Life at full throttle: CONSCIENCE or genotype

that is, of love overflowing and fear of hell, of wrestling with God and efficacious lace, and also of that which is - or is not - after death, the fate of the most intelligent form of protein

1. Longing: Is in us

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Father, why do you constantly emphasize conscience?
Conscience, not just for me, but for the Church, is the most important standard of morality, though we sometimes forget this. This needs to be properly understood.

But how? Sometimes we hear that everyone has their own conscience and should consider matters according to it.
Here I could do a whole lecture on conscience, that we have consciences that are correct, incorrect, mistaken, invincibly erroneous, vincibly erroneous, wide, narrow – these are the categories of conscience in moral theology. Would you really like to hear about this?

Maybe you could say something about this in plain language?
I’ll try to do it in one thought. In the conscience, which is the most intimate sanctuary of God’s encounter with every person, we hear His voice. This voice is that natural scratching which sometimes does not gives us peace. God acts in our lives mainly through the conscience. God is of course, powerful, all-encompassing, but in this He is humble, that He has stowed away in the voice of our conscience. That is why we are never allowed to violate our conscience, which I’m afraid, happens to us all.

What is violation of the conscience?
It is opposition to the moral imperative, which says in you: do good, avoid evil. Benedict XVI went further and said that in the conscience of every person there are written some archetypes of the commandments. The Holy Father compared this to Plato’s Cave. Plato assumed the existence of an ideal world and of a real world. Man has been excluded from the ideal world, for which he longs, in his own body, that is in the cave. Between him and the wall of the cave there burns a fire, which we understand as being the source of knowing truth, goodness and beauty (the transcendentals). Between man, the fire, and the wall are passing divine ideas. Man, as he is chained, cannot see the fire or the ideas. He does however observe the shadows on the cave wall. Looking at the shadows he remembers he once belonged to the ideal world. Pope Benedict says exactly the same of the archetype shadows of the commandments. If we were to summarize them we would say: assume, there exists a world beyond reality, supernatural, intangible; assume there exists something beyond the world of the senses (1st, 2nd and 3rd commandments); do no harm, value family and respect friendship (4,5,6,7,8,9 and 10). All these values are shared by Hindus, animists and Christians. And also by some agnostics and atheists. The commandments awaken in us a longing for the ideal world, and so we try to come closer to them. Violation of the conscience is behaving in a way that opposes this longing that is within us.
Let’s call in some specifics, for example the value of family. Are we to close our eyes to the fact that these days families are transforming, breaking up, being recombined with different members? Such families are also valuable, but do they have in them that original brilliance? One of the moral principles says that we must refrain from action, if we have something that raises doubt. Then, you need to carefully try to understand it, go back to first principles. And then, we reach either a certainty to be able to go forward, with what we recognized in our consciences, or with conviction give it up. In the event of urgency, it should be the most probable option and not the convenient one.
As a Catholic I am not ashamed of the conflict of my subjective judgement with objective external standards, such as the Gospel and the teachings of the Church. I don’t always manage to hear my conscience well. I need such standards because I am weak.
We, Catholics, should conform our consciences to the teachings of the Church in such a way as to not violate the conscience. And if there are doubts – despite our sincere, earnest efforts – and they continue, then we are obliged, with extreme caution, to follow the voice of our conscience. This does not mean that later it won’t turn out we were mistaken, but the error was at that time, to return to theological jargon, it was an invincible error.

It all seems very fuzzy.
But interesting.

