The theme of conscience is fundamental for a free and just society.

The great achievements of the modern age – the recognition and guarantee of freedom of conscience, of human rights, of the freedom of science and hence of a free society – should be confirmed and developed while keeping reason and freedom open to their transcendent foundation, so as to ensure that these achievements are not undone.

The quality of social and civil life and the quality of democracy depend in large measure on this ‘critical’ point – conscience, on the way it is understood and the way it is informed.

If, in keeping with the prevailing modern idea, conscience is reduced to the subjective field to which religion and morality have been banished, then the crisis of the West has no remedy and Europe is destined to collapse in on itself.

If, on the other hand, conscience is rediscovered as the place in which to listen to truth and good, the place of responsibility before God and before fellow human beings – in other words, the bulwark against all forms of tyranny – then there is hope for the future.

This brings us back to conscience as the keystone on which to base a culture and build up the common good.

It is by forming consciences that the Church makes her most specific and valuable contribution to society.

It is a contribution that begins in the family and is strongly reinforced in the parish, where infants, children and young people learn to deepen their knowledge of the sacred Scriptures, the ‘great codex’ of European culture; at the same time they learn what it means for a community to be built upon gift, not upon economic interests or ideology, but upon love, ‘the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity’ (Caritas in Veritate, 1).

This logic of gratuitousness, learnt in infancy and adolescence, is then lived out in every area of life, in games, in sport, in interpersonal relations, in art, in voluntary service to the poor and the suffering, and once it has been assimilated it can be applied to the most complex areas of political and economic life so as to build up a polis that is welcoming and hospitable, but at the same time not empty, not falsely neutral, but rich in humanity, with a strongly ethical dimension.

It is here that the lay faithful are called to give generously of the formation they have received, guided by the principles of the Church’s Social Doctrine, for the sake of authentic secularism, social justice, the defence of life and of the family, freedom of religion and education.

 

National Croatian Theatre – Zagreb. Saturday, 4 June 2011.

This article can be found in Mirror 0218.