Support the Holy Father and pray with him!
-Pope Benedict XVI
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Lord, source of eternal life and truth, give to Your shepherd, Pope Benedict XVI, a spirit of courage and right judgement, a spirit of knowledge and love.
By governing with fidelity those entrusted to his care may he, as successor to the apostle Peter and vicar of Christ, build Your church into a sacrament of unity, love, and peace for all the world.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
Someone asked Pope Benedict XVI why we should go to confession regularly if we always seem to be confessing the same sins anyway. He answered, “It is true: Our sins are always the same, but we clean our homes, our rooms, at least once a week, even if the dirt is always the same; in order to live in cleanliness, in order to start again. Otherwise, the dirt might not be seen, but it builds up. Something similar can be said about the soul, for me myself. …. Confession is only necessary in the case of a serious sin, but it is very helpful to confess regularly in order to foster the cleanliness and beauty of the soul and to mature day by day in life.”
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Sunday, April 12, 2009
“Christ, our Paschal lamb, has been sacrificed!” (1 Cor 5:7). On this day, Saint Paul’s triumphant words ring forth, words that we have just heard in the second reading, taken from his First Letter to the Corinthians. It is a text which originated barely twenty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, and yet – like many Pauline passages – it already contains, in an impressive synthesis, a full awareness of the newness of life in Christ. The central symbol of salvation history – the Paschal lamb – is here identified with Jesus, who is called “our Paschal lamb”. The Hebrew Passover, commemorating the liberation from slavery in Egypt, provided for the ritual sacrifice of a lamb every year, one for each family, as prescribed by the Mosaic Law. In his passion and death, Jesus reveals himself as the Lamb of God, “sacrificed” on the Cross, to take away the sins of the world. He was killed at the very hour when it was customary to sacrifice the lambs in the Temple of Jerusalem. The meaning of his sacrifice he himself had anticipated during the Last Supper, substituting himself – under the signs of bread and wine – for the ritual food of the Hebrew Passover meal. Thus we can truly say that Jesus brought to fulfilment the tradition of the ancient Passover, and transformed it into his Passover.
On the basis of this new meaning of the Paschal feast, we can also understand Saint Paul’s interpretation of the “leaven”. The Apostle is referring to an ancient Hebrew usage: according to which, on the occasion of the Passover, it was necessary to remove from the household every tiny scrap of leavened bread. On the one hand, this served to recall what had happened to their forefathers at the time of the flight from Egypt: leaving the country in haste, they had brought with them only unleavened bread. At the same time, though, the “unleavened bread” was a symbol of purification: removing the old to make space for the new. Now, Saint Paul explains, this ancient tradition likewise acquires a new meaning, once more derived from the new “Exodus”, which is Jesus’ passage from death to eternal life. And since Christ, as the true Lamb, sacrificed himself for us, we too, his disciples – thanks to him and through him – can and must be the “new dough”, the “unleavened bread”, liberated from every residual element of the old yeast of sin: no more evil and wickedness in our heart.
“Let us celebrate the feast … with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth”. This exhortation from Saint Paul, which concludes the short reading that was proclaimed a few moments ago, resounds even more powerfully in the context of the Pauline Year. Dear brothers and sisters, let us accept the Apostle’s invitation; let us open our spirit to Christ, who has died and is risen in order to renew us, in order to remove from our hearts the poison of sin and death, and to pour in the life-blood of the Holy Spirit: divine and eternal life. In the Easter Sequence, in what seems almost like a response to the Apostle’s words, we sang: “Scimus Christum surrexisse a mortuis vere” – we know that Christ has truly risen from the dead. Yes, indeed! This is the fundamental core of our profession of faith; this is the cry of victory that unites us all today. And if Jesus is risen, and is therefore alive, who will ever be able to separate us from him? Who will ever be able to deprive us of the love of him who has conquered hatred and overcome death?
The Easter proclamation spreads throughout the world with the joyful song of the Alleluia. Let us sing it with our lips, and let us sing it above all with our hearts and our lives, with a manner of life that is “unleavened”, that is to say, simple, humble, and fruitful in good works. “Surrexit Christus spes mea: precedet suos in Galileam” – Christ my hope is risen, and he goes before you into Galilee. The Risen One goes before us and he accompanies us along the paths of the world. He is our hope, He is the true peace of the world. Amen!
