Sacraments of Initiation
Part 2 History

Chapter i20 Summary History of  Christian Initiation


 


 


 


 


 


 

The Reconciliation of Penitents
Part Two:  Story Telling

Chapter 7 Examination of Conscience

Preliminary Questions

Bibliography

Historical Survey

Documentation

Theology and Conscience

Psychology and Conscience

Formation of Conscience

Stages of Moral Development

Conscience and Magisterium

Pastoral Reflection

Suggested Questions for Discussion

To Think About

Preliminary Questions

"If I had a yaller dog that didn't know mor than a person's conscience does, I would pison him. It takes up more room than all the rest of a person's insides, and yet ain't no good, nohow." (Huck Finn, wrestling over whether to befriend Jim the runaway slave.)

"Over the pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority there still stands one's own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else, if necessary even against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority. Conscience confronts [the individual] with a supreme and ultimate tribunal, and one which in the last resort is beyond the claim of external social groups, even of the official church." (Pope Benedict XVI [then Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger],  "Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II", ed. Vorgrimler, 1968, on Gaudium et spes, part 1, chapter 1.)

"But what happens when our conscience is in conflict with our faith?" (Deepa Mehta, in her film Water)

How do you examine your conscience? What does the advice which says "Let your conscience be your guide" mean for you? How do you form your conscience? What place does the voice of authority have in your judgment of conscience? [Gula p 137]

CLASS OF 87 REFLECTS: — This is indeed the fuzziest of all the topics so far. It is really like nailing jello to the wall! — My picture of conscience is a "little voice" standing on my shoulder telling me what I should do. — I want to think that Catholic high schools are the principal place for the formation of conscience. It is the high school which hands on social values. But then Hitler was a graduate of Catholic high schools. — I think the basic question is: What would Jesus have done in this situation?" — How do we hand on our Christian values to the next generation? Formation of conscience demands that we transmit not only information but VALUES?

[Return to top of this page]

Bibliography

Richard M. Gula, S.S.  To Walk Together Again, Chapter 5, "Conscience to Examine," pp 136-186.

[Return to top of this page]

Historical Survey

The Council of Trent during its fourteenth session (October and November 1551) decreed that all mortal sins, including secret sins, committed after baptism must be confessed. The examination of conscience takes on a special importance at this period, because it is the means by which the penitent recalls mortal sins, their number and kind. The examination of conscience became the necessary prerequisite for an integral confession. Sins were listed and categorized according to their seriousness, and the lists of sins could serve as the basis for the examination of conscience.

Scripture places human responsibility for sin in the context of our response to the inviting love of God. When Jesus was tested by a lawyer from among the pharisees, the lawyer himself was well aware of the Scriptures' teaching:

      On one occasion a lawyer stood up to pose him this problem: "Teacher, what must I do to inherit everlasting life?" Jesus answered him: "What is written in the law? How do you read it?" He replied: "You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." Jesus said, "you have answered correctly. Do this and you shall live." (see LK 10:25-28, Mt 22:34-40, Mk 12:28-34.)

The new Rite of Penance directs that the examination of conscience is to take place in response to the proclamation of the word of God.

[Return to top of this page]

Documentation

Rite of Penance

26. After the homily a suitable period of silence should be allowed for an examination of conscience and the awakening of true contrition for sin. The priest or a deacon or other minister may help the faithful with brief considerations or a litany, adapted to their background, age, etc.

If it should seem suitable, the community's examination of conscience and awakening of contrition may take the place of the homily. But in this case the text of Scripture that has just been read should serve as the starting point.

[Return to top of this page]

Theology and Conscience

Three Dimensions of Conscience

1. SYNDERESIS: basic tendency toward knowing and doing the good.

2. MORAL SCIENCE
        A) ability to know what ought to be done
        B) "...is formed and examined in community. Only through dialogue with many sources of moral wisdom
            do we come to know what it mans to be human in a truly moral way." (Gula, To Walk Together Again, p 141.)

3.  CONSCIENCE

        A) Specific judgment of what I ought to do in this situation.
        B) "Do what you can and pray for what you cannot yet do." (Fr. Bernard Härring frequently told us this in class    
               regarding "hearing confessions.")
        C) "... the final judgment for me. It is never a judgment of what someone else must do, but only what I must do
               (Gula, To Walk Together Again, p 142.)

[Return to top of this page]

Psychology and Conscience

Freudian school (Gula, 146.)

  • Id

  • ego

  • superego

Superego

  • Our attic of "should's"

  • "So many confessions in the sacrament of reconciliation are more clearly expressions of an overactive superego producing unhealthy guilt than they are the witness of an adult moral conscience renewing itself so that the moral person can serve God more lovingly and faithfully. (Gula, 246.)

