bright dawn of the new world, Mother of all the living, to you do
we entrust the cause of Life.
O Mother, upon the vast numbers of babies
not allowed to be born, of the
poor whose lives are made difficult, of men and
women who are victims of brutal violence, of the
elderly and sick killed by indifference or out of misguided mercy.
all who believe in your Son may proclaim the Gospel
of Life with honesty and love to the people of our times. Obtain for
them the grace to accept that Gospel as a gift ever new, the joy of
celebrating it with gratitude throughout their lives, and the
courage to bear witness to it resolutely in order to build, together
with all people of good will, a
civilization of truth and love, to the praise and glory of God, the
Creator and lover of life.
Paul II, closing prayer Evangelium Vitae, Solemnity
of the Annunciation 1995.
Today in America a battle rages between the forces of life and death. Pro-life advocates are fiercely defending life against the evils of abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, divorce and homosexual "marriage."
The blatant disregard for the sanctity of life has unforeseen consequences, including increases in random school shootings, promiscuity and child abuse. The coarsening of our sensibilities results in more brazen movies, television, music and dress.
How can parents protect their children from this dulling, deadening culture? A youngster, from infancy through the teen years, needs to grow up in a positive, nurturing atmosphere. They must be allowed to become the persons they were created to be. For many, homeschooling is a life-affirming solution. For others, it is a necessary measure to avoid having their children stolen from them morally, spiritually, and religiously.
Homeschooling parents usually keep a close eye on books, TV, movies, music and dress. Wholesome is in; profane is out. They realize that negative, destructive forces need to be controlled or eliminated.
This does not mean that a homeschooled child can't have fun! The average homeschooler is enrolled in 5 or more activities (sports, volunteering, art, music, politics, dance, debate, theater, etc.) with 98% engaged in at least two or more, according to Dr. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institue.
Individual, natural abilities are also taken into account. The child educated at home is valued for himself. His talents are strengthened through coursework and extra-curricular projects. If a child is adept at English or math, he doesn't have to waste time on easy drills. He can move ahead and enjoy more in-depth enrichment projects.
Or, let's say he is interested in swimming. He can participate in daily practice and weekend meets without any harm to his education. Class and study times can be flexible in homeschooling.
On the other hand, if a youngster struggles in a certain subject, more time and effort can be devoted to helping him stay abreast. If math or reading is a problem, the parent can slow the pace until lessons are thoroughly understood. This can help avoid the need for remedial work later on.
It is a well-known fact that the child who is home educated does well academically. This, in turn, is reflected by test scores.
In an independent study of over 20,000 homeschooled youth, Dr. Lawrence M. Rudner of the University of Maryland found that the "average/median homeschool students outperform at least 70-80 percent of their conventionally schooled peers in all subjects and at all grade levels. Studies show the longer a student is homeschooled the higher his scores become."
Not surprisingly, colleges and universities have taken notice and many actively recruit home taught high schoolers.
The homeschooled student can be introduced to the best of the best. He makes friends with Shakespeare, da Vinci, Aristotle, Aquinas, Chesterton, Bach, Bernini, Milton and more of the greats. He learns to appreciate truth and beauty.
He can also freely learn and express his faith. Many parents who teach their children take pains to carefully instruct their children in their religious beliefs. God is always welcome in the homeschooler's home. In many families, He is the King!
That's just not possible in public schools. I recall talking about the life issue with a high school teacher who is a devout Catholic. He freely admitted, "There are certain things I can't say here. After all, when I'm here, I am an agent of the state."
When I heard that, a chill went down my spine. As a homeschool parent, I am free to encourage my children's noblest aspirations, a freedom that teacher doesn't have.
I find it touching to watch a small child draw a picture of Jesus fishing with his apostles without fear of ridicule or embarassment. A homeschooled child is allowed--in fact, encouraged-to talk about his guardian angel, make up a song
a Biblical hero, weave a crown for the Blessed Mother with pipe cleaners, re-enact the visit of the Three Kings, or hold and caress the baby Jesus. Try that in public school!
Careful attention is given to character formation. The youngster is expected to develop the virtues and lead an honorable life. He can ignore Madonna, Brad, 50 Cent and Bonds. There are more interesting and relevant role models.
