#Prolife Grandparenthood

child’s hand in adult’s hand © Pavelvasenkov Dreamstime.com

My latest post at Catholic Mom: “Human life is precious, because it is a gift from God whose love is infinite, and when God gives life, it is forever.”  Saint John Paul II

Our grandson was born nearly two years ago.  I don’t remember ever being that excited for an impending birth (except for those of our children, but I was preoccupied during their births!) When we held our grandson – our baby’s baby – there was overwhelming joy and thanksgiving to God.

Still, none of us are perfect and we can struggle with our attitudes towards children and grandchildren. From an unplanned baby to a disabled child, to finding out the unborn child is the “wrong” sex,  to conflicting philosophies on how to raise children, parenting – and grandparenting  –  can present its share of suffering.  We can use Saint John Paul II’s prolife message to remember that each and every human being is an unrepeatable gift from God, whether he/she is planned or not, whether he/she is healthy or disabled and whether he/she is a boy or girl.

A few years ago, in speaking about her daughter who got pregnant at sixteen, a pro-choice celebrity spoke about how she tried to get her daughter to have an abortion (the daughter went on to have her baby). I know one grandmother who responded to the impending birth of her fourth grandchild in this way: “When are you going to stop having kids?”  More than a few grandmothers have said, “Don’t expect me to babysit. I already raised my own kids. I’m not raising yours.” 

These examples sound negative and perhaps our first instinct is to criticize. But all of us have anxieties about our children and grandchildren. We know a grandmother who said to her adult son with many children, “Every time you have a child, it just gives me one more thing to worry about.” Because of the way she was raised, this attitude was something that she could not control initially. As time went on, thankfully, she joyously loved each and every one of her grandchildren anyway, despite her initial comments.

My husband James and I are still newbies at grandparenthood, but we’ve discovered that there are things we can do to help us (and all grandparents) to focus our/their attitudes toward the truth that every human being from conception to natural death is an unrepeatable and unique eternal gift from God.

  1. Be supportive!

Even if our adult children are prolife, that doesn’t mean they will never need our support with regard to parenting and decision making. I know a young couple with many children whose in-laws continually criticize them for having such a big family. Conversely, another young couple has two children, but one of the grandparents is pressuring them to have more.  Keep in mind that the decision to have a child is between husband, wife, and God.  Grandparents, technically, do not have a say, and should always be supportive, despite parenting disagreements. Our adult children need to discern their parenting style/decisions like we did in the previous generation.2.Generosity in Service

Admittedly, we like when we are called upon to babysit our grandson. We may have had something else planned, but we always try to be available if we are needed. Even so, it can be challenging trying to keep up with this energetic miniature human being, especially when we, as his caregivers, have had little sleep. .

2. Theology of the Body

St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is a beautiful way to teach your adult children, in-laws and grandchildren about the beauty of human life.  Through the Theology of the Body – the study of God through our bodies – we can help our grandchildren understand that everyone is a gift, and that God made us to love. Recommended reading: TOB for Tots from Ascension Press, Angel in the Waters by Regina Doman, and Before You Were Born by Jennifer Davis and Laura Cornell.

3. Have Fun and Play

If you’re able, don’t be afraid to get down on the floor and play with your grandchildren! Some of the best moments come from being on their level and playing with their toys.

When we were babysitting one day, the power went out.  Our grandson’s parents were on a mission to help him gain weight, and sometimes he would only eat if his favorite toddler show was on TV.  With the electricity gone, we had to be creative.  I sang nursery rhymes from my own childhood. James joined in and our grandson finally returned to eating his meal.  Even now, when we start singing, he dances and sings with us.

4. Remind Them (Out Loud) They Are Loved

There was one particular night that our grandson (around 16 months old) would not go down to sleep.  So after he fussed, I picked him up and rocked him in the rocking chair.  I sang to him, told him how blessed he was. I told him I love him. Then I listed all the people who love him (not a small list if you count all the grandparents, the aunts, uncles and cousins). At one moment, he sat up, put his hands on both sides of my face and kissed me.  Then he lay down against my chest and he finally fell asleep. 

