About five years ago, I was part of a group teaching a “Back to Basics” class in our parish. The goal was to educate Catholics about the fundamentals of our faith, since so many of us received weak formation growing up.
My topic one night was contraception. I presented the biblical, historical and logical reasons for the Church’s teaching against contraception, and I also touched on the issues of IVF, human cloning, embryonic stem cell research, etc.
We had a lively discussion that night, the students were engaged, and I felt very good about the whole thing. I felt even better when a woman approached me after the class. She was energized and full of compliments. She thanked me for the explanations that I gave that night, and she told me that she had known in her gut that IVF was wrong. She went on to explain that she and her beloved sister had both struggled with infertility, and that her sister had ultimately turned to IVF to conceive her children.
“I tried to convince my sister not to do it, that it was against God’s law and Church teaching, but I didn’t have the right words,” she told me. “I am so happy that you are teaching about this! Thank you so much. People just don’t know, but we need to inform them. Nobody talks about this.”
In my excitement and pride, I basked in the afterglow of the “I-taught-a-good-class” high. Thank you, Lord, for using me tonight! I feel great! This woman understands the truth, and it is so good to be here together, of one mind, awestruck at the beauty of our faith!
Smiling, she continued: “Even though I also had infertility issues, my husband and I never considered IVF. We used artificial insemination to conceive our daughter. She is such a blessing! I am so grateful that we were able to conceive her in a way that didn’t go against our faith.”
My heart dropped. I was not prepared for that. I hadn’t mentioned artificial insemination in my talk.
I had about two seconds to decide what to do. I could let it go, but that wouldn’t be right. Not only would this lovely woman leave uninformed, but there were two or three students who had lingered and were listening. Or, I could tell her the truth, and then watch her happiness turn to… what? Anger? Indignation? Denial? Despair?
Quick prayer to the Holy Spirit, and then, with a softened voice and an apologetic look: “Oh…. I am so sorry to tell you this, but it is also wrong to conceive a child using artificial insemination.”
In an instant, the joy went out of her face, and she became very quiet….
I stumbled on a bit about the whys of it, was as gentle as I could be, assuring her that her daughter was a precious gift and was cherished by God and the Church no matter how she was conceived. The woman was very gracious, but I could tell that her mind was now troubled and that she wanted to be somewhere else. She thanked me again and she left.
I felt horrible, but I was looking forward to seeing her at the next class and getting a chance to talk to her again (she was a regular). Turns out, she never came back. We never spoke again.
A lot of things went through my mind, but primarily I was wondering if she had left the Church. I was saddened and disappointed at the possibility, but I eventually forgot about it.
Fast forward about a year or two. I am reading our diocesan newspaper and there is a feature story about IVF and related issues, several pages long. The article profiles Catholics who had undergone IVF treatments but have since come to understand and embrace Church teaching.
One segment profiled two sisters, both of whom had suffered from infertility. One had undergone IVF, and the other had been artificially inseminated. I looked at the large, full-color picture of the two smiling sisters with their precious children, and I recognized one of them as the woman from class!
The article filled in the rest of the story for me. In the interview, the woman said that she had gone home shaken from a doctrine class after she had learned that artificial insemination was wrong. However, she loved her faith and was prepared to defer to the Church. She later discussed all she had learned with her sister, and they both continued to study the issue. Ultimately, they both came to see the truth of Church teaching, and both women went to confession. They now educate others on the truth as often as they can.
The joy that both of them exuded in both the interview and the photo was simply awesome! I was relieved and elated!
The moral of the story?: Witnessing our faith to others is often uncomfortable and even cringe-worthy in this culture. Sometimes, we would prefer to crawl into a hole and die rather than speak an unpopular truth to a skeptical or hostile crowd. But if we stay silent, we will never know what good God might have brought about had we spoken. For every ten people who reject what the Church proposes, there may be one who is transformed. And there may be others who initially scoff, but who years later put the pieces together.
So, if you ever feel sick to your stomach or embarrassed to share a “hard saying” of our Catholic Faith (especially to fellow Catholics), please pray and push ahead anyway, speaking the truth in love. God is always ready to honor our feeble efforts!
I am thankful that God allowed me to see the fruit that eventually came from that awkward experience. Usually we don’t get such sweet consolation, but that’s okay, too. One of the charisms of Mother Angelica’s Poor Clares (or so I’ve heard) is that they are not permitted to know, until Heaven, the fruits of their prayers and offered sufferings. So even if the beneficiary of an answered prayer should write and thank them for a miracle, the superior would not let the nuns know. That blew me away when I heard it! Sacrifice with no immediate reward. That is true love.