Just pick up the newspaper or turn on the Television to the News Broadcast. The News headlines are dominated day in and day out by death. All you hear about is murder, suicide, abortion, partial birth abortion, snuffing out the lives of innocent children and dead babies left for t-ash in garbage bins. What is our society, our nation, our world coming to? Death seems to be talked about more than life itself. Our society, with its loss of respect for human life at every level from the womb to the tomb, seems to be promoting a culture of death. Even society's thinking on assisted artificial reproductive technologies "turn away from the moral conception of children". (Dr. John Haas Columbia Magazine, "St. Gerard Majella Champion of Unborn", Vol LXXXI, pg 12, No.5.)
What is the end result of an emphasis on a culture of death instead promoting a culture of life at every level? Picture this ". ..A living fully formed child in utero is manipulated into a breech position and delivered feet tint, except for his or her head. The child is held in this position while the abortionist punctures the child's skull with scissors, opens the scissors to enlarge the hole, and removes the baby's brains. The now dead baby is then delivered the last few inches" (At The Crossroads, U. S. C. C. 1996).
What about doctors who can legally give a lethal injection to the terminally ill made vulnerable by illness in order to 'assist' their suicides? (At the Crossroads, United States Catholic Conference, 1996).
In His Encyclical, the Gospel of Life, Pope John Paul II reminds us clearly about the great dilemma we are facing. "... We are facing an enormous and dramatic clash between good and evil, death and life 'the culture of death' and the 'culture of life.' We find ourselves not only 'faced with' but necessarily 'in the midst of' this conflict: we are all involved and we all share in it, with the inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro life." (No. 28)
"What can we do to build a culture of life? We can make sure we fully understand the church's teaching about the sacredness of every human life. We can spread this understanding in our families and in the public square." (At the Crossroads, U .S.C.C., 1996)
I know as a priest who works in a parish setting and with a ministry that focuses on the Sanctity of Human Life especially with couples during their child bearing years, I try to do my part to teach the sanctity of human life at every level in particular with the unborn child in the womb. So many married couples praying to conceive are devastated when they learn from their doctor or fertility specialist that it is impossible for them to have a child.
Before I get a. opportunity to sit and talk with them, many have already gone the route of secular society's thinking by experimenting with assisted reproductive technologies and medicine and most of them have no great success. If they have not already explored that avenue, I steer them in the realm of the real specialist to see. But first let me say something about these medical procedures and assisted technologies. In any case, I try my best to move an couples in the right direction.
Did you know that "20% to 50% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage"? Only in the past few years has the church's teaching concerning respect for human remains been applied to miscarried babies. Parents should be given the opportunity to acknowledge their child's life and mourn its death. Elizabeth Ministry has certainly helped priests, parishes and dioceses develop ways to aid parishioners who have suffered pre-term loss. Then there are those couples who are infertile. "Ten to fifteen of all American couples are infertile.
Yes, infertility affects all aspects of their lives. They believe they have let their spouse and families down. They feel they are truly being "denied in helping further the species". They feel like a failure and are embarrassed. This leads to depression and even sometimes suicide. In pursuing their dream of bringing children into the world they either grow apart or grow together strengthening their relationship.
In desperation, many couples turn to reproductive technologies, that are procedures designed to assist couples in having children. These involve artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, surrogate parenting, embryo selection and intracytoplasmic sperm injection to name a few. However, even though these procedures might make conception of childbirth technically possible, they are not ethically good. They turn away from the moral teaching of the church and "the moral conception of children".
The Church's teaching is clear, "...Every child has an equal and natural right to be conceived in the act of marital love which is a natural sacrament. This guarantees the basis of an intimate interpersonal relationship with the parents." (Donald McCarthy "Critical Sexual Issues pg.198)
In vitro Fertilization introduces further ethical liabilities beyond Artificial Insemination subjecting human embryos to unjustifiable experimentation and in some cases, to their deliberate destruction if malformed" (Ibid 195)
Further, in 1987 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued an Instruction on Respect for Human Life and dignity of Procreation. "... The document praised scientific efforts to assist the authentic conjugal act of a couple to result in a pregnancy. It also warned, however that any attempt to cause a pregnancy entirely without the authentic conjugal act being substantially its cause would be an offense against sexuality itself as well as the right of a child to be conceived out of married love and the sexual act while the Creator himself designed to express love." (Ibid pg. 202)
This document surprised a lot of married couples and Catholics. They are wondering "if medical science makes it possible, why is it considered illicit?"
May I remind them of what the magisterum has made clear, "...that according to God's design the unitive and procreative ends of the conjugal act are inseparable."
