Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
The season of Advent is a time of preparation for Christmas, but it is also a time to prepare for the second coming of Christ. As this season progresses, our attention shifts from the second coming to the first. In that process we take time to contemplate St. John the Baptist, the Precursor of the Lord, who invites us in the Gospel passage proclaimed this Sunday, to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ, going resolutely forward down a path of conversion.
Conversion is always a process and a need for all of us. It is a lifelong road that may know of important landmarks, yet it is always a journey in which we must go forward. The road to holiness follows an ascending path. We either go forward or slide back down, but we can never remain static in one place.
To be able to advance on this journey, one must first acknowledge one’s need for redemption and healing. We must call things for what they are, without excuses or deceptions. Therein lies the great importance of individual conscience.
Our conscience is not the source of good and evil, but the arbiter. It is extremely important, then, that we dedicate great effort to the formation of our conscience. As the Second Vatican Council explains in the Constitution Gaudium et Spes using direct quotes from the teachings of Pius XII, our conscience is always binding, but it may err with grave responsibility on our part.
“In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary, speaks to his heart: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged. Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths.
In a wonderful manner conscience reveals that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbor.
In fidelity to conscience, Christians are joined with the rest of men in the search for truth, and for the genuine solution to the numerous problems which arise in the life of individuals from social relationships. Hence the more right conscience holds sway, the more persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and strive to be guided by the objective norms of morality.
Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity. The same cannot be said for a man who cares but little for truth and goodness, or for a conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin.”
These days many people are paying close attention to the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Allow me a metaphor drawn from sports to illustrate the importance of a well-formed conscience.
Our conscience plays the role of the referee in a sporting event. It does not create the rules, it simply applies them. It may be that the referee be good or bad. That he or she may know the rules of the game inside out or be ignorant about them. The referee may be lacking in prudence and thus be unable to apply the rules according to their spirit. He or she could be honest or corrupt and let himself or herself be carried away by biases and passions or take bribes. Obviously, any sports fan or player prefers a competent referee, who knows the rules of the game well, applies them with prudence, is consistent and honest.
So it is with our conscience, it must learn to recognize the natural law, discern between good and evil, be able to apply that knowledge using practical reason and, of course, should not let itself be swayed by our biases, passions, disordered appetites, or habitual sins.
In our times, most professional sports, have recourse to technological devices to assist the referee when there is a doubt. So, it should be with our conscience. We have the assistance of the Word of God and the teachings of the Church to be illuminated so as to always do good, in spite of the blind spots of our culture or the influence in our lives of our personal sin and that of others.
Naturally, the grace of God flowing to us from Christ through the sacraments is always offered to us abundantly to heal our wounded human nature. It is ultimately that same grace that allows us to soar to the contemplation of the truth about God and about ourselves so as to live fully the love that In Jesus, God made man, binds us all. We only need to open our hearts to grace and let it help us advance resolutely down the path of conversion that leads to the fullness of life in the Lord.
Fr. Roberto M. Cid