On Scrupulosity and OCD

For those that live with scrupulosity, being faithful can be very painful. Jimmy Akin, Catholic Apologist and former protester, has posted six ways to help overcome this condition. These are the type of posts that firm up my conviction that the Church is truly The Solution of All Problems!

Jimmy, take it away…

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http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jimmy-akin/6-tools-for-the-scrupulous

6 Tools for the Scrupulous

by Jimmy Akin Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Here are 6 tools that can help people suffering from scrupulosity and OCD.

Scrupulosity and obsessive-compulsive disorder are two painful conditions that frequently go together.

Scrupulosity involves excessive anxiety about the sinfulness of particular actions. For example, having a fear that a typical, everyday action like forgetting to turn off the lights and thus “wasting electricity” might be a mortal sin. Such fears are known as scruples.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a related condition in which a person experiences frequent, painful thoughts (obsessions, such as fear of germs on one’s hands), which may drive him to perform various actions (compulsions, such as repeatedly washing the hands) in order to relieve the anxiety.

The two conditions often go together because the obsessions that an OCD sufferer has may be scruples. That is, OCD can cause a person to have frequent, painful thoughts that are excessive fears about whether something is sinful.

In other words: OCD can cause people to have scruples.

I frequently find myself advising people about how to deal with these conditions, and over time I’ve developed some standard pieces of advice. In this post, I’d like to discuss six of them that can be useful tools.

A Common Pattern

The value of these tools is that they can be applied to many different situations. A common pattern in counseling the scrupulous and the OCD is that no sooner is one worry dealt with than another pops up to replace it.

While it is possible to answer these worries one at a time, a better procedure is to offer advice that the scrupulous person can use to address the new worries himself, as soon as they pop up.

This is principle as the maxim, “Give a man a fish and he’ll have food for a day, but teach him to fish and he’ll have food for a lifetime.”

The tools I’d like to offer here involve skills like learning to fish. They can apply to many different scruples and thus can be used to help with scrupulosity and OCD in general, not just particular manifestations of them.

The tools discussed in this post deal with scruples about whether particular courses of action that involve risk should be judged sinful.

Risk, OCD, and Scrupulosity

Sometimes people with OCD can be caught in a trap by the idea of taking risk.

Common manifestations of the condition involve repetitively checking to see whether one has locked the door or turned off the stove or washed one’s hands properly.

Failure to do any of these involves risk: an unlocked door could let a burglar in, a lit stove could lead to a house fire, and unwashed hands could result in getting a disease.

Some people with OCD feel compelled to check and re-check—sometimes hundreds of times a day—whether they have properly locked their doors, turned off their stoves, and washed their hands.

This obsessive worry about these things, and the compulsive re-checking that it leads to, become scrupulosity when the person starts worrying, “Am I sinning if I don’t re-check these things?”

This is not healthy, and people caught in these worries need a way to break out of the trap.

Tool 1: Setting the Right Goal

It strikes me that part of the root of the problem is that the person has the wrong goal in these situations.

By checking and re-checking these things, the person is trying to eliminate risk.

That’s understandable. We shouldn’t take excessive risks.

The problem is that the person in this kind of situation isn’t avoiding excessive risks. He’s trying to avoid all risk.

No matter how many times the person has washed his hands, there’s always the worry that there could have been some harmful microbes left behind.

And you know what? There could be! In fact, there almost certainly are.

But the odds of the ones left behind on already-washed hands causing a serious illness are very, very low.

God gave us an immune system to deal with such microbes. Furthermore, he gave us beneficial microbes that also cover our skin, and we don’t want to wash too many of those off! If you do that, you actually create new risks.

So what should a person’s goal be in such situations?

It should not be eliminating all risk. That’s impossible. Every single action we undertake involves risks.

Risk is part of the human condition in this life and cannot be entirely eliminated. Trying to do so will cause more problems than it solves—like washing one’s hands until they are shriveled, cracked, and even more vulnerable to infection than when the skin was intact.

Rather than risk elimination, risk management should be the goal.

In other words, one should be willing to take risks as long as the risks aren’t excessive.

