Right to life. Transgender issues. Racism. Economic injustices. These are just a few of the moral issues our children and young adults are being bombarded with incessantly and from all sorts of sources. Their world is changing at a rapid pace. Their views of the world are quite different than what we grew-up with. What tools can we as parents give them to make good moral decisions? One tool is to help our children develop a good conscience.
Let your conscience be your guide. Follow your conscience. These are good words to live by but they could be a two-edged sword if they are not taken in a Christian/Catholic context. To the young ear those words could mean: as long as a decision feels good it is OK. But it is more than just that.
The Church teaches that our conscience is like an unwritten personal law or a covenant with God that is within each of us. It is part of our unique relationship with God. Our conscience helps us to discern right from wrong. We are all “hard-wired” with a conscience; our “spiritual DNA,” if you will. Through Scripture, prayer, life’s experiences, various tenets/laws (nature, civil, canon, etc.) and the teaching authority of the Church, our conscience develops and matures. It is a never ending process of development.
When we are faced with a moral decision we search our conscience to guide us. Our conscience has to be God-oriented, however. We cannot let emotions, fear, arrogance, politics, etc. get in the way. We are tasked to discern, with all the possible tools available to us, the facts, the possible outcomes, our motivations, and the consequences of our decisions.
We are always free and encouraged to follow our conscience. The Church teaches that our moral decisions should be ours alone with no outside pressure. We are solely responsible for our decisions. There may be instances when we make an “inappropriate” decision where we are not culpable. However, that does not necessarily relieve us of developing a good conscience.
When we make choices that are inappropriate we have to look back at our decision making processes: was our conscience following a God-filled, God-based understanding of the issue (this is a good spot perhaps to ask, “What Would Jesus Do?”); were we following the law, Scripture, the teachings of the Church? Was our conscience filled with bias?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) discusses Moral Conscience in sections 1776-1802, inclusive. Almost everyone has a basic sense of what is right and wrong. By reading the Catechism parents can get a better idea of what the Christian ideal for moral conscience is and develop appropriate ways to introduce those concepts to their children.
Our conscience along with our freedom to make decisions is a wonderful gift from God. However, if our conscience is highly influenced by the ways of the world and not by God, allowing it to be our guide can lead to decisions that are not in the world’s best interests. It is our duty as parents to give our children the tools they need to develop a healthy conscience. We must be careful not to be over-bearing and impose our own consciences upon them but we must guide them so that theirs are God-centric.
Copyright 2016 Michael T Carrillo
Photo by VGrigas (WMF) (Own work), [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons