Acting in accord with one’s conscience is important, if that conscience is informed by the voice of God, says Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver.
The archbishop spoke of the role of conscience in promoting a Culture of Life on Saturday at the White Mass for Health Care Professionals, held at St. Thomas More Parish in Centennial. The Mass also opened the annual Gospel of Life Conference, organized by the Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese of Denver.
“What has happened with so many Catholics today is that they have come to understand conscience as listening to their own voice,” he said, “rather than listening to the voice of God as he has revealed himself in Scripture and in Tradition.”
The archbishop quoted soon-to-be Saint John Paul II, who wrote that “the first and fundamental step towards… cultural transformation consists in forming consciences with regard to the incomparable and inviolable worth of every human life.”
“It is important for us to form consciences, especially in our own time when people are told, ‘Well, just follow your conscience,’” he continued. “Most people today do not even know what conscience is, let alone that they are called to form their conscience.
“It is essential that we help people to understand that conscience is the voice of God living within the human heart (Guadium et Spes,16). They must quietly listen for that voice and open their hearts to it.”
The archbishop explained that if one rejects God, “then one’s conscience becomes deadened and hardened, because you deny that there is even a voice to listen to.”
Addressing the health care professionals in attendance, he said that it is “essential for us in whatever field of life we are in, in whatever vocation we are in, to be those who help people form their consciences, to understand what conscience is, and that yes, and understand that one’s conscience can become hardened, can become deadened, and can be erroneous when it is not faithful to God and to the truth.”
See the full transcript below:
Homily of Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila
White Mass/Gospel of Life Conference
St. Thomas More Parish, Centennial
October 19, 2013
[Note: This transcript has been edited for print publication.]
My dearest brothers and sisters in Christ,
Today as we gather for the Gospel of Life conference we also celebrate the Memorial of the North American Martyrs, of those who first came to the United States and proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ, who laid down their lives in that proclamation of the Gospel.
The Gift of Faith
We hear within our readings for today, the importance of the gift of faith. In the first reading from Romans we are told the righteousness that comes from faith is a gift. Abraham “believed, hoping against hope, that he would become the father of many nations” (Rm 4: 18). All of us know, in faith, that Abraham is the first to believe in the promises of God, promises that were given to the people of Israel and fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
Jesus reminds us in the Gospel that “everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will acknowledge before the angels of God” (Lk 12: 8). It is precisely in putting our faith in Jesus Christ, having a personal relationship with him, coming to know Jesus intimately, that we who follow him then live our faith in the world.
Jesus reminds us too, that a word spoken against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. And essentially that sin against the Holy Spirit is truly the rejection of the voice of God. It is a radical rejection of God himself, a lack of belief in putting one’s faith in God. Because when one does not believe, essentially what one says is that God is not faithful or trustworthy. And we know that when we read Sacred Scripture, and most especially the Gospels, God is trustworthy; he is faithful.
Jesus also assures us in today’s Gospel that when you are taken “before synagogues and before rulers and authorities, do not worry about how or what your defense will be, or what you are to say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say” (Lk 12: 12). What a tremendous promise! Do we believe it?
My dearest brothers and sisters, that too, points to the gift of faith. A deep trust and confidence in Jesus, in the promise of the Holy Spirit; that the Holy Spirit will prompt us when we proclaim the good news of Jesus, when we teach, when we go before others and into the world.
A Clash of Cultures: Life vs. Death
As we celebrate today the call of the Gospel of Life, certainly we recall the encyclical, Evangelium Vitae (EV) of John Paul the Great in 1995. John Paul warned that we live in a time of spiritual battle and spiritual warfare. He stated, “…we are facing an enormous and dramatic clash between good and evil, death and life, the ‘culture of death’ and the ‘culture of life.’
We find ourselves not only ‘faced with,’ but necessarily ‘in the midst of’ this conflict: we are all involved and we all share in it, with the inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life” (EV 28).
