Catholic mom of 8: Large families are called to be a visible ‘sign of contradiction’
ROME, May 23, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – “Fifty years of silence” on Humanae Vitae has been “catastrophic” declared a young mother as she received an Award for her heroic commitment to human life.
Sarah Ward, mother of eight, described to members of the newly formed John Paul II Academy for Human Life and the Family, gathered in Rome from around the world, how reading Humanae Vitae after the birth of her second child changed the course of her life. The May 21 Academy conference, titled Human Life, the Family, and the Splendor of Truth: Gifts of God, was on the topic of two crucial encyclicals of the Church, Humanae Vitae and Veritatis Splendor.
“It was … a turning point in my life; the moment when the scales fell from my eyes,” said Ward. “I now had a hunger to learn more about the Catholic faith, and to follow the trail of beautiful divine logic that I had seen in Humanae Vitae.”
Ward explained how despite attending Catholic schools and going through marriage preparation, she had never encountered the Church’s teaching found in Humanae Vitae.
“Just to illustrate how shocked I was, I actually in my naivety wrote a letter to our bishop to ask him how come I had never heard any of this,” she added.
Ward and her husband have found that having a large family often provokes disapproval, even from fellow Catholics. It is “amongst the mainstream Catholic community that I’ve felt the most hostility.”
“I try to remember that all encounters are an opportunity to evangelize and show people a different way of living; a way of living that is extraordinary in our current culture, but that needn’t be extraordinary, and indeed was very ordinary fifty years ago.”
Ward is happy her marriage and family stand out. Catholics, living according to their faith, are not supposed to blend in with the crowd. “Being a visible sign of contradiction is probably the most obvious way in which we witness to Humanae Vitae.”
“I do understand that many priests feel that as celibates, it is not their place to speak on this issue but they must,” she said. “Just as men must have a voice in the abortion debate, priests also should have a voice on the subject of the transmission of human life.”
“The future of humanity depends on it,” she added.
LifeSiteNews is pleased to provide the full text of Sarah Ward’s testimony below:
Testimony by Sarah Ward
At "Human Life, the Family, and the Splendor of Truth: Gifts of God" conference
May 21, 2018
I’m married to Tom and we have eight children alive, and two in heaven.
I’d like to tell you about the first time I heard of Humanae Vitae and how it changed my life. It was six weeks after the birth of my second baby. I had been to the doctors for my postpartum checkup, and the doctor asked me what I was intending to do about contraception. I didn’t know, so that evening I raised the subject with my husband. It’s a conversation that I can recall vividly.
Speaking very softly, and with great gentleness, my husband dropped a bombshell. He told me about the Church’s position on family planning, and he explained some of the ethical problems with the various forms of contraception.
This was news to me, because I had no idea, and I was extremely shocked.
Just to illustrate how shocked I was, I actually in my naivety wrote a letter to our bishop to ask him how come I had never heard any of this, despite being educated at Catholic schools and going through the preparation courses for all the sacraments, including Catholic marriage preparation.
The bishop sent me a three page reply which acknowledged that contraception is a subject that doesn’t get spoken of very often, and that was all the letter said, really, in its three pages.
So my husband went on to tell me about Humanae Vitae and shortly afterwards I read it for myself. This was the first papal document I had ever read. It was very short and simple, and what I read in it was very surprising.
For the first time in my life, I saw logic. And it was beautiful. It totally made sense to me, like something written on my heart.
With hindsight, I can see that this was a moment of sacramental grace in our marriage. My husband spoke with all the right words, and I had the ears to listen to him.
But it was also a turning point in my life -- the moment when the scales fell from my eyes. I now had a hunger to learn more about the Catholic faith, and to follow the trail of beautiful divine logic that I had seen in Humanae Vitae.
I then discovered that this logic was the backbone of the teachings of the Church.
My husband also gave me a copy of the catechism at that point to have a look at, and again, it was something I had never heard of.
I could not believe there was actually a manual for how to be a Catholic.
From here on, I fully embraced the Catholic faith, and also my vocation to marriage and motherhood. Prior to this, I had been adamant that I did not want to be a stay at home mother.
