Editor’s note: Msgr. Laughlin, the administrator for the Diocese of Charleston, wrote the following letter, “Conversion of Heart is Necessary for Evangelization,” to South Carolina’s Catholics.
Pope Benedict XVI has proclaimed June 29 the feast day of Sts. Peter and Paul, as the start of the Year of St. Paul.
This special year, dedicated to the great apostle and evangelist on the approximate 2,000th anniversary of his birth, highlights the mission of every Catholic to be evangelical for Jesus Christ.
While we, the faithful of South Carolina, may look forward to celebrating this year with great anticipation and joy, we must also be introspective to see how we are carrying on the great missionary mandate which St. Paul so aptly lived.
St. Paul was arguably the greatest missionary the world has ever seen. He lived his life conformed to his creator and savior. He was an authentic witness to Jesus Christ because people could see the image of Christ in him. Paul could authentically say, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20).
As Christians we too are called to be authentic witnesses and evangelists, to be salt and light in our culture. Yet Jesus asked what if the salt goes flat? What if the light is hidden under a bushel basket?
In turn, we must ask ourselves, what happens if Catholics do not influence the prevailing secular culture, but rather, the culture influences them? What if Catholics live lives no different from their non-Catholic neighbors?
This has happened today in large part because of a flawed understanding of conscience which has, in turn, had serious consequences in the inner life of the church, of families and of society.
The Second Vatican Council re-affirmed the centrality of the conscience in the life of each person:
“In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 16).
From this, and from the letters of St. Paul, we see that conscience is within us and is the means by which we apply God’s immutable truths to the concrete circumstances of everyday life. Our conscience is not independent of divine law and love, but is utterly dependent upon it so that it may be our sure and trusted guide.
Sadly, this immutable truth is not accepted by today’s post-modern culture, which wishes to relativize all truth, especially moral truth.
But God is the author of moral law and of physical laws. It would be easier to make two plus two equal five than to make an immoral act moral by the mere pronouncement of the human will.
This is an important reality which we must realize and internalize, not only for our own salvation, but to be an authentic witness to Christ today.
St. Thomas Aquinas said that “action follows upon being,” or, we do what we are.
To be witnesses to Christ we must be authentic followers of Christ. To be an authentic follower of Christ requires us to form our conscience according to the natural law and divine revelation which Jesus Christ has given to us through the Apostles and sacred Scripture.
A good and well-formed conscience is based upon the truth and leads us to the truth. This is our high calling and vocation as Christians: to reflect the true light that Jesus is and, therefore, to be true evangelists. Anything less is to allow our light to be hidden and our salt to go flat.