When The Phantom Menace opened in theatres, long time Star Wars fans were outraged that Anakin’s strength of “The Force” was measurable through the instrumentation of “midi-chlorians”. Qui-Gon Jinn took out an instrument and looked at Anakin’s blood cells and concluded that the Force was strong in this one. For all the pseudo-spirituality of the Force, it was unsatisfying to many that this sci-fi had science crossing over into this domain. For all its emphasis on the objective and measurable, modern secular society seems put off by the idea that objectivity can be applied to the spiritual.
With all the debate over when is it appropriate for someone to receive communion, is there not the temptation sometimes to wish we could measure our own midi-chlorians and determine our suitability for approaching the Lord’s table? Scrupulosity leads us this way but it’s easy to forget that we already have such a tool, even if it may not be as precise as an electron microscope. Our conscience is a tool we often wish to shelve, especially when Catholics especially are made fun of for all their guilt-ridden anxiety.
Such a tool needs to be calibrated like any other instrument. An overly sensitive conscience weighs us down thinking that we’re always doing wrong. A dull conscience prevents us from failing to see any room for improvement at best and a penchant towards habitual evil at worse. To properly calibrate our conscience is to adjust our lives in increasingly better proportion in how we conduct ourselves with the Lord and to each other. Popular culture ridicules guilt but the irony is unnoticed when at the same time people express shock over the unconscionable evil that we see on the news.
The Holy Father proposed to counter the anti-conscience view recently:
[S]hame is a true Christian virtue, and even human … the ability to be ashamed: …to be ashamed is a virtue of the humble, of the man and the woman who are humble.
To have an active and informed conscience is to submit ourselves to God’s voice softly speaking in our hearts, gently guiding us and always forgiving us when we go off course. There’s nothing wrong with proper Catholic guilt – it’s evidence that our spiritual tools are working in some order or another. Although our conscience (con-SCIENCE) can’t measure objectively in a way that you could write a report on, it provides sufficient precision for everyone’s good.
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