5. Pray  

It’s not easy to be ‘fully’ prolife with the culture of death surrounding us on all sides. Pray for yourselves, that you can always have a prolife attitude. Pray for your children and grandchildren that they will realize the blessing of life as it truly is: an unrepeatable, unique and eternal gift from God.

Copyright 2021 Ellen Gable Hrkach

How Do You Pronounce Your Last Name?

Over the past ten years, I’ve attended many Catholic conferences and retreats, selling and signing my books. The question that people most often asked was not “How do you find time to write” or “How do you come up with ideas for your cartoon” or “Are you working on any new novels?”

The one question that people most often ask me is “How do you pronounce your last (married) name?”

This is probably the main reason that James and I decided that I should use my maiden name (Gable) as a pen name. Hrkach is decidedly a name that people have a hard time pronouncing, mainly because there are not enough vowels (Hrkach is Croatian in origin. James’ grandfather was born in Mostar, Yugoslavia).  The original spelling of the name was: Hrkać.

It is actually an easy name to pronounce (once you know how) and when people have asked me, I give the same answer: “It is pronounced Her cash…and then I add, “as in…my money.”

So now you know how to pronounce my married name:  Her cash, as in my money.

And here’s a cool photo (below) with my name on it!  No, I haven’t been writing since 1739. This is from the Ben Franklin Museum, a fun gadget that allows you to put your name on the front page of an old book!


Copyright 2017 Ellen Gable Hrkach


Picture Perfect Motherhood

copyright J&E Hrkach

copyright J&E Hrkach (2002)

Below is an article I wrote back in 2002.  I was thrilled when Family Foundations published it!  It remains one of my favorites.  It’s hard to believe that all these boys are now much taller than me!

I tried to take a mental snapshot of the previous 10 minutes or so. Everyone had come to the table for dinner without being asked twice. The food was piping hot. All five children were sitting and quietly waiting for grace to begin. A soft snow had started falling outside, the woodstove was crackling, cookies were baking in the oven and the Christmas tree, which smelled fresh and green, sparkled with the twinkling lights. It all seemed so perfect, like a painting by Norman Rockwell or a scene from “Ozzie and Harriet.” For just a minute, I had wished that, like in the “Twilight Zone,” life would stop so I could savor the moment. I knew, however, that the scene wouldn’t last like that for long.

“Uh-oh,” exclaimed my six-year-old son, Adam. While I was visiting Ozzie and Harriet, he had tried to pour himself a glass of milk. Now it was all over the perfectly set table. “I didn’t want to bother anyone.”

I took a deep breath and headed to the counter to get a towel to clean up. In the meantime, Paul, the three-year-old, started jabbing his 13-year-old brother with his fork. “Ow, cut it out,” Ben replied. Paul turned and starting bothering the brother on the other side of him, Josh, 15. “Hey, stop it.” Just then, Tim, the 10-year-old who was sitting next to Adam, started complaining that he was getting wet from the spilled milk.

My husband, sensing my frustration, replied with his usual empathic, “Welcome to motherhood.”

Over the years, I have found it difficult to adjust to the fact that real life is just not like television. I had grown up in the 60’s and 70’s watching family sitcoms such as “Brady Bunch,” “Partridge Family” and the like. I spent hours watching reruns of the “Dick Van Dyke Show,” “I Love Lucy” and others. While still entertaining, most of these shows were two-dimensional: there was always a problem and it was (usually) solved in less than 30 minutes. Everyone always ended up happily ever after. And, as always, I was entertained.

It became quite evident that the TV land I experienced while growing up had very little to do with real life. I did grow up in a real family but since I spent so much time watching television, I grew up with the illusion that life, especially motherhood, is two dimensional and problems are usually solved in 30 minutes.

