While the idea of conscience has always been important in the Church, it is certainly much more emphasised in recent times. I would date this from Vatican II when its importance was clearly described. But of course it has always been there: indeed, dramatically, Aquinas says that even if our rejection of Christ may be objectively evil, we must still follow our considered reason and be ready to disclaim him if that is where our reason leads.
So one would expect that the powers that be would put a great deal of work into explaining the best ways to employ our consciences. What are the processes we might use? Do we take into account how we are vulnerable to the psychological aspects of human nature? Or the influences from our upbringing and experiences? How does conscience relate to virtue? What is the difference between obedience and the use of reason? And so on.
Today I am suggesting that we look at the nightly consideration of conscience. It would be interesting to know whether most fully paid up Catholics and other Christians do this regularly. Do you? (I should admit here that I am far from being as regular as I should be.)
In reviewing our day do we include the good things we have done and the progress we have made? We know that recognising our successes improves our self respect and motivates us to continue in the right directions.
And that indicates that we should review our virtues. Virtue is a very churchy word. We all approve but it’s too vague to do anything about it. It’s not helped by the old fashioned names of the cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance.
But in fact it’s all about virtues. These are the habits and tendencies which measure how we stand in regard to our closeness to God. At the physical level they are developed in the brain. We could, if we were able to interpret them, read off the relevant neural connections which apply. But at the level of the spiritual they mark the grace-filled tendencies which orient us towards the Almighty. But like any habit they can wax and wane: we have to check our progress and our regress continually.
So our nightly examination should perhaps include the question: did I get closer to God today? Or did I slip backwards? And it need not be airy fairy because we have the actions and the thoughts of the day to provide the evidence.
I think we might have great benefit from discussing our experience of all this, and sharing our good ideas.