Custody of the Eyes: A Commentary on St. Alphonsus

‘And Jesus looking on him, loved him…’ (Mk. 10:21)

In his excellent work, ‘The True Spouse of Jesus Christ’, St. Alphonsus speaks to religious about custody of the eyes. Mark these words, to religious. His advice is not to be applied to one and all without distinction; this could have disastrous repercussions. Also, his writings must be read with prudence. Overly literal interpretations and St. Alphonsus do not always mix.

One must know that religious have been called by Our Lord to be His spouse (this is to be understood in a spiritual sense). It is for this reason that they are called to practice custody of the eyes in a particular way.

The purpose of this commentary is to clarify some points that might be a source of confusion and scruples for some. Do not think that I am correcting St. Alphonsus! Far from it; I am merely clarifying what he has said, for the sake of those who will misread him. At times I am only stating the obvious. Furthermore, I am explaining his words (or the words that he quotes) in relation to non–religious individuals. This is a very important point.

The format of this commentary needs no explanation.

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“A deliberate glance at a person of a different sex often enkindles an infernal spark, which consumes the soul.”

[Comment: True; but this does not amount to saying that all deliberate glances are sinful. A deliberate glance is sinful when done for the sake of sexual pleasure, or when there is a near occasion of sin, namely lust (i.e. “seeking venereal pleasure not in accordance with right reason” – Aquinas).]

St. Gregory says, that “the eyes, because they draw us to sin, must be depressed.”

[Comment: In other words, we should mortify our desire to look at everything that pleases us. We are not forbidden to appreciate all beauty. Have you ever found words like these in an examination of conscience: ‘Did I look at a sunset?’ There is a reason for that. If it were wrong to appreciate all beauty, the Popes would long ago have asked for the removal of several sculptures at the Vatican, which depict naked men and women. The fact is, not all beauty excites lust. Take the beauty of Our Lady, for example.]

“He that looks at a dangerous object,” continues the saint, “begins to will what he wills not.”

[Comment: A dangerous object is something that is likely to lead us to lust.]

“Gaze not about,” says the Holy Ghost, “upon another’s beauty… hereby lust is enkindled as a fire.”  Gaze not upon another’s beauty; for from looks arise evil imaginations, by which an impure fire is lighted up.

[Comment: That is, don’t gaze with the intention of arousing sexual pleasure, or when there is a near occasion of sin e.g. when you are likely to experience unlawful sexual pleasure. Many of the Saints had visions of Our Lord, Our Lady and the Saints, and they often appreciated and commented on their great beauty. In his work, ‘The Ladder of Divine Ascent,’ St. John Climacus – no liberal – writes: “A certain man (St. Nonnus, Bishop), on seeing a beautiful woman, thereupon glorified the Creator; and from that one look, he was moved to the love of God and to a fountain of tears. And it was wonderful to see how what would have been a cause of destruction for one was for another the supernatural cause of a crown.” (These words are even included in Dom Maurus Wolter’s classic text, ‘The Principles of Monasticism,’ p. 365, which is specifically for religious)]

“Hence, to avoid the sight of dangerous objects, the saints were accustomed to keep their eyes almost continually fixed on the earth, and to abstain even from looking at innocent objects.

[Comment: Some saints, not all. When asked by a Sister why she was looking so intently at her, St. Therese answered: “No, I just love looking at you!” (p. 120 of ‘Her Last Conversations’, Clarke)]

“After being a novice for a year, St. Bernard could not tell whether his cell was vaulted. In consequence of never raising his eyes from the ground, he never knew that there were but three windows to the church of the monastery, in which he spent his novitiate.”

[Comment: This was not the practice of St. Padre Pio, for example. Some who met him, such as Fr. Vincenzo (cf. padrepiodevotions.org ‘Newsletter archive’) , have commented on his penetrating gaze, which, at times is a source of consolation.]

“St. Hugh, bishop, when compelled to speak with women, never looked at them in the face.”

[Comment: Perhaps this was necessary for him in order to maintain purity. Priests are permitted to look at those who they are talking to. Dom Marie–Gabriel Sortais (d. 1963), Abbot General of the Trappist Order (O.C.S.O.) – and a very holy and penitential man – shared an intimate bond with Mother Yvonne Aimee (Servant of God), and he even kept a picture of her on his desk.]

“St. Aloysius never looked at his own mother in the face.”

[Comment: Supposedly. Hagiographers have been known to embellish things from time to time. Besides, if this is true, it is not necessary. ‘When Jesus therefore had seen his mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, he saith to his mother: Woman, behold thy son. (Jn. 19:26) A holy priest and mystic, Pere Lamy (Servant of God), was once given a statue of Our Lady, which depicted her with her head bent. Pere Lamy asked the sculptor why this was the case. “She looks mystical like that,” was the reply. “Oh,” he said; “Well, she does not look at all mystical. She stands there. She looks at you straight in the face; and that is as it should be, straight in the face.” (Words taken from ‘Pere Lamy’ by Biver)]

“For having once looked deliberately at a woman who was gathering ears of corn, the Abbot Pastor was tormented for forty years by temptations against chastity.”

[Comment: Then, for him, it must have been a dangerous look. Also, he seems to have been called to a very high degree of sanctity, as all Abbots are.]

“If,” says St. Augustine, “our eyes should by chance fall upon others, let us take care never to fix them upon any one.”

[Comment: These words do not apply to holy images, nor to Our Lord and Our Lady. They cannot possibly apply to those who are married. They do not forbid us from looking at our parents or siblings. What do they mean, then? It means, again, that when there is a near occasion of sexual impurity, we must restrain our glance.]

“But I do not see how looks at young persons of a different sex can be excused from the guilt of a venial fault, or even from mortal sin, when there is proximate danger of criminal consent.”

[Comment: Note the words, “when there is proximate danger of criminal consent”, thereby implying that the look itself is not sinful.]

“It is not lawful,” says St. Gregory, “to behold what it is not lawful to covet.”

