40 years ago this upcoming Thursday May 14, the Parliament of Canada betrayed the unborn to the false god of abortion.
It happened because the Catholic Church in Canada, its hierarchy and lay Catholics were already in the tank on the issue of contraception.
Throughout these past 40 years, there’s been a lot of talk and lots of political action against abortion by Catholic leaders. Nothing’s changed. These past forty years have produced lots of paper and ink against abortion, but it hasn’t moved the issue towards the pro-life side one single inch.
“Without me”, the Lord says, “you can do nothing.” And so it has been these past 40 years because we have not let the entire Gospel of Life transform us. Being pro-life is more than being against abortion. It’s being for sex…as God has ordained it. That means no rubbers, pills, vasectomies or other mutilations and distortions of the sexual organs. But until we “get it” and conform our message to the entire Gospel of Life, we are just wasting our time.
Until the pro-life movement clearly understands that contraception must be attacked head on if we are ever to make a dent in abortion, we’ll be in the desert another 40 years. We should not deceive ourselves into thinking that we can defeat abortion without also defeating contraception. The “no” of contraception in the sexual act invariably leads to abortion. The stats show it. Common sense acknowledges it. We should clue into it.
May 14 is also a special date for me personally. Back in 2006, The Rosarium sponsored the Humanae Vitae Conference which sought to expose the consequences of contraception and the highlight the beauty of natural conjugal love. The conference took place between May 12-14. It ended on Mother’s Day, May 14, 2006, three years to the day that the March for Life will occur marking the 40th year of abortion in Canada.
Below is an article that I wrote about my experiences with the Conference. It has not been published (for any extended time) until now.
Spiritual Reflections on “Humane Vitae 2006 – A New Beginning”
by John Pacheco
Six Thousand Dollars. Writing the words on the cheque was painful. I was planning to use the money for a new air conditioner (one that actually worked), and the rest of it for a decent family vacation for Lara and the girls – one we had not enjoyed in years. I was all for fighting the culture of death, just us as long as the fight remained mostly in theory and did not exact any significant downward pressure on my bank account. To paraphrase St. Augustine, “Lord make me a martyr for the faith, just don’t touch my wallet.”
With just over two weeks remaining before the “Humanae Vitae 2006 – A New Beginning”, my partner, Tony, and I were facing about a $20,000 deficit. The support – and consequently, the numbers we were hoping for – were well below our goal. We were hoping to fill the 1,800 capacity seats at Landsdowne Park in Ottawa with at least 1000 people, but instead we were staring at about 150 registrants with no reasonable expectation of a significantly higher turnout. I knew it was going to be a challenge promoting a conference on the errors and evils of contraception because, let’s face it, it has the same appeal as being accidentally invited to a conference on the latest advances in dental technology. Still, I was expecting more support from key groups and individuals which, sadly, never materialized. Our modest promotion efforts were not particularly effective, either. In retrospect, it should not have been all that surprising. Indeed, how can a culture which all but uses condoms for earplugs in discussing traditional moral sexuality be open to discussing contraception? After all, wasn’t contraception the best thing since the invention of the automobile?
As I sat there looking at the cheque in my hands, while ruefully realizing that I would likely not recover my contribution for the foreseeable future (if ever), I closed my eyes and asked God, “Is this really necessary? Why can’t you ask somebody else who can shell out this kind of money without it hurting?” I knew the answer, of course, but sometimes we need to hear God tell us the answer in rather personal and intimate ways. When the doorbell rang, I was about to receive my answer.Tony had arrived to pick up the cheque. As he stepped inside the doorway, I greeted him, but instead of his regular jovial disposition, I could see that he was more serious than usual and had a mild anxiousness about him. He dispensed with the typical small chat that typically begin conversations and got right down to business:
“John, have you been experiencing any headaches lately?”, he asked.
“Well, uh, not really…” I responded somewhat puzzled by the question. But no sooner had the words rolled off my lips had I recalled what I experienced the night before.
“Wait a minute, Tony”, I continued, “it’s funny that you should mention that because last night I did, in fact, have an intense migraine which lasted a very short time. Why do you ask?”
“Diane said that during her prayer time last night she felt someone or some people having headaches. She sometimes experiences other people’s pain”, Tony explained.
