One of the more misunderstood of the Cardinal Sins is sloth. This is because most see it merely as laziness. But there is more to sloth than that. Lets take a moment and consider some aspects of the Cardinal sin we call in English, Sloth.

The Greek word we translate as sloth is ἀκηδία akedia (a = absence + kedos = care), meaning indifference or negligence. St Thomas speaks of sloth as sloth is sorrow for spiritual good. By it we it shun spiritual good, as toilsome (cf ST II-II 35,2).

Some modern commentators speak of sloth as a don’t-care feeling, some even as a kind of falling out of love with God and the things of God (cf Rev 2:4). On account of  sloth, the idea of right living, and the gift of a transformed humanity inspires, not joy, but aversion or even disgust, because it is seen as laborious, or as involving the setting aside currently enjoyed or sinful pleasures. By sloth many experience sorrow, not joy or zeal, in following God and receiving a transformed human life. Rather they are distressed at the prospect of what might have to occur should they embrace the faith more deeply.

Sloth also tends to dismiss the power of grace since it focuses on the “trouble” or effort attached to walking in the Christian way, rather than to understand it as a work of God.

As said above, many people today equate sloth with laziness. But sloth is not merely laziness, it is more properly understood as sorrow or indifference. While it is true, sloth may sometimes look like boredom and and a casual laziness toward attaining spiritual good, it is also true that sloth can also be manifested by a frantic busyness about worldly things, so as to avoid spiritual questions or live a reflective life.

Consider, for example a man who is a workaholic. Now suppose too that this man has a wife and children. A man in this position has some very significant gifts and duties beyond his career. He is a husband, a father, and the spiritual leader of his home. He is also a disciple, whom the Lord has summoned to new life, to the great discovery of God, and the deepest meanings and realities of his life. He also has the awesome dignity to announce these truths to his wife and children.

But all of the duties and glories of his vocation overwhelm and even scare him. It all seems so irksome and the task too open-ended. Frankly, he doesn’t want to reflect too much, because it might summon him to ponder things he would like to avoid considering,  such as moral questions, or priorities, or whether he is really spending enough time with his wife and children, or whether his life is really focused on things that matter most. No, its all just too irksome, too ridden with uncertainty to enter more deeply into the spiritual life. Work is easier, and at work they call him “sir” and do what he says.

So, he buries himself in his work. And this helps him to avoid prayer, and reflection. Of course there is “no time” for mass or for praying with his wife and children. There is no time for scripture, retreats and the like.

This man is not lazy, but he is slothful. In the end his workaholism is sloth, for it is sorrow and aversion at the gift that the Lord offers him to come out into the deeper waters and lower his net for a catch. His sorrow for spiritual goods, in this case, is manifest by a kind of avoidance rooted in fear. By sloth he is not joyful at the invitation of the Lord or the Church. Instead he is sorrowful and averse to what he sees as toilsome, and possibly as raising uncomfortable things he would rather not look at. He does not hate God or the faith, but it is all just too much.

That said, sloth does often manifest as a kind of lethargy, and kind of boredom that can’t muster any interest, energy, joy or enthusiasm for spiritual gifts. Such people may be enthusiastic about any number of things, but God and the faith are not among them.

To a great extent boredom is elevated in modern times and this fuels sloth. In effect we are hyper-stimulated in the modern world. Our frantic pace, endless interruptions, and the rich abundance of entertainment, fast-paced movies, video games, all are a feast for the eyes but they hyper-stimulate. From the time we awaken to our return to sleep there is almost never a moment of silence, or a time when we are not being bombarded by images, often flickering and quickly changing.

This hyper-stimulation means that when we come upon things like quiet prayer or adoration, or are asked to listen for an extended period, or when the imagery is not fast changing we are easily bored.

And boredom feeds right into sloth. The “still, small voice of God,” the quiet of prayer, the simple reading of Scripture and pondering its message, the unfolding of spiritual meaning through reflection, the slower joys of normal human conversation in communal prayer and fellowship…none of this appeals to many who are hyper-stimulated, and used to a breakneck pace. Sunday, once the highlight of the week for many (due to the music, the beauty of the liturgy, the hearing of the sermon, the joy of fellowship and the quiet of Holy Communion), is now considered by many as boring and about as appealing as getting a flu shot; a necessary evil at best.  Thus, sloth is fueled by the boredom our culture feels at anything not going 90 miles and hour.

