In the previous two posts, I spoke about what conscience is not (see CF 101 – below) and what conscience is (see CF 102 – below). Now I want to focus my attention on how the conscience works. In our daily lives, most of the decisions we make come very easily; they are habitual. A virtue, according to CCC 1803, “is an firm and habitual disposition to do the good.” Not only will a person perform acts well, but also the best of who he is will come through. On the flip side of virtue, we have vice. A vice is a bad habit that pushes us to bad/evil choices.
Virtue and vice can slightly be compared to the Jedi and Sith philosophies in the Star Wars films. The Jedis were the more virtuous of the two since most of their decisions were well thought out, they lived for others, and they always tried to choose the good in all situations. The Sith were ones of vice and often chose evil things such as killing all the Jedis or conquering the entire universe. They were always about themselves as we see clearly in Return of the Jedi and how the Emperor has no concern for Vader or Luke. Not all Jedis were virtuous such as the case of Anakin Skywalker (see Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith). Anakin Skywalker was never virtuous, struggled with his many vices, and they eventually lead him to Darth Vader. Anakin was given chance again and again to mend his ways, but chose not to and ended up in vice rather than virtue. Many of his choices contradicted the Jedi philosophy and he could never conform his behavior to do the good.
Although most of our decisions tend to be habitual, there is an importance for us to learn how to be virtuous in all that we do (let me tell you…it’s not easy). The virtues are like “spiritual muscles” that help us grow in responsible acts without any effort at all. Our bad habits, which we must learn to identify first, have to be avoided at all cost. Our bad habits will only be overcome with the grace of God. For us Catholics, we have the great Sacrament of Reconciliation (and the other sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist) that dispense grace upon us. Learning to be virtuous and avoiding vices are part of our spiritual training at Catholic Christians and a major characteristic of forming our Christian consciences.
Most of our daily decisions are made with ease habitually, but what about those major decisions, those important decisions that take time to deliberate and could have a monumental impact on our conscience? What do we do then?
When making those major decisions we must deliberate, choose, perform, and assess. As I stated in CF 102 (see below), Blessed John Paul II said that conscience is not a decision, but a judgment made with the intellect. Our conscience is about the discovery of objective truth, not about feelings and emotions. Emotions and feelings come and go. A fundamental element of Catholic morality is to inform our consciences and to continue inform them by careful deliberation. Before we make a major decision, we must gather all the information about the decision at hand and consider all the good and bad consequences that will stem from this decision. We should keep in account the Golden Rule, love your neighbor as yourself, and understand that evil actions will not produce a good result. In deliberation, we should look towards those individuals that have mentored us in the past as well as the teachings of Jesus Christ that are safeguarded in the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. Our decisions as Catholic Christians should be in conformity with that of Jesus Christ and his Church.
After deliberation, we should then choose the best course of action that reflects Jesus Christ and person that we are as God’s creation. A key factor in the choosing step is PRAYER. Prayer allows us to communicate with God and He with us. Prayer aids us to remember that we are created in God’s image and dignity. It also slows us down to focus on him and the decision at hand. Listening to God helps us make rational decisions and not just go with our gut or what feels good at the moment. There is an old saying – God gave us one mouth and two ears. Its is so we will listen twice as much than we talk. We should that the Holy Spirit will direct us towards God’s will for our lives.
Once a choice has been established, we must now perform the action. In this step, we see the importance of responsibility coming into play. Listening to our conscience is important because if we go against our conscience, we sin. We should never react here. Temperance (self-control) is a fundamental aspect of this step. We must always be as mature as possible. Being responsible and staying the course is the most difficult part of this entire process.
The last step in our conscience formation process is to assess our actions. Our conscience is not just about deliberating, choosing, and performing the actions we will perform, but it also aids in the actions that we have already committed. When we follow the steps given above, our conscience will be clear for we know we made good choices, the virtuous choices. If we have not made the correct decision, our conscience will let us know by calling us to reconciliation and penance.
If you pray the Liturgy of Hours (official prayer of the Catholic Church), Night Prayer includes an Examination of Conscience. It’s here where we can review the day and examine our good decisions and actions that contrasted those decisions. You don’t have to pray the Liturgy of Hours to do this either. Making a simple examination a “habit” will ensure that your day was reviewed before you laid your head to rest. It will also help you to grow in holiness and to do God’s will in your life.
As Christians with God’s help, we must form our conscience, continue to form it and to follow it. The formation of our conscience is a life long process and it is not always correct. Blessed John Paul II in Veritatis splendor said, “conscience is not an infallible judgment, it can make mistakes.”
After this post, you should understand more clearly why the HHS Mandate from the Obama Administration is such an evil proclamation that violates our religious freedom (this is the BIG issue). As Catholics, we know by our consciences that sterilization, contraceptives, and abortifacients are intrinsically evil – that means they are always wrong! How does the Obama Administration want us to violate our consciences when we clearly see these methods as evil?! This is what Cardinal-Elect Timothy Dolan meant when he said that the President has given us a year to violate our consciences. As Catholics who should be forming our consciences, we must stand up against this tyranny that is upon us. Thomas J. Olmsted, Bishop of Phoenix said in his letter to the Diocese of Phoenix, “We cannot- we will not – comply with this unjust law.”