Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Well Formed Conscience or Why We Can't Just Do Whatever We Want

I’ve heard the argument so often that when I hear it now I let out a sigh. It goes something like this: “Well the Church can’t tell you to go against your conscience. Vatican II says that. In fact Saint So and So (fill in a saint of your choice) says that in (fill in a liberal priests name, preferably followed by an SJ in association with a well known University)’s book “Let’s All Hold Hands and Sing.””

This “logic” bothers me all the more when the person is encouraging another person to commit a grave sin, usually against unquestionably clear Church teachings. They often add their own story, about how they commit this act on a daily basis, and have for the past twenty years, and if God’s going to be upset about it than they’ll just have to face that because they’re doing what their “conscience” told them to do.

Sometimes, and this part makes me very sad, they’ll add something along the lines of: “and I talked to my priest and he says to do what my conscience tells me” and that I think is absolutely heartbreaking.

I mean we have stories of Saints who were, well, Saintly, and they still sought guidance from spiritual advisors, and yet we have ordinary people who struggle to understand what we’re supposed to do in a very warped world where moral relativism and subjective morality have been placed on pedestals and often times we aren’t getting the advice that we desperately need.

And we’re just supposed to go out there and figure it out for ourselves?

That was never the plan. That’s why the Church exists. And thankfully, the Catechism can give us a few clues as to what’s going on with this whole “conscience” business:
In the formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path, we must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. We must also examine our conscience before the Lord’s Cross. We are assisted by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aided by the witness or advice of others and guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church. (Catechism, no. 1785)
In an age where many people can justify pretty much any perversion, and pleasure has been raised up to a “right,” having a well-formed conscience is almost seen as “unnatural.” Yet a well-formed conscience is what we are called to develop. And through prayer, studying Church teachings and frequent reception of the sacraments we have a chance at doing just that, at unburying the law which modern society would have us ignore. As Lumen Gentium says:
“Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. . . . For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.” (Lumen Gentium, no. 16)
It is then that we can put aside our desire to do what is easy, and perhaps harder still, our desire to be right and our pride which tells us to do what we want to do, to raise ourselves, not only above the Church and the magesterium, but above God himself, making the same mistake someone else made when he said "I will scale the heavens; Above the stars of God I will set up my throne; I will take my seat on the Mount of Assembly, in the recesses of the North. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will be like the Most High!"

Okay, so we may not use those exact words, but that’s basically what we’re doing when we decide that our conscience is a better guide than the Bride of Our Savior, the Church that Christ established when he said “you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”

That’s why I strive to remember (and follow) the advice of the founder of the Jesuits, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, if I ever find a teaching that challenges what I hold in my heart to be true:
“That we may be altogether of the same mind and in conformity with the Church herself, if she shall have defined anything to be black which appears to our eyes to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it to be black. For we must undoubtingly believe, that the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Spirit of the Orthodox Church His Spouse, by which Spirit we are governed and directed to Salvation, is the same…”
You see, I know I’m wrong, frequently. But I trust Christ’s promise to Peter: that the Gates of Hell will not prevail against His Church.

That promise is as true today as it was two thousand years ago… even if the teachings that have been established to guide us, don’t pass the anything-goes-do-whatever-you-want-just-cause-its-fun-or-you-feel-like-it-or-you-really-think-its-for-the-best test.

1 comment:

  1. I'd like to see you put up one of those little widgets for sharing to facebook. Would save me a good 30 seconds or so of clicking around when you put up a good post like this. :)


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