Brookline Carmel Bulletin
God, Who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all in these days has spoken to us by His Son… (Heb. Ch. 2, vv. 1,2)
The Son of God continues to speak to us in diverse manners within the framework of His Church. For all that, we still have difficulty now and then finding out exactly what He wants us to do.
When we were children, we learned that conscience is God’s voice speaking within us. Properly understood, this is true. Conscience speaks with the authority of God. When we act against our conscience we offend God. Conscience, however, is not God’s voice in the sense that it may be erroneous, doubtful, or perplexed. These are attributes we cannot predicate of a True, Omniscient God. But now that we are grown-ups, we can appreciate the technical definition of conscience. It is our practical reason judging whether or not a contemplated act is here and now, in the concrete circumstances, good, and therefore to be performed (or at least permitted), or evil, and to be avoided. Conscience differs from the judgment of the speculative (E.g., in the abstract, to take human life is neither good nor bad; it is indifferent. But in one practical instance, as in capital punishment, it is good; in another, when the motive is revenge, it is gravely sinful)
Before it renders a judgment practical reason must go to the source of all morality, Divine Revelation, search out the truths that have a bearing upon the situation and apply them. There are many fonts to which we might go to find an expression of God’s Will. Ultimately, we find it in Scripture and Tradition. Proximately, we find it in catechetical instructions, sermons, conferences and spiritual reading. Some find it in a Rule and Constitutions, and in the commands of a Superior. We must not neglect, either, the Natural Law engraved upon our hearts, nor the heard facts of every-day experience. When the practical reason consults all these sources, it occasionally comes up with apparently contradictory truths, and finds the making of a certain judgment no easy task. God Himself has told us, for example, “Honor thy father and thy mother.” The Incarnate Word of God has said: “Unless a man hate his father and mother he cannot be my disciple.” Knowing this, one who feels a strong call to the Religious Life and yet feels he must stay home to assist elderly parents may be totally at a loss as to what God wills. We can be sure, though, that there is nothing wrong with the ways God has chosen to reveal His Will. The fault lies, rather, in the soul.
Still, we have to admit that God does assist the practical reason. Through the instrumentality of actual grace God moves the memory and imagination to recall pertinent truths and sentiments. He even helps the reason to function properly. Nevertheless, all this does not guarantee a true judgment. For grace is easily nullified by ignorance, prejudice, and unruly imagination. Though he cannot interfere in the operations of the intellect directly, he does so indirectly by feeding into it memories and sense images calculated to lead it astray. He also stirs up desires and passions which sap needed psychic energy from the intellect. We need to be wary of him always, for he can quote scripture to suit his own ends. (Witness the second temptation of Christ.) If our practical reason does make a wrong judgment, we have an erroneous conscience. Otherwise, it is a right conscience.
Here are two very important rules we must follow if we want to avoid sin. First, whether it be right or erroneous, we must follow a certain conscience. Conscience is certain when the arguments adduced by practical reason are so convincing there remains no fear of error. Second, a doubtful conscience must be rendered certain before we can act lawfully. If direct evidence does not suffice, we must use reflex principles. (E.g., Divine positive law takes precedence over Church law. After all available means fail to resolve the doubt, I may favor liberty). As we grow in holiness the infused virtue of Prudence directs our reason. Thus we can resolve our doubts ourselves, and will only need to consult a Superior or Confessor rarely.
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