The Seven Deadly Sins: Sloth

One of the more misunderstood of the cardinal sins is sloth. Most see it merely as laziness, but there is more to it than that. Let’s take a moment and consider some aspects of this cardinal sin.

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

Some modern commentators describe sloth as a “don’t care” feeling. Some even say it is 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 too difficult or as requiring the setting aside of currently enjoyed or sinful pleasures. Through sloth, many experience sorrow rather than joy or zeal in following God and receiving a transformed human life. 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, focusing instead on the “trouble” or effort involved in walking in the Christian way.

Sloth is not merely laziness; it is more properly understood as sorrow or indifference. While sloth may sometimes look like boredom and a casual laziness toward attaining spiritual good, it can also be manifested by a frantic “busyness” with worldly things so as to avoid spiritual questions or living a reflective life.

Consider, for example, a man who is a workaholic. Now suppose 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, one whom the Lord has summoned to a new life, to the great discovery of God, and to the deepest meaning and realities of his life. He also has the awesome responsibility to announce these truths to his wife and children. All of the duties of his vocation overwhelm and even scare him; the task seems too open-ended. He doesn’t want to reflect too much because it might summon him to ponder things he would like to avoid considering: moral questions, priorities, whether he is spending enough time with his family, whether his life is focused on the things that matter most. It’s all just too hard, too filled with uncertainty. Entering more deeply into the spiritual life is difficult. Work is easier and they call him “Sir” and do what he says.

So he buries himself in his work; this helps him to avoid prayer and reflection. Of course there’s no time for Mass or for praying with his wife and children. There’s 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 at and aversion to the gift that the Lord offers him: to come out into the deeper waters and lower his net for a catch. In this example, the man’s sorrow for spiritual good is manifested in avoidance and is rooted in fear. Through 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 raising uncomfortable things he would rather not think about. He does not hate God or the faith, but it is all just too much.

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

Boredom seems to have increased in modern times and this fuels sloth. We are overstimulated in the modern world. The frantic pace, the endless interruptions, the abundance of entertainment, the fast-paced movies and video games all contribute. From the time we awaken until we fall into bed at the end of the day, 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 overstimulation means that when we come upon things like quiet prayer or adoration, when we are asked to listen for an extended period time, when the imagery is not changing quickly enough, we are easily bored.

Boredom feeds right into sloth. The “still, small voice of God,” the quiet of prayer, the simple reading of Scripture and the pondering of its message, the unfolding of spiritual meaning through reflection, the slower joys of normal human conversation in communal prayer and fellowship—none of these appeal to those used to a breakneck pace. Sunday, once the highlight of the week for many (due to the beauty of the liturgy and the music, the hearing of the sermon, the joy of fellowship, and the quiet of Holy Communion), is now considered boring and about as appealing as going to the dentist. Thus, sloth is fueled by the boredom our culture feels at anything going at less than full speed.

In his book Back to Virtue, Peter Kreeft says,

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 [p. 154].

The “daughters” of Sloth are: malice, spite, faint-heartedness, despair, sluggishness in regard to the commandments, wandering of the mind after unlawful things. For indeed, sloth can make us hate and thus have malice and spite for the good things of God. Then too there are the obvious daughters listed here which proceed from a sort of oppressive sorrow at the good things of God.

Of the Virtues that are medicine for sloth: As with envy, joy and zeal are essential. So too are Magnanimity and magnificence whereby we think great things and do them. By faith we learn to appreciate the good things of God and by charity we learn to love them.  By almsgiving we intentionally move outside our self. And, by justice we are motivated to render to God and others what is their due. 

The gift that the Lord offers us is promised in this 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 kindle a fire of love in our hearts for God and for the gifts He offers.

Because sloth is such a deep drive, we must throw ourselves to the care of God with great humility, recognizing our poverty and seeking His miraculous grace to give us grateful, loving, and passionate hearts.

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

  • We ought to meditate carefully on what our specific call is. Because we cannot do and be everything, we need to understand our own particular gifts and how God expects us to use them. Having done this, we do well to “stay in our lane.”
  • We must understand that spiritual progress grows in stages, not in one giant leap. We need not be so sorrowful or averse to the good things God offers us. As a loving Father, He leads us and forms us most often in gentle ways as one spiritual victory leads to another.

