Ben and Sarah Thatcher, a married couple from Birmingham, help run the 2nd Friday mission.
As a married couple, Pope Benedict XVI has had a profound influence on our lives. Over the course of his Pontificate he has spoken of the importance of marriage and the family hundreds of times, giving a sense of how crucial marriage and family values are to the stability of our communities and the wider world. He has spoken with great courage and wisdom on many difficult and challenging topics with regard to marriage and family life and has remained a positive influence and a strong guiding force in a tumultuous atmosphere within the wider society. He has a particular affection for newly weds and has continued to advise and bless newly wed couples in his weekly Wednesday address, showing how dear married couples are to his heart and his unwavering support for them in their vocation. He has spoken in particular on the need for couples to receive adequate marriage preparation in order to prepare them for the challenges that married life in a secular society can bring. “An appropriate preparation for Christian marriage is indispensable if the young are to be able to withstand social pressures and develop the human and spiritual qualities required to establish themselves as united and harmonious couples.”
For us personally, we have welcomed his and the Churches teachings on marriage and procreation as it has changed our lives for the better as since dealing with difficulties in a faithful way to the Church’s teachings, our marriage has been strengthened and our spiritual lives transformed. Quite early on into our marriage, we discovered that we were having problems conceiving a child and were experiencing infertility problems. At first we were tempted as all couples are to take up the standard treatment options available on the NHS and to undertake artificial insemination. However, after researching what the Magisterium of the Church had to say on such issues, after much difficult soul searching we decided to stay faithful to the Church’s teachings and not to take the treatment options on offer to us. It was a very difficult decision to make, however we decided that we only wanted a child in co-operation with God’s will for us and that the conception of a child should only happen between the two of us a part of God’s loving union. Pope Benedict himself has been very clear on his views on this issue and is an inspiration to all infertile couples, showing us that we still have a lot to offer and how important it is to co-operate with God’s will.
“Indeed, the union of a man and a woman, in that community of love and life which is marriage, represents the only worthy ‘place’ for a new human being to be called into existence,” he said. He told a gathering at the Pontifical Academy for Life that “the field of human procreation seems to be ruled by scientism and the logic of profit,” which often “restrict many other areas of research.” He said that the Church is “attentive to the suffering of infertile couples…and her concern for them is what leads her to encourage medical research.” He continued:
“Science, nonetheless, is not always capable of responding to the needs of many couples, and so I would like to remind those who are experiencing infertility that their matrimonial vocation is not thereby frustrated. By virtue of their baptismal and matrimonial vocation, spouses are always called to collaborate with God in the creation of a new humanity. The vocation to love, in fact, is a vocation of self-giving and this is something which no bodily condition can impede.”
Pontifical Academy for Life, 25/02/2012
In fact for us, we decided to take treatment with Life Fertility Care, which only practices in natural methods of fertility treatment, which are very much in line with the Catholic Church. Their philosophy is to work very much with a woman’s body and to find out the reasons through scientific charting and research as to why a woman may not be conceiving and to treat the cause of infertility at its root. As a result of our fidelity to God’s will and by taking this route we found out that Sarah had endometriosis, a fact that would never have come to light if we had taken the traditional NHS route as she was not displaying symptoms. If we undertaken artificial insemination as a treatment option, then it would just have failed and we would have been none the wiser as to why. As well as this, Life Fertility Care places much importance on the couple and their relationship. As a result of this contrary to popular experience with more invasive treatments like Artificial Insemination or IVF, our marriage has grown stronger and our relationship nourished as a result of our experience. We have also had the wonderful benefit of growing closer to God throughout the whole experience and developing a relationship with him through our suffering that we would never have experienced without this journey. We are forever grateful for the strong leadership of our Church and the fact that it does not change over time to match popular opinion. We are grateful that the Church emphasizes the fact that God gives us natural laws for our happiness and well-being. We may or may not conceive a child this way, but we now know that this is not crucial to our future happiness. We realize that children are a wonderful gift form God and not our right. If he chooses to bless us in this way, then that will be wonderful, but if not we know that our loving union has such a lot to offer and to contribute. We recognize that the love we experience through our marriage should be shared with others and the wider community, we are trying to give something of our love to others such as the young, homeless, the vulnerable and the aged and sick of our community. As Pope Benedict has said;
May they learn to preserve family values such as “filial respect, love and care for the aged and the sick.
Pope Benedict to the Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Laos and Cambodia, 06/09/2007
We have developed our lives to be full and life giving to others, so that our marriage can benefit society. We have pledged together to always look after our families, especially our aged relatives, we run youth and young adult groups, we visit the aged and sick in our community, have helped the homeless, have cooked for those who are alone on Christmas day and have learnt more about our faith and are continually seeking to deepen our relationship with the Lord. As a result of our obedience our lives have been transformed and we give thanks so much to Pope Benedict for being so instrumental in that.
We have been truly inspired by Pope Benedict’s courageous leadership and the more we have read his books especially his trilogy of the life and ministry of Jesus we have had our faith deepened and our hearts left burning with the love of God. He has made the most profound and deep theology accessible to the lay person and has the humility to say that his work is a personal project that we can accept or reject.
We always admired the Pope, but it wasn’t really until his visit to the UK that we really fell in love with this “Rottweiler” who actually turned out to be the most humble and infectious man with a smile that softened the nation. We will never forget how on the day he arrived in Cofton Park, the rain came down relentlessly, that is until Pope Benedict arrived and the rain stopped and as he stepped out of the helicopter for a brief moment the sun shone, God shone out his blessing onto this Holy man and our hearts were filled with joy. The day was the best day of our life (apart from our wedding day!) and made us feel proud to be Catholics once again and gave us the courage to share our faith with others, giving reason for the joy within us. We reflected for days and weeks afterwards on the words Pope Benedict had for us, giving us inspiration to work tirelessly for our vocations and to aim for nothing less than Sainthood. This is something that guides us all of the time, in our marriage, in our day jobs, in our work for 2nd Friday, 40 Days for Life and our youth work.
We are so grateful for your ministry and your courageous words, you have truly touched our lives forever.