Year of Faith Retreat – Week 3, Day 5: What Were You Thinking? (Conscience and Moral Decision Making)


WEEK THREE: The Moral Life (Life in Christ)

DAY 5:  What Were You Thinking? (Conscience and Moral Decision Making)

Do you know who scores highest on religious literacy tests? Catholics? Protestants? Mormons? Jews?

The answer is: ATHEISTS!

Does that surprise you? It does and it doesn’t for me. In truth, I would say that it disappoints me more than it surprises me. Why doesn’t it surprise me? Because too many of us Christians approach our faith as simply a cultural reality that requires little thought. Atheists, on the other hand, have often done their homework, devoting a great deal of thinking to their stance. We may disagree with their conclusions, however, we have to give them credit for grappling with the big questions.

One of the reasons that I find Catholicism so compelling is because we are not told to check our brains at the door. Catholicism has a rich heritage of deep and profound thinkers who have taught us that faith and reason must work together. Thinking is a huge part of our faith. (We should be number one in religious literacy!)

One of the most famous questions asked on late-night television was on The Tonight Show in 1995, when Jay Leno interviewed actor Hugh Grant, not long after Grant had been arrested for seeing a prostitute. To the roar of audience laughter, Leno bluntly asked, “What were you thinking?”  Most of us would agree that Mr. Grant had not been thinking at all! Many of us have been on the receiving end of this question, most likely from our parents, after we had done something stupid. Prudence is the habit of thinking before acting. This flies in the face of today’s mentality of “Just do it!” While there is something to be said for spontaneity, some of our choices in life require deep thought, prayer, and consideration, lest we find ourselves facing the consequences of a poor decision.

St. Ignatius of Loyola used the word discernment to describe the process of making a decision based on deep thought and prayer. To discern is to honor the place of God’s will in our lives. It is an interior search that seeks to align our own will with the will of God so that we can learn what God is calling us to do and become. Every choice we make, no matter how small, is an opportunity to be prudent.

To follow one’s conscience is not to be equated with simply doing what one feels like doing. Too many of us miss the imperative that says we are responsible for informing our conscience. We need to do our homework. We need to think. Catholics are called to be thinkers. We are called to lifelong catechesis. Catechesis is a huge part of being Catholic because following Jesus is an eyes-wide-open experience. Our faith in Jesus is not blind faith. On the contrary, our faith calls us to have our eyesight corrected so that we learn to see as God sees.

Reflection Questions: Choose one of the following questions and share your thoughts with your fellow retreatants by adding your comments in the comments box below this post.
  • What does it mean to say that a conscience is less like a voice and more like a pair of eyeglasses?
  • Who has been a major influence in your life in terms of forming your conscience?
  • How can guilt be a healthy thing when it comes to forming a conscience?
  • What steps do you try to follow when making an important moral decision?
  • What do you do to continue learning about your Catholic faith? What would you like to do?


Loving God, send your Holy Spirit to ignite my heart with your love and to open my mind so that I might follow you more closely. Help me to inform my conscience so that I can come to see myself, others, and the world as you see them. Guide me in my choices. Help me to think, so that I might act according to your will. Help me to love you with my whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. Amen.

Additional Reading

CCC References: 1776-1802

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I hope you’re enjoying our online summer retreat, Preparing for a Year of Faith! Take a few minutes each day at your convenience to “gather” here on my blog as we seek to add some flavor to our faith lives by deepening our understanding of the truths of our faith as given to us in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Learn more about the Year of Faith. Watch a brief video explaining what this online retreat is all about.

About Joe Paprocki 2759 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at

17 Comments on Year of Faith Retreat – Week 3, Day 5: What Were You Thinking? (Conscience and Moral Decision Making)

  1. To continue learning about my Catholic Faith I have been going to ongoing Faith Formation Classes offered in the Diocese. I would also like to take the Three Year Lay Pastoral Classes.

  2. I subscribe to various catholic periodicals such as Bible Alive , Faith Today Voice of Padre Pio which help me to learn more about our faith as well as attending various short courses and bible study groups. I would really like to do a Theology Degree at university but the thought of doing exams scares me.

  3. My Catholic Faith grows more everyday because I am always taking classes to stay informed, I read the bible often, try to go on a retreat at least once a year and have discussions with others and share insights about diffent issues or concerns. I’m also a thinker so I talk to God often to guide me. Sometimes thinking too much is dangerous but analyzing ideas is good and helps me to open my mind to what I should be doing and the direction I’m heading.

