Why the Gift of Conscience Is a Guiding Light
Here's how to cultivate this blessing in a faith-filled life — and to keep God close no matter what else may be pulling us away
God has installed a spiritual GPS deep within our souls, helping us navigate toward the good and away from evil. It’s called the conscience.
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, “Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey.”
“Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment … For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God … His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary.”
“There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.”
We need to know how to best form and cultivate this gift, so that it’s in sync with the voice of God in our daily life. Here are some ways to do so.
Know Scripture. Christ came to show us the way to live and love, and He left us the treasure of Sacred Scripture to instill this criteria deep within our soul.
The Gospel pages are filled with examples of humility, magnanimity, selflessness, prayerfulness, deference and kindness … and the mere reading and reflecting on His example shapes our conscience into wanting to do the same.
People often seek out the best golf or tennis pros in order to have them look at their swings and styles — and offer suggestions and pointers for improvement. The same can be true of reaching out to the Holy Spirit in sacred Scripture — and allowing Him to gently adjust our lifestyles, so that they become less worldly and more Christian. Parents should make sure to read the Bible with their children from an early age — this will be a gift to them for life.
Do an end-of-the-day “examination.” Daily life is the classroom in which God often teaches us the most important lessons. He may “teach” through the correction of others, as when a wife says to a husband or a parent says to a child, “Could you please stop leaving your dirty clothes on the floor?”
Or He may do so through a stranger, who may honk his horn at us because we were impatient and cut off the driver in traffic.
God may allow us to notice a beautiful act of virtue, maybe something as simple as someone holding the door for us. Take stock of all this activity at the end of the day, jot down some reflections — then see how to adjust our behavior based on what God’s been telling us.
Go to Confession often. A sin is essentially a decision to go against God and His plan in a particular moment. Confession is the platform that Christ has established to reconcile the sinner with Him and the Church.
For a good Confession, we must take some time to analyze our consciences — and to see the different ways in which we may be “slowing” God down. Pray to the Holy Spirit for light, look back on the notes we took during the daily examination, and then trustfully put forth our sins in front of our heavenly Father, who waits joyfully to forgive us and flood our soul with His peace and love.
Other voices will be trying to push us in other directions, promising short cuts or perhaps a more enjoyable route. Challenge those voices with the criteria of Christ’s example in Scripture.
This special grace from frequent Confession has the added value of fine-tuning the conscience and making it even more attentive to the details of what God may be asking in your daily life.
Nurture strong friendships: Do our friends bring us closer to Jesus? Do they challenge and inspire us to greater holiness and excellence?
God has us “wired” to reach heaven through a holy life. But we need to keep it fine-tuned and be attentive to that gentle voice deep within the speaker of our soul.
Other voices will be trying to push us in other directions, promising short cuts or perhaps a more enjoyable route. Challenge those voices with the criteria of Christ’s example in Scripture — and ask the Holy Spirit to speak a little louder so nothing else pulls us away from God’s plan.
Fr. Michael Sliney is a Catholic priest based in the New York City area and an adviser to the Lumen Institute, a professional business group.