Reconciliatio et Paenitentia 26: Catechesis, Part 5: Conscience Formation

As the synod recalled, the pastors of the church are also expected to provide catechesis on conscience and its formation. This too is a very relevant topic in view of the fact that in the upheavals to which our present culture is subjected this interior sanctuary, (our) innermost self, (our) conscience, is too often attacked, put to the test, confused and obscured.

A good conscience is always beset by temptation. Formation of conscience is glossed over in parishes. We sort of do it for seven-year-olds and then assume that we’ve initiated little boys and girls into confession, they’re good for life.

Vatican II hit on what is needed for adults:

Valuable guidelines for a wise catechesis on conscience can be found both in the doctors of the church and in the theology of the Second Vatican Council, and especially in the documents on the church in the modern world (Cf Gaudium et Spes, 8, 16, 19, 26, 41, 48) and on religious liberty.(Cf. Dignitatis Humanae, 2, 3, 4) Along these same lines, Pope Paul VI often reminded us of the nature and role of conscience in our life. (Cf among many others the addresses at the general audiences of March 28,1973: Insegnamenti XI (1973),294ff; August 8,1973: ibid., 772ff, November 7, 1973: ibid., 1054ff; March 13, 1974: Insegnamenti’ XII (1974), 230ff; May 8, 1974: ibid., 402ff; February 12, 1975: Insegnamenti XIII (1975), ibid.,290ff; July 13, 1977: Insegnamenti XV (1977), 710ff) I myself, following his footsteps, miss no opportunity to throw light on this most lofty element of (human) greatness and dignity, (Cf PopeJohn Paul II, Angelus Message of March 14, 1982: Insegnamenti V, 1 (1982), 860f) this “sort of moral sense which leads us to discern what is good and what is evil…like an inner eye, a visual capacity of the spirit, able to guide our steps along the path of good.” And I have reiterated the need to form one’s conscience, lest it become “a force which is destructive of the true humanity of the person, rather than that holy place where God reveals to (us our) true good.” (Cf Pope John Paul II, General Audience Address of August 17, 1983, 1-3: Insegnamenti VI, 2 (1983), 256f)

There are two aspects to one big problem. First, few adults outside of monasteries and serious Twelve Step recovery see conscience formation as a priority. Second, religious leaders are disinclined to lead by example. Consider it: how many bishops plan retreat days for their priests to learn and talk about forming consciences?

This document is Copyright © 1984 – Libreria Editrice Vatican. The link on the Vatican site is here.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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