[Comment: This must be read in the light of a true understanding of what lust is. Taken literally, this would mean that we can look at almost nothing, for Scripture says: ‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house… nor any thing that is his.’ Surely this is not what St. Gregory meant!]

“To practise modesty of the eyes is the duty of a religious, not only because it is necessary for her own improvement in virtue, but also because it is necessary for the edification of others.”

[Comment: Very true. Even so, it is still possible for the religious to look at others in a pure way.]

“From the moment we awake in the morning, let us pray continually in the words of holy David: Turn away my eyes, that they may not behold vanity.”

[Comment: We should ask God to be kept from impurity. Looking at swimsuit calendars, for example, is hardly going to lead to an increase in virtue.]

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Summary

– If certain writings leave us scrupulous and confused, we should avoid them.

– God’s creation is good and beautiful (Gen. 1:31). Immodest dress, impure glances and the like are a misuse of this goodness.

– Everything must be framed in relation to Church teaching. The Catechism is the official summary of Church teaching; therefore we are safe in following it.

“Q. 881. WHAT is lechery, or lust?

An inordinate desire of carnal sin, or delights of the flesh.” (The Douay Catechism of 1649)

“Immodest looks. Bold [daring] looks are forbidden, because they lead to sin, just as a parent forbids his child to play with edged tools.” (‘The Catechism Explained’, 1899, p. 393)

“Lust is disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes.” (# 2391, Current ‘Catechism of the Catholic Church’)

In the words of the Liturgy, Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum (The peace of the Lord be with you always)!

 

An Updated Post on Scrupulosity

Dear friends, I have updated an old post on how to overcome scruples/scrupulosity. It is new and improved. The article can be found here:

https://littlestsouls.wordpress.com/2012/08/28/an-infallible-cure-for-scrupulosity/

Much has been added!

I would also like to say that, for the next month or so, I will be staying in a monastery far from my home, where I will be discerning a vocation to the religious life. Please keep me in your prayers.

 “… St. Antoninus agrees with Gerson in thus reproving the scrupulous soul who, through a vain fear, is not obedient in overcoming his scruples: ‘Beware lest, from overmuch desire to walk securely, thou fall and destroy thyself.’”

– Rev. J. B. Scaramelli, S.J.

 “Scruples are like tight shoes. You can’t walk in them. Despise them.”

– St. Padre Pio

Consolation for Scrupulous Souls (Some Advice from St. Alphonsus)

Jesus to St. Veronica Giuliani: ‘… tell everything to him who holds My place [the priest]. Be obedient to him; do whatever he commands. You can never be mistaken when you are obedient.’ (p. 264, Vol. 2)

The following words, though addressed to all – and which contain some very helpful advice for the spiritual life – will be particularly appreciated by those who are inclined to doubts, fears, scruples and the like. The words are taken from ‘The Way of Salvation and Perfection,’ (pp.451–460; Ch VI. Interior Trials):

“… the chief thing they [scrupulous souls] ought to consider is this: that he who acts in obedience to a learned and pious confessor, acts not only with no doubt, but with the greatest security that can be had upon earth, on the divine words of Jesus Christ, that he who hears his ministers is as though he heard himself: He that heareth you heareth Me; whence St. Bernard says, “Whatever man enjoins in the place of God, provided it be not certainly displeasing to God, is altogether to be received as though enjoined by God.” It is certain that, as to the personal direction of conscience, the confessor is the lawful superior, as St Francis de Sales, with all spiritual instructors, declares, while F. Pinamonti, in his Spiritual Director, says: “It is well to make the scrupulous perceive, that submitting their will to the ministers of the Lord provides them the greatest security in all that is not manifestly sin. Let them read the lives of the saints, and they will find that they know no safer road than obedience. The saints plainly trusted more to the voice of their confessor than to the immediate voice of God; and yet the scrupulous would lean more on their own judgment than on the Gospel, which assures them, He that heareth you heareth Me.”

The Blessed Henry Suso says, that “God demands no account from us of things done under obedience.” St. Philip Neri says the same: “Let such as desire to advance in the way of God submit themselves to a learned confessor, and obey him in God’s stead; let him who thus acts assure himself that he will have to render no account to God for his actions.” He says, moreover, that one should have all faith in one’s confessor, on the ground that God would not permit him to err; and that there is nothing that more surely cuts asunder the snares of the devil than to do the will of another in what is good, nor anything more full of danger than to be guiding ourselves according to what seems best to us; which is confirmed by St. John of the Cross, who says, in the name of the Lord: “When thou art unfaithful to confessors, thou art so unto Me, who have said, He that despiseth you despiseth Me.” And again: “Not to rest satisfied with what the confessor says is pride and failure in faith.” We are, therefore, to have this certain confidence, that each person, in obeying his spiritual Father, may be sure of not sinning. “The sovereign remedy for the scrupulous,” says St. Bernard, “is a blind obedience to their confessor.” John Gerson relates, that the same St. Bernard told one of his disciples, who was scrupulous, to go and celebrate, and take his word for it. He went, and was cured of his scruples.

“But a person may answer,” says Gerson, “Would to God I had a St. Bernard for my director! but mine is one of indifferent wisdom.” And he answers, “Thou dost err, whoever thou art that so speakest; for thou hast not given thyself into the hands of the man because he is well read, etc., but because he is placed over thee; wherefore obey him not as man, but as God.” For this reason St. Teresa well said, “Let the soul accept the confessor with a determination to think no more of personal excuses, but to trust in the words of the Lord, He that heareth you heareth Me. The Lord so highly values this submission, that when, in spite of a thousand inward conflicts, and considering the decision to be an absurd one, we execute it nevertheless, cost us what it may, the Lord so assists us,” etc.; and she goes on to say, that we then comply with his divine will. Hence St. Francis de Sales, speaking of direction from a spiritual Father in order to walk securely in the way of God, says, “This is the very counsel of all counsels.” “Search as much as you will,” says the devout Avila, “you will in no way discover the will of God so surely as by the path of that humble obedience which is so much recommended and practised by the devout of former times.” Thus, too, Alvarez said, “Even if the spiritual Father should err, the obedient soul is secure from error, because it rests on the judgment of him whom God has given it as a superior.” And F. Nieremberg writes to the same effect: “Let the soul obey the confessor; and then, although the thing itself were matter of fault, he does not sin who does it with the intention of obeying him who holds to him the place of God, persuading himself (as is, indeed, the case) that he is bound to obey him;” forasmuch as (according to the words of F. Rogacci and F. Lessius) the confessor is to us the interpreter of the divine will. And this is confirmed also by the gloss: “But if what is prescribed be of a doubtful kind, the virtue of obedience exempts from sin, although the thing in itself be evil;” and in the chapter Inquisition de Sent, exc., from the same text, obedience to the confessor is enjoined, when it says that scruples “ought to be dismissed at the judgment of one’s pastor.”