But Humanae Vitae gave me a new understanding of living in accordance with God’s will, and a new vocabulary with which to express myself.
I now had a heightened sense of my own God given dignity, as a unique individual, as a woman, and as a mother. And in our marriage I could say we were free and responsible collaborators with God the Creator; that we could be open to new life, and open to God’s plan for marriage and for our family.
We were living away from our families at this time, but immediately God placed people in my path that would help me understand more about the Church’s teachings on marriage and family. These included a group of Billings teachers, members of the pro-life movement, and a young Catholic family with five children.
This was the first large and average family I had ever encountered, and their joie de vivre was contagious.
I’m certain that it was no coincidence that about this time I discovered the traditional Latin Mass and the rosary, which were essential nourishment for my vocation.
As each beautiful new child arrived, I learned in a very real way that our love was not further divided, but it was multiplied, like God’s love for us.
Then in our sixth year of marriage, we learned that being open to new life and open to God’s plan also means being open to suffering and to death; being open to all the full drama of human life.
Our fifth baby miscarried at fourteen weeks, and we were both devastated. But we found God in our suffering, and our young children were moved to ask us questions about where the baby had gone, which led to unexpected opportunities to transmit the faith to them and to pray together.
Sadly we went on to lose another baby in 2014, with near fatal consequences for me.
As our family has grown, so too have the sacrifices required of us. Life is very busy, and often physically tiring, and I’m sure the practical realities and difficulties of having a large family will be known to many of you. And modern life is expensive, especially for a single income family in an economy that is geared toward smaller families with two household incomes.
My dream of having a sporty little car is a distant dream of a different woman. Our ten-seater minibus, on the other hand, is a very physical sign of contradiction in our current culture.
Being a visible sign of contradiction is probably the most obvious way in which we witness to Humanae Vitae.
We obviously look different to other people, to other families. This often causes looks, and sometimes, comments. On the whole, these comments are positive and born out of curiosity. I often find that women are very quick to tell me that they would’ve liked to have had more children but didn’t.
Occasionally though, people can be very rude and feel at liberty to ask us crude and personal questions.
I try to remember that all encounters are an opportunity to evangelize and show people a different way of living; a way of living that is extraordinary in our current culture, but that needn’t be extraordinary, and indeed was very ordinary fifty years ago.
Sadly, but perhaps not surprisingly, it is amongst the mainstream Catholic community that I’ve felt the most hostility.
In UK parishes, our family stands out a mile. Negative comments to me have included: “Oh no, not another one!” and “Don’t you want to do something of economic value with your life?”
And most hurtfully from one Catholic: “You are perpetuating an historic stereotype of Catholics as an ignorant underclass that breed like rabbits.”
I’m also sorry to say that I’ve experienced hostility from some priests.
That said, there are some supportive clergy out there with their feet on the ground, and I’ve only met a handful that have the necessary formation, experience, and above all, willingness to help married couples to live their vocation.
We all know that fifty years of silence on this subject has been catastrophic. But for those couples who are living Humanae Vitae, there is a real need for spiritual direction and for support. For example, many couples would benefit from spiritual direction to help them to discern the great reasons for using NFP. This is something not very well known amongst couples.
I do understand that many priests feel that as celibates, it is not their place to speak on this issue but they must.
Just as men must have a voice in the abortion debate, priests also should have a voice on the subject of the transmission of human life. The future of humanity depends on it.
As I approach the end of my childbearing years, I realize that it has been an isolating experience. Social media has been a real godsend, though, and many Catholics have found it an invaluable way of connecting.
In the U.K. we have a very vibrant online Catholic mothers’ group that I’m part of. I’m very pleased to say, that through it, I’ve encountered many young Catholic women who are just starting out on their journey in motherhood and they display a new vigor and a real determination to really practice the faith in accordance with the Church’s teachings, and to rebuild a civilization of love. They are a great sign of hope for the future.
Well that is my testimony, and with the help and example of Mary our heavenly mother, I will keep on going.