He explained to me that they had no idea of who it might be, but because of the nature of our conference and the spiritual battle playing out, he naturally would ask me first since I was helping him organize the conference. Somewhat shaken at his explanation, I went on to share with him more details of the previous evening’s experience.
Typically, my activism requires forays into the early hours of the morning because of family responsibilities. The previous night was no exception. Just past midnight, I had finished the night’s work in planning for the conference. Turning from the computer and lying down on the adjacent bed, I began a Novena to the Blessed Mother for the success of the conference. (This particular Novena, called “Our Lady Undoer of Knots” (www.maryundoerofknots.com), was suggested to me by a friend, and after hearing its main promoter speak about the power of the Novena a few days before, I felt inspired to petition our the Blessed Mother through it.) As I pulled out the booklet and rosary to begin the Novena (whose ninth day would conclude with the first day of the Conference (May 12), I began to feel a slight headache. Not thinking much of it at the time, I tried to ignore it and continue with the Novena. But the headache did not dissipate. It just kept getting stronger and stronger. As I continued to pray the headache intensified to the point that I was beginning to lose consciousness. I kept praying. Just when I was certain that I would blackout, however, the migraine began to subside as quickly as it came on. Afterwards, I had come to the conclusion that it was likely due to fatigue, although there were some troubling and unanswered questions: why had this never happened before and why did the migraine intensify and retreat so quickly – perhaps lasting only ninety seconds from beginning to end?
My impressions of the previous night changed when Tony’s question put my experience in perspective. This migraine was likely no mere consequence of fatigue but a brazen attack against me, personally, and the Conference. Tony’s question about my headache – something he had absolutely no prior knowledge of – served to remind me that no sacrifice, even ones we consider large or small by our own standards, is wasted. At times, because we see no result for our sacrifices and only darkness seems to surround us, there is a temptation to despair and to think our efforts and sacrifices are in vain. I would have never given the migraine a second thought until Tony’s question helped focus in on the spiritual battle that most of us are too often unaware. Needless to say, handing over the cheque to him took on a whole new meaning! Each night I would struggle to pray the Novena. Prayer had always been a struggle for me. Nine straight days of prolonged prayer was comparatively Herculean, but I managed to get through the first eight days without too much difficulty, notwithstanding the first bizarre night of spiritual disturbances. On the ninth day, however, something else happened. I had just finished my final preparations for the conference. It was around 3AM and in six hours I would be giving my opening remarks at the podium. I shut down the computer and started to make my way up the stairs to go to bed. Placing one foot on the first step, I grimaced and bowed my head. The final day of the Novena! O God help me; I can’t do this. I am exhausted. But I need to finish this Novena. I need all the help I can get. Another one of my past cocky outbursts raced through my mind: “You have plenty of time to sleep when you’re dead.”I stumbled over to the family sanctuary, knelt down and began to pray the Novena. I struggled mightily to concentrate and not fall asleep. As I was beginning to nod off in the middle of the rosary some where, suddenly I began to become aware of cursing, swearing, and blaspheming. I say that I became only cognizant of these voices because I cannot honestly say that I heard them – only that someone was letting me know that this was going on. It immediately shook me out of my slumber. At first I thought it was a dream, but now being fully conscious, the voices became louder and more pronounced and violent. Now fully awake, I concentrated on finishing the Rosary and the voices began to abate. I wasn’t so sleepy any more. Something big just happened in the spiritual realm. Some hold, something had been broken. This was the message I was getting. And the only thing relevant to being “broken” would have to do with the subject of the Novena, surely. Could it really be? Had the spiritual hold of contraception over our country been broken? Or, maybe not broken, but there was definitely an end to something and perhaps beginning of something else. The whole thing was patently ridiculous. An obscure, sparsely attended conference is going to take down contraception? Yah right. I wanted to forget the whole experience but I couldn’t. Sudden migraines, voices in my head, and other strange occurrences. Either I was going crazy or I was in the thick of it.
