Praised be Jesus Christ! Thousands of people were at the Cathedral in La Crosse last month to venerate the relics of Saint Padre Pio. Padre Pio was an incredible saint, with the ability to bi-locate and read souls. He bore the stigmata (i.e. the five wounds of Christ) for just over 50 years. Nevertheless, Padre Pio suffered from the spiritual malady known as scrupulosity. The word “scrupulous” comes from a Latin word meaning “a small, sharp stone” – have you ever walked with a small, sharp stone in your shoe? Annoying, isn’t it? Scrupulosity is a cross that robs its victim of inner peace by the persistent thought that one may have grievously offended God. Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, explains an experience that would be very familiar to people who struggle with spiritual scruples: “After I have stepped upon a cross formed by two straws, or after I have thought, said, or done some other thing, there comes to me from without a thought that I have sinned, and on the other hand, it seems to me that I have not sinned; nevertheless, I feel some uneasiness on the subject, inasmuch as I doubt and yet do not doubt. This is properly a scruple and temptation suggested by the enemy.” Saint Ignatius eventually realized that scrupulous thoughts are a temptation but not a sin and this was a way out of the prison imposed by scrupulosity. Saint Alphonsus Liguouri also suffered in this way and it seems that he was thus plagued for all of his life. For those who struggle with scruples, going to confession and receiving Holy Communion can be very difficult experiences. However, there are some spiritual practices that make the way bearable; first, Saint Alphonsus points out that “This instruction to be obedient to one’s spiritual director (i.e. confessor) in doubts of conscience is given by all the doctors of the Church and the holy fathers as well. In short, obedience to one’s confessor is the one safest remedy which Jesus Christ has left us for quieting the doubts of conscience, and we ought to return him the greatest thanks for it. For how could a scrupulous soul, in its doubts, find perfect rest otherwise?” Having just read a very informative book titled Understanding Scrupulosity, I am now more committed to being patient with penitents who bear this cross. But it’s also important to be firm. The aforementioned book lists “Ten Commandments for the Scrupulous” and they bear listing here: 1) Without exception, you shall not confess sins you have already confessed, 2) You shall confess only sins that are clear and certain, 3) You shall not repeat your penance or any of the words of your penance after confession – for any reason, 4) You shall not worry about breaking your pre- Communion fast unless you put food or drink in your mouth and swallow it as a meal, 5) You shall not worry about powerful and vivid thoughts, desires, and imaginings involving sex and religion unless you deliberately generate them for the purpose of offending God, 6) You shall not worry about powerful and intense feelings, including sexual feelings or emotional outbursts, unless you deliberately generate them to offend God, 7) You shall obey your confessor when he tells you never to repeat a general confession of sins already confessed to him or another confessor, 8) When you doubt your obligation to do or not do something, you will see your doubt as proof that there is no obligation, 9) When you are doubtful, you shall assume that the act of commission or omission you’re in doubt about is not sinful, and you shall proceed without dread of sin, and 10) You shall put your total trust in Jesus Christ, knowing He loves you as only God can and that He will never allow you to lose your soul. For those who have scruples, please remember you are not alone and that the Church prays for all of her children.
May God grant peace and authentic trust to all suffer fear when they are not fully in control!
Your friend in Christ, Father Martin