Praised be Jesus Christ! Although we live during a time when communication is arguably better than ever, we still struggle in many ways. Any teacher will tell you that our grammar and spelling are worse than ever. From my years of teaching I remember many people struggling to spell “sacrifice” (not “sacrafice”); another struggle for many people is the difference between conscious and conscience. For example, while I was always grateful that my students were conscious, better still was that they had a well-formed conscience! Every human being has a conscience. Secular sources define conscience as the inner sense of what is right or wrong in one’s conduct or motives. Our faith ups the ante by affirming that our conscience is the arena in which we can hear the still, small voice of God, guiding us to choose good and reject evil. We thank God for this gift and honor Him by cooperating with His grace so that our conscience is a trustworthy moral compass for our time on earth. One important fact is that our conscience is not the source of moral truth – God is the arbiter of what is right and wrong. Our conscience functions well when it’s attuned to God and His will; our conscience leads us astray when it’s formed by the world, the flesh, or the devil. Reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church (or the Youcat) is a great way to further refine our conscience, which functions as a sort of spiritual GPS. A well-formed conscience is a tremendous gift in our life and, as pointed out last week, protects us from the woes of a sensitive conscience as well as the callousness of an insensitive conscience. A person who knows right from wrong in the way God teaches is readily able to both apologize when some sin has been committed, as well as forgive another’s trespasses with true charity. The great challenge for us is to realize that our conscience is like every other part of our being – it is a work in progress. One very traditional and effective way of honing our conscience is to make a daily self-examination. Many people do this at night, as it provides a natural opportunity to go over the day and ask God to show us where our hearts failed to love. A few examples of areas where we may have struggled are listed here: 1) Do I give inordinate belief to superstitions? Have I consulted horoscopes, tarot cards, a Ouija board, or other New Age practices? These undermine our faith in God and can subtly lead us to dishonoring His Goodness; 2) Do I attend Mass every Sunday and Holy Day or do I miss through my own fault? Am I attentive when I attend? Do I arrive late or leave early? Do I do unnecessary servile work on Sunday? Keeping holy the Sabbath is a real challenge these days – all the more reason to give it our attention; 3) Did I marry outside the Church or encourage someone else to do so? Do I use contraception or was I or my spouse permanently sterilized? Closing our bodies to God’s will leaves us sad in a deep and mysterious place in our soul – God can and will forgive this and His healing is available if we only learn to trust in Him; 4) Have I been patient in accepting the sorrows and disappointments of life? This is one of the hardest things for us and when we refuse, it leads to a complaining spirit and a critical attitude toward others. There are many other areas we could discuss, but allow me to close by encouraging an examination that includes the Holy Spirit. I ask Him to show me the day from His perspective – I begin with a prayer to the Holy Spirit and then allow Him to show me both the joys and the sorrows, and I am surprised at how often the former far outnumber the latter. A well-formed conscience knows what is sinful and what is not. It also knows and relishes the true joys that help us to be at peace in this world.
May the Holy Spirit purify and form our consciences, that we may better know the path to Heaven!
Your friend in Christ, Father Martin