allowing God’s grace to work in our hearts so that we may be a source of support and guidance for one another on this road toward heaven. After we become parents (God willing), this call will expand to include our children, that we may love them faithfully and lead them toward eternal life. In both situations, a total gift of self is needed, a surrendering of ourselves for the good of the whole. This gift of self is modeled on Christ’s gift of self on the cross, and it is on Him that we hope to rely for strength to imitate it.