What are scruples? Scruples — are defined in the old Catholic Encyclopedia as an “unwarranted fear that something is a sin, which, as a matter of fact, is not.” This can take form in all different kinds of shapes and sizes. One example can be a website that took the Catholic Church’s Modesty Guidelines, but (unfortunately) changed them a bit.
The original Guidelines reads, “A dress cannot be called decent which is cut deeper than two fingers breadth under the pit of the throat, which does not cover the arms at least to the elbows (Note: Quarter length sleeves are tolerated, with Ecclesiastical Approval); and scarcely reaches a bit beyond the knees. Furthermore, dresses of transparent material are improper.” Donato Cardinal Sbaretti, Prefect of the Congregation of the Council- 1/12/30
Below, are ALL accepted and modesty outfits – it is hardly medival:
But the website that I am referring to, has one of these rules written down as; Marylike dresses have sleeves extending to the wrists; and skirts reaching the ankles.
Another example can be a certain sermon that is passed around by well-meaning women, where the 18th century pastor rebukes immodesty….. and says that to be modest, women MUST WEAR HATS AND CAPES.. all the time!
This is false! ALERT. ALERT. The great danger of scruples like this can lead to a terrible disaster when it comes to helping other people understand the faith! Even when it comes to modesty – heck – ESPECIALLY when it comes to modesty! My goodness – there is so much going on, back and forth, viciousness and foaming mouths when it comes to discussing the issue of Catholic Modesty.
As I have mentioned before; in my journey for modesty,
“On top of everything, the vicious attitude of women against other women who wanted to dress more modestly was astounding.
It just didn’t add up. It just didn’t make sense.
I could not “find my way” because I wanted to make sure that what I was doing was with the Catholic Church, and not some scrupulous people who thought that elbows and collar-bones were from the devil! I wanted proof, logic, and clear answers. I wanted a middle ground.”
The loss of souls to Lukewarmness and eventual damnation cannot be attributed to just the scruples of “modesty gurus” but much of it can be. When blasting “Catholic Modesty” as having to do with clothing, all sorts of ideas, scruples and the truth are put into one box and all throw away because it sounds “crazy” and “old-fashioned” .. it only sounds crazy and old fashioned because the scruples on modesty ARE crazy! But modesty is not old fashioned, it is called for!
Fr. Dwight Longenecker once said,
“The Catholic Church’s role is not to adapt to the fashions and ideologies of the world, but to challenge the fashions and ideologies of the world.”
I mean, heck, if the only people who talk about Catholic Modesty having to do with clothing are the ones saying that you need to wear Hats, Capes, cover wrists and ankles, because PADRE PIO wouldn’t have given you confession ….. of COURSE no one would want to listen! No woman in her right mind would want to hear of such malarkey. It is scruples, and none of it is true.
I can personally attest to the fact that the scruples of (certain Catholic groups) was the cause of hundreds of women to not want to have anything to do with “modesty” and are now dressing in bikinis, skin-tight clothing and whatever else they feel like; except for what was literally pushed by these scrupulous groups/persons. The disgust and revulsion was so bad that unfortunately most of these women have turned their modesty around so much so that they made sure it had nothing to do with what was forced on them in the past. With forgiveness to those who had done them harm, they just regard the persons in question as “nutty, crazy, just plain WRONG” and “NOT THE WAY TO GO.” So, any question of introducing them to any form of Catholic Modesty, is out of the picture, because it brings them back to the bad experiences and they flee; out of fear of falling into the scruples.
I was also a victim of such scruples, this is all in the past, thank God, but it had brought me to such a place that still, today I feel the scars. I was so hurt, ashamed, and embarrassed by “those who pushed scruples” that I turned right around and wanted to dress the opposite of what they said was “modest”. This is probably a typical girl thing – and probably PRIDE that has to be worked on. But I’m just saying, it is hard to be berated for “dressing immodestly” when you are dressing modestly in this world today. At one point I was told that, “the Virgin Mary was crying” because my sleeves were too short! I was wearing quarter length sleeves… the same that are accepted by the Chuch as perfectly modest. This hurt me beyond what I could imagine… I can very much feel the upset and hurt that a woman may feel if insulted and told that what she was wearing was very sinful, causing men to lust and sin, ect. I KNEW what I was wearing was right, and yet, I felt so awful because so many were saying that I was wrong. The group I belonged to believed that no “immodest” woman should be there in their community, even though they firmly believed that what they were promoting was something that EVERYONE needed to hear and do (this something, actually, was not modesty, but an issue that involved Social Justice)
They often publicly humiliated so many women for wearing sandals, wearing their hair down, have the bottom button of their 3/4 length sleeve unbuttoned, for having their first button on their buttoned shirt unbuttoned, for not wearing styles from the 1950s….This terrible attitude of “evangelizing in the name of Catholic Modesty” is disgusting, and must stop. For now, the truth and clearness of Catholic Modesty has been thrown into the same pot as this kind of mentality, and because of that, it is now all but forgotten. And the poor souls are suffering because of it! It was so difficult living in the world and trying to dress what was modest and trying to figure out what WAS modest and on and on… without being berated for dressing a certain way! I only hope that the group I belonged to is the only one that still puts this into practice but, I am afraid that there are others.