People who struggled with problems and set-backs, yet ultimately soared to great heights through determination, courage, humility, and sheer hard work...Augustine...Dickens...Helen Keller...St. John Vianney...Lincoln...Rosa Parks...St. Peter! (How many times did he goof? Yet his is one of the most recognizable names in history!)
The very talented who had smoother paths also set examples of responsibility, kindness, self-sacrifice and humility... Aquinas... Washington... Florence Nightingale... Michelangelo... Edison... Robert Louis Stevenson... St. Therese of Lisieux.
Parents who are with their offspring constantly can closely monitor them. When they do well, confirmation and praise are immediate. If there is a problem, the youngster is promptly corrected. This prevents problems from creeping in and taking hold.
He also receives support and encouragement from like-minded youngsters. Although he has a variety of acquaintances, he primarily socializes with and forms friendships with other homeschool children.
He gets the messages--It is cool to study. It is cool to be kind. It is cool to help little sister climb on the playground. It is cool to pray.
Children and teens who are taught at home understand and affirm the sanctity of life. They are well-prepared to engage in the struggle to advance the cause of life. That's why homeschooling is an ideal antidote to the culture of death, and a shining light for the future.
Anna Marie Barvick is an enterprising Catholic wife, mother, homeschooler, and developing website producer all rolled into one. She has her own homeschooling website at her place.
Natural Family Planning:
A Better Way?
By Robert Flaherty
“This is a time when couples must work together to renew our understanding of Christian teaching on love and marriage and to share that with our children and grandchildren in terms they can understand.”
The speaker was Dr. Leonie Watson, MD, an expert in natural family planning, who is a graduate of Georgetown University Medical School and a certified fertility care medical consultant. She is also New Jersey’s leading advocate of the natural procreative technology method developed by Dr. Thomas Hilgers at Creighton University Medical School.
According to Dr. Watson, “NaPro -- as it is called -- is highly effective and eliminates the need for couples to resort to artificial contraception or the Pill.”
“There is never any reason why anyone has to take birth control pills," says Dr. Watson. "If you request an alternative to oral contraceptives from your doctor, and he says there is no alternative, get in touch with me and I will explain the alternative to you or to your doctor.”
She adds that the same thing applies to couples seeking help for infertility through in vitro fertilization. “There are alternatives that greatly reduce the risks to both mother and baby.”
She admits that natural family planning message is difficult to “sell” to young people in an age when they get their information about love and marriage from TV, movies, and sex education classes in school -- hardly sources that emphasize the unselfish giving of couples to one another in Christian marriage.
She is often challenged, “Come on, Dr. Watson, get back to the real world.”
The reality is that many otherwise well-informed people have little knowledge of the latest developments in natural family planning that are in keeping with their beliefs.
The result, says Watson, is that “they get very little of the authentic, beautiful teaching about Christian marriage, and the churches are labeled as ‘out of touch with reality.’ In fact, it is by living according to our most deeply held beliefs that we attain happiness and security for ourselves and our children.”
She says, “The fact is that NaPro is just as scientific as the technology for artificial contraception, but it cooperates with the natural functioning of a woman’s body. It doesn’t prevent conception. And it doesn’t ever destroy the newly formed human baby, the embryo or fetus in the womb.”
The approach requires teaching and followup along with medical consultation, and it can be used throughout a woman’s reproductive years to monitor, maintain and evaluate her procreative and gynecologic health.
The program has two aspects:
1. The education phase called Fertilicare “teaches responsible parenthood for achieving or avoiding pregnancy, timing conception, pregnancy evaluation, as well as instruction in aspects of our sexuality beyond the physical -- including the spiritual and psychological.” Says Dr. Watson, “Marriages will be stronger if couples are aware of the spiritual, intellectual, communicative, creative and emotional aspects of their relationship. The goal is to improve marital bonding which is at the core of healthier, happier, and holier family living.”
2. The second aspect comes into play when women experience difficulties such as irregular cycles, infertility, recurrent miscarriage, ovarian cysts, unusual bleeding, premenstrual syndrome, or even the effects of stress.
“The NaPro system is tailor-made for each patient and her needs. It is medically safe, reliable, relatively inexpensive, natural and cooperative. It respects the dignity of women and men as equal partners in the marital relationship. It also fosters improved communication between them, which results in a fuller, richer life together.”