- Regina caeli, laetare, alleluia:
- Quia quem meruisti portare. alleluia,
- Resurrexit, sicut dixit, alleluia,
- Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia.
- Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia.
- For He whom you did merit to bear, alleluia.
- Has risen, as He said, alleluia.
- Pray for us to God, alleluia.
- Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia.
- For the Lord has truly risen, alleluia.
Here's a glorious version of the Regina Coeli from my Latin Classics CD
17 Regina Caeli Laetare.wma -
First of all, there is light. God's creation - which has just been proclaimed to us in the Biblical narrative - begins with the command: "Let there be light!" (Gen 1:3). Where there is light, life is born, chaos can be transformed into cosmos. In the Biblical message, light is the most immediate image of God: He is total Radiance, Life, Truth, Light. During the Easter Vigil, the Church reads the account of creation as a prophecy. In the resurrection, we see the most sublime fulfilment of what this text describes as the beginning of all things. God says once again: "Let there be light!" The resurrection of Jesus is an eruption of light. Death is conquered, the tomb is thrown open. The Risen One himself is Light, the Light of the world. With the resurrection, the Lord's day enters the nights of history. Beginning with the resurrection, God's light spreads throughout the world and throughout history. Day dawns. This Light alone - Jesus Christ - is the true light, something more than the physical phenomenon of light. He is pure Light: God himself, who causes a new creation to be born in the midst of the old, transforming chaos into cosmos.
Let us try to understand this a little better. Why is Christ Light? In the Old Testament, the Torah was considered to be like the light coming from God for the world and for humanity. The Torah separates light from darkness within creation, that is to say, good from evil. It points out to humanity the right path to true life. It points out the good, it demonstrates the truth and it leads us towards love, which is the deepest meaning contained in the Torah. It is a "lamp" for our steps and a "light" for our path (cf. Ps 119:105). Christians, then, knew that in Christ, the Torah is present, the Word of God is present in him as Person. The Word of God is the true light that humanity needs. This Word is present in him, in the Son. Psalm 19 had compared the Torah to the sun which manifests God's glory as it rises, for all the world to see. Christians understand: yes indeed, in the resurrection, the Son of God has emerged as the Light of the world. Christ is the great Light from which all life originates. He enables us to recognize the glory of God from one end of the earth to the other. He points out our path. He is the Lord's day which, as it grows, is gradually spreading throughout the earth. Now, living with him and for him, we can live in the light.
At the Easter Vigil, the Church represents the mystery of the light of Christ in the sign of the Paschal candle, whose flame is both light and heat. The symbolism of light is connected with that of fire: radiance and heat, radiance and the transforming energy contained in the fire - truth and love go together. The Paschal candle burns, and is thereby consumed: Cross and resurrection are inseparable. From the Cross, from the Son's self-giving, light is born, true radiance comes into the world. From the Paschal candle we all light our own candles, especially the newly baptized, for whom the light of Christ enters deeply into their hearts in this Sacrament. The early Church described Baptism as fotismos, as the Sacrament of illumination, as a communication of light, and linked it inseparably with the resurrection of Christ. In Baptism, God says to the candidate: "Let there be light!" The candidate is brought into the light of Christ. Christ now divides the light from the darkness. In him we recognize what is true and what is false, what is radiance and what is darkness. With him, there wells up within us the light of truth, and we begin to understand. On one occasion when Christ looked upon the people who had come to listen to him, seeking some guidance from him, he felt compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd (cf. Mk 6:34). Amid the contradictory messages of that time, they did not know which way to turn. What great compassion he must feel in our own time too - on account of all the endless talk that people hide behind, while in reality they are totally confused. Where must we go? What are the values by which we can order our lives? The values by which we can educate our young, without giving them norms they may be unable to resist, or demanding of them things that perhaps should not be imposed upon them? He is the Light. The baptismal candle is the symbol of enlightenment that is given to us in Baptism. Thus at this hour, Saint Paul speaks to us with great immediacy. In the Letter to the Philippians, he says that, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, Christians should shine as lights in the world (cf. Phil 2:15). Let us pray to the Lord that the fragile flame of the candle he has lit in us, the delicate light of his word and his love amid the confusions of this age, will not be extinguished in us, but will become ever stronger and brighter, so that we, with him, can be people of the day, bright stars lighting up our time.
