I Was Blind But Now I See #HV50

Another reprint in celebration of #NFP Week and the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae:

Ellie new glasses

1968, with my new glasses

When I was eight years old, I had no idea that what my eyes were seeing was, in actuality, a huge blur. Even my parents didn’t realize that I needed glasses. Because my eyesight had gotten worse so gradually, no one knew that I could not see well until the religious sisters at school sent a note home to my parents indicating that I should have my eyes checked.

There were hints, of course, that neither my parents nor myself noticed. I used to watch TV basically within an inch or so of the TV. When I read, the book was on top of my face. However, according to my mom, she never noticed me squinting. Again, I thought what I was seeing was normal and didn’t realize I couldn’t see clearly.

My mother eventually took me to an optometrist in downtown Philly to have my eyes tested, then we ordered glasses. I could not suspect how much my life would change with that small pair of (ugly) glasses. When we returned to Philly to pick them up, the elderly optometrist put me on a booster seat in the chair, took out the glasses and put them on my face. My eyes widened and my mouth fell open. I gasped. I could see every detail and every letter of every word in that office. I could see across the street. I remember the wide smile the optometrist had on his face as I was pointing out everything I could see.

On our way home, I kept pointing to everything. “Look, Mommy, I can see the Horn and Hardart’s sign! I can see that store says “Lit Brothers! I can see that pretty dress in the window over there!” Colors were brighter; it even seemed like I could hear better now that I could see so clearly. I was still in awe that night when I could watch Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In from 20 feet away and still see everything clearly. To me, it was nothing short of a miracle.

In the years following, although I went to Catholic school, my family had begun to fall away from the regular practice of going to Mass and I began learning my morals from television.

Fast-forward to 1979. I had visited my pen-pal in Canada and met my husband through her brother at a rock band jam session. We fell in “like at first sight” and began a long-distance relationship with me in NJ and him in Canada. However, when we were together, things usually got pretty intense, given that we rarely saw each other. I wanted to enter into a sexual relationship, but thankfully James had a pretty strong Catholic grounding so he kept us from going farther than we should. Three years later, when we were engaged and about to be married, it was James (age 19) who insisted that we use Natural Family Planning (NFP) and not artificial birth control. I saw no moral reason why we shouldn’t use artificial birth control, but he remained adamant. “I would rather have sex once a month without birth control than use birth control and have sex every day.” I remember thinking, “What planet is he from?”

However, as we communicated through letters (back in the early ’80s there was no free long distance, no texts, no SnapChat, no Facebook, no Instant Messaging, no Skype, no Facetime, no Instagram or any other instant communication), I realized this was no ordinary young man. The advantage of writing with snail mail letters is that we were able to take time and reflect on what we wanted to say. It became obvious that contraception was something that James was not willing to budge on. When he said, “Ellie, trust me and trust God,” I said say yes and agreed to go to an NFP class with him. I learned that NFP works in this way: a couple charts the woman’s signs of fertility and infertility. If they are avoiding pregnancy, they abstain from relations when the woman is fertile.

One thing we both agreed on and that was that we should wait for a few years to have children since James was only in his first year of college. A few days before our wedding, we realized that I would be right in the middle of the fertile time, which meant that our consummation would have to wait until a week or so after the wedding. After waiting three years, I was resentful. I went along with NFP, but was not happy about it. NFP seemed like a burden, not a gift.

A few months into our marriage on an evening that would be the beginning of Phase III (the infertile time), we had a romantic dinner and a beautiful evening of intimacy after a period of abstinence. All of a sudden, as I was lying in bed later that night, I realized that James and I were truly one, physically and spiritually, with nothing separating us: no pills, devices, no chemicals, no surgeries. With each act of marital intimacy, I felt as if we were renewing our marriage vows with our bodies.

