St. Michael's Parish - Cobourg

The Interior Voice…                                                  -Homily September 8, 2013

(Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 1776-1802)

 

We have many times heard the voice of our conscience: “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… (1776). What is this voice? What is my responsibility in front of it? Is it possible that my conscience is wrong? Let us see what the Catechism says about these issues.

 

I. Conscience

Conscience is a judgment of reason by which the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act” (1796). “Moral conscience, present at the heart of the person, enjoins him at the appropriate moment to do good and to avoid evil. It also judges particular choices, approving those that are good and denouncing those that are evil” (1777).

 

I need to follow my conscience: “In all he says and does, man is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right. ‘Conscience is a law of the mind; yet [Christians] would not grant that it is nothing more… [Conscience] is a messenger of him, who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us from behind a veil.’ (John H. Newman)” (1778) “When he listens to his conscience, the prudent man can hear God speaking” (1777).

 

I need also to be attentive: “It is important for every person to be sufficiently present to himself in order to hear and follow the voice of his conscience. This requirement of interiority is all the more necessary as life often distracts us from any reflection, self-examination or introspection” (1779). I must avoid the tendency to escape from myself. I need some silence in my life. Some people are afraid of silence, perhaps because they don’t want to hear God speaking to them. Do I have silence in my life?

 

Conscience is a judge, but a merciful judge, like God: “Conscience enables one to assume responsibility for acts performed. If man commits evil, the just judgment of conscience can remain within him as the witness” of the good he failed to do and of the evil he has done. However, “the verdict of the judgment of conscience remains a pledge of hope and mercy. In attesting to the fault committed, it calls to mind the forgiveness that must be asked… ‘We shall… reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.’ (1 John 3:19-20)” (1781). If our conscience shows us the evil we have committed, we need to remember that the mercy of God is greater than our sins. Our conscience allows us to realize how much we are in need of mercy and forgiveness. If our conscience bothers us we don’t need to fall into depression; we need to go to confession, that’s it.

 

II. The Formation of Conscience

“The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings” (1783). “The education of the conscience is a lifelong task… prudent education teaches virtue; it prevents or cures fear, selfishness and pride, excessive feeling of guilt, and feelings of complacency, born of human weakness and faults. The education of the conscience guarantees freedom and engenders peace of heart” (1784). When you don’t know you are not free. You are not free to decide what is the best place to go on holiday when you don’t know all the possibilities, or you don’t know the best possibilities. Formation of conscience allows you to know the best you can be, “the best version of yourself.”

 

“In the formation of conscience, the Word of God is the light for our path… 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” (1785).

 

III. To Choose in Accord with Conscience

“Faced with a moral choice, conscience can make either a right judgment… or, on the contrary, an erroneous one” (1786). “Man is sometimes confronted by situations that make moral judgments less assured and decisions difficult. But he must always seriously seek what is right and good and discern the will of God expressed in divine law” (1787).

 

“Some rules apply in every case: 1) One may never do evil so that good may result from it; 2) the Golden Rule: “Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.” 3) Charity always proceeds by way of respect for one's neighbor and his conscience: “it is right not to . . . do anything that makes your brother stumble?”“ (1789) We must avoid scandalizing our brothers and sisters.

 

IV. Erroneous Judgment

“It can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments” (1790). “This ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case when a man “takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin.” In such cases, the person is guilty of the evil he commits” (1791).

If a person does not know that something is wrong because he or she is not interested about what is good or not, there may be a sin behind that ignorance, and so that ignorance does not excuse. If the reason of the mistake is the rejection of the authority and teaching of the Church, there may be a sin of pride behind, and so one has the responsibility of the mistake. Finally, “enslavement to one's passions” can also be the reason of the mistake: after sinning for so long, a person may have arrived to convince him or herself that sin is right (cf. 1792). Even in this last case, conversion and forgiveness is possible.

“If - on the contrary - the ignorance is invincible, or the moral subject is not responsible for his erroneous judgment, the evil committed by the person cannot be imputed to him. It remains no less an evil, a privation, a disorder. One must therefore work to correct the errors of moral conscience.” (1793).

 

May the Lord help us to be faithful to our conscience. May we listen with confidence to his voice in our heart, knowing that God is showing us the way towards true happiness, towards “the best version of ourselves.” His light makes us free, because as Jesus said: “The Truth will make you free.” (John 8:32)    –Fr. Andrew