Following Your Conscience
I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. —Jeremiah 31:33
As an RCIA Director, I have the privilege of teaching incoming Catholics about our Church’s understanding of conscience. As far back as the time of Jeremiah, hundreds of years before Jesus lived, our ancestors in faith understood that we all have access to God’s truth in our deepest core. Like us, the Jews at that time understood that rules written for the public are necessary for keeping society running smoothly, but ultimately we have the responsibility first and foremost to follow the laws God has written on our hearts.
This teaching is so important that the Catholic Church has a term for it: it’s called the “primacy of conscience.” It means that whether we are the pope, a bishop, or a layperson who has never taken a single class in theology, we can “listen in” to the deepest place in our hearts, our inner core and sanctuary. There we can discover what God wants of us and wants for us. What is written on our hearts may or may not be the same as what human authorities are telling us, in which case, we are obliged to follow God’s laws. Even very young children can quickly grasp this idea of listening to their consciences. The thing is, it takes some effort to notice what God’s law on our heart is leading us to do or not do, and sometimes it takes more courage to follow God’s law than civil laws.
FOR REFLECTION: Can you think of a time when you followed your conscience instead of what someone else told you to do? How did it feel to do that? What might God be inviting you to do or not do, despite outside pressure, these days?