That evening (and many others to follow) truly felt like another honeymoon night. Until that moment, I went along with NFP to please James. I wasn’t enthusiastic about abstaining. But when that light bulb moment hit, I realized what a beautiful gift NFP is, despite its challenges. Not only that, but I realized what a great gift it was to us that we had not had intercourse until marriage. “I was blind, but now I see.” NFP became glasses for my soul, and the reasons for NFP became much clearer to me.

From then on, I became a big promoter of chastity before marriage and a loud and enthusiastic proponent of NFP. In the grocery store, dentist’s office, anywhere that someone would listen, I would tell people about NFP, just like the time I got my new glasses: “Look, NFP has no side effects!” “Look, NFP means a couple can be truly one when they are making love!” “Look, NFP doesn’t harm fertility!” “Wow, NFP is 99% effective when a couple has serious reasons to avoid pregnancy and can even be used to achieve a much-wanted pregnancy!”

Without NFP, our marital union would have existed in a blur. With NFP, our marital union is clearer and more meaningful. NFP truly is like a pair of glasses for the soul. NFP has been nothing short of a miracle for our marriage. Does it mean there have never been problems or that I’ve never resented the abstinence? Of course not.  But NFP truly is a marriage builder, one that I can honestly say has been the main reason that the romance, intimacy and closeness has remained even after 36 years of marriage.

Copyright Ellen Gable Hrkach

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Celebrate God’s Gift of Married Love! NFP Awareness Week July 22-28 #HV50

nfp-2018-poster-en-470

National NFP Awareness Week – JULY 22 – JULY 28, 2018

2018 theme:
Generations of Love
Humanae Vitae (1968-2018)
Celebrate God’s Gift of Married Love!


“Celebrate and reverence God’s vision of human sexuality.”

On July 25th, 1968, Blessed Pope Paul VI issued his encyclical, Humanae Vitae (On Human Life) which reaffirmed the 2000-year consistent teaching that artificial contraception is morally wrong. Read my stories about HV here and here.

 

Why Natural Family Planning Differs from Contraception

Pope John Paul II

(In 1998 Pope John Paul II wrote a letter to Dr. Anna Cappella, director of the Center for
Research and Study on the Natural Regulation of Fertility at Rome’s Catholic University of the Sacred Heart. The occasion was a convention commemorating Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical. Excerpts are reprinted below.)

I hope that everyone will benefit from a closer study of the Church’s teaching on the
truth of the act of love in which spouses become sharers in God’s creative action.
The truth of this act stems from its being an expression of the spouses’ reciprocal
personal giving, a giving that can only be total since the person is one and indivisible. In the act that expresses their love, spouses are called to make a reciprocal gift of themselves to each other in the totality of their person: nothing that is part of their being can be excluded from this gift.

This is the reason for the intrinsic unlawfulness of contraception: it introduces a substantial limitation into this reciprocal giving, breaking that “inseparable connection” between the two meanings of the conjugal act, the unitive and the procreative, which, as Pope Paul VI pointed out, are written by God himself into the nature of the human being (HV, no. 12).

Continuing in this vein, the great pontiff rightly emphasized the “essential difference”
between contraception and the use of natural methods in exercising “responsible procreation.” It is an anthropological difference because in the final analysis it involves two irreconcilable concepts of the person and of human sexuality (cf. Familiaris Consortio, no. 32). It is not uncommon in current thinking for the natural methods of fertility regulation to be separated from their proper ethical dimension and to be considered in their merely functional aspect. It is not surprising then that people no longer perceive the profound difference between these and the artificial methods. As a result, they go so far as to speak of them as if they were another form of contraception. But this is certainly not the way they should be viewed or applied.

On the contrary, it is only in the logic of the reciprocal gift between man and woman that
the natural regulation of fertility can be correctly understood and authentically lived as the proper expression of a real and mutual communion of love and life. It is worth repeating here that “the person can never be considered as a means to an end, above all never a means of ‘pleasure.’ The person is and must be nothing other than the end of every act. Only then does the action correspond to the true dignity of the person.” (cf. Letter to Families, no. 12).