If you, dear reader, wear what I have mentioned above as “immodest” please do not take any offense, for I love you and want you to go to heaven. Instead of feeling any hurt or revulsion, please take a moment to study this issue; in the light of the Catholic Church, not in the opinionated articles of women who believe that all information on modesty that is out there is a farce. Not because “I SAID SO”, but because it is something really interesting, something that we all deserve to know – women deserve to know the truth about what they are involved in right?
There is a middle ground in Catholic Modesty, and it is not as dark and gloomy as it is portrayed to be!
Please take a moment to check out Rita Davidson, who has taken over 18 years to study Catholic Modesty. Her work has brought her to the doors of Padre Pio’s monastery, to Rome, and to the depths of history. What she has uncovered (no pun intended ha!) is so very interesting, and amazing.
Rita pursues the same goal as I when it comes to modesty; we both want the REAL truth, and we want it to be portrayed as what it really is; beautiful! And we want it to be in line, and in conformity with the Catholic Church.
She currently has a book published that covers every corner that you can imagine when it comes to Catholic Modesty, plus she has a blog and website where she goes into more detail and tries to help others as much as she can. She talks about makeup and nail polish (they are NOT sinful!), she talks about fashion (she has over 60 infinity scarves and loves to wear maxi skirts!), she talks about jewelry (it is also not in itself sinful!), she talks about being barefoot and wearing sandals (yes, some think it is sinful…. BUT IT ISN’T!) she talks about hair and perfume, she talks about wearing colorful outfits (it’s NOT sinful!), she talks about modesty not fitting just ONE BORING BOX but how it can be taken to whole other levels! She talks about modesty conforming to all sorts of styles and fashion preferences, such as BOHO, Preppy, and Casual! She talks about how modesty is NOT just about “rules” and “inches”! She talks about…. shall I go on?
Rita is the best “in the know” person and insider on Catholic Modesty that you can get. She is open to ANY questions, not matter how silly they sound (no question is a stupid question). She just wants us women to be happy, and KNOW THE TRUTH about Catholic Modesty – for we DESERVE to know the truth. We do not deserve to be pushed around and forced to do and wear things that are ugly and terrible because someone else thinks it’s sin!
Please read my other posts on modesty on this blogif you are interested. And you can check out my Pinterest board on fashion to see some modest ideas (I must admit though that they are almost all the same sort of style… what I personally like!)
How To Find Them In Ourselves – How To Correct Them
Now, I firmly believe that I am not a perfect. In fact, I KNOW I am not perfect. I myself have had dealings with scruples – nevermind other people having scruples!
I am not sure how many people end up having scruples nowadays but, if you find some in yourself – please beware. Scruples are NOT something you want to have hanging around. They can cause despair of God’s mercy, unneeded misreableness (yes, that is a word), and just, bleah – it stinks!
“When you are tormented with scruples you are essentially caught in an unconscious conflict, such that even as you are confessing your sins you are secretly trying to hide them.”
You can read this great article on “Scruples, how to deal with them” here!
How can you spot scruples? Check out this quote from St. Ignatius of Loyola:
“After I have stepped upon such a cross [formed of straws lying on the ground], or after anything else I may have thought, said, or done, the suggestion may come to me from without that I have sinned, and on the other hand, it may seem to me that I have not sinned. Then if I continue to be anxious about the matter, doubting and not doubting that I sinned, there is a real scruple properly so called and a temptation from our enemy” (Spiritual Exercises, trans. Louis J. Puhl, S.J., No. 347).
If you are certain that you have scruples, confess it! When you go to confession; tell the priest. Ask your spiritual director about it! Pray the rosary!
Here is a lovely quote from St. Maximilian Kolbe;
From the book, “Forget Not Love: The Passion of Maximilian Kolbe”
“Whenever you feel guilty, even if it is because you have consciously committed a sin, a serious sin, something you have kept doing many, many times, never let the devil deceive you by allowing him to discourage you. Whenever you feel guilty, offer all your guilt to the Immaculate, without analyzing it or examining it, as something that belongs to her…
My beloved, may every fall, even if it is serious and habitual sin, always become for us a small step toward a higher degree of perfection.
In fact, the only reason why the Immaculate permits us to fall is to cure us from our self-conceit, from our pride, to make us humble and thus make us docile to the divine graces.
