My Thoughts

A recent post on Patheos Catholic caught my eye and recalled how so many harbor a misguided notion of “conscience” as merely an emotional guide to personal action and reaction. Though the writer was opining from her “Catholic” perspective and my response necessarily focused on her professed opinion, the issue is much broader than Catholicism or Mere Christianity or, for the matter, any religion or no religion at all. Much of my response came from a March 9, 2018 essay. Some things never change apparently.

As Msgr. Charles Pope has noted, conscience is more student than teacher. “One is obliged to form one’s conscience through both study and experience. Conscience is not independent of Divine Law nor of just law and legitimate authority. It is not private inspiration or interpretation. It is not a law unto itself. Conscience does not establish law. The role of conscience is to apply what is taught by God, through natural law, Revelation and the Church, to particular situations. The aim of conscience cannot be to resist such law, but, rather, to receive and apply it. Conscience is not to be equated with sentiment or emotion and surely not merely with one’s desires. Instead, it must seek evidence in what is revealed by objective sources such as Divine Law, natural law and the certain doctrinal teachings of the Church. Acts of conscience must also be certain. They should not be sentiments, hunches or guesses as to what should be done. They are to be well thought out and rooted in revealed and natural truth. On this their certainty rests, not on what one wants or finds expedient.”

Your assertion that the “Church gives us some parameters but one’s conscience always takes precedence. If you’re not in a place where you can follow Church teaching according to your conscience, you don’t. Otherwise, you’re violating your conscience” is vincibly incorrect in several respects as Msgr. Pope’s comments clearly illustrate. Acts of conscience must be certain, not sentiments, hunches, guesses, or wishful thinking. What you call “conscience” is nothing but how you feel at any given moment. If you don’t like something or disagree with a doctrine, law, or commandment, you allow your uninformed conscience to overrule your reason. This is called vincible ignorance, ignorance that a person could remove by applying reasonable diligence in a given set of circumstances.

Too many people view conscience as nothing more than a sense or feeling of what is right or wrong and that whatever they might think, or feel is a product directed by their conscience. Thus, someone may act as if the conscience is an authority that can contradict and overrule even Divine Law.

An important point must be made here: Conscience is not its own law. It resides in the reason and thus is a subjective guide; law, by contrast, is objective. Conscience must refer to and rely upon the law in order to make a proper act of judgment, a decision that directs the will to a particular action in a particular set of circumstances.

Lastly, calling one’s self a Catholic because one was baptized Catholic trivializes faith and all those who believe in Christ and his Church. “The Church exists to teach the truth and to dispel error. Our work is not to affirm modern or popular notions. It is not to reflect the views of the age. Our work is to proclaim the teachings of our head and founder, Jesus Christ. Jesus himself said, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent” (Revelation 3:19). We all need constant teaching and ongoing correction so that we can be transformed by the renewing of our minds (see Romans 12:2). The way that the Church respects those with consciences that lead them astray is by teaching them with love and patience.” We are all sinners, no one is perfect, but we are told by Christ to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. That means knowing what Christ and his Church teach; those who are unwilling to do so cannot in all conscience call themselves Catholic.

“So the Church’s response to an erroneous conscience should not be to affirm it or to pronounce it worthy of respect. While we want to respect that some people are sincerely wrong and wish to treat them with dignity, we must continue to insist that those who have erroneous consciences are wrong. We must teach both them and others what is true and why.”  Respecting the consciences of those who live in open opposition to the Divine Truth revealed to us by God cannot include affirming them as if they were not in error. “Either a person’s judgment is in conformity with God’s revealed truth, and is thus correct, or it is not in conformity, and is thus in error.

There are far too many public figures (politicians mostly) who claim to be Catholic, Protestant, Christian, or plain jane spiritual, proudly professing practicing their faith. All will tell you their conscience is their moral compass, their guide for everything they do or say. Remember this: “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die’” (Gen 2:16-17). And how soon, then, conscience overrode reason: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate” (Gen 3:6-7). Conscience is not truth; conscience is not infallible; conscience without truth is but denials, lies and feelings on steroids. To exercise one’s good conscience, one must first seek the truth; only then will the truth make you free. Seek the truth first, then your conscience can be your guide.

Wake up America!

Just my thoughts for a Thursday, for what it is worth.

Deacon Chuck

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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