St. Francis de Sales gives three maxims of great consolation to the scrupulous: “An obedient soul has never been lost; 2. We ought to rest satisfied with knowing from our spiritual Father that we are going on well, without seeking a personal knowledge of it; 3. The best thing is to walk on blindly through all the darkness and perplexity of this life, under the providence of God.”

And therefore all the doctors of morals conclude, in general, with St. Antoninus, Navarro, Silvester, etc., that obedience to the confessor is the safest rule for walking well in the ways of God. F. Tirillo and F. La Croix say that this is the common doctrine of the holy Fathers and masters of the spiritual life. In the second place, the scrupulous should know, not only that they are safe in obeying, but that they are bound to obey their director, and to despise the scruple, acting with all freedom in the midst of their doubts. This is the teaching of Natalis Alexander: “That scruples ought to be despised when one has the judgment of a prudent, pious, and learned director; and that one ought to act against them is plain from the chapter Inquisitioni,” etc., as above; and of Father Wigandt: “He who acts against scruples does not sin; nay, sometimes it is a precept to do so, especially when backed by the judgment of the confessor. So do these authors speak, although they belong to the rigid school; so, too, the doctors in general; and the reason is, that if the scrupulous man lives in his scruples, he is in danger of placing grievous impediments in the way of satisfying his obligations, or, at least, of making any spiritual progress; and, moreover, of going out of his mind, losing his health, and destroying his conscience by despair or by relaxation.

Hence St. Antoninus agrees with Gerson in thus reproving the scrupulous, who, through a vain fear, is not obedient in overcoming his scruples: “Beware lest, from overmuch desire to walk securely, thou fall and destroy thyself.” For this reason F. Wigandt also says, that the scrupulous man ought to obey his director in all cases where the precept is not plainly sin, “unless the director enjoins what is manifestly against God;” and it is the general and undoubted decision among Doctors, that in things doubtful each one is bound to obey him who is placed over him, if it be not evidently a sin. This is proved by St. Bernard in a passage quoted at the commencement; and by St. Ignatius Loyola, who says: “There must be obedience in all things in which no sin is perceived, that is, in which there is not manifest sin.” Also by Blessed Humbert, General of the Friars Preachers, who says: “Unless the precept be plainly evil, it is to be received as though enjoined by God.” Moreover, by Blessed Denis the Carthusian: “In things doubtful as to whether or not they are against the divine precept, one must stand by the precept of him who is set over one; because, although it should be against the precept of God, yet, in virtue of obedience, the person under direction sins not.” Of the same opinion is St. Bonaventure. This makes Gerson say: “The scrupulous are to act against their scruples, and plant their feet firmly in resisting them. We cannot set scruples to rest better than by despising them; and, as a general rule, not without the advice of another, and especially our Superior. Otherwise, either ill–regulated fear or inconsiderate presumption will be our fall.” “With a firm foot,” says he, “they ought to overcome the scruple.”

And so the remedy that St. Philip Neri gave the scrupulous was, to make them despise their scruples. It is thus written in his life: “Moreover, besides the general remedy of committing one’s self altogether and for everything to the judgment of the confessor, he gave another, by exhorting his penitents to despise their scruples. Hence he forbade such persons to confess often; and when, in confession, they entered upon their scruples, he used to send them to Communion without hearing them.” So, then, in conclusion, the scrupulous man ought to set before himself obedience, and look upon his scrupulous fear as vain, and so act with freedom. Nor does this require (say the Doctors Busembaum, with Sanchez and others) that in each particular act he should expressly determine that the thing is a scruple, and that he ought to obey his confessor in despising it; it is enough that he act against it in virtue of a judgment made beforehand, since, from his past experience, the same judgment resides in his conscience habitually or virtually, though dim and confused. Hence La Croix and Tamburini, together with Vasquez, Val., etc., add, that if he who is scrupulous be unable amid that darkness to lay aside his scruple at once, or call clearly to mind the obedience laid on him by the confessor, which some anxious consciences are disabled from doing, perplexed as they are how to put by their scruple, by reason of the fear that weighs upon them, in that case he does not sin, though he act with a positive fear of sinning; and for this reason that as he has already passed a like judgment upon former scruples, and on the duty of obeying the injunction given him to despise them, he ought assuredly to believe himself to possess it now also, though, from the force of his fear, he does not perceive it.

But the scrupulous ought at such a time to despise the fear, inasmuch as it forms no true verdict of conscience. Hear how Gerson openly confirms this point, and what advice he gives: “A formed conscience is, when, after discussion and deliberation, a definite sentence of the reason judges that a thing is to be done or to be avoided; and to act against this is a sin: but fear or scruple of conscience is, when the mind wavers in doubt, not knowing which of two things it is bound to do, and yet would not omit whatever it could ascertain to be agreeable to the divine will; and this fear is as much as possible to be cast away and quenched.” In fact, then, Gerson says that a person sins by acting under a practical doubt, when the doubt proceeds from a formed conscience; but that this formed conscience exists when, after examining the circumstances, he deliberately judges with a definitive sentence on what he is obliged and what he is forbidden to do; and he sins by acting against such a conscience as this. But that, when the mind is doubtful and wavering, and yet would not do anything that was displeasing to God, this, says Gerson, is no true doubtfulness, but a vain fear, which ought as much as possible to be cast away and despised. So that when there certainly exists in the scrupulous person the habitual will not to offend God, it is certain (according to Gerson) that while he acts in his doubtfulness he does not sin; and with reason, since it is then not a true doubt, although he may apprehend it to be a doubt, but a vain fear.

