March 4, 2005

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Our Lenten practices should lead us to conversion

It is easy to miss the most important point about our relationship with God: God takes the initiative. He loves us first. He makes something good of our lives, of our actions and of our prayers. God gives the grace. We do not manufacture it or earn it. Let’s unpack the meaning about who’s in charge in our call to holiness and what is our part?

We are already observing the fourth Sunday of Lent. It is time to pause and assess whether we are cooperating with the graces available to us in this season, an extraordinary time to tend to our call to holiness.

It may come as a surprise that in Lent we are called not so much to assert ourselves—but to conversion. What does it mean to be called to conversion? When Jesus began his public ministry, he announced that the kingdom of God was at hand and that our mission is to turn away from sin—be converted—and return to the Gospel. What Jesus requires of us first and foremost is that we be ready to change—not to conform to normal attitudes of the society in which we live. In this way, we are made free and become holy.

In effect, this means we are invited to accept the grace of Christ to be wise to the attitudes of society. What are the markers that require the alertness of our faith? They are various and numerous. Consider some examples.

We are literally awash in commercial images urging us to accept as “needs” what in fact are unnecessary “wants.” Most commercial products being proposed to us daily on TV and in other media outlets are accessory to the basic needs of life. Even our pets are the beneficiaries of a $54 billion industry! Are we intentional and conscientious in our choices as consumers? Are we concerned about the real needs of poor people?

On another significant front, are we alert to important ethical issues of our day? Much has been said recently about “seeking common ground” on human life issues. On the surface, that sounds like good news. A careful evaluation of the meaning of the proposals is something else. We are told that we can find common ground in our efforts to ensure that there are fewer abortions. A closer look reveals that this will be possible if our country fosters more and better contraceptive opportunities. The problem is that there is little advertence to the fact that a contraceptive mentality is not significantly different from an abortion mentality—both are anti-life at root.

The current controversy and confusion about stem cell research requires closer scrutiny as well. The goal of stem cell research is positive and important. Possibilities of finding a cure for a variety of dreadful diseases that afflict people all around us are promising. The Catholic Church proposes that research with adult stem cells is morally acceptable, desirable and proven effective.

However, the stem cell industry prefers to promote embryonic stem cell research as the more promising way to go while, in fact, there is little or no evidence that this is so. In any case, the problem with embryonic stem cell research is that it requires harvesting embryos, which involves terminating human life. The source of virtually all these stem cells is abortion.

On the surface of the controversy, one can be led to believe that because our Church opposes embryonic stem cell research we are against technological and medical progress—afflicted people are the victims. Our faith tells us that you can’t do wrong in order to do right. An anti-life procedure to promote life is contradictory.

Pornography has become an incredibly huge industry in our culture. There has been a precipitous slide in the acceptability of pornography in the public media. The ready accessibility and anonymity for users of the Internet has become a seriously destructive—not to mention grave—moral evil that is having devastating effects on marriage and family life.

Addiction to porn is only a short walk from abandoning loss of sensitivity for the role of modesty in dress and conduct. One hears much about people not observing proper boundaries in human conduct these days. Rabbis speak of a “fence around the law.” Our Church’s traditional understanding of chaste conduct is just such a boundary that is needed by every human person. Chastity as a virtue is not passé.

In Lent, we receive special graces to sharpen our willingness to change our attitudes in this real world. And, in fact, Lenten practices play a role in that they awaken our hearts to listen to Jesus and the Church as they help us on the way to conversion, holiness and freedom. †

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