Liberating the Scrupulous

Padre Quadrupani suggests a strategy for banishing unreasonable scruples of conscience, thereby liberating the spiritual wayfarer from his prison and enabling him to progress onward and upward.

“It is a secret pride,” says St. Francis de Sales, “that entertains and nourishes scruples, for the scrupulous person adheres to his opinion and inquietude in spite of his director’s advice to the contrary. He always persuades himself in justification of his disobedience that some new and unforeseen circumstance has occurred to which this advice cannot be applicable. But submit without other reasoning than this: I should obey, and you will be delivered from this lamentable malady.” Quadrupani concurs, saying: “There is but one remedy for scruples and that is entire and courageous obedience.”

St. Francis de Sales said: “We should do everything from love and nothing from constraint. It is more essential to love obedience than to fear disobedience.”

Quadrupani gives this advice: “In all his actions a scrupulous person sees only an uninterrupted series of sins, and in God nothing but vengeance and anger. He ought, therefore, to consider almost exclusively the attribute of the divine Master by which He most delights to manifest Himself, mercy, and to make it the constant subject of his thoughts, meditations and affections.”

He repeats the stern words of St. Joseph of Cupertino: “Away with sadness and scruples; I will not have them in my house.”

The editor of Light and Peace offers the reader these inspiring thoughts of Archbishop Fenelon: “Woe to that narrow and self-absorbed soul that is always fearful, and because of fear has no time to love and to go generously forward. O my God! I know it is your wish that the heart that loves you should be broad and free! Hence I shall act with confidence like to the child that plays in the arms of its mother; I shall rejoice in the Lord and try to make others rejoice; I shall pour forth my heart without fear in the assembly of the children of God.”

Quotations from Carlo Giuseppe Quadrupani, Light and Peace: Instructions for Devout Souls to Dispel Their Doubts and Allay Their Fears (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1898).

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Scruples

Padre Quadrupani addresses the problem of scrupulosity, which plagues many sincerely devoted souls at some point in their spiritual development.

“Scrupulosity,” writes Quadrupani, “is an unreasonable fear of sin in matters where there is not even material for sin. But the victim does not call his doubts and fears scruples, for he would not be tormented by them if he believed he could give them that name.”

“Scruples warp the judgment, disturb the peace of the soul, beget mistrust of the Sacraments and estrangement from them, and impair the health of body and mind.”

“There are persons who look upon scrupulosity as a virtue, confounding it with delicacy of conscience, whereas it is, on the contrary, not only a defect but one of a most dangerous character.”

“The devout and learned Gerson says that a scrupulous conscience often does more injury to the soul than one that is too lax and remiss.”

“By sadness and anxiety the children of God do a great injury to their Heavenly Father. They thereby seem to bear witness that there is little happiness to be found in the service of a Master so full of love and mercy, and to give the lie to the words of Him who said: ‘Come unto Me all you that labor and are heavily burdened and I will refresh you.'”

Quotations from Carlo Giuseppe Quadrupani, Light and Peace: Instructions for Devout Souls to Dispel Their Doubts and Allay Their Fears (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1898).

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He Practiced What He Preached

St. Francis de Sales, the “Gentle Bishop of Geneva,” was known for the gentle and practical spiritual guidance he offered to those in his care. As for his own spiritual life and practices, the introduction to Maxims and Counsels of St. Francis de Sales states: “He first practised, and then taught. One is gentle from motives of virtue, only when he possesses moral strength; now we find in these lines the secret of that strength which made St. Francis de Sales the gentlest of men. He admirably inculcates the method of sanctity which he perfectly possessed.”

A careful reading of his letters and treatises reveals his intense devotion to God, his sincere humility before men, and his trustful determination to accept the will of God in all things. Catch a glimpse of his heart and soul in his words:

“Lord, I wish for no event; for I leave Thee to will it for me as Thou pleasest; but instead of wishing for events I bless Thee for those Thou has ordained. Father, I am thine. I know not what I should wish; it is for Thee to will and do for me all that shall seem to Thee good. My Father truly loves me, and I am wholly his.”

“Lord, I desire nothing; for I leave Thee to will for me wholly as Thou pleasest; instead of wishing for anything, I bless Thee for what Thou shalt decree.”

“I would rather be a gnat by the will of God than a seraph by my own.”

“I love nothing but God, and all souls for God.”

“If anger or pride attack me, I must do all in my power to incline my heart to humility and meekness, devoting to that end my spiritual exercises, the sacraments and the other virtues.”

“O God, it is towards Thee that I am sailing. . . . We reach the port through all storms, provided we have an upright heart, a good intention, firm courage, our eyes fixed upon God, and all our confidence in Him.”

“There is and can be nothing which I cannot do, inasmuch as I place all my confidence in God, who can do all things, and with this confidence the soul courageously undertakes all that it is commanded, however difficult it may be.”

Quotations from Maxims and Counsels of St. Francis de Sales, trans. Ella McMahon (Dublin: M. H. Gill & Son, 1884).

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Praying Peacefully

St. Francis de Sales, renowned for his practical and effective spiritual direction, gives these suggestions on how to pray peacefully:

“Remember that the graces and favors of prayer do not come from earth but from heaven and therefore that no effort of ours can acquire them, although, it is true, we must dispose ourselves for their reception diligently, yet withal humbly and tranquilly. We ought to keep our hearts wide open and await the blessed dew from heaven.”

“The following consideration should never be forgotten when we go to prayer, namely, that we draw near to God and place ourselves in His presence principally for two reasons. The first is to render to God the honor and the homage we owe Him, and this can be done without God speaking to us or we to Him, for the duty is fulfilled by acknowledging that He is our Creator. . . . The second reason is to speak to God and to listen to Him when He speaks to us by His inspirations and the interior movements of grace. One or other of these two advantages can never fail to be derived from prayer.”

“If, then, we can speak to our Lord, let us do so in praise and supplication: if we are unable to speak, let us remain in his presence notwithstanding, offering him our silent homage; he will see us there, our patience will touch him and our silence will plead with him and win his favor. Another time, to our utter astonishment, he will take us by the hand, and converse with us, and make a hundred turns with us in his garden of prayer. And even should he never do this, still let us be content to know it is our duty to be in his retinue, and that it is a great favor and a greater honor for us that he suffers us in his presence.”

“In this way we do not force ourselves to speak to God, for we know that merely to remain close to him is as useful, nay, perhaps more useful to us, though it may be less to our liking. Therefore when you draw near to our Lord speak to him if you can; if you cannot, stay there, let him see you, and do not be anxious about anything else.”

“Take courage, then, tell your Saviour you will not leave him even should he never grant you any sensible sweetness; tell him that you will remain before him until he has given you his blessing.”

Quotations from Carlo Giuseppe Quadrupani, Light and Peace: Instructions for Devout Souls to Dispel Their Doubts and Allay Their Fears (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1898).

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A Truly False Conscience

The editor of Light and Peace remarks how some people with a sincere desire to serve God fear that they might have a false conscience, that they might be laboring under a deceptive self-illusion that makes them think they are following the right path but have gone astray. The editor discusses two ways in which a false conscience is formed.

“First, by choosing among our duties those for which we feel most attraction and natural tendency, and then, in order to give ourselves up to them more than is necessary, to persuade ourselves we can neglect the others. Thus a person with a preference for exterior acts of religion will spend all day praying or attending sermons and offices of the Church and considers herself very devout, although she may have been neglecting her temporal duties. Another, being differently disposed, will apply herself exclusively to the duties of her state of life, sacrificing to them without regret those of religion, quite convinced that one who is faithful in all the domestic relations, and gives to every one his due, cannot possibly be otherwise than pleasing to God.”

“The second way of making a false conscience consists in giving the preference in our esteem and practice to those among the Christian virtues which find their analogies in our natural dispositions, for there is not one of the virtues that has not its correlative amongst the various qualities of the human character. Persons of a gentle and placid disposition will affect meekness, the practice of which will be very easy for them and require no effort; and imagining they exercise a Christian virtue when in reality they only follow a natural bent, they are liable to fall into a culpable weakness. Those who, on the contrary, have an exact and rigid mind will esteem justice and order above all else, making small account of meekness and charity; and thus justifying themselves falsely by their natural temperament, they follow the tendency of the flesh whilst believing they obey the spirit, and may easily become addicted to excessive severity.”

