Conscience Formation for Citizens

The Health & Human Services (HHS) mandate requiring Catholics to accept the distribution of contraceptives and abortion inducing drugs is contrary to Catholic teaching and a clear violation of our First Amendment freedoms. As the deadline for this regulation to go into full force is upon us, it is an opportune time to review what we will do if the regulation is not lifted.

Our decision is quite clear. We will obey the law of God.

The “Declaration On Religious Freedom (Dignitatis Humanae)” points out that man “must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.”

We do not make this decision without seriously considering all the ramifications, but our conscience prevents from taking any other course.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in an irony one can only consider profound, describes a moral conscience in paragraph 1776 as “Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment…For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God…His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.”

God’s will is written on our hearts. There is no room for compromise. Conscience is not just a feeling or an opinion. It is not a notion, or whim of the moment. It is a judgment of practical reason about the moral quality of a human action.

Conscience comes from Natural Law; it is God’s law. In the exercise of conscience we have to keep in mind where we are going; we are going to God. All our actions are oriented towards that final goal. Once our life is turned to our God, our inner voice kicks in.

We must find authenticity. This is the conscience going to the inner room to be in touch with God. We must look for and find God’s word in our hearts. To do that, we must be alone with God, in that inner room, and be with Him.

The teachings of the Catholic Church are clear on what we must do. A well-formed conscience is “indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings.” (CCC#1783)

Our conscience is not formed by the popular culture or political debates. We do not form our conscience by the editorial page or the opinions of others. To do so would be to forfeit responsibility with our inner self, to lose the very core of our being.

We, instead, should be influencing those debates with our conscience. Opinion must resonate with our conscience in order for it to make sense. Instead of relying on editorial opinion pages, test everything against the Gospels and the teachings of the Church.

The word of God must light our path; we must assimilate it, spend time with it, pray over it, above all, practice it and play it out.

We should never act against our conscience. We must always be obedient to it. Conscience is an essential part of our humanity, of our human dignity. Cardinal John Henry Newman said in doing what is good, we grow in our humanity and our closeness to God.

Cardinal Newman said, “The Church is the real gift of God in the valuing issues that have multiple views. In such instances we need the light of revelation. Where there is confusion it is because we are influenced by opinion and passions. The presence of a teaching unit such as the Church is a gift from God because it enables us to know what is good. The teachings of the Church provide us with the mercy of God, which lead us to our freedom and dignity as a person.”

People sometimes look at their behavior and write off bad behavior by blaming it on their conscience. As Cardinal Newman tells us, “Conscience can be corrupted when responding to one’s passions that become the justification to avoid doing right and good.”

A distorted sense of conscience leads to a distorted understanding of freedom, which leads to a distorted understanding of truth, which leads to a distorted understanding of the human person. Conscience becomes a “choice,” but choice has to have a moral good to it.

Our society, whether through legal action or mandates or our own personal culture, is eroding conscience, which erodes freedom, which then erodes truth, which erodes human existence as God intends. This is the seriousness of the whole matter involving the HHS mandate.

People that are not guided by truth but by the most persuasive speaker, by those who pander, by what is popular, by their passions, by what is convenient allow these shallow influences to become the norm. We must not allow our conscience to be controlled by passions rather than our humanity, which gives us a sense of duty and of doing what is right and avoiding what is bad.

When we take our conscience seriously, ultimately there is going to be conflict either with oneself or with outside forces.  Conscience has to rule supreme in those moments.

When issues that hit so close to the human person become legislation and put into governmental spheres, they divide people and relegate conscience to second place. As a people when we debate and legislate with conscience on the sidelines we are divided and make decisions by majority rule, instead of by the rule of God.

In many ways our current situation is a defining moment. Freedom of religion is a true American idea, but now it seems as if governmental powers are being used to control or obviate our conscience.

We value freedom but we need to examine what freedom is. Freedom has the absolute duty to protect and preserve righteousness. The freedom espoused by relativism does not help build up a society; it destroys it. Loyalty to conscience helps build up society.

Ultimately to follow ones conscience is to do good and to avoid evil; to do what is right and to refrain from doing what is wrong; and to “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…and to love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt 22:37-39)

As Catholic Christians our conscience is clear.

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