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
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.
Susan Wills is assistant director for education and outreach, USCCB
Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities. For more information on the
bishops’ pro-life activities, visit www.usccb.org/prolife.