Deep inside of every one of us is a “little voice” that speaks to us about matters of right and wrong. When we anticipate certain actions, the “little voice” says to us that we ought to do this or we ought not do that. When life is viewed in retrospect, the “little voice” commends us for some things we have done and condemns us for others. We, of course, call that “little voice” our conscience.
Some people make light of it. Others define it as “an inner voice which warns us that someone might be looking.” Some others say, “a clear conscience is nothing more than a poor memory.” Still others take conscience in all seriousness and regard it as a virtually infallible authority. The truth, of course, lies somewhere in between. Conscience is not a joke to be laughed at, but neither is it a god before which we should bow in strict obedience.
In the first letter of St. John we read, “No matter what our consciences may charge us with …God is greater than our hearts and all is known to Him.” In other words, your conscience or mine is not the final authority on matters of moral and ethical behavior. That place belongs to God alone. So it is altogether possible that at times the voice of God and the voice of conscience will disagree. Your conscience may accuse you when God approves or the other way around. You may have a perfectly clear conscience, when all the while God is disapproving of your attitude or action. So if your conscience and mine is going to keep us on the right course in life, then we must see to it that they stay on course.
Our conscience, therefore, must be formed properly. It must be formed by the Word of God and under the guidance of the authority of the Church. In its Declaration on Religious Freedom, the Second Vatican Council states: “In the formation of their consciences, the Christian faithful ought carefully to attend to the sacred and certain doctrine of the Church. The Church is, by the will of Christ, the teacher of truth. It is the Church’s duty to give utterance to, and authoritatively to teach that truth which is Christ Himself, and also to declare and confirm by the Church’s authority those principles of the moral order which have their origin in human nature itself.”
Conscience is a powerful part of our spiritual equipment, but it isn’t infallible. We need to check it once in a while to keep it on course, to make sure that it is formed by the Word of God and under the guidance of the authority of the Church. What about your conscience? Is it formed properly? Is it ready to help us live God’s way and therefore, on the right course?