Sense of Life. Articles in English. Our Journey with Humanae Vitae Revisited.
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Our Journey with Humanae Vitae Revisited

“[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 hardly surprising.

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 having more.

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 consider.

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



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