The devil, instead, tries to inject in us discouragement and internal depression in those circumstances, which is, in fact, nothing else than our pride surfacing again.
If we knew the depth of our poverty, we would not be at all surprised by our falls, but rather astonished, and we would thank God, after sinning, for not allowing us to fall even deeper and still more frequently.”
And, lastly, because I am too lazy to write anymore of my own work, here are the 10 Commandments for the Scrupulous from Fish Eaters, an excellent Catholic website!
The Ten Commandments
for the Scrupulous
In the end, scrupulosity is the condition of not trusting in the Mercy of Christ. It’s a plaguing sense of being “bad” or “guilty” or “unforgiven.” It’s a sort of obssessive-compulsive disorder that causes people to doubt the efficacy of the Sacrament of Confession or think they didn’t receive the Sacrament properly, perhaps that they forgot to tell the priest something and that this will damn them or some such. Suffering from a case of the scruples can be excruciating. And such suffering is so uneceesary.
Below is a guide for folks who have this condition. It was written first by a Redemptorist priest, Father Don Miller, some thirty years ago, and has been amended by Father Thomas Santa. I hope it helps you if you’re torturing yourself with thoughts rooted in scrupulosity.
1. You shall not repeat a sin in confession when it has been confessed in a previous confession, even when there is a doubt that it was confessed or a doubt that it was confessed in a sufficiently adequate and complete way.
Almost every scrupulous person experiences anxiety and doubt about past sins. Older people have a natural tendency to reflect back on their younger years, and in doing so, often remember something that triggers a doubt. More often than not, such a doubt has to do with impure thoughts, desires, or actions. As a result of the combination of remembering and doubting, it is not unusual that the scrupulous person then experiences great anxiety and is robbed of a sense of peace. This is why this first commandment is so very important: Do not go back over past sins and do not repeat the confession of them! Such an exercise is not at all helpful and must be resisted.
2. You shall not confess doubtful sins in confession, but only sins that are clear and certain.
Of all of the correspondence that I receive, I would say that this issue is the one that occurs most often. “What does a person do if they are not sure that they committed a sin?” For this reason, this is a very important commandment to remember because it clearly states the truth: Doubtful sins don’t count! There is no need to confess something that does not clearly and certainly exist. In fact, it is harmful to one’s self to confess that which is doubtful. Again, such a practice is not at all helpful and must be resisted.
Now I can almost hear some of you saying, “I am not sure if I doubt that I sinned or if I am just trying to fool myself to believe that I am doubting that I sinned.” This thought in itself demonstrates that you are in fact doubting and so, therefore, the commandment comes into play: You shall not confess doubtful sins.
3. You shall not repeat your penance after confession or any of the words of your penance because you feel or think that you had distractions or may not have said the words properly.
The temptation to repeat prayers is a constant one for the scrupulous. You may feel that you need to repeat them, again and again, until you “get them right.” Unfortunately, such perfectionism is never satisfied, and so you will remain in a constant state of anxiety and fear. This situation becomes all the more distressing because many times the scrupulous person will argue that, because they feel anxious or fearful, that must be a sign that they did not correctly perform their penance. “If I did it right I would be peaceful.”
This commandment is, therefore, very important because it is the only solution to the dilemma in which you find yourself. Father Miller is right: Do not repeat your penance.
4. You shall not worry about breaking your fast before receiving communion, unless you actually put food and drink in your mouth and swallow it in the same way that a person does when eating a meal.
Much of the anxiety that is present in reference to breaking your fast before communion centers around extraneous matters. It is helpful to remember that lipstick is not food. Snowflakes are not food. You cannot break you fast unless you deliberately choose to eat in the same way that you would choose to eat a meal or a snack. The commandment clearly suggests that no hesitations are allowed regarding accidental swallowing of things that are not considered food.
5. You shall not hesitate to look at any crucifix or at any statue in church or at home or anywhere else because you may get bad thoughts in your mind and imagination. If such thoughts occur, they carry no sin whatever.
Although this commandment deals with a situation that is not necessarily a problem for all scrupulous persons, it is nevertheless a real burden for some. If you try to avoid the problem by not looking, the problem will tend to become more severe. It is a much better choice to meet the problem head on. Thoughts and imaginations that occur in this situation are simply not sinful. One should try and confront fear, not give in to it.
6. You shall not consider yourself guilty of bad thoughts, desires, or feelings, unless you can honestly swear before the all-truthful God that you remember clearly and certainly consenting to them.
This is a very important commandment. The whole area of impure thoughts and desires causes scrupulous people much anxiety. Unfortunately, scrupulous persons often believe that the very appearance of thoughts or desires in their thoughts or imagination means that they have committed a sin. This is most certainly not the case. In fact, it is humanly impossible for us to have absolute control over our interior faculties. Such thoughts and images are going to happen, whether we like them or not.
