“[Openness to life] bestows upon family life fruits of serenity and peace, and facilitates the solution of other problems; it fosters attention to one’s partner, helps both spouses drive out selfishness, the enemy of true love; and it deepens their sense of responsibility.
By its means, parents become capable of a deeper and more efficacious
influence in the education of their offspring; children and young
people grow up with a correct appreciation of human values, and
enjoy a serene and harmonious development of their spiritual and
sense faculties.” (Humanae Vitae, 21)
In 1972, just weeks after the birth of our second daughter, my
wife and I decided that I should be sterilized for birth control
purposes. The decision was taken much too lightly, but given our
extreme youth (we were university students barely into our twenties
when we married in 1969), our ill-formed consciences, our precarious
economic situation, the prevailing concerns over the so-called
“population explosion”, the ambiguous direction coming
from certain quarters of the Church, our course of action was
The consequences of our decision did not become apparent to us
right away. Things of this nature rarely do. But as we look back
on those seventeen years between the birth of our second daughter
and the birth of our first son after the restoration of my fertility,
we can see that instead of bringing us release from fear, anxiety
and financial worry, that decision reaped a grim harvest of self-doubt,
spiritual confusion, guilt, discord, and family dysfunctionality.
In my wife’s case, it brought on a profound sense of loss
of her womanhood. In both of us it resulted in an impairment of
our ability to exercise our role as primary educators of our existing
children, particularly in matters of the Faith.
I wish I could say that our decision to restore my fertility
in 1987 was any better considered than my decision to be sterilized.
It wasn’t. It is to our loving Father, His grace and mercy,
that we give credit in this case. Even with His help, our journey
proved to be a comedy of errors, indecision and desperate backtracking
(twice, after the birth of our first son, I booked and cancelled
appointments for a second sterilization!) Calming a disturbed
conscience was no doubt our chief motivation at the time — proof,
at least, that our consciences had not been completely numbed
and that the sacramental graces of our marriage were still trickling
through, despite the obstacle we had placed in their path. At
that point we were merely responding to a desire to redress what
we intuitively sensed was a disorder in the sacrament of our marriage.
In view of the duration of my sterilized state, we held out little
hope of conceiving more children, though we had long dreamed of
Once we had given Him an inch of faith and responded, however
feebly, to the grace which He had extended to us, our loving Father,
never to be outdone in generosity, gave us a mile of additional
graces. At the age of forty two and forty five, and to the continued
delight of our daughters, my wife conceived and gave birth to
two more healthy sons. In the process (this during the early 1990s)
we were led rapidly through a head-spinning conversion to discover,
and finally to understand and appreciate, the wealth of the teachings
of the Church, especially on the subject of marriage and family
ethics. Like prodigal sons, we had returned home to be re-clothed
in fine robes. Doubt, discord and guilt were dispelled (again
not instantly, for grace must build on nature, and in our case
the contraceptive mindset had wrought its damage on our natures).
Increasingly, however, our lives have come to be filled with a
sense of trust, inner peace and harmony.
Just as after His Resurrection, Jesus gave Peter three chances to make good his three denials, God gave us three additional living opportunities by which to say yes to life. Our boys are now thirteen, eleven and seven years old. They bring inexhaustible cheer to our household which grows apace as our daughters, married, in their early thirties, visit us with their own growing families.
In briefly sharing our experience here, we are mindful of that
growing number of the clergy and faithful who have discovered
too late the long-term harmfulness of not preaching or following
the Church’s sexual ethics, and for whom physical reparation
is not possible or, as in the case of a priest, not applicable.
As far as our priests are concerned, the solution is simple but
by no means easy. They must resume preaching what Mother Church
has always taught. As for the laity, here is something they might
Young married couples who have resolved to be open to life in
our present “culture of death” find themselves under
the gun on many fronts, not the least of which is the economic
one. Rearing a numerous family on a single income (which, practically
speaking, is the result of such a decision) flies in the face
of our modern, less-than-benign economic system. Many young families
are struggling to keep their heads above water. In many cases
such families are marginalized in the community.
Here is where older, formerly contraceiving couples, beneficiaries
of a bygone, more equitable economy, many of whom enjoy early
retirement and have time to spare, can practise what might be
called a “secondary fertility”. The most valuable
service they can render these families is their unconditional
moral support — primarily through prayer. Since prayer leads
to action, there is also a host of practical ways in which they
can help these young families. Some are in a favourable position
to help financially; others, especially retirees, are free to
move and settle close to their struggling children’s families;
they can relieve the overworked parents by baby-sitting (especially
when there is sickness in the family); some can donate their free
time helping with schooling and tuition.
And rather than trade in their car every three or five years
for a new one, they might consider donating it to a faithful young
family. Why not pass up an annual or twice-yearly vacation and
send that family on a subsidized holiday; or open an educational
trust fund for their grandchildren. And what about witnessing
to that family’s struggle at a Catholic Women’s League
meeting or to the browbeaten pastor who lacks the confidence to
speak out on sexual ethics?
Contraception is a blight on the entire Body of Christ. It is
too large a problem to be dropped in the lap of our young married
couples. All sectors of the Church must be marshalled in its eradication.
It is arguably, in our culture at least, the greatest single cause
of our failure to pass on the authentic Catholic faith to our
children. Recent sociological surveys have shown that far and
away the main cause of children falling away from the faith of
their parents is dysfunctionality in the parents’ relationship,
and discord is one of the most predictable bitter fruits of the
contraceptive lifestyle. What more dramatic protest can children
voice against their Catholic parents’ lack of love for each
other than to reject what the latter purport to hold dearest — their
faith! On the other hand, children who witness on a daily basis
their parents’ generous love for one another are far more
likely to wish to preserve the wellspring of that love, that same
Christian faith; for as Saint Paul teaches us, spousal love stands
as a type of the love existing between Christ the Groom and His
Bride, the Church.
Christopher A. Zakrzewski
Christopher Zakrzewski is former editor of Nazareth Family Journal and now teaches at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy in Barry’s Bay, Ontario, Canada