My illusion came crashing down with the birth of my first son, Josh. Newborns are supposed to come out and sleep all the time. Mine didn’t. In fact, he not only didn’t sleep, he cried most of his first six months. After one particularly difficult night of not getting any sleep at all, I sat on the edge of our bed, holding our screaming infant and started crying and bawling myself. My husband, ever patient and blunt, replied (for the first time) “Welcome to Motherhood.” Admittedly, I wanted to slap him, but later when we talked, much of what he said made perfect sense.

“Ellie, God has given you this particular baby for a reason. We don’t know what that is but we have to trust His wisdom.” I started thinking about that. Sleep had always been an important part of my life. Previous to this, I resented anyone who used to wake me up: people calling on phone, noisy neighbors, etc. Now, I had no choice but to wake up for this little baby. What better way for God to help me become less selfish about my sleep than to give me a baby that rarely slept.

With each child, I have seen how much more patient I can be. Seeing to the needs of two, three, four and then five children can be overwhelming. Sometimes I just want to sit back and watch an old rerun of “I Love Lucy” or “Partridge Family.” However, if I (try) to put God first, my family second and myself third, I can step back and see to the “Duty of the Moment,” as Catherine Doherty from Madonna House once said: “The duty of the moment is what you should be doing at any given time, in whatever place God has put you. If you have a child, your duty of the moment may be to change a dirty diaper. So you do it. But you don’t just change that diaper, you change it to the best of your ability, with great love for both God and the child.” This is not always easy, but always seeing to someone else’s needs (my children or husband) is a perfect way to grow in virtue, especially patience.

Several years ago, when I trudged into the vehicle registration office to renew our car’s license plates, I sat down next to an older woman, who commented, “Are these children all yours?” “You bet they are,” I replied, counting all five heads. “Five children, that’s a large family these days. You must be very patient,” she said.

I smiled and thought of a reply. “To tell you the truth, I have become more patient with each child I have. But, you know, I certainly ‘haven’t arrived.’ I definitely need more patience so I’ll probably have to have at least one more child.”

The look on her face was utter shock! And then she sighed and went back to reading her paper.

This is so true of motherhood, I believe. If everything was really perfect with no messes, no fights, no sicknesses, no crying babies, then we, as mothers, would never have an opportunity to grow in virtue and in character, not only as mothers but as human beings made in the image and likeness of God. Caring for children is a perfect way to quash selfishness because they are, by nature, very selfish. We, as parents, are totally responsible for these fellow human beings until they are old enough to be on their own and proceed on their own journey toward selflessness.

Motherhood is the ideal life for those of us who need to grow in virtue. Rarely does life seem perfect, and yet we picture it that way in our own mind’s eye. In reality, there are always messes to clean up, fights to help settle, a sick child to comfort or a crying baby to nurse, not to mention the stresses from outside of the family. And, while it is a tremendous and awesome responsibility, motherhood is ultimately, a “perfect” opportunity for us to grow in virtue.

Copyright 2002 Ellen Gable Hrkach

The Wisdom of Humanae Vitae and the Joy of Being Open to Life

The end of June every year marks two very difficult anniversaries for me. On June 26th, 1986, I was rushed into surgery to remove a tiny baby from my right fallopian tube. This, after already miscarrying a baby from my womb. I woke up in the hospital with the knowledge that I had conceived twins…and I would be leaving the hospital with neither in my arms.

At the end of June in 1993, I found myself in an ambulance fighting for my life, bleeding internally as the result of ectopic pregnancy complications. It’s hard to believe it’s been 18 years.

The following is a reprint of an article I had published a few years ago which deals with the difficult decisions James and I faced when deciding whether we should limit our family to three boys after a life-threatening pregnancy in 1993.

Pope Paul VI in his papal encyclical Humanae Vitae states: “ 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.”

In the ambulance, as I drifted in and out of consciousness, 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. The doctors suggested that I be put on hormonal contraception. They later urged me to have my remaining fallopian tube tied. The physicians weren’t the only ones 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…”

Ten cycles 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 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 monitored. Three years later, our youngest son, Paul was born.