If a risk isn’t excessive, a person with scrupulosity or OCD should put it out of his mind and not worry about it.

Doing so pleases God and displays faith in him that he will either not allow the danger we fear to materialize or he will give us the grace to deal with it if it does.

Tool 2: Setting a Limit

One way people can avoid getting trapped in a compulsive, repetitive behavior (e.g., checking the stove or saying the same prayer multiple times just to make sure you said it “right”) is by setting a limit.

I recommend that people allow themselves to do something once if it seems reasonable and then not do it again unless extraordinary circumstances exist.

For example, checking the door once to make sure that it is locked can be reasonable. But once that’s been done, don’t check it again.

The same thing goes for making sure that the stove is turned off.

Or washing your hands.

Or saying a prayer (whether that prayer is a short one, like an Our Father, or a long one, like an entire Rosary; don’t get stuck repeating the same prayer multiple times because you feel like you didn’t do it right; say it once and move on, trusting God with any imperfections in your performance).

Setting a limit to how often you will allow yourself to do something (I recommend one time) can help avoid getting stuck in a repetitive cycle.

Tool 3: Living in a Human Manner

One of the difficulties that people with OCD and scrupulosity encounter is that they are holding themselves to standards far higher than ordinary people do.

In fact, they are holding themselves to superhuman standards—that is, standards which God did not intend people in the present condition of life to meet.

When we are glorified and purged of all stain of original sin, we may be able to avoid every uncharitable thought and say every prayer with blazingly intense devotion, but that is not the condition in which we find ourselves now.

Trying to achieve such superhuman feats will cause problems in the here and now.

Therefore, do not strive for the superhuman. In this life, we are called to live “in a human manner” (Latin, in modo humano).

If you find yourself being anxious or suffering because you are not able to do something in the utterly perfect way you would like to do it, stop for a reality check and ask: “Am I trying to live in a human manner here—or in a superhuman manner?”

If it’s the latter, scale back your ambitions.

It can sometimes be difficult for people with OCD and scrupulosity to apply this test because they can have unreasonably high expectations about what they ought to be able to achieve.

As a result, it can be helpful for them to look outside themselves to help establish a frame of reference. This leads to the next three tools . . .

Tool 4: Use Church Teaching to Calibrate Expectations

The teaching of the Church can be a useful tool for helping to calibrate expectations in this arena.

In its 2,000-year history, the Church has faced countless situations and applied the moral principles that Christ gave us to them.

When considering questions of what may be excessive risk in a particular activity, ask yourself: “Has the Church ever said that this activity is sinful?”

If a common, specific activity carries such risk with it that it would actually be sinful then the Church has probably condemned it.

The Church may not have dealt with rare, unusual activities, but if it is something common and it is so risky that it is sinful then there is likely to be a condemnation of it.

On the other hand, if there is no such condemnation, the scrupulous person should act on the principle that it is non-sinful.

For example, recently I was asked whether washing underwear with other clothes might be sinful since germs from the underwear could get onto the other clothes.

People have washed underwear with other clothes throughout the entirety of the Church’s history, but the Church has never said that this is so risky it must not be done.

Apart from very unusual circumstances (e.g., the underwear was worn by a person with ebola), it should be assumed that it is not sinful to do this.

Tool 5: Use Other People to Create a Reference Point

It can also be very helpful to consider what other people would do in the same situation as a guide to what is reasonable.

Obviously, you want to select individuals who would be good guides to what is reasonable. This, principally, means two things:

1.Do not think of people who are fellow OCD/scrupulosity sufferers. Using them as a guide will only result in staying trapped.
2.Do not use people who have no conscience and no sense of morals. They are unreliable in the opposite direction.
Instead, you might pick a priest or spiritual director who you respect and ask yourself, “What would this person say?”

And it doesn’t even have to be a priest or specialist. You could just ask, “What would an ordinary Christian trying to please God say?”

If that person would say the activity is not sinful then act on the principle that it is not sinful.

To use our previous example of washing underwear with other clothes, an ordinary, pious priest would not think twice about this being sinful (apart from weird cases, like ebola).

