Finding Truth and Peace this Lent

By Susan E. Wills


March 4, 2011

When it comes to sins against human life or chastity, there is today a profound darkening of conscience. American culture also promotes a moral relativism that prevents us from seeing sins for what they are. Just last week, I encountered written material from three Catholics illustrating this trend:

In a paper on the ethics of contraception, a Catholic college student wrote that she believes the Church does not take very seriously its objection to contraceptive use, so she doesn’t either. She has never heard it mentioned in a homily, nor been told of the teaching (except dismissively) in years of Catholic schooling.

A co-chair of a parish-based program gave the impression she is considering being sterilized. On a popular blog for “urban moms,” she asked if other women could share their positive experiences with a particular method of permanent sterilization.

Another Catholic woman wrote of her experiences going through multiple harrowing cycles of egg extraction and in vitro fertilization (IVF), in her effort to create children genetically related to herself and her husband.

Many Catholics experiencing fertility problems have resorted to IVF to create a child, and many consider IVF to be “pro-life” simply because it may bring a new baby into the world. Few are aware that, in addition to the moral problems related to IVF, the vast majority of the embryonic children created through reproductive technologies are discarded or otherwise die in the process.

As adults we cannot claim that the Church’s moral truths are unavailable to us. The Catechism teaches that the moral law is inscribed in our hearts by God, and that we have a duty to educate and form our conscience so that we can make good judgments and act morally (See CCC, 1776-1794). It has never been easier to access the wisdom of the Church on issues of life and chastity—the writings of popes, bishops, and good moral theologians are only a Google search away.

But recognizing that an act is sinful is just the first step toward reconciliation. We must also repent of our action, and that usually entails dropping our excuses or rationalizations for the wrong we commit. How many parents, faced with a diagnosis of genetic problems in their unborn child, have succumbed to the advice of doctors and loved ones to end the child’s life to “prevent the child’s suffering”?

How many parents of pregnant teens thought they were doing the right thing by insisting their daughter have an abortion so she wouldn’t be “burdened” while finishing her education? God wants to restore our peace and pour out his healing grace on us in confession, but the rationalizations and excuses have to go.

Parish priests should be uniquely qualified to inspire deep conversion and reconciliation among their parishioners. They can foster an understanding of Church teachings on life and chastity—the basis for an authentic and comprehensive examination of conscience—through homilies, and through bulletin inserts and announcements citing good articles on these teachings. By preaching on God’s desire to forgive our sins and renew us in his grace, and offering extra hours of sacramental reconciliation each week, priests can overcome the obstacles of fear and “inconvenience” that keep people away from confession.

With these few steps, all of us in the parish can be encouraged to make peace with our past and more worthily observe Holy Week and Easter this year.

Mrs. Wills is the former assistant director for education and outreach, USCCB Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities. For more information on the bishops’ pro-life activities, visit