On the other hand, it is certain, that for the commission of a mortal sin there is required a full perception on the part of the reason, and a complete deliberate consent on the part of the will, and to will something which grievously offends God. This doctrine is undoubted, and common to all the theologians, and even to the most rigid, as Juenin, Habert, and that most rigorous of all, Genet, who speaks thus: “But if (the act) contain only an imperfect degree of deliberation, the sin will be venial, not mortal.” And this, too, is the teaching of all the rest, with St. Thomas, who says: “That which is mortal may be venial, owing to the act being imperfect, since it does not absolutely amount to the perfection of a mortal act, being not deliberate, but sudden.”

Let scrupulous souls, then, suffer this cross of theirs with resignation, and not perplex themselves in the greatest distresses which God may send or permit. It is for their profit, to the end that they may be humbler, may guard better against such occasions as are beyond doubt and seriously dangerous, may commend themselves oftener to the Lord, and put a more entire trust in the divine goodness. Meanwhile let them often have recourse to the most holy Virgin Mary, who is called, and is in truth, the Mother of Mercy, and comforter of the afflicted. Let them, indeed, fear to offend God, wherever they do in truth discern what will offend him; but if only they are steadfast in resolving rather to die a thousand times than lose the grace of God, let them, above all things, fear lest they fail in obedience to their directors. On the other hand, while they blindly obey, they may assure themselves of not being abandoned by that Lord who will have all men saved, and who, loving good–will as he does, never suffers a really obedient soul to perish.

No one hath hoped in the Lord, and hath been confounded. Casting all your care upon Him, for He hath care of you. The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? In peace in the self-same I will sleep and I will rest; for Thou, O Lord, singularly hast settled me in hope. In Thee, O Lord, have I hoped; let me never be confounded.”

Excellent Online Resources for Scrupulosity! (**Including an Excerpt from Blosius**)

Below is a collection of (free and legal) online resources that I believe will be of particular profit to scrupulous individuals.

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What we must always remember is that God loves us eternally – that is, always – with a tender, intimate love. We can do nothing more pleasing in His sight than to live joyfully in the light of His love, which we can neither preserve, earn or augment by our own strength. Avoiding sin is only made capable by God’s grace. But avoiding sin, in itself, is not the essence of sanctity or salvation. Love is. That is why we must ask God frequently for a boundless love for Him. Here is a “love letter” from God to you, which you might consider reading: https://littlestsouls.wordpress.com/2012/05/17/a-love-letter-from-god-to-you-2/

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FREE ONLINE RESOURCES FOR OVERCOMING SCRUPULOSITY

1. ‘Light and Peace: Instructions for Devout Souls to Dispel Their Doubts’ (Quadrupani):

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/quadrupani/light

2. ‘Scruples and Their Treatment’ (Fr. William Doyle, SJ):

http://fatherdoyle.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/scruples-and-their-treatment.pdf

3. ‘Growth in Holiness’ (Fr. F. W. Faber):

https://archive.org/stream/growthinholiness00fabe#page/298/mode/2up

Recommend Chapters: Chapter XVII: Scruples (pp. 298 – 324)

 4. ‘Introduction to the Devout Life’ (St. Francis de Sales, Doctor of the Church):

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/desales/devout_life.toc.html

Recommended Chapters: Part III, Chapter IX: On Gentleness towards Ourselves; Part IV, Chapter II: The Need of a Good Courage; Chapter III: Of Temptations, and the Difference between Experiencing them and Consenting to them; Chapter IV: Two Striking Illustrations of the Same; Chapter V: Encouragement for the Tempted Soul; Chapter XI: Anxiety of Mind; Chapter XII: Of Sadness and Sorrow;

5. ‘Treatise on the Love of God’ (St. Francis de Sales):

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/desales/love.toc.html

(You might like to browse the Chapter titles)

6. ‘Comfort for the Faint-Hearted’ (Ven. Louis of Blois, aka Blosius)

Here is Chapter III (pp. 9 – 12), which consists of a Sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Advent, from Bl. Henry Suso. Unfortunately, this excellent work is quite rare and expensive.

CHAPTER III

OF FIRST INDELIBERATE MOVEMENTS AND UNREASONABLE THOUGHTS

1. What sin really is.

2. No involuntary thought sinful.

3. When there may be venial sin.

1. In what does sin really consist? It is when a man with certain and deliberate will, knowingly and willingly, without contradiction of reason, turns his soul away from God and turns himself to wickedness.

2. From this it evidently follows that even if a man had as many suggestions of evil coming into the mind as there are moments in the day, and even if these imaginations were more foul than the heart of man could conceive or his tongue express, whether these images were of God Himself or any of His creatures, and even if the man remained thus afflicted for one or even for many years, against his will, he would not sin, if only, during all this time, his reason had a hatred, displeasure and aversion to such things. In this case he would never have consented to them with full deliberation and entire will, but rather resisted; although his nature is troubled by these things, he would by no means have sinned mortally. This doctrine is entirely in according with holy Scripture and the tradition of holy Church, by which the Holy Ghost teaches us. In fact, nothing is more certain. Indeed, one thought of vain self-conceit (fully consented to with the will) can render a man more displeasing in the eyes of God than a thousand of these imaginations, however bad (if there is no consent of the will).*

3. But in this matter there lies a certain secret source of anxiety which is the most craftily laid net of the devil and the cleverest trick he can devise. It is this. Sometimes a sudden evil thoughts comes into the mind when a man is off his guard, and thus he feels attraction of pleasure, and, forgetting himself for a moment, he does not turn from it as quickly as he ought. Then he thinks that he has turned to it with wilful and deliberate consent, and by his own neglect has sinned mortally. God forbid that we should thus think! For it is the unanimous opinion of holy men that the reason is often taken unawares through sudden thoughts exciting pleasure in the mind, and that it requires a sufficiently long delay and length of time before the reason with mature deliberation becomes fully master of itself. Then it can either receive or reject these suggestions, and thus either commit sin or turn away from it with disgust. And when this happens, men of good will ought never to feel guilty of mortal sin if they wish to trust to the wholesome Catholic teaching. For St. Augustine says that sin is a thing so voluntary, that where a thing is not voluntary it cannot be sinful. (De Vera Religione, cap. 14.)

