You Are Not Hopeless

July 25 2022 | by

Dear Pastoral Counselor: I have struggled with scrupulosity since returning to the Catholic faith in 2015. I was raised Catholic, but left the Faith when I enrolled at university and got involved with a misled group of friends. After graduating from college, my relationships with these people slowly faded as our lives became increasingly busier.

I then met my spouse, a beautiful, loving Catholic woman who helped me to return to the Faith. While this has been an incredibly bright light in my life, my love for the Faith has also led me to begin engaging in scrupulous behavior, such as going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation multiple times a week and refraining from receiving Communion due to the fear of being unworthy. I desire wholeheartedly to overcome my scrupulosity in order to grow deeper in my love of God.


Please know you’re very much in good company in this fight. Saints such as Teresa of Avila, Alphonsus Liguori, Therese of Lisieux, and Ignatius of Loyola have all struggled with scrupulosity. That being said, if we’re going to successfully overcome our scrupulosity as these saints did, we need to know a little about what it is and where it comes from.

So, what is scrupulosity?

Scrupulosity is essentially composed of two things: 1) The inordinate desire for clarity in relation to our past sins and 2) Seeing sin where sin does not truly exist.

And where does it come from?

Scrupulosity comes from an unmoderated desire for perfection. Essentially, we want so strongly to be holy that we overshoot our landing spot and instead land in a state of scrupulosity, seeing only our imperfections.

And how do we overcome it?

There is a Latin term, Nemo dat quod non habet, which means that one cannot give what one does not have. I cannot, for example, give $10 to my neighbor if I do not have $10. If we apply this to our spiritual lives, we see clearly that we cannot make ourselves holy – much less perfect – because we do not have this to give to ourselves.

One of the problems with scrupulosity is that we begin to pull our focus away from God and turn it towards ourselves. We concern ourselves with whether or not we are okay spiritually; whether or not we have sinned; what form of sin we have committed; and whether or not we have truly been forgiven for it.

The problem with the questions we ask ourselves in these situations is that the focus shifts from God to me. In scrupulosity, we tend to contract, or pull our focus away from God and place it on ourselves. When we do this, we fail to recognize God’s fathomless mercy. We fail to recognize that He knows our many imperfections and, when the priest – in persona Christi – absolves us from our sins, the eternal punishment due to them is forgiven. Wiped away. Poured into the bottomless ocean of His merciful love.

In this lies one of the most important means to overcoming scrupulosity: turning our focus away from ourselves and placing it entirely on God, trusting in His unrivalled mercy and goodness. He desires us to be holy, to be perfect, but only He can give that to us. We cannot obtain it on our own. Let us trust in Him and His divine mercy.

Remember, sanctity is just this: loving God with every ounce of our being. If we’re resolute in our determination to keep our focus entirely on Him, we’ll have successfully begun the process of overcoming scrupulosity.

Updated on August 22 2022