  4. To continue learning and maturing in my Catholic faith I read about it, practice it and teach it to others by being a catechist and facilitate Bible study. I read the Bible, but with the Catechism close at hand. To be honest, I knew very little about the faith when I first became a catechist. Although I grew up Catholic, the faith formation I received in the 1960-70’s along with the secular world I, like many, somehow failed to form a relationship with Jesus and his Church. I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to share my new and deepening relationship with Him by teaching others as I myself was learning. This and receiving grace from the Sacraments, continues to be the basis for my life today, a life of lifelong catechesis. I thirst for deeper understanding and constantly ask the Lord in prayer to help me to see with His vision and not my own. I stumble quite a bit, yet use the process of discernment and prayer in most of what I need to do. In deep humility, I have traded in my “smeared” glasses for those of our Lord and the Church.

  5. The best way for me to learn more about the catholic faith was to become more involved as a catechist. I knew the first question a child would ask would be “why” and I wanted to have the Correct answer. Not just the answer I thought was right but the correct answer and the “why” behind it. This has made me take a deeper look at the Catholic Faith and learn what I thought I already knew. I also signed up for this and have attended different bible studies and seminars all relating to the Catholic faith. The Catholic Faith is a lifelong learning process.

  6. I believe that guilt is a response of discomfort that comes from not acting rightly – according to the “law” that God has written on our hearts. It should result in reflection as well as repentance, and helps to clarify the principles by which we live. This is why St. Ignatius’ reflections on the way he felt imagining himself as a knight and the way he felt imagining himself acting like a saint resonate deeply with me.

  7. Hi, i do really appreciate this retreat, got to learn a lot. Though i open it just lately, i was overwhelmed of how it truly teaches not only catechist but simple laypeople. I would like to share this to some group discussion with other parish communities will it be possible especially here in the Middle East to overseas workers. Thanks so much.

  8. I was a high school math teacher for 17 years and lost my job in February of 2010. Thanks to my education background and my deep love of God, I quickly got a job working for the parish and by December 2010 I became the PCL. Talk about a quick way to realize how little you know! I grab anything I can read, hoping to be able to answer the many questions that come at me each week. I read catechist magazines and I know receive The Sower – a magazine for the PCL and I truly enjoy the information it gives me. I went on a pilgrimage to the great shrines of Canada this past summer and I just didn’t want to come back to my world! I believe I’m ready to look into getting my master’s degree but I just can’t afford it. I’ve been waiting to see if I want to get my master’s in mathematics or in some area of theology. I think I’m ready to commit to the faith learning. I’ve heard of something called a “silent retreat” and it just sounds heavenly! Wish I knew how to hook up with one!

  9. I usually go before the Blessed Sacrament to think clearly and start any discerning process I may go through. I really enjoy teaching the faith that is how I learn more however as a teacher of speech and language there is a curriculum that is uniform put out by the state for each grade in the public schools. I wish there was a uniform curriculum made available throughout all the faith formation programs since Catholicism is uniform to the Majesterium of the church along with the Catechism. This would be helpful to all teachers and parents to ensure cohesive teachings of our faith. has section under resources and divides into each grade level which scripture readings sacraments catechist sections and vocabulary for each grade for each year. This is a great tool for teachers and parents in addition to any book used.
    I had a friend stop teaching faith formation because just reading from the book chosen was not enough for a lesson plan. many faith formation are not teachers so a uniform curriculum as a backbone to our faith would be a great asset to ensure strong teachings to the Majesterium of the church broken down according to grade level.

    • catechesis guidelines found under the
      1. click resources
      2. catechetical resources and scroll down to catechesis guidelines for each grade level.

  10. sorry for anyone interested in viewing the catechesis guidelines for each grade it is under the website: resources
    2. catechetical offices resources and scroll down to catechesis guidelines according to grade level.

  11. Grace, I agree! I contacted our diocesan office of faith formation asking for a written curriculum. There isn’t one! ugh! That makes it so difficult. They tell us which book publishers they approve of, but that’s not wonderful. Most of us would be so eager to work within some written guidelines!

  12. I attend workshops given by our diocese, daily retreats like these which offer suggestions for further reading to help deepen my understanding of my faith. I wish I could make more time to read.

  13. “…too many of us Christians approach our faith as simply a cultural reality that requires little thought.”

    Catholics are the least God-curious people I know.

    “What do you do to continue learning about your Catholic faith?”

    Simply refining and adjusting my Catechism class content each year provides a huge spur toward greater faith and knowledge (if not wisdom).

  14. I love the description of conscience as glasses instead of voice. The voice is too cartoonish – angel on one side, devil on the other. But glasses – I have to keep them clean and the prescription up to date. I have to realize just how fuzzy my vision is without them to appreciate them. It’s a very useful description – I plan to share it with my physically near-sighted family – I think they’ll see it’s wisdom.

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