Saturday, June 11, 2011

Faith, Hope, and Love, and the Conscience of Sophie Scholl

If we have a love of truth, rather than a self-centered will, then we open ourselves to the transcendent, we open ourselves to God. And if we place our faith in God, rather than placing our faith in un-Godly men and things, then we will have hope, a trustworthy expectation that harm will not prevail over us, rather than despairing that all is lost.

The hunger for truth in love is something present within all of us because it is imprinted upon our very nature, by God, to love and be loved in truth, to do what is right and good and avoid evil, even if some people act to the contrary. These theological virtues of faith, hope, and love also open us up to grace, the power of God Himself. Grace-infused faith, hope, and love provide the fortitude to listen to that voice of conscience within us and to actually do the right thing.

Conscience is not the same as one’s opinions or feelings, rather, it is a judgment of reason in the application of objective moral truth to a particular case. The word "conscience" comes from the Latin "con-scientia," meaning "with knowledge." Knowledge of what? Knowledge of something other than ourselves, something that is beyond the self -- knowledge of truth, knowledge of the voice of He who is Truth itself, the God who exhorts us to love in truth.

One cannot justify his conduct merely by saying that, because he does not feel bad or think it wrong, such conduct does not violate his “conscience,” as if he could choose or create his own conscience. That is not the conscience, that is the will.

The Nazi leader Hermann Goring proclaimed, "my conscience is Adolf Hitler." Others proclaim, "my conscience is myself." But the foundation of conscience is not man, but God.

Rightly understood, conscience is not the voice of self, but the voice of God within our hearts, our very souls, it is the light which is given us so that we might make our way in the dark. In this, God speaks even to the hearts of atheists and, if they are otherwise of good faith, they can hear Him even if they do not realize that it is His voice speaking to them.

We ourselves are not the light, God is the Light. The task of conscience is not to create moral truth, but to perceive it. The judgment of conscience does not establish the law or decide for itself what is right or wrong; rather it bears witness to the authority of the natural law, it is the voice of Truth within the person calling him to act in conformance with truth, to do good and avoid evil.

A good conscience does not restrict human freedom, but instead calls a person to genuine freedom in truth, for only in truth will one be set free. A poorly formed "conscience" is not one that is "with knowledge," but is instead one that is "with ignorance." So the obligation to follow one’s conscience is an obligation to follow a good conscience, one that is "with knowledge" of transcendent truth, and not a bad or erroneous or malformed counterfeit "conscience."

In journeying through life, now and then we come to a crossroads and must choose between the good or the evil. 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. One cannot stand idly by in the face of evil. To simply go along and avoid having to confront evil can quickly become cooperation with evil, especially since evil often will not leave you alone, but will demand your involvement and approval. Many otherwise "good" Germans merely went along with the Nazis, afraid of the consequences if they were to resist that evil, but not Sophie Scholl.

Her love of what is right and good and just, building on rock by placing her faith in God, rather than in a twisted anti-God despot whose hatred for the inherent dignity of man offered only the hopelessness of Hell to the people of the world, gave Sophie the grace and fortitude to defiantly shine the light of truth on the evils of the Nazi regime. Inspired by the words of Blessed John Henry Newman, Blessed Clemens August von Galen, Catholic Bishop of Münster, and other Catholic scholars and thinkers, Sophie sought to awaken the conscience of the German people so that they might liberate themselves from the great evil of Adolf Hitler and National Socialism.

In her activity with the White Rose, and at her interrogation and trial, from her faith, hope, and love, we see in Sophie Scholl a whole panoply of virtue and grace and beatitude at play, from justice, fortitude, prudence, and temperance, to wisdom, counsel, knowledge, understanding, piety, and fear of the Lord, to goodness, kindness, faithfulness, joy, and peace, to being poor in spirit and mournful, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, and persecuted for that righteousness’ sake.

This is a good lesson to learn. Although we might not live in a totalitarian regime such as Nazi Germany, there are other evils in the world, other attacks on the inherent dignity of the human person.

Can we, in all good conscience, do nothing or merely go along? Or should we, like Sophie, be a light to a dark world?

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