Crossed The Tiber

An Evangelical Converts to Catholicism

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Location: Pennsylvania, United States

I was born into the Catholic faith. At 14, I was "born again" and found Jesus personally but lost His Church. After thirty years as an evangelical protestant, I have come full circle to find that He has been there all the time, in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I wish others to find the beauty and truth of the Catholic faith as I have found.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

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:

  1. Prayerful adherence to God's Word
  2. Submission with a docile attitude to the moral teachings of the Church
  3. Accountability through the sacrament of reconciliation and spiritual direction
I believe the grace and strength to then follow our well-formed conscience is obtained through frequent reception of Christ in the Eucharist. We can never follow our conscience on our own power but through His spirit living in us.

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.


Anonymous Theo said...

Of course, being a practicing Catholic isn't in itself a sure guarantee that one's conscience is properly functioning. As one of our parish priests said in last Sunday's homily, one can imagine the conscience as if it were a large many-cornered block of wood that sits inside one's soul; and when one sins, this block spins, and its sharp corners scrape against the soul, causing pain. If we continue sinning, we eventually wear down the corners, and as a result, the sin stops hurting.

I found this metaphor applies so well to my personal history that it is downright scary. May God help me maintain the corners!


June 25, 2007 1:08 PM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

"Being a practicing Catholic isn't in itself a sure guarantee that one's conscience is properly functioning"
That's so true, we are all prone to fall because of concupiscence.

Nice metaphor. Would that my block of sharp wood never get dulled!
Or my sinometer burn out!

June 25, 2007 5:34 PM  
Blogger MMajor Fan said...

Beautifully researched and written! A very valuable post, that I am sure will help a lot of people who are thinking through these matters. And I'm not just saying this because I was thrilled to see the hilarious yet apt graphic of a sin-o-meter!

Talking to people in the past ten years, both in a counseling setting and not, I think I'd add one more source of error in moral judgement, and I'd say, this is a real biggie. It's lack of clarity to recognize a sin and its harmful consequences on others. The most common non-violent sin in our times is breaking the 8th Commandment "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor." People no longer recognize that they are doing it. Virtually everyone is doing it if they are involved in certain activities. In the time of Moses and Jesus, the giving of witness was profoundly given, and profoundly received, because it had to be truthful. And because communities were so small, neighbor of course meant someone well known in day to day contact in your locale. But today, everyone bears witness for or against even people they do not know, because we have access to "everyone" through media. Covering up crimes or wrongs (because that is false witness against the victim.) Slander, libel and damaging gossip. Promoting a product that is known to be harmful. Withholding support from someone who is lacking in a vital need. Certain forms of political campaigning. Performing a hurt as part of "reality" or game shows. Cruelty toward an employee (like not just being mean, but setting someone up to fail, or ordering someone to do that or lose their job.) These are all sins against the 8th Commandment because they are a manipulation of reality (witness) in order to gain advantage over or harm another person. When I think about how many people I know, including in my own family, who do this and how much of it I see in society, I shudder because people are totally (and willfully) unaware that they are committing many sins with grave consequences. It's an epidemic of false witness in this society and just because society has coarsened does not mean that the bite of breaking the 8th Commandment will not be as harsh, because the Commandments do not change.

June 25, 2007 9:18 PM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

Thanks MMF:
Boy I sure still break the eighth at times hearing gossip or passing it along. Ouch, your comments were good~!
God bless

June 25, 2007 10:22 PM  
Anonymous Nancy said...

The more I seek holiness, the more I realize how far short of the mark I am. Thank the Lord for the grace of His sacraments.

June 26, 2007 7:06 AM  

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