Last week I wrote about how greed gets in the way of us really praying “Thy will be done” in the Our Father. Underneath greed, or along with it, is a more basic stumbling block in praying “Thy will be done”, pride. The Catholic Encyclopedia provides a succinct description: “Pride is the excessive love of one’s own excellence.” How does this form a stumbling block for us? It is because we think we don’t need any guidance. Pride is when we think we are quite capable of figuring out right and wrong on our own, thank you very much.
The Church teaches that God has written his law deep within the conscience of each person, and that in his conscience man is alone with God. By it we are judged. It prompts us to do good, avoid evil and choose correctly. The Church teaches that a conscience can be wrong, so decisions should be informed by more than your “gut” feeling; one should seek counsel, look to relevant information, and be grounded in certain absolutes (e.g., you cannot do evil to produce good or the golden rule, and not leading others astray). Beyond (or before) this, a conscience must be well formed. A well formed conscience is one from a virtuous man that comes from both continual education and following the conscience. A conscience becomes darkened and deadened by sin (so if you are in a state of sin, your conscience will not be working correctly). All of this comes before one can say that we must follow our conscience.[REF]
Modern man latches onto the primacy of conscience as a catch phrase (aha, the Church has finally give in!). We forget about the discerning and advising and considering and living a virtuous life. We live in a world where the ends justify the means, where we trample on others to get ahead, where our immersed in a culture of sex and violence. So many of our consciences are darkened from sin and neglect, but we hold onto the foolery that we our own conscience knows best. What we really mean is that I am in charge of my life, and to hell with anyone who says different. If something gets in the way of my goal, then I am within my right to defeat it. I am master of my destiny, and I will do what I want to get where I am going. In the end, we trade our consciences for pride, and pretend we are doing the right thing. When we don’t exercise and train our conscience, we can deceive ourselves into thinking that all sorts of other motivations are our conscience.
Pride is that root of all sin. Sin is a tossing aside of God’s law (which is written in our hearts) and substituting our own judgement. In our pride, we tell ourselves we are following our consciences when we are really following our feelings, our desires, and our rationalizations. We reject Church teachings and the Scriptures, because “we know better.” But we do know better. Deep down, we know we are not wiser than God. We do need the Bible and the teachings of His Church. We know that 2000 years of study and prayer, are better informed than my current and often sinful view. If we let go of our pride and our need to control, then we are truly liberated. When we humbly approach God for teaching and guidance, then we can follow our conscience. Then we can pray “Thy will be done” and truly mean it.
If you are prideful, your consciences are damaged. When you are ready, the best first step is confession. Then there is the long struggle to release control and follow rather than lead. Obey rather than dictate. Listen rather than speak.