Contrary to popular opinion, birth control pills “don’t really cure anything,” asserts Dr. Watson. “They change normal function to abnormal. Even if the patient’s function is abnormal, they don’t fix it. They simply alter the hormone balance to something definitely abnormal.”
Essentially, they are synthetic hormones which replace the normal estrogen and progesterone that is made by a woman’s body. A woman releases a mature egg from her ovary once each month. Birth control pills prevent that normal process from happening.
Yet doctors now use the Pill for a variety of reasons, from regulating a woman’s cycle to treating ovulation problems, cramps and even acne. “But they never restore normal function,” Watson says.
What is often lost in the process is the beautiful concept of marriage as a sacrament. The movement toward same sex marriage is a reflection of this.
“Our culture is saturated with the ideas of self-gratification, sexual pleasure, and a 50-50 approach to marriage. Marriage is seen as a contract, rather than as a spiritual covenant between a man, a woman, and God.”
As a result, we experience such consequences as these:
Children are often seen as commodities, symbols of achievement to be acquired at our convenience, as long as they don’t threaten us financially.
Fidelity has little significance. We become intimate before marriage, often without commitment and with more than one partner.
We all know the statistics. Divorce, abortion, STDs, abuse, and unhappiness in marriage are nearly as common among religious families as among the general population. The very idea of marriage is being deconstructed so that society no longer sees it as something unique and holy, but as no different from any other relationship -- including some that are its polar opposites or which can be renegotiated or discarded at will.
Dr. Watson says married couples need to ask themselves: “Do religious beliefs have any relevance in our current world or are we going to submit our most intimate relationships to a purely utilitarian, secular standard?”
She left no doubt about her belief that it is up to married people themselves to carry the message to young couples -- who care about one another, and who want the best for themselves and their children -- that natural family planning is the better way.
Meanwhile, support for natural family planning is growing.
In New Jersey, for example, three-session courses for couples are currently being offered at St. Clare's Hospital, Denville, NJ. For information, call 973-890-9008. For information about FertilityCare call 973-361-4808. To learn more about the Couple to Couple League, call 973-838-3731. Or for information about becoming an NFP instructor, call Marie Ryan, family life consultant for the Paterson Diocese, at 973-777-1818, ext 264.
“Mom, did you ever think . . . about not having me?”
The question, coming from her 14-year-old daughter Angie as they drove to school, hit my friend Betty like a cold wet wash rag on a chilly morning. It was a question she had hoped would never come up, but it was not altogether unexpected.
Jessica, a 15-year-old friend of Angie’s had recently become pregnant, and Jessica’s mother was pressuring her to have an abortion, so the topic had come up several times as Jessica’s drama wore on.
Then the unexpected happened. Jessica rebelled against her mother’s insistence and decided that an abortion was something she would later regret. She is now being counseled at a local pregnancy center, and her boyfriend’s parents have generously offered to adopt.
Meanwhile, Angie was trying to fit some pieces together about her own life, and that was the real reason for her question.
She knew Betty had been a single mother at 25, and that her birth father was no longer in their life. In fact, she had only seen him twice before Betty married Matt four years ago when Angie was ten.
Life before Betty married had been a real struggle. Their clothes had come from thrift shops, the toys from friends and relatives, and they lived where the rent was cheap. But Angie had never heard the whole story about the circumstances of her birth.
“Well, Mom, did you?” Angie was insistent on an answer.
“Not for a minute,” Betty said, but she had to admit that it wasn’t easy. There were days of struggling with her doubts and fears, and lots of worrying about whether she could manage the responsibilities of being a mother. Somehow, she’d found the courage and confidence to “wing it”.
The hard part was sharing that Angie’s father’s reaction to the news was to show up the next day with a wad of cash. He pulled some big bills out of his wallet and announced: “Come on, let’s go to the clinic and get this taken care of.”
They had been dating for six months and had discussed marriage, but he came on like a stranger with urgent business to get out of the way.
“I’m having the baby,” she said.
His parting words were: “You do what you want, but as far as I’m concerned you’re on your own.”
After Angie was born, Betty tried to get child support, but dropped the idea when he threatened to seek custody. His family could afford a high-priced lawyer, so that was a fight Betty feared she might lose. Clearly, she was on her own. Angie was six before he even asked to see her. Then he waited two more years to visit her again. That was it.
