Friday, June 14, 2013

Conscience and catechesis: a catechetical reformation

In an attempt to be constructive and not just critical when it comes to the need to have a properly formed and informed conscience, I thought back to my preparations for a catechumenate discussion this week on Christian Morality. Part of my preparation consisted of consulting the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church concerning the important matter of conscience (this would be anathema to those advocates of content-free RCIA catechesis). At least for me, the Compendium is an invaluable catechetical tool. Due to the fact that, like the Bible, not nearly enough Catholics are very familiar with its contents, it is difficult to get across that what are admittedly complex matters can be dealt with fairly comprehensively in a relatively simple and concise way. It also demonstrates how Spirit and letter are meant to go together and not be turned into a false dichotomy.

In a recent article, "Repenting of the Failure of Parish-Based Catechesis," which I would extend to catechesis in Catholic schools because it is no better (just are there are parish exceptions, there are school exceptions), Barbara Nicholosi makes the case about the long-standing failure of catechesis throughout the Catholic Church in the United States. I don't want to restate what she wrote, but when it comes to the formation of the human conscience, I want to cite the Compendium (the numbers, like 1776-1780, are references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church):

372. What is the moral conscience?

1776-1780 1795-1797

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.

374. How is a moral conscience formed to be upright and truthful?

1783-1788 1799-1800

An upright and true moral conscience is formed by education and by assimilating the Word of God and the teaching of the Church. It is supported by the gifts of the Holy Spirit and helped by the advice of wise people. Prayer and an examination of conscience can also greatly assist one’s moral formation.

375. What norms must conscience always follow?


There are three general norms: 1) one may never do evil so that good may result from it; 2) the so-called Golden Rule, “Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them” (Matthew 7:12); 3) charity always proceeds by way of respect for one’s neighbor and his conscience, even though this does not mean accepting as good something that is objectively evil.

376. Can a moral conscience make erroneous judgments?

1790-1794 1801-1802

A person must always obey the certain judgment of his own conscience but he could make erroneous judgments for reasons that may not always exempt him from personal guilt. However, an evil act committed through involuntary ignorance is not imputable to the person, even though the act remains objectively evil. One must therefore work to correct the errors of moral conscience.

From here we might move to the difference between vincible and invincible ignorance (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1790-1794). Access to resources such as the Catechism and its Compendium demonstrate that most of the ignorance so prevalent among adult Catholics today is not of the invincible variety, even if it is not, in most cases, wholly willful.

"Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one's passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church's authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct" (Catechism, par. 1792).

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