During RCIA last night, a few group members shared an experience they had last weekend while attending a workshop called "Solidarity with the Poor." Due to some personal issues - mostly that one of my former clients and his father were very threatening towards me and are currently homeless - I decided that it would be best not to attend. Listening to the reports last night, I did feel like I made the right decision. Fortunately (or unfortunately), I feel as though I have a good understanding of mental illness/addiction/homeless because of the work that I do and from other life experiences. It was interesting to hear others' experiences, though.
Following that conversation, we began to discuss our topic for the week: Morality and Informed Conscience. We started with a worksheet that listed about 20 actions - smoking cigarettes, skipping Mass, lying on your taxes - and asked you to rank each on a scale of 1-10 (1 being no sin and 10 being most sinful). After everyone completed the worksheet individually, we began to go through the list and share our thoughts on each "sin." It was interesting to hear people's responses and their reasoning. Some of the discussions became a little intense. Smoking cigarettes and "hitting" your child were the first two on the list. We actually didn't make it all the way through the list because there was so much discussion. I shared with the group that I've always been taught that a sin is a willful transgression against a known law of God. A nice definition, but sometimes, it's hard to translate into real life. Obviously, it's not okay for me to murder someone, but is it really so bad to have a glass of wine with dinner? I'm not going to steal anything, but as was discussed last night, if I were a POW and starving to death, I may take some food that's not mine.
That lead us to discuss more about what the Church teaches about morality. The "moral" question is "how am I, a follower of Jesus and a member of the body of Christ to live?" The Church teaches that we look at these moral decisions from four perspectives: personal (experience, faith, prayer), communal (society, community, potential consequences), tradition (Church teaching, Scripture), and context (situation and culture). Catholics don't interpret the Scriptures literally - they look at the Scripture within the context of the culture and society nearly 2,000 years ago. I want to be a good person, but I have struggled over the years with things that I believe are okay for Christians to do (such as drinking alcohol - not the best example, but it's the best I can think of) but the faith tradition that I've been a part of does not condone. For a long time, I was going to church and feeling like people wouldn't really like me if they knew what I did outside of church...not that I thought what I was doing was wrong, but because I thought others would judge me for it.
All that to say, what I like about the Catholic Church is that we are encouraged to make decisions (moral and otherwise) based on our own discernment. The Church takes a stand on many social issues that I don't necessarily agree with. I asked last night how we deal with things when our personal beliefs are in opposition to what the Church teachers. That's where the idea of the "Informed Conscience" comes into play.The worksheet that we were given last night says "As Catholics, we have always enjoyed the dignity and freedom to make informed decisions about our life, our witness, our expressions of faith, spirituality, prayer and involvement in the world - on the basis of a developed and fully formed and informed conscience." There's another quote from Pope Benedict the XVI, when he was known as Fr. Josef Ratzinger, that basically tells us that if we go through some kind of discernment on these issues and truly believe something that is in opposition to the Church, we need to go with what we believe. Someone asked what consequences we may face for this. I liked the leader's answer. Basically, she said that if we are struggling with believing one thing and the Church teaching another, that's what the sacrament of reconciliation is for. There's always forgiveness.
Once again, I left last night feeling like I am doing what I am supposed to be doing. I have found a place where I have the freedom to come to my own conclusions about those tough questions in life.