* This opinion about the first motions of concupiscence and the fight of the flesh against the spirit without the consent of the will in the sin is taught by St. Thomas, Summa, I-II, ques. 80, art. 3, ad. 3m. See the Council of Trent, Sess. 5.

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Final Recommendations

Lastly, I would like to add that devotion to Mary is a great source of consolation to the afflicted. Our Lady, who is “the Spouse of the  Consoler” (as Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, says), leads her children to the Sacred Heart of her Son. My purpose, here, is not to defend devotion to Our Lady (the Church, Popes, Saints, Mystics, and Our Lady herself – in various private revelations – have already done this); rather, I wish to encourage others to rely on their spiritual mother for spiritual nourishment. Fr. Michael Gaitley explains this concept well in his book, ’33 Days Days to Morning Glory’, which helps us to grasp the sublime doctrine propsed in St. Louis de Montfort’s classic work, ‘ True Devotion to Mary.’

Here is another work of St. Louis de Montfort that is well worth checking:

The Secret of Mary’: http://www.ewtn.com/library/Montfort/secret.htm

Here is a brief excerpt from ‘The Secret of Mary':

“This devotion [consecration to Jesus, through Mary] makes the soul truly free by imbuing it with the liberty of the children of God. Since we lower ourselves willingly to a state of slavery out of love for Mary, our dear Mother, she out of gratitude opens wide our hearts enabling us to walk with giant strides in the way of God’s commandments. She delivers our souls from weariness, sadness and scruples. It was this devotion that our Lord taught to Mother Agnes de Langeac, a religious who died in the odour of sanctity, as a sure way of being freed from the severe suffering and confusion of mind which afflicted her. “Make yourself,” He said, “My Mother’s slave and wear her little chain.” She did so, and from that time onwards her troubles ceased.”

 

Encouragement For Those Tried By Unwanted Thoughts.

Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he hath been proved, he shall receive a crown of life, which God hath promised to them that love him.

– James 1:12

Thoughout the day – especially during prayer – we might encounter unwanted thoughts. It is very important for those with some form of religious OCD/scrupulosity in particular, to know that God permits everything (including our weaknesses and involuntary imperfections) for our good. It may be that God wishes us to be more humble, trusting or faithful; perhaps He wishes us to sympathise with others; perhaps He is preparing us for future combat; perhaps He is cleansing us of past faults. Whatever the reason, God always acts in our best interest i.e. He arranges everything for our salvation. We can trust Him wholeheartedly.

Even if our current state is due in part to God’s justice, we can rest assured that His loving “chastisements” are tempered with mercy, and that He can draw a greater good from our trials; furthermore, that He allows us to be tried here is evidence that He wishes us to be spared hereafter. Deo gratias!

St. Francis de Sales assures us that, even if our prayer were to consist entirely of repeated attempts to drive away distractions, that prayer is pleasing to God. Why? Because God is pleased with love, which is evident in such good-will, faith and perseverance. The same principle is revealed in the following revelations, which will be of great consolation to many.

Some Relevant Anecdotes

+ When St. Bridget was harassed by temptations in prayer, Mary the Mother of God said to her: “The devil with malicious watchfulness seeks to hinder the good from praying. But do thou, daughter, whatever temptation may assail thee in prayer, persist in thy desire or good will, and in thy holy endeavours, as best thou canst; because thy pious desires and endeavours will be reputed as effectual prayer. Even if thou art not able to cast out the base and evil thoughts that come into thy mind, yet for those endeavours thon shalt receive a crown in heaven; thus these troubles will profit thee, provided thou consentest not to the temptation, but art displeased with whatever is unbecoming.” (pp. 226 –227, ‘Spiritual Works of Louis of Blois’)

+ The Lord Jesus said to St. Bridget: “Wherefore, daughter, art thou anxious and disquieted?” She answered, “Because I am afflicted with many unprofitable and evil thoughts, which I cannot drive away, and the fear of Thy judgments oppresses me.” Then the Lord said, “This is true justice [remember that God permits trials because He loves us; also, His justice is tempered with mercy: He will always give us the strength to remain faithful to Him] ; that as thou hast formerly taken delight in the vanities of the world against My will, so thou shouldst now be molested by various perverse thoughts against thy own will. Do thou, however, fear my judgments with moderation and discretion, ever firmly trusting in Me, thy God. For thou must know, for certain, that evil thoughts, which the mind resists and detests, are the purification and crown of the soul. If thou art unable to avoid them, bear it patiently, and let thy will strive against them. And, although thou consent not to them, fear lest thou take pride in that and fall; for whosoever stands, it is by the power of God alone that he stands.” (p. 237, ‘Spiritual Works of Louis of Blois’)

+ Again, the Lord said to St. Bridget, “In order that man may understand his own weakness, and the strength he receives from Me, it is necessary that he should sometimes be allowed to be attacked by evil thoughts; and if he consents not to them, they become the purification of his mind, and the safeguard of his virtues. And although they are hard to be borne, they heal the soul, and conduct it to eternal life, which cannot be gained without sufferings. The soul should, therefore, labour diligently, lest it consent to them, or take any pleasure in them.” (p. 237, ‘Spiritual Works of Louis of Blois’)

Why does God permit temptation?

