Oh, the gift of life-giving love

Matt and Mindy Dalton

Following God’s design for how he created us as male and female brings great peace, harmony and unity to marriage, family and our world. I can remember vividly feeling as though I was a bystander with each of the seven cesarean sections that Mindy endured. “Lord Jesus,” I would pray, “help me to be a supportive husband and please, Heavenly Father, give me your grace to be a worthy father.” Witnessing the gift that my wife made of herself in childbearing and beyond gives me the desire to lay down my life as Christ does for his bride, the Church. It is always amazing how God created women to be the “Garden Enclosed” — the paradise where new life begins. With each daughter and son, I can recall the lump in my throat, filled with deep emotion, some trepidation and lots of gratitude that God would entrust us with these precious children.

For certain, God is generous — now our oldest, who married her husband in late July, is carrying their first precious child due in late May, our first grandchild. What joy and anticipation we have, although the thought of being “Grandpa” makes me feel seasoned. When they went to their first doctor’s appointment to have an ultrasound and determine the due date of the baby, their OB/GYN introduced herself along with some small talk and then turned to Josh, her husband, and said, “We are now going to talk about some female issues that might make you uncomfortable.” Josh then said, “I learned in marriage prep how to chart Karlie’s fertility symptoms and temperature through Natural Family Planning and all of this fascinates me.” The physician was pleasantly shocked and put at ease by Josh’s passion and concern for his ‘bride’ and mother-to-be. Father Brendan Rolling, the Benedictine priest who witnessed their marriage, said, “Josh is a scholar of the Catholic faith disguised as a football player.”

After the good news was confirmed at their doctor’s office, they let others know, along with posting the news on social media. Not everyone had a positive response. “So soon?”; “Don’t they want to have time for themselves?” And some even had their suspicion: “Were they pregnant before they were married?” Comments rolled off peoples’ tongues. As parents and grandparents, we were taken off guard as to how to respond. Then it came to me: “There is a nursery rhyme that we learned as kids which has deep theological meaning.” One person responded, “There was an old woman who lived in a shoe, she had so many children she didn’t know what to do.” I responded, “God knows what to do.” However, the one that came to me was, “Karlie and Josh were sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in a baby carriage.”

Pope St. John Paul II put it this way, in Familiaris Consortio (“On the Family”), Article 28. With the heading, “Cooperators in the love of God the Creator,” he wrote: “Thus the fundamental task of the family is to serve life, to actualize in history the original blessing of the creator – that of transmitting by procreation the divine image from person to person. … Sexuality is not just something biological but concerns the ‘innermost being of the human person’ (Familiaris Consortio, 11). This narrative of God’s love for each of us is far more important than any guarantee of wealth or fame — but possibility… in a word – hope. Why hope? JPII gives us the answer: “The fruitfulness of conjugal love is not restricted solely to procreation of children … It is enlarged and enriched by all those fruits of moral, spiritual and supernatural life which the father and mother are called to hand on to their children, and through the children to the church and to the world.”

There is no other glorious blessing for parents, now grandparents, to be caught up into the experience of our own children cooperating with the Lord and giver of life, the Holy Spirit. It makes real and visible the reality of the eternal exchange of the life-giving love of the blessed Trinity that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit long for each of us to participate in.

COMING UP: Healing hatred and anger after Charlottesville

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The confrontation in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the nationwide reaction to it are clear signs of the tensions simmering just below the surface of our society. But we know as people of faith that these wounds can be healed if we follow Christ’s example, rather than the path of revenge.

It was with a heavy heart that I learned about the Aug. 12 clashes between white supremacists and counter protesters in Charlottesville that resulted in the injury of around 34 people and the death of Heather Heyer. It was an “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” melee.

These events remind me of Pope Francis’ 2017 World Day of Peace message, in which he pointed out that “Jesus himself lived in violent times. Yet he taught that the true battlefield, where violence and peace meet, is the human heart: for ‘it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come’ (Mk. 7:21).”

What we witnessed in Charlottesville was an outward expression of hundreds of hearts, and as a shepherd of souls, I cannot stand by silently while people allow hatred toward others rule their hearts. Particularly reprehensible were the derogatory words the neo-Nazis and their white supremacist allies shouted toward African Americans, Jews and Latinos. This is not how God sees his children!

Every human being is bestowed from the moment of conception with the dignity of being made in the image and likeness of God, and we are all loved by him, even amid our sin and brokenness. Satan seeks every opportunity to twist these fundamental truths in the hearts of human beings and we can see the devastation it brings throughout history.

It can be tempting to respond to these attacks on our fellow man with violence, just as the members of the Anti-fascist movement (known as “Antifa”) did in Charlottesville. But this is not what Christ taught, since it allows hatred to gain a foothold through a different avenue. It is worth repeating: the human heart is the true battlefield.

Jesus’ response to violence and persecution stands in contrast with the way of hatred and anger. Instead, he taught his disciples to love their enemies (Mt. 5:44) and to turn the other cheek (Mt. 5:39). Christ’s radical answer is only possible because God unconditionally loves every person and is ready to forgive us when we repent. God’s love is the only thing that can cut through the hatred that is bringing people to blows, heal the human heart and form it after his own. As people of faith, we are called to bring the truth of love to these festering wounds so that hearts may be healed by Christ.

Joseph Pearce, the Catholic convert and former white supremacist, is a perfect example of this. In a recent article for the National Catholic Register, he recalls how it was his encounter with the objective truths of the faith that demolished his race-centered identity and seeing his enemies love him when he confronted them with hatred that changed his heart. We must pray for the grace to love as Jesus loves, to love as the Father loves.

“The way out of this deadly spiral,” Pearce says, “is to go beyond the love of neighbor, as necessary as that is, and to begin to love our enemies. This is not simply good for us, freeing us from the bondage of hatred; it is good for our enemies also.”

May all of us follow the great example of Mark Heyer, the father of the woman who was killed after the white supremacist rally. His daughter’s death, Heyer told USA Today, made him think “about what the Lord said on the cross, ‘Forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.’”

Jesus desires that every person have a heart that is whole and free from hatred, anger and pride. He desires to form our hearts, and that only comes about when we are receptive to his unconditional love, for only in receiving his unconditional love will we be able to give it to others. I pray that all the faithful will be instruments of healing for our country by bringing Christ’s forgiveness to their neighbors and their enemies.