Last week the Pope's new pastoral letter, Amoris Laetitia, came out and along with it the "c" word - conscience! In fact the first headlines I saw on the matter were all about the Pope calling on Catholics to just follow their conscience with regards to their family life, and that the Pope is liberating the church to just follow conscience!
Conscience is mentioned exactly 10 times in the 250 page document. See paragraphs 37 (mentioned twice) 42, (twice) 222 (twice), 265, 298, 302, 303 (twice). I haven't received my hard copy yet, but it DOES NOT seem as though the document is saying that people have to follow Jiminy Cricket theology and just let their consciences be their guide" although the media and tweets I have read seem to suggest that.
But conscience is a funny thing. To really be useful it has to be well formed and it has to be nourished and developed - not exactly something that is expected or encouraged today.
I like to think of it this way- forming and caring for a conscience is a lot like watching your weight on the bathroom scale.
Very recently, a friend of mine lost a lot of weight on the Wheat Belly diet. She lost so much in fact by just skipping out on bread and pasta that she felt that she was probably destined to continue to lose weight. So she just quit weighing herself every day, and then every week, and pretty soon her bathroom scale was stuffed under a chair in her room and started collecting dust. My friend continued to skip wheat and and other grains, but she found that she could eat nuts on the Wheat Belly and paleo diet, and fruit and even dark chocolate was allowed. Her clothes still fit, although her newer clothes started to get a bit tight. Then one day, she saw her self in themirror and started to wonder if she had really continued to lose weight or not? Her trusty scale was brought out and to her horror she discovered that not only had she failed to lose, but she had in fact gained 10 pounds!
And so it is with conscience. We have to continue going back to our trusty friend, the Sacred Scriptures and the Catechism to make sure that what we are determining as matter of conscience are really lining up with the moral teachings of the church, and if they aren't, we need to determine where that difference is and do a thorough examination of our consciences to see if things like pride, greed, lust, malicious envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth might be guiding us more a true conscience is. But we have to take the time to truly take that true measure!
Need a little help with that? - here ya go!