Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Slumbering Conscience

We have said multiple times now that, when confronted with evil, we have an obligation in conscience, written as law upon our hearts, to do the good and resist and fight the evil. However, sometimes it is very difficult to discern the right from the wrong, or discern conscience from personal will, so as to engage in the judgment of reason to apply objective moral truth to a particular case.

And one reason why, even in the face of great evil, it might be hard to hear the voice of conscience is that, in too many cases when that danger is lurking, our consciences are fast asleep. That was the problem that Sophie Scholl and the White Rose faced, trying to awaken the slumbering consciences of the German people.

We are now celebrating the period of Pentecost, the new age of the Holy Spirit, who "convinces the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment" by, among other things, speaking to our hearts, our consciences. But before Pentecost came the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ, and before that came the Agony in the Garden, when the Lord's friends slept as evil approached.

Reflection of Pope Benedict XVI
General Audience, April 20, 2011
Having left the Upper Room, Jesus withdrew to pray, alone before the Father. At that moment of deep communion, the Gospels recount that Jesus experienced great anguish, such acute suffering that it made Him sweat blood (cf. Mt 26:38).

In the knowledge of His imminent death on the Cross, He felt immense anguish at the closeness of death. In this situation an element appeared that was of great importance to the whole Church. Jesus said to His followers: stay here and keep watch; and while this call to vigilance refers in a precise way to this moment of anguish, of menace, in which the betrayer arrives, it concerns the whole history of the Church. It is a permanent message for every era because the sleepiness of the disciples was not only the problem of that moment, but is a problem for the whole of history.

The question is what this lethargy consists of, and what is the vigilance to which the Lord invites us. I would say that the disciples' somnolence in the course of history is a certain insensitivity of soul to the power of evil, an insensitivity to all the evil of the world. We do not want to let ourselves be too disturbed by these things, we want to forget them. We think that perhaps it is not so grave, and we forget.

Moreover, it is not only insensibility to evil, when we should be watchful in order to do good, to fight for the force of goodness. Rather it is an insensibility to God: this is our true sleepiness, this insensibility to God’s presence that also makes us insensible to evil. We are not aware of God — He would disturb us — hence we are naturally not aware of the force of evil and continue on the path of our own convenience.

Nocturnal adoration of Holy Thursday, our being vigilant with the Lord, should be precisely the moment to make us reflect on the somnolence of the disciples, of the defenders of Jesus, of the Apostles, of ourselves, who do not see, who do not wish to see the whole force of evil, and we do not wish to enter His passion for goodness, for the presence of God in the world, for the love of our neighbour and of God.

Then the Lord began to pray. The three Apostles — Peter, James and John — slept, but they awoke intermittently and heard the refrain of this prayer of the Lord: “not my will, but your will be done.” What is this will of mine, what is this will of yours of which the Lord speaks?

My will is that I "should not die,” that He be spared this cup of suffering: it is the human will, human nature, and Christ felt, with the whole awareness of His being, life, the abyss of death, the terror of nothingness, the menace of suffering.

Moreover, He was even more acutely aware of the abyss of evil than are we who have a natural aversion to death, a natural fear of death. Together with death, He felt the whole of humanity’s suffering.

He felt that this was the cup He was obliged to drink, that He Himself had to drink: accept the evil of the world, all that is terrible, the aversion to God, the whole weight of sin. And we can understand that Jesus, with His human soul, was terrified before this reality, which He perceived in all its cruelty: My will would be not to drink the cup, but my will is subordinated to your will, to the will of God, to the will of the Father, which is also the real will of the Son. And thus Jesus transformed, in this prayer, the natural reluctance, the aversion to the cup and to His mission to die for us. He transformed His own natural will into God’s will, into a “yes” to God’s will.

On his own man is tempted to oppose the will of God, to seek to do his own will, to feel free only if he is autonomous; he sets his own autonomy against the heteronomy of following the will of God. This is the whole drama of humanity. But in truth, this autonomy is mistaken; entering into God’s will is not opposition to the self, it is not a form of slavery that violates my will, but rather it means entering into truth and love, into the good.

And Jesus draws our will — which opposes God’s will, which seeks autonomy — upwards, towards the will of God. This is the drama of our redemption, that Jesus should uplift our will, our total aversion to God’s will and our aversion to death and sin, and unite it with the will of the Father: “Not my will but yours.” In this transformation of “no” into “yes,” in this insertion of the will of the creature into the will of the Father, He transforms humanity and redeems us. And He invites us to enter into this movement of His: to emerge from our “no” and to enter into the “yes” of the Son. My will exists, but the decisive will is the will of the Father, because the will of the Father is truth and love. . . .

In reliving the Sacred Triduum, let us also prepare ourselves to welcome God’s will in our life, knowing that our own true good, the way to life, is found in God’s will even if it appears harsh, in contrast with our intentions. May the Virgin Mother guide us on this itinerary and obtain from her divine Son the grace to be able to spend our life for love of Jesus, in the service of our brethren. Thank you.
In order to do the good and resist evil, we must be sure that our consciences are awake when evil comes upon us. We must remain watchful, being careful to make sure that we do not "avoid evil" merely by not allowing ourselves to notice it, by allowing our consciences to become sluggish and listless until they finally fall asleep, but instead by remaining eternally vigilant, looking out not only for the evil that menaces, but listening to voice of the Lord within us, open to making His will our own will.

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