Couples need help forming, following their consciences, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Marriage and family life are blessings
for individuals and for society, but both are filled with difficult choices
that Catholic couples must be helped to face prayerfully and in the light of
their consciences, Pope Francis said.

Unfortunately, too many people today confuse a rightly
formed conscience with personal preferences dominated by selfishness, the pope
said in a video message to an Italian meeting on “Amoris Laetitia,”
his exhortation on the family.

“The contemporary world risks confusing the primacy of
conscience, which is always to be respected, with the exclusive autonomy of the
individual” even when the individual’s decisions impact his or her
marriage and family life, the pope said.

Repeating a remark he had made to the Pontifical Academy for
Life, Pope Francis said, “There are those who even speak of ‘egolatry,’ that is, the true
worship of the ego on whose altar everything, including the dearest affections,
are sacrificed.”

Confusing conscience with selfishness “is not harmless,”
the pope said. “This is a ‘pollution’ that corrodes souls and confounds
minds and hearts, producing false illusions.”

The conference sponsored by the Italian bishops’ conference
was focused on “conscience and norm” in Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation.

Diagnosing problems in the church’s outreach to married
couples and families, Pope Francis had written, “We have long thought that
simply by stressing doctrinal, bioethical and moral issues, without encouraging
openness to grace, we were providing sufficient support to families,
strengthening the marriage bond and giving meaning to marital life.”

“We also find it hard to make room for the consciences
of the faithful, who very often respond as best they can to the Gospel amid
their limitations, and are capable of carrying out their own discernment in complex
situations,” he wrote in “Amoris Laetitia.” “We have been
called to form consciences, not to replace them.”

In his message to the meeting Nov. 11 in Rome, Pope Francis
said the Catholic Church must strengthen its programs “to respond to the
desire for family that emerges in the soul of the young generations” and
to help couples once they are married.

“Love between a man and a woman is obviously among the
most generative human experiences; it is the leaven of a culture of encounter,
and introduces to the present world an injection of sociality,” he said.

Marriage and family life are “the most effective
antidote against the individualism that currently runs rampant,” he said,
but it does not do one any good to pretend that marriage and family life are
free from situations requiring difficult choices.

“In the domestic reality, sometimes there are concrete
knots to be addressed with prudent conscience on the part of each,” he
said. “It is important that spouses, parents, not be left alone, but
accompanied in their commitment to applying the Gospel to the concreteness of

Conscience, he said, always has God’s desire for the human
person as its ultimate reference point.

“In the very depths of each one of us, there is a place
wherein the ‘Mystery’ reveals itself, and illuminates the person, making the
person the protagonist of his story,” he said. “Conscience, as the Second
Vatican Council recalls, is this ‘most secret core and sanctuary of a man.
There he is alone with God, whose
voice echoes in his depths.'”

Each Christian, the pope said, must be “vigilant so
that in this kind of tabernacle there is no lack of divine grace, which
illuminates and strengthens married love and the parental mission.”

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