I thought I would say a few words about a proper understanding of conscience in the light of recent gospel passages and the importance of making a good confession as part of our Easter preparations. Yesterday Jesus said: I tell you most solemnly, whoever keeps my word will never see death.’ Earlier he said: ‘If you make my word your home you will indeed be my disciples, you will learn the truth and the truth will make you free’.
It is clear from these and many other examples that Jesus reveals divine truth through his word – as this is mediated to us through the teaching of the Church. On Ascension Thursday Jesus commissioned his Apostles and their successors: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations… and teach them all that I have commanded you to do. (Matt 28:19-20)
The truth taught by Jesus can be compared to the truth that was revealed to us by our math and science teachers at school. In this instance our minds applied this truth to practical problem solving in the field of math and science. We would not have done well in our exams – or professionally later on – if we had disregarded this truth and replaced it with our own impressions and ideas about what we would like math and science to be.
Likewise when it comes to living a moral life, our conscience ought to use for its direction the revealed divine truth coming from Jesus and not some other worldly standard based on an a la carte, pick and choose mentality. Pope Benedict XVI frequently referred to this as a ‘dictatorship of relativism’ with everybody making up their own version of ‘truth’. St Augustine said “If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.”
Here is the summary section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the topic. Article 1801 infers that we have to take serious personal responsibility for any decisions we make that are manifestly at odds with Biblical morality and God’s word.
1795 “Conscience is man’s most secret core, and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths” (GS 16).
1796 Conscience is a judgment of reason by which the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act.
1797 For the man who has committed evil, the verdict of his conscience remains a pledge of conversion and of hope.
1798 A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. Everyone must avail himself of the means to form his conscience.
1799 Faced with a moral choice, conscience can make either a right judgment in accordance with reason and the divine law or, on the contrary, an erroneous judgment that departs from them.
1800 A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience.
1801 Conscience can remain in ignorance or make erroneous judgments. Such ignorance and errors are not always free of guilt.
1802 The Word of God is a light for our path. We must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. This is how moral conscience is formed.