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Don’t Shoot the Messenger
One of the finest priests I have ever worked with is Father Timothy Jernejcic, currently serving as Parochial Administrator (Pastor) of St. Mel Catholic Church in Norco, California. Father Timothy was given this position after only six years as a priest which is an indication of the confidence the bishop has in him. In addition, a wonderful deacon, the Rev. Mr. Joe Garcia, serves the parish. St. Mel’s is a medium sized parish of a little over 1,000 families.
I have known Father Timothy since he was ordained a transitional deacon and have always been deeply impressed by his holiness and humility.
I was fortunate to have him as the assistant pastor at my church for two years. He celebrates Holy Mass with reverence, without innovation, and his homilies come straight from the Holy Spirit.
One of the first things Father Timothy did after assuming his responsibilities as pastor was to telephone me and to ask if I would teach an RCIA/adult education class for his parish. He recognized the need for proper adult catechesis. I was honored that he had thought enough of me to ask me to help.
We discussed the program and decided that we would combine the convert classes (RCIA) with an adult education class that would last 35 weeks. I would be responsible for the doctrinal education and Father would meet twice monthly with the RCIA candidates to guide them in their spiritual journey. Each attendee would eventually receive over 600 pages of information, which they could use for future reference.
We began in early September and the goal was to cover all of the Church’s basic teachings before Easter and then continue on from that point with information on how to live the Catholic life. Each session would be from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. beginning with a one-hour lecture or video, then a short break for refreshments and finally a question-and answer period.
I laid out the course with the first few sessions on the foundations of Catholic theology. The first presentation was an historical and geographical overview of the Bible and why Protestants use a different Old Testament canon. The second session was on Sacred Tradition; the third on authority of the Magisterium of the Church, i.e., that Jesus founded his Church and left behind a visible hierarchy in order to protect it from false teachings. The fourth session was on salvation in which I presented the differences between Catholic and Protestant theologies. The following classes would build upon this foundation.
The first evening the parish hall was filled with about 115 people. Father Timothy introduced me to the group and expressed his confidence in my instruction. He told them that they could rely on me to teach the Faith in its fullness without reservation or distortion.
This was to be an in-depth series without any waste of time. Each time we met, I opened with a prayer and then went to work. The first evening went off without a hitch and I was excited about teaching there. It wasn’t until the end of the second session that I ran into trouble.
That night the hall was again filled with people. I spoke about Sacred Tradition and then opened for questions. Everything was going fine until just before nine o’clock when one of the group brought up the question of artificial contraception. I was hoping that this question might come up a little later in the series as it always causes dissention. I reasoned that if I had the time to lay a proper foundation for the Church’s teaching the parishioners might fully accept the prohibition on artificial contraception.
I told the group that it would take me about 20 to 30 minutes to fully explain the teaching, as I would have to lay a foundation. Since it was late, I gave them the option of putting it off until the following week. I offered to answer the question then and there but only on the condition that they all stay. The group decided that they would all stay and hear me out.
I began my answer by quoting the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of human life from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (§ 2370 & 2399). I explained that the Church does teach the acceptability of regulating births in a natural way. In other words abstaining from the marital act during periods of fertility. As a matter of fact, the natural regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood. There are times when there are serious reasons why a couple should either delay conception or even eliminate the possibility altogether.
I went on to explain that sexual intercourse is a gift from God and that the marital act is sacred because God is involved in the act. All sexual intercourse must be open to procreation and unification. When conception takes place God infuses the soul and new life comes into existence.
All sin is because of pride and selfishness. To commit a sin a person has to know that a particular act is against God’s will and then do it regardless of the consequences. When we take God out of the picture by artificially contracepting, the marital act becomes profane. It becomes no more sacred than two animals copulating. We cannot give God part of our lives; we must be in submission to Him in all areas.
Next, I explained the health hazards of the pill. The “pill” produces approximately 150 chemical changes in a woman’s body and not one of these is beneficial.
