Yves Congar: “Motives of conscience and conviction”

While exploring the recently found blog of theologian Joseph Komonchak, “In verbo veritas” I came upon this gem from the journal of the late Yves Cardinal Congar, OP. Père Congar, a great advocate of ecumenism and influential theologian at the Second Vatican Council, wrote this in his journal:

Experience and history have taught me that one must always protest when motives of conscience or conviction call for it. Undoubtedly this incurs some unpleasantness, but something always remains from it”; Congar, Mon Journal, p. 14 (as quoted in an unpublished paper of Joseph Komonchak on the initial work of Vatican II’s Preparatory Theological Commission)

“Undoubtedly this incurs some unpleasantness”… Indeed!

I don’t know Congar’s writings very well, so I don’t know whether the understatement here is intentional. But, knowing that he was a man who had personally experienced the heavy hand of Church authority, Père Congar’s choice of words makes the point all the more poignantly. Perhaps this phrase jumped out at me because I find myself so frequently facing situations that challenge my conscience and convictions. I recently saw a Facebook post which ostensibly promoted drug testing for recipients of “welfare.” (By the way, at the federal level at least, there is no  program called “welfare.” The federal programs that support the poor and needy are Temporary Assistance for Needy Families [TANF] and Supplemental Security Income [SSI] for the disabled). Upon seeing the post, my immediate reaction was to think, What tests did Jesus require before he fed the multitudes or otherwise served the poor and needy? What offended me most was not so much the issue itself — after all, any issue about which people disagree is legitimate fodder for discussion and debate.  No; what bothered me was the tone of disrespect and judgment. I suppose just having heard presidential candidate Mitt Romney state that he wasn’t concerned “for the very poor” didn’t help, but I have to wonder why so many of us — many of us who claim to be Christian — have such antipathy toward the very ones whom Jesus most frequently lifted up.

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