The other way in which we encounter water is in the form of the fresh spring that gives life, or the great river from which life comes forth. According to the earliest practice of the Church, Baptism had to be administered with water from a fresh spring. Without water there is no life. It is striking how much importance is attached to wells in Sacred Scripture. They are places from which life rises forth. Beside Jacob's well, Christ spoke to the Samaritan woman of the new well, the water of true life. He reveals himself to her as the new, definitive Jacob, who opens up for humanity the well that is awaited: the inexhaustible source of life-giving water (cf. Jn 4:5-15). Saint John tells us that a soldier with a lance struck the side of Jesus, and from his open side - from his pierced heart - there came out blood and water (cf. Jn 19:34). The early Church saw in this a symbol of Baptism and Eucharist flowing from the pierced heart of Jesus. The prophet Ezekiel saw a vision of the new Temple from which a spring issues forth that becomes a great life-giving river (cf. Ezek 47:1-12). In a land which constantly suffered from drought and water shortage, this was a great vision of hope. Nascent Christianity understood: in Christ, this vision was fulfilled. He is the true, living Temple of God. He is the spring of living water. From him, the great river pours forth, which in Baptism renews the world and makes it fruitful; the great river of living water, his Gospel which makes the earth fertile. In a discourse during the Feast of Tabernacles, though, Jesus prophesied something still greater: "Whoever believes in me ... out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water" (Jn 7:38). In Baptism, the Lord makes us not only persons of light, but also sources from which living water bursts forth. We all know people like that, who leave us somehow refreshed and renewed; people who are like a fountain of fresh spring water. We do not necessarily have to think of great saints like Augustine, Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and so on, people through whom rivers of living water truly entered into human history. Thanks be to God, we find them constantly even in our daily lives: people who are like a spring. Certainly, we also know the opposite: people who spread around themselves an atmosphere like a stagnant pool of stale, or even poisoned water. Let us ask the Lord, who has given us the grace In his death, Jesus himself became the spring.of Baptism, for the gift always to be sources of pure, fresh water, bubbling up from the fountain of his truth and his love!
The third great symbol of the Easter Vigil is something rather different; it has to do with man himself. It is the singing of the new song - the alleluia. When a person experiences great joy, he cannot keep it to himself. He has to express it, to pass it on. But what happens when a person is touched by the light of the resurrection, and thus comes into contact with Life itself, with Truth and Love? He cannot merely speak about it. Speech is no longer adequate. He has to sing. The first reference to singing in the Bible comes after the crossing of the Red Sea. Israel has risen out of slavery. It has climbed up from the threatening depths of the sea. It is as it were reborn. It lives and it is free. The Bible describes the people's reaction to this great event of salvation with the verse: "The people ... believed in the Lord and in Moses his servant" (Ex 14:31). Then comes the second reaction which, with a kind of inner necessity, follows from the first one: "Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord ..." At the Easter Vigil, year after year, we Christians intone this song after the third reading, we sing it as our song, because we too, through God's power, have been drawn forth from the water and liberated for true life.
