Scruples and Moderation: Understanding the Advice of St. Ignatius of Loyola
Near the end of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises is a curious section titled, “Some Notes Concerning Scruples.” Scrupulosity is one of those pesky spiritual problems that we don’t always recognize but can give us a lot a grief if left unchecked. Believe me, I know!
Never heard of scrupulosity? How about Catholic Guilt? Scrupulosity is Catholic Guilt run amok, or, as St. Alphonsus Liguori explains:
“A conscience is scrupulous when, for a frivolous reason and without rational basis, there is a frequent fear of sin even though in reality there is no sin at all. A scruple is a defective understanding of something” (Moral Theology, Alphonsus de Liguori: Selected Writings, ed. Frederick M. Jones, C. Ss. R., pg. 322).
When you obsess over whether or not something was done “right,” you may be scrupulous.
When a cloud of anxiety and doubt hovers over the minutiae your faith and moral life, you may be scrupulous.
When you fear obsessive thoughts and feelings and use prayer and the Sacraments compulsively in order to get rid of them, you may be scrupulous.
St. Ignatius’ advice for dealing with scruples might surprise the person experiencing them. In a world of excess, greed, and violence, where heinous sin is broadcast publicly and without shame, one might think we Christians need to practice more prayer and penance in order to be effective witnesses of God’s saving grace. I couldn’t agree more.
But for the scrupulous person, asceticism is exactly the wrong approach to living a joyful life with Jesus Christ, St. Ignatius says. His advice points the scrupulous person—and their directors—toward a different solution.