Forming Your Conscience
The word conscience comes up a lot lately in the media, particularly when interviewing Catholic presidential candidates on their views of abortion and same-sex marriage, etc. We hear that well worn Catholic teaching that says "you are to follow your conscience." That's of course assuming you have a well-formed conscience. Even hardened criminals have a conscience, *formed* according to their own particular code of ethics. I wouldn't encourage them to just "follow their conscience!" So what is a well-formed conscience? How do I form mine? How do I know if it is formed well? Thankfully, the Church has the answers for us.
"We are responsible for forming our consciences, allowing God’s Word to truly be a light for our path. When we do not respect the dignity of conscience -- when we do not seek what is true and good -- the conscience becomes increasingly blind and less capable of making sound moral judgments (cf. Mt. 6:22-23; Veritatis Splendor [VS] 63).
The Catechism (no. 1792) gives several examples of how conscience can go astray, identifying the following sources of errors of judgment in moral conduct:
—ignorance of Christ and His Gospel
—bad example of others
—enslavement to passions
—mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience
—rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching
—lack of conversion
—lack of charity
Conscience is our personal link to God’s law, and it must be distinguished -- often with the help of a confessor or spiritual director -- from our natural inclinations and “passions.” And deep down we know that as Catholics we are not acting with a “certain” conscience when we make choices known to be at odds with the Church’s moral teaching. "
(From Catholics United for the Faith)
A key to a well-formed conscience involves:
- Prayerful adherence to God's Word
- Submission with a docile attitude to the moral teachings of the Church
- Accountability through the sacrament of reconciliation and spiritual direction
Left to my own devices with just the "God told me" mentality, my Sin-o-Meter becomes defective and begins to malfunction. Sometimes, I was not aware that it was malfunctioning until it was too late. I am very thankful that Jesus gives us the "tools" we need to live a life pleasing to Him and the ability to form our conscience in accordance with His will and to keep our Sin-O-Meter working in tip-top shape.
Thanks to commenters MMFan for the sin-o-meter idea and Nancy for her recent thoughts on Confession. You guys inspired this, God bless.