From the Greek syneidesis (“with knowledge”), the word “conscience” has been in the English language since the 12th century. Many of us were taught as children that we should know the difference between right and wrong, good and evil. The right actions bring about good consequences and the wrong actions bring about the bad (or evil) consequences. Yet, we seldom consider what it means to have a Christian conscience. Often, while growing up, I wrote off my conscience as the most basic moral standard required to live in society. This wasn’t my error. My error lied in the fact that I never called myself to a higher standard to follow my Christian faith. As Christians, disciples of Christ, we should not be satisfied with the basics. We should be eager to improve our consciences within the context of our ancient, beautiful faith. To put it simply, we should develop our consciences in a way that when other people meet us, unbelievers and believers alike, they see more of Christ and less of ourselves.
Conscience reminds me of the word “conscious”. Like I said before, it took me a while to truly be conscious of myself as a Christian. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that I realized what it meant to be conscious of my Christianity: to be conscious of my attitude during Mass, of my not-so-carefully worded responses to people who struggled with their faith, of how little I seemed to care about how my actions effected others. In essence, although I was going through the routines of Christianity, I wasn’t entirely present in my faith. I met the basic moral obligations of the secular world but that wasn’t enough. I had to make a decision. If I wanted to live an authentic Christian life, I needed to be fully conscious of how my actions reflected my faith. This sometimes means making a lifestyle change. It sometimes involves placing an uncommon trust in God to guide you on an unknown path. This was difficult for me at first, as it should be. I had a major fear of missing out on what seemed to be the ideal friendships, relationships, and college experiences because I was now becoming enthralled with my life with Christ. Really, my fear of missing out was what kept me from trusting God fully. Upon strengthening my Christian conscience, I actually worried less. I made friends who built up my faith instead of tearing it down, I began “dating” Jesus instead of fretting over finding the perfect boyfriend, and I found my calling in ministry with the Catholic Church. It is much easier to make decisions when you know that your conscience is guided by He who holds your deepest dreams and fears close to His heart.
Finally, forming a Christian conscience isn’t over just with a decision to live a better life. It is a life-long decision, as is choosing to be Christian. The root of “disciple” is discipline. It takes discipline to love Christ and to choose Him everyday. As the Catechism says, “The education of the conscience is a lifelong task. From the earliest years, it awakens the child to the knowledge and practice of the interior law recognized by conscience. Prudent education teaches virtue; it prevents or cures fear, selfishness and pride, resentment arising from guilt, and feelings of complacency born of human weakness and faults. The education of the conscience guarantees freedom and engenders peace of heart.” (CCC 1784) The life of a practicing Christian is difficult at times but in the end, it is worth it. For in the end, we will live and we will live most joyfully.
CMLIStudent Leader 2016
Catholic Campus Community at the University of Louisville