Conscience: The Truth Shall Set You Free

Conscience is a wonderful gift, one whereby God reveals to us what is right and wrong in the secret of our heart. As St. Paul tells us:

“When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they… show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them on that day when… God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (Romans 2:14-16).

Because each one has a conscience that accuses and excuses, Christ can say: “If you continue in my word… you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). True knowledge of what is good and bad, what is right and wrong, gives us the freedom needed to choose the good.

Our Personal Moral Guide

We all have a sense of a moral conscience, of that voice telling us that we have done wrong, or that we should or should not do this or that. But what is the conscience?

The conscience is simply the intellect—that spiritual faculty that judges the truth or falsity of something. The conscience judges how a past, present, or future action is right or wrong, by how it impacts our relationship with God and others. As the Compendium to the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

CCCC 372. What is the moral conscience?

Moral conscience, present in the heart of the person, is a judgment of reason which at the appropriate moment enjoins him to do good and to avoid evil. Thanks to moral conscience, the human person perceives the moral quality of an act to be done or which has already been done, permitting him to assume responsibility for the act. When attentive to moral conscience, the prudent person can hear the voice of God who speaks to him or her.

The conscience doesn’t create moral laws, but bears witness to the truth of those laws and judges how they apply to “particular choices, approving those that are good and denouncing those that are evil” (CCC 1778). This is why the Catechism says that:

“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” (CCC 1776, quoting Gaudium et Spes 16).

The conscience discovers God’s call to enter a loving relationship with him and with all his children. It discovers how our actions affect those relationships, either as a loving response that affirms and deepens—or a selfish response that denies and rejects—those relationships.

As we go through life, our conscience acquires intuitive knowledge and awareness of the goodness or evil of our actions. We also can learn right and wrong from our parents and from the formation we receive at church, school, and in society. True knowledge is essential for the true freedom needed for morality, to live in the truth.

If we just live by our feelings—by “if it feels good, do it”—then our feelings will control and manipulate us—there is no freedom in manipulation. If we listen to our conscience and let it direct our feelings and emotions toward the good, it will tell us how a particular action will hurt or deepen our relationship with God and with others. Only then will we be free to choose the good and reject the bad; only then will we be free to love.

 

Man has a right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. “He must not be found to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters” (CCC 1782). So, we ought to respect the great dignity of the faculty by which man discovers the light of truth that leads to his true good and well-being.

All our free actions have a message that is either good or evil, never indifferent. For the message of our action to be good, it must have a good object, intention and circumstances together.

Fr. John R. Waiss

Online: http://sma-church.org/motherofpurelove

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The Object: Our Action’s Message

Let us return to our consideration of the Catholic teaching on morality that we left off a few weeks ago.

The Object: Our Action’s Message

We classify an action by its objective dimension, which is called the object. When an action’s object is evil—such as murder, the killing of an innocent human being—it is morally evil to do it. A particular choice can also be evil in its subjective dimension (motive or intention) or when objective circumstances make the choice evil. For a choice to be good, its object, motive, and circumstances all must be good.

The object of a human action—its objective dimension or nature—is what a particular action objectively “says” or does especially in relationship to the persons we love. If I point a gun at someone and pull the trigger, even if the gun doesn’t fire, I “say” something evil to that person (doing so as a joke with an obviously toy gun is not the same as doing so with a real gun that just doesn’t fire). It is not so much what physically happens that determines the object but the objective message that is being communicated to God and to the other person: “I wish you were dead… I consider your life as an obstacle to my happiness and personal fulfillment.”

As one can see, the action’s intention, the motive behind the message, is very important. This is the action’s subjective dimension, what one wills or desires (CCC 1752-53). The object of a kiss is to communicate and express one’s love—something good—but Judas intended to use a kiss to betray Jesus and hand him over to those who would kill him (see Mark 14:44). Judas’ evil motive made the good object into an evil act. Likewise, a politician may go to church and receive Holy Communion to look good and win votes, while supporting abortion and other evils. Here the intention desecrates the holiest of actions we can perform. So the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “An added bad intention (such as vainglory) makes an act evil, that in and of itself, can be good (such as almsgiving)” (CCC 1753).

