+JMJ+ Welcome to part 17 of our current Catholic Book of the Month, Introduction to the Spiritual Life, by Brant Pitre. I’m on a Quest to become a saint, using this book as my guide. Come along with me and let’s become saints together! In this post we’ll be looking at the capital sin of sloth and its remedy, diligence.
A disordered inclination to apathy or laziness in fulfilling one’s duties–that’s how sloth is defined in our guide. (See page 26 in the ebook.) When its a spiritual sloth the appropriate term is acedia, from the Greek akedia, weariness. It is possible to be slothful about spiritual things but not physical things and vice versa.
Sloth flows from pride and a sense of entitlement to enjoying the fruits of other people’s labor…according to Jesus, when sloth leads someone to neglect grave spiritual obligations to God or neighbor, it can be a mortal sin.Introduction to the Spiritual Life, by Brant Pitre, p. 327, ebook.
Sloth is a disease “of the will that slowly renders a person incapable of persevering in the ‘difficult’ and ‘narrow’ spiritual path of Jesus” (see Matthew 7:13–14).
With respect to spiritual sloth, beginners…find it irksome when they are commanded to do that wherein they take no pleasure…They run fretfully away from everything that is hard.Dark Night of the Soul, St. John of the Cross, Book 1.7.2, 4.
We’ve already seen that King David’s first step on his downward slide began with hanging back from battle, sending others out to fight while he remained at home, idle. (See part 15, about halfway down the page.) Proverbs has some sayings about sloth, too, and “draws a direct link between the vice of sloth and pride.” (Intro, 331.)
Next Dr. Pitre looks at the teachings of Jesus about sloth in
- the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) and
- the sleepinness of the apostles in Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-41).
The takeaway here is this: “Although we do not have to do anything to earn the initial gifts of grace, once they are ours, God requires us to work at multiplying them. If we refuse to do so because we are ‘lazy’ or ‘slothful,’ we will be cast out of the kingdom and into the ‘outer darkness'” (see page 337)—and we will have to render an account of what we did, or did not do, with what we were given. All those people saying we don’t have to do anything, they’re partly right but only partly.
And the apostles sleeping when they should be awake and praying? I didn’t know this but it’s a Jewish custom to stay awake on Passover night (see Exodus 12:42). I knew they did it on the first Passover, I didn’t realize they continued to do that. But the apostles don’t stay awake according to Jewish custom or in response to Jesus’s request, either one. They snoozed happily away (well, I don’t know if it was happily, they could’ve been having nightmares for all I know) while Jesus was praying and sweating blood not far away. And then when the soldiers came and Judas betrayed the Lord into their hands, the brave apostles ran away and abandoned Him, every one. Laziness and lack of prayer led right down that slippery slope into betrayal and abandonment. I’ll bet most of us can look at our own lives and see how this has played out, even if not quite so dramatically. Or maybe it has been dramatic. Even tragic. I know I am lazy. It’s the hardest thing to overcome. Perhaps it’s my predominant fault. That and pride.
The Remedy is Diligence
Now this is easy to say but I am in no way suggesting that it’s easy to do, not for me, anyway, but the remedy for sloth or acedia is diligence. Here our author quotes St. Paul:
Even when we were with you, we gave you this command: If any one will not work, let him not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work in quietness and to earn their own living.2 Thes. 3:10-12, quoted in Intro, 341.
He’s not talking about beggars, says Dr. Pitre, but members of the congregation who can work but choose not to. St. Paul warns about these “busy bodies” and “meddlers” and that made me laugh right out loud. I’ve never seen so many busybodies and meddlers as I have the last few years, especially the last two years, and I mean all over the world. Phenomenal!
Ora et labora, St. Benedict’s Rule
Now this one shouldn’t be so hard for me but, oh, it is, it is! Fixed times for doing things, whether physical work or spiritual reading or prayer. Oy, I begin this, I start that, and before long, I give up. Over and over I do this. Sometimes I stay at it for a year or more, but I still reach a point where I give up, whatever my excuse is and I always have one. But even then I have not kept to fixed times and I’m thinking that this is a key, maybe the key. And, reading on, yes, St. Benedict says that this fixed time is crucial. Make that absolutely crucial. There’s my mistake, one of many. The spiritual reading and prayer that St. Benedict prescribes as a remedy and preventative for slothfulness is lectio divina. (See pages 343-344.) We can see how well I did with this by looking at my Bible In A Year page. I got–not very far at all before I stopped. I can begin again and I will. I will it! Lord, help me will it for real.
There’s more in the book than I can cover in these posts. You can get a copy of your own in hardcover or Kindle ebook format using the links at the end of this post. View other parts of the series on the annotated Table of Contents page and scroll down for this series of posts.
Next time, sorrow, the eighth (yes, eighth) capital sin, and its remedy: patience.
Thanks for visiting the blog and reading. I pray that you and I will stay holy and virtuous this Easter season, and may these spiritual helps aid us to become who the Lord intends us to be: SAINTS. God bless you and may His Peace be always with you. +JMJ+
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Notes and Links
- The current Catholic Book of the Month is Introduction to the Spiritual Life: Walking the Path of Prayer with Jesus, by Brant Pitre: Hardcover, Kindle. (Amazon affiliate links, see Full Disclosure below.)
- There are a lot of books on the spiritual life listed in a post I did a few years ago on Dr. Pitre’s audio course on Spiritual Theology. There are links in that post for some of those books in PDF format for free at archive.org.
Image: in the banner, same one the cover of the book uses: The Road to Emmaus (or The Way to Emmaus), by Robert Zund, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain. The Agony in the Garden, by Garofalo, Photo © National Gallery, London.
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