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How Humanae Vitae shaped our family

Couple sitting in hammock

Humanae Vitae Giving Day 2018

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From the Family Foundations archives

 

by Jack and Sonia Ferraro

Like most engaged couples, we set goals for our life together. As we progressed toward our wedding date, we constructed an idea of what our life would be like in “The Five-Year Plan.” We wanted as large a family as we could afford; we anticipated three or four children, but hoped for more. Our “Plan” was formed by values created by society — self-fulfillment and material comfort. The life we hoped to live was one that appeared to be easy for us and would have impressed our family, friends and neighbors. The thought of pleasing God by exercising stewardship over our material gains — no matter how few or many — had not occurred to us. The question of children — when and how many — was adapted to our wills in consideration of our comfort.

After our engagement, Sonia went on the Pill. We knew that the Catholic Church prohibits the use of birth control, but we thought that meant we weren’t meant to avoid pregnancy at any time by any means. Our perception of the teaching led us to envision an endless stream of children spaced nine months apart. It never occurred to us that there was a licit, effective method to avoid pregnancy, one based on God’s design of the female body.

By the time we made an Engaged Encounter weekend, Sonia was experiencing side effects from the pill. Jack did not like seeing her suffer for the sake of “worry-free, whenever-you-want-it” sex. The weekend included a talk on natural family planning (NFP). What impressed us most was learning that NFP is an effective method of spacing children without any side effects. We were also pleased that it is inexpensive to use! The shared responsibility was an enticing aspect. Most of all, it was a relief to learn that the Catholic Church approved of a sound method of spacing children. This was the first time either of us had heard the Church’s true teaching on birth control.

The following week we enrolled in a CCL class, and Sonia threw away her pills.

The class taught us many new things. We learned how to use the Sympto-Thermal Method effectively. We learned much about the biology of a woman’s body. We learned that contraception, like all sin, can damage and potentially ruin a marriage. We heard the call to married couples to be open to God’s will in planning their families.

Between the knowledge we gained in class and the clarity of Sonia’s charts, it became apparent to her that her next fertile time would correspond with our wedding. A call to our teaching couple confirmed the probability.

This came as a bit of a surprise to us. While we had considered the possibility of Sonia being fertile on our honeymoon, we did not think it was probable that we would face being fertile at that time. We had made the decision to use NFP by logic; however, our moral and religious convictions had grown strong. We began to realize that following God’s plan for marriage means more than not sinning to avoid pregnancy; it means being generous. In order to use NFP in the proper context, God needed to be part of “The Plan.” We had been looking upon Him as a silent partner. We had to recognize that we needed to invite Him to be a vocal, active partner.

We had committed ourselves, in word, to making God a part of our marriage. We would be married in the Church making our union a Sacrament and a covenant between God and ourselves. Next, we had to commit ourselves, by our actions, to the covenant among the three of us.

We had to make a decision that would uphold the values that we had decided would guide our marriage. We had three choices: use contraception on our honeymoon; abstain on our honeymoon; or have relations during the fertile time and leave it in the Lord’s hands.

We had firmly decided that contraception would have no place in our marriage. We did not want to separate the unitive and procreative aspects of the sexual act; we wanted our marital relations to be as God intended them to be.

Abstaining on our honeymoon would have adhered to our moral convictions. Also, it would have given us completed assurance that conception would not occur. But conscious abstinence during the fertile time, without serious motives (HV, n.10) would mean refusing the Lord’s offer of a child. In the wedding ceremony, we would be asked if we would accept children willingly and lovingly. “When we want to,” would not be an acceptable answer.

We had to rethink our circumstances using Christian prudence and generosity. Was preventing a pregnancy completely necessary? We our reasons for avoiding pregnancy valid? In Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI outlined that the criteria for serious reasons must involve financial, psychological, physical or social factors. We began to see that the criteria by which we judged our readiness to start a family were selfish, and that choosing a morally good method of avoiding pregnancy was just not enough for us to follow Christ.

Thus, after much prayer and discussion, we chose to consummate our marriage covenant on our honeymoon and allow God to exercise his will as He saw fit. Ironically, we found ourselves worried that we would not conceive! We realized He could say no.

With the Sympto-Thermal Method, a couple only needs to see the woman’s temperatures elevated for 21 days to know, with 99% certainty, that they have achieved pregnancy. For us, the excitement won out and Sonia had a pregnancy test early at the college health clinic on the first day of classes for the spring semester.

We agreed to wait until the evening to discuss the results. As Jack rode the Metro that evening, he looked around in amazement at the families that crowded the train. The train at that time of day was usually full of business people. Many of the families carried signs which read “Choose Life” or other pro-life slogans as they returned home from a March for Life. Sonia didn’t need to tell him what the results were!

Jonathan Owen was born about nine months later!

Now, almost 10 years later, Jonathan is still our one and only child. It has been during this time that we have been blessed to learn firsthand of the flip side of Humanae Vitae — that love and life cannot be separated even to conceive a child. Man cannot push God’s hand and demand a child.

We live in a society where people have tried to separate love and life. Couples and individuals are able to have sex without bearing children, to have children when they want to bear them, and have a doctor make them when they can’t make them on their own. By following the call of Humanae Vitae, couples learn to cooperate with God and seek His will. This has been the tool that opened our marriage the the graces that God wishes to give to every married couple. When a couple understands Humanae Vitae, they can hear the call to exercise both prudence and generosity in the practice of responsible parenthood.

Every family has a story. The ones we find most beautiful are the ones where the final word of the husband and wife is, “Thy will be done.”

 

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