Conscience is the only safeguard against sudden temptation. People generally acknowledge when they do wrong but say they could not help it. The temptation happened so quickly. For those who are faithful to their conscience, their inner monitor, they will be faithful in these moments.
A man may be in his counting room or his office, or in his shop. Or he may be in public life or at his seat in some legislative assembly. Or he may be living in his master’s house, and by the mere stroke of a pen or a word, or the altering of a figure, or the grasp of a hand, or a nod of the head, he may have the opportunity of acquiring money dishonestly and without the fear of detection. Overreaching one’s neighbor, cheating one’s employer, bribery and corruption, swindling and embezzlement occur almost daily. I hesitate to say that if a man when put upon by temptation will not be loyal to the dictates of his conscience, unless obedience to his conscience has been his constant practice.
An occasion of sin is something that is not sinful in itself, but which commonly leads to sin. Something we find in the reading of a book; sometimes a paragraph in a newspaper, or a place of amusement, or a visit paid or received or a present given or taken, or a conversation, a phrase, a word or even a glance. You cannot enumerate them for they are different for different persons and in different circumstances. How should we avoid them? How do we even know when they are near? Conscience is given to us for this. I know no better means to secure your salvation than by using your conscience.
RESPONSE: FR. PAUL ROBICHAUD, CSP
I have been traveling recently and one of the features I appreciate is the alarm clock on my cell phone. Despite my years as a military chaplain, I never became an early morning riser. A few years back I was able rise and shine at some ungodly hour of the morning. My cell phone alarm made an awful but distinctive squeal that never failed to get me out of bed. Servant of God Isaac Hecker speaks about developing one’s conscience to keep us spiritually awake and aware, somewhat like my phone alarm. It is there to keep us honest, faithful and to assist us in living a moral life. But like the alarm on my cell phone, it is not enough to have it, you have to use it.
I was struck by Father Hecker’s simple but descriptive report of how people in his time by a word, a nod, a signature can steal, bribe or embezzle. It made me think of the news this week of how computer hacker stole some 45 million dollars from ATM machines. While the technology gets more sophisticated, human nature remains much the same. We need not only to use our conscience but to develop our conscience. To the degree we struggle to live a transparent and honest life, the more people come to trust and depend upon us.
Fr. Paul Robichaud is Postulator of the Cause for Canonization of Isaac Hecker.