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Thursday after Ash Wednesday

Thursday, February 23, 2012
Deut. 30:15-20, Ps. 1:1-4,6, Lk. 9:22-25

Lent is a time in the liturgical year especially associated with repentance. By repenting, we change our minds. We turn away from what is evil and we turn to what is good. Today's first reading presents rather starkly what is at stake. You have a choice. You can either choose life and good, or you can choose death and evil. Stated this way, it's pretty obvious which to go for – choose life and good. The difficulty is what this means in practice and actually having the strength to do it.

We're required to follow the Lord's commandments, His statutes and His ordinances, and as Catholics, we should turn to the Magisterium in order to know what these are. However, we now live in an age in which many people have serious doubts about the Magisterium's competence to teach on such matters. In recent weeks, you may have heard of the controversy in the United States concerning the health care reforms in which employers will be required to provide health insurance which includes among other things, provision for contraception. This has led to a collision course between the bishops and the politicians. The bishops accuse the politicians of forcing Catholic employers to go against the teaching of the Church, whereas the politicians accuse the bishops of being authoritarian and unconcerned about women's health.

Although what the politicians are saying is widely believed by many people, it seems like a particularly unfair caricature. The Church's teaching on contraception is most clearly expressed in the encyclical Humanae Vitae, and if you read the encyclical, it doesn't sound authoritarian at all. Rather, it is full of sensitivity and pastoral concern. The encyclical acknowledges that many people will find the Church's teaching on contraception difficult to observe. Indeed, it says the teaching cannot be observed unless people are strengthened and sustained by God's grace. But nevertheless, the encyclical argues that the use of contraception is against the natural law and a person's dignity. The Church's teaching is not meant to be a test of mindless obedience, but rather it reflects a deep commitment and concern for human well-being. Nowadays, many people take it for granted that contraception is essential for women's health, but this is a belief we really have to take issue with. With the help of God's grace, not only does contraception become unnecessary for a happy and healthy marriage, but marriage itself becomes a great sign of Christ's love for His Church.

The Church's teaching on contraception is one of several doctrines that people often struggle with, but for anyone who is struggling, this season of Lent is a good time for a re-evaluation. Don't be afraid to read up on the issues or to discuss them with someone who is knowledgeable on the subject. Each of us has our own struggles, our own cross to bear, but it is by having a willingness to take up our cross and follow Christ, that we become open to the grace which brings us fullness of life.

Robert Verrill OP


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