Conscience is like a plane's navigation system, says Cardinal Collins.


Conscience is like a plane's navigation system, says Cardinal Collins.

February 11, 2013

Wise decision-making is founded on conscience, prudence and concern for the common good, Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto told Vancouver lawyers Jan. 24.

"Conscience is the most intimate centre and sanctuary of a person, in which he or she is alone with God, whose voice echoes within them," said Collins. "Following our conscience is sometimes misrepresented as being simply a matter of doing what we feel like," he said. "It has to be more than that."

Collins spoke at a dinner reception following the second annual Red Mass.

He likened a conscience to the navigation system of an airplane, where only correct information and properly-tuned hardware can provide the right way home.

"If inaccurate information, like location and destination, is fed in to the best computer," he said, "it will not get us to where we need to go."

According to Collins, St. Thomas More was an excellent example of someone who lived with a well-oiled conscience. "He had rightly informed his conscience all his life with accurate information about objective reality, derived from the trustworthy sources of faith and reason."

More, a "martyr of conscience," was beheaded in the 16th century for high treason when a perjurer testified he had declared that the king was not the head of the Church in England.

Prudence, the second foundation of wisdom, is the chief of the cardinal virtues, Collins said.

"Prudence involves translating the insight gained from our guiding principles into practical action," he said. "Faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is prudence."

Many people wrongly understand prudence as the avoidance of danger. The cardinal said prudence might lead someone to take great risks, like rescuing someone from a burning car.


Collins described the dangers of arrogant imprudence with colourful jokes and stories. "Remember the gravestone with the inscription: 'He had the right of way.'"

The third consideration for wise decision-making, according to the cardinal, is concern for the common good. "If we look inward, we shrivel up; if we look outward, we flourish."

Collins said the secret of a happy life is putting oneself third. "God is first, my neighbour is second, and I am third."

"Happiness always comes in the back door, and creeps up on us while we are serving others; if we seek to find happiness by pushing ahead our own agenda, forgetful of others, we will be disappointed."

The cardinal strongly recommended spiritual direction for examining one's motives. He said a humble, honest look at one's own heart is the surest way to make sure one's intentions are selfless. "Humility is the lifeline," he said.


To illustrate humility, Collins described the hobbits from the Lord of the Rings, who were "risk-averse and comfort-loving," but ready to "forsake the security of the Shire, and take great risks, to see justice done for others, and to get rid of the ring, which was the symbol of selfish power."

Only the hobbits, he said, were able to carry the ring to its destruction. Grander characters were more prone to fall into selfishness than the short, simple hobbits.

St. Thomas More even sacrificed his life for the sake of the common good. "Finally, having served the good of his country despite sacrifice of his own desires, Thomas served a greater common good when he gave up everything, even life itself, rather than swear falsely that the king had the right to rule spiritually."

Collins concluded: "But More made the right decision, prudently, according to his well-formed conscience, in the service of the common good. We can all learn from him."