When Betty married Matt, he quickly became Angie’s “real“ Dad. He accepted her as if he’d been her father all along. They have since become a family with few regrets.
As Betty’s car pulled up to the high school, Angie leaned over to give her mother a kiss. “I’m so glad you’re my Mom,” she said.
“And I’m so glad that I have you,” Betty said. “I wouldn’t have missed this, not for anything.”
Experiences like this are more and more common in a society where abortion has become an epidemic, totaling over 45 million in the last 32 years. Few stop to think about the missing kids because you can’t see them, but the impact of abortion on the “survivors” – the kids who later find out that family members or friends applied pressure to have them aborted – is something we can no longer afford to ignore.
The emotional and spiritual scars that arise from this realization are so far unplumbed, but the cases we’ve seen suggest that they are serious.
Abortion is a dirty little secret that doesn’t always stay conveniently hidden.
At a recent “Celebrate Life” seminar held by The Movement for a Better America, two young people came forward on their own to share that they had recently learned that their fathers had wanted them aborted. One divorced his wife because she refused to abort, and the other ended the relationship for the same reason. If not for miracles of grace, both women might have succumbed to the pressure to abort.
One of the survivors tearfully commented, “Suddenly I realized why I have had such a difficult relationship with my absent father for all these years.” It clearly had a deep emotional impact on him.
In other cases, the experience can be deeply moving in other ways – underscoring the opportunities for healing and reconciliation that often follow in the wake of an imminent abortion experience. The reality is that God writes straight with crooked lives in so many lives – like Beverly and Eileen who became close friends after four years together in college.
When Eileen died suddenly at the age of 40, Beverly rubbed her eyes in grief and disbelief even as the organ music began to play at the funeral. Surely, the shock soon would wear off and the awful reality would go away. But it didn’t.
For the past 15 years, Eileen had always been there for her, listening to her problems and sharing her joys. Beverly often jokingly expressed the hope that they would become old ladies together. Now Eileen was no longer a phone call away.
Sitting next to her, her 10 year-old son Jason sniffed away his tears, for he, too, had come to love Eileen. Beverly pulled him closer as she remembered that, if not for Eileen, Jason might not have been born. If it were not for her patience and understanding, Beverly might very well have had an abortion, rather than having this “bonus baby” at 45.
“I’m pregnant and I’m not going to have it,” Beverly had grimly told Eileen that afternoon years ago. “I’m too old to be a mother.”
Eileen looked out the patio door and pointed to their two five-year-old girls playing together: Beverly’s Amy and Eileen’s Carrie. “Remember? You said you were too old five years ago, when you first brought Amy over. She has changed a lot, but you don’t look a day older.”
“I’m feeling my age, especially when I creak out of bed in the morning,” Beverly said. “I haven’t told Bob yet. This has to be my decision. I just can’t do it again.”
Eileen’s deep brown eyes peered so intently into her own that they seemed to touch her soul. “Look, she said, “we’ve got all the time you need to talk. I’ll listen and try to understand, but I warn you that I’ll do my best to help you change your mind.”
Then she laughed, her eyes sparkling. “I’ll even offer you a deal. I’ll be your babysitter for free until he or she is ready for school. I promise I won’t let you feel old and worn out. What could be better than that?”
“You’d really do that?”
“In a heartbeat,” Eileen answered. “This kid will be special, I’m sure. Just look out the window and picture Amy holding a little brother or sister, sharing what she’s learned about the world.”
Over the next few days, her fears dissipated and Beverly could imagine a new baby becoming a welcome addition to the family. She knew that Amy would love being a big sister. Maybe 45 wasn’t too old.
When Jason was born, Eileen held him for the first time in the hospital room. Neither Beverly or Jason would ever forget this wonderful friend who helped welcome him into the world, took care of him whenever asked, and let him know early and often how special he was.
Beverly certainly never wants Jason to have any reason to doubt that he’d been treasured from the start. Thanks to Eileen, he was.
But she still has to struggle with the realization that her friend is gone. In her place, she has a son who will forever remind her of the best friend she ever had.
Margaret M. Howard is a freelance writer from Kansas City, Mo. If you have a similar first person experience to share about marriage and parenthood, please contact us via email. firstname.lastname@example.org
Telling Children About the 'A' Word
By Eileen Hart
As a pro-life parent, how do I tell my children about abortion?