“One can distinguish five reasons why God allows the devils to attack us:

first, so that from attack and counter-attack we may become practised in discerning good from evil;

second, so that our virtue may be maintained in the heat of the struggle and so be confirmed in an impregnable position;

third, so that as we advance in virtue we may avoid presumption and learn humility;

fourth, to inspire in us an unreserved hatred for evil through the experience we thus have of it;

fifth, and above all, that we may attain inner freedom and remain convinced both of our own weakness and of the strength of him who has come to our aid.” – St. Maximus the Confessor

In a word, God permits temptation for our greater good. The more we are tempted, the more right we have to trust in Him, without Whom it would be impossible to overcome even the slightest temptation. God rewards our efforts generously in Heaven.

To Inspire us with hope for Heaven:

“If when visions [of Heaven] are shown to thee, thou wert to see the beauty of the blessed souls or of the holy Angels as it is, thy heart would be broken with excess of joy.”

– Jesus to St. Bridget of Sweden

Some More Help For Overcoming Scruples.

Although I have only read a part of the book from which the following excerpt is taken, what I have read is excellent!

(Taken from: ‘HOLY ABANDONMENT’ by Dom Vitalis Lehodey, O.C.R.) — The last paragraph is particularly good!

Third Part: ON THE OBJECT OF HOLY ABANDONMENT; Chapter 8 – ON ABANDONMENT IN THE SPIRITUAL VARIETIES OF THE COMMON WAY: FAILURES AND FAULTS; Article 4 – SCRUPULOSITY

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.” 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.”

* St. Francis de Sales and St. Faustina remind us that God is very pleased with those who place their trust in their confessor; God rewards our humble faith and obedience with spiritual insights that He will communicate to us through the priest. In the Old Testament, God spoke to Balaam through an ass (Numbers 22:28); how much more, then, can we hope for God to speak to us through the mouth of one of his ministers! 

Divine Love Drives Out Scruples.

FORGETFULNESS OF SELF IS THE TOMB OF SCRUPLES.”

– Marie-Catherine Putigny (a great mystic)

“You see, Consolata, sanctity means self-forgetfulness in everything, in thoughts, desires, words….Allow Me to do it all! I will do everything; but you should, at every moment, give Me what I ask for with much love!”

– Jesus to Sr. Consolata Betrone (taken form ‘Jesus Appeals to The World)

What hinders us from loving God? Self-will and self-love. We all have it. It is an effect of Original Sin. Divine love alone can conquer it, and this precious gift is obtained by means of prayer. Ask God often for this pearl of great price.

Jesus is deserving of all of our love. To love Him, we must acknowledge our unworthiness and accept God’s mercy with great confidence. We have no reason to be discouraged. God gives us the grace to conquer sin. 

Discouragement shows that we care more for our guilty selves than our innocent Lord. This is not genuine love; rather, it is tantamount to the sorrow of Judas, which led to despair and damnation. 

By meditating daily on the Passion we will certainly grow in divine love.  This will replace our self-love, which is the cause of so much misery that we can scarcely form an idea of it!

I stronly suggest reading ‘The Passion and Death of Jesus Christ’ by St. Alphonsus. It is an excellent tool for growing in divine love, confidence and humility. It is one of St. Alphonsus’ more accessible works. It can be read for free online:

https://archive.org/stream/passiondeathofje00ligu 

Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you. (Mt. 6:33)

If we constantly fix our attention on ourselves, it will be impossible for us to fully perceive the great and tender love of God, which speaks to us through the peaceful action of the Holy Spirit. The evil spirit, on the other hand, produces sudden anxiety, and seeks to lessen our confidence in Almighty God. Let us renew our confidence in God. His love is boundless, therefore our confidence should be boundless. Avoid useless reasonings. Love God. 

(The following quote is taken from the ‘Life of Marie-Catherine Putigny: lay-sister of the Visitation Convent at Metz’)

“A certain ecclesiastic, a friend of our convent, was greatly tormented by scruples. One day, he said to Mother Marie-Seraphine: “I should like to know what Almighty God thinks of me.” Mother Marie-Seraphine made no reply at the moment, but the next time she saw him, which was shortly after, she said: “Father, do you remember telling me your desire to know what God thinks of you? I told Sister Marie-Catherine to ask Our Lord, and here is His answer: ‘I am not displeased with that priest, but he yields too much to his fears.’ Then she entered into a detail of his interior so clear and so precise that the priest recognized himself perfectly. It was evident that God had clearly manifested his interior to Sister Marie-Catherine.”

“Do not be absorbed in your misery-you are still too weak to speak of it-but, rather, gaze on My Heart filled with goodness…”

– Jesus to St. Faustina (words addressed to a despairing soul)

 

 

 

Confession: Sins Forgotten Are Forgiven

(The following words are taken from pp. 51-52 of ‘Confession: A Little Book for the Reluctant’ by TAN publishers)

29. I COULD NEVER REMEMBER ALL MY SINS

What matter? Repent sincerely of your sins, known and unknown; accuse yourself of all you can remember; when you cannot remember the exact number, tell is as nearly as you can; hide nothing deliberately; be firmly resolved, in the future, to observe the commandments of God and the Church, and God requires no more.

Who could remember exactly all his sins? No one in the world. But God, who knows all, pardons all when He sees in the heart a true, sincere repentance. Peace to men of good will!

… Moreover, remember that the sins forgotten in Confession, even if mortal sins, are pardoned like the others. Never disquiet yourself, either before Confession or after it; guard well the peace of your soul. If, after absolution, you remember any [mortal] sin, it will not be necessary for that reason to return to Confession; above all, it is not necessary to deprive yourself of Holy Communion.

(The following words are taken from ‘The Life and Revelations of St. Gertrude the Great’)

[Context: St. Gertrude, who was accustomed to having visions and locutions, was one day complaining to St. John the Apostle that she forgot to confess some little faults in Confession, and that she could not always remember her sins for Confession]

“Do not be troubled at this, my child,” replied the Saint lovingly; “for when you have prepared for a good and entire confession of your sins, and find that you cannot then have recourse to a confessor, if you forget anything in consequence of the delay, and omit to accuse yourself of it merely from a defect of memory, what you have forgotten will not fail to be effaced; and the grief you have for the omission will adorn your soul as a precious jewel, which will render it pleasing to the heavenly court.”