Over 10 million women in the U.S. use the birth control pill today and about 4 million of those are under age 25.  I went on to explain that there are basically two types of birth control pills, those that are estrogen based, and those that are progesterone based. The pill works by inhibiting ovulation and by changing the lining of the inside of a woman’s uterus (called the endometrium) so that if the woman does conceive she will often have an early abortion. There was an audible gasp from the group when they heard me say that it is estimated that women experience at least one early abortion for every year that they are on the pill. Both pro-abortion and pro-life groups admit that the pill causes early abortions. Most of these couples had never heard this information before. For some of these couples, the enormity of the possibility of having aborted one or more children while on the pill was stunning.
I then went on to explain the medical side effects of the pill. The birth control pill increases the risk of breast cancer by over 40% if it is taken before a woman delivers her first baby. This risk increases to over 70% if the pill is used for four or more years before the woman’s first child is born. Other side effects are the development of high blood pressure, blood clots, stroke, heart attack, depression, weight gain, migraine, dark spots on the skin and difficulty with breastfeeding. Diabetics who take oral contraceptives may note increased sugar levels. Some women who stop taking the pill do not have a return of their menstrual cycles for a year or longer. Although the pill decreases ovarian and uterine cancer, it increases liver and cervical cancer. Studies have shown that the AIDS virus is transmitted more easily to women who are taking the pill and whose partner(s) has the HIV virus.
I then went into what are called barrier methods: The condom and the diaphragm: Condoms have a failure rate that is estimated to be between 10-30%. There are several reasons for this such as breakage or slippage during use, defective condoms that have been damaged or poorly manufactured in the factory, and cracked condoms second to irregular storage conditions such as those that are stored in a hot or very cold place. Condoms do not adequately stop the transmission of the AIDS virus. In trying to explain the failure rate of condoms I used the following analogy. Suppose you were going to take an airplane to across the country and had your choice of ten different flights. Then you were told that at least one and possibly as many as three of the planes would crash. Would you be willing to take that gamble?
Although the diaphragm is a barrier method of birth control and so it theoretically does not cause early abortion. At least one study has noted that women who use barrier methods such as the diaphragm or condom, or the withdrawal method, had a 137% increased risk of developing preeclampsia in future pregnancies. Preeclampsia is a condition that some pregnant women get which consists of a syndrome of high blood pressure, fluid retention, and kidney damage, which may eventually lead to, prolonged seizures and/or coma called eclampsia. It is theorized that the male’s sperm has a protective role against preeclampsia.
Now, what about spermicides in conjunction with their barrier method. A spermicide is an agent that is designed to kill the male’s sperm and is often sold as a gel or as an ingredient in the vaginal sponge. Toxic Shock Syndrome has been associated with the spermicide sponge. In addition, at least one researcher has noted that couples who have used certain spermicides within a month of conception have experienced a doubling in the rate of birth defects as well as a doubling of the rate of miscarriage.
Next, I spoke about "The Shot" and Norplant? Depo-Provera is the name of a hormone which is a type of sex hormone called a progestin. It works by decreasing ovulation and by changing the lining of a woman’s uterus. Norplant is another progestin that is placed into rubber-like tubes and placed under the skin of a woman and left there for up to five years. Norplant and Depo-Provera are abortificients; both cause an early abortion when conception does occur. Women who use Norplant will probably experience more than one abortion each year since the average woman ovulates in more than 40% of her cycles while taking Norplant. Depo-Provera may theoretically cause just as many abortions as Norplant since it is also a type of progestin.
The results of the two major world studies have shown that women who take Depo-Provera for two years or more before age 25, have at least a 190% increased risk of developing breast cancer. In addition, Depo-Provera may reduce a woman’s bone density, and worsen a woman’s cholesterol level. Another researcher has found that women who had received injectable progestins (i.e., usually Depo-Provera) for at least five years and who had used them at least five years ago, suffered a 430% increased risk of obtaining cervical cancer. Several studies have shown that women who receive injectable progestins have a much higher rate of contracting the AIDS virus if their partner has it, with one study showing a 240% increased risk. Norplant, which was developed later than Depo-Provera, has received less scrutiny, but may carry just as high a risk as Depo-Provera. In addition, over 50,000 women have participated in lawsuits against the manufacturer of Norplant, citing complaints of irregular bleeding, scarring, painful muscles and headaches.
Finally, I came to the crux of the matter. I told them that I realized that many of them were at the time contacepting and that this would be considered serious sin if they continued to contracept knowing the Church’s teaching.
