Conscience - the Light of the Soul
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus,
First, a reminder that next Saturday, March 19, is the Solemnity of St. Joseph! I will offer Holy Mass in the morning. The month of March is dedicated to increased devotion to St. Joseph, the Spouse of the Virgin Mary and Foster Father of our Lord Jesus. Let us go to St. Joseph, open our hearts to his love for us and experience his great kind-ness! This weekend I share with you a reflection on the power of Con-science present in each of us. I encourage you to reflect over this mes-sage a few times this week:
“Conscience - the Light of the Soul. Conscience throws light on all of one’s life. It can be deformed and hardened: O that today you would hearken to His voice! Harden not your hearts! (Divine Office, Ps. 94:8) The liturgy repeats this to us every day of this liturgical period. And each day, in very different ways, God speaks to the heart of each one of us.
Our prayer, during Lent, aims at awakening consciences, at making them sensitive to God’s voice. ‘Harden not your hearts,’ the Psalmist says. In fact, the numbing of consciences, their indifference to good and evil, their deviations, are a great threat for man. Indirectly, they are also a great threat for society, because in the last analysis the level of morality of society depends on the human conscience. (St. John Paul II, Angelus, 15 March 1981) Conscience is the light of the soul, of what is deepest in man’s being; and if this light is put out, man is thrown into darkness and can commit the most dastardly abuses against himself and against others.
Your eye is the lamp of your body (Luke 11:34), says the Lord. Con-science is the lamp of the soul, and if it is well formed it lights up the way, a way which leads to God, and man can make progress because of it. Although he may weaken and fall, he can raise himself and con-tinue onward. But one who has allowed this interior sensitivity ‘to drowse’ or ‘to die’ to the things of God, is now without signposts and is lost. It is one of the great misfortunes in this life which can befall a soul: Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! (Is. 5:20-21) proclaims the prophet Isaiah.
Jesus compares the function of conscience in our life to that of the eye. When your eye is sound, your whole body is full of light; but when it is not sound, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. (Luke 11:34-35) When the eye is healthy, things are seen as they are, undistorted. A sick eye either does not see or it distorts reality; it deceives its own subject and he can come to think that events and people are in fact as his defective vision views them. When one makes a mistake in ordinary life, having falsely interpreted some facts, it can lead to problems and difficulties which are, at times, of little importance. But when the error refers to matters regarding Eternal Life, its consequences have no limit.
Conscience can be deformed through our not having used the means to get to know the Faith, or through an ill will dominated by pride, sensuality, laziness… When Our Lord complains that the Jews were not receiving His message, He particularly notes the deliberate nature of their decision - they did not want to believe (cf. Luke 13:34; John 10:38) - and He in no way accepted that the cause lay in a difficulty
outside the will: this is a consequence of their refusal, freely chosen. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear My word. (John 8:43) Passions and a lack of sincerity with oneself can come to force the intellect to think in a way more easily adapted to one’s way of life, or to some defects or bad habits one does not want to give up. In such a case there is no good will; the heart is hardened, and conscience begins to drowse, for it no longer points in the right direction which would lead it to God. It is now like a broken compass which not only disorientates its owner but can also affect others. The man whose heart is hardened and whose conscience is degenerate, even if he is in full possession of his strength and physical capacities, is sick spiritually, and everything must be done to restore him to health of soul. (St. John Paul II, ibid.)
Lent is a good time to ask the Lord to help us form our consciences really well, and for us to examine ourselves to see whether we are being radically sincere with ourselves, with God and with those people who in His Name have the mission of advising us.
A well-formed conscience. Doctrine and life. Example: The Light which is in us does not spring up from within ourselves, from our subjectivity, but from Jesus Christ. I am the Light of the world, He has told us, he who follows Me will not walk in darkness. (John 8:12) His Light brightens our consciences; but even more, it can turn us ourselves into a light that will illuminate the lives of others: you are the light of the world. (Matt. 5:14) The Lord puts us Christians in the world so that, with the Light of Christ, we can point the way to others. We will do so by word, but especially through our behavior as regards professional, family and social obligations. We should therefore get to know very well the limits beyond which we cannot go with respect to our honor and Christ’s morality: we should become aware of the good we can do and are doing, know clearly how an honest professional and a good Christian cannot permit himself to act, and to avoid any such action; if we have made a mistake we should know how necessary it is to seek pardon, to make amends for it, and reparation also, if such is needed. The mother of a family, who has the running of her home as her sanctifying task, ought to ask herself in her prayer if she is exemplary in fulfilling her obligations towards God, if she lives sobriety, if she is managing to dominate any tendency to ill-humor, if she dedi-cates the necessary time to her children and to the home… The businessman ought frequently to consider whether he is using all the means necessary to get to know the social doctrine of the Church, whether he make the effort to put this teaching into effect in his business dealings, whether he pays just wages…
Christian life is enriched when the teachings Our Lord conveys to us through His Church are put into effect in daily life. Doctrine then assumes all its inherent power. Doctrine and life are realities for a well-formed conscience. When, through a more or less culpable ignorance the doctrine is not known, or when although known it is not put into practice, Christian living becomes impossible, and real ad-vance along the road to sanctity is out of the question.