Neither would an ordinary, sincere Christian.

Tool 6: Use Past Experience

A final tool is one’s own past experience.

When considering whether a particular course of action entails excessive risk, ask the question: “Has this ever caused a serious problem in the past?”

If the answer is no then act on the principle that it is not sinful.

Again, using our previous example, if you’ve washed underwear with other clothes for years and it’s never caused anyone to get seriously ill then assume that the risk is acceptable and the action is not sinful.

A Final Word

It is not possible for a blog post to offer a complete theory of risk management that covers every possible situation, but the above principles can serve as valuable tools for those suffering from OCD or scrupulosity.

I’d also like to invite readers—whether they have these conditions or not—to pray for those who do.

My own experience with helping such people has given me a great deal of compassion for what they go through.

If you haven’t known and interacted with such individuals, it can be difficult to understand the kind of anxieties and moral crises that they face.

Be thankful that you don’t have to wear these crowns of thorns, and please pray for those who do.

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St. Joan of Valois – Model of Virtue

It is not St. Joan’s feast day, but I was talking to a friend about his seven year old daughter and how her mother is not happy with how she is developing and is always looking for ways to “fix” her. Everytime I hear about a parent not being happy with their child’s development or looks I think of Blessed Margaret of Castello and St. Joan of Valois. They are two great witnessses for young women today where the view of true beauty has been completely skewed.

According to the Tradition in Action website, the late Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira wrote the blurb below. The website reads: “Following the example of St. John Bosco who used to make similar talks for the boys of his College, each evening it was Prof. Plinio’s custom to make a short commentary on the lives of the next day’s saint in a meeting for youth in order to encourage them in the practice of virtue and love for the Catholic Church.”

She certainly has some dynamite quotes as well. St. Joan of Valois, Ora Pro Nobis!

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http://www.traditioninaction.org/SOD/j005sdSt.JoanValois2-5.htm

“Joan of Valois (1464-1505) was the second daughter of Louis XI, King of France. She was betrothed to Louis, Duke of Orleans, and the marriage took place in 1476. On her husband’s succession to the throne, he obtained a declaration that the marriage was invalid. She later founded the Order of the Annunciation.

Joan of Valois was a lady extraordinarily ugly and deformed. Because of her ugliness her husband despised her at a time when the spirit of frivolity had already begun to grow, giving origin to the cult of beauty of our days. Her husband, who became King of France, refused to live with her. Her father, the King Louis XI, was also ashamed to be with her, and only visited her a few times a year.

Placed in this situation of general scorn, she demonstrated a very commendable virtue, that is, she remained secure and confident. She maintained a great dignity and composure that came from an indomitable state of spirit. In effect she responded like this to her situation:

“The reason why people despise me is not a valid one. For the value of a person comes not from the beauty of the body, but from the beauty of the soul. I have value as a princess, a daughter of a king, a wife of a king and a Catholic, and there is no ugliness that can annul these values. This is part of the moral order. Men can think whatever they want, judge whatever they desire, I will behave without arrogance but in full accordance with my dignity.”

She never displayed shame over her situation or showed herself insecure in the face of her ugliness. She never allowed herself self-pity or permitted anyone to look down on her. Even after her marriage was annulled, she carried her cross peacefully and calmly with her head raised high.
Repudiated as spouse of the King Louis XII, she received the title of Duchess of Berry and governed over a vast amount of properties. She also founded a religious order, the Order of the Annunciation. She gave, therefore, a great meaning to her life, which was an external expression of her profound moral value. She acquired a virtue that was heroic, and in acknowledgement of this the Church raised her to the honor of the altars.

What is the lesson for us?

It means that even when people want to despise us, persecute us, or annul things that we have a right to, we should remain secure and certain of our position. For if one knows that he is acting according to Catholic doctrine, he should have a peaceful conscience. The man who acts in accordance with Catholic doctrine has nothing to fear or be ashamed of. Rather, he should be proud of it and self-assured.

