Sometimes, people who know me pretty well are amused to be reminded (or to find out for the first time) that, in my undergrad years, I minored in Production Agriculture. This means that I took, among other classes, Small Engines, Welding, and Concrete. (I think that last class had a couple of components, but what stands out to me, 15 years later, is the concrete-making section of it.)
In high school, I took shop classes all four years.
Yes, we’re talking about the same person who would rather curl up with a book than almost anything else. Yes, me.
Dare I mention that there were times I even enjoyed these things?
Here’s another little confession: in things requiring measurements and calculations, I always seemed to…stumble. In (over)analyzing things, I suspect that I tend to overthink these things. The experts I’ve seen just do it. They’re a Nike commercial in action: measure, re-measure, cut, move on.
But what do you do when the two measurements don’t match?
Well, let’s not split hairs here, but isn’t that kind of where discussions of conscience and moral decision making often lead? Or is that just me?
But sometimes, those little details make all. the. difference. Thinking before you act, before you speak, before you do…that’s the theme here.
This ties in nicely with the definition Joe Paprocki gives us in Chapter 15 of A Well-Built Faith, this week’s discussion topic for Lawn Chair Catechism:
Conscience is a gift that can guide us through life. Properly formed, a conscience can help us choose before we act and help us evaluate after we have acted.
That makes it pretty darn useful. Key words, though, are properly formed. That’s where I think our modern culture has a huge weakness. We trust ourselves. There’s no authority outside of ourselves… except what everyone else is doing, or what seems right, or…oh wait. That is authority. But why?
Paprocki continues, pointing out that the image of our consciences as little Jiminy Crickets is “a nice image, but in reality, the human conscience is not so much a voice as it is a set of eyeglasses. We do not necessarily hear a voice telling us what is right or wrong, but we become capable of seeing as God sees.”
To which I have only this to say: BOOM.
It’s a battle, though.
Unfortunately, while parents are trying to teach their kids to think, society is teaching them that, “if it feels good, do it.” The problem, of course, is that life requires thinking.
In Luke 10:27, a scholar of the law is asking Jesus what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus replies, in typical fashion, with a question. “How do you read the law?” he asks. The scholar replies:
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
Heart, being, strength, and MIND. Thinking. Brainpower. In the words of Paprocki, “LOVE REQUIRES THINKING. This means that the choices and decision we make in life require thinking.” (Caps and emphasis mine.)
And look at this, there is even a three-dimensioned approach to morality. #IlovebeingCatholic
1. What am I choosing to do? (aka the object chosen)
2. Why am I choosing this action? (aka the intention)
3. When, how, and where am I performing this action? (aka the circumstances of the action)
This is the kind of measuring twice and cutting once I can DO (though, ahem, probably not as well as I should…but I’m working on that, thankyouverymuch).
So what difference does it make that Catholics believe in having a fully formed conscience and in making good moral decisions? It means that we are called to be thinkers. It means that we are called to lifelong catechesis. Catechesis is a huge part of being Catholics, because following Jesus is an eyes-wide-open experience. Our faith in Jesus is not blind faith. On the contrary, our faith calls us to have our eyesight corrected, so that we learn to see as God sees.