It’s a scary world out there. The world, the flesh, the devil is constantly pulling at us, trying to suck us in. Everywhere we look there is promiscuity, immoral values, etc. It almost makes one swing to an extreme….an extreme where there is no good in the world left and everything becomes a sin. An easy trap to fall into?
If the devil can’t get us one way, he will try another, won’t he?
This excerpt is from the wonderful book Achieving Peace of Heart, written over 50 years ago. The author is a Catholic priest. His book is the product of years of experience both as a priest and as a practicing psychologist. It is a book, therefore, written out of knowledge and charity. How much Fr. Irala’s wise words are needed today:
From Achieving Peace of Heart, Father Narciso Irala, S.J.
The obsessing insecurity of scruples can find expression in profane matters, as in the case of one who goes out of his house and is worried whether he put out the lights, turned off the faucet, or locked the door.
This kind of obsession also, and frequently, finds expression in religious or moral affairs. A religious scruple is a torturing but unfounded fear of sinning or having sinned.
It is an error or anguishing doubt caused by a strong fear which inhibits or disturbs the reason. Scruples are the source of anxiety or sadness, of many organic ailments, bashfulness, and many personality disturbances. If not controlled in time, scruples can become the occasion of despair, moral relapses, and even moral perversion.
The predisposing causes of scruples are the same as those indicated above for exaggerated impressionability or exaggerated emotions in general, such as organic weakness and nervous exhaustion.
Another cause is a temperament that tends to look upon the negative side of things. Or it may be one or more of the following: a residue of insecurity because of not having taken action against previous unreasonable fears; an uncontrolled and exaggerated imagination; an excessively strict education; much dealing with scrupulous people; an anxious desire for excessive certitude; or fear of responsibility.
A scruple may also be a temptation of the devil. When it is very prolonged, it is almost always an indication of psychoneurosis and sometimes of psychosis.
In other words, a scruple can be one of many symptoms of mental illness, but of itself it does not indicate an evil moral life or lack of faith.
Remedies for Scruples:
1. Before all else make sure that it is really a scruple and not merely ignorance or a passing test prompted by God. This judgment should be made by the director or adviser and not by the person himself.
2. Then admit what is scientifically proven, that is, that scruples are a mental and not a moral illness. He should recall what we said about the “degrees of fear.” Whenever the fear is great (and there is no greater fear than that caused by the idea of “eternal damnation”), this not only inhibits and disturbs his muscles, but also his mind and feelings. The emotion of fear is so disturbing to the scrupulous person that it makes him see danger where there is none, or see grave sin where there is only an imperfection or a venial fault.
3. Fight the battle on the proper terrain. Do not pretend to destroy this mental and natural enemy with means that are spiritual or supernatural such as absolution. What should we say to someone who comes up to a priest and keeps saying, “Father, save me. I have such a toothache I know I am going to hell.”
The answer should be: “Go see a dentist, but do not think you are lost because of a reason like that.” The scrupulous person must be told something similar. “Do not give an eternal dimension to what is only an emotional disturbance.”
4. Recognize, then, that emotion disturbs the judgment so much that it makes one see what does not exist. This often happens when timid persons think they see apparitions at night. They forget it when they discover the phantasm, or appearance, is really something that they know very well. But they run away in terror if the fear gets control of them.
Once upon a time there was a blind man, led along by a guide, who all of a sudden, stopped and said, “I can’t go another step; I see a deep pit in front of me. Of course, being blind, he could not see what was really not there, but he had something in his imagination.
Something like this happens in the case of the scrupulous man when, despite his confessor’s judgment, he sees sin and sacrilege in receiving Communion. We should insist that he receive Communion, but, instead of losing time examining his conscience over and over again weighing the “sacrilege” that he thinks he sees, he should repeat acts of love and confidence. Such faith and obedience, which relinquish one’s own judgement for God’s sake, are heroic. And each such act of love itself gives or increases grace.
5. Whoever had a clock or thermometer out of order would be advised by everyone not to be guided by it, but to follow normal clocks or thermometers. So, God gives a right to the scrupulous person not to be guided or changed by what his disturbed conscience tells him, but by what his director tells him. More than this, his heavenly Father asks him to use this right, to lay aside for a time his subjective judgment, and to remain at peace.
6. When the scruple is concerned with one’s past life, even despite a series of general confessions; when a person thinks that he has forgotten or has not confessed well, or that his confessors have not understood him, he should remember that by means of indirect absolution all his sins have already been forgiven on the day on which you made a confession with good will.
The obligation of making known forgotten sins in a subsequent confession pertains only to those which are certainly mortal, certainly committed, and certainly omitted from confession.
7. Many confuse the concepts of perfect confession and good confession. An absolutely perfect confession could be made only by God who knows perfectly the responsibility of every act. We can all make at least a good confession, for this demands only goodwill on our part.
Many scrupulous people could hardly do any more than this because of the blocks in their mind and their disturbed emotions. They should realize, then, that in such a good confession absolution directly pertains to the sins of which they accuse themselves, and indirectly pertains to those which they have forgotten or those of which they did not accuse themselves perfectly, although they acted with goodwill at the time of the confession.
More than this, when their nervousness and confused ideas about the examination of conscience and confession itself begin to torture them, we must remember what moral theology teaches us. If the integrity of confession would tend to do them serious psychical harm, then with their confessor’s approval, they may content themselves with a general accusation or merely ask for absolution, renewing their contrition for all their past sins.
Instead of worrying about past confessions, they should increase their faith in Christ who washes all sins away through His Most Precious Blood. They should trust in the infinite mercy which delights in pardon and is shown to us in the parable of the Prodigal Son.
A holy house is one in which God is truly King; in which He reigns supreme over the minds and hearts of the inmates; in which every word and act honors His name. One feels on entering such a house, nay, even on approaching it, that the very atmosphere within and without is laden with holy and heavenly influences. -True Womanhood, Rev. Bernard O’Reilly, 1894 https://amzn.to/2PsM94w (afflink)
The famous novelist Louis de Wohl presents a stimulating historical novel about the great St. Thomas Aquinas, set against the violent background of the Italy of the Crusades. He tells the intriguing story of St. Thomas who – by taking a vow of poverty and joining the Dominicans – defied his illustrious, prominent family’s ambition for him to have great power in the Church. The battles and Crusades of the 13th century and the ruthlessness of the excommunicated Emperor Frederick II play a big part in the story, but it is Thomas of Aquino who dominates this book. De Wohl succeeds notably in portraying the exceptional quality of this man, a fusion of mighty intellect and childlike simplicity. A pupil of St. Albert the Great, the humble Thomas – through an intense life of study, writing, prayer, preaching and contemplation – ironically rose to become the influential figure of his age, and he later was proclaimed by the Church as the Angelic Doctor.
Seriously wounded at the siege of Pamplona in 1521, Don Inigo de Loyola learned that to be a Knight of God was an infinitely greater honor (and infinitely more dangerous) than to be a Knight in the forces of the Emperor. Uli von der Flue, humorous, intelligent and courageous Swiss mercenary, was responsible for the canon shot which incapacitated the worldly and ambitious young nobleman, and Uli became deeply involved in Loyola’s life. With Juanita, disguised as the boy Juan, Uli followed Loyola on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to protect him, but it was the saint who protected Uli and Juan. Through Uli’s eyes we see the surge and violence of the turbulent period in Jerusalem, Spain and Rome.
Louis de Wohl has again created an exciting and spiritually inspiring novel for all readers of historical fiction.
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