“Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honourably in all things.”

Hebrews 13:18

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

Hebrews 13:18

So what do we mean by a clear conscience? Conscience takes our sense of right and wrong and entails a process of moral discernment. Almost always it starts with a situation, often an ethical choice or dilemma, and the desire to act honourably, as our text in Hebrews states.

Let us go back to the observation made yesterday. Conscience starts deep within oneself. There is a sense of either wrongness or rightness of a situation and a desire to act. The first thing, I think, we have to do is a careful examination of the problem, not just as we might perceive it but as it is. We need to have the facts, not just a few opinions, but evidence. This is not always that easy, but we must try to be as well informed about a problem as possible.

We must then exercise our reasoning, considering what underlying moral values are at stake. More often than not, particularly when the situation is less than clear, there are sometimes conflicting values. While sometimes said values and their opposites are fairly obvious – e.g. truth versus lies, honesty versus dishonesty, integrity versus corruption – there are occasions where there is a conflict between things that are both good. One thinks here of a case like euthanasia, where two goods – preserving life and ending needless suffering – are at odds with each other.

We then ask ourselves – and if we are religious, we pray for guidance – which of the values is of supreme importance, and how we may possibly act in accordance with that value.

At this point, having examined the situation and discerned the key value, we should already be imagining a course of action to take. Having weighed up the questions, we then act. If having acted, we feel deep down we made the right choice, that indeed it was the only action we could have taken, we are probably acting in good conscience.

As you can see, acting in good conscience is a lot of work. But I would argue that it is a mark of being an honourable person, the kind of person the author of Hebrews extols.

Loving God,

Give us the courage to seek the good, to discern what is right, and to act with honour.


Fr Anthony Egan SJ

Fr Anthony Egan SJ (born Cape Town 1966; entered the Jesuits 1990; ordained 2002) has taught, full-time or part-time, at St Augustine College of South Africa, St John Vianney Seminary, Fordham University (on sabbatical) and the University of the Witwatersrand. The author/co-author of a number of books, book chapters, academic and popular articles, he is a correspondent for America magazine, a contributor to Worldwide and writes for spotlight.africa. He is also a commentator on local and international radio and television. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Helen Suzman Foundation. Extramural interests include Science Fiction, Theatre, Art and creative writing, including poetry.

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