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On Scruples in the Spiritual Life

Having therefore such hope, we use much confidence. (St. Paul, II. Cor., c. III., v. 12.)

Fear is not in charity: but perfect charity casteth out fear, because fear hath pain. And he that feareth is not perfect in charity. (St. John, I. Epist., c. IV., v. 18.)

There are persons who look upon scrupulosity as a virtue, confounding it with delicacy of conscience, whereas it is, on the contrary, not only a defect but one of a most dangerous character. The devout and learned Gerson says that a scrupulous conscience often does more injury to the soul than one that is too lax and remiss.

Scruples warp the judgment, disturb the peace of the soul, beget mistrust of the Sacraments and estrangement from them, and impair the health of body and mind. How many unfortunates have begun by scrupulosity and ended in insanity! How many, more unfortunate still, have begun by scruples and ended in laxity and impiety! Shun then this insiduous poison, so deadly in its effects on true piety, and say with Saint Joseph of Cupertino: Away with sadness and scruples; I will not have them in my house.

Scrupulosity is an unreasonable fear of sin in matters where there is not even material for sin. But the victim does not call his doubts and fears scruples, for he would not be tormented by them if he believed he could give them that name. He should, however, place implicit reliance in the opinion of his spiritual guide when he tells him they are such and that he must not allow himself to be influenced by them.

In all his actions a scrupulous person sees only an uninterrupted series of sins, and in God nothing but vengeance and anger. He ought, therefore, to consider almost exclusively the attribute of the divine Master by which He most delights to manifest Himself, mercy, and to make it the constant subject of his thoughts, meditations and affections.

“We should do everything from love and nothing from constraint. It is more essential to love obedience than to fear disobedience.”—Saint Francis de Sales.

There is but one remedy for scruples and that is entire and courageous obedience. “It is a secret pride,” says Saint Francis de Sales, “that entertains and nourishes scruples, for the scrupulous person adheres to his opinion and inquietude in spite of his director’s advice to the contrary. He always persuades himself in justification of his disobedience that some new and unforseen circumstance has occurred to which this advice cannot be applicable.” “But submit”, adds the Saint, “without other reasoning than this: I should obey, and you will be delivered from this lamentable malady.”

By sadness and anxiety the children of God do a great injury to their Heavenly Father. They thereby seem to bear witness that there is little happiness to be found in the service of a Master so full of love and mercy, and to give the lie to the words of Him who said: “Come unto Me all you that labor and are heavily burdened and I will refresh you.”

“Woe to that narrow and self-absorbed soul that is always fearful, and because of fear has no time to love and to go generously forward. O my God! I know it is your wish that the heart that loves you should be broad and free! Hence I shall act with confidence like to the child that plays in the arms of its mother; I shall rejoice in the Lord and try to make others rejoice; I shall pour forth my heart without fear in the assembly of the children of God. I wish for nothing but candor, innocence and joy of the Holy Ghost. Far, far from me, O my God, be that sad and cowardly wisdom which is ever consumed in self, ever holding the balance in hand in order to weigh atoms!… Such lack of simplicity in the soul’s dealings with Thee is truly an outrage against Thee: such rigor imputed to Thee is unworthy of Thy paternal heart.”—Fénelon

This article is taken from a chapter in Light and Peace by R. P. Quadrupani, Barnabite which is available from TAN Books.

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