Conscience vs. Feelings

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How does one know whether they’re following their “consciences” or merely their “feelings”?

I get into discussions with other Catholics who think it’s okay to choose which Church teachings to follow because their consciences come first. They even mentioned either a “law” within the Church or a “quote” from some saint (sorry, I didn’t get the source) where people must follow their consciences even if threatened with excommunication. So then, I also mention how we need to have an “informed” conscience, but these people counter that they do pray and meditate over these issues, and just cannot agree with the Church’s stance on some things.

In a sense, I feel I can understand where these people are coming from, because I used to think the same way. However, my conversion came about through experiences, not from any documentation that was revealed to me. So now, I completely submit to the wisdom and authority of the Magisterium, and consider my conscience as being “informed” only when it’s in accordance with Church teaching. It’d be great if I could find some Scripture or Catechism passage that says something to that effect, if it’s accurate.

Am I correct in thinking that conscience could never go against Church teaching? And do you know of any passages that say that? Thanks, and God bless.
Dear V,

“Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions, “He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1782) The Catechism also states: “In the formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path, we must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. We must also examine our conscience before the Lord’s Cross. We are assisted by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aided by the witness or advice of others and guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church.” (#1785)

I have a question to add: How does one know that one’s conscience is not being informed by the Evil One? This CAN happen. Only the Magisterium of the Catholic Church is guaranteed the protection from error by the Holy Spirit. This is not true of the individual Christian. Witness the thousands of Christian denominations that cannot agree because the consciences of the individuals disagree not only with the Catholic Church’s interpretation of Scripture, but also with that of each other. The matter of going off on one’s own can be a slippery slope indeed—especially given the built-in difficulty we all have in being totally objective when dealing with ourselves and our own biases.

Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.
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