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The Iron Fortress

Every Christmas season, I sit down with my family and watch the movie, It’s A Wonderful Life. The movie is available on DVD and is regarded as one of the top 100 movies of all times.

When It’s A Wonderful Life was originally released in 1946, it was considered a box-office flop, because it failed to generate enough revenue to cover the total cost of production and promotion.  However, in the 1970s, network television started showing it every year during the Christmas season and shortly thereafter, it became a worldwide classic.

The main star in the movie was James (Jimmy) Stewart who played George Bailey, a young man who had big dreams for himself, but ended up running the local bank after his dad passed away unexpectedly.

In the movie, on one particular Christmas Eve, George is told by his Uncle Billy that several thousand dollars is missing from the bank.  A competitor of George’s bank finds out about the missing funds and calls in the government investigators.  Realizing that he is probably going to end up in jail as a result of the missing funds, George goes home and takes out his frustrations on his family.  He then goes to a local bar and gets drunk.  After getting in a fight at the bar, he gets in his car and crashes it into a tree on the side of the road.  He then walks down the street and onto a bridge.

While contemplating suicide, George mumbles that he’s worth more money dead than alive (because he has a $15,000 life insurance policy).  He then whispers a prayer asking God to help him.  At that moment, a man falls off the bridge and into the river, screaming for help.  George reactively jumps in and saves the man’s life.  Unbeknownst to George, the person he saved isn’t a man, but instead, is his guardian angel.

The angel identifies himself as Clarence and tells George that he’s George’s guardian angel.  George angrily responds that he doesn’t believe Clarence and tells Clarence that he wishes he had never been born.  To George’s surprise, Clarence tells him that his wish has been granted.  For the remainder of the movie, Clarence shows George how everything would have been if George had never existed.

As they walk through the town George grew up in (Bedford Falls), nothing is the same.  The town is now Pottersville, named after the mean, dishonest, greedy man who was George’s competitor.  Pottersville is made up of pawn shops and sleazy nightclubs, instead of the legitimate businesses that existed prior to George’s wish being granted.

Bailey Park, the large subdivision of family homes that George was responsible for developing, no longer exists.  When George finds his mother, she’s angry and bitter and doesn’t know who he is.  She slams the door in his face after he asks about his younger brother, Harry.  It turns out that Harry died as a young boy because George wasn’t there to save him after he fell into an icy cold lake.

George then discovers that his Uncle Billy was committed to an insane asylum, because George wasn’t there to give him a job and look after him.  George stops by the bar he was at prior to jumping into the River to save Clarence.  The owner of the bar, Martini, who was a good friend of George’s, doesn’t know who George is and ends up kicking him out of the bar.  None of George’s other friends know who he is.  He then seeks out and finds his wife, only to discover that she works at the local library and has never been married.  Consequently, the four children they had together never came into existence.

George finally breaks down and begs Clarence to allow him to live again.  His prayer is granted and he runs through the town, seeing that it has been restored back to Bedford Falls.  A bank examiner and a police officer are waiting at George’s house so they can arrest him when he comes home.  After he arrives home, his wife Mary, their children, and all of his friends come streaming into the house.  A telegram arrives from his good friend, Sam Wainwright, with an offer to loan him up to $25,000.  George’s brother Harry also arrives in a show of support for George.

Seeing the joy and friendship that surrounds George, the bank examiner tears up the warrant for George’s arrest and everyone breaks out into song.  George then acknowledges that he really does have a wonderful life.

If you want to see the truly devastating effects of contraception, you should watch this movie.  It shows in alarming detail how much of a void is created when a person who was destined for existence was never actually born into this world.

The problem that we humans have is that we aren’t capable of seeing the massive void that is created when we fail to bring a child God planned for us into the world.  We can, of course, see and experience the void that is created when one of our children dies, but when we reject a child by using contraception, we have no way of ever seeing and experiencing the damage that we have caused to ourselves, our loved ones, our Church, and our society.

In 1985, I interviewed my grandmother, Cecilia LaHood (Grandma Ceil) for an article I wanted to write about her life.  During the interview, Grandma told me that during the 1930s when she started having children, most of her Catholic friends were using contraception (condoms) to limit the size of their families.  She said that although she and my grandfather stayed faithful to the teachings of the Church (and subsequently had 6 children), most of her friends limited the size of their families to two or three children.

