I have to admit that in counseling conversations, pastoral settings, preaching, and a variety of teaching settings (RCIA, Bible study, etc.) I often return to the topic of the formation of moral conscience. I have even written about it here and here in this blog.
About two years, ago while preaching on the formation of moral conscience, I mentioned health care reform as a topic about which the bishops were teaching at the moment. The topic of health care per se was in the news, but the primary point of my reference was to indicate how often when our bishops speak and teach, we praise them or criticize them based on our already-held opinion of the topic. And I use the word “opinion” pointedly as it is my experience that most people do not form their conscience as described in the Catechism (§1776-1803). Such formation was the real point of the homily – with the challenge being to operate as Christians, not in the realm of opinion, but in the sphere of the formed moral conscience. We are called to do such, but do we do it? Often all I must do is to ask if they have prayed about it or asked the Holy Spirit for wisdom on the topic/decision. Lingering silence is often the answer.
After the homily, equal numbers of people remarked, either, “I knew you were a Republican” or “I knew you were a Democrat.” Of course, there were other comments. At least people were listening. It seems to me that what is revealed in those moment is the frame of reference from which their dialogue will most often begin – the political realm, an economic theory, a closely held secular belief, or something other than the grounding of the Revelation of God – the Life of Christ, Scripture, the Tradition of the Church, the grace of the Holy Spirit, or the bedrock of prayer – and more.
As noted in an earlier post, today the Franciscan world celebrates the Feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis of Assisi. In the first instance (second, third… and always), Francis looked to the Crucified Christ. In the “beginning” before San Damiano; near the “end,” in the mystical vision atop La Verna when he received the marks of the Stigmata of Christ. St. Bonaventure describes the event and reflects upon its meaning. As Bonaventure notes: “Francis came down from the mountain a new man adorned with the sacred stigmata, bearing in his body the image of the Crucified not made by a craftsman in wood or stone, but fashioned in his members by the hand of the living God.”
It was not just the external marks. At the deepest level of his being, Francis had conformed his life to that of Christ. Francis was a disciple through and through. The long conversion of his life, walking the way of holiness, was already present in his word and deed. Now it was displayed on his body. Francis’ frame of reference was Christ: Christ first, second, third, and always. Francis formed his conscience and life around those principles.
With the grace of God, may Francis’ marks of holiness, become our sign posts and reminders that when we face life and thorny issues of life, our first frame of reference in being a moral person, a holy person, is to look to Christ and all that He reveals.
Let Christ be first, second, third and always that our life is marked with holiness.