Peter Kreeft says that

Sloth is a cold sin, not a hot one. But that makes it even deadlier. [For] rebellion against God is closer to him than indifference….God can more easily cool our wrath than fire our frozenness, though he can do both.  Sloth is a sin of omission not commission. That too makes it deadlier,  for a similar reason. To commit evil is at least to be playing the game… Sloth simply does not play God’s game, either with him or against him….It sits on the sidelines bored….Better to be hot or cold than lukewarm [Back to Virtue, P. 154].

Sloth of course gives rise to many sins whereby we do not pray, attend mass, go to confession, or read Scripture, we do not grow in our spiritual life and whereby we fail to become the man or woman God has made us to be. In some sense every sin contains an element of sloth for when we sin we indicate a kind of aversion to the perfecting graces God offers us. Rather than see the moral law of God as a great summons to freedom, we sorrowfully reject that call as too much trouble.

Socially too there are many manifestations of sloth. But just to mention two that are common in the modern world.

1. Secularism - By secularism, here is meant not the more recent hostility to religious faith, but more the older meaning of the word wherein one’s preoccupation is essentially a worldly one. It is amazing how passionate and interested we can get about worldly things. Perhaps it is a football game, or it is politics, or some new electronic device that has just come out. Perhaps it is our careers or our, or the stock market, or something in the news. Yes, we are passionate people and even the most reserved have strong interests that occupy their mind and vividly capture their interest.

And yet, many of those who rejoiced at the basketball game that ended so thrillingly, or were passionately engaged at the political rally, or excited about the latest twist on their favorite television shoe, many of these same passionate, joyful people can muster no interest in prayer, Mass, or Bible study. And if they do get to Mass they look in agony until it is over.

This is secularism and  a form of sloth. We have time and passion for everything else, but not for God. It is a very deep drive. We are mesmerized by many things of the world, but bored, sorrowful and thus slothful over the things of the spiritual life. Where is the joy? Where is the zeal? Where is the hunger for completion in God?

This is sloth. It is not merely depression or boredom, it is sloth, it is a sorrow toward the spiritual gifts of God. It is a deep drive of the flesh, and it has to go. But only God and our openness to his grace can ultimately save us and bring us more alive from this death directed drive.

2. Relativism – Many today indulge a notion that there is no absolute or unchanging truth to which we are summoned and must ultimately conform. This is relativism. And many who practice it actually congratulate themselves for their “tolerance” and open-mindedness. They think of their relativism as a virtue. But, more often than not, relativism is simply sloth masquerading as tolerance. The fact is, if there is a truth, (and there is), then I should joyfully seek it, and base my life on its demands and promises.

But many indulge the notion of relativism, for it is an easy way out. If there is no truth then I am not obliged to seek it, and base my life on it. Frankly many are averse to and sorrowful toward the truth for they find its demands irksome. This is sloth, for their sorrow is directed toward a very precious spiritual gift of God, the gift of truth. Instead of joyfully seeking the truth, the relativist is sorrowful and avoidant of the gift though they couch their sloth in other words such as “broad-mindedness” and “tolerance.”

To be sure there is a place for tolerance. But the true virtue of tolerance is usually misunderstood today and equated with approval. The proper understanding of tolerance is the conditional acceptance of or non-interference with beliefs, actions or practices that one considers to be wrong but still “tolerable,” such that they should not be prohibited or unreasonably constrained. The key point that is often lost today is that the tolerated beliefs or practices are considered to be objectionable, wrong or bad. If this objection component is missing, we are not speaking any longer of “toleration” but of “indifference” or “affirmation.”

Hence, relativists who slothfully dismiss that there is truth to be found cannot rightly call their position “tolerance.” It is, in fact mere indifference, and a form of sloth.

For all of our modern claims to be tolerant and open-minded, the more usual fact is that we are just plain lazy and slothful when it comes to seeking the truth. We (collectively speaking) do not love the truth but shun it, sorrowfully regarding its possible claims on us. Jesus said rightly, This is the judgement: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God (Jn 3:19-21).

A few reflections then, on Sloth.

Coming to recognize sloth for what it is, calling it by name and learning its moves is the first step on the road to healing. Sloth is, of course, one of those drives that is so deep that we must ultimately fall to our knees and beg deliverance form the Lord who alone can heal us.

The gift that the Lord offers us is promised in the beatitude: Blessed are they that hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt 5:6).

We must also ask for and seek the fruits of the Holy Spirit, especially love, joy, and peace. These gifts enkindle a fire of love in our hearts for God and for the gifts he offers.

Since sloth is a very deep drive, we must cast ourselves on the care of God with great humility, recognizing our poverty and seeking his miraculous grace to give us grateful, loving and passionate hearts.

