Part I: How Do We Form Our Consciences?

A Christian conscience is both truthful and true. Consequently, it brings peace. Its formation is a lifelong task. Its education will be in harmony with reason and will center on the person of Jesus and the gospel. It will be attentive to the authoritative teaching of the Church, sensitive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, attuned to the Spirit’s gifts, and will seek the advice of others. Some steps we can take and the questions we can ask ourselves to help our conscience to grow and to be attuned to God’s will include the following:

  1. Find the facts. What is the issue? Who is involved? Where? When? How?
  2. Examine your motives. Why do you want to do this? Pure intentions were very important in the teaching of Jesus.
  3. Think of the possible effects. How will this action (or non-action) affect you? Others? Society as a whole? What would happen if everyone did this?
  4. Consider alternatives. Is there another way to act? Use your imagination to find alternatives.
  5. What does the law have to say? Law is not opposed to conscience. In fact, it greatly helps to form it.
  6. Conscience is the subjective norm or morality; law is the objective norm. The kinds of laws that need to be considered are: Natural Law.

God’s law written into the nature of things, the way things are made. Prohibitions against murder, the recognition of the dignity of the individual, and honesty in dealing with others are examples of the natural law. Civil Law. Particular applications of natural law for a given society. In the United States, everyone drives on the right side of the road (civil law) to avoid killing (natural law). In England, motorists drive on the left side of the road. In both cases, the civil law is meant to apply the natural law for the protection of human life. Divine Law. Law revealed by God. The Sermon on the Mount and the Ten Commandments are classic examples of divine law, as is the law to love God, neighbor, and self. Church Law. Particular applications of divine law for the Christian community. The Church teaches that we must worship God weekly at the Sunday Mass, for example. This law is a particular application of the third commandment—Remember to keep holy the Sabbath—for Catholics.

During the week, you may want to look up the laws or precepts of the Church and reflect upon them as specific applications of divine law in your life.