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Scruples and Sainthood

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Scruples and Sainthood: Overcoming Scrupulosity With the Help of the Saints

By Trent Beattie 

Are you deeply concerned about religion, not simply as a devout soul, but to the point of being frantic? Are little, inconsequential things the occasion of losing your peace of mind? Do you feel as though you need to repeat what has already been sufficiently done, such as a confession? If so, you’re likely suffering from scrupulosity.

What is scrupulosity? In psychological terminology, it is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (O.C.D.) directed toward religious matters. To use religious terminology, it can be defined as an uneasy and persistent concern that things might be sinful when in fact they are not.

Some of the greatest saints of the Church suffered at times from bouts of scrupulosity, saints such as Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), Francis de Sales (1567-1622), Jane de Chantal (1572-1641), Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787), Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-1897), and Katharine Drexel (1858-1955). Far from being taken as insurmountable obstacles, these saints emerged from their scruples into the clarity of God’s truth and merciful love in His Catholic Church.

This book is meant to help scrupulous souls better understand and effectively battle their spiritual difficulties by uniting themselves with Our Lord, through the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Catholic Church. This is done by presenting the clear and simple teachings of the Church on matters relevant to the scrupulous, with emphasis on the writings of great saints. No obstacle is too difficult to overcome for one who prayerfully trusts in God, and this includes the problem of scrupulosity.

“Heaven is filled with converted sinners of all kinds and there is room for more.” Saint Joseph Cafasso

"At the very moment when we imagine ourselves to be utterly lost and altogether bereft of His protection, then it is that God in His infinite goodness seeks us out in a special way and takes care of us.” Catechism of the Council of Trent

“Let these souls so dear to God, and who are resolutely determined to belong entirely to Him, take comfort, although at the same time they see themselves deprived of every consolation. Their desolation is a sign of their being very acceptable to God, and that He has for them a place prepared in his heavenly Kingdom, which overflows with consolations as full as they are lasting. And let them hold for certain, that the more they are afflicted in this present life, so much the more they shall be consoled in eternity…” Saint Alphonsus Liguori


We have all heard the saying, after someone has fretted over something for a long period of time, perhaps rearranging it over and over again, that it is ‘good enough.’ Not that it is fantastic, unparalleled, or completely perfect, but that it is ‘good enough.’

There may be many times we would like to do something over or improve upon it, but the non-scrupulous seem more able to let go and move on when such an impulse confronts them. They are able to ‘leave well enough alone’ and focus their attention on other things. Scrupulous souls, on the other hand, have trouble leaving things as they are, and instead worry about whether or not they are ‘good enough.’

This worry over the state of external things is directly related to worry over the state of one’s own soul. While it is true that God calls us to perfection, He does not expect us to be flawless immediately. Christian perfection is the work (first and foremost of God) of a lifetime, and is completed when we reach Heaven.

Also, Christian perfection is decidedly different from ‘perfectionism,’ in which someone relies on himself in a futile attempt never to do anything wrong and to be better than everyone else, out of the motives of pride and vanity. Indeed, scrupulosity could be defined as spiritual vanity. Someone who is vain about material things constantly wonders, “How do I look, how do I look?” while someone who is vain about spiritual things constantly wonders, “How does my soul look? How does my soul look?”

Instead of wanting utterly comprehensive and flawless confessions, perfectly enunciated prayers, or even no hair out of place on our heads, God really wants our love. He wants us to love Him above all else, and to love our neighbor for the love of Him. When asked what the greatest commandment is, Our Lord declared “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and with thy whole soul and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Mt. 22:37-39).

A greater appreciation of the means of salvation the saints have used will enable the scrupulous soul to be more closely united with the Holy Trinity, through sanctifying grace. This grace is the love of God for souls, a love He enables us to return to Him through the theological virtue charity—the most necessary of all virtues—by which we love God above all else, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God. As Saint Anthony Mary Claret (1807-1870) states, “The most necessary virtue of all is love. Yes, I have said it once, and I will say it a thousand times . . .”

This little book is not meant to be a comprehensive manual with all the answers to all the questions that may come up in the fight against scrupulosity. Instead, it is a tool to help bring about sainthood, to which we are all called. Let us not deceive ourselves; our problems do not keep us from becoming saints; our problems help us to become saints, if we so will. The important thing is not the outward problem or challenge we face, but how we face it—that is, how we see it and in turn, respond to it. As Saint Alphonsus says, “Many things appear to us to be misfortunes, but if we understood the end for which God sends them, we would see that they are graces,” adding, “Contradictions, sickness, scruples, spiritual aridity and all the inner and outward torments are the chisel with which God carves his statues for Heaven.”

Paperback - 168 pages

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