Thursday, June 9, 2016


Scrupulosity can be a problem. Most people have scrupulous moments. Depending on the time, the place, or frame of mind. We all have moments, when we fear we have broken a rule, or social norm, when in fact we haven't.

But scrupulosity is a perversion of doing little things for God. It also distorts the virtue of magnanimity. They look at all things, especially small things, as an obligation; they FEEL like they have failed, or even sinned, when no sin was in reality committed.

Individuals with a serious problem of scruples should seek professional psychological help, for it may be a sign of other serious problems.

But lets speak of the average person.

Bad habits work against virtue: fault, venial sin, mortal sin. We all fail, unfortunately, it is normal. Not that we think sin is normal, but, we all fall short, at least venially, on occasion. We should turn to God and pray for forgiveness if it is a venial sin, and resolve to do better.

St Francis, who could not suffer sadness in his companions, said that  if you have committed a mortal sin, repent, and be sorry for it; confess it, and implore the mercy of God; saying to him with the prophet : "Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation, And sustain me with a willing spirit." (Psalm 51:12)

A biblical basis for dividing sin into 2 categories of mortal and venial is in the first letter of St. John. John writes: "All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death" (1 John 5:17). The "sin not leading to death [of the soul]," is venial sin, a sin but not a serious offense, for example a fib. or "white lie," All sin hurts our relationship with God.  For example, never use a "white lie" to your spouse because it will effect your relationship.

The sin that leads to death of the soul, is mortal sin, and is a serious grave matter. The degree of our failures must be objective and conformed to reality, BUT the scrupulous person exaggerates. He exaggerates  a perceived  failure, fault or venial sin, because he thinks himself, EXCEPTIONAL, when in fact, he is just average.

This is the problem of pride. We are all just AVERAGE. All saints are average-- they are humble. They never think themselves as EXCEPTIONABLE.

But the scrupulous person is not content to be average-- doing some things well, others things not so well, or average. We all have some talent, but we cannot be perfect all the time, in everything.

Perfectionism should NOT be confused with our quest for perfection in the spiritual life.

The perfection we seek in the spiritual life, is RELATIONSHIP: to love God, and neighbor--- a relationship with God and Man. Relationship is not just a check list of things to be done. It is "other-minded;" the loved one is as important as oneself.

"I pray you, Lord, make me taste by love what I taste by knowledge; let me know by love what I know by understanding. I owe you more than my whole self, but I have no more, and by myself I cannot render the whole of it to you. Draw me to you, Lord, in the fullness of your love. I am wholly yours by creation; make me all yours, too, in love."
( The prayer of St. Anselm :1033-1109 AD)
"Whoever says, "I love God," but hates his brother is a liar. The one who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love the God whom he has not seen. " (1 John 4:20)
 But PERFECTIONISM looks too much at  the "ME," & the "MY," and not at God and our neighbor. Only God is PERFECT in all things.

PERFECTIONISM is an illusion  of self importance. Averageness (humility) is the reverse; the scrupulous person fears sober facts; a reality-check on his  self-importance, the possibility of an uninspiring reality. Uninspiring? Why? Because he hoped to be exceptional,  but fears to be nothing but average.

If you live in a world of illusions, you are a sentimentalist; if you prefer factual everyday life, you are a realist.

Scrupulous persons are sentimentalists. They are controlled by their feelings and emotions, not by reality. We all are  really both, to a degree, but, a healthy psychology is more balanced towards reality.

Most people think of themselves as superior, being exceptional. But a good Catholic knows he is loved by God and is special just for his existence. Just as a father with many children loves each one specially, because they are his.

"So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." (Gal. 3: 26-27)

Does that mean we can never have big plans? No. But a dream is not a plan. If you have a big dream and see all it entails and failure is a possibility, common sense and right reason will correct any illusions.

St. Thomas Aquinas  teaches that a desire for greatness is not bad in itself.  On the contrary, he says that it is not a sin to know and approve one’s own goodness, or to be willing to approve one’s own good works. (cf.  Summa Theologica: II Part,Q. 129) Thomas also points to true humility ( averageness) is not opposed to virtue of  magnanimity :
"Humility restrains the appetite from aiming at great things against right reason: while magnanimity urges the mind to great things in accord with right reason. Hence it is clear that magnanimity is not opposed to humility: indeed they concur in this, that each is according to right reason. " ( Summa Theologica: II Part, Q. 161, Art. 1 reply #3)

Matthew 5:16 : “So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”  But the vice of vainglory is opposed to magnanimity because it is the disordered desire for glory.

It is common to dream; to have ambitions and aspirations. Realists hope to be exceptional, but KNOW they are nothing but average. Realists dream; they romanticize, but they live as realists. Their understanding of exceptionality is properly controlled by right reason, the knowledge of real life problems, and a fallen nature.

The realist, being an average person, balances the two philosophies of averageness and exceptionality, so his imagination conforms to reality. If this is done, then, decisions and actions are balanced.  He adjusts on a practical level to the realities of life. While dreams and fantasies are given free play-- on an imaginative level; they are held in check by the knowledge of reality.

Scrupulous people don't have a realistic averageness to make decisions.   Feasible actions are not distinguished from imagination; they merge and fuse together. This produces anxiety and confusion. They lose their criteria for decision making.

What directs the scrupulous person's decisions?

