How does a parent strengthen the moral conscience of his own child? Much has been said over the last year about the development of a properly formed moral conscience granting individuals and couples liberties to receive Holy Communion under questionable circumstances. The argument in this equation is that a person’s personal understanding of contrition, self-forgiveness, and faith is sufficient to have a properly formed moral conscience.
Blessed Cardinal Newman describes the testimony of conscience as an echo of the voice of God enlightening each person to moral truth in specific situations. All of us have a duty to obey a right conscience over and above all considerations.
A distinction in Blessed Newman’s description is that conscience is based on the echo of God, meaning that our conscience cannot be separated from God. It is not an echo of ourselves. It must be in unison, in harmony with the will of God. Our human nature is guided by this very fact. Developing a conscience requires moral reason not personal reason. It is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral equality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed. (CCC 1778)
Understanding our Role as Parents
One of the primary responsibilities of parents is educating their children in the development of a proper moral conscience. As primary educators, this should be the first thing parents initiate as children begin to develop their sense of faith and reason around them. It is a lifelong task because from the very beginning a child should be exposed to proper practice and knowledge of conscience. Prudent education teaches virtue; it prevents or cures fear, selfishness and pride, resentment arising from guilt, and feelings of complacency, born of human weakness and faults. (CCC 1785)
Children rely on their parents through their Christian witness to learn and embrace the Catholic world view exercised within the home and outside of it. The development of this Catholic world view is intimately rooted in Christ and expressed through active participation in the sacramental life of the Church (for example, if parents practice going to confession, children will tend to follow; if the family faithfully attends Mass on Sunday children will tend to follow). These examples open the door toward developing a child’s moral conscience. Blessed Newman once again reminds us that conscience is a messenger of him, who both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil, and teaches and rules us by his representatives. Conscience is the aboriginal Vicar of Christ. (Letter to the Duke of Norfolk)
Recognizing the dignity of the human person through the lens of Christ is the first step in the development of a properly formed moral conscience. The reason is the value one sees in their fellow human being. There is an understanding that all of God’s creatures have an inherent beauty and must be respected and cared for. This understanding comes with the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions. The Catechism teaches us that conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened (1783).
Strengthening the Moral Conscience of Your Child
As I alluded in the previous paragraph, there is a right way of forming a child’s moral conscience. The first step is to rely on the Word of God i.e. Sacred Scripture and incorporate the practice of reading and meditating on Sacred Scripture (lectio divina). The reason we begin with the Word of God is to direct our attention to Christ and not ourselves, A properly formed moral conscience leads to an examination of one’s own conscience in light of the Cross.
The second step is to establish an atmosphere of prayer within the home. The simple act of praying with your child before meals, the souls in purgatory, those in need and especially to end the day initiates an attitude to seek Christ in all things. This is particularly important in the development of sound moral judgement.
The third step is to be Incarnational with your child. What this means is that our actions must be rooted in Christ. Our demeanor, character and behavior should reflect the holiness of Christ and nothing else. The active practice of the Beatitudes (Mt 5) coupled with the Cardinal virtues (Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude and Justice) provide a sound foundation toward the sound development of a moral conscience.
The premise of any moral act requires the development of a sound moral conscience. Our duty is to help our children turn inward to Christ and not themselves. Children need to witness this inward turn from their parents so they can see God in everything. Thus, their actions will gravitate toward helping others first over themselves.
Copyright 2018 Marlon De La Torre