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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

That Little Voice From Within

"Conscience is the voice of God within us, assisting us to choose good and to avoid evil, in accord with God's law. Our conscience helps us to choose what is true and not to fall prey to self-deception, the deception of others and Satan's deception, all of which would lead us to betray the truth about ourselves and our world. It is our conscience which leads us to choose a particular action, which judges the goodness or evil of the action as we carry it out, and helps us to assess the goodness or evil of the action, once it has been done." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 1777-1778) I like this description of "conscience" for its concise, easily understandable language. The term, though abstract, has been made more concrete through this definition. Whether viewed as metaphorical or literal in nature, "God's voice within us" personalizes the conscience with powerful precision. It seems to me this voice varies in volume and conviction depending upon the choice the conscience confronts. It screams a commandment at us such as "Do not steal!" It firmly reminds us of a courtesy as we "Treat a stranger with dignity and respect." And it somewhat questionably whispers in our ear, "I should tell my friend I saw his girlfriend with another man." The choice to follow or disregard the voice increases in difficulty as it speaks with less authority. To hear the voice of God doesn't deny our free will but helps us judge the potential good or evil of our reaction to His utterance. Decisions of the conscience are quite frequently difficult while the results of the decisions are often delayed, obscuring clarity of action in certain circumstances. Our goal is to use our consciences to avoid the evils of deception. Our road of life is not smoothly paved, instead it lies full of the treacherous potholes of lies and misrepresentations. As we speed toward our worthy destinations, these deep potholes are often unavoidable, even to the best of drivers. How can the conscience help us avoid falling into the fewest obstacles to our trip? In my mind, one worthy piece of advice would be "Slow down!" We must not rush through life thinking the speed of the journey will let us fall less with less pain. Patience is often rewarded with greater understanding and stronger conviction. Arrival at the destination may take longer as we slow down, but the trip may be much more rewarding and less dangerous. Another strategy is actually to fix the potholes before a potential fall. To minimize the number of deceptions in our lives should allow us to steer much more safely. Patching the deeper holes may require multiple skills of better detection, better problem solving, and better choice of our friends. Filling holes is often long, hard work but often extremely rewarding for both us and others taking the same route of common good. And true, we all fall into deep depressions caused by self-deception, the deception of others, and the deception of evil in our natures. Once falling, we must admit the mistakes of not correctly following our conscience, repair the damage done in our fall and vow to avoid making the same mistake twice. Falls are inevitable, often accidental, and certainly forgivable. The ultimate sin of conscience is to become comfortable with our deceiving nature and turn ourselves into masters of deception, much as a con man who confidently repeats lies or as a magician who perfects his arts of entertaining magic. It seems we must most often experience repeated deceit from such masters before we finally unveil their trickery. In fact, we all will be fooled by deceit; we all will be hurt by deceit; yet, we all do not have to become deceitful to avenge such evil. As we better attune our conscience to the voice of God, stronger convictions to his will will develop within us. Our ability to discern good from evil will also increase. And, our lives will benefit in the process. Can a person void of a conscience do good works? I truly believe not.
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