Fr. Thomas M. Santa, CSsR
Sometimes when people with scrupulosity talk about sin╤especially mortal sin╤I feel uneasy. It╒s as though these men and women have personified mortal sin, perceiving it as a boogeyman (a mythical scary creature people use to threaten young children into behaving) lurking around every corner, waiting to pounce and snare us into a state of serious sinfulness. Every thought, word, and action, no matter how innocent or normal, has the potential to rouse this spiritual boogeyman. The utmost care and caution is required at all times lest we unwittingly fall into his trap.
This constant diligence and focus leaves little room for peace, fulfillment, and happiness.
People with scrupulosity believe we can be unwitting recipients of the spiritual boogeyman╒s one-way ticket to hell. But that couldn╒t be further from the truth.
Mortal sin is a descriptive and theological understanding used in the formation of conscience.
Mortal sin is not a person, a devil, a boogeyman. Mortal sin is not lurking behind every bush and in every nook and cranny of the human experience. And feeling very strong emotion is not a signal that the boogeyman has appeared or that mortal sin is imminent.
The vast majority of human experience is intended to be enjoyed and engaged in, sometimes even with intense emotion that is in no way sinful: justified anger, loss and disappointment that lead to tears and sobbing, sexuality╤including the strong manifestations of feeling and emotion that surge through us, and even deliberate sexual expression or a secondary sexual experience that produces very strong feelings and emotions.
Despite the intensity of the feelings they inspire, these experiences don╒t necessarily involve sin.
The list of strong and intense human experiences is almost endless. In many instances, these emotions are the intended and most appropriate expression and feeling we╒re capable of experiencing. To say otherwise is to contradict╤and ultimately hold in disrespect╤the act of creation as it is intended by the Creator.
Human choices, decisions, and experiences are not intended to be constantly categorized into good or bad, sinful or not sinful, mortal or venial. Human life is not a test, and human living is not filled with traps, mazes, and other illusions intended to obscure the ╥face of God╙ for the person who seeks a relationship with God. There was a time when life was perceived that way, but that is no longer the case. The teachings and spirit of the Second Vatican Council invite the people of God to change their perceptions and viewpoints and to perceive a completely different dynamic and relationship with God.
If you╒re unconvinced by the teachings of -Vatican╩II, go to an even more original source for inspiration and clarification: The Word of God as it has been preserved for us in the sacred Scriptures invites us to widen our perception and change our attitudes. I can state this with the clearest sense of conviction possible. These words of Jesus are applicable: ╥If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him?╙ (Luke 11:13).
People with scrupulosity often perceive others as walking the same path with little or no difficulty, anxiety, and guilt over the smallest possible things. But what kind of cruel parent dangles his love and affection before his son╤and then snatches it away at the last moment? What kind of cruel parent promises to set her daughter on a path that leads to something important and necessary╤and then fills that path with obstacles? What parent gives one child an extremely difficult path to follow but gives his other child an easy path?
I understand that people find comfort in believing in the personification of moral choices and decisions. Personification makes our choices into something that is ╥out there affecting me╙ rather ╥within me affecting me.╙
But the way to freedom is not to view life as something that happens to us, but rather as something we fully and completely, to the best of our ability, participate in.
There is no boogeyman╤something or someone hiding in the shadows intent on trapping you or confusing you. Our God is a God of relationship who wants to be with us on the journey.
That is the Good News of the kingdom of God.