A Pilgrim's Catechism
The Occasional Thoughts of a 21st-Century Roman Catholic on Journey
Towards the Reign of God
Rembrandt van Rijn: Elijah on Mt. Horeb
What does it mean, “to follow one’s conscience?”
Elijah fled south to escape death ordered by Zezebel. He was fed twice by an angel and then traveling forty days and forty nights he arrived at the holy mountain, Horeb. He took shelter in a cave and there heard the Lord speaking to him telling him to come out of the cave. Then there was a strong wind that rent the mountain but the Lord was not in the wind. Then an earthquake but the Lord was not in the earthquake. Then a fire but the Lord was not in the fire. Finally there was “a still, small voice.” So Elijah wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and the Lord spoke to him.
There are many voices telling us how we are to live out our lives, the family, society, the Church, to mention a few of the important ones. Over the centuries all of our institutions have built up systems of values to give meaning to our lives.
None is more important than the Church that relies on guidance from God.
Reason is important as well because sound judgment is needed in evaluating choices.
But, beyond the significant institutions to which we belong, even the Church and reason itself, there is “a still, small voice” within that speaks to us at every moment. It is God himself speaking once and for all his eternal Word at the heart of every human being, a voice to which we must listen first of all because it is the most important of all. Due to our creatureliness, the cultural and political situation in which we live, the sinfulness of the world around us and our own personal sins, we must listen carefully. Even this inner voice must be heard in the context of the wisdom of the ages, especially the voice of the Church and of reason, but in the end it must be our guide. This “still, small voice” is what we call conscience, and as partial as our understanding of it is, it comes from God himself and thus has to be the court of last resort in the governance of our lives. It is the very Word of God spoken to all and challenging all.
Following Elijah’s encounter with the Lord at Horeb, it would seem that the Lord relied upon him less and less as if the Lord were disappointed in him. The Lord God is never disappointed in us. It is we, because we fail in judgment and action, who become disappointed in ourselves. Listen again and again to that “still, small voice” within to find strength, courage, and a better path to the future.