Pastoral Sensitivity

  • A confession practice which is oriented primarily toward naming individual actions as sinful apart from their total context....services superego needs — and can do more harm than good. (Gula, 149.)

"One of the great temptations of confessional counseling is to "should" on the penitent." (Gula, 152. See also: Michael Cavanagh, "The Priest as Communicator of Reconciliation. NCR Cassettes. St. Meinrad Library, cassette number 334, and also: "Michael Cavanagh, "A Gift of Ministry." Modern Cassette Library. St. Meinrad Library, cassette number 198.)

[Return to top of this page]

Formation of Conscience

Telling Good Stories

  • re-patterning the imagination
  • biblical imagination
  • retelling the stories to shape Christian vision
  • "The Church is the one community directly and uniquely responsible for communicating the stories of Christian faith which ought to shape and nurture Christian character and conscience." (Gula, 166.)

Habits: "We make our decisions more out of the beliefs we live by and the habits we have formed than out of the principles we have learned." (Gula, 160.)

Conscience

  • formed
  • orientation
  • ascetical practices of eliminating a fault a day

 

[Return to top of this page]

Stages of Moral Development

Explore Kohlberg's stages of moral development. Lawrence Kohlberg was an educator and psychologist who did much research in the moral development of children and adults. He concluded that individuals solved moral dilemmas at six different levels. The more one understands and recognizes these stages, the more tolerant and open one is to another's viewpoint.

[Return to top of this page]

Conscience and Magisterium

Both authority and conscience are complementary aspects of the search of what is true and good. Authority may continue to insist on conformity, but conscience will continue to cry out for its own dignity and freedom. (Gula, 178.)

  • They are both complementary
  • They exist in constant tension

MAGISTERIUM

  • faith and morals
  • we are more into knowing than doing
  • right living - orthopraxis
  • right of worship - orthodoxy

“In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged. Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths.” (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the modern World Gaudium et Spes, #16)

[Return to top of this page]

Pastoral Reflection

"The way in which we ask a question already determines the answer." When we ask "what is sin?" or "what sins have I committed", the sense of sin which emerges from an examination of conscience in the light of the Scriptures is very different from that which emerges from an examination of conscience based on a list of possible sins.

The word of God, while it is called "good news", is not always pleasant to hear! From the testimony of the prophets to the parables of Jesus, the word of God has caused many listeners go away uncomfortable, confused, and even angry. Who wants to hear that the laborers coming to work in the vineyard at the last hour will get as much pay as we who have labored through the day's heat? Was it easy for the lawyer to admit to Jesus that the hated Samaritan rather than the priest and the Levite was neighbor to the man who fell prey to robbers while going down from Jerusalem to Jericho? Jesus' parables force us to look at reality in a whole new light: the light of God's plan for the world. It is this "new light" that convicts us of our sin. This new light often reveals areas of darkness within us that we were not even aware of before, areas that we had not considered sinful, or perhaps not considered at all. Sometimes whole new areas of responsibility open up to us.

When conscience is examined in the light of the great commandment of love of God and love of neighbor, our responsibility is seen not only in the light of laws and individual acts, but in terms of relationships: our relationship of love to God, to our fellow human beings, and indeed, our responsibility for the earth.

The Gospel is a call is to growth: Jesus came that we might have abundant life. Failure to grow and progress in that life is a key symptom of our sin. Sin is being today just like we were yesterday. Sin is hearing the word and not responding to it. Early Church writers compare the act of hearing the word and not responding to it to taking the sacred body of our Lord in Holy Communion and negligently letting it slip from our hands.

The more we love another person, the more we have insight into what that person wants and desires. The more aware we become of the love of God, the more aware we are of the inadequacy of our response to that love and the more conscious we are of our sinfulness. It is one of the paradoxes of our faith that it is the saints who are most aware of their sin. St. Francis of Assisi readily and sincerely acknowledged that he was the greatest of sinners.

[Return to top of this page]

Suggested Questions for Discussion

Define or describe: conscience, superego, synderesis, psychological guilt.

Describe the stages of moral development? At what stage do you find most Catholics to be? What implications does this theory have for the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in its various forms?

What is the role of the parish priest in the "formation of conscience" of the laity? What plans do you have for fulfilling this role?

It is Lent and you are leading a celebration of reconciliation for your parish according to rite two of the current ritual. Knowing how your parishioners usually confess, you feel that at this service it will be helpful for them if you spend some time instructing them how to examine their consciences. What would be the principle points of your instruction?

A parishioner comes to you asks, "When I examine my conscience, do I have to believe what the Church teaches?" What would you tell this person?

If someone were to ask you "What is sin?" how would you respond? What has helped you formulate this definition of sin?

