Conscience: The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A

Central idea: Choose what is right and live. Doctrine: A good conscience. Practical application: Formation of conscience.

To view the Lectionary 76 readings, click here.

Central idea: Choose what is right and live

Reading 1 Sir 15:15-20

If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you;
if you trust in God, you too shall live;
he has set before you fire and water
to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand.
Before man are life and death, good and evil,
whichever he chooses shall be given him.
Immense is the wisdom of the Lord;
he is mighty in power, and all-seeing.
The eyes of God are on those who fear him;
he understands man’s every deed.
No one does he command to act unjustly,
to none does he give license to sin.

  • God gives us freedom to choose good or bad means of obtaining life and happiness.
  • The good means are those that conform to the moral law.
  • The bad means disobey the moral law.
  • God gives us sufficient grace so as to choose the good means, but he leaves us free to choose the bad means.
  • In his wisdom and goodness, God bestows on us an immense dignity: He gives us what we ask for.
  • It does take “trust in God” to choose the moral law, because the life and happiness God promises us will be fully obtained only in future. While we wait, we can witness those who reject the law grabbing for the good they want and sometimes seeming to get it.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34

R. Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!

Blessed are they whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the LORD.
Blessed are they who observe his decrees,
who seek him with all their heart.

You have commanded that your precepts
be diligently kept.
Oh, that I might be firm in the ways
of keeping your statutes!

Be good to your servant, that I may live
and keep your words.
Open my eyes, that I may consider
the wonders of your law.

Instruct me, O LORD, in the way of your statutes,
that I may exactly observe them.
Give me discernment, that I may observe your law
and keep it with all my heart.

  • Because the Mosaic Law came from God through Moses, devout Jews then and now still desire to follow it perfectly.
  • In order to be close to God, every upright person desires always to know the right thing to do and to do it. We need God’s help, the help of His Church, and the help of good persons, always to know what is right and to “be firm in the ways
    of keeping [His] statutes.”

Reading 2 1 Cor 2:6-10

Brothers and sisters:
We speak a wisdom to those who are mature,
not a wisdom of this age,
nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away.
Rather, we speak God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden,
which God predetermined before the ages for our glory,
and which none of the rulers of this age knew;
for, if they had known it,
they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
But as it is written:
What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,
and what has not entered the human heart,
what God has prepared for those who love him,

this God has revealed to us through the Spirit.
For the Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God.

  • The rulers of our age follow the same “wisdom” as the rulers of St. Paul’s age. It is the principle of “get everything you can, however you can get it, and keep it.”
    • For the strong, this means violence, threatened or actual.
    • The political and religious rulers in Jerusalem killed the Lord because they saw him as a threat to their good.
  • People didn’t know then, and many of us still do not know today, that God’s plan is to give everything to us so long as we love, and we love by keeping the commandments.

Gospel Mt 5:17-37

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away,
not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter
will pass from the law,
until all things have taken place.
Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments
and teaches others to do so
will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.
But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments
will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses
that of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.
But I say to you,
whoever is angry with brother
will be liable to judgment;
and whoever says to brother, ‘Raqa,’
will be answerable to the Sanhedrin;
and whoever says, ‘You fool,’
will be liable to fiery Gehenna.
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar,
and there recall that your brother
has anything against you,
leave your gift there at the altar,
go first and be reconciled with your brother,
and then come and offer your gift.
Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court.
Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge,
and the judge will hand you over to the guard,
and you will be thrown into prison.
Amen, I say to you,
you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.

“You have heard that it was said,
You shall not commit adultery.
But I say to you,
everyone who looks at a woman with lust
has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
If your right eye causes you to sin,
tear it out and throw it away.
It is better for you to lose one of your members
than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna.
And if your right hand causes you to sin,
cut it off and throw it away.
It is better for you to lose one of your members
than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.

“It was also said,
Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.
But I say to you,
whoever divorces his wife – unless the marriage is unlawful –
causes her to commit adultery,
and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

“Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
Do not take a false oath,
but make good to the Lord all that you vow
But I say to you, do not swear at all;
not by heaven, for it is God’s throne;
nor by the earth, for it is his footstool;
nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.
Do not swear by your head,
for you cannot make a single hair white or black.
Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’
Anything more is from the evil one.”

  • Our Lord confirms that the ten commandments, which in philosophical language are known as the natural law, are still fully in effect.
  • He also corrects the commandments, for example, removing the permission Moses gave the Chosen People for husbands to divorce their wives.
  • Finally, he expands the scope of the commandments. We are to obey the moral law not just in actions, but in words and even in thoughts.
  • Christ came to save sinners, yet he says in no uncertain terms that a deliberate refusal to obey the moral law and a refusal to repent will have severe consequences.

Doctrine: A good conscience

  • In Biblical language, our heart refers to our inner life or the core of our being. In our heart we find a law or voice that we have not invented and which has been put there by God. It tells us “to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil.” We know we ought to obey this voice. (CCC 1776)
  • We need to cultivate our interior life in order to be present to ourselves. This is necessary so we can hear and choose to follow God’s voice of conscience in our hearts. So, an important part of our life is to turn inward in “reflection, self-examination or introspection.” (CCC 1779)
  • Conscience is our reason, sitting in judgment on our actions, approving or condemning them, according to our understanding of the moral law (CCC 1796).
  • The guilt that accompanies the violation of a well-formed conscience is entirely positive: it witnesses the truth of the good, the evil of the choice, the forgiveness to be asked for, the good that must still be done, and the virtue which needs to be cultivated with God’s grace (CCC 1781).
  • Why must you form your conscience?
    • So you can more clearly understand all the precepts of the moral law.
    • So you can overcome the defects inherent in original sin, like the desire to just do what you want or to make excuses for yourself.
    • So you can grow in virtues in order to love the good and to be more ready to seek it. (CCC 1783-1785)
  • The Catechism sets forth some rules that apply in every case:
    • “One may never do evil so that good may result from it.”
    • “Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.”
    • Do not be the cause of another’s sin. (CCC 1789)
  • The great dignity of the human being is seen in his “right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions.” It is wrong to make someone act against his conscience or prevent him “from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.” (CCC 1782)

Practical application: Formation of conscience

  • Conscience is our rational intellect rendering a judgment our actions, approving or condemning them. Our intellect makes its judgment according to its understanding of the moral law (CCC 1796).
  • Our conscience, that is, our reason, does not invent the moral law; rather it discovers it and reads it either in the natural law or the revealed law.
  • The Catholic Church is the sure teacher of the moral law. A careful reading of Part III of the Catechism of the Catholic Church will tell most people most of what they need to know.
  • When you are faced with an unusual or difficult situation and you don’t know if a certain action would be moral, get good advice: use the virtue of prudence, get “the advice of competent people,” and ask for “the help of the Holy Spirit and his gifts” (CCC 1788).
  • We are rational beings. The way God has made us, we are to use our reason to decide what to do and then do it as best we can. But the way many people erroneously operate is to use their passions to decide what they want to do and then use their intellect to rationalize why they should.
  • You can’t form your conscience unless you have an interior life. That is, you have to be “present to yourself.” One of the best ways of cultivating your inner life is to talk to God. This is the essence of mental prayer, a conversation with Christ. (CCC 2709)
  • If we regularly talk with God it will be difficult for us to rationalize our bad behavior for very long.

The Homiletic Directory recommends these Catechism points and themes for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time:

  • CCC 577-582: Jesus and the Law
  • CCC 1961-1964 the old Law
  • CCC 2064-2068: the Decalogue in the tradition of the Church






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