This is the text of a presentation on ¶1789 from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. These are just notes, but the talk was good!
My paragraph comes in the section of the catechism dealing with the human conscience.
Very briefly – for the sake of this presentation – the conscience is that part of you which – in the moment of choice – tells you which choice is right and which choice is wrong.
This paragraph, 1789 is asking (or answering) When things are not so clearly black and white how can I make a choice? Prayer and consultation with wise friends are suggested and then this paragraph gives us three rules that apply in every case.
These are practices but you should follow always when asking questions of your conscience. But they are rules that apply to all parts of our Christian life and, for us as men who want to be teachers of the faith, they apply to our preaching.
The first rule is very solid.
One may never do evil so that good may result from it;
Catholic teaching is clear: the ends do not justify the means. It is never acceptable to do something evil in order that a good result might happen. This plays out differently than you might expect. While it is never possible to kill someone in order good things might happen (Grandpa is sick and suffering, let’s kill him to put him out of his misery). But then in her meditation on the idea of a Just War the Church has discerned that sometimes it may be that killing the enemy is not an evil thing, but a class of Good, that a greater Good may arise.
The second rule turns inward: the Golden Rule: Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.
This is common teaching in many religions and philosophies around the world. In your heart of hearts, you know how you would want to be treated in a given situation and so, in a way, you know how to treat others in that same situation.
But then comes the third rule which turns outward. Choices of my conscience are never just about me.
The rule of charity. This goes all the way back to the prologue and ¶25: without charity everything else is useless. And ¶1827 The practice of all the virtues is animated and inspired by charity, which “binds everything together in perfect harmony”; Charity is the form of the virtues.
In this ¶1789 charity is manifested by one of my favorite sayings from Saint Paul: do not cause the weaker brother to stumble.
The choice of your conscience cannot cause another person to stumble. What does that mean? This is where this paragraph opens up in application to our Christian lives and to our teaching of the faith.
These rules, especially #3, are really the heart of how Christianity is intended to be lived.
Look in the Book of Acts for the times when the good news is being shared with folks who are not yet Christian. For the Gentiles, the Council of Jerusalem lays aside the onerous burdens of circumcision and keeping kosher. Saint Paul and the other evangelists are gentle with the heathens.
In addressing pagans in the marketplace of Athens St. Paul does not call them idolaters. Rather he compliments them for their various religious practices and says let me show you a better way. When Saint Philip is addressing the Ethiopian eunuch he offers to explain a confusing scripture that is being read. Over and over again, evangelism walks non-believers forward from where they are to where the gospel can be received.
Throughout the New Testament, the strong words addressing sins and failures are spoken to Christians, to those already schooled in the faith.
For the contrary point, think of a Street Preacher yelling at people walking by and accusing them of various sins. Which one of these two methods of preaching do you think would least cause someone to stumble?
I think of a fight I had with a co-worker back in the 90s. We were both liberal, mainline protestants – worshipping in the same parish. We were arguing over religion at work: we worked in a Christian bookstore. And she used a few words that pushed a few of my buttons and I hauled off and use a word to make a point that I regret to this day, which actually made her cry.
We made up, we’re friends still to this day. But that’s making the weaker sister stumble. the choices in our faith, in our preaching or teaching, should never hit someone else like a punch to the gut. that’s not acting in charity.
You’re making a choice in your conscience you can never let it hurt someone else that’s rule 1. Rule two shows you how best not to hurt others. You know inside.
Then rule 3 shows you the deeper meaning. This rule assumes everyone is being drawn forward to God. If you make a choice or say something that makes someone stumble in their forward motion, you’ve hindered their salvation.
This stumble, this hindering, becomes “the evil we do in order that good may come out of it.”
As my pastor, Fr Michael Hurley, says on his weekly YouTube this week, we should be “not shouting at error, but inviting it to come to the truth of the Gospel”.
I will leave you with one thought to explore applications: making people stumble seems to be our Prime political tool.