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March 06, 2018 Tuesday 03:51:23 PM IST

The Caliphate of Cordoba in the southern part of Spain which lasted from 929 to 1031 was ruled by the Umayyad dynasty hailing from Mecca. They ruled with the title of Caliph, claiming succession from Muhammad who founded Islam. Once a caliph decided to expand his palace garden to include all kinds of fruit-bearing and ornamental trees. However, available land was limited and his expansion project came to a standstill.


It was proposed that the caliph acquire the adjoining land which was owned by a widow. But the widow was unwilling to sell her land even though the caliph offered her a substantial amount as compensation. When the news was brought to the caliph he became angry and annexed her land by force. He then ordered his men to go ahead full steam with the expansion project.


It was the caliph who had seized the land and there wasn’t much the widow could do. However, she did not give up hope. She approached a well-respected elder in her area and requested his help. After a moment of deep reflection, he sent the widow home promising to do his best to help her. He then went to the palace with his donkey and asked the caliph permission to take some soil from his garden.


The caliph was astonished at the unusual request of the old man. However, he gladly gave him permission. The old man filled his big sack with soil. But as the sack was very heavy he could not hoist it on the back of his donkey. So, he requested the Caliph to give him a helping hand. As the caliph was eager to please the old man he tried to lift the sack and hoist it on the back of the animal. But he couldn’t.


“There is only a small fraction of the soil from your garden in this sack,” the old man said to the caliph. “But you are not able to pick it up because of its weight. If that is the case with a sack of soil how can you walk around carrying all that soil which you have taken by force from the widow? Will it not burden your conscience?”


The proverb, “There is no pillow as soft as a clear conscience” is well known. However, how many of us are able to sleep on a pillow like that? When we look around don’t we see people who carry heavy burdens in their conscience like the caliph of Cordoba? It is only natural that we all have to carry all kinds of burdens in our life. When we are burdened with such a heavy load why should we overburden us by doing things that go against the very grain of our conscience?


There are people who think that by grabbing and plundering what belongs to others they can make themselves happy. But how can it bring us happiness? It will bring us only lasting unhappiness. We can never find peace and joy in our life without walking the path of truth and justice. That means we can never find true happiness in our life by acting against our conscience. When this is the reality of life why do people often ignore the promptings of their conscience?


As French philosopher Rousseau said, “Conscience is the voice of the soul, and the passions are the voice of the body.” However, the temptation is always there to ignore the voice of the soul and follow the voice of the body. That is why people often do not hesitate follow the voice of the body rather than that of the soul.


Our conscience should be the temple of truth, the seat of justice, and the sanctuary of all morality. The voice we hear in our conscience is the voice of God. Hence, we must allow God to be the protector and the judge of our conscience.


Thomas More (1478-1535) was a great statesman, social philosopher, and author who always had the courage to listen to the voice of God in his conscience. While being the Chancellor of England he had the fearlessness to stick to his principles and listen to his conscience when the king made wrong moral choices and demanded his unconditional support for them. Before Thomas More was beheaded at the guillotine at Tower Hill in London he wrote from the jail to his family, “It is unbearable for me to suffer bodily pain. However, even the thought of the impending painful death has not forced me to act against my conscience.”


Do we stretch and expand our conscience when we are confronted with serious moral choices? Or do we stick to our ideals and principles and follow our conscience like Thomas More did? If our conscience is elastic we will always ignore the voice of God to save our skin. However, if we have a clean conscience we will never go against moral principles and ethical values as seen in the lives of great men like Thomas More.


George Washington, one of the seven founding fathers of America and its first President, once said we must labour to keep alive in our heart that little spark of celestial fire, called conscience.

Yes, as Washington said, our conscience is a little spark of celestial fire. Let us always keep this celestial fire alive in our hearts.

Fr. Jose Panthaplamthottiyil, CMI

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