There is a surprising parallel to the story of Moses' song after Israel's liberation from Egypt upon emerging from the Red Sea, namely in the Book of Revelation of Saint John. Before the beginning of the seven last plagues imposed upon the earth, the seer has a vision of something "like a sea of glass mingled with fire; and those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb ..." (Rev 15:2f.). This image describes the situation of the disciples of Jesus Christ in every age, the situation of the Church in the history of this world. Humanly speaking, it is self-contradictory. On the one hand, the community is located at the Exodus, in the midst of the Red Sea, in a sea which is paradoxically ice and fire at the same time. And must not the Church, so to speak, always walk on the sea, through the fire and the cold? Humanly speaking, she ought to sink. But while she is still walking in the midst of this Red Sea, she sings - she intones the song of praise of the just: the song of Moses and of the Lamb, in which the Old and New Covenants blend into harmony. While, strictly speaking, she ought to be sinking, the Church sings the song of thanksgiving of the saved. She is standing on history's waters of death and yet she has already risen. Singing, she grasps at the Lord's hand, which holds her above the waters. And she knows that she is thereby raised outside the force of gravity of death and evil - a force from which otherwise there would be no way of escape - raised and drawn into the new gravitational force of God, of truth and of love. At present she is still between the two gravitational fields. But once Christ is risen, the gravitational pull of love is stronger than that of hatred; the force of gravity of life is stronger than that of death. Perhaps this is actually the situation of the Church in every age? It always seems as if she ought to be sinking, and yet she is always already saved. Saint Paul illustrated this situation with the words: "We are as dying, and behold we live" (2 Cor 6:9). The Lord's saving hand holds us up, and thus we can already sing the song of the saved, the new song of the risen ones: alleluia! Amen.
All during Lent we were being stripped down and put to a slow death. I speak liturgically, of course. But as Catholics our spiritual lives ought to reflect our liturgical lives and Holy Church’s liturgical seasons.
We were liturgically eviscerated through Lent and Passiontide, Holy Week.
Now, Holy Church has experienced liturgical death.
In the Extraordinary Form, so important for our self-understanding as Catholics, the Alleluia was lost with the pre-Lenten Sundays.
Instrumental music and flowers went on Ash Wednesday.
On 1st Passion Sunday we were deprived of statues and images when they are draped in purple. In the older form of Mass the “Iudica” psalm in the prayers at the foot of the altar and the Gloria Patri at the end of certain prayers was no longer said.
The pruning cuts more deeply as we entered the Triduum.
After the sudden Gloria during the Mass on Holy Thursday bells were replaced with wooden noise makers.
The Blessed Sacrament was removed from the main altar.
The altar was stripped, left bare and exposed.
Holy Water, water being so essential to life, is removed.
On Good Friday, there is no Mass. First no water … now no food.
On Saturday, aside from somber Tenebrae – for we do not cease to pray when we are being emptied out – there is not even a liturgical action, no liturgical sound. At Tenebrae all lights but for a single candle are snuffed out.
It dies before night falls.
By the time we come to Saturday evening and the setting of the sun – increasing darkness until the buried sun no longer gives any illumination to the sky, we will be deprived of light itself.
It is liturgical night in the fullest sense.
As night truly falls in the physical realm, Holy Church is motionless, soundless, bereft of sound, motion, warmth, light itself.
We are in our liturgical tomb.
Holy Church is liturgically dead.
The Vigil is to be celebrated after night has fallen.
In the darkness a single spark will be struck from flint.
It’s bright glint will be startling in the darkness and silence.
The spark will spread into flames, casting greater and greater illumination as they flicker and wave, as they breathe air and consume the food of its fuel. The flames will spread through the whole Church. The glorious Christ Candle will take its place within the sacred space of the church building’ holy of holies, the sanctuary.
Holy Church springs to life again at the Vigil of Easter.
The dead rise.
Beside it is the central celebration in our liturgy, the celebration of the liturgy is very rich.
I love hearing the bells ring during the Gloria, especially after sometime not singing the Gloria in Mass (we don't sing Gloria during Lent). The bells ring as if it wants to announce to the world that Christ is risen. Indeed, He is risen.
This is my other favorite part.. I love the litany of the Saints... I can't get the tune out of my head during my way back home and keep humming it..
May this Easter bring us hope to always be His living hymn of praise so that one day,we may be worthy to join the Saints in singing praise to God in all eternity! Happy Easter everyone!
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Apart from the fact that, yes… we know that… we believe that with all of hearts, the question does not really address the real issue. In a few such conversations I confess that I have defaulted to an equally inane response.
“Well, if you really want to celebrate the fact that Jesus rose from the dead, why don’t you wear an empty tomb around your neck?”
