Letters 10.23.11

Vanum et Vanitas

Melinda Selmys writes very insightful essays that make me think and delve into my heart’s recesses; however, I think that she might have displayed a touch of vanity herself while writing about the pervasiveness of vanity in her “Life in the Global Theater” (In Depth, Sept. 25).

For the sake of correctness, I feel compelled by my vanity to point out that vanus is not the Latin version of the noun “vanity.” Vanus is not a noun, but an adjective of the first group of Latin adjectives (vanus nominative masculine singular, vana feminine nominative singular, vanum neuter nominative singular). It means empty, void.

There are two Latin nouns that render the English noun “vanity:” vanum, which conveys the idea of uselessness, inconsistency, of something done in vain, and vanitas, vanitatis, vanity per se, which is found numerous times in the Vulgata version of the Bible translated by St. Jerome (some 17 times in Ecclesiastes alone!)

Father Dino Vanin

Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions

Detroit, Michigan

The Pill’s Hold on Women

The Sept. 25 letter writer stated: “I don’t understand why so many Catholics use artificial birth control, when free, safe, proven, effective natural family planning (NFP) has been so readily available since the 1970s and is so easy to use” (“NFP, Not the Pill”).

I ignored the June 5 article: “Contraception Crisis: Guttmacher Finds Many Catholic Women Use Birth Control.” I lived through the era when the pill was introduced to women. The year our oldest daughter was baptized in 1978, there were 41 baptisms in a parish of approximately 500 parishioners. We all had large families. Then after the pill was released, the number of baptisms decreased. It did not take a rocket scientist to figure out that Catholic women, as well as non-Catholic women, were taking the pill.

I am a nurse and worked at a local hospital in the 1970s. I assisted in the delivery room. After women delivered their second child, and if they now had a boy and a girl, they went on the pill. The wife and husband would decide that they had enough children.

Maybe they had a third child if the first two children were either both boys or girls. The pill assured them that they didn’t have to worry about an “unwanted” pregnancy. The side effects were not uppermost in their minds — fear of another pregnancy was.

No one seems to understand what the fear of getting pregnant means to a woman and how much stress that it puts on her. I had six children in eight and a half years. I nearly succumbed to depression after my fourth child was born.

Pregnancy takes a lot out of the woman; her health is compromised.

I cried many times when my period was late; however, with God’s help and an understanding husband, I was able to survive with my sanity intact. We had two more children, and I was a stay-at-home mother. I went to work when our youngest was in kindergarten.

Yes, I believe in NFP. I know the dangers of the pill to women who take it. Even though taking the pill is a contraceptive method forbidden by the Catholic Church, there has not been a decrease in those receiving Communion each Sunday.

So, to answer the letter writer’s opening statement, I didn’t need Guttmacher to tell me that Catholic women were taking the pill.

Marlene Zachman

Albertville, Minnesota

Justification for NFP

Terry Hornback’s letter (“NFP, Not the Pill,” Sept. 25), commenting on “Contraceptive Crisis” (June 5), recommends natural family planning (NFP) as a suitable alternative to contraception, but implies that it’s a solution for all married couples.

However, in the same encyclical in which he forbade contraception, Pope Paul VI specified limitations on the justification for NFP.

In Humanae Vitae (10), he spoke of “grave reasons,” and in Paragraph 16, of “serious motives ... which derive from the physical or psychological conditions of husband and wife or from external conditions.”

In other words, NFP is for out-of-the-ordinary situations, not a universal cure-all for all couples — certainly not the pair who wish to marry now and start a family sometime later. It’s a fallback position that may be resorted to when necessary by couples who are living out the vocation of parenthood.

Marriage training should put positive emphasis on the expectation of having children, not on seeking a moral means to avoid them.

Don Murray

New York, New York

The Earth is Not Our Mother

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.”—G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy