I used to have rather severe scruples. Now I would call them mild. I just thought I might share some of the practices I instituted to get to this place:
- I only examine my conscience for confession immediately before. I only examine it for a few minutes, at most (a prolonged examination is very harmful!), praying briefly first for the grace to do so well and for true contrition. I write down my sins, and then (very important!) I don’t think any more about them. Instead, in preparation, I think about the love of God the Father, the love of Jesus in the Sacred Heart, the Eucharist, etc. I do my best in this way to stir up hope and love, rather than attempting to stir up sorrow for my sins by meditating on the Passion, etc (I can do this at other times without danger.). Stirring up these sentiments will naturally provide the contrition and resolutions necessary for a good confession, but without danger of overwhelming with sadness or guilty feelings right before entering the tribunal of Mercy. It also reinforces trust.
- I trust the confessor. I tell my sins, simply and without spending much time worrying about what is too much or too little detail. I trust that he understands (or else he would ask for more details) and I trust in the absolution he gives me.
- I trust in God’s promises to aid me. No matter how unworthy my confession seems to me, I trust that I made a good confession, because I prayed first for the grace to do so, and this also shows that I had good intentions. I won’t re-confess anything, either to the same priest or to another. If I am unsure of having confessed a past sin, I must not confess it, everything is forgiven. I don’t worry about forgotten sins, these too are forgiven.
- I approach Communion if I have doubts about the state of my soul. If I am uncertain of being in mortal sin, then I can approach, because we are only obliged to abstain from Communion in the case of known, ie. certain, mortal sin. This is the current problem that I am still working through, having been cured by the other practices of most issues concerning confession itself. So I pray, with St. Joan of Arc, “If I am in the state of Grace, may God keep me in it. If I am not, may He put me in it.” Such a simple faith!
- If I am unsure whether an act is sinful or not, I seek the advice of someone I trust, or else a good and clear book, and then follow that advice without dwelling too much on whether it is correct or incorrect. Or I look at what other good Christians do. If it is something that other good and worthy Christians are able to do without scruple, then it stands to reason that I must be able to do it as well, without worry about it being sinful, because it would be prideful to think myself so singular that I alone cannot do this thing (for whatever reason I am bound to come up with).
- Sound reason is much more trustworthy than feelings. Feelings of anxiety are not the standard of the spiritual life. Just because I don’t ‘feel’ like I’m still in the state of grace, doesn’t mean that I’m not. Just because I feel anxious after my confession, doesn’t mean that I wasn’t forgiven completely. Just because I feel like I did something wrong or sinful, doesn’t mean that I am in any way guilty. The absence of sensible spiritual consolations is not a judgement on the worthiness of my prayers.
I don’t have access to a spiritual director or regular confessor at the moment, so I act in obedience to these practices which have been gathered from good sources and sound practice. Let me know if you see any errors. Its just what has helped me greatly.
If you want to share some of the practices or principles that have helped you, please do so.