Conscience must be correctly formed through sound catechesis

From Pope St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Pænitentia (1984):

As the synod recalled, the pastors of the church are also expected to provide catechesis on conscience and its formation. This too is a very relevant topic in view of the fact that in the upheavals to which our present culture is subjected this interior sanctuary, man’s innermost self, his conscience, is too often attacked, put to the test, confused and obscured. Valuable guidelines for a wise catechesis on conscience can be found both in the doctors of the church and in the theology of the Second Vatican Council, and especially in the documents on the church in the modern world142 and on religious liberty.143 Along these same lines, Pope Paul VI often reminded us of the nature and role of conscience in our life.144 I myself, following his footsteps, miss no opportunity to throw light on this most lofty element of man’s greatness and dignity,145 this “sort of moral sense which leads us to discern what is good and what is evil . . . like an inner eye, a visual capacity of the spirit, able to guide our steps along the path of good.” And I have reiterated the need to form one’s conscience, lest it become “a force which is destructive of the true humanity of the person, rather than that holy place where God reveals to him his true good.”146

On other points too, of no less relevance for reconciliation, one looks to the pastors of the church for catechesis.

On the sense of sin, which, as I have said, has become considerably weakened in our world.

On temptation and temptations: The Lord Jesus himself, the Son of God, “who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin,”147 allowed himself to be tempted by the evil one148 in order to show that, like himself, his followers too would be subjected to temptation, and in order to show how one should behave when subjected to temptation. For those who beseech the Father not to be tempted beyond their own strength149 and not to succumb to temptation,150 and for those who do not expose themselves to occasions of sin, being subjected to temptation does not mean that they have sinned; rather it is an opportunity for growing in fidelity and consistency through humility and watchfulness.

Catechesis is also expected on fasting: This can be practiced in old forms and new as a sign of conversion, repentance and personal mortification and, at the same time, as a sign of union with Christ crucified and of solidarity with the starving and suffering.

Catechesis on almsgiving: This is a means of making charity a practical thing by sharing what one possesses with those suffering the consequences of poverty.

Catechesis on the intimate connection which links the overcoming of divisions in the world with perfect communion with God and among people, which is the eschatological purpose of the church.

Catechesis on the concrete circumstances in which reconciliation has to be achieved (in the family, in the civil community, in social structures) and particularly catechesis on the four reconciliations which repair the four fundamental rifts; reconciliation of man with God, with self, with the brethren and with the whole of creation.

Nor can the church omit, without serious mutilation of her essential message, a constant catechesis on what the traditional Christian language calls the four last things of man: death, judgment (universal and particular), hell and heaven. In a culture which tends to imprison man in the earthly life at which he is more or less successful, the pastors of the church are asked to provide a catechesis which will reveal and illustrate with the certainties of faith what comes after the present life: beyond the mysterious gates of death, an eternity of joy in communion with God or the punishment of separation from him. Only in this eschatological vision can one realize the exact nature of sin and feel decisively moved to penance and reconciliation.

142 Cf Gaudium et Spes, 8, 16, 19, 26, 41,48.
143 Cf Declaration on Religious Liberty Dignitatis Humanae, 2, 3, 4.
144 Cf among many others the addresses at the general audiences of March 28, 1973: Insegnamenti XI (1973), 294ff; August 8, 1973: ibid., 772ff, November 7, 1973: ibid., 1054ff; March 13, 1974: Insegnamenti XII (1974), 230ff; May 8, 1974: ibid., 402ff; February 12, 1975: Insegnamenti XIII (1975), ibid., 290ff; July 13, 1977: Insegnamenti XV (1977), 710ff.
145 Cf Pope John Paul II, Angelus Message of March 14, 1982: Insegnamenti V, 1 (1982), 860f.
146 Cf Pope John Paul II, General Audience Address of August 17, 1983, 1-3: Insegnamenti VI, 2 (1983), 256f.
147 Heb 4:15.
148 Cf Mt 4:1-11; Mk 1:12f; Lk 4:1-13.
149 Cf 1 Cor 10:13.
150 Cf Mt 6:13; Lk 11:4.

Reconciliatio et Pænitentia 26

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