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What is acedia in prayer and the spiritual life?

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Philip Kosloski - published on 04/15/24

Acedia is a form of spiritual laziness that distances us from God, due to our own lack of attention to the spiritual life.

Sometimes spiritual writers will talk about “acedia,” though they do not always clearly define what this words means.

What is acedia?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes acedia in its section on prayer:

Another temptation, to which presumption opens the gate, is acedia. The spiritual writers understand by this a form of depression due to lax ascetical practice, decreasing vigilance, carelessness of heart. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” The greater the height, the harder the fall. Painful as discouragement is, it is the reverse of presumption. 

CCC 2733

Essentially, we may even want to pray or grow closer to God, but we simply don’t.

We might claim that we are too tired to pray, or that we don’t have enough time in the day to pray.

The key is that we simply don’t do anything, or even try to pray.

The Catholic Encyclopedia explains acedia in the following way:

Father Rickaby aptly translates its Latin equivalent acedia (Gr. akedia) by saying that it means the don’t-care feeling. A man apprehends the practice of virtue to be beset with difficulties and chafes under the restraints imposed by the service of God. The narrow way stretches wearily before him and his soul grows sluggish and torpid at the thought of the painful life journey. The idea of right living inspires not joy but disgust, because of its laboriousness. 

We look at the Christian life and see pain and struggle and so we don’t even dare to try.

The Catechism says that to combat this vice, “The humble are not surprised by their distress; it leads them to trust more, to hold fast in constancy” (CCC 2733).

True humility can help us recognize that we are weak and are in need of God’s grace.

It’s true that the spiritual life is difficult, but the humble heart admits this and relies more on God’s strength than our own.

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CCC PrayerPrayerSpiritual Life
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