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St. Alphonsus’ Scrupulosity (Part 2)

Alphonsus Liguori’s ordination to the priesthood brought with it a new and extensive field for his worries. The recitation of the Divine Office became a torture. He worried about distractions to the extent of believing that he had not complied with his obligations. He began to repeat the Office. Fr. Pagano intervened to forbid him from repeating what he had said. Fr. Pagano suggested he could recite the Office with another, only to find that Alphonsus was now worried that he was responsible for the shortcomings of his companion. The obligation that the virtue of charity imposes to point out to others the evil of their ways—a risky operation for anyone—worried him, until both Frs. Pagano and Torni insisted that he was to disregard completely this aspect of the virtue. As far as Alphonsus was concerned, the obligation of fraternal correction simply did not exist.

His scruples assailed him at the most embarrassing moments—when he was in the middle of the formula of absolution in confession, when he was about to begin the celebration of Mass, at the consecration, at his own Communion. 

Fr. Pagano made him enter in his notebook the instruction that once he put on the amice as he vested for the celebration of Mass, he was not to hesitate further. The simple entry reads, “so my confessor instructs me.”

Before Masses, he worried whether he had broken his fast by accidently swallowing water while washing. He purified the paten after the Communion interminably in case any particles of the sacred host escaped his diligence. Fr. Pagano dealt with these areas by stating categorically that Alphonsus was never to omit the celebration of Mass no matter what sexual arousals occurred during the night, nor was he to seek confession beforehand; when purifying the paten, he was to leave most of the work to God’s angels.

His hesitations began to extend themselves to normal everyday commitments. Fr. Pagano consequently had to lay down a definite program to cover every eventuality. Regarding his favorite devotion, the Forty Hours, Alphonsus was to attend each day for only an hour and a half of prayer. 

Regarding his commitments to the apostolic mission, he was always to say yes when requested, but he was then to put the request to his confessor, who would give or refuse the final permission to undertake the engagement. When in doubt about the best course of action, he was to choose freely whichever course he wished, a solution that did not appeal to him and to which he objected. That, precisely, was his problem.

(Continued next month)

Adapted from Alphonsus de Liguori by Frederick Jones, CSsR, copyright 1998 (Liguori Publications, 803765).

Related: Preparation for Death (802232); From the Heart of Saint Alphonsus (808371); Selected Writings and Prayers of Saint Alphonsus (800252); The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ (800313); and Praying the Way of the Cross (106740).

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Published inReflections