John Paul the Great referred to the importance of all of us having the responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life, and that is true of anyone who claims to be Catholic. One must see the dignity of human life, the beauty and goodness of human life, from the moment of conception until natural death.
My brothers and sisters, it is essential for us to be those who proclaim that truth, to be those who give witness to it.
Pope Francis, in a September 20th address to participants of an international meeting of Catholic Medical Associations, reminded them:
“Every child who, rather than being born, is condemned unjustly to being aborted, bears the face of Jesus Christ, bears the face of the Lord, who even before he was born, and then just after birth, experienced the world’s rejection. And every elderly person – I spoke of children: let us move to the elderly, another point! And every elderly person, even if he is ill or at the end of his days, bears the face of Christ. They cannot be discarded, as the ‘culture of waste’ suggests! They cannot be thrown away!”
And it is precisely a “throw away culture” that Pope Francis speaks about often, that is truly a “culture of death,” a culture that turns its back on the truth of Jesus Christ and the dignity of the human person. John Paul II would remind us, “We are asked to love and honor the life of every man and woman, and to work with perseverance and courage, so that our time, marked by all too many signs of death, may at last witness the establishment of a new culture of life, the fruit of a culture of truth and of love” (EV 77).
It is important for us to understand that we are called to promote a culture of truth and love that springs from that encounter with love, who is Jesus Christ. And in that encounter with love, in that encounter with mercy, we come to know and to receive he who is the Son of God.
We know too that we live in a culture that is deeply rooted – at least at this point in time – in relativism: each and every person is free to choose what the truth is. And with that type of approach, with no common approach to truth, that means that if each person is deciding what truth is, there is going to be conflict.
There are going to be disagreements. And those “multiple truths” can lead to war, to violence, to a throw away culture, to disregard for the dignity of the human person and to hatred of our brother or sister.
Human beings are capable of discovering truth, and that the truth is a person, it is Jesus Christ who leads us into all truth, who is valid for every human being. We are called to proclaim that in love. We must propose those truths constantly and courageously, helping people to come to know the truth of Christ.
Formed Consciences Change the Culture
We are reminded by our former Holy Father, soon-to-be Saint John Paul II, “The first and fundamental step towards… cultural transformation consists in forming consciences with regard to the incomparable and inviolable worth of every human life” (EV 96).
It is important for us to form consciences, especially in our own time when people are told, “Well, just follow your conscience.” Most people today do not even know what conscience is, let alone that they are called to form their conscience. It is essential that we help people to understand that conscience is the voice of God living within the human heart (Guadium et Spes 16). They must quietly listen for that voice and open their hearts to it.
But if one rejects God and says there is no God, then one’s conscience becomes deadened and hardened, because you deny that there is even a voice to listen to. And that is a sin against the Holy Spirit. It is failing to recognize the dignity of the human person and that we are truly created in the image and likeness of God.
Sadly, what has happened with so many Catholics today is that they have come to understand conscience as listening to their own voice, rather than listening to the voice of God as he has revealed himself in Scripture and in Tradition. It is essential for us in whatever field of life we are in, in whatever vocation we are in, to be those who help people form their consciences, to understand what conscience is, and that yes, and understand that one’s conscience can become hardened, can become deadened, and can be erroneous when it is not faithful to God and to the truth.
Any time anyone supports or takes the life of an unborn child or promotes assisted suicide or euthanasia or treats others as though they can be thrown away, their conscience is deadened and erroneous, and they are not listening to the voice of God or the voice of truth but rather are listening to the father of lies, to the evil one.
