"Take the strait and narrow path and if you start to slide, give a little whistle, give a little whistle! And always let your conscience be your guide!" -Jiminy Cricket
Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa has a big job. Since his appointment in 1980 by Pope John Paul II he has been the Church's Apostolic Preacher, or Preacher to the Papal Household. In this position he is the ONLY man allowed to preach to the Pope. During Advent and Lent his homilies and meditations are presented to inform, inspire, remind the Holy Father of his role and duties, and to assist him on his journey of faith. I know a lot of people that would LOVE to be in that position, most of them women and most of them angry, but that is another story.
The Lenten homilies presented by Fr. Raniero this year have focused on the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives and the life of the Church. If you are interested here is a link to the homilies:
His most recent homily pertains to the twofold manner in which the Holy Spirit communicates with the faithful: through the conscience and through the Magisterium of the Church. He writes, as reported on Zenit.org:
Father Cantalamessa stressed that the Holy Spirit is not only the one who guides
us "to the fullness of truth," according to the words of John the Evangelist,
but is also the "interior teacher," as St. Paul describes him. "He does not just
say what should be done, rather he also gives the capacity to do what he
commands."The Capuchin explained that conscience is the ambit where the Holy
Spirit exercises his function."Through this 'organ,' the guidance of the Holy
Spirit goes beyond the Church, to all people," specified the preacher.
He goes on, though, to explain the danger of the individual not informing and discerning his or her conscience through the teachings of the Magisterium of the Church, through which the Holy Spirit, on a more "macro" level, guides us all. There is a balancing act to be recognized in this situation; there are inherent dangers in forgoing the Magisterial teaching for the conscience and vice versa:
"It is just as deadly to try to forego either of the two guides of the
Spirit," warned the preacher. "When the interior testimony is neglected, we
easily fall into legalism and authoritarianism; when the exterior, apostolic
testimony is neglected, we fall into subjectivism and fanaticism."When
everything is reduced to just the personal, private listening to the Spirit, the
path is opened to an unstoppable process of division and subdivision, because
everyone believe they are right."
"It is the ideal of a healthy harmony between listening to what the Spirit
says to me, as an individual, and what he says to the Church as a whole and
through the Church to individuals," said Father Cantalamessa.
This "balancing act" between conscience and the teaching of the Holy Spirit through the Magisterium of the Church has been a problem through the centuries. One needs not look any further than the 30,000 Protestant denominations that have sprung up like weeds in the wheat field. Each one was created by a man who was certain that his particular interpretation of Christianity was inspired by the Holy Spirit. Somewhere, somehow, someone seems to have gotten it wrong. Yet year after year that number grows as the latest preacher pushes his or her latest revelation on a society whose collective conscience suffers. Juxtapose that with the Catholic who ignores the prompting of the Spirit in his conscience: Fr. Raniero describes that person as legalistic and authoritarian: the consummate "church lady", judgmental and cold. We all know people like that, and occasionally I can fall into that trap myself. Hence the balancing act.
Jesus asked us to love God and our neighbor. On Pentecost Sunday, the Church He formed was born through the fire of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit that appeared "as tongues of fire" over the apostles that day is the same Spirit that guides our Church today. It is also the same Holy Spirit that calls us to live in the love of Jesus, for as He has said, "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you." We need to live in that love fully, reaching out to one another, living our lives informed by a conscience and our Church, that all things may be restored to Christ.