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Why don’t our bright boys get it?

Fr. Roy Cimagala
Candidly speaking


Fr. Roy CimagalaIt’s a question whose answer I really do not know. I guess one has to plumb deep into the hearts of the people concerned to get a glimpse of the reason.

I’m referring to why, in spite of all the explanations on the subject given by the Church magisterium, even highly placed priest-professors in seminaries and other ecclesiastical centers of learning do not understand the true nature and role of conscience in our life.

It would be very easy to brand them as incorrigible modernists and relativists whose congenital defect is their overpowering self-confidence that they hold the ultimate key to the answers of our faith’s mysteries and moral questions. But that, I’m afraid, would still be off the mark.

By the way, they seem to be quite a number of them dangerously lodged in these formation centers, giving rise to fears that the training of our future priests and other religious men and women could be seriously compromised.

In many published papers and commentaries, posted even in the Internet, they affirm that conscience is our ultimate arbiter to know what is right and wrong in our actions.

They can go so far as to admit that we can consider and make inputs from other sources, even from the Church teaching, but in the end, it’s our conscience that makes our actions moral or immoral.

They understand conscience not only as the ultimate judge of the moral quality of our actions. It is also an independent and supreme judge who makes its judgments alone and no authority can question it. That’s how they understand the freedom of conscience.

In this set-up, it would seem that even God has to defer to the judgment of one’s conscience. As to the Church authority over it, one better has to forget it. In their mind, our conscience is supreme and infallible.

Thus, they tend to flaunt the reasoning that in spite of how wrong their action is if judged according to Church-taught moral principles, they still would feel it was right, if it’s their conscience that said so. No question can be asked, period. You have reached the end of the line!

This is really strange, because ever since I became aware of the existence of conscience, I always understood it as a judgment make about the morality of my actions according to a law that is not mine. It’s a law written in my heart, definitely not by me, but by someone else.

Later, I was convinced that this law must have come from my creator, God. I understood conscience as a judgment I make always with God, no matter how poorly I perceive him. It can never be a judgment arrived at by my lonesome self.

Everything tells me I do not and cannot live alone, by myself, though I can foolishly think that I am alone, which sadly happens from time to time. Objectively, and irrespective of whether we are aware of it or not, we are always into some relationship. That’s how I understand my life or anybody’s life to be.
Thus, I was happy to learn years later on that the Catechism, for example, upholds this childhood insight of mine just as it is the insight of many others. Some relevant points could be the following:

  •  1776 – “Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice…sounds in his heart at the right moment… For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God.”
  • 1779 – “Return to your conscience, question it… Turn inward, brethren, and in everything you do, see God as your witness.” (St. Augustine)
  • 1795 – “Conscience is man’s most secret core, and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.” (Gaudium et spes 16)

I suppose with this understanding of conscience, what we have to do is to improve our sensitivity to discern God’s presence, praying, developing the virtues, mastering Christian doctrine taught by the Church, etc.

These will improve our most important, basic and pattern-forming relationship with God and our skill to apply his law to our actions. We have to do everything to insure that we always pursue this ideal.

We have to be wary with our tendency to just intellectualize our understanding of conscience, which can give us impressive but not life-transforming lights, since it is detached from the true and ultimate Light.

This is the usual Achilles’ heel of our bright boys.

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