October 29, 2021
by Jeanne Schuler
Creighton University's Philosophy Department
click here for photo and information about the writer

Friday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 483

Romans 9:1-5
Psalm 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20
Luke 14:1-6

Praying Ordinary Time

Conscience: the Vicar of Christ

I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie; my conscience joins with the Holy Spirit in bearing me witness.   (Romans 9:1)

Paul writes on his way to Jerusalem.  From there he will travel to Rome.  His plans to pursue his mission in Spain will not unfold.  Paul made the sea voyage in chains.  He was arrested in Jerusalem and sent to Rome for trial. 

Those we love deeply can inflict suffering.  Paul’s love for his Jewish community was laced with anguish.  They were his brothers and sisters.  They shared patriarchs, law, worship, and the covenant.  “The Lord proclaimed his word to Jacob.”  Their ancestors endured exile and on their return the temple was rebuilt.  Their history was punctured by faithless times.  God awaited their return over and over. 

Paul was torn that the Jewish Christians were small in number.  Many prophets had emerged from this community.  Why was Jesus not heard?  How did their hearts grow hard?  When frustrated, we often entertain extravagant plots.  Paul offers to abandon Jesus if his community would have a change of heart.  Let my soul be damned, says Paul, if only you are saved.
It is exhausting to be closely watched.  The leaders waited to spring on Jesus the moment he skirts the law.  They were not bothered by a man swollen with fluids.  The poor are unseen, just so your livestock stays safe.  Jesus’s conscience opened to the groans from the street.  He healed on the Sabbath while his faults were duly recorded by the spiritual watchdogs. 

Paul joins his conscience to the Holy Spirit.  We do not seek the truth alone.  In Preventing Unjust Wars, Roger Bergman recounts how Franz Jägerstätter refused to serve in Hitler’s wars and was guillotined.  Poor and uneducated, this Austrian farmer did what the wealthy and educated would not.  Jägerstätter approached church leaders for guidance.  How could he support a murderous regime?  They advised him to accept the dreadful situation.  Take the oath of loyalty to Hitler and serve in the medical corp.  Even his wife urged him to make that compromise.  Alone in his village, Jägerstätter found companions in the community of martyrs.  He could resist only with the support of their witness.

These days talk of conscience gets tossed around lightly.  Bergman draws from Catholic teaching to distinguish authentic conscience formation from connecting with my feelings.  Conscience must be intelligent and open.  It must seek guidance. 

To be the vicar of Christ, conscience must hearken in prayer to the call of God.

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