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Developing a well-formed conscience

Following  in  the  footsteps  of  Jesus,  it  is  the  lifelong  responsibility  for  Catholics  “to  do  good  and  oppose  evil,”  including  in  election  choices. To  distinguish  between right and wrong, people of faith turn to their conscience: a tool that relies on the “judgement of reason” and  Scripture  to  offer  guidance  for  decision-making. Each Catholic is called to develop a “well-formed” conscience, internalizing their faith and the Word of God so they can apply it to real-life situations daily.

In  the  context  of  the  upcoming  election  and  the  conscience formation process, the Catholic Church reminds people of faith that they are not alone. While the Church does not endorse candidates or instruct parishioners how to vote, it has particular responsibilities: sharing the moral truth about issues and encouraging believers to develop prudence. Prudence is a virtue that, if cultivated, assists individuals  in  “[discerning]  our  true  good  in  every  circumstance and [choosing] the right means of achieving it.” Developing  a  well-formed  conscience  is  not  a  one-time  exercise.  After  casting  their  ballot,  Catholics  may  continue their efforts by infusing their politics with faith and Scripture, by supporting the common good, and by personally living out the teachings of the faith within their families, workplaces, and communities.

Conscience Formation Tips

  • Study Scripture, Catholic Social Teaching, and the lives of the saints.
  • Pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit—counsel, fear of the Lord, fortitude, knowledge, piety, understanding, and wisdom—to help guide the decision-making process.
  • Regularly partake in an examination of conscience to hear God’s voice.
  • Seek advice about conscience formation from trusted leaders when needed.
  • Examine the facts and background information about a given choice.

Prudence asks Catholics to consider their alternatives in a given choice, as well as what action is most fitting in the context of the situation. St. Thomas Aquinas called it “right reason” or “wisdom concerning human affairs” in his work Summa Theologiae.