How are you so sure that the shadows of the commandments are the conscience and not cultural codes?
God also works through psychology and education. Let’s not remove God so severely from this world. Gratia supponit naturam, grace is based on nature. If a student doesn’t learn, and calls on the Holy Spirit, well then, how is He to help, He has nothing to work with. God very rarely acts contra naturam.
Will your faith collapse when scientists find an area in the brain responsible for mystical feelings? When it’s confirmed that this faith is merely a part of the brain? Or if someone opens our skull and stimulates an area responsible for the feeling of God, is this evidence of the non-existence of God? No, it would only be evidence of God who so miraculously created us through evolution, that he planned the feeling of Him through emotion. He also planned for us a cultural code so as to behave ethically.
God is very gentle. From one side you see a great tension, which I like a lot in theology – God, the Unmoved Mover. As some wishing to show-off in sermons say: “Lord of time and Lord of history, the One who acts above our matrix, who in one glance sees the beginning of history and its end. A personal God, the elusive Absolute, who is not even a person, and functions in the manner of a person, because if He was a person, it would limit Him, He would no longer be limitless, absolute”.
God functions in the manner of a person, that is He enters into relationships. He enters into relationships with me, with you, with everyone, because only between persons is there the possibility of relationship.
2. Faith: Is relationship
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[Following from the last question above] what does it mean, that God enters into relationships?
It means He loves. That man as such was created as the only being for Himself, out of love. In theology it is said that amor est diffusivium sui, that is that . . . . . . . it is literally untranslatable – love is by its very existence poured out. If we imagine there was time, God as concentrated love, then since amor est diffusivium sui, then this love should boil over, because it cannot remain alone for itself.
You can say that God did want to remain alone in this love. When a boy falls in love, then he carves into a tree “I love Julie” and he ready to do anything for Julie. This is that human pouring out, being a shadow of the Divine relationship. Similar, only in an absolute way, to God’s action. He didn’t need the world at all, because He was full of this boiling over love. If He had needed anyone, it would have felt some lack. And so would not have been an absolute completeness. This is why He formed the great cosmos.
Let’s not argue over which theory of cosmic creation is best. Personally, I prefer the one represented by Fr. Michael Heller than the one popularized by professor Hawking. But the question is: if we have evolutionary development, then at what point did the transition from animal to human occur? From one side a distant, cold God who is above the world and is not interested (as is said of deities). On the other, the One who brought everything into existence and gives everything the reason for being, as confirmed by Thomists. And on the third side a God dramatically close through building relationships and the fact of the incarnation which burst into the centre of history, in biology. And even through biology, saved the same universe.
As a bioethicist, I am very curious about what genome Christ had. If God did not act contra naturam, then Christ had to have a genotype, must have passed through the blastocyst stage, He must have gone through all these stages of development. He probably took half His genetic code from the Blessed Mother. And what about the rest? The Holy Spirit can’t be a suspect for a genotype, and presence of St. Joseph’s genes would ruin the theology. My own vision based is on the assumption that Christ’s radical closeness with us suggests that He had a universal genotype common to all peoples. In this He is still more fully involved in our humanity.
Adopting our nature, God gave dignity to every person. During the addition of water to the wine during Holy Mass we say: “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity”. This is a wonderful prayer that dares me to think that I have something in common with the genotype of God!
Christianity is the most beautiful religion in the world. I don’t have to, as Buddhists, melt into the pleroma, escape from my own body and disappear so as not to suffer. I don’t have to, like our older brothers in faith, perform a thousand actions on the verge of anxiety which will prevent me from being unclean. I don’t have to, like our Moslem brethren, once again be afraid of God. In which religion are you able to say to God: Father? In which religion are you able to God: brother? Which God became a defenceless child, being after all great and immeasurable? Who developed, grew, matured – was a teenager, and therefore probably like girls, and in the morning experienced what every healthy man experiences?
This is fascinating, because Christ also through biology achieved our redemption, that is He burns Himself up to the end. He gives up His body, to rise in a miraculous way. He restores His body, that in some form, we will probably have a resemblance to after the resurrection, as is assumed by theology. For now, we as this sweaty biology, which sometimes gives off an unpleasant odour, we have the extraordinary privilege to receive His Body. This intimacy of God, in the double closeness – He received our body, and we at the altar receive His Body, true, real, substantial Body – it’s not a dream. It is Him, even though “sight, touch, taste are all deceived in their judgement of you, but hearing suffices firmly to believe”.

Father, having in mind your memories of childhood and these words, I have the impression that in your spirituality the Eucharist is the most important.
As you yourself point out, this thread has rolled out in the story of the cycle of my life: it appeared in the first stage, in childhood, it now returns in perhaps the last stage, before death. Illness and talking about your own death, digesting it all, has allowed me to a new discovery of the intimacy of God through the reality of the incarnation. All the sick are biologically ill, but for God’s sake, God has nothing to do with our illness; in the sense that God does not sit up in the clouds and say: “Kaczkowski, I don’t like your gob, you’re going to have a mutation and cancer”.
Suffering: Is
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The tragedy of the question of suffering reveals itself when a child or a mother suffers from a disease. Does God have something to do with the suffering, that arises in our lives?
Do you, Sir, remember the ironic comment we lately read together under the last entry on my blog, . . . can’t we ask Providence not to send suffering to small children?
At the beginning of the Bible we have a symbolic image: we see, how Satan, father of lies, goes to Eve and asks her: is it true that God forbids you to eat from any of the trees of the garden? Eve makes an elementary mistake, she enters into a dialogue with evil. Wanting to defend God, she says: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden’”. She adds from herself – this is characteristic of contact with evil – “nor shall you touch it”. In this image, God actually says nothing about touching. It is she who wants to emerge with some credibility. Well, it’s such an innocent inaccuracy, isn’t it? To this Satan symbolically says: “You will not die”, which means: “Don’t trust God, God is nasty old man who sits in the clouds and hates you. He is an old man jealous of his own power and divinity. And if you take the fruit, you will be like Him. You definitely won’t die, God lies because He does not want what is good for you.” If we accept this then all our faith is for nothing. If, however, we accept God as a close, loved one, then in illness we can see a certain logic: if the Lord blessed me and my family when I was young, attractive and well-off, there is no reason for me to assume that He will turn His face away from me later. Because it is God who is faithful, it is we who are often unfaithful.