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.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: The Seven Deadly Sins: Sloth

The Seven Deadly Sins: Sloth

One of the more misunderstood of the cardinal sins is sloth. Most see it merely as laziness, but there is more to it than that. Let’s take a moment and consider some aspects of this cardinal sin.

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

Some modern commentators describe sloth as a “don’t care” feeling. Some even say it is 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 too difficult or as requiring the setting aside of currently enjoyed or sinful pleasures. Through sloth, many experience sorrow rather than joy or zeal in following God and receiving a transformed human life. 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, focusing instead on the “trouble” or effort involved in walking in the Christian way.

Again, sloth is not merely laziness; it is more properly understood as sorrow or indifference. And while sloth may sometimes look like boredom and a casual laziness about attaining spiritual good, it can also be manifested by a frantic “busyness” with worldly things so as to avoid spiritual questions or living a reflective life.

Consider, for example, a man who is a workaholic. Now suppose 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, one whom the Lord has summoned to a new life, to the great discovery of God, and to the deepest meaning and realities of his life. He also has the awesome responsibility to announce these truths to his wife and children. All of the duties of his vocation overwhelm and even scare him; the task seems too open-ended. He doesn’t want to reflect too much because it might summon him to ponder things he would like to avoid considering: moral questions, priorities, whether he is spending enough time with his family, whether his life is focused on the things that matter most. It’s all just too hard, too filled with uncertainty. Entering more deeply into the spiritual life is difficult. Work is easier and they call him “Sir” and do what he says.

So he buries himself in his work; this helps him to avoid prayer and reflection. Of course there’s no time for Mass or for praying with his wife and children. There’s 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 at and aversion to the gift that the Lord offers him: to come out into the deeper waters and lower his net for a catch. In this example, the man’s sorrow for spiritual good is manifested in avoidance and is rooted in fear. Through 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 raising uncomfortable things he would rather not think about. He does not hate God or the faith, but it is all just too much.

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

Boredom seems to have increased in modern times and this fuels sloth. We are overstimulated in the modern world. The frantic pace, the endless interruptions, the abundance of entertainment, the fast-paced movies and video games all contribute. From the time we awaken until we fall into bed at the end of the day, 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 overstimulation means that when we come upon things like quiet prayer or adoration, when we are asked to listen for an extended period time, when the imagery is not changing quickly enough, we are easily bored.

Boredom feeds right into sloth. The “still, small voice of God,” the quiet of prayer, the simple reading of Scripture and the pondering of its message, the unfolding of spiritual meaning through reflection, the slower joys of normal human conversation in communal prayer and fellowship—none of these appeal to those used to a breakneck pace. Sunday, once the highlight of the week for many (due to the beauty of the liturgy and the music, the hearing of the sermon, the joy of fellowship, and the quiet of Holy Communion), is now considered boring and about as appealing as going to the dentist. Thus, sloth is fueled by the boredom our culture feels at anything going at less than full speed.

In his book Back to Virtue, Peter Kreeft says,

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 [p. 154].

Sloth, of course, gives rise to many other sins and bad habits: not praying, skipping Mass, not going to Confession, not reading Scripture. We do not grow in our spiritual life and thus we fail to become the man or woman God made us to be. In some sense every sin contains an element of sloth, for when we sin we show a kind of aversion to the perfecting graces that God offers us. Rather than seeing the moral law of God as a great summons to freedom, we reject that call as “too much trouble.”

There are many social manifestations of sloth as well. Two that are common in the modern world are secularism and relativism.

1.  Secularism – By secularism, I am referring to a preoccupation with worldly things (rather than the more current meaning of hostility to religious faith). It is amazing how passionate we can get about worldly things. Perhaps it is football, or politics, or the newest electronic device. Perhaps it is our career, or the stock market, or something in the news. Yes, we are passionate people, and even the most reserved of us have strong interests occupying our mind.

Yet many of these same people who rejoice at a basketball game that ends thrillingly, or are passionately engaged at the political rally, or are excited about the latest twist on their favorite television show, can muster no interest whatsoever in prayer, Mass, or Bible study. If they do get to Mass, they look as if they’re in agony until it’s over.

This is secularism and it is a form of sloth. We have time and passion for everything but God. It is a very deep drive. We are mesmerized by many things of the world but bored and 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 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 must be resisted; only God and openness to His grace can ultimately save us and bring us more alive.