The Church is aware of the various difficulties married couples can encounter,
especially in the present social context, not only in following but also in the very
understanding of the moral norm that concerns them. Like a mother, the Church draws
close to couples in difficulty to help them; but she does so by reminding them that the
way to finding a solution to their problems must come through full respect for the truth of their love. “It is an outstanding manifestation of charity toward souls to omit nothing
from the saving doctrine of Christ,” Paul VI admonished (HV, no. 29).
The Church makes available to spouses the means of grace which Christ offers in
redemption and invites them to have recourse to them with ever renewed confidence. She exhorts them in particular to pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is poured out in their hearts through the efficacy of their distinctive sacrament: this grace is the source of the interior energy they need to fulfill the many duties of their state, starting with that of being consistent with the truth of conjugal love. At the same time, the Church urgently
requests the commitment of scientists, doctors, health-care personnel and pastoral
workers to make available to married couples all those aids which prove an effective
support for helping them fully to live their vocation (cf. HV, no. 23-27).

Building a Culture of Life #prayingforIreland


In John Paul II’s encyclical, Familiaris Consortio, (On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World), he states (p. 45) “The Church is called upon to manifest anew to everyone, with clear and stronger conviction, her will to promote human life by every means and to defend it against all attacks, in whatever condition or state of development it is found.

Our society has become a culture of death. This is most especially evident now that Ireland will be reversing its anti-abortion laws because of a recent vote.  Morality is not dependent upon the majority rule.  Murder of the unborn child will always be wrong.

“The ultimate test of your greatness is the way you treat every human being, but especially the weakest and most defenseless. If you want equal justice for all and true freedom and lasting peace, then defend life.” St. John Paul II

Here in Canada, since there is no law against abortion, killing an unborn child is legal right up to the moment of delivery. Some contraceptives are actually abortifacient (cause early abortions), rather than preventing conception. In certain parts of the world, pre-born baby girls are being killed by the thousands simply because they are female.

We need to fight against the culture of death by building a culture of life. Here are a few ways to do so:

Prayer and Fasting
Never underestimate the power of prayer and fasting. Daily Mass, the daily rosary, a weekly fast (especially on Fridays) and other forms of prayer have more effect than we can possibly realize. Spiritually adopting a baby in danger of abortion (http://www.spiritualadoption.org/) is a beautiful way we can build the culture of life. Try to recite the Litany of the Saints daily. We can never know the effect that our prayers have had (until we die), but be assured this is one of the most important ways to build a culture of life.

Chastity, NFP and Openness to Life
All Christians (not just Catholics) are called to practice chastity and be open to life. Being chaste before marriage and practicing marital chastity (faithfulness) is essential for building a culture of life. Contraception is “intrinsically evil,” (CCC 2370) it harms marriages and separates couples physically and spiritually. Natural Family Planning (www.ccli.org) is a safe, moral and effective way to avoid and plan pregnancies.

Vote Pro-Life
Make sure that your voice heard. Register to vote and vote often and whenever the opportunity arises. This can be no more evident than in our upcoming presidential election. Although I have been living in Canada for 36 years, I am still a US citizen and I have continued to vote in US Federal Elections.

Corporal/Spiritual Works of Mercy
Performing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy will also help to build a culture of life because these works will help build spiritual character. When we are closer to Christ, we are closer to a culture of life.

The corporal works of mercy, based on Matthew 25:31-36, are: 1. feed the hungry 2. give drink to the thirsty 3. clothe the naked 4. shelter the homeless 5. visit the imprisoned 6. care for the sick 7. bury the dead.

The spiritual works of mercy, commanded or encouraged in many places Scripture, are: 1. admonish the sinner 2. instruct the ignorant 3. counsel the doubtful 4. comfort the afflicted 5. bear wrongs patiently 6. forgive all injuries 7. pray for the living and dead.

Peaceful Pro-Life Events
Attend peaceful pro-life events like the National March for Life (in the USA it is held every January; in Canada, it is held every May), the Hike for Life and other Pro-Life rallies.

