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SUMMER 2003
Vol 37 No 4


Editorial
CONSCIENCE OUR GUIDE

Brian Lewis
THE ROLE OF THE CHURCH IN THE FORMATION OF CHRISTIAN CONSCIENCE

Philip Malone MSC
THE COMPLETE IDIOTíS GUIDE TO UNDERSTANDING MORAL THEOLOGY

Liz Hepburn IBVM
THE CULTIVATION OF CONSCIENCE

Tom Ryan SM
IN GODíS IMAGE: TOWARDS A THEOLOGY OF OUR EMOTIONS

Neil Pembroke
JUNG AND THE MORAL SELF

Bruce Duncan CSsR
A SCHIZOPHRENIC PROCESS IN THE CHURCH? THE CONSERVATIVE RETREAT FROM THE SOCIAL DIMENSION OF THE GOSPEL

John Ryan
PRAYER - ANSWERED?


BOOKROOM

Kevin Mark
NEW RELIGIOUS BOOKS BY AUSTRALASIAN AUTHORS



 

Editorial:
Conscience our guide

ST AUGUSTINE prayed: ‘You have made us for Yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee’ (Confessions ch.1). In a way, that serves as a summary statement for the articles on conscience in this issue of Compass.

God created us as free human beings because He wanted a free response to his love; at the same time he planted deep in our hearts a yearning for rest and fulfilment in him.
God took an astonishing risk, a risk that seems to have backfired many times: what we free human beings have done since the dawn of time has caused God no end of grief. We might be tempted to say that God took a foolish risk, but we must believe that God’s foolishness is wiser than our human wisdom.

One day, the story goes, a newly-ordained priest was paying a visit to an elderly lady parishioner who was dying. She offered him one of the gems from her store of acquired wisdom in the form of a plain statement of her mature assessment of the human race, to wit: ‘People are a rum lot!’ It is interesting that I was reminded of that story when introducing this issue of Compass. We are a rum lot, indeed, and we have a rum relationship with our own consciences.

God has given us conscience to be our guide: we are to follow our consciences. A compounding of divine folly, surely: not only did God make us free, but in acting freely we are to be guided by a still, small voice inside us, a voice that we can easily drown out. We have all sorts of ways of wriggling out of what we know in our heart of hearts—our consciences—is the right and proper thing to do. St Paul spoke truly when he said: ‘I do not understand my own behaviour; I do not act as I mean to, but I do things that I hate. While I am acting as I do not want to, I still acknowledge the law as good’ (Rom. 7:15-16).

There is no substitute for the still, small voice of our own personal conscience. We are given the law, commandments and penalties, and a Church that teaches with authority to keep our propensity for doing the wrong thing in check. These are aids, guide posts, to living well and happily and contributing to the good of others and of God’s world. But they are not the ultimate criteria by which we are to act—that can only be the voice of conscience.

We want to do good—as St Paul said, we acknowledge the law as good. But we also have a deep-seated attraction for doing the wrong thing, which attraction is called ‘concup-iscence’, described by the Council of Trent as the inclination to sin that comes from sin and leads to sin but is not itself sin. That same Council told us to blame our first parents for this affliction (Fifth Session).

The attraction for doing the wrong thing runs deep in us, but we have a still more deep-seated attraction for goodness and beauty and truth. Again, as St Paul indicated, though we do wrong things we want in our heart of hearts to do what is good and noble and right. This is because we are made in the image of God and our hearts are restless until they rest in God. In fact, God’s own Spirit is at work in the core of our being.

The deep yearning for God and God’s company best tells us who we really are, beings called to share the very transcendent life of God. So it is what is moving there, in our hearts, that is important. God was prepared to take all the risks necessary to allow that movement and to foster it.

Abba Pambo said: ‘If you have a heart, you can be saved’ (Pambo 10, in A Path Through The Desert; cf. infra. p. 43). This early father of the desert may have been a man of few words, but his message was clear. In our heart we love, repent, feel pain, compassion, anger…all in one way or another expressing our deep longing for God’s love. When our heart is fully engaged we are hearing and responding to God’s call deep in our inner sanctuary, in the core of our being. Moved by that call we respond to God, the Supreme Law-Giver.

St Augustine agreed with Abba Pambo when he wrote, ‘Love, and do what you will’ (In Ep. Joann. ad Partho, tract. 7, sect. 8).And both were echoing Jesus when he gave us his commandment, ‘Love one another as I have loved you’, and when he gave his reply to the man who questioned him about the greatest commandment.

Our hearts go astray. They get set upon things that are not of God. If we truly have a heart, Abba Pambo assures us, it will bend back. Then we will again be ruled by the Spirit; we will again follow the right order that is given, which calls us and by which we feel ourselves being judged. This is the law of the Spirit, the law written on our hearts, as foretold by the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 31:33).
A mature conscience takes a long time in the maturation process, especially amidst the cultural, philosophical, ethical and spiritual disturbances of our times. It seems foolish to advise people to follow their consciences because consciences are so weak and so easily by-passed. Far better, it would seem, to compel people to do the right thing and avoid the wrong, force them to follow a set of instructions—easier but not wiser.

Conscience is our ultimate guide: if we are not following our own conscience then we are not acting in a truly human way, nor are we listening for God’s personal call. And in our dealings with others we must not try to interfere with the Creator’s risk-taking: we must acknowledge and respect the freedom given to every human being by God.

- Barry Brundell MSC, Editor