These days the use of the word of conscience is bantered around without much substance to my line of thinking. Some really crazy (unreasonable) things are said about conscience and the use of it. Certainty is about reasonable things is not well accepted thinking persons. Additionally, the public forum is beginning to be more belligerent if a course correction is needed because we live in a “culture of nice” that dictates don’t be judgmental. All sorts of media outlets, politicians, talking heads and professors derail the conversation to force a fallacious agenda that allows for all things that indicate “just because.” We easily trot out the word conscience thinking that we know what it means, that our interlocutors know what the word conscience means, and that that the context within which we find ourselves can handle a fully functioning, clear definition that focuses on truth.  Less confusion is needed: clear principles and identifiable conclusions are absolute. The contours of what conscience really is under assault.

This morning I read the following spiritual reflection from a sermon by Saint Augustine on conscience and began to think –not brilliantly of course– that a new level discourse that gets to the heart of the truth and gives proper witness to a life of good conscience is needed. No longer is it acceptable to use conscience in flippant ways that divorce God from every level of our life. In a concrete way it is true to say that without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ a fully formed conscience is impossible. Fuzzy thinking will lead to absurd actions. In positive terms: only with  Jesus is man and woman fully alive and capable of giving witness to freedom. Too much is at stake: personal freedom, life in the Christian community, work in society, the arts, medicine, politics. Faith and reason are expected and valued dialogue partners. 

This is our glory: the witness of our conscience. There are men who rashly judge, who slander, whisper and murmur, who are eager to suspect what they do not see, and eager to spread abroad things they have not even a suspicion of. Against men of this sort, what defense is there save the witness of our own conscience?

My brothers, we do not seek, nor should we seek, our own glory even among those whose approval we desire. What we should seek is their salvation, so that if we walk as we should they will not go astray in following us. They should imitate us if we are imitators of Christ; and if we are not, they should still imitate him. […]

And so, my brothers, our concern should be not only to live as we ought, but also to do so in the sight of men; not only to have a good conscience but also, so far as we can in our weakness, so far as we can govern our frailty, to do nothing which might lead our weak brother into thinking evil of us. Otherwise, as we feed on the good pasture and drink the pure water, we may trample on God’s meadow, and weaker sheep will have to feed on trampled grass and drink from troubled waters.