“… 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 and openness to life. 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 size 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 (pictured above and below) might possibly not be here today, my heart becomes heavy. Both are unique, talented, funny and amazing human beings who have already given so much to our family and to society. I am grateful to God, because I can’t imagine our family without them.

Here they are posing for an updated shot of that same photo! (Now 20 and 17 years old.)

photo courtesy James Hrkach

photo courtesy James Hrkach


Copyright 2016 Ellen Gable Hrkach

What Our Catholic Ancestors Can Teach Us About the Faith

Photo from Wikimedia

Photo from Wikimedia

My latest post from Catholic Mom is entitled, “What Our Catholic Ancestors Can Teach Us About the Faith.”

When a great uncle of mine passed away years ago, his closest family members went through his belongings, as per his wishes, and took mementos. A box was left over, I was told, of “religious items,” and I was asked if I’d like to have the box. As one of the few practicing Catholics in our extended family, I gratefully accepted the box.

I was delighted to find three Latin/English Missals from the 1940’s and 50’s, religious statues, rosaries, holy cards, a scapular and other Catholic sacramentals.

When my mother died eight years ago, my siblings and I went through her jewelry box. I was surprised to find a beautiful cameo miraculous medal and a card enrolling my mother (then a young teenager) in the “Miraculous Medal Society.” I now wear my mother’s miraculous medal.

My father, who died when I was a teenager, frequently recited the rosary. One image I recall from his wake is of my father, peaceful in death, his hands clutching his rosary.

Rosaries, scapulars, religious images, medals, holy water are all sacramentals, or visual reminders of our Catholic faith.

Catholic sacramentals have somehow lost popularity. While many Catholics still wear medals, the displaying of religious statues, icons and other sacramentals in Catholic homes is not as common anymore. Strictly speaking, it is not obligatory to use sacramentals. However, since they are reminders, they do help us in our journey towards heaven.

Our Catholic ancestors did not shy away from the faith. With few exceptions, they went to Mass every Sunday (with their Latin/English missal) and attended Mass often during the week, they abstained from meat on Fridays, recited the rosary, wore medals, proudly displayed crucifixes in their homes and religious statues in their gardens. Most had holy water fonts in their homes. They proudly proclaimed their faith and were not ashamed.

Recently, my scapular was hanging out in front of my shirt. A fellow parishioner asked me what it was. “It’s a scapular, a sacramental,” I replied. This fellow parishioner was around the same age and yet had never seen a scapular “up close” and didn’t know what a “sacramental” was.

When my parents attended grade school and high school in the 1940’s, catechism was memorized and learned from an early age. Young Catholics knew and understood when sin was sin; there was no watering down of the faith. There was no “subjective truth.” Pre-marital sex and contraception were sins and even if they fell into temptation and took part in these acts, they knew it was sinful and headed to confession immediately.

Now? Well, it’s a different story. Although some Catholics do know the teachings of the faith, many do not. In fact, I’ve spoken to Catholics who are under the mistaken impression that the Catholic faith is a democracy or opinion-based church. I’ve talked to Catholics who had no idea Sunday Mass was an obligation and missing it was a sin. I’ve spoken to Catholics who had no idea that living together before married was a sin or that birth control was a sin.

Sacramentals remind us of our faith. They remind us that our life here on earth is temporary and that heaven is our goal.

We have a lot to learn from our ancestors. Our Mass going, rosary reciting, scapular and medal-wearing ancestors understood the importance of sacramentals and the importance of knowing–-and practicing–-their faith.

To find out more information on the importance of sacramentals, check out this helpful link:

Copyright 2015 Ellen Gable Hrkach

Dynamic Women of Faith Conference

Special thanks to Dorothy Pilarski for organizing the Dynamic Women of Faith Conference this past Saturday in Toronto. All three photos below are of me giving my presentation on “Coping With Difficult Losses,” the bottom one showing the size of the crowd. They were a wonderfully receptive group of women!

