For this series on the Seven Capital Sins, I figured I’d better start with Sloth, lest I never get around to it. I haven’t gotten around to reading more than the first couple cantos of the Purgatorio of Dante’s Divine Comedy, around which Bishop Barron and Mark Shea base their series, so I’ll have to take their word [“on fire”; wordonfire.org] for it.
Midway through Dante’s odyssey up the mountain of Purgatory he finds the domain of those whose hearts have become indifferent to divine realities. Sloth classically was called “the noonday devil” (cf. Ps 91:6) because it can be likened to the lassitude that lassos you at that point in the day, the dip in glucose that starts you nodding.
Yet sloth is more than “Sluggishness, Unspecified” (what would be the medical billing code for that?), for the slothful person seems to marshal more than enough resources for earthly pursuits like internet surfing and other addictions. Another term is “acedia,” from the Greek a (privative form meaning “not” or “without”) + kedos, “care”): fitting because the slothful person simply cares not for spiritual matters. If he cared enough, he’d pay time and attention. (Starting to sound like a relationship, isn’t it? But that’s what God desires and deserves from us.)
One anonymous writer noted how sloth is usually disguised as a five-syllable word: procrastination. My favorite method of procrastinating is rearranging furniture. Over the years if I had a difficult task ahead of me, I’d suddenly start moving couches and books. I seemed to implement spatial plans with aplomb, but I couldn’t get in optional or even mandatory prayers.
Swiftness in one area of life doesn’t make up for tardiness or inactivity in another. To borrow from a sage sacerdotal figure in my life, we can’t neglect mandatory things in favor of optional ones. True, the occasional “change-up pitch” can start good habits, but all change-ups and no fastballs gets you replaced in the top of the fifth. We may putz around waiting for an “ideal” time to do something, but it just ain’t gonna happen. Sloth often serves as a thin veil for guilt, anxiety, and the sense of failure that only gets stronger. “My delay will eventually become my decision.”
Spiritual disciplines need not become immense, but only consistent. Doing something every day with and for the Lord, however small, can become a channel of grace. One discipline has been undertaken for us by Father Austin Fleming of the Archdiocese of Boston. He hosts a blog called “A Concord Pastor Comments” (concordpastor.blogspot.com). Sign up for and read his daily richly prayerful and playful emails. Alternately, try praymorenovenas.com, where you can get signed up for numerous nine-day prayer exercises throughout the year. Just as one click can eventually get you down a terrible rabbit hole, it also can start you along sound habits of Catholic prayer and study.