Because we simply do not have absolute control over our interior faculties, the emphasis of the commandment is on clear and certain consent. Only a free consent, that is clear and certain, constitutes a sin. You can not accidentally or involuntarily be guilty of sin.
7. You shall not disobey your confessor when he tells you never to make another general confession of past sins already confessed.
It is not unusual for the scrupulous person to desire to make “just one more general confession.” The desire to do so is prompted by a wish for inner peace and calm. However, the exact opposite is more often than not a result. The anxiety generated by the process of examination and preparation, the actual confession, and then the review of the confession, produces no inner peace or calm. There always has to be “just one more.”
The wisdom of this commandment is found in two simple words: No more! If the scrupulous person will follow the advice of their confessor on this matter, they will have a chance of finding peace. Otherwise, there is only turmoil, anxiety, and stress.
8. You shall believe and act accordingly, so that whenever you are in doubt as to whether or not you are obliged to do or not to do something, you can take it for certain that you are not obligated.
This commandment underlines the basic moral principle that doubtful laws or obligations do not bind the scrupulous conscience. The great saint, and our patron, Saint Alphonsus Liguori teaches: “When there exists in a scrupulous person the habitual will not to offend God, it is certain that he or she acts in doubt and there is no sin….”
I find it very reassuring to read the words of Saint Alphonsus in reference to this matter. It is good to know that the teaching of our very wise patron and model, a saint whom you might recall also suffered greatly from scrupulosity, is so clear and straightforward. “There is no sin,” are the words we need to hear and recall as often as necessary.
9. If, before you perform or omit an act, you are doubtful whether or not it is sinful for you, you shall assume as certain that it is not sinful and shall proceed to act without any dread of sin whatever.
This commandment is also supported by Saint Alphonsus. In his advice to confessors he says, “Scrupulous persons tend to fear that everything they do is sinful. The confessor should command them to act without restraint and overcome their anxiety. He should tell them that their first obligation is to conquer their scruples. They should act against their groundless fears. The confessor may command the scrupulous to conquer their anxiety and disregard it by freely doing whatever it tells them not to do. The confessor may assure the penitent the he or she need never confess such a thing.”
10. You shall put your total trust in Jesus Christ, knowing that he loves you as only God can love, and that he will never allow you to lose your soul.
We often reflected in the pages of SA that the scrupulous person, for one reason or another, has a negative image of God. A negative image of God does not inspire trust but rather fear and dread. In Jesus Christ we are able to glimpse the true image of God: a God who loves and heals and saves. It is in that God, the God revealed to us by Jesus, that we can and should place all of our trust.
It may very well be helpful to review some scripture passages which may help you change your image of God from a negative to a positive image. May I suggest that you spend some time reviewing the prophet Isaiah, chapter 43, verses 1-4. In this passage you will hear the words of the Lord speaking to you and reminding you “that you are precious in my eyes.” You might follow up Isaiah with a reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 8, verses 26-39. In this reading we are assured that the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. You might finally end your reflection by reading from the first letter of the Apostle John, chapter 4, verses 7-19. In this reading John reminds us that love consists in knowing, “not that we have loved God but that God has loved us.”
I hope that this familiar review of the Ten Commandments for the Scrupulous has proven helpful. I might suggest that you keep these commandments close by, especially as a point of reference when you feel anxious or distressed. It is very helpful at such moments to have the calm voice of reason speaking to us.
The Liguori Publications website whence this guide came: http://mission.liguori.org/index.htm
Dealing With Scruples in Others
Yes, it will probably happen – now this is the part where I say….
#1. PRAY PRAY PRAY THE ROSARY! Not just for the Person, but for yourself! Being able to bite your tongue, not feel offended, and take all things with humility (well, within reason!) is a GREAT thing! (I speak from personal experience, please pray for this prideful soul!)
If you do NOT know HOW to say the Rosary – be not ashamed! – Here is a great website to learn how! Our Lady will be so pleased that you called her. 😉
#2. Talk to your confessor about how to handle the problem! Your spiritual director as well, if you have one!
#3. Talk to the person themselves about, what they said to you, how it hurt you – in a kind, and charitable way.
#4. Do not feel obligated to perfect this person’s faults ! (This is a big one for me!) Because that is what this is really; not that wanting to do so is wrong – we want this person to be good, happy and go to heaven! – but we must realize that we are not called to perfect others, but to perfect ourselves and to PRAY for others. After all, we are also sinners and have many faults (especially me, oh boy.) Fast, make penances, do whatever you can for their souls – but don’t make trying to talk them into fixing themselves your number one option.
Well, as usual, it is getting late, and I should have been in bed two hours ago (it’s not my fault my best writing comes after 10 pm! Ha!)
So, dear reader, I bid you goodnight and, until next time, God bless!