I often hear, when people have to make a choice between several options about important decisions (often involving a decision of a moral nature,) that they are simply following their consciences. While it’s true that our consciences do guide our actions, it’s important to properly form the conscience first.
There are several ways to properly form the conscience. First, we often have a “gut feeling” about what is right and wrong, and which action (among several choices) is the best one to take.
Second, seeking the advice of WISE people in our lives, including friends, clergy, and our parents, can guide us on the right path.
Third, hopefully our parents were faithful followers of God and have instilled right and wrong in us during our formative years.
Ultimately though, to properly form our consciences in accordance with God’s will, we must turn to the church, specifically in the form of the catechism. Whenever you are facing a major decision, especially one with moral implications, we must turn to the infallible teaching of God given to His Holy Catholic Church.
As an example, there is a group called Catholics for Choice. This is a prochoice (pro-abortion and birth control) group which states that they are Catholic but totally disagree with the Church on its teaching about sexual morality (among other things.) According to their website, “Catholics for Choice is a nonprofit organization that lifts up the voices of the majority of Catholics who believe in reproductive freedom.” Without arguing about the fallacy of the term “reproductive freedom,” they also state “The majority of Catholics believe that abortion should be legal. When navigating Catholic teachings on abortion, your conscience is the ultimate authority.”
First, I doubt that the majority of any group supports abortion on demand for all 9 months of pregnancy including during delivery. But since my article is not about abortion, let’s focus on church authority in developing conscience. This group obviously doesn’t believe in Church authority given to the Church by Jesus when they say that “…your conscience is the ultimate authority.” No, it’s not. If it was, is my conscience the ultimate authority on everything? If I want to have multiple extra-marital affairs, is my conscience the ultimate authority? Would my spouse agree with this? If I want to sexually abuse my daughter, can I appeal to my conscience without repercussions? What about if I choose, as a priest or youth leader/volunteer, to molest a youth of our parish? Is the conscience the ultimate guide of right or wrong in this situation? If it is, I shouldn’t ever be punished for ANY action since my conscience tells me everything I do is morally and legally correct.
In other matter of sexual morality this group also states the following:
“The church, your parents, grandma, no one has the right to suggest that your conscience is wrong or that your conscience makes you a bad Catholic.”
No one is a “bad Catholic” for following a poorly formed conscience, but we could argue you are an unfaithful Catholic for not following the teachings of Jesus.
“Catholics for Choice envisions a world in which everyone has equal access to all forms of birth control, unencumbered by religious persecution.”
No one, at least in America, is persecuted by the Catholic Church for using birth control. Catholics using birth control are told that their actions are sinful and not in accord with God’s plan for us, but gently and lovingly pointing out a fault is hardly persecution.
“The Catholic hierarchy teaches that God created a binary system of male and female bodies that are supposed to complement each other. They believe that women and men are equal in worth and dignity, yet their physical and anatomical differences are evidence that God intends different roles and purposes for them in church, society and the family. This system not only reinforces women’s suffering but oversimplifies the complexity of gender identity, erasing whole communities of people made in God’s image.”
Not only “Catholic hierarchy” but actually science and common sense through lived experience teaches a binary system of male and female bodies (and if there are more than 2 genders, can someone tell me EXACTLY how many there are, EXACTLY how I can look at someone and determine that person’s gender, and EXACTLY how many different genital organs really exist??) Are women suffering because they have a different set of genitals than men? Is gender identity really complex? It hasn’t been until recently. Which communities are “erased” and no longer in existence by confirming the truth of 2 genders?
These are just a few of the statements that can be made when your conscience is the final arbiter of right versus wrong. (Obviously these Catholics by baptism have been pulled astray by evil, and nothing on their website is a loving statement but rather vehemently opposed to any authority which seeks to tell them that their actions are sinful and against God. We must pray for them and all who, in their anger, sin, and selfishness, oppose goodness simply so they can do whatever they choose without, in their minds, any fear of punishment. Personally I’d love to ask them if they have an objective measure of right or wrong, but it’s unlikely they do since everyone only need appeal to conscience to decide how to act in society.) Simply following your conscience doesn’t cut it when deciding upon the morality of an action.
For some decisions, such as whether or not a new job is the right career path, a moral decision may not be needed so turning to the catechism for “correct” teaching is not necessary. However, discerning God’s will for us is always important. In these instances, seeking advice from family and friends is helpful. Spending time in prayer, often before the Blessed Sacrament, and totally giving yourself to God’s will, can be life-changing.
Regardless, don’t fall into the trap of making a moral decision simply based upon what your conscience tells you to do. If not properly formed according to the moral teachings of the church, your conscience can lead you astray, as you may be tempted to make a decision that feels good at the moment but is not an eternal good.