Patience and Charity
It’s important to be patient and charitable when speaking to, interacting with or debating with those who are pro-abortion. Many of these fiercely pro-choice women have had abortions.

St. Teresa of Calcutta said, “If you judge someone, you have no time to love them.” Try not to be judgmental of the person (always separate the person from the sin). In some cases, these women were coerced by their partners or parents (those who should’ve been protecting them) into having an abortion.

Be a Good Example
Being a good example of Christian virtue is another great way to build a culture of life. Volunteer at a pro-life women’s shelter, embrace faithful Catholicism and donate money to causes that build the culture a life.

If each of us does our own part, we can help to rebuild a culture of life, one that is an antidote for our current culture of death.

Copyright 2018 Ellen Gable Hrkach

Pope Paul VI – Prophet #HumanaeVitae50

Pope Paul VI, author of Humanae Vitae, On Human Life, was criticized when he released his controversial encyclical back in July of 1968.  He stated that artificial birth control was “intrinsically evil.”  He also foresaw the events that are happening in our world today. The video below from Bishop Robert Barron shares some of most interesting prophecies from Pope Paul VI.

A Wonderful Find!

I recently connected with a second cousin on Ancestry and discovered that he had uploaded a photograph from Christmas of 1903 which included our great-grandmother, far left (Mary Regina Smith Hamilton 1866-1909) and our great-grandfather, far right (Thomas Scott Hamilton 1865-1945) and their children (one son is missing and one toddler daughter had passed away a few years earlier).  Both lived in Philadelphia their entire lives.

I have been researching my family tree for over 35 years and this was the first time I had ever seen a photo of either of my Hamilton great-grandparents. So I was so thrilled to find this!  And very happy to be able to put faces to names I had known almost my entire life.

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.  My great-grandmother looks less-than-excited (she was probably tired!) My great-grandfather looks a bit creepy and perhaps mad.  My grandmother told me about how strict he was, but I’ve also heard stories about what a kind and good man he was.  The house (if indeed it was theirs) looks more upper class than I had previously believed.  The toys were certainly those of at least an upper middle-class family.  My great-grandfather was a clothing cutter so I don’t imagine they were rich. Looking at the house and beautifully-decorated tree, it appears as though they were quite comfortable.

This is such a beautiful snapshot in time.  My great-grandparents would go on to have three more children (including one set of twins — my grandmother, Margaret Hamilton Gable, was one of those twins).  Just six years after this photo was taken, my great-grandmother dropped dead suddenly when her twins were only 18 months old, leaving her husband and oldest daughter (Kate, the smiling one on the right) to raise the children.

This photo illustrates such a different time in history than we are living, a simpler time.  Yes, mothers and fathers still die suddenly and widowers and widows are still left to raise children. But many Catholic families are limiting the number of children they have.  I can’t begin to judge any other couple, but I know in our own case, we remained open, despite the doctors’ orders that we stop having children.

We can learn so much from our ancestors. Back then, contraception wasn’t even a thought in most Catholic couples’ minds and really wasn’t readily available anyway.  Most welcomed children as they came.  I’m thankful to my Hamilton great-grandparents for welcoming children as they did, even when it was so obviously difficult and challenging.  My grandmother, Margaret Hamilton Gable, was one of twins in Mary Hamilton’s last pregnancy. If they had stopped having children, if they had discovered contraception, I wouldn’t be here today.

My grandmother (Margaret) went on to elope with my grandfather (Fritz) and eventually they had four children (my father was the second oldest).

This was indeed a wonderful find!