By the way, a few years ago I did a web search and found a company called Empty Tomb Jewelry. Case closed!
Seriously though, the issue of the cross and the crucifix is one that points to an important point. The cross has absolutely no importance apart from the One who hung upon it the first Good Friday. Countess lives were lost on the cross over a large span of time. It was the “torture of choice” for the Romans and yet those deaths did not give rise to any embrace of this image.
On Good Friday we venerate the cross – a word that means honor, esteem, adoration, or regard very highly. Yet, the liturgy betrays the reason. “Behold the wood of the Cross on which hung the salvation of the world.”
The cross alone is a wonderful Christian symbol, but leaves no challenge to the beholder. Crosses are worn by people of all walks of life and all conditions of life. It has become an item of adornment as well as a Christian symbol. The scandal begins when Salvation is hung upon it.
The crucifix calls people to a decision… a decision about the Lord Jesus Christ, who hung upon the Cross, becoming the salvation of the world. People must choose what to do about Him, whether to accept His death and, with it, the fullness of all that He revealed, or to reject Him.
A nineteenth century Baptist evangelist, D.L. Moody, captured the heart of this confrontation in a sermon entitled “What Think Ye of Christ?” He guided his hearers through a serious of interviews, including those who were present for His passion and death. To each one – the Pharisees, Caiaphas, Pilate, Judas, the Centurion at the cross, the Apostles – he asked the key question, “What think ye of Christ?” Each one answered in kind.
The crucifix continues to call us, Catholic, Protestant, and all the sorts and conditions of humanity, to respond. Our response should not just be based on what is found in our liturgies, but more importantly what is found in our hearts. It is there, in the very core of our being that the question must be settled.
What do we think of Christ? What place does He really occupy in our lives? How does His passion, death, resurrection, and revelation impact me profoundly?
During Lent the Church visits the Christ’s Passion and Death through the Stations of the Cross. Each each station the minister says, “We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.” To which we respond, “Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”
This is why we don’t wear an empty tomb around our necks. Resurrection without a Redeemer is merely a restoration of life. When the cross is added, it is for the life of the world!
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Tuesday, April 7, 2009
But if we are convinced and have come to experience that without Christ life lacks something, that something real – indeed, the most real thing of all – is missing, we must also be convinced that we do no injustice to anyone if we present Christ to them and thus grant them the opportunity of finding their truest and most authentic selves, the joy of finding life. Indeed, we must do this. It is our duty to offer everyone this possibility of attaining eternal life.
Sunday, April 5, 2009
Conscience and authority: some basic thoughts
SDG here with some thoughts on conscience and authority sparked by the combox from my last post.
Every man is bound absolutely to follow his own conscience. Hopefully, if and when a man finds that his judgments of conscience are contradicted by competent authority, he will take that fact into account in informing and revising his judgments of conscience.
But this doesn't mean blindly following competent authority. Sometimes, competent authority is wrong, and good men can honestly conclude that competent authority is wrong — sometimes when it is, sometimes when it isn't.
So there is still the possibility of contradiction. What happens then is … tricky.
If a man's conscience tells him that something is morally licit, and competent authority tells him otherwise, he will often be well advised to refrain from the activity in question in deference to competent authority.
If, on the other hand, a man's conscience tells him that something is morally obligatory — or morally illicit — and competent authority tells him the opposite, he must not act against his conscience in deference to authority.
If he is in sufficient doubt as to the rightness of his own judgment, and is swayed by the weight of authority, then he may arrive at a new judgment of conscience, putting his faith in authority to guide him. Assuming he is honest in this process, the responsibility for his actions now lies to a significant degree with that authority. If authority has led him astray, there are millstones for such things. If it has led him aright, there are rewards.
Conversely, if he remains confident enough of his own judgments as to reject the guidance of authority, then he himself incurs a new burden of responsibility for his actions. In that case, he had better hope and pray that he is right. Just as following authority can mitigate one's responsibility, flouting authority can aggravate it. That doesn't mean you can never, or should never, do it. It does mean you take your head in your hands.
