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Think of Lent as “pruning away.” During this season of simplicity, we are called to a greater degree of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to help us break bad habits, detach from sin, and be more receptive to God’s grace working in our lives. Lent is a time to trim what is unhealthy, so that the good in us can flourish and grow under God’s grace. It is a time to renew our interior life and reflect on the immensity of Christ’s love for us through his passion and death.
In times of suffering and in our weakest moments we can encounter God’s love in the most powerful ways. God became human like us to experience what we experience, and forever transformed what it means to be human. In his passion and death, he endured intense physical and spiritual suffering: scourging, crucifixion, betrayal, humiliation, and abandonment. He experienced these things and ultimately triumphed over them all. Even in the midst of our own personal darkness of suffering, we can find the One who understands us and gives us light, hope, and the courage to keep moving forward on the path to holiness.
A new darkness threatens us now. The recent HHS contraceptive mandate would force virtually all private health care plans to cover sterilization, abortifacients, and contraception. Over the past few weeks, Catholics in great numbers, along with other denominations and faiths, have expressed concern over the loss of religious liberty that will result if the mandate is enforced. Religious employers, when providing health plans for their employees, should not be forced to violate their consciences by covering drugs or procedures that go against their moral and religious beliefs.
The right to follow one’s conscience is a basic human right, as Blessed Pope John Paul II explains in his encyclical letter, Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life):
“To refuse to take part in committing an injustice is not only a moral duty; it is also a basic human right. Were this not so, the human person would be forced to perform an action intrinsically incompatible with human dignity, and in this way human freedom itself, the authentic meaning and purpose of which are found in its orientation to the true and the good, would be radically compromised. What is at stake therefore is an essential right which, precisely as such, should be acknowledged and protected by civil law” (no. 74).
In the midst of public policy efforts, it is always important to remember the value of prayer and fasting. While we contemplate the meaning and redemptive value of Christ’s passion and death in the Lenten season, let us pray and fast in a special way for our nation as we seek resolution of the unprecedented threats to religious liberty and conscience rights. There are numerous ways to offer prayers for our nation, such as offering up and participating in Holy Hours, Masses, novenas, and rosary campaigns. For more information on the bishops’ prayer resources for life, please go to www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/prayers/prolife-prayers.cfm.
Kimberly Baker is a staff assistant for the Secretariat of
Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. To learn more about the Catholic bishops' activities on
conscience protection, visit www.usccb.org/conscience.
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