June 5, 2016
So, if we take my (and, kind of, Father Keenan’s) thoughts on conscience as an unending conversation about how we should live together, how do we ever know what we should do? This is exactly the problem that provoked me to start thinking about conscience and its meaning and operation.
You see, we know what’s wrong and why it’s wrong – or at least, why it needs caution in doing. And it (whatever it might be) is wrong because it excludes someone from the thriving that is everyone’s right. This is social ethics’ understanding of the ‘common good’ and it is Christianity’s understanding of the laws of love and mercy. Those wrongs will always be wrong. But what is right may well change from time to time and place to place because of the infinite variety of ‘who’s’. That is, how to include new person X without excluding persons A, B and C, will forever be an ethical challenge never encountered before. Thus, conscience will always be unfinished. And while imperious, It will also have to be very, very humble.
This is how I understand Pope Francis’ assertion that ‘time is greater than space’. Inclusion is a matter of proximity and greater proximity creates a proportionate need for urgent action. But time, in a real sense, creates distance and allows for development without urgency. Thus, what was right-because-inclusive in one age may well become wrong-because-exclusive in another age. Inclusion will always be right; how to bring it to pass may well change. But, in the meanwhile, one hopes that more and more will have been included.
Here is where this meaning of conscience becomes challenging! Even, if I have rooted out of my life all those behaviors that have excluded, demeaned, ignored, demonized others there will still remain the positive obligation to be more and more inclusive. Who says they have nothing to confess?
A clear example: Someone who has been full or energy and good works comes to old age with diminished powers and stamina. A life full of sharing (including) with others suddenly becomes impossible … or does it? This individual has to learn to welcome and include those who now provide support and care and direction. He must come to a shared understanding – the etymological meaning of con-science -- of himself and others that is wholly new to him. The ethics of sharing has become reversed; the stream must now run uphill! What would have been wrong score of years ago is now the only thing that’s right! Time is greater than space.
Another example, a country that has grown rich and secure may have to take its place as a home to those who have less, even at the loss of its wealth and security. Otherwise these others will be excluded from life itself.
How does this apply to in-laws? To ‘former’ spouses? To wrong-doers of any sort? To declared enemies? To those who insist that theirs is the only way? To strangers? Go! Figure!
Conscience will always be the same! Conscience’ demands may change (!) so that conscience may remain con-science.
Further exploration of the topic, next week.
Really and truly and unendingly yours,