Photo credit: Gustavo Kralj/DWF Conference/Gaudiumpress Images

Photo credit: Gustavo Kralj/DWF Conference/Gaudiumpress Images

Photo credit: Gustavo Kralj/DWF Conference/Gaudiumpress Images

Photo credit: Gustavo Kralj/DWF Conference/Gaudiumpress Images

Photo credit: Gustavo Kralj/DWF Conference/Gaudiumpress Images

Photo credit: Gustavo Kralj/DWF Conference/Gaudiumpress Images

Trust, Fertility and Advent

image copyright James Hrkach/Josh Hrkach

image copyright James Hrkach/Josh Hrkach

One of my favorite shows is “Mayday,” a documentary which recounts stories of plane crashes or near crashes. My favorite episodes are the ones where everyone (or most) survives. Survival often depends on the skill and precision of the pilots and flight engineers. I find it fascinating just what can bring a plane down and what can also save a plane.

It dawned on me when I was flying back from Chicago last summer that it takes tremendous trust to get on a plane: trust that the pilots are trained to fly the plane with precision, trust that the builders created a solid, well-performing plane, trust that the mechanics have serviced the plane properly. After all, which one of us wants to be 20,000 feet in the air when a mechanical problem happens or when a pilot encounters a situation he’s not trained to handle?

Of course, the same can be said for any situation. We trust our doctors, food companies, school bus drivers and many others. On a daily basis, we are called to trust those who are human and have the potential of making mistakes.

Consider how most couples “trust” with regard to their fertility. They take pills, get injections, apply chemical patches, insert devices, consent to operations. Instead of working with their fertility, they try to destroy it. Instead of embracing their fertility, they fight it. They “trust” that by using contraceptives, they will be able to “control” their fertility.

Newsflash: none of these chemicals, devices or operations are 100 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. No method, except for complete abstinence, is 100 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. And yet millions of couples put their “trust” in contraceptive methods on a daily basis. If the methods “fail,” and a child is conceived, many will resort to abortion.

So what does this have to do with Advent?

Well, a lot. When told that she would be the mother of our Savior, Mary replied, “Be it done to me according to your word.” That took tremendous trust in God’s plan for her. She didn’t say, “Hmmm, let me think about that for a few weeks and I’ll get back to you.” Without her trust, without her yes, we would not be preparing to celebrate Christmas.

Admittedly, the times I’ve appreciated Our Lady’s fiat the most have been when I was expecting a child during Advent and Christmas. I loved being pregnant and feeling the movement of my babies. It definitely helped me to be more empathetic to what Mary went through: nine months pregnant, on a donkey and making a long journey away from home. It was equally difficult for her to give birth in a stable, surrounded by the smells and sounds of animals. And yet Mary trusted that this was God’s plan for her and accepted it without question.

So what is God’s plan for us especially regarding our fertility? I can tell you what it is not: God’s plan is not for us to destroy the gift of our fertility with devices, behaviors, chemicals or operations. This “trust” that many couples place in contraceptives can sometimes result in an unwanted, permanent loss of fertility and can lead to numerous other consequences as well. Pope Paul VI, in his encyclical Humanae Vitae (On Human Life, 1968) talks about one of the most common consequences of contraceptive use: “A man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.”

God’s plan is for couples to embrace their fertility and to be generously open to life. Does that mean that God wants us to have as many children as possible? No, it doesn’t. God gave us the gift of reason and he also gave us a built-in natural method of avoiding pregnancy that works with fertility and not against it. God, the Author of life, wants to be part of our decisions regarding our fertility.

What about us? Who do we trust with our fertility? Is it God or is it a device, operation or contraceptive behavior?

Couples who want to trust God with their decisions will trust Him with all of their decisions, including the beautiful gift of fertility. When couples have serious need to avoid pregnancy, Natural Family Planning (NFP) is a moral way to do so. NFP uses no devices and works with God instead of against Him. Wives who use NFP seldom feel used by their husbands. NFP also works well to achieve pregnancy. It’s healthy, effective and safe. NFP encourages good communication and strengthens marital relationships.

