God has given to every person a conscience. All are called to the serious formation of the conscience. All are called to learn the difference between "right and wrong". All are called to avoid evil and pursue the path of goodness. Eternal consequences follow the actions made upon the following of one's conscience.
Many have a poorly formed conscience. Pope Pius XII expressed it bluntly, "The sin of the century is the loss of the sense of sin." Indeed this statement of the late Holy Father indicates a loss of the formation of the conscience. When one loses the sense of God in one's life, he then logically loses the sense sin and consequently the loss of conscience--- of knowing the difference between good and evil.
The obvious consequence of this moral atmosphere is "Situation Ethics", "The Dictatorship of Moral relativism" (Pope Benedict XVI), or "Cafeteria Catholicism"--- meaning, you choose what is right and wrong, what appeals to your moral taste buds and savor it; just dig in! This prevailing moral climate necessarily will lead to confusion, chaos, and war--- each one ruthlessly defending his own moral territory!
What is conscience, a definition? The concise and clear-minded Jesuit theologian Father John Hardon in his Pocket Catholic Dictionary defines conscience for us in these words:
" CONSCIENCE. The judgment of the practical intellect deciding, from general principles of faith and reason, the goodness or badness of a way of acting that a person now faces. It is an operation of the intellect and not of the feelings or even of the will. An action is right or wrong because of objective principles to which the mind must subscribe, not because a person subjectively feels that way or because his will wants that way.....Always the role of conscience is to decide subjectively on the ethical propriety of a specific action, here and now, for this person, in these circumstances. But always, too, the decision is a mental conclusion derived from objective norms that conscience does not determine on its own, receiving it as given by the Author of nature and divine grace." (Pocket Catholic Dictionary, Fr. John Hardon, S.J. page 89)
This being said, there are many who have a deformed, mal-formed, callous or even deadened conscience. What are the various forms of conscience we might have, or run into today. We will give a list and see where you might fall and then make the decision , for the good of your own salvation that of your family ,the church , and the whole world, to form your conscience correctly, in the light of reason, guided by faith under the supervision of the Holy Father and Magisterium of the Church!
1. ERRONEOUS CONSCIENCE. Means a conscience that is darkened due to errors. "Erroneous" means a conscience plagued with "Errors". Examples have no end, but here is one! Sujectivism! "I go to Holy Mass when I feel like it!" Error! Attendance at Mass is obligatory binding, and missing without reason is a Mortal sin!
2. LAX CONSCIENCE. A conscience that has become so dulled to moral truth and the working of the Holy Spirit that it is only aware of the most egregious sins that he commits! Example: Person who goes to confession after 25 years and cannot confess anything and says point blank: "I have not killed nor robbed that bank; I am a good guy!" The Italians put it this way, "No faccio mal a nessuno!!!" (I have done no evil to anybody!)
3 SUPPRESSED CONSCIENCE. The person has purposely held back or blocked out the willingness to know the truth. Example: Book of Daniel, when the two elders purposely fail to look to heaven (blocking God out) and pursue their lusts as they try to force the chaste Susanna into committing adultery. Due to lust, these elders had "Suppressed" their consciences! Frequently, by becoming slaves to passion and lust, the net result is the suppression of the conscience!
4. DOUBTFUL CONSCIENCE. Moral theology maintains this sacred principle: "Never act on a doubtful conscience!" The reason: one is risking offending God by sin! Remedy and solution: consult a confessor, or spiritual director, or orthodox text on moral theology to clarify the doubt! Search for the "Truth" in the proper place and you will find it!
5. SEARED/CAUTERIZED CONSCIENCE. A conscience that has been"Burned", greatly defaced, seriously damaged to the point of almost being dead to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
6. HARDENED CONSCIENCE. We are either drawing closer to God or drifting away. Remember the words of the poet: "The sun beat down on two different surfaces: wax and mud; the latter hardened, the former, softened. Either we are wax and becoming more docile to God's inspirations and grace or we are mud, becoming more hardened to God's grace! Example: A couple living in "Free union" (Cohabitation). They have been invited to Sacramental marriage, gently rebuked by relatives and friends, have heard exhortations in homilies and even retreats, but have hardened their hearts. "If today you hear his voice, harden not yours hearts as in Meribah and Massah in the desert..." (Psalm 95)
7. DEAD CONSCIENCE. God respects human freedom. Pope John Paul II calls mortal sin, "Moral suicide". One can decide to kill the voice of conscience. I remember hearing of a case of a woman who had 28 abortions! At first, her conscience-- most likely--- rebuked her ("Sting of conscience"), but gradually she suppressed, cauterized, and eventually killed her conscience!
8. SCRUPULOUS CONSCIENCE. Father John Hardon S.J., once again, defines this conscience for us. SCRUPLE. Unreasonable doubt about the morality of an act done or to be done. Its basis is an erroneous conscience combined with a lack of control of the emotion of fear. (Catholic Dictionary, Father John Hardon page 399). It can be a sick conscience that exaggerates the small to wide proportions and at the same time can be blind to what is truly serious. Saints have passed through this stage: St. Ignatius, St. Maximillian Kolbe, and even St. Therese of Lisieux, for a short time. Remedy: strict obedience to one's confessor!
9. HEALTHY CONSCIENCE. A conscience that has had a proper formation in truth and responds correctly to human acts. A healthy conscience, when he has done something wrong experiences pangs, biting(St. Ignatius), remorse/sadness. This is healthy! However, if he does good, he experiences joy, happiness and peace and a sense of wholeness and satisfaction! One of the greatest blessings in the world is to experience the peace of a well-formed conscience that is resting in the knowledge of doing God's will! Whereas, a tortured conscience sullied by evil and sin is "Hell on earth!" Lady Macbeth had to wash her hands over and over, striving to wash away the guilt of murderous blood on her conscience!
10. DELICATE CONSCIENCE. The conscience of the saints! Not only has this person formed a healthy conscience; even more a "delicate" conscience! This means that slight sins, lack of response to grace, imperfections, lack of total generosity towards God (Magnanimity) results in the pricking/ gentle rebuke of the conscience! Welcome to the "Hall of the saints!" Saints, not only fight fiercely against all forms of sins in their lives, but they labor, with the help of God's grace, to be docile and constantly open to God's gentle but constant and insistent inspirations. Our model is the Blessed Virgin Mary and her total openness to grace and the working of the Holy Spirit in her life.
Conclusion! Let us make a concerted effort to work on forming our consciences, in the light of reason, faith, the Holy Father and the teaching of the Magisterium of the Church. Finally, parents, must recognize their moral duty before God to form the conscience of their children! May God assist us in this challenging but exceedingly important OPUS DEI--- work of God! "Come Holy Spirit come, through the intercession of Mary most holy."