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At his weekly Angelus address, Pope Francis delivered some wonderful words on conscience today , using his predecessor’s radical decision to resign the papacy as an example, along with that of Mary:

So we also [like Jesus] must learn to listen more to our conscience. Be careful, however: this does not mean we ought to follow our ego, do whatever interests us, whatever suits us, whatever pleases us. That is not conscience. Conscience is the interior space in which we can listen to and hear the truth, the good, the voice of God. It is the inner place of our relationship with Him, who speaks to our heart and helps us to discern, to understand the path we ought to take, and once the decision is made, to move forward, to remain faithful.

Pope Benedict XVI has given us a great example in this sense. When the Lord had made it clear, in prayer, what was the step he had to take [i.e. to resign the papacy], he followed, with a great sense of discernment and courage, his conscience, that is, the will of God that spoke to his heart – and this example of our father does much good to all of us, as an example to follow.

Our Lady, with great simplicity, listened to and meditated deep within herself upon the Word of God and what was happening to Jesus. She followed her Son with deep conviction, with steadfast hope. May Mary help us to become more and more men and women of conscience – free in our conscience, because it is in conscience that the dialogue with God is given – men and women able to hear the voice of God and follow it with decision.

The modern world regards conscience as something subjective, that space where we hold our deepest convictions, right or wrong, whatever they may be; conscience becomes a possession of the inviolable, autonomous self, the ego. Pope Francis does the world a tremendous service with his words today, reminding us that conscience must be ordered to truth. As the Catechism puts it:

Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. 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; cf. §§ 1776-1802)

Worth reading here is Ratzinger’s (later Benedict, of course) masterful address on conscience from 1991 , which I discussed in an earlier post on conscience here .

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