Finally, since sloth can also be generated by the feeling of being overwhelmed at the perfection of our call, we do well to consider two points:

  1. We ought to meditate carefully on what our specific call is. Since we cannot do and be everything we need to come to an understanding of our own gifts and how God expects us to reasonably use them. Having done this we do well to stay in our lane.
  2. It is also true that we must understand that spiritual progress grows in stages and by many steps, not by one giant leap. Hence we not not be so sorrowful or adverse to the good things God offers, for, as a loving Father he leads us and forms us most often in gentle ways as one spiritual victory leads to others.

Pray for zeal, joy, hope, confidence and a hunger for holy things. The Christian journey is meant to be a thrilling one as we experience how God is utterly transforming us.

I don’t know, something tells me, after a heavy post it’s time to play the Bach Jig Fugue. It’s Joy in G Major!

37 Responses

  1. yan says:

    hurray for Bach and Kreeft!

    ‘And time hath worn us into slovenry:
    But, by the mass, our hearts are in the trim’ [Henry V act 4 scene 3.]

  2. Chrysostom says:

    From England, I thank you for this clear and helpful article, Monsignor. The devil has many vices but he is never slothful. Yeats was an odd and uneven poet but in THE SECOND COMING he did say something relevant to our times and to your article:

    “The best lack all conviction,while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.”

    God bless you and your work,

    Yours sincerely in Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

  3. Aaron says:

    I love the daily blog posts! Very nourishing! Keep it up!

  4. Daniel says:

    A great insight about how “busy-ness” can be a reflection of the avoidance behavior which is sloth. My experience of the internet has demonstrated this–often I go online to accomplish a task and am distracted by nonsense and so avoid what I should be doing, all while looking busy. I would nuance your definition of tolerance based on a Latin etymology (tolero) which also suggests a sense of supporting and nourishing, and which doesn’t presume absolute disagreement with the one being “tolerated”. Sometimes we need to tolerate because we aren’t certain about what is absolutely correct…

  5. jack says:

    Is the fugue so named for the dance the organist does on those foot-pedals?

  6. Jon White says:

    Thank you, Monsignor. The article is very much on point, and I am sharing the ideas with those I think will profit from them.

  7. Nathan says:

    Just watched Fr Barron talk about Sloth in his Seven Deadly Sins course. This is a great expansion on that lecture!

  8. Mary says:

    Thank you Monsignor. Could we also use the word ‘apathy’ for sloth? In one of the prayers of our prayer group we pray ‘against the stronghold of apathy’.

  9. CS says:

    There are a number of interesting points here, as usual. I enjoy reading your posts so much Father in much the same way that Russell once talked about the ontological argument. It doesn’t seem right, but it’s very difficult (if not impossible, I don’t think Russell kills the ontological argument:) to actually point out where it goes wrong.

    I think it’s right, and so interesting, that our hyperstimulated first-world is correspondingly hyper-difficult-to-please. A trifle destroys us, because a trifle upsets us (Augustine, on the rich, I think?) As a result of this we require increasing amounts of whatever stimuli in order to generate the same affect.

    If only there was an eternal, unchanging, infinite stimulator. Then it might be possible to satiate our seemingly infinite appetite. It’s a very interesting notion, but it sounds daunting to think about, so I think I’ll divert my attention to something immediately pleasurable and easy… :)

    I’ve only really considered the folk version of sloth that you mention at the beginning of the article, its association with laziness. It’s interesting that it seems its philosophical/spiritual dimension is the primary one. Is this the same with all of the ‘seven deadly’ sins?

  10. Pam H. says:

    I feel so tired of trying, in the spiritual life – could this be me? I pray daily (morning prayers and often, the rosary), and try to mean the words, but seldom does it seem like there’s anyone listening. I want it to be true that there is a God who loves me, but I don’t much feel like doing more, spiritually, when it’s already so difficult to pray.

  11. lisag says:

    Pam, maybe you need to give your eyes and ears a joyful input. Why not listen to some beautiful music, preferably classic. Go visit a Cathedral. Watch a movie or read a book about a saint. When praying the rosary use a scriptural meditation. Go meet some great Catholic people at 40 Days for Life. Get filled with love and beauty.

    • Pam H. says:

      I have a lot of good Catholic friends, and a whole library of books by the saints, etc. But where before I could hardly put them down, now I can only read a page or two at a time, and with difficulty. I don’t know how to “get filled with love and beauty”, sorry. I have some peace in the more reverent churches, but not what I used to have.

      • Betty G. says:

        Pam H., It sounds like you are suffering from “The Dark Night of the Soul”. Sometimes God allows it to seem as though he is far from us to test our faith. It will eventually lift. This is what St Theresa of Calcutta suffered for most of her vocation, so there is hope for the rest of us! Have no doubt that God hears your prayers!