(The following words are taken from ‘The Life and Spiritual Legacy of Sister Mary of the Holy Trinity’)

“Have you really understood that My Blood blots out all sins and omissions acknowledged and regretted in Confession? Have you really understood that after having received absolution your soul is renewed? I bought it at a great price. Use the Sacrament of Penance with love and gratitude by preparing for it every day. There also I await you – I await your fidelity and correspondence so that I may bestow My graces… When you show yourself just as you are with all your mediocrity, it is as if you had given Me a beautiful present – because then your confessor will be able to find the remedy necessary for you. Then you have made a good confession.” (Words of Our Lord)

 

A Cause For Hope: God’s Unchanging Goodness!

“I am love and mercy itself.”

– Our Lord to St. Faustina

“For I am the Lord, and I change not.” (Mal. 3:6) God is infinite. In Him there are no parts: His essence is undivided, eternal, self-giving love. God had no need in creating us; rather, we were created to share His love, His joy, and His goodness. Our Lord revealed to a chosen soul that He desires us to be less anxious about avoiding Hell, and more intent on occupying the place in Heaven that He has prepared for us (cf. ‘Words of Love’ by Bartholomew Gottemoller).

Even the most wretched or discouraged sinners need not lose hope. Every inspiration to love God is inspired by God, Who said: “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”

Just as the sunflower grows towards the sun when it receives its light, so too do souls draw closer to God as they receive the rays of His love. Remember: it only takes one spark to light a forest. What does this mean? It means that however cold we are, or however sinful, when God offers us His grace, He offers us grace without limit. Our love will continue to grow if we humbly (and with much gratitude!) follow that first inspiration. Many great sinners have followed this inspiration and become great saints.

 “God hates sin infinitely, but He loves His creatures infinitely. As soon as the soul repents of its sin, it recovers the love of God. If all sinners wished to return to God with contrite and humble hearts, all would be saved.”

– St. Leonard

To contemplate God’s unchanging goodness is most consoling. We must not be guided by feelings in the spiritual life; our feelings change as the tides. Instead, be guided by grace, which has its source in the unchanging beauty and love of God, and which leads to that same fountain of goodness!

“God is immutable, i.e., He ever remains the same. God never changes; He never becomes better or worse; He never breaks His word. Creation made no change in God; from all eternity He had decreed the creation of the universe. God changes His works, but not His eternal decrees. By the Incarnation humanity was changed, but the Godhead underwent no change, just as the sun is in no way changed when it hides itself behind a cloud. Our thoughts are not changed when they clothe themselves in words; so the divinity was not changed when it clothed itself in the nature of man. God does not change when He punishes the sinner. When the heart of man is in friendship with God, God shows Himself to him as a God of infinite love and mercy; when the heart is estranged from Him, the sinner sees in the unchangeable God an angry and avenging judge. When the eye is sound, the light is pleasant to it; but if it is diseased, light causes it pain: it is not the light that is changed, but the eye that looks upon it [this analogy was used by God Himself to St. Catherine of Siena]. When an angry man looks in the glass he sees a different reflection from that which he saw when he was cheerful and in good-humour; it is not the glass that has changed, but the man. When the sun shines through colored glass, its rays take the color of the glass; the sun does not change, but the light is changed by the medium through which it passes. So when God rewards, it is not God Who changes, but man, who performs different and better actions, thereby meriting the grace of God. When in Scripture we read that God repented of having made man, that God is angry with the wicked, the phrases used are accommodated to our imperfect comprehension.

Sufferings are no real evil: 

“Sufferings then are no real evil, but are benefits from the hand of God. They are the means of bringing us both to temporal and eternal happiness. God, Who loves us tenderly, has no other object in sending us sufferings but to make us happy. What we count as an evil is the bitterness of the medicine that is necessary for the health of our soul. There is really no evil in the world except sin. Sufferings can never really make us unhappy; men can be happy in spite of all kinds of sufferings. We see this in Job, in Tobias, in Our Lady. St. Paul says, ” I am filled with comfort ; I exceedingly abound with joy in all our tribulation” (2 Cor. vii. 4).

“If we have a bit little of the love of God is us, to Him alone should we give honor and glory; He has placed it in us, for without Him we can do nothing. There remains for us the obligation of gratitude.”

– St. Francis de Sales

Clarity for Scrupulous Souls: Simple Explanations of “Grey” Sins

“It is so much the essence of sin to be voluntary, that if not voluntary, it is not sin.”

– St. Augustine

Humility is essential for conquering scrupulosity, as is the virtue of magnanimity. We must pray for these precious graces. Apart from these virtues, however, there is another attainable remedy for scrupulosity, namely, a good understanding of basic theological principles.

In this article I will provide a simple explanation/clarification of a few sins that are often misunderstood. I will not necessarily provide a definition of the sin. I think we all have an idea of what blasphemy is, for example. The sins I will explain are: –

– Lying

– Blasphemy

– Sinful thoughts (of any kind)

– Lust

– Gluttony (I will not deal with spiritual gluttony etc.)

The definitions provided are based on the Traditional understanding of sin that has been transmitted by the Apostles and the Catholic Church, to whom Our Lord entrusted the “keys” to His Kingdom. The three conditions necessary for a sin to be mortal/ serious are well-known, so I will only provide a link explaining them:  http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s1c1a8.htm

Before sharing these explanations, please ask God (frequently) for the grace to be humble, confident and loving. The intercession of St. Gertrude- who manifested a boundless confidence in God- is very powerful in this regard.