Unrealistic dreams, hopes, wild aspirations, and vague ambitions, directs their behavior: "I am a saint !" His emotions more commonly control his thoughts and actions.

Emotions are good, Catholics are not Stoics. BUT emotions or feelings must conform to reality, right reason, and be held in check to the proper occasions. Emotions can help to motivate, but they cannot lead.

Scrupulous thoughts get hopelessly tangled in confusion, or doubt, leading to despair. The criteria for what is important or serious is lost. The trivial daily routines of an average individual, such as reading, conversing, working well at a job, cooking, washing, cleaning, telephoning, shopping, etc...become ALL IMPORTANT; they FEEL they are in constant jeopardy of going to hell, for not being perfect."There is no fear where love exists. Rather, perfect love banishes fear, for fear involves punishment, and the person who lives in fear has not been perfected in love. We love because God first loved us." (1 John 4:18-19)

Can a scrupulous person put their hand on the Bible and swear they have sinned? If not, then the sin is an imagination. St. Francis De Sales was said to have cured his scruples once when he said: ' if  I will go to hell I will serve you anyway.' The reality of God loving him even though a sinner, hit him, as in the parable of the sinner and the Pharisee. If you repent, confess and seek RELATIONSHIP with God--be at peace.

A realistic person settles for averageness. This does not mean he doesn't attempt to do all things well, BUT he realizes life has ups and downs. Some things work as planned, others don't-- this is average. They can live with success or failure. They know they are loved by God. Fear of possible failure is not constant danger to them.

A child shouldn't be in constant fear of his parents. He should trust them. He knows they may be disappointed in his failures, but the relationship of being their child will never change. Like a good coach they encourage. God is our loving Father; he wants the best for us, and wants us to do our best, but he still loves us, even when we fail.

Realists with balanced thoughts, on rare occasions can become tense or confused-- when a highly important event or emergency happens. In these relatively rare occasions spontaneity, and a relaxed attitude is lost. Spontaneity means the COURAGE TO MAKE MISTAKES: Trusting God is in control and loves you, even as imperfect as you are.

In trivial activities no calamity arises if a mistake occurs. This is the reason why realists-- people of average aspirations, go about their daily tasks with due caution and circumspection, for sure, but without any marked fear of making a mistake.

Faults are trivialities, which are not even venial sins. The scrupulous person often sees faults as venial sins or even mortal. They exaggerate their substance. Is HIS sin greater than God's mercy?

Mistakes made in trivial performances are trivial in themselves and their possible consequences are just as trivial and not to be feared. With the fear of mistakes largely removed from the mind of the realist, decisions are reached with ease and his actions initiated without undue hesitation. He constantly sees failures as an opportunity to turn to God and be humbled. Resulting in furthering his development in the spiritual life--- relationship with God.

This is altogether different in the instance of the perfectionist, to him every endeavor is a challenge to prove his exceptional nature, to himself, to his neighbors and to God. His life is a perennial test of his singularity and distinction. For him there are no trivialities, no routine, he is forever on trial, before the judgement seat of God, every thing is heaven or hell.

The scrupulous man cannot achieve poise, relaxation, or spontaneity. He cannot afford the COURAGE TO MAKE MISTAKES. Because God to him, is NOT a loving Father, BUT  a cop in heaven waiting to send him to hell at the least offense. He is perpetually haunted by the fear of error. This fear paralyzes decision, hampers actions, confounds thoughts, and destroys relationships.

Striving for peak performance at all times, and often failing, has a cumulative effect of despair for the scrupulous man. He goes from one extreme to the other : he is a saint today, but when he fails, he despairs of ever trying again. The virtues of hope and fortitude are lacking in the scrupulous and a criteria  for right reason.

The scrupulous suffer from a a misplaced understanding of  "perfect." We all desire to be good, even perfect at times. but often fall short of perfection. We even have a saying : "Nobody is perfect," meaning that it is normal to fail sometimes. 

"for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23) We are not preaching laxity and sin are of no consequence (which is the opposite extreme, more common in today's world).  But, we are human and often fail. The Scrupulous person needs to reform his criteria of EXCEPTIONALISM: have the COURAGE TO MAKE MISTAKES. Work and pray for an increased trust in God's Mercy and  increasing in the virtue of fortitude. Remembering our perfection is our love for God and Man, which by the grace of God we can achieve.
"There are two of the fruits which correspond sufficiently to the gift of fortitude: namely, patience, which regards the enduring of evils: and longanimity, which may regard the long delay and accomplishment of goods." (Summa Theologica: II Part;2nd Part - Q. 139-art. 2. reply #3)
No one accomplishes anything all at once. The practice of good habits brings virtue but it entails many failures. Fortitude and courage is needed to achieve any goal. Hall of Fame caliber NFL quarterbacks complete roughly 55%, while the best basketball players of all-time shot an average of 50% – 60% from the field; In fact, a major league baseball player who gets a hit just 30% of the time throughout his career (3 out of 10 times) will likely end up in Cooperstown's Baseball Hall of Fame.

Failure is more common than exceptional successes, but perseverance is rewarded and esteemed more in the face of many failures. Saints have had the courage and hope to continue, though all seemed lost. Saint Camillus de Lellis, M.I. had to convert back to the Faith many times until he finally achieved sainthood.  His fortitude and courage to preserve, no matter how many times he failed, was rewarded with great holiness.

No saint follows exactly the same path, but they all love much and  preserver through seemingly hopeless situations.

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