There is a difference, we must acknowledge, between living by Christian principles on the one hand and walking with Christ on the other hand. It is the difference between milk and hard liquor. They are completely different beverages. The former is safe, rather comfortable, and lukewarm. The latter is dangerous and unpredictable. But this is precisely what Jesus meant when He said that He came to give us life to the full. A life full of adventure, danger, and drama await us in the spiritual life, and it is accessible to all of the faithful. But Jesus needs our co-operation. When God asks us for the sacrifice, it is not unlike that account in the Gospels where Jesus asks his disciples to fetch the donkey for his triumphant entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.
Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They replied, “The Lord needs it.” (Luke 19:32-34)
The Lord needs it. How simple, yet profound. No need for a long sermon or theological discourse. The Lord needs it. That’s it. That’s all you need to know. And our response to Our Lord’s request to use the resources He has entrusted to us will be equally as simple, too: either yes or no.
As the days counted down to the conference the spiritual battle raged in my mind and soul. Should we cut back? We had a contract to with Lansdowne Park Salons whose capacity seated 1800 people. We needed about 1100 to breakeven and we had about 150 registered. I knew we weren’t even going to be close. This thing was going to tank, and I would likely be paying a visit to my banker to take out a second mortgage on my home to cover the shortfall. Pulling the plug at this late stage, however, was not a wise move. Most of the expenses had been either committed or incurred. Best to bite the bullet, I thought, and pray that God pulls off some kind of miracle. The only potential cut back was the Sacred Music Society orchestra which was scheduled to perform on Sunday May 14, Mother’s Day. But even that potential cut back was not really an option. Some weeks before when debating whether to include the music concert, I had initially rejected the idea because of the cost, but no sooner had I nixed the idea than I got an immediate and unmistakable response: “I want you to do this concert for my Mother.” Huh? “You must be joking”, I thought. I’m looking at a major deficit and I have to foot this bill too? OK, Lord, whatever you say. What’s another couple of thousand dollars any way? It’s only money. Let’s go for it. I reminded myself of what I was so eager to share with everyone else: “You only live once. Make it count.”As I struggled with the situation, I began to realize that, in some parallel fashion, my struggle was essentially the same as those who give into contraception. The struggle, I came to understand, was fear. Fear of the future. Fear of financial loss. Fear of sacrifice. Fear that sacrifice has no meaning. I began to understand that I was facing the same battle in its substance that the culture at large faces when it resorts to contraception. The disordered nature of contraception would never be a natural option unless it was first under girded by a culture built on fear. This is precisely the reason John Paul the Great kept uttering his famous line: “Be Not Afraid”. He was light years ahead of us in putting his finger on the current cultural malaise. It certainly was a culture of death. But death has no staying power where fear has not long since been established.
My home parish of St. Maurice has a pilgrim statue of Our Lady of Fatima. The statue travels from home to home among St. Maurice parishioners. It is well known for the wonderful graces, which (through the power of God) it bestows on those families who house the statue for its allotted two-week stay. The volunteers who were helping prepare the stage for the Conference thought it would be a good idea to have the statue at the base of the speaker’s podium.On the feast of Our Lady of Fatima (Sat. May 13), the second day of the conference, when all of the scheduled speakers had given their talks for the day, the volunteers began to prepare the stage for the scheduled evening mass. I took the opportunity of this lull in the action to spend a little time with my three daughters and talk with them. (I have since been blessed with a fourth daughter, Sophia Elizabeth Gianna Pacheco, born July 13, 2006). My youngest daughter at the time, Tonya, who had just passed her second birthday, was enjoying the music and dancing directly in front of the stage (and the statue). She was having so much fun I decided to joined her. After having left for a few moments to finalize some last minute details in preparation for the mass, I returned to my seat. I noticed that my wife had a rather amused look on her face. She approached me and remarked: “John, do you know that Tonya came up to me and said? She said: ‘Mommy, mommy, Mary talking!!!’ She said it three times.”In other words, our little one was claiming that the statue was talking to her. Now children of two years of age are neither prone to lying, nor are their imaginations sufficiently formed to make such statements three consecutive times – at least, that had not been my experience with two year-olds – at least not my two-year old. After the mass, people had noticed this sparkling dust all over a table which was being used to collect the prayers of conference participants. Normally, this would not be a particularly strange event, except this dust was appearing in various places around the conference and some of the places were all but impossible to reach. Lara and I also began to notice this dust at our home in very unlikely places, weeks after the conference’s conclusion. I shook my head and thought to myself, “when I write about this stuff, people are going to think I’m a kook. Then again, who am I kidding? If I am a kook, let it be for Christ. Besides, like I care what the world thinks of me. I’ll just let ‘er rip and let the cards fall where they may.”
