In the second reading we hear St. Paul say to the Corinthians, if I proclaim the Gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel!
During these past few days there has been much discussion about the government’s regulations regarding the hiring of summer students and the impact this has on people’s consciences. Many can be unsure of how they should decide on such issues and invariably we hear, “follow your conscience! Do what your conscience tells you to do.” This is perfectly true as far as it goes, but it is to be understood as “do as a properly formed conscience tells you.” That can be a little different and it raises the question, what is conscience and what must a Catholic Christian do to properly form one’s conscience?
As Catholics, we turn first to the Church’s teachings. On the matter of conscience, in the Vatican Council’s, The Church in the Modern World, we read, deep within their consciences men and women discover a law which they have not laid upon themselves and which they must obey. …. For they have in their hearts a law inscribed by God. Their dignity rests in observing this law, and by it they will be judged. We are all familiar with this sense of what we are called to be and to do, to observe the right and avoid the wrong according to God’s Law, but sometimes things get complicated and we need further direction. We need help to be as certain as possible that we have a properly formed conscience and avoid having a poorly formed conscience.
A properly formed conscience is one that respects and follows reason and God’s law. How do we know God’s law? The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) tells us that in the formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path; we must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. We must also examine our conscience before the Lord’s Cross. We are assisted by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aided by the witness or advice of others and guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church. (CCC 1785) Scripture and the Cross are our basic reference points. Scripture requires study and the Cross requires persistent strength.
Also, we are to trust that the Holy Spirit does indeed guide us to know and do the right thing. Prayer is essential for this; it keeps us focused and on the right path.
We are to seek the example and advice of others. When doing so we must seek out those people who will lead us in the truth, not someone who will tell us what we want to hear or who will give us poor, even wrong, direction. This is a sure way to a falsely formed conscience.
We are to seek the authoritative, i.e. true, teaching of the Church. In this regard, in my opinion, every family should have a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church as a ready reference guide, but we are to respect and obey the Church’s teachings. It is all too easy to say, “oh, that’s just what the Church says”; there must be other, more appealing answers. This is to reject God’s will and to intentionally indulge ourselves.
Since our conscience is our guide, we must ensure that it is well formed, kept well informed, and then followed. In this way we can be like St. Paul, purposeful and choosing rightly.
P.S. For further study, see the CCC 1776-1802 because it is complicated and we must be well informed.