In the nearby village of Rebdorf, one is free to enter a field planted with strawberries and do one’s own picking. There is a little metal box at the edge of the field where one simply drops one’s coins for the berries picked—an unquestioned “honor system.” Religious practices and countless proverbs constantly reinforce this sense of honesty, fairness, and uprightness. Herr Willibald Russer manages the conference center where I have often organized summer programs. He would set out a tray in which the participants could place their coins to pay for the beer or the soft drinks stacked in the refrigerator. He had not the slightest concern about the participants’ honesty, as he would remind them, “Mass und Gewicht, kommt vor Gottes Gericht,” a little jingle meaning “Weight and measure come before God’s throne of judgment.” Be honest. God will judge.
Catholic Bavaria. It was this community that profoundly shaped and formed Joseph Ratzinger, a community in touch with reality, with God’s revelation, with the living tradition of the Church.
Community is essential to the formation of conscience, Benedict reminds us in these essays. But Germans learned how the community itself can become disordered and not be the ultimate guarantor of moral rectitude if there is not a higher Guarantor still. As Cardinal Ratzinger told the Bishops gathered at the 1984 workshop, “everything depends on God, on a God who is Creator and on a God who has revealed Himself.” This is not a God over and against a community, but One encountered precisely in the community. We also “need the community that can guarantee God, Whom no one on his own could dare bring into his life.” This community is, of course, the Church.
——from On Conscience, a collection of two essays by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVII) – from the Foreword by John M. Hass of The National Catholic Bioethics Center