Lying

“When a person tells a lie, he or she deliberately says something that is contrary to what is on that person’s mind; there is a real opposition between what one says and what one thinks.” (‘Modern Catholic Dictionary’, Fr. John Hardon,)

“Lying is in itself a venial sin; but it can easily become a mortal sin if it is the means of doing great harm, or causing great scandal.” (‘The Catechism Explained’, 1899, p. 410)

Blasphemy

“St. Thomas Aquinas declares blasphemy (hateful words, thoughts etc.) to be a mortal sin, unless it is committed in a hasty moment without deliberation.” (‘The Catechism Explained’, 1899, p. 344)

Those who desire to love God should pay absolutely no attention to such temptations. Imagine that a child (Thomas) loves his mother. Would he worry about accidentally saying something to offend her? Of course not. Similarly, if he came to know that his mother could read his thoughts, would he then be justified in worrying? Of course not. Nothing, in essence, has changed. Thomas’ mother, having a mind of her own, would understand if Thomas had the occasional bad thought. She would be more upset if, instead of loving her, he spent his time worrying that he was not loving her! Love, you see, is what God asks of us. Nothing else.

Sinful thoughts (of any kind)

“The thought doesn’t make the sin, but consenting to the thoughts does it.” – St. Padre Pio

“Do not be disturbed about bad thoughts; it is one thing to have them and quite another to consent to them.” – St. Francis de Sales

A holy and learned priest of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter gave the following advice: “If you toy with a thought for a brief moment, without giving yourself over to it fully (i.e. without giving full consent), it is a venial sin.” How clear and simple! Certainly we must not voluntarily dwell on the thought when it comes, but if we find that we have done so for a brief moment, we should not be discouraged. Instead, we should humble ourselves, recommend ourselves to God and to Our Lady, and focus our attention calmly on something else. Why spend our time worrying when we can simply make an act of perfect contrition? https://littlestsouls.wordpress.com/2013/06/18/perfect-contrition-the-golden-key-of-paradise/

Try this and you will find that God rewards your confidence. With what, you ask? With more confidence! … And peace! And a greater joy! Confidence in God is like a snowball; the more we practice it, the more it grows.

Lust

“… The inordinate craving for, or indulgence of, the carnal pleasure which is experienced in the human organs of generation. The wrongfulness of lust is reducible to this: that venereal (sexual) satisfaction is sought for either outside wedlock or, at any rate, in a manner which is contrary to the laws that govern marital intercourse.” (Catholic Encyclopaedia)

“… the unbridled desire for one’s own pleasure.” (‘Modern Catholic Dictionary’, Fr. John Hardon,)

“Lust is disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes.” (Current ‘Catechism of the Catholic Church’, 2391)

“… the sin of lust consists in seeking venereal pleasure not in accordance with right reason.” (‘Summa Theologiae’, St. Thomas Aquinas)

*For the sake of simplicity, I will only address lust in relation to those who are unmarried. I will not get bogged down with hypothetical situations and thought experiments. If we know what lust is, simple prudence will fill in the gaps.*

To merely look at a woman is not lustful in and of itself. A child can recognise the beauty of his mother without giving in to unnatural sexual urges; a Saint can appreciate the great beauty of the Blessed Virgin, or the incomparable beauty of Jesus; a man is obviously attracted to his wife. It is not inherently long to look at God’s beautiful creation. Looking at, or thinking about another, becomes lustful (and therefore sinful) when our intention is to arouse ourselves, or when there is a near occasion of sexual pleasure/arousal.

The Scriptures recommend that we practice a reasonable custody of the eyes. We should not “gaze” upon another when it gives rise to sexual pleasure or when this is likely to happen e.g. when “scanning” the body of another.

Some have applied the counsels of the Scriptures very rigorously. Certain Saints, for example, scarcely lifted their eyes from the ground. Their purity is surely commendable, but we are not obliged to do the same. Simple souls should not read certain writings of the Saints, as this may lead them to form false impressions, or to discouragement. It is recounted of one Saint that he would shed tears when beholding the beauty of a woman. Of course, he appreciated the beauty of God’s creation with reference to God.

“Immodest looks. Bold [daring] looks are forbidden, because they lead to sin, just as a parent forbids his child to play with edged tools. The sin on which the eye looks with pleasure soon takes possession of the heart… He who observes no custody of the eyes, is like a driver who pays no heed to his horses; he will be carried away and dragged to destruction.” (‘The Catechism Explained’, 1899, p. 393)

Gluttony

“A) Gluttony is a grievous fault: a) when it goes to such lengths that for a notable space of time it incapacitates us for the fulfilment of our duties of state or for the compliance with divine or ecclesiastical laws, for example, when it injures our health, when it is the cause of useless expenditures which endanger the interests of our home, when it makes us violate the laws of fast or abstinence. b) It is also a grave fault when it is the cause of other grievous faults.

B) Gluttony is a venial fault when one yields to the pleasure of eating and drinking in an immoderate manner, yet without falling into grave excess, and without exposing oneself to violate a grave precept. Thus it would be venially sinful to eat or drink more than is proper in order to show one’s appreciation of a fine repast, or in order to please a friend.” (‘The Spiritual Life: A Treatise on Ascetical and Mystical Theology’, Rev. Adolphe Tanquerey)

Final Thoughts/Recommendations

God is all-good, all-knowing, and the source of all good. God knows our hearts; He knows our every good desire, because He is truly the source of every good desire. When faced with doubt and uncertainty, we should reason thus: Dear Lord, you have placed in my heart the desire to love you. I do not want to hurt you by committing intentional sin- much less intentional mortal sin. This gives me confidence that I could not fall into such sin without being fairly certain of it, because you alone have given me this noble desire! Thank you, dear God. Please help me to trust more in you, and to cast aside all useless doubts and worries. Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us.

“Don’t voluntarily dwell on what the devil presents to you.” – St. Padre Pio

“Don’t philosophize on your defects.” – St. Padre Pio

“NO SIN IS A TRUE SIN IF WE HAVE NOT WILFULLY CONSENTED.”

– St. Padre Pio

(Speaking of temptations): “I see you, but I do not look at you: I see you because it does not depend upon me that my imagination places before my eyes things I would wish not to see; I do not look at you because with my will I repulse and reject you.”

– St. Antony

A final piece of advice, which is extremely helpful and should be practiced by all:

“He who remembers having invoked the name of Mary in an impure temptation, may be sure that he did not yield to it.”

– St. Alphonsus Liguori