We all need to form for ourselves a true and refined conscience, which readily listens to the voice of God in everyday matters. Doc-trine (as regards the knowledge of moral and social teaching) and life (the effort to practice the Christian virtues) are two essential requi-sites for educating one’s conscience. On occasion, faced with the ‘grey areas’, that are not unfamiliar in our professional work, we have to consider the situation in the presence of God: whenever necessary we should insist on receiving the best and most opportune advice from those who can clarify such matters for our conscience, and then put into practice the decisions we have made on our own responsibility.
We learn to be sincere with ourselves in the general and particular examination of conscience, to call our errors, weaknesses and faults against generosity by their real names, without masking them with false justifications or disregarding them as non-issues. A conscience which does not recognize its faults leaves man at the mercy of his own caprice.
Being a light for others. Responsibility: Every traveler who is serious about wanting to reach his destination must know the route clearly. He is grateful for clear sign-posting, although these pointers may, at times, indicate a narrow path through a more difficult terrain; he will steer well clear of routes which although seeming to be quicker or less arduous lead nowhere - or to a precipice. We ought to have a great desire to form our conscience well, for it is the Light that enables us to distinguish good from evil; it enables us to seek forgiveness and find our way back to the true path if we have lost sight of it. The Church offers us the means, but she does not exempt us from the effort required to use these means responsibly. In our prayer today we can ask ourselves: Do I dedicate sufficient time to my religious formation, or do I allow myself to become absorbed by the other things that fill each day? Do I have a plan for reading, reviewed in spiritual guidance, which will help me make progress in doctrinal formation according to my age and background? Am I faithful to the Magisterium of the Church, knowing that there I find the Light of Truth rather than the contradictory opinions I often come across in matters of Faith, social teaching etc.? Do I try to get to know the teachings of the Popes and to make them known? Do I respect them with piety and docility? Do I frequently rectify my intention, offering up all my actions to God, taking into account our tendency to seek applause, recognition and praise for what we do? Am I constantly aware that this is often where the deformation of one’s conscience begins?
We need Light and clarity, both for ourselves and for those around us.
This is our big responsibility. The Christian has been placed by God as a
lamp to light up, for others, the way towards God. We ought to educate ourselves to face the rush of people who are going to press upon us with a specific and urgent question: ‘Well, then, what must I do?’ (J. Escriva, Furrow, 221) Children, relatives, colleagues, friends - they all look to our behavior, and we have the responsibility of leading them to God.
And so that the blind person’s guide is not himself also blind (cf. Matt. 15:14), it is not enough to have second-hand knowledge or mere hearsay.
To lead our friends and relatives to God, a vague and superficial knowledge of the route is not enough: we need to have walked it ourselves… It is essential for us to have closer dealings with Our Lord, to get to know His doctrine better, to struggle against our own specific defects… In a word, it means making progress ourselves in interior life and example. Whoever has the mission of proclaiming great things, says St. Gregory the Great, is also under obligation to practice them. (St. Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care, 2, 3) And only if we personally put things into practice will we be effective when we come to talk about them.
When Jesus Christ wanted to teach His disciples how to acquire a spirit of service to one another, He wrapped a towel around Himself and washed their feet. (cf. John 13:15) This is what we have to do: to make Christ known, we ourselves have to be exemplary in our daily obligations, putting into practice the doctrine of Our Lord.” (From In Conversation with God, by Francis Fernandez)
Through the intercession of Mary, Our Lady of Victory, St. Joseph, the Terror of demons, St. Michael, St. Paul, and our Guardian Angels, may our good Lord grant us the grace to possess well-formed consciences!
In Christ through Mary,