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).

Humanae Vitae’s Profound Message of Responsible Parenthood

Ellen Gable Hrkach 2014 87

Photo courtesy Tim Baklinski at Two Trees Photography

In this year of the 50th Anniversary of Humanae Vitae (Pope Paul VI, On Human Life), I’d like to share our family’s experience with how this encyclical shaped our decision making with regard to responsible parenthood.

Responsible parenthood… has one further essential aspect of paramount importance. It concerns the objective moral order which was established by God, and of which a right conscience is the true interpreter. In a word, the exercise of responsible parenthood requires that husband and wife, keeping a right order of priorities, recognize their own duties toward God, themselves, their families and human society.”

I drifted in and out of consciousness in the ambulance. I didn’t have much time for retrospective thoughts, except “Please God, I can’t die. I don’t want my little boys growing up without a mom.”  I was bleeding internally, the complications of ectopic pregnancy surgery two weeks previous, and quickly becoming weaker and weaker.  Waking up later in the recovery room, I was thankful to be alive.

“You should not be having any more children.” The words were harsh and at first, we took them as truth. I was capable of having more, but after two ectopic pregnancies and complications from one of the surgeries, we were told that we must limit our family to three boys.  One of the doctors suggested that I be put on hormonal contraception. He later advised me to have my remaining fallopian tube tied.  The physician wasn’t the only one to give the ‘order’ to stop having children. Well-meaning relatives and friends felt it was their duty to tell us that we should not get pregnant again. “You don’t want to be irresponsible, do you?”

“It concerns the objective moral order which was established by God…”

It became evident, as we dialogued with both the physicians and the well-meaning relatives and friends, that they were concerned only about my physical health. Most of them cared little, if at all, for my/our spiritual well being. And, initially, in those first few weeks after my surgery, we felt that we ought to listen to the “doctor’s orders.”

However, as the months went by, I began to regain my strength. We continued using NFP in the most conservative way, often adding one or two days to the rules for extra security.  A year later, with heaviness in my heart, I thought of the future and the fact that we would not have anymore children. I wondered whether God was calling us to actively seek another pregnancy.  My husband and I discussed it, then brought our concern to our spiritual director, explaining to him that the doctor told us that we should not have any more children.  “James and Ellie,” he said, “that is a decision to be made between the two of you and God.”  He encouraged us to pray about it and he further recommended that we talk to a faithful Catholic doctor.  We knew of a Catholic physician through a neighboring homeschooling community. Her response after reviewing my file was that we could try for more children, but that I would need to be monitored carefully in the first several weeks to confirm that it wasn’t another ectopic pregnancy.

“… a right conscience is the true interpreter…”

For the next several months, we prayed together.  We deeply desired another child, but we did not want to be careless or irresponsible.  After much prayer and discernment, and weighing all the risks, we decided to actively seek another pregnancy.

“…the exercise of responsible parenthood requires that husband and wife, keeping a right order of priorities…”

A year later, we were still not pregnant.  We felt at peace with our decision to seek another pregnancy and, although disappointed, we trusted that God knew what He was doing.  Eventually, we stopped charting. Another eight cycles went by with no pregnancy and I began to sell off most of my baby furniture.  A few weeks later, it dawned on me that I hadn’t had a period in six weeks.  The next morning, I took my temperature and it was 98.9.  After 18 months of saying no to us, God was saying yes and blessing us with another eternal soul. I was thrilled that another new life, the fruit of our love, had begun, and would be sheltered lovingly in my womb.

With the blessing, however, soon came extreme suffering.  I began having debilitating migraine headaches, and some days I could not get out of bed.  Worse than the physical pain, however, was the emotional suffering.  Doctors, well-meaning friends and relatives told us that we were being “irresponsible” and “selfish,” and that if I was suffering, “I had asked for it.”

At 30 weeks, our unborn baby was six pounds and I had already gained 50 pounds.  That might not seem like much, but with my four-feet-nine-inch frame, it meant that I could not drive (the seat had to be pushed back so far to allow for my large stomach that my feet couldn’t reach the pedals) and I could not walk the last six weeks of the pregnancy.

Our son, Adam, was born eight weeks later at nearly ten pounds.  The pro-life Catholic doctor who delivered Adam by C-section told me that we could try for another baby someday, but that the pregnancy would again have to be closely monitored. Three years later, our youngest son, Paul was conceived after only one month of trying and born just two days before my 40th birthday.

“… recognize their own duties toward God, themselves, their families and human society.”

The words of Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae courageously proclaim the truth of responsible parenthood. The decision to have or avoid another child remains a decision between the couple and God. No one else ought to make such a life-changing and important choice because no one else will have to endure the consequences (and joys), nor will anyone else have to stand before God someday and explain their actions.

Although we could have used NFP to avoid pregnancy permanently and to limit our family to three sons, we chose to listen to our hearts, to answer God’s calling, and to seek more children.  When I consider that our two youngest sons (now ages 19 and 22) might possibly not be here today, my heart becomes heavy.  Both are unique, talented and amazing human beings who have already given so much to our family and to society.  I am grateful to God – and to Blessed Pope Paul VI – because I can’t imagine our family — and our world — without them.

Copyright 2018 Ellen Gable Hrkach

Adam and Paul 2017 (1)

copyright Hrkach (Adam, left, Paul, right)

Kids Adam holding Paul

copyright Ellen Gable Hrkach (Adam holding Paul)

 

 

 

 

 

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

Celebrating 36 Years of #Marriage

“Love that leads to marriage is a gift from God and a great act of faith toward other human beings.” St. John Paul II

Today, my husband and I celebrate 36 years of marriage.

Happy anniversary to my husband, James, who has held my hand through the births of our five sons, cried with and consoled me through seven miscarriages, has been faithful to me through good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. He makes me laugh with his goofy impressions, and I am in awe of his amazing talents. I am truly blessed and honored to have him as my sacramental partner in life, and I will be forever grateful to God for bringing us together in the most unusual circumstances!

Wedding 14 sm

(1982) copyright Hrkach

 

And how do NFP couples celebrate their anniversary?

Here's to 20 yearssm

Image copyright 2013 James & Ellen Hrkach (please do not use without permission)