This past Sunday, I brought a watermelon to a family gathering. When we cut it open, the fruit was yellow and sliced, looking like pineapple pieces, even though it tasted the same as the ripe red fruit of yore. Quixotically, I thought they should market melons with little cellophane windows so you can view what you’re buying. With the prevailing and rampant run of relativism, it was only a matter of time before watermelons became…something else.
A critical part of summer for my siblings and I as kids was when melons came into season. We’d see our father walk in the door with a large, mouth-watering beast of a melon. He'd proceed to tap it here and there on the shell, showing us by sound how to know if it’s ripe inside. (After returning from WW2, his first job was in the produce section of a market where my parents met.)
So you can see that it is my responsibility as a good uncle to pass that tradition on to my nephew’s kids, the sampling and sounding and savory eating of a mouth-watering melon. One thing I didn’t pass on was my mother’s stern advice about eating the seeds: "don’t!" Maybe other children heard that a melon would grow in your belly if you ate the ominous black seeds, but we were told that the seeds would swell in your stomach and explode, you along with the seeds! It took me well unto the invention of Google to find out that this was a myth, but there was no harm done and I guess it was our mother’s way of looking out for us.
The Church, too, cares for us as we grow and learn about the faith. A particular teaching now under scrutiny that ought to be shared has to do with the delicate balance of forming one’s conscience properly while obeying ecclesiastical norms and authorities. Rarely are either of these concerns posed as absolutes, because the more you learn, the more you become seasoned to shades of gray when it comes to discerning matters of morality, where “God’s voice echoes from the depths.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly teaches that “the education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings” (# 1783). As rational and moral beings, all humans ought to listen to moral reasoning which enlightens us in choosing right over wrong; but conscience must be formed by experience, as it must also conform to truth and certain guiding principles. There are few other absolutes the Church acknowledges regarding conscience formation other than the following mandates (# 1789):
– One must never do evil so that good may result from it.
– The Golden Rule: Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so for them.
– Charity always proceeds by way of respect for one’s neighbor and his conscience: “Thus sinning against your brethren and wounding their conscience…you sin against Christ.” (1 Cor 8:12)
But (there’s always a kink somewhere, it seems!) with the ongoing questions over Pope Francis’ non-infallible judgements regarding the suppression of the Latin mass (and other quirky ideas), along with various scandals from bishops and priests, such that blind obedience is rightly disputed. Few Church teachings can claim to be absolute norms in forming one’s conscience responsibly. The above three principles hold in every case as do also infallible teachings of the Church (though it is rather difficult even with the Catechism to pin those down sometimes). Where does that leave us? The formation of conscience may be an art (entailing the virtue of Prudence) as it develops over time, yes, but also everyone bears the sorry brunt of burying truth for the sake of convenience or personal preference. One simply cannot compromise matters of conscience when it comes to truth, and there's the rub.
Jesus taught his disciples to be “wise as serpents, docile as doves (Mt. 10:16), and for that daunting task Catholics have inerrant truths, along with St. Ignatius Loyola’s Discernment of Spirits and the aid of infused and acquired virtues to help choose when matters appear less than clear and obligatory. As for the exact who, what, how, where, when and why of morality in an article this short, I can only advise one to cultivate the seeds of faith through prayer and study. And for that, when it comes to relying on Catholicism for moral guidance, I can honestly encourage you: savor the seeds!