By Catholic Missionary Disciples
In the times of the Bible, one of the worst disasters that could befall someone was to be barren (infertile) physically. In fact, it is a major theme of Scripture, to see how someone (or a couple) who was once infertile, has had their situation changed by God and has now gained their fertility. In each reference to infertility, in Scripture, they considered it a terrible trial, if not a curse! Yet, in God’s eyes, he lets nothing go to waste (even our suffering).
The same principles which we draw out of the Bible are still applicable to God’s people today, whether individuals, families, or larger communities.
God wants ALL of us to be spiritually fruitful!
He desires ALL of us to beget spiritual children!
But, unfortunately, many Catholics are living spiritually barren lives and the same could be said of many parishes and dioceses. There is little fruitfulness in our lives for a number of reasons, which we will explore below.
Still, all things can be used as a means for us to grow in holiness and mission. Just look at the stories in the Bible!
Sarah and Abram – Faith Overcomes Doubt!
Sarah is the first person in the Bible to suffer physical infertility. Still, God doesn’t allow this to be the end of the story, but promises that he will bless them with descendents, early in the story (Gen 12: 7). He repeats this promise again, but Sarah grows frustrated with the pace of things and tries to take matters into her own hands, by having Abram get a servant pregnant. Though Sarah failed to believe in God, God gave up on Sarah. He ultimately blesses her with a son and the promise is fulfilled, even if it wasn’t on Sarah’s timetable. What we learn is that faith in God’s promises always leads to a better result than following our own plans, no matter the timing of it all.
The Church needs this reminder today! We need to stop leaning on man-made planning, strategies, and ideas. We need to return to operating in a way that flows out of prayer, discernment, and faithfulness to the model of Jesus (spiritual multiplication through relationships).
Rebekah – Prayer Can Conquer The Impossible!
Further on in Genesis, we get this sentence – “Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived.” -Gen 25:21. It is simple enough – God granted Isaac’s prayer. What do you think God wants to do through you? What does God want to accomplish through your parish?
I believe God wants us to accomplish great things, for His sake. But, this takes the Church rising up and going beyond our comfort zones. It all starts with an abandonment to God’s will, through prayer. Deep and abiding prayer. Daily prayer. How is your diocese, parish, or family doing with prayer? Is it personal? Is it regular? Is it intimate? Unfortunately, I have rarely witnessed this kind of corporate prayer in Catholic organizations or families. I believe it is because many Catholic leaders have stunted spiritual lives and do not have deep spiritual relationships with others, where they can be honest about their struggles, bear one another’s burdens, and grow together. Without this example, we don’t know how to pray and discern together, as God’s people. Thus, our families and organizations succumb to our own spiritual barrenness. The answer is to break the mold and start praying individually and corporately, in a deep and regular way., To truly be people of prayer.
Rachel – Loving God Less Than ANYTHING Else Leads To Barrenness
In Gen 29-30, we see the story of Rachel, who is loved more than Leah (her sister). Both are married to Jacob. Leah has three sons, while Rachel is barren. This leads to Rachel feeling envious (Gen 30:1), angry (Gen 30:2), blame of others, competition / fighting with her sister, and anger at God. Finally, when God decided it was a good time, he blessed Rachel with children. But only after her heart was ready to receive the gift of fertility with gratefulness (Gen 30:23).
Too often we let our own pride, success, comfort, desires, etc get in the way of accomplishing God’s will. God wants you to have spiritual offspring and to make disciples! He wants this for your life, but if you don’t love him above all else, it can lead to your spiritual barrenness. We need to repent and love our Lord first – with our decisions, time, money, sexuality, politics, etc. We need to submit it all to his Lordship. Including our organizational goals and outcomes.
God desires to overcome our barrenness and for us to be spiritually fruitful!
Pope Francis put it this way:
“Evangelization….faithful to the Lord’s gift, it also bears fruit. An evangelizing community is always concerned with fruit, because the Lord wants her to be fruitful.” -EG 24
In examining the Scriptures and history of God’s people, we can see that God wants us to be fruitful! In fact, it is one way we prove to be Jesus’ followers:
“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.” -John 15:8
We also see in the Bible that spiritual barrenness is due to these things:
Lack of love – especially love of God and the love of the salvation of others. Do we really choose to lay our lives down for the eternal salvation of those around us? Are we ready to be humiliated, shunned, or shamed for the Gospel to be made manifest in the lives of others? If not, then we don’t love God or others enough.
Lack of faith – many do not believe God can work through them in a powerful way. Too many Catholics are stuck. Stuck in believing that they cannot change, that it is too tough to grow, or don’t believe that they are capable of being instruments in God’s hand. These are all lies of the enemy, who wants you to stay barren. Believe in God, not your own power. Like Elizabeth, who became fruitful in her old age!
Lack of humility – we believe we are too small for God use or doing just fine and don’t want God to mess up the lives we have created. So, rather than grow and change, we stagnate and decline into barrenness. To grow, we need to start with a posture of humility before God, who provides us with spiritual power (grace), which we need.
Lack of obedience – Jesus gave us a roadmap of how to do ministry in community. We just don’t follow it. Rather, we look to all the others around us and search for that “silver bullet” that will skip all the hard work of building relationships. Too often the status quo is accepted is another name for disobedience to the will of God in our lives and organizations.
Lack of leadership – poor leaders will be incapable of growing communities of believers from all of these issues, into fruitfulness. Look at the lives of the Saints. They lead by example, depend on God, and then lead through serving others. This is the model of our Lord. We cannot improve it, but we can apply it.
Lack of willingness to change – if we continue on the same path (or merely have minor changes) we ought not expect things to change. The stories in the Bible above should teach us that change can lead to fruitfulness.
Lack of vision – if all of our planning leads to little growth, then our vision is too small. We need to aim for the vision that God has for us, which is to transform a hurting and infertile world, for the glory of his name and the growth of his kingdom.
Lack of spiritual maturity – we have a glut of mature missionary disciples, who have have real-world experience in what it takes to lead others through pre-evangelization, evangelization, and discipleship. So, we remain in our comfortable bubbles, where we stay spiritual immature. Immaturity and infertility go together.
Let us not accept our spiritual barrenness. Let us build on our desire (latent or not) to be fruitful disciples and rejoice in what God can do through his Church.
“Sing, O barren one, who did not bear;
break forth into singing and cry aloud,
you who have not been in travail!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
than the children of her that is married, says the Lord.
Enlarge the place of your tent,
and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;
hold not back, lengthen your cords
and strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left,
and your descendants will possess the nations
and will people the desolate cities.
“Fear not, for you will not be ashamed;
be not confounded, for you will not be put to shame;
for you will forget the shame of your youth,
and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.
For your Maker is your husband,
the Lord of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
the God of the whole earth he is called.
-Isaiah 54: 1-5
When we turn our lives over fully to God, in faith, love, and obedience to his call to make disciples, we can’t help but allow God to overcome our spiritual infertility, by having his grace flow through us. Do this and we can beget spiritual children, who live with God forever – and we can then rejoice that we are no longer barren!