Evangelization is usually a direct, voluntary affair between the evangelizer and the evangelized. Other times, however, evangelization happens when the evangelized have no choice in the matter. During the course of the conference, we were required, much to my financial chagrin, to hire security guards as part of our contract in order to ensure that the expensive electronic equipment we had rented would be secure. When the Conference’s first speaker, Fr. Joe Hattie from Nova Scotia, began his talk on the priest’s role in counseling couples against contraception, my wife was seated near the back of the auditorium where, just a few rows behind her on the bleachers, two of the security guards were seated. Needless to say that, although the talk was excellent from a moral, spiritual, and pastoral perspective, it was, unsurprisingly, not well received by our unsympathetic male and female security guards. My wife had remarked to me how she had noticed the smirks and the chuckles. You know the kind I’m sure: “What prudes! Are these people for real?!” Considering all of the sexual propaganda these young people have had pumped into them from our school system, media, and culture at large, their reactions were not at all surprising. Where the god of sterile sex is sovereign and brooks no dissent, the moral message being conveyed was some kind of sick joke. But the truth won’t be mocked in any generation. If people refuse to listen to revelation, reason, conscience or legitimate moral authority, the truth will call on nature to enforce submission. After Fr. Hattie’s talk had concluded, Dr. Maria Kraw and Dr. Julia Cataudella, two young, Catholic, female medical doctors from the University of Toronto, stood up and gave a two hour presentation on the medical consequences of contraception. The evidence and methodological approach of their presentation was most impressive from a medical perspective. In fact, it was devastating to the culture of meaningless sex. The objective physical and psychological toll that contraception played on men and women was enormous. As our two young, hip, Catholic lady doctors spilled the beans on contraception and systematically destroyed the medical foundations of the pill and other contraceptive devices, my wife was curious to see if the two security guards were exhibiting the same air of smugness which arose during Fr. Joe’s talk. Well, not surprisingly, the smirks had been wiped off of their faces. The gentleman was listening with a countenance of general disappointment at the potential loss of useless sex if this information ever got out, and our lady security guard was, understandably, rather riveted and nervous. Contraception, she was finding out, was not the apple pie that our culture makes it out to be. And she was hardly going to get this message from the local health unit or the medical establishment. She was finding out that the big lie of contraception costs. It costs a great deal, and that cost is largely borne on the backs of women. Whether, after three days of cold, hard facts about contraception made any long lasting impact on our security guard friends, we will likely never know. One thing was for certain, however. Next time contraception was discussed in polite company, it was unlikely to be accompanied by smirks and grins.An Impact for the Generations Although the conference did not attract the hoped-for numbers, it is amazing to see what God can do with what we mortals do not consider a success. I wish to share but two remarkable examples of the fruit of the conference. One remarkable account comes from a couple who were considering sterilization before hearing about the Conference. A month before they had attended a concert at a local Church where Catholic recording artist, Mark Mallet, was performing. In the middle of his concert, Mark usually stops to preach a little bit on the Gospel and what the Lord lays on his heart. At this particular stop, Mark talked about the dangers and evils of contraception, mincing no words but simply explaining the Church’s teaching on the subject, charitably yet honestly. I had had the privilege of talking to Mark about this issue the day before, and had mentioned the upcoming Humane Vitae conference to be held the following month. During his witness during the concert, he mentioned the conference and this one particular couple decided to attend! So impressed with the speakers and the content of the talk, they immediately enrolled in an NFP program, and cancelled a scheduled vasectomy to take place on the following Wednesday! How many generations did this one particular decision impact? How many more children will come as a result of that decision and how many future marriages and grandchildren will that beget? God only knows, but as the saying goes, “if you save a life, you save the world entire.”In another account, I received the following email from a gentleman who attended the conference with his wife:
Hello, I just want to say that I loved the Human Vitae Conference. You say on your website that you were disappointed with the number of participants, but coming from spiritually-dead Quebec, I was actually pleasantly surprised to see a vibrant community made up of hundreds of proud, dedicated Catholics. And here’s the best part: I attended the conference with my fiancée, who didn’t really want to come. As a product of today’s anti-Christian, sex-obsessed Quebec culture, she had never heard of NFP, and had been told in public schools, like all other Quebeckers from my generation, that abstinence didn’t work, that it should never be tried, and that only condoms and the pill were acceptable. But – glory to God – something amazing happened: she was completely convinced by the intelligent, well-researched, common-sense arguments of Dr. Smith and of the other speakers, and now, she’s totally ready to give NFP a chance. As soon as we’re married, we’ll be looking for an NFP couple to teach us the basics. So thank you to your conference, one more person has joined the NFP family. I hope that this event will be held again next year, and I thank you for all the great work you put into it. No matter what the number of participants was, the conference has been a resounding success for my fiancée and me!