 

Hamilton Family 1903, with thanks to Rich Boyle

 

Marriage: One Man, One Woman: A Noble Purpose

Copyright James and Ellen Hrkach, please do not use without permission

Copyright James and Ellen Hrkach, please do not use without permission

“Blessed are you,
O God of our fathers;
praised be your name
forever and ever.
Let the heavens and
all your creation
praise you forever.
“You made Adam and
you gave him his wife Eve
to be his help and support;
and from these two
the human race descended.
You said,
“It is not good for the man to be alone;
Let us make him a partner like himself”
Now, Lord, you know that I take this
wife of mine, not because of lust,
but for a noble purpose.
Call down your mercy on me and on her,
and allow us to live together to a happy old age.”
Tobit 8:7

This beautiful prayer was the second reading of our Nuptial Mass in 1982 when my husband and I were married. When I first read these words many years ago, they affected me deeply, especially when I learned the history of why Tobias said this prayer. After losing seven husbands before she could consummate her union with them, Sarah entered into marriage with Tobias. Tobias knew the history and understood that he could die if he married her. But he trusted God, recited the above prayer fervently and went on to a happy marriage with Sarah.

Nowadays, many Catholic couples live together or are sexually active before marriage. Same sex marriage is now legal in the United States (as it has been for ten years here in Canada). As much as cohabiting and same sex couples may desire to love one another – and most, I’m certain, really do feel love and affection towards the other – they cannot love each other in the way they are called to: freely, totally, faithfully and fruitfully, truly loving as God loves. Sexual relations are meant to be the renewal of a couple’s marriage vows. If there is no marriage, there are no vows and there can be no renewal.

Essentially, pre-marital sex, contracepted sex and sex between two people of the same gender are all lies.

“God help us to love each other freely, totally, faithfully and fruitfully. Help us to love and not to lust.”

For more information about the Theology of the Body:
http://thetheologyofthebody.com

For more information on NFP:
www.ccli.org
www.woomb.org
www.creightonmodel.com

 

Copyright 2017 Ellen Gable Hrkach

Image and Likeness Now Available!

Image and Likeness: Short Reads Reflecting the Theology of the Body, with a foreword by Damon OwensImage and Likeness: Literary Reflections on the Theology of the Body is now available on Kindle and in paperback from Amazon. This anthology is edited by Erin McCole Cupp and myself and both of us have stories included in the collection.

If St. John Paul II ever summarized his Theology of the Body, it may have been when he said, “Man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.” But how does this sincere gift look when lived out by human beings with all their failings? What happens to our humanity when we withhold that sincere gift? What does life require of us when we give most deeply?

Full Quiver Publishing brings you this moving collection of poetry and prose, featuring some of today’s brightest Catholic literary voices, including award-winning authors Dena Hunt, Arthur Powers, Michelle Buckman, Leslie Lynch, Theresa Linden, and many more. By turns edgy and sweet, gritty and deft, but always courageous and honest, the works contained in Image and Likeness explore countless facets of human love—and human failure. Readers of Image and Likeness will experience in a variety of ways how humanity, in flesh as well as spirit, lives out the image and likeness of a God who created human intimacy to bring forth both our future and to illustrate our ultimate meaning as human persons.

With a Foreword by international Theology of the Body voice Damon Owens, Image and Likeness puts life and breath into St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body in ways that readers won’t soon forget.

Warning: mature themes, content and language.

Reviews:

Barb writes: “What, exactly, are “literary reflections on the Theology of the Body?” They’re stories and poems about how we live, and how we live our lives in relationship with each other, with our bodies, with our souls, and with God. It’s not some complicated, esoteric subject. Because it’s an anthology, there’s something for everyone, from detective stories to poetry to tales of family life that range from the harrowing to the uplifting. These stories and poems are about life. Like life, they are not always neat and tidy and packaged in a pretty box with a crisply-tied ribbon. I’ve come to expect just this from other work from Full Quiver Publishing: this publisher does not shy away from difficult subjects and situations in its commitment to promoting the culture of life and the Church’s teaching on marriage and family.”

An Open Book Family says: “Recommended for reading, reflection, discussion, and even entertainment. A gritty but beautiful introduction not only to the Theology of the Body as it is lived (or rejected), but also to the breadth and promise of Catholic fiction being written by contemporary authors. These shorts are accessible to any careful reader, whether familiar with the Theology of the Body or not.”

Readers can buy the paperback book on Amazon at this link.

It’s available on Kindle at this link.