When I was a little girl, in my preteens, I suffered for a number of months from intense scrupulousness. I do not remember this period of time entirely, but certain things do stand out in my mind.
During this time I remember reading about St. Catherine of Siena and St. Rose of Lima, and feeling how much I deserved to suffer for my many faults. As a result, I lived a life of more austerity than a 12 year old should. Every time I saw a new prayer, I felt obliged to recite it every night. During this time I prayed a rosary each night, among many other little devotions, and I only rarely missed a night. I also practiced mortification and was very strict with myself where morality was concerned, covering my head with cloth whenever I went someplace where I would be seen and sometimes kissing the ground (in private) when I had committed a "fault".
These material answers were caused by much greater spiritual sorrows. I felt so guilty, no matter what I did, I felt guilty for it. I was afraid, and wished that I could suffer for every little thing I ever did then and there. I remember being at a neighbors one day, and I did something that I feared was a very serious sin. I quickly made an excuse to leave and ran all the way home (about half of a mile) to ask my mother if it was sinful. She quickly reassured me that it was not. Throughout this period of scrupulousness I went to confession at least once per week, when I could. A time or two I went to private meetings with a priest, and once I went to confession the day after I my last one because I had forgotten a sin.
One night, as I felt myself overcome with sorrow, and as I looked at the crucifix, I wrote something. I no longer have the paper, I believe I threw it out not too long ago, actually, but I can still see it in my mind and remember the day I wrote it. I took a little piece of paper and I drew a round orb. Then I blackened it, and drew strange designs over it. Then I wrote something to the effect of "My soul is covered with a dark crust, and blackened beneath, but deep within there is a light that shines. Please remove the blackness, and let only good remain, so that my soul may be a beautiful palace for you. Mary, grant me some of your purity and allow it to clean my soul and make it beautiful for him." Although I have long since recovered from my scrupulousness, I have said variations of this prayer nearly every time I received the Holy Eucharist ever since.
I continued to pray every night, of course, and one of the most difficult situations I ran into concerned my daily rosary. Unhappily, I mentioned to a priest in the confessional one day that I prayed a daily rosary... "Very good! Keep it up!" he replied, good naturedly. I took him at his word, I thought it was a demand. I prayed my rosary every night, but forgot three nights, and was very afraid that I had disobeyed a holy priest. As soon as I could after this negligence, about a month after the "command," I went to confession again, but to a different priest. I explained the situation to him, and asked him if I was bound to say a rosary each night, and confessed my negligence... he assured me that it was merely a suggestion by the other priest. I left the confessional, only to find myself dissatisfied with this assurance, and made plans to go again to the priest who I had told of my daily rosary. I went, and he told me, apparently mystified in his effort to remember the occasion, that it was only a suggestion. I stopped saying the rosary every night after that, although I've continued the practice again at different times later.
My "condition" was getting critical, however. I had overcome my understandable fear of confession, and confession to priests who knew who was behind the curtain, and confession of uncomfortable circumstances, and embarrassing uncertainty within confession, and the fear of confessing a bad confession... yea, there was a far deeper trial, like a knife in my heart, that made these little things as daisies in a field. But I was not ignorant of God's love and mercy. Although I suffered such scrupulousness, I understood that it was wrong, and that I was forgiven for everything I ever did.
I prayed a novena to St. Therese each night, promising that if she would help me, I would buy her statue and put it in my room to remind me that she is my friend. It was my childish way of making a promise, and she answered my prayer in an equally gentle, childlike way. The day came when my worry was extinguished, and my sorrow for my sins did not concentrate on me and my faults, but on Christ whom I injured. I came to understand how to distinguish sin from temptation and mistakes. My fear was turned to love, and my worry was turned to the desire to share in His Sacrifice and give Him everything. I was ready to accept that I myself am lower than the worms for my sins against His grace, and that the only way to live with this fact was to allow Christ to live in me; to realize that "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" and be at peace.
Why do I tell this story? Because I am not the only one to suffer the destitution and pain of scrupulousness. I know how hard it can be to distinguish good from evil, and to be satisfied with God's forgiveness when we deserve such punishments. Even if you know, as I did, that God is merciful and forgiving... it does not prevent scrupulousness from occurring. When it first begins, we don't realize it... we think that it is an expression of our love for Christ and our sorrow at His death. But as it continues, it becomes more and more centered on ourselves and our imperfections. Indeed, my period of scrupulousness was not a result of humility... it was pride. I thought I could be so much better than I was, and that the way to attain that end was to see myself as worse than I was. It was a sickness, one which I understood needed healing; but to combat it myself meant to acknowledge another fault and increase my discomfort.
Scrupulousness is remedied by true humility. It is remedied by trusting God, accepting our faults, and being humble enough to refocus our thoughts on Him. Thus, we can have peace as we strive each day to follow Him and hope on our journey to heaven.