Advent is the ideal time to rethink who we trust our fertility with. Do we trust a chemical company? Do we trust a condom manufacturer? Or do we trust God, the Author of Life?

Learning Natural Family Planning nowadays is as simple as turning on your computer. My husband and I teach NFP online through the Couple to Couple League. For more information on NFP classes or NFP in general, please comment below or email me: fullquiverpublishing(at)gmail.com.

Copyright Ellen Gable Hrkach 2014

NFP Week: The Spiritual Works of Mercy – TOB Style

Photo Copyright James Hrkach

Photo Copyright James Hrkach

To further celebrate NFP Awareness Week, I’m reposting this article from earlier this year on practicing the spiritual works of mercy with a theology of the body focus:

According to the Catholic encyclopedia, mercy is “a virtue influencing one’s will to have compassion for, and, if possible, to alleviate another’s misfortune.” The spiritual works of mercy are one way Catholics can show charity and compassion to others. Since my husband and I teach Natural Family Planning, we have always tried to practice the spiritual works of mercy through our NFP ministry. Many Catholics do not understand the Church’s teachings on sexuality. Mother Teresa once said, “If you judge someone, you have no time to love them,” Sharing the truth with charity and without judgment is extremely important.

Admonish the Sinner and Instruct the Ignorant
I often find myself in conversations about these intimate topics with acquaintances and relatives. For example, while I was attending a First Penance meeting with one of my sons, the instructor handed out a “Examination of Conscience” pamphlet. On page three, under “Thou Shall Not Kill,” sterilization was listed correctly as a mortal sin. The woman next to me gasped and whispered, “I thought the Church changed her teaching on this. I had my tubes tied and didn’t know it was wrong.” I then gently said, “The Church has never changed this teaching. Birth control and sterilization have always been considered mortal sins.” The woman glanced away, then turned back to me, tears in her eyes. I patted her shoulder, then said, “You know, if you didn’t realize it was wrong, then it’s not a mortal sin.” I pointed out the section in the “Examination of Conscience” pamphlet which stated that all three of these conditions need to be in place for mortal sin: it must be 1) serious matter, 2) the person must know it is serious and then 3) freely commit it. I strongly encouraged her to seek spiritual direction from a faithful priest. When she left the meeting, she thanked me.

Counsel the Doubtful and Comfort the Sorrowful
A few years ago, when we were speaking at the local marriage prep course on “Sexual Honesty Within Marriage,” we talked about the importance of keeping the marital embrace free, total, faithful and “fruitful.” During the last part of the talk, we explained that contraception removes the fruitful aspect from the marital act. All of a sudden, a young woman rushed out of the meeting room, in tears. James and I continued our talk while one of the other host couples followed her, but we were concerned. After the talk, I immediately went to speak to the woman. I learned that she was the mother of a 13-year-old daughter from a teenage relationship. The young woman shared that she was currently in remission from terminal cancer. Because of the aggressive treatment, her doctors told that she would not have any more children. She told me that it upset her to hear the suggestion that her marriage might not be “fruitful” since she and her fiancé would never have children. (Of course, we didn’t say that in our talk, but this is how she interpreted it). She admitted that she had mistakenly thought she had already dealt with the fact that she and her future husband would not be having children together. But our talk seemed to bring her sadness and regret to the surface. She then sobbed and I embraced her as she released emotions that had obviously been pent up for a while. When she stopped crying, I explained that fruitfulness was much more than giving birth to children. We discussed adoption. We talked about the fruitfulness of being a good example as well as other ways she and her husband could be ‘fruitful” in their marriage. After the course finished that evening, she came up to me, hugged me and thanked me for being so “kind.”

Bear Wrongs Patiently, Forgive all Injuries
Bearing wrongs patiently has never been something I have done well. And the following example shows that not everyone I “admonish” or “instruct” has been open to the information.