Not Just Any Joe
After the Conference, it became clear to us that while the Conference was well attended considering the subject matter and the lack of support we received (we ended up attracting approximately 300 participants throughout the weekend), it did not have the mass impact that we were hoping for. Of course, many lives were touched and attitudes changed, but as usual, our own expectations are not always in line with God’s plan. Because of this, sometimes we feel disappointed and at times betrayed, but, as is always the case, our loving Father always has a better plan. We must remember, however, that the timing is His timing and the means are His means. And, of course, the results turn out much better than we could have ever dreamed of.
A few weeks after the Conference, Tony received a call from pro-life hero Joe Scheidler, the National Director of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League. (Joe is almost a legend in American pro-life circles, being embroiled in a 21 year-old court case filed against him and other defendants by the National Organization for Women. He and his co-defendants eventually won the case, but not after taking the matter to the Supreme Court and losing his home in the meantime.)
Joe had phoned us to order the conference set of DVDs. He told Tony that he and others were watching the “News” Section of our website as we planned and coordinated the event, and were so inspired by our courage that his organization had finally decided to host their own conference on contraception. For years, he explained to Tony, they had hesitated to host such a conference because it might be divisive within the pro-life movement, especially among non-Catholics. In other words, the fear of losing support among some of their base was hampering their desire to make the complete truth on the attack on human life known. Our conference, he told Tony, was the final straw which helped them decide to host the conference. (To learn more about their “Contraception is not the Answer” conference, visit http://www.prolifeaction.org/cinta/)
How many “final straws” currently exist in the culture war today? Final straws which never do break the proverbial camel’s back because they are never played? Without doubt, the “Contraception is not the Answer” conference will also impact and change lives. And it will foster and breed more conferences and like events on contraception across North America and around the world. But for that to happen, risk and sacrifice must precede it. If we are not risking our comfort for Christ, what good are we to Him? If we won’t sacrifice, how can we expect conversion to occur? Is that not what the cross teaches us before all else? And yet the vast majority of professed Christians in the West today – Catholic or otherwise – pay lip service to Christ, refuse to sacrifice, and wring their hands with fear and worry because things don’t change.
You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me. (Matthew 15:7-8)
Things won’t change until the final straw is drawn, but the final straw won’t break the camel’s back until we make the necessary sacrifices to lift it up. Right now, there are many final straws and many camels’ backs with few people willing to lift a finger to move things along. And yet, if two average lay Catholic men and their wives can spark a movement across North America because they did something so basic and necessary as proclaiming the Church’s teaching on the transmission of human life, how much more we can do as a Church if the lip service stopped and the sacrifice started? This world and culture would change overnight. Guaranteed.
Some Closing Thoughts
Although the conference was not the success that is could have been or should have been, we had approximately 300 people over the course of the weekend attend the various talks. Three hundred people for a conference on contraception is not too shabby at all. Besides the perceptions that were changed and lives that were touched on that weekend, we have 12 inspirational talks on DVD and CD to spread around Canada and the world. And although Tony and I are still in debt, we don’t consider our contribution to be a waste but rather investment. We hear that our investment is in the hands of someone who generates returns on investment which are out of this world!
September 28, 2006
To order DVDs or CDs of the conference, please visit The Rosarium’s website at www.therosarium.ca.