Even if the Revolution arrogantly offends or scorns us, our position should be that of St. Joan of Valois. In the face of lies and calumnies, we should carry ourselves the way she did. We should remind ourselves:

“The facts prove that I am acting according to Catholic doctrine. My conscience tells me that there is nothing to reproach in my action.
Therefore, before the eyes of God and his Angels, I can be serene and peaceful, certain that I will never be despised by them. It does not matter if men despise me. I have the Catholic Faith and I know that I am following the truth taught by the true Church. Let others think what they will, judge what they want, I will not cede one inch of my position to please them.”

This is the teaching, the lesson of true human dignity given to us by St. Joan of Valois.”

On Being a Catholic Witness

Being a Catholic witness in this day and age is of great and critical importance. In this world where the majority of people don’t seem to believe in God (or at least listen to him), mingling with the public while wearing a Habit or a Cassock is oh so important as a witness to what truly matters in life. Linked below is an article containing several quotes from a few Carmelite sisters on their thoughts of the gift of being able to wear a Habit.

Here is one quote that stands out:

“One thing I love about wearing our habit is that whether I am walking down the street or walking the aisle at the store, every single person I encounter thinks of God when they saw see me. It might be the only thought of God they have that day! And that is what it means to be an eschatological witness . . . to be a walking billboard for heaven, a reminder that God wants a relationship with us FOREVER!”
– Sister Marie-Aimée of the Heavenly Father, clothed March 19, 2007

Deo Gratias for women that desire to be a walking billboard for heaven!

Read more: http://spiritualdirection.com/blog/2014/07/30/good-habit#ixzz38xRZD5VB

The Saints

One of the best ways to evangelize and prove to non-Catholics that Catholicism is the one true faith is through the witness and example of our Catholic Saints. The Saints are the true super heroes of humanity. At times, God makes these heroes stand out by not allowing their bodies, or certain body parts, to decay as evidence of their saintliness. Please click on the link to view some of God’s most famous warriors who are now part of the Church Triumphant.

The Faith for all our Senses

The Catholic Faith was created by God himself. It truly is a gift for all humanity and the only vehicle to salvation ordained by God himself. Below is a link to a story about a Detroit native, Alex Begin, that has produced a TV Series that explores our faith. The story contains a quote from Mr. Begin that makes a great point: “Our faith is a multi-sensory experience. Our faith is nurtured by what we see and experience.”

Since God created the Catholic faith and he created us, he knows what motivates us to live our faith. The Catholic faith is the only faith that engages all our five senses in the sacred liturgy, especially the Traditional Latin Mass. Every day is our birth day in a sense when one is Catholic. The gifts come daily. Thank you for the gift of our faith Lord.

Mr. Begin’s TV series appears on EWTN. The show filmed in Detroit, with all it’s beautiful Catholic architecture, will appear in 2015.

http://themichigancatholic.com/2014/07/detroit-native-produces-tv-series-exploring-extraordinary-catholic-faith/

The Porn Epidemic

Those of us in the military understand the connection between pornography consumption and the sexual assault crisis in which it finds itself. The solution to the problem is out there but most people either don’t want to find it or are blind to it. Please follow this link which contains a description of a new documentary series titled “Sex on Demand” by David Perry that contains real solutions for individuals suffering from the scourge of pornography that damages their souls and destroys life and relationships.

http://pornharms.com/documentary-series-sex-on-demand/

The Latest Vortex

This latest “Vortex” will cause some heartburn to my Protestant brothers and sisters. But as a former protester myself (a total ignorant one as to what I was protesting) I am so eternally grateful that I found God’s gift to all humanity, The Catholic Church. It is our transport to eternal salvation. The Church literally saved my life and God willing, my soul. It offers us the fullness of truth, and the clarity of salvation that other faiths do not.

http://www.churchmilitant.tv/daily/?today=2014-07-18

Demons are Proof of God’s Grand Plan

If you aren’t aware of Father Fortea, I highly recommend his book: “Interview With An Exorcist – An Insider’s Look at the Devil, Demonic Possession, and the Path to Deliverance” In the book, Father Fortea, a spanish priest and exorcist, mentions that demons spend most of their time studying us as they aren’t able to read our thoughts. Since they are our enemy, we should study them! Father Fortea’s book is a great place to start.

