Merton and Conscience

a ceremony at St. Raymond’s Maronite cathedral

I have traveled west for a few days, chasing the spirit of Fr. Thomas Merton–and trying to get out of my dear parochial vicars’ way, which I thanked my pastor for doing sometimes, when I was young.

I have reached the west bank of the Mississippi River; now it’s about time to turn around for home.  But last Sunday I made some new Maronite Catholic friends, when I subbed for the abouna at St. Elias in Roanoke, and I want to let them know that I got as far as St. Raymond’s Maronite Cathedral, on Lebanon Drive, near the St. Louis Purina factory.

..The best Mertonian advice I have found so far (which he gives in his reflections on conscience in No Man is an Island):

We ought to stop taking our conscious plans and decisions with such infinite seriousness.

…Our dear Virginia-Senator Tim Kaine apparently has predicted same-sex “marriages” in church.  In response, our Bishop DiLorenzo temperately affirmed that such a strange fantasy cannot come to pass.

My own words for Senator Kaine:  You have misdiagnosed our national problems, brother.  We have a baby shortage.  We need more babies.  And I think we all know where babies come from, amigo.  You are barking up the wrong tree.

Pope Francis shoes Paris
Holy Fathers’ shoes participated in the canceled cimate march in Paris last year

…Speaking of politics, now that the presidential debates shortly will descend upon us, let’s remind ourselves:

We Catholics are pro-life, pro-baby, pro-immigrant, pro-real-health-care, pro-good-old-fashioned-marriage, and pro-Paris-Agreement on carbon-emission reduction.

Praised be the Lord Jesus Christ that our USA and China have agreed to the Paris agreement now, making it much more likely to come into effect.

…Also:  apparently Pope Francis wrote to the bishops of Argentina about some guidelines they had given for Catholics in second marriages.

Knowing anything about pastoral problems in Argentina certainly exceeds my paygrade. But Father Merton offers some profound insights into conscience. He expresses himself beautifully, and I recommend reading his own words, but allow me to summarize a few points.

1. On the one hand, “conscience” means that I act freely, making a choice for myself.  Animals don’t have consciences.  But on the other hand, conscience presumes the guidance of a higher authority.  God governs things, not me. Acting out of “conscience” means submitting myself to the truth.

2. Faith underlies the operation of conscience.  I believe in God, and I believe that God exercises His authority through properly established laws.  Holy Mother Church’s laws, above all.

3. Ergo, I act freely when I make decisions guided by just and true laws. That’s how I discern the will of God.

The Lord gives us holy inspirations all the time.  But we have to sort those inspirations out from all the interior impulses that we experience, many of which are not holy.  The most-basic principle for sorting it out:  If what I want to do involves breaking a just law, then that impulse doesn’t come from God.

I don’t mean to minimize the pain and confusion that divorced people may feel about receiving Holy Communion.  But we have a much more fundamental issue to face:  the law of conjugal love itself demands lifetime fidelity, and there’s nothing any priest or pope can say to anyone that can change that.

No one can have a peaceful conscience and a tranquil soul without attaining some level of chastity–that is: true joy in exercising sovereign command over my sexual expression of love, so that I am always honest with it.

What I’m getting ready to say may involve some over-simplification, but not much more that a few percentage-points’ worth:

We can solve most of our sixth-commandment problems by going for a walk instead.  If it’s raining, use an umbrella.  Just keep your pants on, and go for a walk instead.

Repeat 100 times.  Then the whole situation will become immeasurably clearer.

One thought on “Merton and Conscience

  1. it has ever seemed to me that Kane’s tree bears rotten fruit and has no tap root. How else the invitation to be consort to the next amoral potentate that he embraced with zeal!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s