How does one turn a false conscience into a true conscience? “Saint Francis de Sales recommends us to watch carefully over our natural tendencies and to substitute for them as much as possible the inspirations of grace, which he calls living according to the spirit: ‘To live according to the spirit,’ he writes, ‘is to think, speak and act according to the virtues that are of the spirit, and not according to the senses and feelings which are of the flesh. These latter we should make serve us, but we must hold them in subjection and not allow them to control us; whereas with the spiritual virtues it is just the reverse; we should serve them and bring everything else under subjection to them.'”

Quotations from Carlo Giuseppe Quadrupani, Light and Peace: Instructions for Devout Souls to Dispel Their Doubts and Allay Their Fears (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1898).

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Frequency of Holy Communion

The Psalmist cries out: “My heart is withered; because I forgot to eat my bread.” (Ps 101:4)

On the question of the frequency of receiving Holy Communion, Light and Peace draws from the wisdom of St. Ambrose of Milan and St. Francis de Sales.

Padre Quadrupani cites his favorite spiritual guide: “St. Francis de Sales says that when we cannot go to Holy Communion without giving annoyance to others, or without failing against duties of charity, justice or order, we should be satisfied with spiritual Communion. ‘Believe me,’ he adds, “this mortification, this deprivation, will be extremely pleasing to God and will advance you greatly in His love. One must sometimes take a step backward in order to leap the better.'”

St. Francis gives this admirable advice: “In proportion as you are hindered from doing the good you desire, do all the more ardently the good that you do not desire.” Quadrupani remarks: “Saint John the Baptist was more intimately united in spirit with our Lord than even the Apostles themselves: yet he never became one of His followers owing to the fact that his vocation required this sacrifice on his part and called him elsewhere. This is the greatest act of spiritual mortification recorded in the lives of the saints.”

St. Ambrose says: “Live in such a manner that you may deserve to receive it every day, for he who does not deserve to receive it every day will not deserve to receive it at the end of the year. . . . When one has received a wound does he not seek a remedy? Sin which holds us captive is our wound: our remedy is in this ever adorable Sacrament.”

Quotations from Carlo Giuseppe Quadrupani, Light and Peace: Instructions for Devout Souls to Dispel Their Doubts and Allay Their Fears (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1898).

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Holy Communion

Christ declares: “Unless ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye shall not have life in you.” (Jn 6:54)

Padre Quadrupani addresses three common excuses given for not receiving Holy Communion more frequently:

Some give the excuse that they have not adequately prepared to receive the Eucharist. Quadrupani replies: “Do not fear that you are ill-prepared for Holy Communion and abuse the Sacrament because in receiving it you are cold, indifferent, and devoid of feeling. This is a trial sent or permitted by God to test your faith and to advance you in merit.”

Others give the excuse that they are beset with temptations. To them, Quadrupani has this to say: “Never refrain from receiving the Holy Eucharist because you happen to be beset by temptations; this would be to capitulate to your enemy without offering any resistance. The more combats you have to sustain, the greater the necessity of providing yourself with the means of defence, and these are to be found in the Blessed Sacrament.”

Still others complain that receiving Holy Communion frequently does not make them any more virtuous. Quadrupani says to them: “Do not conclude that you derive no benefit from Holy Communion because you find no perceptible increase in your virtues. Consider that it at least serves to keep you in a state of grace. You give nourishment to your body every day but you do not pretend to say that it daily gains in strength. Does food appear useless to you on that account? Certainly not; for, though it fail to augment strength, it preserves it by repairing the constant waste. Now, this is precisely the case with the divine Food of our souls.”

The editor of Light and Peace addresses a misconception about the motive for receiving Holy Communion: “It is indeed an error to consider Holy Communion a reward of virtue, and, in a measure, a gauge of perfection, whereas it is above all a means to attain perfection, and the one pre-existing virtue required in order to employ this means is the desire to profit by it. Our divine Lord did not say: ‘Come to Me all ye who are perfect': He said: ‘Come to me all ye who labor and are burdened’ (Mt 11:28).

Quotations from Carlo Giuseppe Quadrupani, Light and Peace: Instructions for Devout Souls to Dispel Their Doubts and Allay Their Fears (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1898).

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