Freedom and Conscience

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 1691 through 1802:

  • Professing the truths of the faith, and receiving the sacraments, are only part of the Christian life; we must also put our beliefs into practice, and act upon sacramental grace, through our moral conduct; by striving to emulate Christ in our daily lives, we grow in friendship with Him.
  • Moral living enables us to flourish as human beings, and leads us to the true happiness – “beatitude” – that all desire; this universal thirst for happiness comes from God, Who alone can ultimately fulfill it, if we choose to follow His path.
  • God does not force Himself upon us, but instead wants us to choose Him out of our own free will; He gave us the dignity of being able to decide whether to pursue His way of life, for our own good, or to reject it, to our detriment.
  • Our freedom is just one way in which we are made in God’s image; through our gifts of intellect and will, we dictate our actions, and thereby incur responsibility for them; as morally free persons, we merit praise or blame for our choices.
  • Bad choices actually end up undermining our freedom; when we deliberately choose to do wrong, we abuse God’s gift of freedom and become attached to sin, to the point that it becomes a type of slavery; but when we use our freedom rightly in service of the good, we become more and more truly free.
  • We judge the morality of our acts by the object (what we do) and the intention (why we do it); a good intention never excuses an intrinsically wrong action, because the end doesn’t justify the means; at the same time, a bad intention can corrode an otherwise good action (e.g., performing a work just to brag about it).
  • The circumstances surrounding our acts can increase or diminish the degree of good, mitigate or aggravate the evil, and affect our level of responsibility; but circumstances cannot make an inherently wrong act right.
  • Our emotions are neither good nor evil in themselves, but our will can let them influence us to right or wrong acts.
  • Conscience is our innermost core where we judge the morality of our acts, while listening to God’s voice; we are called to heed the moral law inscribed in our hearts, and recognize how to apply it in concrete situations; after an honest and thorough examination, we have a sacrosanct right to abide by our conscience.
  • But following our conscience does not mean that we can willfully set aside God’s law and make up our own commandments; rather, our conscience must be well formed by the Word of God and the teaching of the Church.
  • Conscience can make erroneous judgments, possibly through ignorance of the right course, or more seriously, because of culpable negligence in seeking the truth, attitudes hardened by sin, lack of charity, or refusal to undergo conversion.

Live Your Faith

Freedom and conscience are watchwords in our culture, but do we actually understand the full depth of their meaning?

Freedom is not license, but the ability to choose the good. Conscience is not a loophole, but a gift to guide our moral decision-making. God’s law is not designed to oppress us, but to empower us to live the most fulfilled life.

Consider the importance of rules in a game or sport: the rules make it possible to enjoy the game, or else there would be anarchy, and no game at all. Even so, God’s law sets the guidelines to ensure the best experience on the playing field of life.