As per the preceding blog post, let it be known that I have finally returned to the sacraments. All good, right?
Well, maybe not, if you're plagued with scrupulosity.
From Wikipedia (which is admittedly not always the best source):
"Scrupulosity is a psychological disorder characterized by
pathological guilt about moral or religious issues. It is personally
distressing, objectively dysfunctional, and often accompanied by
significant impairment in social functioning. It is typically conceptualized as a moral or religious form of obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), although this categorization is empirically disputable. The term is derived from the Latin scrupulum, a sharp stone, implying a stabbing pain on the conscience. Scrupulosity was formerly called scruples in religious contexts, but the word scruples now commonly refers to a troubling of the conscience rather than to the disorder.
As a personality trait, scrupulosity is a recognized diagnostic criterion for obsessive–compulsive personality disorder. It is sometimes called "scrupulousness," but that word properly applies to the positive trait of having scruples."
For the record, many theologians might take issue with this definition. Or maybe not.
To most Catholics, scrupulosity isn't as extreme as this Wikipedia definition makes it. Certainly it's not for me. However, in fairness, I need to point out that there are Catholics who suffer scrupulosity to the degree it's explained above, and they are a special/extreme case.
For most who have garden-variety scrupulosity, it's more a nagging thinking process that makes one question whether or not something they did, said, or thought is a venial or mortal sin. Or whether decisions made in one's life qualify as objectively sinful or not. And worrying about it more than would be normal or healthy. Even possibly pre-worrying about decisions and actions that haven't even happened yet.
Which is exactly what happened to me this past New Year's. You know, that little "holy day of obligation" thing on January first?
Here's our deal: Every New Year's Eve since we've been married (except one) we have spent the night at the home of good friends so that we can ring in the New Year as late as we want and not drive home. We have fondue, a few drinks, and play games. Last year, we set off fireworks. Then the next morning, my friend makes a great big New Year's breakfast and we basically hang out all day into the next evening.
None of which leaves room for going to mass on a holy day of obligation without screwing up the big, fantastic breakfast that my non-Catholic friend makes, and which is important to her and to us.
Oh, yeah, they have those afternoon masses of anticipation the day before around 4 and 5 p.m. Except we're always scurrying around our house like freaks at about that time, packing up stuff to spend the night and making platters of food, etc., to bring to our friends home.
So for our entire marriage, I don't think we've ever made it to mass on January first, save for maybe once?
This year, since I had just been to confession and communion for the first time in 22 months, I was immediately seized with the distinct possibility that I would put myself right back into the same boat I had just left if I missed mass on January first. And boy was I mad and upset about it.
See, I believe my worry about putting myself right back into a state of mortal sin was scrupulosity, as well as the evil one working to accomplish the same. To me, scrupulosity plus the devil equals "don't go," since going would then be an act against my free will, rather than an act of desire and love for God. I firmly believe that going to mass - any mass - out of fear of hell is an automatic reason to NOT go to mass.
Still, I peeked at the mass schedules for Catholic parishes near my friend, hoping some mass time that didn't interfere with our New Year's plans would magically appear. And it did! At 11:00 P.M. on New Year's Eve or 6:00 A.M. on New Year's Day morning. Lovely. I said to John, "Yeah, let's tell our friends that we want to spend New Year's Even with them, but then bail for an 11:00 p.m. mass. That'll look great! Or hey, we want to spend New Year's with you, but we want to make noise before the sun is up and after we've all just had like four hours of sleep to go to mass. They'll sure love having us over! Not."
So I ignored it. For awhile. Until the guilt and loathing overtook me.
Sometime before midnight, I whispered to John, "What if we got up at 5:30 a.m. and just went to mass totally tired and came back and tried to go back to sleep? We'll just try to be really quiet coming and going so we don't wake anyone up." (Caveat Emptor: Their dog hears anything and everything and just starts barking insanely. And If Alan hears us, he'll be awake, and then EVERYONE will be awake. And the number of times in my life when I've been able to go back to sleep after being up can be counted on one hand.) Honestly, the whole idea was depressing and seemed utterly ridiculous, especially on a day when the temperature that morning was in the single digits.
I have to admit, John did hesitate when I made this proposition, but he eventually agreed. Note that John is not the type to hesitate when it comes to duty to the Church and God. I point this out to show how completely the whole idea was at odds with the situation.
We did it. We rolled out of bed at 5:30 a.m., threw our clothes on over our pajamas, bundled up in coats and scarves, literally tiptoed out of the house, froze our asses off scraping ice off our frigidly cold car, and drove the 7-8 miles to the church, the journey of which was devoid of any other vehicle than ours until we turned into the entrance to the church.
Of course, being almost the only humans on earth stupid enough to get up at that hour and go to mass on New Year's Day, we ran into someone we knew there, with neither of us having even combed our hair, and my husband's hair literally sticking up on one side from sleeping on it. But we made it! We got to that mass on a holy day of obligation!
And for what? I still don't know. I'm supposed to say for the graces that come with mass and for the Eucharist, etc., right? OK, fine. I got that and I am thankful. But I still can't shake the feeling that I went so as not to be in mortal sin and I resent it. I don't feel that I did it for love of God (well, OK, maybe a little), rather, I feel like I did it out of a sense of "have to, gotta, must."
I believe I got up at 5:30 a.m. on New Year's Day because I am scrupulous. Because I have an irrational sense of guilt that was already in play before I even had something to be guilty for. Because I was afraid.
This is not to say there wasn't anything good about the mass. Of course there was; I recall some great moments of prayer and being excited about the beautiful Christmas decorations. I know I was happy to be back in that communion line.
So now that I'm back from the "dark side," I'm consumed with worry about crossing the line back over there.
And by the way, my friend did hear us trying to leave the house before the crack of dawn, and when we returned, her dog went berserk when we came back in the front door, waking everyone up. Sigh. However, miracle of miracles, myself and everyone did manage to get back to sleep. Coincidence?