Vol 37 No 4
CONSCIENCE OUR GUIDE
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
JUNG AND THE MORAL SELF
Bruce Duncan CSsR
A SCHIZOPHRENIC PROCESS IN THE CHURCH? THE CONSERVATIVE RETREAT FROM THE
SOCIAL DIMENSION OF THE GOSPEL
PRAYER - ANSWERED?
NEW RELIGIOUS BOOKS BY AUSTRALASIAN AUTHORS
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 Gods 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 heartsour consciencesis
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 Gods world. But they
are not the ultimate criteria by which we are to actthat can only
be the voice of conscience.
We want to do goodas 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, Gods own Spirit is at work in the core of
The deep yearning for God and Gods 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
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
one way or another expressing our deep longing for Gods love. When
our heart is fully engaged we are hearing and responding to Gods
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 instructionseasier 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
Gods personal call. And in our dealings with others we must not
try to interfere with the Creators risk-taking: we must acknowledge
and respect the freedom given to every human being by God.
- Barry Brundell MSC, Editor