Also, I subscribe to Dan Burke’s daily devotional e-mail (link below) that is usually chock full of Catholic meat. I recommend suscribing to it. Below is his post that includes a Q&A with Father Fortea.

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Father Fortea, why does God not just annihilate the demons?

God, in His great love, has pledged not to destroy any intelligent being He has created. Demons, by their very existence, are a manifestation of God’s justice, a proclamation that the law of God is not violated without consequence. He who violates this law deforms himself and, if he chooses not to repent of this transgression, his deformation becomes eternal. Such is the case with the demons. They are a terrifying proof of the divine order.

In a certain sense, even the demons enrich the perfect order of God’s creation. Beauty cannot be destroyed by ugliness; rather, ugliness (i.e., evil) makes us see beauty all the more by contrast. A cathedral would not be more beautiful if we took away the monstrous gargoyles adorning it. As has been said, the demons show us the justice of God, His holiness and wisdom in creating such an order. While it would have been better had sin and evil never entered creation, their presence can point the way to what is good, true, beautiful, and holy. Even a majestic cathedral, with its high towers and sculptured beauty, has its gloomy crypts.

For the demons, the centuries pass with no hope. Undoubtedly, being desperate and full of sadness, if they could commit suicide, they would do so in order to end their suffering. But, as a pure spirit, the life of a demon is indestructible. A spirit has no organs, it cannot be poisoned, and it cannot be starved. It cannot even die of sadness. No matter what is done, it will continue to exist forever. (Of course, the same holds true for human beings as well. We will exist forever – either in heaven or hell, by our free choice to obey God or reject him.)

Anyway, as has been said, even though the demons suffer for all eternity, they do not suffer at each and every moment. Even though they do not recognize it, their existence is a gift from God. And even though they fall over and over again into acts of hate, reproach, and remorse, the rest of the time they know and experience a natural existence, which is proper to their nature.

Read more: http://spiritualdirection.com/blog/2014/07/18/why-does-god-not-just-annihilate-the-demons#ixzz37pCAHXrx

Pope Benedict The Brave

  • Below is a great article written by Michael Brendan Doughtery, a writer for “The Week” magazine. Boy, does he hit the nail on the head about how important the mass is to all citizens of the world (not just Catholics). Save the liturgy and save the world!

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    http://theweek.com/article/index/264408/in-defense-of-pope-benedict-and-the-latin-mass

    One of Benedict’s greatest legacies was to liberate the Latin Mass — and thereby restore beauty to the whole world By Michael Brendan Dougherty | July 9, 2014 127 1.9k 157
    Well done. (Franco Origlia/Getty Images) Twelve summers ago I entered a dusty little church in a Polish neighborhood in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., that Poles had abandoned long ago. It was a 45-minute drive from my home. The old, wooden high altar and the sanctuary it sat in had not been renovated, marked as they were by New York state as too historically important to endure the trendy changes of church architecture in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. The people there were a crusty lot, hardened by years of struggle between their own bishops and priests. Some were made saintly by this. Others were conspiracists, and grouchy. A few seemed to be all of the above. I watched the women, young and old, adjust mantillas on their heads, and pray sotto voce. I marveled at the pious silence of the children. A few amateurs intoned the Gregorian chants for that day, as a priest quietly and efficiently offered the old Latin Mass.

    Seven years ago this week, Pope Benedict would deliver the relief of my life. He declared that what we did in those days was legal. He affirmed what we told ourselves as we were chased out of that parish, that this form of worship had never been abolished and never ought to be. On the very portentous date of July 7, 2007, he issued the document Summorum Pontificum, which liberated that Mass. By doing so he established his legacy as a brave pope. He also did a great service for culture and the arts, for the whole world — even for nonbelievers.

