The Seven Deadly Sins – Sloth

Sloth Steven BurkettThe Seven Deadly Sins

See part 1


Like all sin, Sloth is an excess of something good. That something good is leisure and recreation…rest, time off. St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that we take time off in order to be able to work better and we understand from that principle that the purpose of leisure is to enhance our ability to work. And if we ever take too much leisure, to the extent that it impairs our ability to work or the quantity of time we give to work, it becomes sinful…and that is sloth.

Like all the capital sins, it is in all of us to a certain extent — that willingness to take too much free time. If we let it go, it can have devastating effects. The most important effect of sloth is in our spiritual lives. Sloth in the spiritual life leads to lukewarmness — leads to giving God the absolute minimum in order to stay out of mortal sin. And this of course is a sin itself. So how serious is sloth as a sin?

It can be very serious: first it makes one neglect the principle purpose of life which is salvation; and a sin against charity towards himself. The slothful trades his spiritual duties for cheap and passing pass times of this life. It is directly opposed to God’s commandment that we love him with our whole heart, whole mind, whole strength and our whole soul — the slothful give God only half heartedly all these things.

Unlike pride, envy and anger, sloth is easy to detect. The other three can be hidden in many other actions, under many other vices: pride in particular. Sloth, however, is easy to detect. First: you’re slothful if you avoid as much as possible all manual labor or physical effort; if you have an abhorrence of physical exertion you have a problem with sloth. For example: not making your bed in the morning, letting the dishes stack up in the sink, letting your yard turn in to a pasture. The second way is the excessive seeking of bodily ease and comfort: am I comfortable or if you are totally horrified at being uncomfortable — that is sloth. Thirdly, if you put off things that must be done: procrastination.

The slothful man says: why do today what you can put off until tomorrow. His life becomes depressing because he goes to bed every night with that horrid feeling that his work is not done. He’s not happy with himself — he knows he’s neglectful. A fourth way is to give up a task before it is completed. If you have the habit of starting things and not finishing them you are a slothful person. Picking up a book, reading 20 pages and putting it down, never again to look at it. Projects begun all around the house, things half done — this is a sign of sloth. The worst form of this is quitters in regards in the spiritual life. For example: resolving to say the rosary everyday and then quitting after a few days, or resolving to do a special Lenten fast and then quitting….that is a sign of sloth.

Another way is habitual tardiness. If you are late for everything: late for work, appointments, meals, assignments, if you’re late for Mass constantly — it is a sign of sloth. Another sign is wasting time on useless activities. The lazy person does not want to face the burden of work and looks for distraction. Now notice, the lazy person is not necessarily sleeping or lying on a couch, he might be involved in some feverish activity but it is not the activity that he should be doing. That’s the key to laziness: when you are doing something that you should not be doing, and you are not doing what you should be doing.

The first victim of sloth is your spiritual life: the rosary goes, frequent confession goes, you develop a dislike for lengthy ceremonies because you don’t want the spiritual life, it’s distasteful or a pain. Sloth suffocates the soul — it makes the soul neglect prayer, the sacraments, and the works of mercy. The second effect is that it causes cowardice in meeting the problems and difficulties of life. Whenever the slothful person sees work staring him in the face he becomes cowardly.

Sloth causes a person to waste his talents, opportunities, time and effort: the very things that will help us to get to heaven. God has given us a challenge of effort to get to heaven. It is God’s providence; it is the cross that we must imitate and involves effort. It doesn’t come easy — and sloth destroys this will to effort. Finally, it turns man to dangerous pastimes: bad company, drinking, carousing, gambling, etc. If you want to stay out of sin, stay busy!

How can we remove sloth? What is the remedy? First, examine your conscience. Apply these signs of sloth to your life and ask yourself: are you guilty. We all have some sloth in our lives. Especially in these times when there is a cult of leisure: the weekend, my time, etc. The second thing is to be faithful to your duties: if you’re a husband, a wife, a child, etc. Children should be given definite chores and responsibilities, teaching that that life is not some big game. Thirdly, start your day on your knees: do the morning offering. “O my God, I offer unto Thee all my thoughts, works, joys, and sufferings of this day.”

Sloth is one of the seven capital sins. […] 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. This is the notion commonly obtaining, and in this sense sloth is not a specific vice according to the teaching of St. Thomas, but rather a circumstance of all vices.

Ordinarily it will not have the malice of mortal sin unless, of course, we conceive it to be so utter that because of it one is willing to bid defiance to some serious obligation. St. Thomas completes his definition of sloth by saying that it is torpor in the presence of spiritual good which is Divine good. In other words, a man is then formally distressed at the prospect of what he must do for God to bring about or keep intact his friendship with God. In this sense sloth is directly opposed to charity. It is then a mortal sin unless the act be lacking in entire advertence or full consent of the will.

The trouble attached to maintenance of the inhabiting of God by charity arouses tedium in such a person. He violates, therefore, expressly the first and the greatest of the commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength.” (Mark 12:30).

Source: see part 1


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