2.  Relativism – Many today indulge a notion that there is no such thing as absolute or unchanging truth to which we are summoned and must ultimately conform. This is relativism. Many who practice it actually pat themselves on the back for their “tolerance” and “open-mindedness.” They think of their relativism as a virtue. More often than not, though, relativism is simply sloth masquerading as tolerance. If there is such a thing as truth (and there is), then we should joyfully seek it and base our life on its demands and promises.

Many indulge in relativism because it is an easy way out. If there is no truth, then we are not obliged to seek it nor base our life upon it. Many are averse to and sorrowful toward the truth because they find its demands irksome. This is sloth. Their sorrow is directed toward a precious spiritual gift of God: truth. Instead of joyfully seeking the truth, the relativist is sorrowful and avoids the gift, couching his sloth in words such as “open-mindedness” and “tolerance.”

To be sure, there is a place for tolerance, but the true virtue of tolerance is often misunderstood: it is not the same as 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 still considered to be objectionable or wrong. If this objection component is missing, we are not speaking any longer of “tolerance” but of “indifference” or “affirmation.”

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

For all of our modern claims of being tolerant and open-minded, a better description is that we are just plain lazy and slothful when it comes to seeking the truth. Collectively speaking, we do not love the truth but rather 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).

Coming to recognize sloth for what it is, calling it by name, and learning how it entraps us is one of the first steps on the road to healing. Sloth is one of those drives that are so deep that we must fall to our knees and beg deliverance from the Lord, who alone can heal us.

The gift that the Lord offers us is promised in this 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 kindle a fire of love in our hearts for God and for the gifts He offers.

Because sloth is such a deep drive, we must throw ourselves to the care of God with great humility, recognizing our poverty and seeking His miraculous grace to give us grateful, loving, and passionate hearts.

Finally, because sloth can also be caused 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. Because we cannot do and be everything, we need to understand our own particular gifts and how God expects us to use them. Having done this, we do well to “stay in our lane.”
  2. We must understand that spiritual progress grows in stages, not in one giant leap. We need not be so sorrowful or averse to the good things God offers us. As a loving Father, He leads us and forms us most often in gentle ways as one spiritual victory leads to another.

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.

Something tells me that after a heavy post like this one it’s time to listen to the Bach Gigue Fugue. Because sloth is sorrow, joy is an essential solution. Here is Joy in G Major!

A Warning About Sloth in a Story from the Old Testament

The Israelites in the Desert, Jean-Léon Gérôme

This week in daily Mass we are presented with a vivid portrait of the sin of sloth and its effects:

A critical moment has arrived for the people of Israel. Having seen the Egyptian army defeated at the Red Sea, they have now crossed the desert in a short period of time, perhaps a matter of months. It is now time to enter the Promised Land and savor its “milk and honey.” This is the Land that God had promised them through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In effect, God says, “It is yours. Go and enter it.”

The LORD said to Moses [in the desert of Paran],
“Send men to reconnoiter the land of Canaan,
which I am giving the children of Israel.
You shall send one man from each ancestral tribe,
all of them princes.”

In response, Moses sends out a party of chosen men to reconnoiter the land. Upon their return, they verify the goodness of the land:

After reconnoitering the land for forty days they returned,
met Moses and Aaron and the whole congregation of the children of Israel
in the desert of Paran at Kadesh,
made a report to them all,
and showed the fruit of the country
to the whole congregation.
They told Moses: “We went into the land to which you sent us.
It does indeed flow with milk and honey, and here is its fruit.”

But then they spread among the people a discouraging report:

However, the people who are living in the land are fierce,
and the towns are fortified and very strong!
Besides, we saw descendants of the Anakim there ….

We cannot attack these people; they are too strong for us.”
Thus they spread discouraging reports among the children of Israel
about the land they had scouted, saying,
“The land that we explored is a country that consumes its inhabitants.
And all the people we saw there are huge, veritable giants
(the Anakim were a race of giants);
we felt like mere grasshoppers, and so we must have seemed to them.”

At this, the whole community broke out with loud cries,
and even in the night the people wailed
.

Caleb, however, summoned the people to faith:

Caleb, however, to quiet the people toward Moses, said,
“We ought to go up and seize the land, for we can certainly do so.”

