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How to fight laziness with St. Jerome

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Mathilde De Robien - published on 05/29/21

The saints can teach us how to manage our emotions and face our struggles.

Here we present another in our series of articles about how the saints can help us overcome vice and practice virtue, guided by Edwige Billot, author of a recent book about guidance from the saints on how to handle our emotions (published in French: “Et si les saints nous coachaient sur nos émotions?”).

Idleness, mother of all vices

Procrastination, sloth, laziness … These are temptations that are familiar to us, and that need to be fought. Indeed, for St. Paul, laziness is a sin against charity.

“By not doing what could be expected of us, we hurt others and ourselves, since we do not use our talents,” says Edwige Billot. Moreover, idleness is dangerous insofar as it facilitates temptations.

“Idleness is the mother of all vices,” warns popular wisdom. And that’s not the only source that issues us such a warning. The Scriptures don’t mince their words:

  • “The idler is like a filthy stone, and every one hisses at his disgrace. The idler is like the filth of dunghills; anyone that picks it up will shake it off his hand.” (Sirach 22: 1-2)
  • “The craving of the lazy person is fatal, for lazy hands refuse to labor.” (Proverbs 21:25)
  • Scripture praises the woman “who does not eat the bread of idleness.” (Proverbs 31:27)

St. Paul isn’t any softer on lazy people who shirk their duty while enjoying diversions:

“Anyone unwilling to work should 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 quietly and to earn their own living.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10b-12).

St. Jerome, a doctor of the Church and translator of the Bible into Latin in the 5th century, spoke of the evils of laziness and the importance of keeping busy. In a letter to Rustics (125), he says,

“‘Every one that is idle is a prey to vain desires.’ In Egypt the monasteries make it a rule to receive none who are not willing to work; for they regard labor as necessary not only for the support of the body but also for the salvation of the soul.”

To this end, he recommends an infallible remedy for not falling into temptations linked to idleness: Remain in action at all times, so the devil doesn’t have the chance to snatch an idle moment. “Live in such a way that the devil will always find you busy,” he writes.

If we are busy doing good, then we are less available to the solicitations of evil. It’s advice we can take to heart today, too.

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