Reflection on Article 1797 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, 1797.
If (when) we commit or do what is evil we should not despair. If we recognize the evil we have done we can and should repent our sins and allow God’s mercy and grace to give us a new beginning. Inspired by God, Saint Paul wrote “In hope we were saved” (Romans 8:24). Sacred Scripture constantly exhorts hope not despair (e.g. 2 Corinthians 1:8, 10; 4:8). Anticipating the Catechism (1992) by eight years, Saint John Paul II (+2005) published his Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia (2 December, 1984) wherein he wrote that God, who is greater than anything we can think or imagine is able to overcome all of our psychological and spiritual resistance and none of us should despair of salvation considering the omnipotence and mercy of God (cf. RP, 17). While Saint John Paul II knew of the fear and despair which grips the hearts of people in our day, having lived under the tyranny of the German National Socialists (Nazi) and Soviet Communist occupations of Poland, he nevertheless teaches us to be uplifted by the divine promise which can open us to the hope of full reconciliation (cf. RP, 22). Following Saint Augustine (+430), Saint John Paul II reminds us that “it is thanks to the medicine of confession that the experience of sin does not degenerate into despair” (cf. RP, 31).
The verdict of conscience remains a pledge of conversion and of hope. Our judgment of conscience, recognizing evil as evil, can lead to conversion, our turning away from sin. Some fifteen years after Saint John Paul II published the Catechism, Pope Benedict XVI (b. 16 April, 1927) picked up this theme in his encyclical Spe salvi (30 November, 2007) when he wrote: “Failure to recognize my guilt, the illusion of my innocence, does not justify me and does not save me, because I am culpable for the numbness of my conscience and my incapacity to recognize the evil in me for what it is. … God awakens my conscience in such a way that it no longer aims at self-justification, and is no longer a mere reflection of me and those of my contemporaries who shape my thinking, but it becomes a capacity for listening to the Good itself” (Spe salvi, 33). Here we see the dignity of conscience and our responsibility to correctly form and follow it. Recalling the Particular Judgment of God when each of us die and the Final Judgment at the end of time Benedict XVI continues: “From the earliest times, the prospect of the Judgement has influenced Christians in their daily living as a criterion by which to order their present life, as a summons to their conscience, and at the same time as hope in God’s justice” (Spe salvi, 41).
God bless you!
Father John Arthur Orr


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