Do you find a list of sins helpful when examining your conscience? Why or why not?

Once, during Advent, I heard a pastor the tell congregation: "At the parish celebration of reconciliation next week, I want to hear only ‘Advent sins'. Don't bring me any ‘Lenten sins' or ‘Ordinary Time What do you think he was telling the congregation to do?

Can we commit sin without knowing it?

Is sin a private act or the concern of the parish?

[Return to top of this page]

To Think About

"The way in which we ask a question already determines the answer." When we ask "what is sin?" or "what sins have I committed", the sense of sin which emerges from an examination of conscience in the light of the Scriptures is very different from that which emerges from an examination of conscience based on a list of possible sins.

The word of God, while it is called "good news", is not always pleasant to hear! From the testimony of the prophets to the parables of Jesus, the word of God has caused many listeners go away uncomfortable, confused, and even angry. Who wants to hear that the laborers coming to work in the vineyard at the last hour will get as much pay as we who have labored through the day's heat? Was it easy for the lawyer to admit to Jesus that the hated Samaritan rather than the priest and the Levite was neighbor to the man who fell prey to robbers while going down from Jerusalem to Jericho? Jesus' parables force us to look at reality in a whole new light: the light of God's plan for the world. It is this "new light" that convicts us of our sin. This new light often reveals areas of darkness within us that we were not even aware of before, areas that we had not considered sinful, or perhaps not considered at all. Sometimes whole new areas of responsibility open up to us.

When conscience is examined in the light of the great commandment of love of God and love of neighbor, our responsibility is seen not only in the light of laws and individual acts, but in terms of relationships: our relationship of love to God, to our fellow human beings, and indeed, our responsibility for the earth.

The Gospel is a call is to growth: Jesus came that we might have abundant life. Failure to grow and progress in that life is a key symptom of our sin. Sin is being today just like we were yesterday. Sin is hearing the word and not responding to it. Early Church writers compare the act of hearing the word and not responding to it to taking the sacred body of our Lord in Holy Communion and negligently letting it slip from our hands.

The more we love another person, the more we have insight into what that person wants and desires. The more aware we become of the love of God, the more aware we are of the inadequacy of our response to that love and the more conscious we are of our sinfulness. It is one of the paradoxes of our faith that it is the saints who are most aware of their sin. St. Francis of Assisi readily and sincerely acknowledged that he was the greatest of sinners.

CLASS OF 87 SPEAKS — I wonder if I will ever be torn between my vow of obedience and conscience? — I see where the six stages of Kohlberg's moral development are very important for understanding the sacrament of reconciliation in relation to children. — I had not thought much about the role of the community of faith in the formation of one's conscience. — "When we are able to recognize the awareness of our sinfulness as a God-given grace, then we will be able to respond to God in a more complete turning toward God through a penance marked by both sorrow and gratitude. — I understand what a wonderful thing conscience formation is when I experience the sort of joy I have seen in several elderly monks, who quietly and slowly still look at the world as a place of interest. — I wonder how I am going to be able to give each penitent a word of wisdom without giving them more "shoulds." Where am I going to get all this wisdom? It is a completely unrealistic expectation. — Too many of my confessions were spent bogged down in "whats" and "hows" instead of "who am I." — For too long we have worried about "when can I give absolution?" Now the question is "How can I have them hear it when I give it?"

      1) Define or describe: conscience, superego, synderesis, psychological guilt.
      2) Describe the stages of moral development? At what stage do you find most Catholics to be? What implications does this theory have for the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in its various forms?
      3) What is the role of the parish priest in the "formation of conscience" of the laity? What plans do you have for fulfilling this role?
      4) It is Lent and you are leading a celebration of reconciliation for your parish according to rite two of the current ritual. Knowing how your parishioners usually confess, you feel that at this service it will be helpful for them if you spend some time instructing them how to examine their consciences. What would be the principle points of your instruction?
      5) A parishioner comes to you asks, "When I examine my conscience, do I have to believe what the Church teaches?" What would you tell this person?
      6) If someone were to ask you "What is sin?" how would you respond? What has helped you formulate this definition of sin?
      7) Do you find a list of sins helpful when examining your conscience? Why or why not?
      8) Once, during Advent, I heard a pastor the tell congregation: "At the parish celebration of reconciliation next week, I want to hear only ‘Advent sins'. Don't bring me any ‘Lenten sins' or ‘Ordinary Time What do you think he was telling the congregation to do?
      9) Can we commit sin without knowing it?
      10) Is sin a private act or the concern of the parish?

[Return to top of this page]

© Copyright: Tom Richstatter, Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist, Cincinnati Ohio, Order of Friars Minor. All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made, to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 04/21/16 .  Your comments on this site are welcome at tomrichs@psci.net.