Correct but Uncertain

Re “Uninformed Conscience,” by John F. Kavanaugh, S.J. (6/ 21): The author says, quoting Aquinas, that conscience may be certain but not correct. It strikes me that conscience can also be correct but not certain!

This dilemma is caused by the convergence of moral objectivity and the necessity of practical moral subjectivity, leading to what may be in effect a correct but uncertain conscience. As a result, a person of good will may simply have to trust God, saying: “Lord, this beats me! You figure it out!”


Father Kavanaugh also points out that conscience can be “uninformed.” How about “under-informed?” Is there subtle connective tissue between the two, or are they entirely contrary? Sometimes if conscience is “under-informed” but not “uninformed,” uncertainty can arise despite correct moral anchors.

When St. Joan of Arc was questioned by her interrogators as to whether she considered herself to be in the state of grace, she replied, “If not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God keep me there!”

I guess that pretty much sums up how one should relate to the question of a malformed versus a well-formed conscience, doing the best one can and leaving the rest to the merciful Jesus who told St. Faustina, “Tell aching humanity to snuggle close to my merciful heart!”

Bruce Snowden

Bronx, N.Y.


Reading about the memento James Martin, S.J., brought back from Lourdes (Of Many Things, 7/5), I was reminded of the statue of Jesus I won in first grade at St. Joseph’s for going door-to-door selling sheets of stamps with holy images.

I had no idea it would glow in the dark. It scared my younger brother, who hid under the covers. For me it was the greatest thing. I prayed and prayed.

To this day, I never complain about kitsch and corny Catholic things people do or buy. Even today I embarrass myself when I indulge in pious sentiments and prayers. I know that God is truly merciful having to listen to some of the dumbest complaints and requests.

Richard Benitez

San Francisco, Calif.

Monster Mash

Actually, Father Martin’s 5-year-old nephew, Matthew, is quite sharp. Aren’t the Devil and his comrades the real monsters?

Stephen M. O’Brien

Nashville, Tenn.

Spirit Therapy

Re your editorial “Justice for Juveniles” (7/5): For every youngster who appears before the courts to face charges, major or minor, there is a profoundly personal biography of his or her learning.

What were the meanings and values that shaped that child’s spirit, that more or less governed childlike decisions and actions, some with horrible consequences? To the degree that such individual biographies can be retraced and understood, there surfaces the possibility of a new intervention, a new pedagogy that would salvage true meanings and authentic values and reverse what is false and expose the corruption of authentic human values.

To the new team of pedagogues who intervene to work against the corruption of the young I give the name pneumotherapists. The primary principle of their work would be that the human spirit, no matter how darkened, loves what is true and really good.

Maxim Faust

Gatineau, Quebec, Canada

Yale or Jail?

Do not expect juvenile justice to improve anytime soon during this mid-term election year. While statistics have shown that “it’s cheaper to send them to Yale than to jail,” vote-garnering politicians continue to crack down on the easiest of all legal prey: teenagers. Continued blessings on those who—as one of my own condescending high school administrators used to put it—“work well with that population.” At the time, she was referring to me!

Craig B. McKee

Hong Kong

Gothic Calculus

Re “Arranged by Measure,” by Jon W. Sweeney (7/5): While we marvel at the beauty of the gothic architects’ use of light, one must also acknowledge their skill in the application of mathematics before calculus was codified and their knowledge of materials science and mechanics.

But we have to acknowledge as well the failures of the gothic architects: Beauvais, which could not withstand the fierce winds of Normandy, and the Duomo of Milan, which is one of the least aesthetically pleasing churches in all Christendom. The Milanese would have liked a gothic cathedral, but the soaring windows would have made the inside as hot as a pizza oven. Instead they got a gussied-up 14th-century dowager!

Jack Walton

Millburn, N.J.

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