We must follow the principle that "...not all that is technically possible is ethically good."
Regarding stem cell research, the Church makes it clear that it does not oppose all stem cell research, only that which involved the destruction of human embryos. "...In each case a human embryo, is a living being in its earliest stages or formation" and if it is "intentionally destroyed for the sake of scientific experimentation it is wrong." (Our Sunday Visitor, "What the Church Teaches, Stem Cell Research" 2001)
All of these procedures of reproductive technology go against the teaching of the Church. She defines them as "unethical and unquestionably immoral".
Saint Gerard Majella CSsR
When I counsel couples, the first thing I ask them to do is lay aside all those artificial reproductive technologies that are not in conformity with the Church's teaching and then I proceed to introduce them to the real specialist to see! He is an 18th century Saint from Italy who has a special love and devotion, a predilection for Mothers and their Unborn Children. This special predilection reaches into the 21st century where many have come to realize that placing their hopes in modern medical procedures and assisted technologies is not the true road to take. There is a mystery about Gerardo Majella or Gerard Majella as be is called here in the United States. He was born in an obscure Italian town nearly three centuries ago yet people know him and speak of him as though he were a close friend living next door. He was a young Redemptorist brother who died at the age of twenty nine. Yet his presence and prayer is felt in homes and hospitals from London to Los Angeles and from Munich to Melbourne. Wherever there is a baby in danger, a mother in need, a child who is sick, a family forlorn, the prayer of St. Gerard may be heard." (Michael McGreeney, CSsR, Liguori Publication, "Gerard Majella The Mothers Saint", 1994, Pi. 2)
Yes, St. Gerard is the true specialist to see. I ask couples to make a good confession, of which St. Gerard is the patron of, and then place their trust in him. They begin by praying the Novena and keeping the blessed Handkerchief nearby. It is his spiritual trademark. St. Gerard proves to be a tireless defender of pro life causes since he lived and breathed the Gospel of Life everyday of his earthly existence.
Recently our Bishop, Bishop William Lori said that "St. Gerard is truly a saint for our times - times of turbulence for the Church, times when the family is under assault, times when innocent human life is threatened in so many ways." Now more than ever before our society, our world needs a heavenly champion to promote Christian family values and the culture of life, especially where Mothers and their unborn children are concerned. He is really a saint for our times. There is such an unprecedented number of miracles that have to do with this saint on behalf of mothers in danger of losing their child. Women testified that he is known as the Saint of Happy Childbirth.
Some doctors have said that psychology, stress relief and the power of hope is an important connection for couples. They have said that the Mass in Honor of St. Gerard can be very helpful. "Couples hopes are often founded on this devotion." And yet, I must admit, that for some couples even after practicing these devotions they did not conceive for whatever reasons known to God alone. However, the majority were helped through the powerful intercession of St. Gerard. Interestingly, one doctor, a fertility specialist, stated that "...in all treatment situations couples need hope which is based on faith. That faith (he said) could be God, Religion etc. but that faith will help them cope with their stress which is very real."
It's all part of God's mysterious plan, that there is such an unprecedented number of miracles that concern St. Gerard on behalf of mothers in danger of losing their child or protecting mothers and their unborn children.
In every period of the Church's history, almighty God raises up outstanding men and women who shine because of their holiness and He focuses on them as the particular Saint to counteract a vice with a virtue. Today, God is: training His spotlight on St. Gerard to wipe out the scourge of abortion, partial birth abortion and the lack of respect for human life at every level.
"St. Gerard, a wonder worker, known for helping couples with infertility problems is fast becoming a Catholic counter point to the culture of death's promotion of artificial reproductive technologies." (Joseph Pronechen, Columbia Magazine, St. Gerard Majella, Champion of Unborn Life, Vol. LXXXI, No.5, pg. 12)
I wish to conclude with one women's statement about the St. Gerard Mass. "After having suffered three miscarriages and since having a child after a complicated pregnancy; it's comforting to know there's a Saint who understands this. With the Mass (the annual St. Gerard Mass in May) we had a place to turn to St. Gerard. It gave us a sense of peace and tremendous hope. It lifted the burden of miscarriage off our shoulders. We are hoping St. Gerard can help us and keep whispering our name to God."
For more information on the Annual St. Gerard Mass in May call: Sacred Heart Church in Stamford, CT at (203) 324-9544 (Fr. Tom Nicastro) or write to him at Rev. Thomas D. Nicastro, Jr., St. Gerard Family Life/Respect Life League, 37 Schuyler Avenue, Stamford, CT 06902 or call the National Shrine of St. Gerard at St. Lucy's Church in Newark, NJ at (973) 482-6663.
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