Examination of Conscience & Scrupulosity

I’m over at scborromeo.org/confess.htm completing a formal examination of conscience for the Advent penance service which my parish is having tomorrow night, and during the process of the examination, my suspicions are confirmed: the examination of conscience leads to scrupulosity. One moment, good, pious Catholics talk about the cross of Christ, how we’ve been washed in his blood, and how we should rely upon his mercy – and then the next moment we’re being asked, “Did I give time to God each day in prayer?” “Did I fail to contribute to the support of the Church?” etc.

For example, one question which this site asks is:

"Did I disobey or disrespect my parents or legitimate superiors? " – And I’m thinking, “Well, the other day my mother, who is encouraging me to eat more healthy, told me not to eat too fatteningly, and here lately I’ve been eating chips, sweets, and drinking Cokes. Yes, I’ve sinned against this commandment.”


“Did I neglect to give good religious example to my family?” – And I’m thinking, "I’m sure I have. I guess I’ll just confess, “Forgive me, I’ve neglected to always give a good religious example to my family.”


“Did I give a full day’s work for a full day’s pay?” – And I’ve confessed this before because the examination of conscience recommends it if you haven’t, but my case comes with the strict caveat from my manager, “I don’t care what you do so long as the work gets done.” I confessed it. My priest asked me, “Is the work getting done?” I said, “Yes.” He looked at me confused and said, “Then what’s the problem?” The examination of conscience is making me scrupulous, that’s what.

The other day, listening to a priest on Ave Maria Radio, he was discussing how some people come to confession only twice a year and have nothing to say – so he asks, “Have you loved God with all your heart, all your mind and all your strength?” But if I were to confess that, I don’t know a single priest who wouldn’t immediately think that I was not only being outrageously scrupulous but a bit too hard on myself.

I know there’s a balance, and thank God I’m beginning to see it for myself, but this exists – and it exists not only because the examination of conscience can make a person extremely paranoid, but because we’re told by our priests during homilies that we’re not confessing enough. Something’s gotta give.

Read this along with your Exam of Con.


I think the priest may have been concerned you were being too scrupulous. There are no absolute guidelines of degree about the perfection with which any of us live the gospel. Can we do our absolute best? A better question may be, am I do the best I can manage?

I think we know where we fail in charity towards others, and fail in charity towards ourselves. (Jesus said to love others and we love ourselves so the second part is also relevant…and maybe ties into your resistence to healthier eating, but one must be reasonable not so absolutely tied to a program of eating or exercise that makes us utterly miserable. We may need the occasional lapse as part of our search for human wholness.)

I’ve been in the way of going to confession regularly, so there have been occasions…where obviously there was no serious sin to confess and therefore I felt able to say. “I want to say sorry to God for my failures in faith, hope, and love to God, to others, and to myself.” And the priest has given absolution…but of course the priests know me well enough. If there are serious sins or sin areas that really need work, especially regarding charity, then of course one would focus more on those. I would rather not trivialize anyone’s sin or conscience if I were a priest, I think, but if I thought there was danger of scrupulosity I might tone things down…but not being a priest, we’ll never know.

I’ve heard it said that some priests don’t particularly like long laundry lists if the matters are venial, but that it’s important to get to the root problem of the sins. One may be selfish and that’s why one sins. One needs to obtain grace to work on one’s charity to other. One may be stressed and may need to work on finding peace so that there is less likelihood of sinning. Really, Confession seeks not only to absolve our sins, but also to help us to grow more whole.

Thanks for the new word in my vocab Epistemes! Scrupulosity!

When I finally commited to my first confession it completely changed me. I came back soon clearing out more sins. After that I really don’t want to sin, I mean really don’t…I know what you mean. But with a serious examination I can still find myself commiting each of the 10 commandments.

Just listen to Fr Larry Richards CD. It keeps me humble and hopefully on a path I should be.


I think we can be too scrupulous perhaps about the Sacrament of Penance itself, since we are not bound to confess ALL venial sins only mortal sins. There are many ways in which venial sins are forgiven.
With confession it is sufficient - or a way amongst a few ways of preparing for Confession - to recall one’s most common failings and we all have them and confess with simplicity these failings since our last Confession. Do I have to have the precise number of times…no, I do not. Must I mention every little detail of my failing…no, I do not. I can talk to Father quite conversationally in a general way about my failings, looking at perhaps motivation etc.

My patron saint for Confession is St. Anthony, who is the patron saint of lost things…and since I am quite often a lost thing and in the past badly so in regard to Confession because of scruples…I always pray to St. Anthony to help me to make a good confession and not let myself get lost in it all. And if I find I have nothing to confess which is alarming always, a prayer to St. Anthony will jog a 64yr old memory back to a state of reason and true self knowledge with a remembering.:smiley:


Being an extremely scrupulous soul, myself… I sympathize with you. Yesterday, at daily Mass… Father told us, that attending Mass and receiving Holy Communion is a “means” of washing away venial sin.

This passage, from the Diary of St. Faustina has been of such great comfort to me… that I laminated it (really! :smiley: ), and taped it to the door in my bathroom… where I can SEE it… whenever I start to have doubts. It has helped me, tremendously. I hope it will help you, too…

St. Faustina: "Once, I desired very much to receive Holy Communion, but I had a certain doubt, and I did not go. I suffered greatly because of this. It seemed to me that my heart would burst from the pain. When I set about my work, my heart full of bitterness, Jesus suddenly stood by me and said,

Jesus: “My daughter, do not omit Holy Communion unless you know well that your fall was serious; apart from this, no doubt must stop you from uniting yourself with Me in the mystery of My love. Your minor faults will disappear in My love like a piece of straw thrown into a great furnace. Know that you grieve Me much when you fail to receive Me in Holy Communion.”

Hope this helps.

Thank you for this. My pastor has mentioned something similar to me in confession. He basically said, “What use are the sacraments as instruments of grace if we place barbed wire fences and tightened security around them?” (He, of course, was not allowing for occassions of serious sin.)

With the exception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Of course, that Sacrament is provided for “occasions of serious sin”. If only everyone would receive this Sacrament… frequently. How different this world might be. I’m so sad, that some people seem afraid of it. :frowning:

Although Mass and Holy Communion are “means” of washing away venial sin… even if we haven’t committed mortal sin, we should still receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The graces we receive in that Sacrament are abundant.

Once a month, is great! (I need ALL the graces the Good Lord will bestow on me… :blush: ).

The more I realize that I’m not heaven-bound, that I’m likely going to end up in purgatory, the easier it becomes…

The less I think that I am a saint, the clearer I see what needs to be done…

Thank you for that great thought. I’ve never considered praying to St. Anthony for a good confession. Maybe, with his help, I can actually do away with my slips of paper (helping me to remember).:rolleyes: Actually, for me a word or two to St. Alphonse and St. Faustina probably wouldn’t be out of order, either.

I must confess that though St. Anthony is a patron of mine especially for Confession, I still retain my little faults and failings book and prior to Confession at home, I summarize and take it along with me tho at times I have forgotten it. Of course I live alone and also take shorthand, and only I can understand my shorthand that is ‘sort of somehere like’ Pitman’s shorthand…so no fears if my little book should go astray.

:rotfl: Barb! That is REALLY funny! (not that you live alone… the shorthand part). My laugh for the day. Pssssst can you teach me some of that thar shorthand? I usually go to Confession with my sins listed on a slip of paper… and I’m in constant fear that I will drop it. :rotfl: :blush:

Thanks for the laugh.

I learnt Pitmans shorthand, MV…then as I developed speed I developed a shorthand that in the main only I can read and it does come in handy…except on the computer:D

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