How do we know our motive is good? St. John Paul II tells us: “An intention is good when it has as its aim the true good of the person in view of his ultimate end” (Veritatis Splendor). In other words, when the action’s motive is to help others get to know, love, and serve Jesus Christ and to help them get to heaven.

Some actions (objects) are intrinsically evil by their very nature and so can never be justified, such as abortion, adultery, deliberately killing innocent life, euthanasia, slavery, etc. As the Catechism says:

“There are some concrete acts—such as fornication—that it is always wrong to choose, because choosing them entails a disorder of the will, that is, a moral evil” (CCC 1755).

“There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it” (CCC 1756).

Having “good motives” doesn’t make acts with evil objects suddenly good, because it is never lawful to do evil to make good come of it (see Romans 3:8), even if one intends to promote the welfare of an individual, of a family, or of society in general. This is where some moral axioms arise, such as, the ends do not justify the means, or never do evil to do good, or one can’t rob the rich to give to the poor.

Circumstances (the who, what, when, where, why, and how) surrounding a human act also may impact its morality, as the Catechism says:

The circumstances including the consequences, are secondary elements of a moral act. They contribute to increasing or diminishing the moral goodness or evil of human acts (for example, the amount of theft). They can also diminish or increase the agent’s responsibility (such as acting out of fear of death). Circumstances of themselves cannot change the moral quality of acts themselves; they can make neither good or right an action that is in itself evil (CCC 1754).

For example, cussing in church is a greater offense than cussing while driving in a car: cussing in God’s presence and in the presence of those trying to pray profanes as well as offends. Likewise, using a weapon to steal becomes armed robbery, which is more serious; working on Sunday unnecessarily may cause one to break the Sabbath rest and God’s call to worship.

All our free actions have a message that is either good or evil, never indifferent. For the message of our action to be good, it must have a good object, intention and circumstances together.

Fr. John R. Waiss

Online: http://sma-church.org/motherofpurelove

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Mercy Sunday, Pope John Paul II and St. Josemaría

Today we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. This devotion was promoted by St. Faustina and promulgated by John Paul II in the year 2000, when he canonized Sr. Faustina. Yet this devotion also has profound link to St. Josemaría, the founder of Opus Dei.

St. Josemaría encouraged people to have some devotions, but not too many. As he wrote: “Have only a few private devotions, but be constant in them” (The Way, 552). One that he had—of which few people ever knew or heard—was the private devotion to the Merciful Love.

The Merciful Love was a devotion that arose during the First World War from the mystical experience of a French nun, Sister Maria Teresa Desandais. The nun had an image painted of her vision on which the devotion is based. The image shows Jesus on the Cross enveloped by the Eucharistic host; his eyes are serene and opened; his exposed heart is emanating flames that form the word, “caritas.” Sr. Maria Teresa died in during the Second World War. So did Sr. Faustina Kowalska in Poland. She also received a vision from our Lord under a similar title, that of Divine Mercy. She too had a painting commissioned. She saw our Lord standing with rays emanating from Christ’s wounded heart, the fount from which God’s mercy flow. Our Lord asked that a feast in honor of Divine Mercy be established for the Sunday after Easter, which Pope John Paul II did in the year 2000.