Note therefore the fear and subsequent sloth among the people. There is no doubt that entering the Promised Land will require effort and sacrifice. There will be obstacles to overcome, but God has already delivered them in a wondrous and miraculous way. He had parted the Red Sea, fed them with bread from Heaven, and supplied water in the desert from its very rocks. Surely the favors of the Lord are not exhausted; His arm is not shortened nor His strength spent!

How quickly they have forgotten the deeds of the Lord! They will not trust Him to deliver them again. This is no rash presumption that they can take the Land; it is based on a promise and a clear directive of the Lord.  As in the Exodus and crossing of the Red Sea and the desert, it will involve effort and trust, but the outcome is promised and they have already seen a foretaste of the fruits of the Land.

Never mind any of this; the people wail. It is too hard, too much effort. They fear the sacrifices, even the war, necessary to make the entrance. They (still) do not trust God to help them with the necessary graces.

Sloth is an oppressive sorrow or an aversion to the good things that God is offering. It is usually rooted in the perception that inheriting these good things involves too much effort or sacrifice. Sometimes we also perceive that it might involve changes we are not willing to make, such as giving up our favorite sins or attachments. In sloth, all this seems oppressive and sorrowful to us.

This story from the Book of Numbers is an image for our spiritual life. God parted the waters for us in our baptism and brought us out of slavery to freedom. Although we are in the desert of this world, He has loosed us from the grip of Satan and now feeds us with His word, the Eucharist, and many graces. The Promised Land of Heaven is just ahead!

Despite the promise of God and the help of His grace, many still consider the effort and sacrifice necessary to inherit Heaven to be too much. Turning away from favorite sins and attachments and engaging in spiritual warfare is all just too much. To many, forsaking apparent goods in order to attain true and lasting goods seems a poor trade-off. “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” Better the lesser pleasures I have now than the greater ones I can have later, after sacrifice and effort. The trinkets of this world come to be preferred to the treasures of Heaven.

This is sloth: sorrow or aversion to the good things that God is offering.

The sad result of sloth is that we fail to inherit or enjoy the true and lasting good that God is offering us. God will not make us take what He offers. He will not force us to take the journey, to undertake the effort or spiritual battle necessary to attain to the good things of Heaven. We seem perfectly willing to make many sacrifices in order to get worldly trinkets, but if we are unwilling to make sacrifices for heavenly glories, God will not force us to do so. If we don’t want what God is offering, we don’t have to take it.

God will encourage us through the “Calebs” of our time. He will continue to inspire preachers and teachers who will summon us to faith, trust, and zeal so that we both desire Heaven and become willing to engage in battle for it.

Finally, here is the sad ending of the passage from Numbers:

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron:
“How long will this wicked assembly grumble against me?
I have heard the grumblings of the children of Israel against me.
Tell them: By my life, says the LORD,
I will do to you just what I have heard you say.
Here in the desert shall your dead bodies fall.
Forty days you spent in scouting the land;
forty years shall you suffer for your crimes:
one year for each day.
Thus you will realize what it means to oppose me.
I, the LORD, have sworn to do this
to all this wicked assembly that conspired against me:
here in the desert they shall die to the last man.”

Indeed, that sinful and slothful generation would never see the Promised Land. They don’t want it (at least not at the cost prescribed), and so it will not be forced upon them. If they want the desert they can have the it—until it claims their dead bodies. For the Nation of Israel, this would be a kind of forty-year purgation. For the sinful and slothful individuals, there would be no Promised Land. That generation would die inheriting what they wanted: the desert.

So, too, for us. Heaven is promised to us but it is not required. We have a decision to make: Will we engage in the spiritual battle with the help of God’s grace, receiving the Promised Land of Heaven, or not? The Day of Judgment is not about what God wants (He wants to save us); it is about what we want. The judgment to be made is this: did you and do you want the Kingdom God is offering, with all it values and its citizens or not?

Pray for zeal and joy, two virtues that are necessary in order to combat sloth. Pray to desire what God wants to give!

On The Human Tendency to "postpone" the Resurrection. A Meditation on Something Jesus said to St. Martha

072913In the Gospel of Monday of this week, the Feast of St. Martha, there is an interesting dialogue between Jesus and Martha. Martha begins by saying, Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you. And thus Martha expresses her faith and hope in Jesus. But Jesus seeks to draw her out a bit and to get her to focus her faith in the moment. And thus the dialogue between them continues:

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise.” Martha said to him, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life…(John 11:22-23)

In this exchange St Martha articulates a common human tendency to “futurize” the blessings of God. And thus when Jesus speaks of her brother rising, she says, as we all do in effect: “Yes, I know that there will be blessings for me in some distant, and future heaven.”

