Moral conscience, present in the heart of a person, is a judgement of reason, which inspires us to do good and to avoid evil. When we are committed to living as good people, conscience is one of the ways God can speak to our hearts.
Conscience is very different to ‘opinion’, even strongly held opinions. An upright and true moral conscience is formed by education and by familiarity with God’s Word (for example, Gospel stories and teachings of Jesus Christ). It is also important to learn about and try to understand what the Church teaches on a particular issue. A ‘well formed’ conscience is supported by the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the advice of wise people. Prayer and examination of conscience are important and helpful. To be in touch with inner feelings, motives and hopes, to recognise what these are saying, helps us to act on them appropriately.
There are three general guidelines to follow
1) One may never do evil so that good may result from it
2) The ‘Golden Rule’: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12)
3) To act in charity means respect for the other person and that person’s conscience. We must not cause another person to act against their conscience.
Because of the God-given dignity of persons, no one may be forced to act contrary to conscience.
It is possible to make mistaken judgements of conscience. We are more likely to make wise and good decisions, and stick to them through good actions, if conscience is well ‘formed and informed’ and we practice! Every time we make, and act upon, a good and wise decision, we are also further forming our own character; we are actually shaping the person we are becoming.
Research, find out, gather data, reflect, talk with person(s) who are knowledgeable about the issue if possible, talk with a friend, family member or another person who knows and cares about you, if appropriate (a good person for this will help you to reflect but will realise that the decision has to be yours).
Consider the perspectives of major contributors in this area; eg. experts, law, experienced people, the Church (from reliable resources, not, for example most media presentations that often fail to present Church teaching accurately.) Try to do this without prejudice, open to the wisdom that might be available.
- Weigh up the information from different sources.
- Consider possible consequences.
From St. Ignatius of Loyola:
- Pray for help and guidance. (If there is a divine power, a God who cares for us, it makes sense that this divine being would care about the choices and decisions we make!)
- Stay with the decision for a time, if possible eg. a few days etc.
- If you find yourself experiencing PEACE deep within; this may indicate that the decision is a good one. Note: When a decision is right, it is possible to feel deep peace within, even when the decision may be one that you don’t want to have to make, and when, on the ‘surface,’ you may even feel some grief, loss or similar. The right decisions are sometimes not easy to carry out. However, of course, it is possible to feel deep PEACE within, that is felt on the surface as well! Scripture and experience teach us that one of the results (fruits) of the action of God’s Spirit is inward peace at a deep level.
- If you find that you experience lack of any peace at a deep level, turmoil, anxiety, or uneasiness – when you reflect upon the decision you have made. Then pray some more. It may be because
- - This may not be a right decision.
- - You may need to go back to earlier steps; there may be more work to do before deciding.
- - It may be that it is not the right time for this decision.
St Ignatius taught:
Do not make a life changing decision when feeling down, angry, depressed, upset etc.
“What the Spirit brings is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness,
gentleness and self control.” [Galatians 5:22-23]
(Paragraph numbers for the Catechism are shown - Click the Nos section to view)
MORAL CONSCIENCE Nos 1776
The Judgment of Conscience Nos 1777-1782
The Formation of Conscience Nos 1783-1785
Choosing According To Conscience Nos 1786-1789
Mistaken (‘Eroneous’) Judgment Nos 1790-1794
IN BRIEF Nos 1795-1802