    Why does it matter to nonbelievers? Because beauty matters to everyone. In 1971, Agatha Christie, not a Catholic, was so appalled at the disappearance of the traditional Mass and the effect this would have on English culture that she signed a petition to Pope Paul VI to keep it alive in England. It read, in part:

    The rite in question, in its magnificent Latin text, has also inspired a host of priceless achievements in the arts — not only mystical works, but works by poets, philosophers, musicians, architects, painters and sculptors in all countries and epochs. Thus, it belongs to universal culture as well as to churchmen and formal Christians. [Traditio]
    Because of Benedict’s intervention, my own parish in Norwalk, Conn., is treated not only to Gregorian chant, but to Renaissance-era motets, and Masses composed by Morales and Monteverdi. It is an aesthetic high crime that so much of the modern church continues to force saccharine and theologically insipid hymns like “Here I am, Lord” on its people, while leaving William Byrd’s Ave Verum Corpus in a dusty attic.

    Summorum came too late to save that community in Poughkeepsie. In the New York Archdiocese as then ruled by Cardinal Edward Egan, the offense of saying this Mass and publishing tracts in its favor was treated as a far more serious crime and scandal than clerical pederasty. Cardinal Egan suspended my Poughkeepsie priest, and effectively exiled him from the life of the church. Priests who knew about the situation observed darkly that if he had raped children instead of saying this Mass, his career would have been better off.

    The modus operandi then was that these Latin Mass people — “the crazies,” as they were called in the archbishop’s office — should be contained in Saint Agnes in midtown Manhattan or in a few obscure parishes along the Hudson River. Egan was all too happy to see that Poughkeepsie parish closed and the building sold. He smudged us out like a penciled mistake.

    Benedict’s intervention urged bishops to make every accommodation for communities like ours. He grounded this in a solid principle of religion, writing: “What was sacred for prior generations, remains sacred and great for us as well, and cannot be suddenly prohibited altogether or even judged harmful.”

    The growth of this movement within the church has been phenomenal. In 1988, there were 20 regularly scheduled and diocesan-approved Latin Masses in the United States. After Summorum Pontificum, there are now more than 500. And because the movement to restore beauty and solemnity to worship is growing, it is also becoming more mainstream and diverse, less “crusty” and forbidding as it seemed to me over a decade ago.

    Benedict’s intervention was not perfect. His intellectual attempt to save the Council and the new Mass from criticism with a “hermeneutic of continuity” was a noble failure. If the council intended continuity, why did it throw every aspect of Catholic worship up for possible revision in its documents? Why was the council swiftly followed by the worst spasm of iconoclasm in the history of the church — a tearing down of altars, images, statues — and a hasty revision to nearly every part of Catholic life?

    A first-year student of religious studies would recognize that changing a religion’s central act of worship — altering the rationales for it, modifying all its physical and verbal aspects — is not merely an “update” or sign of organic growth and maturation, but a mixture of vandalism and revolution. Even today, as more young and growing families attach themselves to the ancient rite, rearguard apologists for the 1960s insist on a 1930s critique that the old Mass cannot speak to modern man. But that is another, sadder essay.

    Luckily, the maligned and misunderstood Pope Benedict made this generous gesture to embattled Latin Massers seven years ago. It has empowered a movement in the church that will bring back beauty not only to the sanctuary, but to the whole world as well.

  • The Truth of the Catholic Church

    We found this description of the Church that hits the mark. I pray all our protesting friends see the light before they take their last breath.

    http://catholicphilosophy.com/sys-tmpl/door/index.html

    “The Magisterium of the Catholic Church is the activation of the deposit of faith in Christ for all of human history. Understanding it is essential. It proclaims the truth of the reality of Christ as Incarnate God. His reality does not depend on anyone thinking or imagining it as real. And Christ is the Trinity in action.

    Catholic philosophy is nothing but wisdom. The pursuit of real truth. It is a response to the most radical interior call for true and authentic human living at all levels, and without compromise. This is accomplished by those who accept the announcement of the truth of Christ as God Incarnate, which the Magisterium of the Catholic Church teaches in obedience to the personal commands given by Him to His Apostles. The Church is Christ. The fountain from which we receive the strength and understanding to configure Him in our lives. And He is with us always in the reality of the Eucharist. Because He designed it.”