If one is instructed by one's bishop not to present oneself for communion, there is an obligation to honor that instruction, even if one is privately convinced that the bishop's instruction is unjustified. If the bishop is right, he has saved a sheep from (hopefully unwitting) sacrilege. If he's wrong, a soul has suffered unecessarily, but with merit before God for sumbitting humbly to authority and meekly accepting unjust punishment.
However, even in such a case I don't think the obligation is necessarily absolute. Take the case of a couple — a pair of converts, let's say — whose marriage is not recognized by the Church because of a previous union for which the tribunal could not find evidence of nullity. And let's say the couple has appealed to Rome, attempted every recourse, all to no avail.
And now let's say that the couple knows, with great moral certitude, that even though they weren't able to prove it to the tribunal, the previous marriage was not valid, and so their current marriage is valid. In such a case, it seems to me, they are not morally obliged either to refrain from conjugal union or to refrain from receiving communion.
If they can do so without scandal — if, say, they attend a parish where the circumstances of their marriage are not known and no one has reason to suspect that their marriage isn't recognized by the Church — then I think it is possible for them to continue to live together as man and wife and to receive communion with a clear conscience.
Now, if the tribunal was right and the couple are wrong, their moral culpability is all the greater. When you rely on the internal forum, you accept a greater weight of judgment, just as you do when you presume to instruct or lead another.
Conversely, if a tribunal judges wrongly, and gives a couple a clean bill of marital health when in fact there is no marriage because of an existing impediment, if the couple acts in good faith in following the tribunal, the moral responsibility is the tribunal's, not the couple's. (It's also worth noting that there is an obligation to try to work things out through the external forum, not just settle for the internal forum from the get-go. One might possibly choose, with fear and trembling, to disregard the wrongful verdict of a marriage tribunal, but this doesn't mean that you don't have to bother petitioning for a decree of nullity in the first place.)
Conscience and authority, part 2
SDG here with some follow-up thoughts on conscience, sparked by comments in the last combox. A reader writes:
The proper formation of one's conscience is at the heart of all the hypotheticals. Personally, I don't know if I could count on my own conscience without lining it up with the Church's teachings.
Yes indeed, proper formation of conscience is crucially important. However, the authority of a poorly formed conscience is just as absolute as that of a well-formed conscience. However well or poorly one's conscience may be formed, one is always absolutely bound to follow one's conscience, that is, one's last best judgment of what one ought to do. If a man has a dreadfully formed conscience, he may be led to do dreadful things. But to go against one's one's last best judgment of what one ought to do, to do what one believes is wrong, is the essence, the very form, of sin.
Note what this doesn't mean: It doesn't mean privileging your own sense of a particular issue over the voice of authority, whether the word of God, the Magisterium, or lesser authorities like parents, government leaders or social consensus. It does mean that when you have listened to all relevant authorities and arguments, taking everything into account, whatever you believe in the end you ought to do is what you must do.
If a person holds a moral opinion contrary to Magisterial teaching, it would certainly be well for him if his conscience, however flawed, were at least well-formed enough for him to conclude, "Even though my own sense of the issue is very far from what the Church says, and I really can't see the reasoning behind it, at the same time I do believe that the Holy Spirit guides the Church, and that tells me that I ought to listen to the Church even though I don't understand." In that case, his conscience — his last best judgment of what he ought to do — tells him to listen to the Church, and that is what he ought to do.
However, suppose his conscience is so poorly formed that he thinks, "I'd really like to be able to trust the Church here, but I just can't. I think the Church is wrong, and I can't do what the Church wants me to without violating my conscience." That is certainly a disastrous conclusion — but, having reached that conclusion, as long as he remains in that faulty opinion, for him to follow the Church anyway (say, out of timidity, social pressure or for some other reason) would be to go against his conscience, and thus to formal sin. Given his faulty reasoning, he must obey the voice of his conscience, even though this means disobeying the Church and committing material sin.
Of course it would be better for him to correct his faulty reasoning at least enough to conclude that it probably makes more sense to trust the Church than his own sense of the issue. Better still, he should correct his conscience enough to understand and assent to the Church's teaching on the basis of its own intelligibility. Obviously, a better informed conscience will lead you more reliably and safely than a poorly formed one. Doing what you believe is right is no shield against the bad consequences of sinful and destructive actions. But doing what you believe is wrong, pitting the will itself against the good, puts one as far from beatitude as it is possible to be.
