Sunday, November 4, 2012

Living the Faith: Conscience and Election Day 2012

by Mark Rothe, Master Catechist

Tuesday, November 6, 2012, is election day. Part of living the faith -- everyday, in all aspects of our lives -- is the question of how to apply the truths of the faith, most especially the truths of the inherent dignity of the human person, in that part of civil society known as the political and electoral process. (See Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est 28-29)

As with all decisions in life, your ballot should be based upon a properly-formed good conscience and well-informed prudent judgment. However, it must be understood that conscience is not the same as one’s opinions or feelings, and one cannot choose or create his own conscience. That is not the conscience, that is the will. Rather, conscience is a judgment of reason in the application of objective moral truth to a particular case. (CCC 1777-82)

A major objective of the New Evangelization is to explain the faith more effectively, including correcting misconceptions and misunderstandings that might present obstacles to conversion and people fully accepting and living the Good News of Jesus Christ. And one enormous area of misunderstanding in the modern day is this concept of conscience, an error which has led many astray. The word "conscience" comes from the Latin "con-scientia," meaning "with knowledge." Knowledge of what? Knowledge of something other than our subjective selves, something that is beyond the self -- it is knowledge of objective and eternal truth, the "anamnesis" of the Creator who exhorts us to love in truth. Rightly understood, conscience is not the voice of self or the personal will, but is the voice of God within our hearts, our very souls; it is the light of objective moral truth which is given us so that we might make our way in the dark. (See Blessed Pope John Paul II, Dominum et Vivificantem 43, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship 17)

The task of conscience is not to create moral truth, but to perceive it and then apply it, not ignore it. In our perception of such moral truth, we are assisted by the Magisterium of the Church, by the Pope and bishops, who are in turn specially guided and protected from error by the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete promised to us by Jesus Christ. Thus, as Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman noted, a properly-formed good conscience cannot be one that is in contradiction with the teachings of the Church.

Prior to the obligation of conscience is the obligation to properly form one's conscience, or more specifically, "an actual conscience, conscience understood as a 'co-knowing' with the truth," in the words of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (before he became Pope Benedict) in his 1991 talk, Conscience and Truth. If we have a false, improperly-formed conscience, one that is not "with knowledge" of objective truth, but is instead one that is "with ignorance" of objective truth, including knowing contradiction with authoritative Church teaching, including those teachings on the inviolability of human life, then we cannot assert a right to follow it. The obligation to follow one’s conscience is an obligation to follow a good conscience, one that is "with knowledge" of transcendent objective truth, and not a bad or malformed counterfeit "conscience." Conscience is meant to accuse one of error in sin, not justify it; and conscience is most emphatically not a license to delude oneself to truth so as to justify doing, facilitating, participating in, or formally cooperating with that which is intrinsically wrong or mala in se (evil in and of itself). One's "subjective conviction and the lack of doubts and scruples which follow therefrom" are not sufficient, explains Cardinal Ratzinger in Conscience and Truth, "it will not do to identify man's conscience with the self-consciousness of the I, with it subjective certainty about itself and its moral behavior," especially in a relativistic age when so many can no longer see moral fault and sin. (see also Blessed John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae 24)

Photo of White Rose from Wikipedia
With this connection to transcendent objective moral truth, in all things, including when making electoral decisions, we have an obligation in conscience, written as law upon our hearts, to do the good and resist evil. (Gaudium et Spes 16) This obligation to follow a good conscience, properly formed in conformity with the teachings of the Church, does not restrict human freedom, but instead calls the person to genuine freedom in truth, for only in truth will one be set free. On the other hand, Cardinal Ratzinger continues in Conscience and Truth, "the identification of conscience with superficial consciousness, the reduction of man to his subjectivity, does not liberate but enslaves. It makes us totally dependent on the prevailing opinions and debases these with every passing day."

From the Pastor of Blessed Sacrament, Rev. John C. Cregan:
Eucharistic Adoration ~ Election Day
Once again, on Tuesday, November 6th, we have the great privilege of exercising our right to vote. Please [click here to read the] letter from Bishop Loverde and Bishop DiLorenzo. The bishops remind us that we are called to be responsible citizens and participate in the political life of our country. Indeed, they point out that participation is more than a privilege, it is a moral responsibility.

I encourage all in our parish who are registered, to vote on election day. It is a fundamental way to contribute to the common good. As people of faith, we are called to apply the principles of Church teaching to the many issues before us.

Prayerfully reflect this week before election day on the three-part framework provided by the bishops to form a correct conscience:
  • Many issues are important.
  • Not all issues have equal moral weight.
  • When the issue is whether to protect the fundamental right to life, this outweighs other matters.
We are called always to reverence the dignity of every human life, from the first moment of conception until natural death, and at every moment in between. From conception, every human life, conceived in God’s image, is precious and should be protected, affirmed and nurtured.

We are called to prayerfully approach our civic responsibilities in voting and ongoing advocacy. Our voices should be united, powerful and clear in support of life.

In these days as we approach election day, I urge all to prayerfully ask the guidance of the Holy Spirit. May He help us to make informed decisions based on a well-informed conscience.

On election day itself, we will have EUCHARISTIC ADORATION throughout the day (7 am – 7:30 pm). Stop by the Chapel and pray before you vote. Pray for our president and for all who aspire to high office. Pray for our country.
--Fr. John C. Cregan

See also -
Letters from Bishop Paul Loverde:From the USCCB, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship
From the Virginia Catholic Conference:Doctrinal Note, On Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Human Life and the Obligation of Conscience

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