But Jesus interjects, saying, “I AM the resurrection.” Notice that he does not say, “I will be the resurrection.” In effect he says to her and to us, “I am your resurrection to new life now, not merely in a future heaven. The new life, the eternal life, the life of grace that I died to give you is available to you now. Yes, even at this very moment a whole new way of living, a new and transformed life is available to you.”

Yes Jesus is our resurrection. We have already died and risen with him to the new life he offers. St Paul says in Romans:

All of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:3-4)

So eternal life is now. Surely it will be full in heaven. But it began at our baptism, continues now and, if we are faithful, continues to grow. The phrase “eternal life” does not merely specify the length of life, but also the fulness of life.

Of this I am a witness. At age 52 my body is older, but my soul is more alive than I ever was at 22. I am more confident, more serene, more joyful and prayerful, more aware of God and more loving of God and neighbor. I have seen sins put to death and many new graces and talents come alive. I am more alive at 52 than I have ever been before. And wait till you see me at 82!

And thus Jesus says to St. Martha, and to us: “I AM the resurrection. The life I offer you is now.”

Yet, so easily we can either doubt this, or even seek to defer it. Perhaps we doubt it on account of some struggles or suffering we are currently enduring. Or perhaps we are discouraged by a lack of progress in some area of our life. And so some of us in weakness doubt that the new and eternal life is now.

But our deferring of new and resurrected life is more pernicious for it is rooted in sloth. Too easily we can slip into a kind of excuse-making disposition that prefers to focus on our present limits than on God’s present gifts. And so we will think or say: “I am not responsible for my failings. My mother dropped me on my head when I was two, and my Father was mean….I am only human after all and I am going through a few things now.”

Whether they are true or not, focusing on our present limits and past wounds provides an easy out for the demands of our higher calling. For, if it is true that Jesus has brought us to a new and more glorious life and has set us free, with that freedom and life comes a greater responsibility and higher expectations. But all that is “too much trouble” and so we flee from it and prefer to see heaven and eternal (full) life as something off in the distant future.

This is sloth, namely sorrow, sadness or aversion at the good things God is offering. Rather than to joyfully accept the new life God offers, we draw back into the lesser but more familiar doldrums of mediocrity where excuses and lower expectations dominate.

To all this, Jesus says, “I AM the resurrection.” That is, “Begin now. Lay hold of the life I died to give you. Do not be satisfied with anything less that the vigorous transformation I offer you beginning now! Why not become totally fire?!”

St Martha thought of the blessings only in some future context. It is doubtful that she thought this merely in sloth for she was shocked and saddened by the death of her brother and not yet heir to the gospel as fully preached.

But we too often DO postpone heaven for slothful reasons. And like the Ancients Jews who often seemed to prefer the slavery of Egypt (with its fleshpots and melons and leeks) to the freedom of the desert with its challenges and responsibilities.

Again to us us Jesus offers this simple declaration and invitation: “I AM (now) the resurrection….Do you believe this?”

Beware of sloth and pray for joy at what God offers and zeal to lay hold of it.



And Now for Something really silly:

On Sloth and the Noonday Devil

"Hammock nap on patio"  by Michael Nutt from New York, US - David asleep in hammock.  Licensed under C  C BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
“Hammock nap on patio” by Michael Nutt from New York, US – David asleep in hammock. Licensed under C C BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

One of the more misunderstood of the deadly sins is sloth. In the wider culture sloth is often equated simply with laziness.

But sloth has a lot more subtleties than simple laziness. In fact, sloth can sometimes manifest as workaholism and other frantic worldly activities and busyness.

This is because sloth is most fundamentally defined as a “sorrow or aversion to the good things that God offers” such as a moral life, and deeper spiritual fruitfulness etc. There are some who find such things unappealing, and instead of joyfully accepting these gifts, they are sorrowful toward them or averse. One way to avoid God, and to avoid engaging in spiritual practices is to busy one’s self with the world, to dive into career and become a kind of a workaholic. Thus one simply says, “I’m far too busy to pray, or to spend time reflecting, or to read Scripture, or go to church etc. Such a person is not lazy but they are slothful.

