Here is a letter I once sent to a friend a few years ago about scruples and remedies for scruples. I hope it might be of help to you or to someone you know who suffers from this difficulty.
This problem of scrupulosity is not unusual when a person is making a serious attempt to grow closer to God. Saint Ignatius of Loyola suffered from scruples until he realized the great harm they were doing to him. It is important to be able to discern spiritual warfare and to weed out false and oppressive thoughts. God’s communications normally lead to greater clarity and light. They don’t back you into a corner of hopelessness. “The spiritual battle is won in the mind.” We must control our thoughts rather than letting them control us. This is crucial.
Rest assured, there is a great correlation between growth in holiness and receiving Holy Communion frequently. The devil certainly tempts us to think we have committed some serious sin in order to keep us away from this great sacrament. Sometimes we have to “power-up” our thinking and keep walking towards the altar and receive the Lord and deepen our trust in Him. We need Holy Communion if we are going to progress in the spiritual life. Often we crave certainty in the spiritual life and God is teaching us to walk by faith. Scruples can actually purify the soul if we overcome them by walking in faith and distrusting self. We must learn to overcome all panic (caused by the devil) and to be very patient with our thoughts, and to avoid catastrophizing. Be gentle, not rigorous, with your thoughts.
A person suffering from scruples is allowed to follow the “rule of certitude,” which states that he or she should refrain from considering a matter (over which they have a doubt) gravely sinful unless they can swear out an affidavit that they are 100% absolutely certain they have committed a mortal sin. Otherwise, they should not refrain from Holy Communion (ref. Father Casey’s book, Dealing With Scruples). This rule, faithfully applied, is very helpful to a person struggling with scruples.
Father Tanquerey states in his monumental work, The Spiritual Life (TAN), p.449:
“Communion is often a torture to the scrupulous….Now the fear [that]
they may not be in the state of grace proves that they are not certain
of that fact;hence, they should after a sincere act of contrition approach
the Sacrament of the Altar; this Contrition together with Holy Communion
will put them in the state of grace if they are not in it.”
The book, Dealing with Scruples, by Father Casey, is very helpful. Also, at the end of the Spiritual Exercises Saint Ignatius has an appendix of rules to counter scruples. Still further, in the last section of The Imitation of Christ there are very consoling words about approaching and receiving Holy Communion. Father Faber talks about scruples as “little centers of spiritual death,” and we must see them in that light and power-up our resolve to overcome them.
The great remedy for scruples, especially if the problem is ongoing, is to place oneself under obedience to one confessor – a wise and faithful priest – and to fully abide by his decisions regarding all matters in question, exercising a child-like faith in his spiritual guidance. Going from one confessor to another is very counterproductive.
Section 1456 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, in part:“When Christ’s faithful strive to confess all the sins that they can remember, they undoubtedly place all of them before the divine mercy for pardon.” This realization can set a scrupulous heart at rest.
The spiritual life involves a purification of our own way of thinking. We have trusted too much in our own analysis of the matter. “Self-reliance almost killed me,” says Saint Teresa of Avila. Now God is calling the soul to walk by faith and to overcome our tendency to self-perfection. Someone once said, “our crosses are a door to greater trust in God’s love.” And further that we should have “an indestructible hope in God’s mercy.” Peter denied Jesus three times but accepted God’s mercy and grew in holiness. Judas trusted in himself, forewent God’s mercy, and is lost. We must be like Peter, not Judas. God will lead us if we trust in Him.
“Jesus, I trust in you.”
I hope this helps. Tell this person: Pray, pray, pray!
Tom Mulcahy, M.A.
P.S. Chesterton’s essay, “The Maniac”, in Orthodoxy, was amazingly helpful to me in powering up healthy thinking. Eucharistic adoration is very helpful, and long walks in nature, peering into the beauty of God’s creation, calms oppressive thinking. Finally, “do not dialogue with the devil.” With a scruple we give almost dogmatic credibility to a troubling thought which is defective, unbalanced and overly-rigorous. We heal scruples by recognizing them, and then giving them no power over us. Nothing in this post is intended to be a substitute for good and necessary medical and other professional care.
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Thank Tom. Perfect timing and great advice!
Wonderful explanation & practical advice. Extremely helpful post!