During Lent we are asked to examine ourselves and to seek forgiveness and repent. One of the central aspects of the soul is conscience. We are naturally given by God the ability to distinguish between good and bad. This is also called the "natural law." In ancient times men like Abraham followed this law and it was latter written down by Moses when it had been dimmed by sin. Finally, Christ came to renew man from our inherited tendency to sin showing us the way to be reunited with God.
We have this capability within our soul, but we cannot bury it like in ages gone past. Unfortunately, for most of us it has become weak due to the habits of our society and our own choices to ignore it. Our conscience becomes dim and its voice unnoticeable.
Saint Dorotheos of Gaza writes:
It is up to us now either to bury our conscience under the ground, or to have it shine forth and illuminate us if we obey it. When our conscience says to us, "Do this" and we treat it in contempt, or it says it again and we refuse, then we are burying it underground. Thus, it can not speak to us clearly because of the weight upon it. But like a lamp that only sheds a dim light, so the conscience gradually starts to show things more darkly and more obscurely."Throughout our life when we have ignored our conscience we have progressively made it less of a factor in our decision making. We unknowingly build into our normal way of living sinful habits and think nothing about them. They become hidden from us. They lead us into to thinking when we are asked to confess our sins to think, "I am not a sinful person, I have not killed any one, I have not stolen from anyone," and so forth. Any effort we make to justify that we are not a sinner only indicates that our conscience is very clouded.
To develop in our prayer and spiritual life, we need to awaken our conscience so it can become a more powerful guide for us. It is always opposed to evil and will reprimand us for doing what we should not do and for not doing what we should. Saint Dorotheos says this is why its called "adversary." To reawaken our conscience we must pay attention to the little things. It is through our ignoring our small transgression that we are led to greater and greater ones. Each small denial of conscience throws another shovel full of dirt on top of it and it does not take long before it is buried by our bad habits.
Saint Dorotheos writes,
When somebody begins to say, "What does it matter if I say that word? What does it matter if I eat that little thing? What does it matter if I pay attention to that?" From the "What does it matter?" of this and "What does it matter?" for that, one obtains the bad and malignant sore and starts to despise and trample upon one's own conscience in great and important matters. Thus, progressively one is in danger of falling into total insensibility.Therefore we must be careful not to neglect the small things in our lives. Each little transgression is important. If we do not pay attention to them, they become what Saint Dorotheos says "are cancer for the soul." He says, "Both the life of holiness and the sinful life start from little things and lead to greater ones, either good or bad."
Our conscience is something we need to realize needs our protection. We need to guard it from being trampled on. This is so in relations with others as well as material things. All God's commandments must be followed even when no one is watching us. Saint Dorotheos tells us that to guard our conscience with regard to one's neighbor "Is doing absolutely nothing at all that will upset or wound him, either by deed, word, gesture or even with a glance." The same is true for our use of material things. Nothing should be misused or wasted.
We should never feel remorse over the direction of our conscience. It is essential to be extra vigilant to make sure we follow its guidance no matter how weak it may be. As we listen and follow its voice we will become stronger and the Holy Spirit will aid us in carrying out its direction.
When you cannot muster the discipline to act on this inner voice, do as Saint Theophan says,"compensate the conscience at once through your own inner repentance at home. Confess it to the priest later." Shortly you will find your ability to abide by your conscience increases dramatically.
Saint Paul says,
"And in this do I always exercise myself, to have a conscience clear of offense towards God and towards men."
See other posts on Conscience
Reference: Abba Dorotheos: Practical Teachings on the Christian Life, pp 101-105