The Gospel of Life and the Archdiocese
Finally, we too in the archdiocese must be those who go, as Pope Francis has said so often, to the outskirts; to be those who go out into the world, into the “culture of death” – the “culture of waste,” and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Twenty years ago when John Paul II visited Denver for World Youth Day, he reminded the young people at the closing Mass:
“Do not be afraid to go out on the streets and into public places, like the first Apostles who preached Christ and the good news of salvation in the squares of cities, towns and villages. This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel (Cf. Rm 1:16). It is the time to preach it from the rooftops (Cf. Mt 10:27). Do not be afraid to break out of comfortable and routine modes of living, in order to take up the challenge of making Christ known in the modern ‘metropolis.’ It is you who must ‘go out into the byroads’ (Mt 22:9) and invite everyone you meet to the banquet which God has prepared for his people. The Gospel must not be kept hidden because of fear or indifference. It was never meant to be hidden away in private. It has to be put on a stand so that people may see its light and give praise to our heavenly Father.”
John Paul II noted, in that time 20 years ago, of the importance of giving witness, of the importance of trusting in the Lord and proclaiming the Gospel.
In his September 20th address, Pope Francis reminded those involved in medical care that they were to “…be witnesses and diffusers of the “culture of life.” Your being Catholic entails a greater responsibility: first of all to yourselves, through a commitment consistent with your Christian vocation; and then to contemporary culture, by contributing to recognizing the transcendent dimension of human life, the imprint of God’s creative work, from the first moment of its conception. This is a task of the New Evangelization that often requires going against the tide and paying for it personally. The Lord is also counting on you to spread the ‘gospel of life.’” In closing his address, Pope Francis stated to the health care workers, and I state to you today, “The credibility of a health care system is not measured solely by efficiency, but above all by the attention and love given to the person, whose life is always sacred and inviolable.”
My dearest sisters and brothers, it is essential for us to understand these truths, to understand what both Pope Francis and soon-to-be St. John Paul II speak to us in terms of our mission in the New Evangelization.
It is only with great confidence and intimacy with the Holy Spirit that we will go forth and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. It is only trusting in the gifts of the Holy Spirit and praying for those gifts of the Holy Spirit, of knowledge, understanding, wisdom, counsel, fortitude, fear of the Lord, and piety, asking the Holy Spirit to stir those gifts into flame, that I may go into the “culture of death” and proclaim the only hope, who is Jesus Christ, to proclaim the goodness of life!
Each and every one of you, my brothers and sisters, whether you are physicians, nurses, dentists, or therapists, whether you are seminarians or teachers, in whatever field you may be, you always have the opportunity to proclaim Christ by how you live—to be those who point to the truth of our Lord and call others into relationship with him. And you must always be rooted in charity as you help people to come to know the love of Christ.
As we continue with our celebration of the Eucharist today, first, I encourage you to open your hearts to Jesus Christ, to be those who enter into deeper communion and deeper intimacy with our Lord. My brothers and sisters, Jesus hungers for each and every one of you. He desires to be your best friend. And he is with you always, even in those moments when you may feel lonely or in those moments when you may feel abandoned, or in those moments when the devil will tempt you with fear or distrust. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and most especially in the Eucharist that you will receive.
Secondly, I encourage you to be those who truly give witness to our Lord in the public square. Be not afraid, as John Paul the Great spoke those words, be not afraid! Do not let fear or discouragement keep you from proclaiming the “gospel of life” and entering into the “culture of death,” the “culture of waste.” There are opportunities every day for you to proclaim the truth, to be participants in the New Evangelization.
Finally, my brothers and sisters, as you receive the Eucharist today, I ask you to open your hearts to our Lord. Pray to him. It is the closest you can be to our Lord, every time you receive the Eucharist. Pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit, pray for wisdom to know how to evangelize, to be those who trust in the Holy Spirit.
Open your heart in prayer and pray especially for those who are so deeply rooted in the “culture of death.” Pray for their conversion, pray for their change of heart, pray that the Blood of Jesus will flow over their consciences, that the Blood of Jesus will flow over their hearts and minds to take away the hardness, to open them to the truth, to his love and mercy. It is only with fervent prayer that our culture will be transformed and that we will have the strength to continue to proclaim the “gospel of life” – that Jesus has truly come into the world so that we might have life and life abundantly. God bless you and thank you for your witness to life.