The ministry of forming conscience

The Thinker by Jim Coe

I'm still pondering John Kavanaugh's essay in America which I noted in the previous post.

I'm thinking back a few months to a Confirmation class in my parish. Each year I make myself available for a session of "Ask Fr. Fleming anything you want to ask a priest about the Church." The questions are rather predictable and they reveal a great deal about how these young people view the Church, its teachings and its life.

This year I tried to thread a theme through my responses to all of the confirmands' questions. I kept coming back to the importance of being a critical thinker, of being an informed thinker, of understanding why the Church teaches as it does. I tried to get them to look a bit at the philosophies that influence them and their thinking and their decisions, encouraging them to be critical of those philosophies and not to simply accept them whole cloth.

What realities are forming their consciences? How do we help our young people develop an informed conscience? How can our faith formation and youth ministry efforts lead in this direction? How do we encourage and help our young people to become critical thinkers.

Who and what are teaching our young people how to think and what to think?

And of course, there's the larger question: how do we help the majority of people in our parishes to develop informed consciences enabling them to be critical thinkers and doers in their lives.

How do we bring the demands of the gospel and the wisdom of the Church's teaching to bear on how priests and people (and their younger brothers and sisters) assess their cultural context and make a truly Christian contribution to it.

Our young folks are among the first to be assaulted by the pounding of attitudes and opinions flourishing in the media and cyberspace. What tools are we giving them to adequately distinguish what is true, just and beautiful from what is false, selfish and sham?

Again, I'm grateful to Kavanaugh for his keen insight. And I continue to wonder how to allow it to inform the ministries of my parish life.

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