Ten years ago, a woman called for NFP counseling. She and her husband had taken an NFP class years earlier. Her husband, she said, had made an appointment for a vasectomy and he had indicated the decision was not up for debate. After using NFP for many years, he no longer had any patience for the abstinence it entailed. The wife sounded like she was crying. “What can I do to stop him?” she asked. I spoke with her, then sent her information on the moral, spiritual and physical implications of sterilization. I encouraged her to seek spiritual direction from a faithful priest I knew in the area. Four different times we spoke on the phone, her tone frantic and desperate. Finally, she stopped calling. I continued to pray for this couple. Some months later, she called to inform me that her husband had indeed gone through with the vasectomy and they were now ‘very happy.’ She wanted me to know that, although she knew I didn’t agree with ‘their’ decision, she had come to accept it and that it had been the ‘right’ thing for them.

Admittedly, I have no idea what happened in between her frantic calls and the vasectomy. I suspect she never called the faithful priest I recommended. However, I calmly responded, “But sterilization is against the fifth commandment as well as the sixth, it separates a couple…it causes an increase in prostate cancer, it – ” She cut me off by angrily telling me that she only called to inform me, not to hear what the Church teaches, that she already knew that. Her husband then got on the phone and yelled at me, his tone sharp, accusing me of trying to “sabotage” his marriage. I listened, heart pounding, as he screamed at me over the phone. It took a lot of self-control not to hang up nor respond to his verbal abuse. I prayed and waited until he stopped yelling, although by that point, I was nearly in tears and my hands were trembling. Then I said, my voice breaking, “I will pray for you and I wish you both well…goodbye.” My hands shaking, I hung up the phone and cried. I forgave them long ago for their verbal abuse, and I have prayed for them from time to time, but I’ve always wondered how they are doing.

Pray for the Living and the Dead
Prayer is so powerful, more powerful than any of us can ever imagine. Even if you’re not comfortable speaking up, you can always pray for anyone at anytime. Praying for others is an important part of the spiritual works of mercy. I pray daily that more couples can discover the joy of following the Church’s teachings on sexuality by learning NFP: to be chaste before marriage, to be generous and open to life within marriage. I pray for all the student couples to whom we have taught NFP over the years. I pray for the engaged couples who have listened to our testimony and talks at marriage prep courses. I offer up many prayers for relatives and friends who have chosen to lead alternate lifestyles, and those deceased ancestors and relatives who were not faithful to the Catholic Church’s beautiful teachings of sexuality.

Practicing the spiritual works of mercy through the Theology of the Body is an ideal way to show charity and compassion to others. It’s not always easy to do. However, I know that, for me, it is the right thing to do, even if the person or persons are not open to the message. The truth is, we never know when a seed of truth will be planted and someone will experience a change of heart.

Copyright 2014 Ellen Gable Hrkach

Sunday Snippets – November 3

Image copyright Ellen Gable Hrkach

Image copyright Ellen Gable Hrkach

Please join me and other Catholic bloggers at RAnn’s Place for Sunday Snippets where we share posts from the previous week and answer a weekly question. This week’s question: What is your favorite non-blog Catholic website? My favorite non-blog Catholic website is the Vatican website. I can spend hours on it, reading old encyclicals or news about Pope Francis.

Here is the one and only post this week:

7 Quick Takes Friday – An Interview with Erin McCole Cupp Read my lengthy interview with Erin about her new novel, Don’t You Forget About Me (and comment to be entered to win a free print copy of her book!)

All Six of Full Quiver’s Books on Bestsellers’ Lists!

For the first time ever, all SIX of my company’s books (including my four) are on at least one Kindle bestseller list simultaneously!

In Name Only (Ellen Gable) #2 RL Dramain-name-only-smaller

Stealing Jenny (Ellen Gable) #8 RL DramaStealing Jenny

Angela’s Song (AnnMarie Creedon) #11 RL DramaAS Front Cover Final9-19

Emily’s Hope (Gable) #14 RL DramaEH Cover email small

Growing Up in God’s Image (Carolyn J. Smith) #14 Parent ParticipationCover for FB

Come My Beloved (Ellen Gable, Kathy Cassanto) #82 CatholicismCMB no outline