Saturday, February 25, 2012

Talking About Conscience XIV

The first level, which we might call the ontological level, of the phenomenon ‘conscience’ means that a kind of primal remembrance of the good and the true (which are identical) is bestowed on us. There is an inherent existential tendency of man, who is created in the image of God, to tend toward that which is in keeping with God. Thanks to its origin, man’s being is in harmony with some things but not with others.

This anamnesis of our origin, resulting from the fact that our being is constitutively in keeping with God, is not a knowledge articulated in concepts, a treasure store of retrievable contents. It is an inner sense, a capacity for recognition, in such a way that the one addressed recognizes in himself an echo of what is said to him. If he does not hide from his own self, he comes to the insight: this is the goal toward which my whole being tends, this is where I want to go.

This anamnesis of the Creator, which is identical with the foundations of our existence, is the reason that mission is both possible and justified. The gospel may and indeed must be proclaimed to the pagans, because this is what they are waiting for, even if they do not know this themselves (see Is 42:4). Mission is justified when those it addresses encounter the word of the Gospel and recognize that this is what they were waiting for.

This is what Paul means when he says that the Gentiles ‘are a law unto themselves’—not in the sense of the modern liberalistic idea of autonomy, where nothing can be posited higher than the subject, but in the much deeper sense that nothing belongs to me less than my own self, and that my ego is the place where I must transcend myself most profoundly, the place where I am touched by my ultimate origin and goal.

Values in a Time of Upheaval, 92-3

Reflection – This will be my last blog post for the time being on this series on conscience. There’s more stuff in this essay, and I’ll probably get back to it in a bit, but perhaps enough is enough for the time being.

Anamnesis—this is a good ‘word for the day’. It means ‘remembrance’, of course, and here the Pope is arguing that beneath and below the conscious operations of our conscience, that concrete decisions we have to make about right and wrong, good and evil, lies a fundamental remembrance of God, of truth, of goodness, and of beauty in the depths of our souls.

In the depths of our hearts we belong to God. Obedience, that fearful word, is not a tyranny imposed on us from without, but something that corresponds to our deepest being. We are made to transcend ourselves, and it is in the depths of our hearts that this call to self-transcendence is encountered.

So freedom of conscience remains the deepest freedom, not because the most important thing in the world is that “I get to do just as I please,” but because it is in the inner encounter of the human person with his or her own conscience that the true living out of our human destiny is fulfilled. If people are forced to do things by the state that violate their consciences, a terrible violence has been done.

This violence is currently what the Obama administration is pursuing in the United States right now, and this is a woeful thing, a path which, if not repented of, will lead to great destruction of much that is good in America. Let us pray for them, for one another, for the bishops, and for ourselves, that we may each respond to the call of God resonating in the depths of our hearts and so attain the fullness of life for which God has made us.

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