I explained that God calls us to holiness. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus himself exhorts us to “be perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt. 5:48) Jesus did not present us with an impossible goal –– but we can’t reach the goal alone. We can only become holy with the sanctifying grace of the sacraments. Christ cannot live within us if our souls are corrupted by mortal sin. Jesus wants us to live holy lives and established the sacraments in order to provide us the help we need. When we artificially contracept, knowing the sinfulness of the act, the sacraments are effectively void of grace for us. As serious as that is, there is something even worse –– we would be making a mockery of the Holy Eucharist by receiving Him while intentionally in mortal sin. St. Paul tells us that if we receive the Body and Blood of Christ unworthily, we bring a judgment down upon ourselves. (1 Cor. 11:27-29) All forms of artificial birth control are intrinsically evil.
I ended the evening and the people left in silence. I remember thinking, half of these people won’t be coming back.
Sure enough. The following week only 65 people showed up. After the class I began to get some feedback. It seemed that a number of people were offended by what I had said about artificial contraception. Some related comments such as “Who the h___ is he to tell us we’re in sin, it’s none of his business.” I must admit I was discouraged. I felt as if they had shot the messenger. I brooded about it for the entire next week, reviewing everything I said trying to figure out a way to present the truth without offending anyone.
As I entered the hall to begin the fourth week of class one of the women came up to me and said, “I want to thank you.” I said, “For what?” She said, “Remember what you talked about two weeks ago?” Somehow, I just knew she was not talking sacred Tradition, so I said, “You mean artificial contraception?” She said, “Yes” and then went on to tell me the following story.
She and her husband had been blessed with five sons, they had always wanted to have a little girl but that just hadn’t happened. They had decided that they would not have any more children and she had been scheduled to be hospitalized for a tubal ligation on the following Thursday. After hearing my explanation, she and her husband went home and had a long conversation on the issue. They ended up by canceling the operation. As she put it, “We’ve decided to be open to life.” She knew that cutting God out of their marriage could only end in disaster. I was overjoyed, I told her that I needed to hear what she had told me, and that she had made not only my day, but also my year.
Later in the evening another woman came to me to ask for help in convincing her husband not to have a vasectomy. She, too, had been at the previous class and realized the sinfulness of this decision.
It just so happened that I had a three audiotape series by Scott and Kimberly Hahn, in my van, entitled Life Giving Love. I gave her the set and told her to do everything in her power to get her husband to listen to it. I then asked her to have her husband telephone me. I assured her that I would not rehash the entire matter, and that I only wanted to tell her husband two things. She agreed.
A few days later, her husband called me. I explained that approximately 40% of my store’s customers are men and as a result I have heard many intimate stories of conversion. I have also had many men share their spiritual journeys and problems. More often than not, if you would come in on a Saturday about noon you will find a few guys sharing a pizza and speaking about some Scripture passage or aspect of Catholic theology.
Over the years I have spoken with seven men who told me that they had been sterilized by having vasectomies. Another told me that his wife had a tubal ligation for birth control purposes after delivering their last child. Each of these men said the same thing in almost the same words, “Now when I make love to my wife, I can’t get close enough to her, something is missing.” I explained that by being voluntarily sterilized these men destroyed the unitive aspect of the marital act. The marital act is designed by God to bring two people together in the most intimate way imaginable. When we kick God out of the marriage bed, we destroy this unity. Finally, I told him of studies which show that many voluntarily sterilized men lose their virility ten to fifteen years earlier than normal. I don’t know which statement convinced him, but the following week his wife told me that he had cancelled the appointment.
Many of the couples began asking where they could get instruction on Natural Family Planning.
Looking back on this experience I came to the realization that it was God’s providence that I was asked that question that evening. I drove home with a smile on my face praying that God would bless the faithfulness of the family with five sons and present them with a little baby girl.
Those people who decided to continue along with the class had made the decision that they wanted to live the Catholic life. During the next eight months lives were changed, some dramatically. For many, Mass and the sacraments took on an entirely new meaning. God’s house became a house of prayer.
At the end of the course Father Timothy spoke to them about sharing what they had learned and he had the help of many new teachers the following year.
© 2004 – Victor R. Claveau
Part or all of this article may be reproduced without obtaining permission as long as the author is cited.
"A well-spent life is the only
passport to heaven."
-Pope Leo XIII