I fully believe in the Roman Catholic Church and in the authority of the hierarchical Magisterium, which, along with the Sacred Scriptures in their full 73 books and Sacred Tradition, together make up and make present the Word of God to us as Catholic Christians. In saying this I would add an important caveat and balance to the above statement, however.
My firmest conviction is that the truest “Magisterial” authority is within us as believers in Christ Jesus, and that it wells up within us, both in our spirits and our prayerful human reason. In short I believe in freedom of conscience. Thankfully so does the Church.
This does not suggest in any way that we should not attempt to follow the Church and her present understanding of doctrine and practice as outlined within the 3 legged stool above. I still and certainly believe that to be the case, but what I see somewhat differently now is that the primacy of personal conscience must be first and foremost in order for this to even take place. If you do not agree, think of why you believe in the Church in the first place. Is it because your parents or priest, or even Pope, say so? No. Not if it is real faith. Faith may lead you to the conclusion of embracing Catholicism, but never is it the other way around. It just cannot be so. Nor does this change after one becomes Catholic, or else we are just one more, albeit large, cult.
If you still disagree, please note that the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) bears this out as well, and in fact in great detail–in Part 3, Section One, we find an amazing and much-needed explanation of this which at very least allows for far more dissension than most Catholics seem to realize, even on major issues:
1776 “Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment.… For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God.… His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.” (1954)
I. The Judgment of Conscience
1777 Moral conscience, present at the heart of the person, enjoins him at the appropriate moment to do good and to avoid evil. It also judges particular choices, approving those that are good and denouncing those that are evil.49 It bears witness to the authority of truth in reference to the supreme Good to which the human person is drawn, and it welcomes the commandments. When he listens to his conscience, the prudent man can hear God speaking. (1766; 2071)
1778 Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed. In all he says and does, man is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right. It is by the judgment of his conscience that man perceives and recognizes the prescriptions of the divine law: (1749)
Conscience is a law of the mind; yet [Christians] would not grant that it is nothing more; I mean that it was not a dictate, nor conveyed the notion of responsibility, of duty, of a threat and a promise.… [Conscience] is a messenger of him, who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil, and teaches and rules us by his representatives. Conscience is the aboriginal Vicar of Christ.
1779 It is important for every person to be sufficiently present to himself in order to hear and follow the voice of his conscience. This requirement of interiority is all the more necessary as life often distracts us from any reflection, self-examination or introspection: (1886)
Return to your conscience, question it.… Turn inward, brethren, and in everything you do, see God as your witness.
1780 The dignity of the human person implies and requires uprightness of moral conscience. Conscience includes the perception of the principles of morality (synderesis); their application in the given circumstances by practical discernment of reasons and goods; and finally judgment about concrete acts yet to be performed or already performed. The truth about the moral good, stated in the law of reason, is recognized practically and concretely by the prudent judgment of conscience. We call that man prudent who chooses in conformity with this judgment. (1806)
1781 Conscience enables one to assume responsibility for the acts performed. If man commits evil, the just judgment of conscience can remain within him as the witness to the universal truth of the good, at the same time as the evil of his particular choice. The verdict of the judgment of conscience remains a pledge of hope and mercy. In attesting to the fault committed, it calls to mind the forgiveness that must be asked, the good that must still be practiced, and the virtue that must be constantly cultivated with the grace of God: (1731)
We shall … reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
1782 Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. “He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.” (2106)
II. The Formation of Conscience
1783 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. (2039)
1784 The education of the conscience is a lifelong task. From the earliest years, it awakens the child to the knowledge and practice of the interior law recognized by conscience. Prudent education teaches virtue; it prevents or cures fear, selfishness and pride, resentment arising from guilt, and feelings of complacency, born of human weakness and faults. The education of the conscience guarantees freedom and engenders peace of heart. (1742)
1785 In the formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path; we must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. We must also examine our conscience before the Lord’s Cross. We are assisted by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aided by the witness or advice of others and guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church.55 (890)
III. To Choose in Accord with Conscience
1786 Faced with a moral choice, conscience can make either a right judgment in accordance with reason and the divine law or, on the contrary, an erroneous judgment that departs from them.
1787 Man is sometimes confronted by situations that make moral judgments less assured and decision difficult. But he must always seriously seek what is right and good and discern the will of God expressed in divine law. (1955)
1788 To this purpose, man strives to interpret the data of experience and the signs of the times assisted by the virtue of prudence, by the advice of competent people, and by the help of the Holy Spirit and his gifts. (1806)
1789 Some rules apply in every case: (1756; 1970; 1827; 1971)
— One may never do evil so that good may result from it;
— the Golden Rule: “Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to 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.” Therefore “it is right not to … do anything that makes your brother stumble.”58
IV. Erroneous Judgment
1790 A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.
1791 This ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case when a man “takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin.” In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he commits. (1704)
1792 Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct. (133)
1793 If—on the contrary—the ignorance is invincible, or the moral subject is not responsible for his erroneous judgment, the evil committed by the person cannot be imputed to him. It remains no less an evil, a privation, a disorder. One must therefore work to correct the errors of moral conscience. (1860)
1794 A good and pure conscience is enlightened by true faith, for charity proceeds at the same time “from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith.” (1751)
The more a correct conscience prevails, the more do persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and try to be guided by objective standards of moral conduct.
1795 “Conscience is man’s most secret core, and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths” (GS 16).
1796 Conscience is a judgment of reason by which the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act.
1797 For the man who has committed evil, the verdict of his conscience remains a pledge of conversion and of hope.
1798 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. Everyone must avail himself of the means to form his conscience.
1799 Faced with a moral choice, conscience can make either a right judgment in accordance with reason and the divine law or, on the contrary, an erroneous judgment that departs from them.
1800 A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience.
1801 Conscience can remain in ignorance or make erroneous judgments. Such ignorance and errors are not always free of guilt.
1802 The Word of God is a light for our path. We must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. This is how moral conscience is formed.
The point is this–we have the solemn duty to understand Church teaching as fully and in-depth as we possibly can, and then carry that same responsibility to follow it as long as it does not violate our conscience–if not, then this passage within the CCC means virtually nothing–so what is written below is with that in mind, and presents a beautiful balance between mindless obedience and equally mindless rebellion.
Lastly I would like to say that I am very, very far from perfect, whether as a human, Christian, or Catholic man. In posting the pledge as written below, I would provide an immediate disclaimer that this is a goal, not an achievement!!! I would further mention that some older posts may well contain theological ideas or suggestions which I may or may not agree with currently, even if I wrote them, as each of us grow at our own pace into the grace of God and do not always get it right the first time–or tenth! We need to be incredibly patient with one another, and truly learn what it means not to judge the hearts and souls of our fellow humans. Me included. You too.
I, Richard Gerard (Stephen Francis) Evans, with firm faith believe and profess everything that is contained in the symbol of faith: namely:
“I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.
I believe in one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church. I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.”
And I can say all of this with a clear conscience.