Taken from: HOLY ABANDONMENT
Rt. Rev. Dom Vitalis Lehodey, O.C.R.
Original Pub. 1934, Dublin
ON THE OBJECT OF HOLY ABANDONMENT
ON ABANDONMENT IN THE SPIRITUAL VARIETIES OF THE COMMON WAY:
FAILURES AND FAULTS
Scrupulosity is not delicacy of conscience, but only its counterfeit. A delicate and rightly formed conscience does not confound imperfection with sin, or venial sin with mortal. It passes a sound judgment on all things. But it loves God so much that it fears to displease Him in anything. It has so much zeal for perfection that it wants to avoid even the shadow of evil. It is therefore full of light, love, and generosity. Scrupulosity, on the contrary, is founded on ignorance, error, or defective judgment. It is the fruit of a troubled mind. It exaggerates its obligations and its faults, and even sees them where they do not exist. On the other hand, it may often enough fail to recognise faults and obligations that are very real. One can be scrupulous on certain points to a ridiculous degree, and at the same time be scandalously lax on others.
Scrupulosity is the pest of interior peace. The soul affected by this evil is the slave of a tyrannical master: there can be no longer any question of tranquillity for her. "Her slightest faults," says De Lombez, "will be magnified to crimes. Her best actions will appear full of evil. She can never validly fulfill her duties: the cruel enemy of her peace will be as much dissatisfied with the hundredth attempt as with the first." It will pursue her relentlessly in her prayers with the fear of bad thoughts, in her Communions with the aridities inseparable from her violent combats, in her confessions with the fears regarding the integrity or the contrition, in all her spiritual exercises with the fear of performing them badly, in her conversations with the fear of uncharitable remarks, and especially in solitude where she is without counselor support, alone with her thoughts, alone with the tyrant. "Scrupulous persons fear God, but they make of their fear a torment. They love God, but in their love they can find no consolation. They serve Him, too, but in the manner of slaves: they feel themselves crushed under the weight of His yoke which gives comfort and joy to the rest of His children." 9 In short, they are good souls, often to be envied for their virtues, always to be compassionated for their sufferings.
Scrupulosity is one of the worst plagues of the spiritual life, but it has varying degrees of evil. First of all, it is an obstacle to prayer. The soul enslaved to it turns her attention upon herself; she examines, examines again, is never done examining. And all this time she elicits no acts of adoration or thanksgiving. Does she even think of making an act of contrition or of imploring the grace of amendment? Not she. Too busily occupied with herself, she has no time to speak to God. Consequently, she does not pray at all; or if she does, it is only in a very imperfect manner. For her scrupulosity excites a commotion prejudicial to interior silence and to the attention demanded by prayer. It plunges her in sadness and fear, and thus destroys her love and confidence. It would even induce her to avoid God. At least it prevents all heart-to-heart colloquies with Him and the joys of intimate intercourse. It will go so far as to render painful, and perhaps insupportable, confession, Holy Communion, and prayer: the strength and consolation of pious souls. Outside of prayer, the interior life demands that we should be watchful over ourselves and constantly attentive to suppress the movements of nature and to foster the inspirations of grace. For the accomplishments of this double task, so difficult and delicate, scrupulosity puts us in a very unfavorable position, because it agitates and depresses us. The troubled mind can no longer see its way clearly. Too preoccupied with certain duties, it will perhaps allow itself to be wholly absorbed by them and forget others. The will, exhausted after so many struggles, may relax, lose courage, and even abandon its resolution in order, more's the pity! to seek rest and consolation amongst creatures. At any rate, if scrupulosity does not quite put a stop to the work of our sanctification, it often retards and always injures it. Is that perfect faith, which shuts its eyes to the mercy of God and wants to see only His justice, and distorts even that? Is that perfect hope, which, in spite of the most sincere good-will, hardly dares aspire to heaven and grace, is always trembling with fear, and has never any confidence? Is that perfect charity, which, although loving God, yet dreads to appear in His presence, never pours out its heart to Him, and feels nothing but terror for a Lord infinitely good? Is that contrition well ordered, which confuses the intelligence, depresses the courage, and unsettles a soul of good-will? Is that true humility, true virtue, which banishes filial trust and degenerates into cowardice?
No, no! Scrupulosity is not a proof of ardent love, or a sign of a sensitive conscience. Is it a subtle form of self-love, a spiritual egoism, too much preoccupied with self, and not enough with God? Or is it a sincerely good will that has wandered out of the way? At all events, it is a real malady of the soul which threatens the spiritual life in its very existence, and seriously interferes with its functions. Thus, whilst others march forward, run, fly, in the paths of perfection, their hearts dilated with confidence and their souls rejoicing in peace; the poor victim of scruples, though possessing perhaps not less generosity but ill-regulated, wearies himself in vain, makes hardly any progress, if indeed he does not go back, and suffers agonies, because "he wastes his precious time tormenting himself about his duties, weighing atoms, and making mountains of mole-hills." He persecutes his confessors, saddens the Holy Spirit, ruins his health, and wearies his brain. He dares not undertake anything for himself, and can be of hardly any use to others. Indeed, he might only injure those with whom he comes into contact, by communicating his malady, or by rendering piety repulsive and ridiculous. Scrupulosity, if yielded to, is therefore, in varying degrees, a real pest of the spiritual life.