During the late 1960s, after riots broke out near Grandma’s house in the south end of Peoria, all of Grandma’s children pleaded with her to sell her house and move to a safer part of town.  At that time, Grandma’s youngest daughter Joy was a teenager and was living with Grandma.  The entire family was concerned about their safety.  Grandma refused to abandon the home she had shared with her husband.

After Grandma refused to move, her fourth child, Dick LaHood, purchased a house that was located in a safer neighborhood.  He then rounded up several family members and, despite Grandma’s objections, moved her and Joy to the newly purchased home.  Grandma wasn’t happy with the move, but she didn’t have a choice.  With Dick’s help, she rented out her house in the south end and used the rent money to pay Dick for the house he had purchased for her.

After Grandma passed away, I asked one of her daughters, Mary Ann Penn, how old she was when my grandfather, Harry LaHood, died.  My aunt told me that she was 12-years-old.  At the time of my grandfather’s death in 1957, Grandma still had 3 of her 6 children at home with her: Dick (17-years-old), Mary Ann (12-years-old), and Joy (5-years-old).  Grandma Ceil never remarried.

My Aunt Mary Ann told me that her bedroom was located next to Grandma’s bedroom and there were several nights when Mary Ann woke up in the middle of the night because she heard her mom sobbing in the next room.  Grandma was not aware that her 12-year-old daughter could hear her crying.  It was at that time that my aunt promised herself that she would do everything in her power to always take care of her mother and make her happy.

For as long as I can remember, it was Mary Ann who gave her mother the most attention.  Although Grandma was fiercely independent, Mary Ann insisted on doing certain things for her.  Grandma was very outspoken and liked to argue with her children.  She derived a certain amount of satisfaction from challenging and arguing with her adult children.  It was actually fun to watch, especially when Grandma argued with her sons.  Her sons (my uncles) would, at times, get irritated with her, but most of the time they teased her and egged her on.   There was nothing malicious between any of them – just a family of very passionate Lebanese men and women who liked to argue and tease each other.

The one exception among all of Grandma’s children was Mary Ann.  She exercised heroic patience and restraint when she dealt with her mother.  Of course, anyone who is familiar with my Aunt Mary Ann would immediately know what I’m talking about.  She is, and always has been, patient and kind with everyone she comes into contact with.

During the last few years of Grandma’s life, she needed around-the-clock care.  It was her fifth child, Mary Ann, who assumed the responsibility of taking care of her.  Mary Ann periodically scheduled meetings with her brothers and sisters to work out arrangements for their mother.  She was the one who made sure Grandma always had the care and treatment she needed.  It was as though she became a mother to her own mother.

Because of my grandparents’ refusal to practice contraception, God built an iron fortress around the both of them. Although my grandfather left this world in 1957, the fortress remained.  What was the fortress made of?  Immediately surrounding my grandmother were 6 iron-willed pillars (her children) all of whom loved her, prayed for her, and cared for her.  Around those 6 pillars were 45 grandchildren and over 100 great-grandchildren who also loved her and prayed for her.  Many of them also visited with her and helped her out in her later years.

What would have happened if Grandma decided to violate Church teachings and stopped having children after the birth of her first 2 or 3 children?  My Uncle Dick would have never been brought into existence and wouldn’t have been around to force his mother to move to a safer environment.  My Aunt Mary Ann wouldn’t have been around to care for and take care of her mother during the final years of her life.

For every married couple who is capable of having children, God has a plan that includes the building of an iron fortress around them.  Unfortunately, most couples terminate construction of the fortress only after it has been partially built, which deprives the couple of the love, security, and support they are going to need throughout their lives.  Those couples end up paying a heavy price (in suffering) in this world and the next for their defiance and refusal to follow God’s Divine Law concerning contraception.

Next week: Wolves At The Door

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One Response to “The Iron Fortress”

  1. Sister Roberta Houlihan, CSJ Says:

    Harry, I knew and loved Cecilia LaHood when she lived in the 1600 block of N. North St; we lived at 1707, both in St. Cecilia’s Parish. She worked at the Rectory. I didn’t meet Mary Ann [Penn] until I was counseling at AOL/SI and PNDHS. I loved being counselor for many Lebonese Families…LaHood’s and Penn’s included. Mary Ann is going to drive Sister Mary and me to LaHood’s in Washington for the noon Mass on St. Joseph’s Day – our mutual Feast Day. Just rec’d the card from Kris with Josie introducing Luke, her brother, to us. I told Mary Ann, by phone, that Josie is a mineature of herself!
    Thanks again for your written thoughts…
    Sister Roberta

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