December 2015 - District Superior's Letter

Conscience and Natural Law

Dear Friends and Benefactors,

We are disturbed by some recent events in the Church. At the October Synod, many doors were ominously left open on moral issues. Then, on Nov. 21, while visiting the Lutheran church in Rome the Pope suggested that a Lutheran could receive Holy Communion. This obliges us to review some fundamental elements of our Catholic morals.

What makes an action morally good? What is conscience? The natural law? We often think that everyone knows what these basic notions mean. Recent events reveal, to our astonishment, that even some of the highest princes of the Church have forgotten Catholic moral principles.

Let’s take a simple example. A carpenter needs a 23 cm piece of wood, so he takes an approved measuring tape and with his eye measures precisely that length. The measuring tape is the objective reference for these 23 cm centimeters. Later he can say that that piece of wood is exactly 23 cm because he measured it so with the tape. In many trades, apprentices have to learn to measure all kinds of things according to fixed standards. That is normal life.

All our moral actions go through a similar process. A moral action is like the rough piece of wood mentioned above, the measuring tape is like God’s law written in our hearts, in our human nature -- that is called the natural law -- or in Revelation, and taught by the Church – that is called the positive law; conscience is like the eye of the carpenter. Therefore, for an action to be morally good it has to be measured by, it has to ‘fit’ within God’s law written in our hearts or revealed to us through the Church. Like the eye of the carpenter which simply checks the measurement before cutting the piece of wood, our conscience checks whether an action we are about to do matches God’s law or not. If it falls within the ‘measurements’ of God’s law, we know it is good, if it doesn’t, conscience normally reacts – we ‘just know’ that it is morally bad and should be avoided. There is normally no need to go to school in order to learn the natural law, which corresponds to the Ten Commandments, as it is written in every man’s heart. Sometimes though there can be errors in the ‘measurement’ and then instruction is necessary. This means we need to form our conscience

For example, when the missionaries arrived on our Artic coast over one hundred years ago, they found that the Inuit were practicing euthanasia of the sick and elderly who were a burden to the tribe. Their conscience was erroneous, ‘the moral measuring tape’ of their action was faulty. The missionaries came and explained God’s law to them, they fixed the wrong ‘measurements’ and thus helped them to follow afterwards what is objectively morally right.

The famous Irish monk, Dom Columba Marmion, speaks of this in his classic book, Christ life of the Soul. “By nature, man is a reasonable being. He cannot, like an animal destitute of reason, act only by instinct: what distinguishes him from all other beings of the earthly creation, is that he is endowed with reason and liberty. Reason must therefore be sovereign in man, but as a creature, reason must itself be subject to the Divine Will on which it depends, and that is manifested by the natural law and by positive laws. To be true, which is the first condition in order to be pleasing to God, each human action must be in conformity with our condition as free and reasonable creatures subject to the Divine Will; otherwise this action does not correspond to our nature, to the properties belonging to it and the laws that govern it: it is false. Do not forget that the natural law is something essential in the order of religion. God need not have created me; but since I have been created, I am and remain a creature, and the relations resulting from this fact are unchangeable. One cannot, for example, conceive that a man could be created, for whom it would be lawful to blaspheme his Creator.” Let us also add, as a cardinal rightly said during the Synod, that one can act against his conscience, and by the repetition of sinful acts he can put his conscience ‘to sleep’ or falsify the ‘measurements’. These actions will nevertheless remain morally objectively wrong and in this case, even subjectively wrong, despite the fact that the conscience no longer condemns the action.

The modern teaching that the rule of morality is simply to follow one’s conscience without any reference to an objective moral law -- the ‘measuring tape’ -- is similar to removing all measuring tapes from the hands of carpenters and letting them measure everything simply by sight: “this is roughly 23 cm”. A few might get it right, but most will miss the mark and build things crooked. This is what happens when people are left to themselves to decide what is right or wrong: some very good people do get it right, but most people get it wrong. Then they try to justify themselves by finding excuses for their mistakes.

Our Lord sent His Apostles to teach all nations to observe what He had commanded them (Mt 28:19-20). The Catholic Church is responsible for carrying on this apostolic work until the end of the world. Churchmen who simply tell people to follow their conscience are disobeying the command of Christ, since people need to be taught what is right and wrong in order to be saved.

News from the District:

We were very blessed to have the visit of Bishop Tissier de Mallerais from Oct. 30 until Nov. 9. His Excellency bestowed the Sacrament of Confirmation at the following places: Lévis and Montreal (QC), Ottawa and St Catharines (ON) and Langley and Nanaimo (BC). There were all in all 67 confirmations. Bishop Tissier also partook in the priests’ annual session held in Saint-Césaire during the week of November 2. He gave us three most interesting conferences on the providential preparation of the SSPX in the life of our dear founder.

Finally, I was very fortunate recently to preach a retreat to the third kind of SSPX sisters, the Missionary Sisters of Jesus and Mary, based in Nairobi, Kenya. If there is any young unmarried lady up to 35 yrs. old who is thinking of a vocation and who hears the call for the missions, this could be the place for you! The Missionary Sisters were founded in 2011, specifically for work in Africa and in other mission countries. There are 18 sisters at present, coming from 7 different countries, (but no Canadian yet!) and more keep coming. Include them in your prayers, please.

Fr. Daniel Couture
District Superior