Other forms of sloth do more consistently manifest in the form of a kind of laziness. Some people permit themselves to be mired in laziness or boredom, and a kind of tiredness such that they cannot rouse themselves to prayer other spiritual activities.

Yet another form of sloth, a form that is subtler, is a kind of discouragement that sets in once one has embarked on the spiritual path or vocation, and been at it a few years. And thus, one may get married, or become a religious or be ordained a priest, and after four or five years, when the newness worn off, a kind of Discouragement and boredom set in. And this boredom tempts one to think they made a mistake or must leave the path simply because the thrill and newness is gone.

The secular world often refers to this sort of sloth as the “five-year itch.” And usually applies this expression to marriage. And it is a very common thing that after four or five years of marriage, the greatest danger for divorce arises. The same is true of the priesthood and religious life. Four or five years into a vocation is a critical time period. The newness and thrill have worn off and now it comes time for the daily living, without the previous emotional intensity.

CS Lewis in the Screwtape Letters has “Uncle Screwtape” explain the slothful discouragement to Wormwood in this way, and instructs his “student demon” thus:

Work hard, then, on the disappointment or anticlimax which is certainly coming….It occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of learning to live together. In every department of life it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing…..[Careful my dear Wormwood], If once they get through this initial dryness successfully, they become much less dependent on emotion and therefore much harder to tempt! (Letter 2)

And by this form of discouragement (a subtle form of sloth) one is tempted to give up one’s current course of action and run off to something new and seemingly more thrilling. Grave becomes the temptation at this point to stray from, or end marriages, leave the priesthood or religious life, or some other spiritual course. One is no longer thrilled and excited of the gift that God has given. But now there is sorrow and a kind of aversion to it. This is sloth.

The Desert Fathers of the Church, based on Psalm 91 referred to this type of sloth as the “noonday devil.” (Psalm 91:6 in the Latin Vulgate spoke of a morsu insanientis meridie – the scourge that bites at noon, i.e. the “noonday devil”).

Indeed, most of us experience this noonday devil, at least from time to time, between noon and 3 PM as a kind of sluggishness sleepiness that sets in on us. Many cultures, rather than battle this, have introduced an afternoon siesta.

Whatever the case, shortly after lunch, a sleepiness and boredom sets in. The newness of the day is gone and the day now seems to drag on and cannot end fast enough. The eyes are heavy and one longs to sleep. Yes, the noonday devil is upon us.

And this noonday devil which besets us is also a symbol  of the discouragement that often sets in when one has embarked on a vocation or spiritual path that is no longer new, and now requires the daily work which may no longer thrill. Early afternoon in ones vocational or spiritual walk is a dangerous and tempting time.

One of the Desert Fathers, Evagrius of Pontus (A. D. 345-399) writes as follows:

The demon of acedia (sloth), also called the “noonday demon,” is the most oppressive of all demons. He attacks the monk about the fourth hour and besieges his soul until the eighth hour….He makes the sun appear sluggish and immobile as if the day had fifty hours…. Moreover the demon sends him hatred against the place…. and makes him think he has lost the love…. and stirs the monk to long for different places…and to flee from the race-course. (On Eight Evil Thoughts, Acedia)

A pretty clear description of the kind of temptation besets many, both in their vocations and in their Christian walk.

Beware of sloth, beware of the noonday devil. See it for what it is; name it; know its moves. Understand too, that the noonday devil manifests for only a time. If one will persevere through the midday hours of life and the Christian walk, one will also find that the noonday devil eventually departs, as one settles in to a proper and steady rhythm of the Christian walk or vocation.

However mystifying, disconcerting, and discouraging the noonday devil may seem, most who are able to persevere are glad they did, and that they stayed the course.

Always remember, the devil is a liar. Life cannot be and should not be thrilling at every moment, or lived at a 1000 miles an hour. Such a pace and intensity cannot be maintained. Slow, steady and organic growth is ultimately what is best for the human person.

Stay the course and ignore the noonday devil who taps into the subtleties of the wound in our soul called the deadly sin of sloth. Presuming that one has properly discerned the Christian walk and particular vocation, one should trust in the Lord and stay the course.

Whatever the emotional state steady as you go, Age quod agis – Do what you are doing! Rebuke the noonday devil in the Name of Jesus.