Thus, when the reader writes, "I don't know if I could count on my own conscience without lining it up with the Church's teachings," it sounds as if the reader's conscience tells her that the Church's teachings must inform her last best judgment of what she ought to do — and if she were to find herself at odds with the Church, she would conclude that she hadn't yet reached a last best judgment. That's as it should be.
In other words, if one's thinking is, "My own sense of the issue is to do X, but the Church tells me to do Y, and in the end I trust the Church more than my own sense of the issue, so I think I should do Y," then one is not trusting the Church instead of one's conscience. Rather, one's conscience tells one to do Y, not X, in keeping with the Church's teaching.
Lots of people don't understand this point.
Conscience and authority, part 3
In the combox for part 2, a reader writes:
But where might the concept of natural law come in — that is, the idea that certain moral laws are written on all people's hearts, such that they cannot authentically claim that they didn't recognize the wrongness of a certain action?
It would seem to me that such persons would have to actively "bury" the natural law in order to not recognize the wrongness of such actions — and it is that choice to "bury" the law that is sinful and extends sin to the actions that follow.
Natural law is assumed throughout my comments on conscience and authority. If there were no natural law, we would have no basis for arriving at judgments of right and wrong — we could only have blind intuitions, authoritative declarations or some combination of the two. Morality would seem totally random to us; we could have no insight into why something was right or wrong.
The possibility of "burying" or suppressing innate knowledge of right and wrong is of course always an ever-present factor to be contended with. To the extent that one is culpable for the false conclusions one arrives at, one has deliberately avoided reaching, or has at least sabotaged, one's "last best" judgment about the right thing to do.
To that extent, one is culpable for misforming one's conscience and therefore to that extent for the false judgments one arrives at — what is called "vincible" ignorance — and the sinful acts one commits in that state.
However, the disfiguring effects of original sin upon the faculties — what Catholic theology calls concupiscence — are also an important factor impeding us from coming to a knowledge of the truth, even the truth written on our hearts. Because of this, it can be difficult or even impossible for us to ascertain the extent to which our own acts of suppression, as opposed to the innate brokenness of our fallen condition, are responsible for our flawed knowledge of moral truth.
So, while it's true that the moral law is written on our hearts so that we have knowledge of the truth, it's also true that our intellects have been darkened by original sin, and this darkened condition is part of the concupiscent weakness that, even after original sin is washed away by baptism and we are reborn in Christ, makes it hard for us to attain, understand and retain spiritual truth in the fulness of its beauty and integrity.
This is why we need proper formation, as well as the illumination of regeneration, to help compensate for, correct and transcend the limitations of our broken ability to interpret correctly the truths written on our hearts. Ignorance of this sort, for which one is not culpable, is called "invicible" ignorance.
Thus, for example, we can't necessarily say with confidence that a Protestant raised in a culture where acceptance of contraception is unanimous, or a Muslim raised with acceptance of polygamy, etc., is personally culpable for suppressing his conscience on these points — i.e., that his ignorance is vincible rather than invincible. Unanimous cultural consensus carries significant moral authority, and in the absence of adequate formation the truths written on our hearts may not come across with sufficient clarity to the darkened intellect to empower the individual to challenge his culture.
Or again they may, by God's grace, for a particular person. But it's for God alone to judge that in a particular case a person is necessarily culpable for burying the witness of his conscience. Even when it comes to more disturbing practices or institutions (female genital mutilation or male castration, for instance, or even human sacrifice), ascertaining the moral culpability of individuals is not for use to judge.
I'm not denying that individuals in such cultures, or some individuals, may know somewhere deep down that these things are wrong, and may be culpable for suppressing such knowledge of the truth as they may find written on their hearts. I'm saying that concupiscence complicates things, and only God can can ascertain the vincibility or invicibility of particular errors, the culpability or inculpability of a particular person's failure to discern truths written on our hearts.