Loving the Lord and Keeping Your Conscience Clear
The Second Reading commands Christians to keep their conscience clear. But this commandment is hard to hear, isn’t it? If we are honest with ourselves, we know how unclear our consciences are.
Of course, we might think, confusedly, we do not need to be too worried about our unclear consciences, because, after all, no one is saved by doing good works or keeping one’s conscience clear. Our contribution to our salvation is not to try to do the works of the law. Our contribution to our salvation is just to love the Lord.
And this thought might be comforting to us when our unclear conscience hurts us, except for this uncomfortable, nagging question: what is love of the Lord?
In the Gospel Reading, the Lord himself explains the answer to this question: “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.”
And now, unfortunately, we have come full circle. Christians are commanded to keep their consciences clear. To do so, they need to love the Lord. To love the Lord they need to keep his commandments. And to keep his commandments they apparently need to keep their consciences clear. What sense can be made of this?
Here it helps to consider Peter himself, who is the author of the Second Reading. Peter had betrayed the Lord in the Lord’s great hour of need. Is this keeping one’s conscience clear? Is this keeping the commandments of the Lord?
But, in the days after his Resurrection, when the Lord asks Peter, “Do you love me,” what does Peter answer? He says, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”
In spite of his betrayal of the Lord, Peter does not let go of Christ. He is willing to affirm his commitment to Christ in spite of his own failings.
So here is the thing to notice. In saying that he loves Christ, Peter is keeping the commandment of the Lord. The first and great commandment is to love the Lord.
And this is why Peter, the rock on which the church is founded, is the pattern for all Christians. The way to keep one’s conscience clear is to cleave to the Lord in love, when one’s conscience is not clear.
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University