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A Retired Nun Challenges My Manhood

Last Monday I received a telephone call from a retired nun who reads my articles every week.  I’ve known this particular nun for over 20 years.  Even though she’s “retired,” she works harder than most people who are half her age.  She’s a very holy and humble woman who cares greatly about the Catholic Church and the current state of humanity. 

She told me she had read last week’s article, A Punk Kid & The Student Teacher. She opened the conversation with, “Harry, I read your article yesterday and I have one question for you.  Why is contraception wrong?”  I’m not sure she realized it, but when she asked the question, she emphasized the word “why.”

I was caught off-guard.  My immediate thought was, “Why would she ask me to explain to her why contraception is wrong?  She already knows the answer to that question.”

I reactively responded by asking my own question: “You want to know why contraception is wrong?”  Without hesitation, she said, “Yes.  In your article you talked about how contraception is a grave sin, but you didn’t explain why it’s a sin.  Why is contraception wrong?”  She again emphasized the word “why.”

About half way through our conversation, I realized she wanted me to write an article explaining the reasons why the practice of contraceptive birth control has always been a mortal sin.  She felt that if I took the time to explain the reasons, people who practice birth control might have a change of heart and start abiding by God’s laws concerning contraception.

I told her that even if I were able to answer the “why” question, very few people would be willing to change their beliefs – beliefs that were etched into their hearts and minds during their formative years.  I went on to point out that it is my belief that the gift of procreation (which allows humans to share in the creation of another human being) is a mystery that cannot be fully explained.  My question for her was, “If procreation can’t be fully explained, how am I ever going to be able to explain why something that is contrary to procreation is wrong?”

She wasn’t willing to let me off the hook.  She still insisted that I make an effort to explain why the practice of contraception is a grave sin.  She felt that there wasn’t enough good information available to explain why contraception is forbidden by God.  She implied that it was my responsibility to step up to the plate and help fill the void.

We wrapped up our conversation talking about the efforts that were made by Pope Paul VI (Humanae Vitae) and Pope John Paul II (Theology of the Body) to explain why contraception is wrong.  We agreed that those efforts were only the beginning of a hard long battle to educate Catholics (and the world) about the destructive nature of contraception.  I thanked her for sharing her thoughts with me and told her I would think about what she said.

Later in the day while I was driving down Knoxville Avenue in Peoria, the following thought popped into my head:

There’s no way I can adequately explain why contraception is wrong.  Who does she think I am?  When did it become my job to do the heavy lifting for the Catholic Church? This is a job for an Aquinas or an Augustine.  Where are the intellectual giants in the Catholic Church when you need them?

Then it hit me.  The Catholic intellectual giant that God chose to give us the answers was never born because his intended mother either aborted him or defied the Natural Law by practicing contraceptive birth control.

As I slowed down to stop for a red light at the intersection of Knoxville and McClure, I thought of what my dad used to tell me when I was growing up: “Stop thinking about it and get to work!

So that’s what I did.

Since I had told the nun that I thought the gift of procreation was a mystery, I looked up the word “mystery” in Fr. John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary.  Fr. Hardon provided different (but similar) definitions for the words “mystery” and “strict mystery.”  He defined a strict mystery as follows:

A revealed truth that so far exceeds the capacity of a created intellect that its full meaning cannot be comprehended except by God alone.  Yet strict mysteries, such as the Trinity and the Incarnation, can be partially understood, with varying degrees of insight, depending on God’s grace or the believer’s own effort and experience.

After reading Fr. Hardon’s definition of a strict mystery, I decided I would do my best to offer my own “varying degrees of insight” about the practice of contraception.

My mom told me once that I didn’t start talking until I was 2 years old.  She said that when I finally got around to talking, I followed her around the house every day and constantly asked questions.  The question I asked most frequently was a one word question: “Why?”  She told me that there were many evenings when she was mentally exhausted from answering all of my questions throughout the day.

The word “why” can be a double-edged sword.  An individual can gain great knowledge and insight by using the word to ask probing questions that can be answered.  But there are times when a question that starts with the word “why” shouldn’t be asked at all.  If the question is asked, it will only invite disappointment and despair.  One example of what I’m talking about is: “Why did my cousin die from a staph infection during the prime of his life, leaving a wife and 4 children behind to fend for themselves?”

I do believe that the “why” question concerning the sinful nature of contraception needs to be answered.  So here’s what I’m going to do.  I’ve mapped out 5 articles that I’m going to write over the next 5 weeks.  In the articles, I’m going to provide some of my own insights as to why contraception is a grave sin (which will be based on the teachings of the Catholic Church and my own personal knowledge and experience).  The titles of the articles will be: (1) The Unanswered Question; (2) A Reservoir of Love; (3) Honey Boys; (4) The End Game; and (5) Wolves At The Door.

Say a prayer for me.  This little project that the well-meaning “retired” nun asked me to undertake really is going to be a challenge.

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3 Responses to “A Retired Nun Challenges My Manhood”

  1. Sister Roberta Houlihan, CSJ Says:

    Dear Harry,
    Being one of those “Retired” Sisters [we aren’t Nuns – they are Cloistered], I smiled when I read the “Question” you were asked.
    I also needed to re-define “Retired”, which must mean changing a car tire, because, from experience, the definition is “changing to a different activity”!
    But I am writing this to assure you of my prayers as you write your Series for us to ponder……
    Blessings, Sister Roberta Houlihan

  2. Harry Says:

    Sister, thanks for your prayers. I didn’ t know there was a distinction between Sister and Nun. Are cloistered nuns ever referred to as Sister?

  3. Sister Roberta Houlihan, CSJ Says:

    Harry, I read your comment after my last one.
    To answer your question, Cloistered Nuns are usually named “Sister Mary” or “Sister Jane”, etc, but, the we would refer to her as a Nun, whose name is Sister Mary…
    Now I have a question for you… Do you have a separate email where you would be able to receive emails that are not part of the Perpetual Adoration channel? If you have one, and could send it to me I would put that one on my “Contacts List” of Friends and Relatives. Blessings! Sister Roberta

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