The Church doesn’t require Catholics to practice either of these devotions, which is likely why St. Josemaría kept his so private: it was not a required part of the spirit of Opus Dei. The chief message of both devotions is that God is rich in mercy, not a mean, exacting ogre looking for an excuse to condemn us to hell. No. “For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). God is the merciful father of the prodigal son (and daughter) who runs out to meet us, giving us a passionate embrace and restoring our sonship to the full (Luke 15:11-32). He shows us his infinite love for us by sending his most precious son to suffer and die on the Cross (John 3:14-21). St. John Paul II said:

“There is nothing that man needs more than Divine Mercy—that love which is benevolent, which is compassionate, which raises man above his weakness to the infinite heights of the holiness of God… It is a message that is clear and understandable for everyone. Anyone can come here, look at this image of the merciful Jesus, His Heart radiating grace…: ‘Fear nothing. I am with you always’ (Diary, 586). And if this person responds with a sincere heart: ‘Jesus, I trust in you,’ he will find comfort in all his anxieties and fears… Divine Mercy! This is the Easter gift that the Church receives from the risen Christ and offers to humanity at the dawn of the third millennium.”

Our Lord told Sr. Faustina that: “The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion will obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment” (Diary, 699). To obtain this mercy, we too need to: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36), since the unmerciful soul will not be forgiven (cf. Matthew 18:23-35). Therefore, we need to forgive all those who have hurt us in any way.

Then we can say with St. Josemaría: “Cheerfulness is a necessary consequence… of knowing that our Father God loves us with a predilect love, that he holds us up and helps us and forgives us” (The Forge, 332). Let’s encourage our friends and family to trust in the risen Lord, abandoning their anxieties to him so as to experience this Easter joy. They will not be disappointed.

Fr. John R. Waiss

Online: http://sma-church.org/motherofpurelove

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Happy Easter from the Cardinal and From Us!

Dear Sisters and Brothers in the Risen Lord,

This year’s Easter gospel comes to us from Saint Matthew. He describes Easter morning. Women go to the tomb at dawn on the first day of the week. An angel appears and speaks to them: “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples.” 

In these words, we find the essential Easter message directed to each one of us today in our uncertain world and amid the painful burdens we carry: do not be afraid, come and see, go and tell.

Easter eases our fear when we come to know God’s triumph in the resurrection of Jesus. Easter invites us to come and see with fresh eyes what God has done in conquering sin and death. Easter summons us to go and share our faith and hope with others.

When we hear this message and recognize Jesus Christ as the Risen Lord of life, how can we not praise and thank God? How can we not walk together with new confidence and hope? In a time when violence and death-dealing forces seem rampant in the world and even in our own neighborhoods, we truly need new confidence and hope. And when we listen to the Lord, as we have been trying to do in the Archdiocese of Chicago, to seek directions for the renewal of our local Church, we surely need new confidence and hope.

Pray with me that we may all truly hear the words-do not be afraid, come and see, go and tell-and so draw new life from them for our loved ones, our world, our city and metropolitan area, our Church, and our very selves.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

Archbishop of Chicago

 

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Easter is a most joyous day, because it is the day of our Savior’s Resurrection! Yet, contemplating the price that our Lord had to pay for our salvation, makes our hearts heavy. Even today, Christians are following Christ even unto death, witnessing to their love for him by the price of their own lives. Let us pray for all persecuted Christians in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and other lands of recent martyrdom and exile. May the seeds of the martyrs’ blood bear fruit in our own land and in our parish, moving each one of us with desires to become generous saints.

The Priests, Deacon and Parish Staff wish you and your family a very Happy and Blessed Easter!

Fr. John R. Waiss

Online: http://sma-church.org/motherofpurelove

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La Voluntad de Dios—Una Invitación a Amar

La voluntad de Dios es que sean santos, que se abstengan del pecado carnal” (Primera Carta a los Tesalonicenses 4:3). La voluntad de Dios es que cada uno de nosotros sea santo, que seamos verdaderamente felices con Él en el cielo, lo que significa que le amemos haciendo el bien y evitando el mal.

La voluntad de Dios es una invitación a amar. Él no nos fuerza a que le amemos ni a que entremos en unión con Él en el cielo. Dios no nos obliga a que seamos felices, sino que nos deja que elijamos abrazar su voluntad, que respondamos libremente a su invitación de entrar en una relación amorosa con Él. Esto es en lo que consiste la moral cristina.