I have four small daughters, age two to twelve. I would love to keep them innocent as long as possible. But they happen to have a mother who is becoming more involved in the pro-life movement each passing year.
What do I tell them when I am going to picket outside an abortion clinic?
How do I tell them about the frequent seminars that Mommy is helping to run where teens hear first hand from a woman who has had an abortion or from a former abortionist who confronts the teens with the truth that abortion is another word for murder.
As a stay-at-home mom, my kids' lives and mine are very much intertwined. When their mother is missing for most of a Sunday afternoon, they can’t help wondering: “Where is Mommy?”
It is a very challenging situation to be in. I don’t want to frighten my kids, because, let’s face it, abortion is a gruesome business.
However, I don’t want to sugar coat it, because I feel that my childrens’ spirit and consciences are being formed now, and I would like them to grow up to become young women who value life.
I believe that children can understand the life issue. It is all in how we present it to them.
My oldest started asking questions after she started learning how to read. One day she was helping me as I printed out material for the “Celebrate Life” seminars I help lead for The Movement for a Better America.
As she helped, she began reading the printouts, and suddenly wanted to know what an abortion was.
The first time she did this, she caught me unprepared. How do you explain abortion to a child without upsetting her?
After much thought and prayer, I decided the best thing to do was to tell her that unfortunately there were babies in this world who didn’t get a chance to be born.
She didn’t ask any further questions about how that exactly happened. It was all she needed to know at the time.
My approach, at this point, is to use any opportunity placed before me as an opportunity to talk about life in terms even the youngest can understand.
When we had an unwelcome critter in our kitchen, my children’s first reaction was to stomp on it and kill it. It wasn’t welcome, so why not kill it?
I have since shown them, that we can remove the spider or ant from the house without killing it by simply putting it on a napkin or in a jar and releasing it outside.
I remind them, we don’t have to kill living things just because they happen to be unwelcome. We can continue to let them live, away from us if need be.
I try to teach them respect for our turtle and our fish. I teach them not to pull leaves off branches because they are bored. These are all living things that need our respect.
I like to think that learning to reverence all life as a gift from God will hopefully carry over to all areas of their life.
While I was pregnant with my third child, the older two would watch a video “Before You Were Born,” which showed a living baby in the womb. It was done in a very beautiful way, and it was a great visual for them which confirmed that “Yes, that is a real human baby inside of Mommy. Yes, there is another life inside Mommy, even if we can’t see it.”
I do not believe in exploiting my children or any children to promote a cause. I wouldn’t bring them with me to picket an abortion clinic, but, my husband and I do bring them with us when we march with pro-life friends in local parades.
We march carrying roses (the symbol for the unborn), and they enjoy these events like any other parade. A prayer vigil for the unborn in church would also be something my two oldest would certainly understand and absorb.
I also want to encourage my children to stand up against causes that are unjust, and to bear witness for their own deepest beliefs. I want them to realize that you cannot be silent when something wrong is going on.
But I want to make sure they learn to do that in a loving and peaceful way, in much the same way as Jesus spoke to us when he shared his parables.
One of the last prayers we say together as a family at night is:
“We pray for all the unborn babies - that they get a chance to be born.”
My children have accepted this prayer and say it with childlike fervor. They even now discuss as they get older what they may have been doing in heaven with God while they were waiting to be born themselves.
This tells me that they are starting to realize that they were special to God before they were even conceived (though they don’t use those terms). Thus, they are drawing the connection between themselves and the babies that we are praying for. And if they are special, then these other children that we are praying for are also special.
My hope and prayer for them is that they will always believe that human life is precious and that unborn children should always get a chance to be born. In time, they will grow up and go out to meet the world. I want them to be able to do so on God’s terms, not the world’s.
Eileen Hart is one of today's very ordinary heroes, a full-time mother who doesn't hesitate to share her pro-life witness with others. She lives with her husband Bill and their four children in a small town in New Jersey. If you have a similar experience to share, please contact us at: email@example.com
"We must rear our youngsters in a positive, wholesome, faith-filled atmosphere that encourages the development of nobility, responsibility, courage and discipline," says Anna Marie Barvick in her terrific homeschool-living website . . . It's well worth a visit.