By Fr. Roy Cimagala
Center for Industrial Technology and Enterprise (CITE)
IT’S a question whose answer I really do not know. I guess one has top lumb deep into the hearts of the people concerned to get a glimpse of the reason.
I’m referring to why, in spite of all the explanations on the subject given by the Church Magisterium, even highly placed priest-professors in seminaries and other ecclesiastical centers of learning do no understand the true nature and role of conscience in our life.
It would be very easy to brand them as incorrigible modernists and relativists whose congenital defect is their overpowering self-confidence that they hold the ultimate key to the answers of our faith’s mysteries and moral questions. But that, I’m afraid, would still be off the mark.
By the way, wonder of wonders, there are quite a number of them dangerously lodged in these formation centers, giving rise to fears that the training of our future priests and other religious men and women could be seriously compromised.
In many published papers and commentaries, posted even in the Internet,they affirm that conscience is our ultimate arbiter to know what isright and wrong in our actions.
They can go so far as to admit that we can consider and make inputs from other sources, even from the Church teaching, but in the end, it’sour conscience that makes our actions moral or immoral.
Theyunderstand conscience not only as the ultimate judge of the moral quality of our actions. It is also an independent and supreme judgewho makes its judgments alone and no authority can question it.That’s how they understand the freedom of conscience.
In this set-up, it would seem that even God has to defer to the judgmentof one’s conscience. As to the Church authority over it, one better has to forget it. In their mind, our conscience is supreme and infallible.
Thus,they tend to flaunt the reasoning that in spite of how wrong theiraction is if judged according to Church-taught moral principles, they still would feel it was right, since it’s their conscience thatsaid so. No question can be asked, period. You have reached the end of the line!
This is really strange, because ever since I became aware of the existenceof conscience, I always understood it as a judgment I make about themorality of my actions according to a law that is not mine. It’s a law written in my heart, definitely not by me, but by someone else.
Later,I was convinced that this law must have come from my creator, God. Iunderstood conscience as a judgment I make always with God, no matterhow poorly I perceive him. Even if I read him wrongly, it can never be a judgment arrived at by my lonesome self.
Everything tells me I do not and cannot live alone, by myself, though I canfoolishly think that I am alone, which sadly happens from time totime. I’m always into some relationship. That’s how I understandmy life or anybody’s life to be.
Thus,I was happy to learn years later on that the Catechism, for example,upholds this childhood insight of mine just as it the insight of manyothers. Some relevant points could be the following:
*1776 – “Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which hehas not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice…soundsin his heart at the right moment… For man has in his heart a lawinscribed by God.”
*1779 – “Return to your conscience, question it… Turn inward,brethren, and in everything you do, see God as your witness.” (St.Augustine)
*1795 – “Gaudium et spes 16)is man’s most secret core, and hissanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in hisdepths.” (
I suppose with this understanding of conscience, what we have to do isto improve our sensitivity to discern God’s presence, praying,developing the virtues, mastering Christian doctrine taught by theChurch, etc.
These will improve our most important, basic and pattern-forming relationship with God and our skill to apply his law to our actions.We have to do everything to insure that we always pursue this ideal.
We have to be wary with our tendency to just intellectualize our understanding of conscience, which can give us impressive but not life-transforming lights, since it is detached from the true and ultimate Light.
Thisis the usual Achilles’ heel of our bright boys.