Por esta razón, Jesús nos enseña en el Padre Nuestro: “venga a nosotros tu reino; hágase su voluntad en la tierra como en el cielo.” Rezamos para que nos ayude a buscar su reino y la fuerza para hacer su voluntad. Jesus ejemplifica esto cuando nos dice: “Mi comida es hacer la voluntad de aquel que me envió y llevar a cabo su obra.” (Juan4:34). Durante la noche de su agonía en la oración del huerto, la voluntad humana de Cristo se rindió a la voluntad divina de su Padre: “Pero que no se haga mi voluntad, sino la tuya.” (Lucas 22:42). Y antes de esto Él nos enseñó: “He bajado del cielo, no para hacer mi voluntad, sino la del que me envió.” (Juan 6:38).

El hacer la voluntad de Dios justo ahí donde nos ha puesto es clave para la santidad, como nos dice el Concilio Vaticano Segundo:

“Por tanto, todos los fieles cristianos, en las condiciones, ocupaciones o circunstancias de su vida, y a través de todo eso, se santificarán más cada día si lo aceptan todo con fe de la mano del Padre celestial y colaboran con la voluntad divina, haciendo manifiesta a todos, incluso en su dedicación a las tareas temporales, la caridad con que Dios amó al mundo” (Lumen Gentium, 41).

¿Cuál es esa voluntad para nosotros? Su voluntad no es otra que nuestra santificación, que seamos santos, santificando todo lo que hacemos. Discernimos la voluntad de Dios escuchando su Palabra en la Biblia, en la Iglesia, y en nuestra oración. Dios desea que nos unamos a Él en una unión eterna que comienza con nuestro bautismo. Él manifiesta su voluntad en los Diez Mandamientos, que nos enseñan cómo amar y cómo no comportarnos si buscamos amar. Dios manifiesta su voluntad en las Bienaventuranzas, enseñándonos que el amor siempre va más allá de lo mínimo, y se sacrifica a sí mismo por Dios y por los demás. Por ultimo Dios manifiesta su voluntad en los dos Mandamientos de amor: “Amarás al Señor, tu Dios, con todo tu corazón, con toda tu alma y con todo tu espíritu… Amarás a tu prójimo como a ti mismo” (cfr. Mateo 22: 37-39).

La dirección espiritual con un sacerdote o con una persona laica bien formada, puede ayudarnos a discernir la voluntad de Dios en nuestras circunstancias particulares. En otras palabras, la dirección espiritual puede ayudarnos a santificar esas circunstancias al hacerlas por amor. La dirección espiritual es uno de los medios humanos que Cristo nos da para ayudarnos a aclarar y a confirmar la voluntad y el camino particular de Dios para nosotros. La Iglesia siempre la ha recomendado para quienes buscan la santidad.

Así cumpliremos con lo que San Pablo exhorta:

“Como elegidos de Dios, sus santos y amados, revístanse de sentimientos de profunda compasión. Practiquen la benevolencia, la humildad, la dulzura, la paciencia. Sopórtense los unos a los otros, y perdónense mutuamente siempre que alguien tenga motivo de queja contra otro. El Señor los ha perdonado: hagan ustedes lo mismo” (Colosenses 3: 12-13).

El hacer la voluntad de Dios requiere esfuerzo ya que nuestra voluntad humana está sujeta a tentación, debilidad y distracción. Practicar la virtudes—especialmente la fe, la esperanza y la caridad—nos facilita el hacer la voluntad de Dios, desarrollando al mismo tiempo hábitos que nos lleven a amar y a hacer la voluntad de Dios más fácilmente.

Cristo nunca nos abandona, al contrario, nos da a su Madre como Madre nuestra—como lo hizo con el discípulo amado—para ayudarnos a cumplir mejor la voluntad de Dios.

 

Fr. John R. Waiss

Online: http://sma-church.org/motherofpurelove

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