Reflection on Article 1796 of the Catechism

My dear parishioners,
Peace! Under headings of Judgment, Formation, Choice in Accord, Erroneous Judgment and In Brief, the Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses “conscience” in twenty-nine passages. Here we consider CCC, 1796.
Conscience is a judgment of reason by which the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act.
While there are various mistaken ideas about conscience (e.g. an emotive response; a built in moral guidance system; a moral sense; a moral opinion…) the Catechism (and Mother Church thereby) insists that “conscience is a judgment of reason.” This is not to say that we are “rationalists.” As “rational animals” reason is a very significant part of our very human existence. As followers of Jesus Christ in His Church we know that the human spirit soars on the two wings of faith and reason (cf. Saint John Paul II, Fides et ratio, prologue).
While the Lord Jesus does warn us about rash judgments “do not judge”(Matthew 7:1) fifteen and nineteen verses latter He calls us to not close our eyes and play dumb “by their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:16, 20). We can recognize good an evil deeds (cf. Psalm 28:4; John 3:19). While many people wrongly invoke Pope Francis’ airplane quip “Who am I to judge” (29 July, 2013) these same people will not similarly invoke his judgment that “relativism… harms the Church (and) the fabric of society as a whole” (Evangelii Gaudium, (24 November, 2013) 61). Edward Sri has written an insightful volume addressing all of this entitled Who am I to Judge? Responding to Relativism with Logic and Love (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius, 2016).
As important as our emotions are, as a part of our psychological makeup, emotions are notoriously able to be manipulated as Aristotle’s Rhetoric II 2-11 and the Nuremberg rallies of the 1930’s bear witness. Reason helps.
Due to our fallen human nature the training of our moral conscience is necessary. Our human nature is good and we are made to do good, we have a tendency to do evil (concupiscence), a consequence of Original Sin. The teaching of Sacred Scripture and of Mother Church help us to form our conscience as do the Cross and the examples and teachings of the Saints.
The judgment of conscience is not “moral sentimentalism” which tends to indulge the emotions and is overly nostalgic. Oscar Wilde (+1900) famously defined sentimentality as “the luxury of having an emotion without paying for it” (De Profundis, 1905). We don’t do good or avoid evil (or repent it) because “Auntie Betty” did it, but because we recognize the truth of the matter (as, please God Auntie Betty did as well).
While we are entitled to our opinions and may even share our opinions with others (so long as we don’t lead others astray), it is the truth will set us free, the truth about God, the truth about ourselves, including moral truths about good and evil (cf. John 8:32).
God bless you!
Father John Arthur Orr


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