When I was growing up, my oldest brother, Jerry, was everything a mother and father would want in a son: intelligent, gentle, and respectful. I never saw him argue with my mom or dad. Never. Not even once.
Except for the baby of the family (Tony), the remaining 8 boys weren’t very gentle or respectful. In fact, they were downright aggressive and defiant.
Over the years, my mom routinely prohibited us from watching certain television shows, three of which immediately come to mind: Batman, The Three Stooges, and All-Star Wrestling. Those three shows had two things in common: fighting and violence. Mom claimed that the shows had a “bad influence” on us, and caused us to become more aggressive and fight with each other.
We constantly argued with mom about her claim that certain television shows made us fight more. Her claim was an insult to our intelligence. What did she think we were, a bunch of mindless sheep who were hypnotized by what was being shown on television? We all thought her claim was preposterous.
Eventually, I came around to my mom’s way of thinking. On one occasion, one of my brothers threatened to hit one of my sisters over the head with a sledge hammer – something that was routinely done on The Three Stooges. On another occasion, while several of us were watching All-Star Wrestling, a big brawl broke out between me and three of my brothers. There we were in the middle of the family room beating on each other, oblivious to what was being shown on television. My mom came in the room, turned off the television set, and ordered us all to “go outside with the other animals!” It was a common occurrence for mom to send us outside to burn off our energy and aggression.
When I was a teenager, my younger brothers started calling me “honey boy.” The name came from a common expression that was used by my mom. Whenever she referred to one of her children in an endearing way, she used the word “honey.” My mom’s mother, Cecilia LaHood, also used that word as a term of endearment.
At one point, my younger brothers concluded that my mom referred to me as “honey” a lot more often than she referred to them as honeys. Over time, my brothers determined that there were three “honey boys” in the family – me, my oldest brother Jerry, and my youngest brother, Tony. I agreed with them that Jerry and Tony were honey boys because they received more favorable treatment from my mom. They actually deserved to be treated better because they never caused her any problems. To this day, my brothers still refer to me, Jerry, and Tony, as honey boys. (There weren’t any honey girls in the family; however, a couple of my sisters were sometimes referred to as my mom’s “favorite daughters.”)
With my mom coming from a family of 6 children, and my dad coming from a family of 8 children, their point of reference as to the definition of a “large” family would have most likely been 8 to 10 children. I can assure you that when mom got married at the age of 19 (dad was 21), she had no idea what God had in store for her. If anyone would have told her she was going to eventually give birth to 9 boys and 8 girls, she would have thought they were crazy.
I don’t want you to think I’m discounting my dad’s role in fathering and raising 17 children. I’m focusing on my mom because it’s the mother who carries the heaviest burden during a pregnancy, and it’s ordinarily the mother who has to sacrifice the most in raising children to adulthood.
At the time my parents were having children, the only approved methods of family planning for Catholics were complete abstinence and the Calendar-Rhythm Method. The Calendar-Rhythm Method was developed in 1930 by a Catholic physician (the same year latex condoms went into mass production). Prior to that, another doctor had discovered that women only ovulate once per menstrual cycle. It was also discovered that for most women, ovulation occurs approximately 14 days before the next menstrual period.
Based on that information, along with the fact that sperm can remain alive for up to five days in the right environment, and the ovum (egg) survives for no more than 24 hours, a formula was developed that allowed women to predict within a range of days when conception could occur. If the husband and wife abstained during the fertile days, they could avoid a pregnancy.
Unfortunately, the Calendar-Rhythm Method was only effective about 87% of the time, because approximately 13% of women did not have regular cycles every month. (As a side note, at that time, latex condoms also had a failure rate of around 13%). The mucus-only systems of Natural Family Planning (NFP), which include the Billings Method and the Creighton Model, along with the Sympto-Thermal Method of NFP (tracking morning temperature, mucus, and other symptoms), came later and did not gain popularity until the 1970s. (The Church teaches that the primary difference between NFP and contraception is that unlike contraception, NFP does not directly interfere with the procreative aspects of sexual intercourse.)
My mom was in the category of women who did not have regular (predictable) monthly cycles, so the Calendar-Rhythm Method did not work for her. If it would have worked, she would have been able to space her children farther apart. Although there’s a likelihood she would have had less children, I’m convinced that she still would have had a relatively large family. There was a point in time after my mom had several children that she completely surrendered herself to God’s plan for her and my dad. She believed that if God sent her another child, He would provide the means and the ability to raise that child. She was correct in her belief.
During the 1960s, my mom and dad could have found a Catholic priest who would have told them they had been “generous with God” and could, therefore, justifiably practice contraception. Within the Catholic Church in America, such priests were plentiful. At that time, several seminaries were teaching future priests that the Church was going to eventually relax its position on contraception and would most likely also remove the celibacy requirement for priests. Unfortunately, there are still plenty of priests who are willing to advise married couples that they are allowed to “follow their conscience” when it comes to contraception. Those priests are acting in direct defiance of Church teachings and will pay a heavy price in eternity for leading couples away from the Church.
There is a hard reality concerning contraception that very few people are aware of. When a husband and wife practice contraceptive birth control, they completely break off their relationship with God. In the eyes of God, contraception is viewed as more damaging to a marriage than adultery.
The one behavioral activity that can easily destroy a marriage is when one spouse commits adultery against the other spouse. Why is an act of sexual intercourse with someone other than a spouse wrong? Is it because of a deeply held belief that sexual intercourse is only reserved for married couples? Who, other than the Church, says that? Is adultery wrong because the spouse who was cheated on can clearly visualize the other spouse “making love” to another person? Most of us accept the fact that an act of adultery is a violation of the vows the husband and wife made to each other on their wedding day. But what about the vow that was made to God on their wedding day that they would always adhere to the teachings of the Catholic Church?
You know adultery is inherently wrong. If you’re a Catholic, you also know that contraception is wrong and that it is considered a grave (mortal) sin by the Church. In the eyes of God, contraception is more damaging to a marriage than an act of adultery, because it completely cuts God off from the creative process that was built-into the marital act of sexual intercourse. Every time a husband and wife use contraception, it’s as though they flash God with their middle fingers. Contraception is the ultimate act of defiance against our Creator.
There’s one more point I want to make before I close. For the married couple who abides by the teachings of the Church and welcomes each new child as a gift from God, the conception of a new child acts as a renewal of the marital vows and sets a marriage on fire all over again. Whether a couple realizes it or not, the conception and birth of a new child renews their original promise that they will always stay together as man and wife. Their openness to new life is an acknowledgment that they will always be there for their child – not just for the 18 to 24 years that it takes to raise the child, but for life.
For my mom and dad, every time they had a new “honey boy” (or a favorite daughter), they not only made a new lifetime commitment to each other, but the flame that was present immediately after they were married was reignited all over again.
Next Week: The End Game