    • Keith Wilks says:

      Hi Pam; I agree that you are in the dark hours of the soul. I can’t find a remedy except to have some very spiritual friends. And with their help Jesus will ease up once in a while. I can’t read anymore either and I can’t pray worth a darn plus I am so tired of suffering that I wish it would all go away. I also have no desire to do the things that I once loved to do because he has detached me from them. He wants us attached to him only. I expect that you will get through it faster than me because I give up easy. Good luck to you and hopefully we will meet in Heaven.

      Keith

  12. a-sinner-not-yet-made-whole says:

    Yes, everyone engages in sloth to some degree that is why the cross
    and the Risen Christ. Just the thought of being full of sloth, causes sloth,
    kind of a downward circle towards the bottom of a drain.
    Confession is a temporary upward lift, but only to sink once again the second
    after absolution. Depressing really. How is there ever joy?
    Joy is Christ-centered, a solid realization that “I am loved, even though
    so miserable.” Without truly knowing this, a person will sink themselves.

  13. Michael says:

    Pam, weekly confession, Eucharistic Adoration and daily Mass will help you. Jesus Christ is the source and summit of your spiritual journey towards eternity and He is waiting for you to spend an hour with Him. Seek Him in the Eucharist. As for your prayers, ask Our Lady and St. Dominic to pray the Rosary with you. Persevere in prayer and fasting and you will see.

  14. Wes says:

    Monsignor, thank you. I have read that slothfulness is the most insidious sin of all and if that’s true, you have made it possible to understand why.

    For all those, like me, who feel the task of getting free of this sin, this state of existence, is insurmountable, there is great news. You can’t, so don’t worry about it! God will free you.

    I would like to share a plan of attack with all those who feel, as I do, that this blog is speaking directly to them. “Yes, this is me, but what do I do about it?”

    1. To quote Monsignor, “fall to our knees and beg deliverance form the Lord who alone can heal us”.
    2. Go to Confession and get rid of this sin. (weekly; as often as possible but make time)
    3. Every Communion, ask your Guardian Angel to help you leave your slothfulness behind and take with you, love, zeal, joy, peace, and a hunger for holy things.
    4. Don’t stop.

    To be honest, I don’t want to do any of this but as Monsignor has taken the time to point out, that’s exactly why I must. I’m going to follow this plan until my life changes. Please come with me.

    • Pam H. says:

      Wes, I read your comment after I tried to respond to Michael, and that helped. I’d been hoping for some years now that the Lord would get me out of this, and sometimes I cry out to Him, but I don’t do it unceasingly anymore – I’m tired! I will keep trying. Pray for me.

      • Wes says:

        Pam,
        I have never responded to anything on line. (I’m 60) When I read this blog it hit me very hard and I came up with a plan for myself and made a commitment to follow it. At the risk of sounding like a nut I feel I have to share this with you.
        I believe God put it in my heart to write down what I did and then forced me to post it. While I was struggling with this He told me there was someone who needed to read it and I would see their response the next time I logged on.
        I logged on and there you were. Pam, God made me do this for you and I’m almost in tears right now. He wants you to know He loves you very much, He’s watching and waiting for you, and He’s ready to answer your knock. You just have to forget about when. It’s His time, not ours so knock, knock, knock.
        One of my daughters (Lilly) is entering the Francicsan Sisters in September. One of my sons (Joseph) who, as an infant, became prayer warrior in heaven. We have a crew of Saints in heaven that intercede on special tasks whenever we ask.
        My wife, Lilly, Joseph and crew pray a Rosary everyday and you are now part of our Rosary and part of our lives. When you pray your Rosary, Joseph will stop whatever he’s doing in Heaven and pray with you. The whole crew will carry your prayers to God and intercede on your behalf.
        Don’t give obstacles any weight anymore. You know where they’re from. Just do what you can and don’t do what you can’t.
        God has blessed me today by your struggles and your response and give you our love in return.
        Love in the Lord, Wes

        • BFM says:

          Wes,
          Thank you, Pam was not the only one who needed to hear from you. Truely God spoke through you.

        • Pam H. says:

          Thank you again, Wes, and for all the prayers. I don’t mind those who think I’m a grumpy old sourpuss and a bad Christian, as long as the Lord is okay with me; I have to do the best I can – it’s just hard to know if it really is my best. I pray God will make me to grow in humility, faith, hope, trust and love. God bless you and yours, too.

