He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Weight of the Scapular

Recently at a Christmas party, I was given a brown scapular by friends I've seen wear the scapular continuously.  For the new year, I had wanted to begin a new commitment to daily prayer beyond what I was already doing.  And the scapular was given to me at just the right time to do that.

So earlier this month, I asked the pastor at my parish to perform the blessing and investiture for someone who begins wearing the scapular.  After we prayed, he advised me of the duty to perform one of the specified penances, and I affirmed that I had committed to praying 5 decades of the rosary every day.  Which I have, and it has been very good for me.

I've had a very stressful month at work so far, from New Year's Eve onward, and the added prayer time has been very helpful in de-stressing and refocusing before I sleep.  I find that prayer in general is good for that, especially at the beginning and ending of the day.

Unlike some Roman Catholics, I'm not overly concerned about the indulgences attached to praying with the scapular and kissing it devoutly.  I figure I've earned whatever time in Purgatory is given to me, and I'm not in a hurry to take days away here and there.

I'm also not treating it as a lucky charm, or as a guarantee of getting to Heaven, though scapulars generally have the associated promise on them: "Whosoever dies wearing this scapular shall not suffer eternal fire".  It may sound like this promise is mere superstition, but the Sabbatine Privilege isn't a Get-Out-of-Hell-Free card.

The requirements attached to the promise are pretty serious:

  1. Wear the brown scapular continuously (harder than it seems if you live an active life).
  2. Be chaste according to your state in life (continence for unmarried folks and the fidelity of love in the case of married folks).
  3. Perform one of several daily penances permitted by the priest who invested you.

How many people do you know who are chaste in the Catholic sense of what it means to be chaste?  I know very few.  If one can conquer sexual sins, then growth in holiness to a high degree is very likely to be already occurring.  People who can remain truly chaste are probably the kind of people who are more likely to go to Heaven anyway because they're extremely holy.

Also, people who are sufficiently committed to their practice of Christianity to perform lengthy daily prayers or other penances and wearing the scapular continuously are also the kind of people who are willing to put the effort into developing the sort of close relationship with God that is essential to holiness.

I'm not suggesting that I'm the kind of holy person I just described; I'm certainly not there yet.  Nonetheless, what I'm learning is that the act of committing each day to trying to live up to the requirements of the scapular promise helps me to gradually become more like the kind of person I just described.  I have a long way to go, but the small weight of the scapular is enough to remind me of my Christian duties to God and neighbor.

I noticed the difference today because, for the first time since being invested, I forgot to wear it to work after changing into my work clothes (though I put it on when I got back home).  I put it back on because the weight of the scapular helps to remind me of what's important.

Its weight serves as a regular reminder that I need to pray for those who bear much heavier burdens, that I need to help bear the burdens of others, and struggle to bear patiently my own cross each day.

Note:  The above is a picture I took of the scapular I wear.


  1. Thanks for sharing, Sam. It's important to understand sacramentals well, so that one doesn't lapse into superstition. I was not aware of the connection of the scapular with chastity, but it makes sense. What I have found in my own life is that, the more I have approached the ideal regarding chastity (as summarized in the teaching of Our Lord and the Apostles), I have been blessed in some interesting ways. For example, I have noticed a clearing of the mind of worry and an increase in my ability to be fully present to the people around me in helping ways. Failures in the area of chastity (especially those of a besetting or chronic nature) tend to create a lot of psychic dissonance, especially for those who hold to a high standard of sexual ethics...There, the person I should be; here, the person I am. I found that the gap was one I could not bridge on my own. To risk using a cliché, I first had to hit rock-bottom. Though I formulated a plan and followed it through, I don't feel like any of my progress is of my own doing. I'm held up by a Communion of Saints who lift me up in Christ, though I'm still so far from the ideal, which is to love just as Christ did.

    If you unpack the ideal of chastity, it goes much farther than refraining from sexual practices X, Y, or Z. The ideal that I want to approach (and which I am so far from) is that of loving rightly, in all circumstances and in all ways. That means avoiding even the mildest forms of exploitation in my relationships with other people and with God—loving people for who they are, as made in the image of God, and not for any benefits that they give to me. Today I got upset because I bought a bunch of groceries at a sale barn and I misplaced one bag (which contained some of the choicest items that I was looking forward to sampling). I should have rejoiced because one of my neighbors had undoubtedly discovered the bag in the sale barn and was going to enjoy some nice food, free of charge. But no...I'm good at giving to my neighbor when it makes me feel good, but when it comes to the kinds of giving that cause me more discomfort, suddenly I find myself falling short of a Christlike love.

    Thanks for your spiritual insights, Sam, and thank you for holding me up in prayer.

    1. Great spiritual insight, Jack. Sounds like something you need to write about more. :-)

    2. Thanks! Launch of blog will likely take place within the next month, and I already have a theme in mind for my first set of posts. I need to get with you first for advice on platform and layout.

    3. Sounds good. I look forward to it.

  2. Both of these posts were blessings in my day. Thank you for both of them.