But how to explain the suffering of the innocent?
Of course, there are a variety of medical conditions affecting children. Someone will say, that God could prevent everyone of these illnesses. I still have the image before my eyes of Pope Benedict, who talked with children on the internet. One question, asked by a Japanese girl, referred to the tsunami they had there which killed over twelve thousand people. “Holy Father” – she asked – “why?” and this great, wise theologian with immense sincerity and helplessness replied: “I don’t know”. We priests who think we should have answers to all the questions of the world, say: “It’s a mystery” or “In the next life it will be clear”. Better to learn humility from Benedict XVI.
If we begin to blame God for everything that is wrong in our lives, accuse with a wagging finger and curse, then what will prevent us losing our faith? God is not outside our matrix, He is in it, He is in us, He is intensely close to everyone. At the level of emotions – as director of a hospice – I experience the intensity of my patients, on the level of emotion I understand their rage. It is a rage such that someone is going to get it, and since God is not seen, it’s easier to let Him have it. Him, or ultimately His ground staff, that’s me.

What do these circular words mean, that God is close, and therefore also close in suffering?
Some say that in suffering we have to unite our suffering to the suffering of Jesus. For me this not convincing, and even seems illogical, though I don’t prevent anyone trying to use their suffering for the glory of salvation. Others in the queue for total foolishness say that whoever God loves, they are sent crosses. This is arrant nonsense.
My conviction is that physical suffering has zero or minimal ethical value. Since it was God who gave us minds, so that thanks to these minds we develop medicine, so as to fight the evil of physical suffering.

These words in a way reverse the narrative found in the Church.
When I talk about this, people have resented it. It dismays me, when I hear words of guidance from priests in the Church to women, that remaining in a morbid marriage with a drunk, who beats her and destroys her psychologically, is a praiseworthy martyrdom: “Carry your cross”. This a very sinister approach to matters. Marriage is immensely valuable and is indissoluble. But when it becomes a threat to life, this same life is of greater value and to preserve it you have to defend yourself or escape the threat. To save yourself is an obligation! And if some confessor does not understand this then they should go on a theology course again.
Christianity is not a religion of sufferers. God saved the world through His own suffering. He, the great God in a human body, took on Himself all the suffering of the world. But really: God did not need our pain to save the world. We know well that one drop of the blood of Christ would have been enough to save the world. The world is already redeemed and saved!
How can we grasp this practically? When, let’s say, you were fired unjustifiably from work, then in that injustice Christ will be with you. When you are diagnosed with a serious illness, or even a fatal illness, then Christ does not leave you, but is with you constantly.

This sounds a bit abstract, let’s speak specifically. How is God with you now, Father?
I speak on the level of logic, and not emotion. Think for yourself. You are His beloved child and His brother, for whom He gave everything. Do you think that when something bad happens, that He will be far away? On the emotional level we are mad at the disease, the doctors, fate. You have to grab hold of the reins and say to yourself: “Stop, stop panicking. If you have faith, don’t let yourself be pushed into the abyss of despair, which can be destructive, but take the ladder step by step and from this low emerge, so as to maintain your self-worth, dignity and faith.”
After all, Jesus must have been broken knowing His own fate, even more than me, when I learned of this disease and its recurrence. I’ll tell you quite simply: alone I would not have been able to bear the news that I’ll die in a few months. I think, that Christ – I’m speaking as I imagine it – cried, was upset, suffered. God is a loving God, entering into our misfortunes, helping us to carry them.
It’s the same, when we fall morally. As we stumble in life and fall face down in the mud, then Christ sets us upright out of it, lifts us from the entangled mass. He is beside us – though not in the mud – thinking up a rescue plan. I just heard that Fr. W. B. of my diocese is leaving the priestly ministry. Jesus knows the context of the whole matter. It’s not for us to judge what is happening in this man. Of course, abandoning your vocation, whether priesthood or marriage (except in extreme cases, of which I mentioned), is an objective moral fault. But as long as we live we can still accept and receive salvation.
You have asked about my religiosity, and I have answered from my own perspective, but you can’t think it will be the same for everyone. In this way I have tried to explain these complicated things.

A person abandons the priesthood, and God thinks how to help him? How does that connect with the formation, which everyone, especially children in RE, hear that God is a just judge, who rewards for good and punishes for wrong?
These two views do not entirely stand in opposition to each other. That Christ is so close and wants to save us, does not release us from the responsibility and obligation to seek God. God is so gentle, that He never forces Himself into our lives in a literal way, God’s finger never displaces us. When something bad happens, don’t we say: “Get me out of this, God”. Don’t we pray: “Do this or do that”. I encourage you to try different words: “Make me capable, Holy Spirit, come and open the gifts I have received: wisdom, prudence, fortitude, so that I can deal with this with Your help.”
God rewards goodness, and punishes evil, He is a just judge. This is all true. It is also true that mercy is always before justice.
I am a little afraid, and the rest of us should be afraid of Divine judgement. I imagine that when we stand on the other side, in the total truth about ourselves, we will appear as pure conscience, as a person, not as a human, because the human disintegrates; at the moment of brain decay we no longer have human action, but we do have the ongoing action of the person.
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