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Sloth: That Rarely Confessed, but Diabolical Sin

Nicholas-Laughlin-CC

Msgr. Charles Pope - published on 03/19/15

It's not what you think

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. Let’s take a moment and consider some aspects of the cardinal s in we call 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 sorrow for spiritual good. By it, we shun spiritual good as too toilsome (cf ST II-II 35,2).

Some modern commentators speak of 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 laborious or as requiring setting aside currently enjoyed or sinful pleasures. By 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 on the “trouble” or effort attached to walking in the Christian way, rather than understanding grace 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 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 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: moral questions or priorities, whether he is spending enough time with his wife and children, whether his life is focused on the things that matter most. No, it’s 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’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 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 case, his sorrow for spiritual good is manifested in 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 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.

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CatholicismFaithSpiritual Life
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