It is assuredly the signified will of God that we should combat it on account of its disastrous effects. On this point all theologians and masters of the spiritual life are in perfect accord. They mark out in detail the course we should follow. Let it suffice for us to say here that, in order to conquer this terrible enemy, we must pray much, suppress voluntary causes, and above all practise blind obedience. The scrupulous person may be well instructed, very experienced, and even very prudent in all other matters: but in what concerns his scruples, his malady deranges his mind. It would therefore be folly to attempt to guide himself. Childlike obedience to his confessor, who diagnoses the disease and prescribes the remedy, is his best wisdom and his only hope of relief. This, nevertheless, is no easy matter. He must pray, therefore, with all instance, and implore the grace to renounce his own ideas, and to practise obedience even against his own inclinations. For his conscience being false, he has to rectify it by conforming to the judgment of his spiritual guide.
It is also the good-Pleasure of God that we should patiently support the affliction of scrupulosity so long as it pleases Him. We can always combat the evil. Sometimes times we shall succeed in banishing it altogether; sometimes only in lessening it; and sometimes, by the permission of Providence, it will persist in full vigour despite our best efforts. For it can come from very different causes, of which some depend upon our own wills, but many may be beyond our control.
The malady may owe its origin to excess in work or austerities, to the reading of books that are over-severe, to intercourse with scrupulous persons, or to the habit of seeing in God the terrible Judge rather than the Father of infinite goodness. Or it may have originated in the ignorance which exaggerates our obligations, or confounds temptation with sin, the sensation with the consent. In these, and such-like cases, it depends upon ourselves to remove the causes. Then, the source being suppressed, we shall soon see the end of our troubles.
But it often arises from a melancholy disposition, from a fearful and suspicious character, weakness of the head, or certain conditions of health. All these causes depend more upon the Divine good-pleasure than upon our wills. And in such cases, the scrupulosity usually lasts a long time and manifests itself even in profane employments.
The demon is not seldom the author of the evil. He avails himself of our imprudences, he exploits our predispositions, he works on our senses and imagination, in order to excite or intensify scrupulosity. If he sees a soul inclined to be somewhat lax, he pushes her on to greater laxity. But when he encounters one that is timid, his endeavour is to make her extravagantly fearful, to fill her with trouble and anxiety, in the hope that she will end by abandoning God, prayer, and the Sacraments. His purpose is to render virtue insupportable, to engender weariness, discouragement, and despair.
God will never be directly the author of scrupulosity. It can only come from our fallen nature or from the demon, since it is founded on error and is a real malady of the soul. But He permits it; He even employs it occasionally as a transient means of sanctification; and in this case, He controls and directs it with His infinite wisdom, in such a manner as to make us derive from it the spiritual advantage which He has in view. He inspires the soul with a great fear of sin, in order that she may rid herself more completely of her past transgressions, and by redoubling her zeal prevent a relapse. He humbles her so that she may no longer venture to rely on her own judgment, but submit herself entirely to her spiritual father. If there is question of a soul already well advanced, He uses scrupulosity to complete her purification, her detachment, her annihilation, so as to prepare her for, the reception of very special graces. It is thus the Saints have been put through this trial, some of them, as St. Ignatius of Loyola, at the time of their conversion; others, like St. Alphonsus de' Liguori, when they had attained to the consummation of their sanctity. There may, then, be many immediate causes of scrupulosity. But there is only one supreme Cause, without Whom nature and the demon can do nothing. Even if we ourselves have been the authors of our malady, we required at least the permissive will of God. Consequently, we must recognise here, as elsewhere, the hand of Divine Providence. God does not love the disorder of scrupulosity, but He may will that we should support it as a cross. His signified will calls upon us to struggle against the evil, and His good-pleasure to endure the trial. So long as it continues we must struggle and endure. God grant we may be able to do so with an abandonment full of confidence!
"In conclusion," says St. Alphonsus, "I repeat: Obey, obey! And I beg of you: cease to regard God as a cruel tyrant. No doubt, He hates sin. But He cannot hate a soul that sincerely detests and laments her faults.
'You seek Me, indeed,' He once said to St. Margaret of Cortona, 'but know that, however ardently you seek Me, I seek you more ardently still. And it is your fears that prevent your progress in Divine love.' Tormented with scruples, but always submissive, St. Catherine of Bologna feared to approach the Holy Table. A sign from her confessor was enough. Immediately she vanquished her fears and calmly communicated. In order to encourage her to the constant practice of obedience in this matter, Our Lord appeared to her one day and said: 'Rejoice, My daughter, because your obedience is very pleasing to Me.' He likewise appeared to the Dominicaness, Blessed Stephanie of Soncino, and addressed these words to her: 'Because you have placed your will in the hands of your confessor, as if in My Own: ask of Me whatever you please, and you shall have it.' 'Lord,' she replied, 'I want nothing but Thyself.' At the beginning of his conversion, St. Ignatius of Loyola was so continually troubled with doubts and disquietudes that he could not enjoy a moment's repose. But being a man of faith, full of confidence in the words of the Divine Master: 'He that heareth you, heareth Me,' he cried out: 'Lord, show me the way I ought to follow. Although I should have only a dog to guide me, I promise to obey faithfully.' And in fact he showed such obedience to his directors that he was soon freed from his scruples and became an admirable master of the spiritual life. . . . Once again I repeat: be obedient to your confessor in everything, have faith in obedience. 'This,' said St. Philip, 'is the surest way to escape from the toils of the demon; as, on the other hand, there is nothing more dangerous than to desire to conduct oneself according to one's own judgment.' In all your prayers, implore this grace, the great grace of obedience, and be sure that in obeying you will infallibly save and sanctify yourself." 10
9. Paix int., P. II, c. vii.
10. Relig. sanct., c. xviii; et Peines int.., i.