When my Conscience Conflicts with the Teachings of the Church.

school of athens

Today we seem to live in a world that puts too much emphasis on our thoughts, feelings and desires. Personally I want to rise above my own thoughts, feelings and desires which are prone to mistakes and live in conformity with the truth. Where then can I turn to be sure I am living in conformity with the truth? To answer this we must take a quick overview of the history of the world. God created the world. Man messed up by falling into sin but God loved us so much he sent his Son Jesus into the world to die for us. God knew man, when left to his own, messes up so he left behind a Church and sent the Holy Spirit to guide the Church which He promised to be with for eternity.[1]

You and I are blessed to live in the Church, the Catholic Church. God promised that He would be with this Church until the end of time. This promise from God makes the Church the only true safe haven for us in the pursuit of truth. Knowing that Christ left us with a Church protected by the Holy Spirit makes it pretty obvious that we should place our starting point for truth in the teachings of the Church. We should begin our quest for truth with the Church and end our quest for the truth in the Church.

While there have certainly been many other great thinkers and founders of religions none of them hold up against the Church. Jesus, who was both God and man, died and rose, all other founders of religions and great thinkers were merely men and woman who died and remained dead. Personally I would rather place my faith in Jesus who proved himself by rising from the dead over any other great thinker who has died and stayed dead.

Now our Church does not advocate a blind faith nor does our Church make a statement about the truth of all things. No God gave us our minds to comprehend Him. Yet our minds are not perfect and need guidance. The Church advocates the use of one’s mind, the use of one’s mind with the eyes of faith. Pope John Paul II was very clear about this. He wrote an entire encyclical, Fides et Ratio, that showed faith and reason do not contradict. He pointed out that since both faith and reason come from God, they have the same starting point, they cannot contradict each other.

There are two ways to approach questions about the truth. The healthy way to question is with an attitude of questioning to understand while the unhealthy way of questioning is centered on the ego, a manner of questioning where we think ourselves greater than anyone else including the Church and try to disprove to satisfy our ego. In many ways our minds are like ships. A ship is not built to stay in the harbor; rather a ship is built to go out to sea. But just as the ship is intended to go out to sea it is also intended to return to the harbor, ideally having made some money. Likewise our minds were intended to think but then to return to the harbor, the Church, with a richer understanding.

When someone tells me they disagree with the Church there are two questions I try to keep in mind; namely what and why. I have found often people have mistaken notions of what the Church actually teaches. This can happen very easily because there is so much misleading information out there. Many times I find that people disagree with what they think the Church teaches or if they know what the Church teaches they disagree in part because they do not understand why the Church teaches what She does.

I have found that people often disagree with the teachings of the Church because they want a life of comfort. They need to ask themselves deep down why they really disagree with the Church. When pressed about why people believe things that contradict the Church they will often say well I feel that … I’m so sick of hearing I feel. I feel like I deserve a million dollars. Does that mean I get a million dollars? No. Just because I feel something doesn’t mean I can do it. I can feel like killing you but it would still be wrong to kill you. Well why should I trust my heart? I don’t know about you, but I would rather trust the Church which God promised would last forever over me whom I know makes mistakes. Other times I hear people say they feel passionately about something. Well simply because someone believes passionately about something doesn’t mean it is true. I can passionately believe I can fly but when I jump out of an airplane without a parachute guess what happens? I passionately die! I don’t want to follow my heart I want to follow God’s heart. But to truly know His heart I must study, which requires hard work.

I think when we feel as though our conscience is going against the Church we need to ask some simple questions. We first need to ask what does the Church really teach and why? We live in a bumper sticker world. Everyone wants just a simple slogan answer but the truth is these answers are usually wrong or are only half right. We need to move beyond bumper stick slogans to find out what the Church really teaches. This is not easy, it requires study. To find out what the Church teaches go to approved texts not popular books. I suggest the Catechism, or the Vatican’s website. If you are going to read a book to understand the teachings of the Church check the inside cover of the book and see if it has a Nihil Obstat. A Nihil Obstat is a statement by a theologian assigned by the bishop to read the book that says it contains nothing contrary to the teachings of the Church. If you can’t understand or find what you are looking for ask your priest, youth minister, theology teacher or contact me.

Secondly you need to understand what you believe and why. Do you have valid reasons or is it just a feeling or a desire? Obviously if it is just a feeling or desire it needs to be rejected. Third you need to ask if this is an issue that you are bound to believe. Catholics are only bound to believe in public revelation that comes to us from Jesus handed on through Sacred Scriptures and Sacred Tradition preserved by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. There are certainly levels of authority but simply speaking anything that the Church, through the pope or the Magisterium in their official role has taught we are bound to accept.

If the Church has made an official statement we need to submit to the teachings of the Church out of humility. Now when I say this people will often say, doesn’t the Church say to follow your conscience? Well yes She does but She says to follow your well formed conscience and if you conscience disagrees with an official teaching of the Church it is not well formed. To think of it in another way whom would you rather place your trust in, your brain or the mind of the Church? Personally I would like to put my trust in the Church Jesus founded, promised never to abandon, and has passed every test to remain strong for over 2000 years. If however we disagree with a statement that we are not bound to believe we need to understand where our conflict with the teaching of the Church comes in. Lastly we must then seek out clarification and rebuttals to our position from experts. If we have a solid argument in the end I would argue it is fine to hold that position. Even though we hold a position we must not let pride sneak in. We must still be willing to engage the question and admit if we have made mistakes.

You and I are blessed to be a member of a Church founded by God. God loves us so much he wants nothing more than for us to be happy. When we go against the teachings of the Church we end up either broken or hurt. Our Father in heaven knows and wants what is best for us so why not be a daddies girl and let Him, through His Church, lead you to heaven. The sure path to heaven is the Church who contains the fullness of the truth. Run to the Church to find your sanctuary.

[1] For biblical proof of the Church see. Mt 16:18, Eph 2:20, 1 Peter 2:6, and Revelation 21:14

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