In Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (no. 17), the Catholic Bishops of the United States Conscience remind us:
“The Church equips its members to address political and social questions by helping them to develop a well-formed conscience. …Conscience is not something that allows us to justify doing whatever we want, nor is it a mere “feeling” about what we should or should not do. Rather, conscience is the voice of God resounding in the human heart, revealing the truth to us and calling us to do what is good while shunning what is evil.”
Conscience is a judgment of practical reason that helps us to recognize and seek what is good, and to reject what is evil (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1778, 1796).
The Second Vatican Council wrote:
“Always summoning [one] to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience can when necessary speak to [one’s] heart more specifically: do this, shun that” (Gaudium et Spes 16).
Conscience does not simply “come to us”! Throughout our lives, we have to spend time forming our consciences so that we can make well- reasoned judgments about particular situations.
How Do I Form My Conscience?
As the bishops note in Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, we need to form our consciences in an ongoing manner. How do we do this?
1) When examining any issue or situation, we must begin by being open to the truth and what is right.
2) We must study Sacred Scripture and the teaching of the Church.
3) We must examine the facts and background information about various choices.
4) We must prayerfully reflect to discern the will of God (Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, no. 18).
The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults adds:
5) The prudent advice and good example of others support and enlighten our conscience.
6) The authoritative teaching of the Church is an essential element.
7) The gifts of the Holy Spirit help us develop our conscience.
8) Regular examination of conscience is important as well (p. 314).
Reflections on Conscience
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1777 Moral conscience, present at the heart of the person, enjoins him at the appropriate moment to do good and to avoid evil. It also judges particular choices, approving those that are good and denouncing those that are evil.2 It bears witness to the authority of truth in reference to the supreme Good to which the human person is drawn, and it welcomes the commandments. When he listens to his conscience, the prudent man can hear God speaking.
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1778 Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed. In all he says and does, man is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right. It is by the judgment of his conscience that man perceives and recognizes the prescriptions of the divine law.
Reflections on Conscience Formation
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1784 The education of the conscience is a lifelong task. From the earliest years, it awakens the child to the knowledge and practice of the interior law recognized by conscience. Prudent education teaches virtue; it prevents or cures fear, selfishness and pride, resentment arising from guilt, and feelings of The education of the conscience guarantees freedom and engenders peace of heart.
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1785 In the formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path,3 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.
1. What is conscience?
2. When has my conscience guided me to “do good and avoid evil”?
3. What are some key resources I can use to form my conscience?
4. Forming conscience is a “lifelong task.” What do I do to regularly form my conscience? What more should I do?complacency, born of human weakness and faults.