  15. Pam H. says:

    I used to go to weekly confession, but a lot of strange obstacles came up. I used to go to daily Mass – the new priest takes so long I can’t stay for the Mass at noon, and can’t go early due to getting kids ready for school; also there’s a longstanding injury that makes it difficult to drive very far, or often. I used to pray in front of the blessed Sacrament for an hour every Saturday – I started getting so stiff I could hardly move, and couldn’t come home to clean house – I thought I would go for shorter periods, but now there’s the driving difficulty. I ask the saints to pray the Rosary with me when I do pray it, but so often it feels like there’s no one there, and I get discouraged. We aren’t supposed to act based on our feelings, but it’s hard – I’ve felt “turned away” for so long, I wonder if I’ve partly given up?

    • Daniel says:

      Spiritual direction is a wonderful way to open up the experience of praying. An objective and experienced guide can help us get beyond ourselves by seeing tendencies we have become blind to.

  16. Garrette says:

    Thanks Monsignor for a better understanding of this topic. I was having a conversation with my two daughters about the seven sins and I will share this with them both.

  17. K. Louise says:

    Sloth is just no fun!

  18. diane wyder says:

    WOW! this is the best thing I’ve ever read! Sloth is so many layered, so seductive and so evil and so misunderstood…..and so in need of mercy…..my 7th and 8th graders are not lazy…..they suffer from sloth………poor lost souls….I pray pray pray…..thank you for letting me see it so clearly in those around me my students my husband AND MYSELF!!!!!!!….oh the darkness of it all….dear Lord Jesus Holy Spirit bring us into the light….and we need your grace and your sacraments for sure…mercy mercy mercy I pray pray pray! Oh the Joy in living in Your Divine Will of each holy present moment of present love, seeking Your will…Amen…THANK YOU MONSIGNOR

  19. Orfea S. says:

    My husband and two sons fall in the category. I turned to St. Monica, instead of threats, I send cries to heaven. It took decades before her son St. Augustine got converted. There is always hope in God. I also consecrated my family to St. Joseph.

  20. Kathleen says:

    I’m offended by the idea that the “man” in the early workaholic example is described as the “spiritual leader of his household.” How sexist is that?! Why can’t I, as a woman, be the spiritual leader of my household? This is the 21st century, let’s update some of our terminology to reflect that!

  21. Edward says:

    Sloth-I fight it with help from above,as for those of us going through the “Dark night”also known as “Desolation”I fight that with help from above which many times comes from things we take for granted like a smile,someone helping another,a smile,laughter,kind acts,more smiles and other physical acts of “Consolation” that lift our spirits from a state of “Desolation” to “Consolation”(Gods grace works wonders too!)Jesus does not have favorites-He will never let you down-people may and do,but Jesus will not-I know from experience.He said we will go through tribulation,BUT be of good cheer-”I have overcome the world”Peace of Christ be with you all!Yea God!

  22. TJ says:

    WOW! This gave me insights I never thought about sloth. To me, it was always just laziness

  23. Michael says:

    Pam,
    I agree with Daniel about spiritual direction. Ask your confessor or the next priest that you go to in confession for spiritual direction or to point you to a spiritual director while you are there participating in the sacrament. Follow through on his recommendation. God bless Wes for having your back with spiritual reinforcements. Continue praying and fasting. If you can’t give up food, give up something that you enjoy. Even no tv or internet for one hour is a fast if that is all that you can do. I’ll be praying for you. God bless you. Thank you Msgr. for this holy work.

    • Pam H. says:

      Thank you, Michael and Daniel. I had a really good spiritual director, but he has moved halfway across the continent. So far, I’ve not found a replacement – it’s very difficult to find anyone willing to put in the time, who has the necessary experience. I appreciate your prayers!

  24. Anne Lassiter says:

    I, too have as my cross, for now, the guilt of sloth…I procrastinate, “forget”, postpone till tomorrow, make all kinds of excuses to quit divina lectura or rosary, or going to Mass (daily) even when I recognize what I’m doing!! I even read bad fiction that has no pleasure in it, just to keep from recollection… Yet I know as I sink into depression what it is that I am doing. My prayer is “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner. AnneL

  25. alan says:

    Found this site altho not catholic and found the pastor’s words helpful. . . that what is needed is forgiveness and a Deliverer. Forgiveness for all that I could be doing that would matter, that God has prepared for me. . . but also a deliverer from this quicksand that is sucking me under that I can never seem to get free of. Forgiveness for the things not done, and deliverance from the sinner I am.

    When I start to lose all hope that anything I can ever do will make any difference in the quicksand, Romans 7 comes to mind: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” And the Lord comes into view thru Hebrews 7: “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”

    I know I will make it home, but still, the quicksand clings.

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