Guide to Goodness

Winning All Souls for God’s Glory. Winning the Spiritual Battle of Sloth with Diligence.

Sloth ad from Harper Magazine Seven Deadly Sin Series (1986)

This is a big week with our first Anniversary on All Saint’s Day yesterday and today’s celebration of All Soul’s Day. All Saints is a celebration of the communion of saints, those people we believe are in heaven. All Souls’ Day is a day where we pray for all souls. This includes those in purgatory, waiting to get into heaven. I love the Christian concept of the importance of the individual soul that underlies All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. God’s goodness has shined a light on this importance for me over the years.

As we progress though our series on how sin and vice divert us from living the good life, we are learning how to win the spiritual battle by understanding the insidious nature of sin and how growing in virtue will help us prevail.  Today we will look at the fourth deadly sin, sloth and learn about the cure for this dis-ease which is diligence.  This strategy works because sin separates us and turns us away from God. By practicing virtue and choosing what is good reorients us to God and His goodness.  A list of the seven deadly sins of pride, envy, anger, sloth, greed, gluttony and lust, and the corresponding cures are here.

It is only fitting that we talk about sloth today, a sin that if left unchecked can really ruin a soul.  In fact, we are seeing the effects of this in epidemic proportions through indifference and depression, especially in the West.  The evil one really knows how to take advantage of our weak spots.  It was pretty eye opening for me when I started studying the sin of sloth and the connection to some of our biggest issues in society.  I had always thought of sloth similar to the sluggish tree-dweller of Central and South America, but never thought much about how this sin could play out in my life.  The sin of sloth can creep up on us where we start acting like a sloth, not moving much, munching all day, and spending a lot of time on the couch or sleeping.   This sin ultimately stunts our spiritual growth and keeps us from living the good life.

What is sloth?

Sloth draws us in to be lazy in all aspects of our life, physical and spiritual.  It keeps us from being the best version of ourselves and bringing God’s goodness into the world.  If we are to reach our full potential, we should develop our talents and gifts rather than keeping them wrapped up in sloth.  Sloth is denying God’s will for the sake of comfort, and it can be avoiding physical or spiritual work.  It is laziness or lack of effort.  This is spiritual and bodily laziness, sometimes called ‘luke-warmness’.  It is more than being a couch potato and it seriously threatens our spiritual well-being because it leads us to despair, hopelessness, doubt, and mistrust.  Sloth, the Latin translation of acedia, is a corporal sin which is a sin “of the body.”  Sloth might begin in our thoughts, but it is consummated with the body. 

What are some of the effects of sloth?

Sloth is aversion to seeking the spiritual disciplines such as prayer, bible study and church attendance.  It  ignores the seven gifts of grace given by the Holy Spirit – fear of the Lordpietyfortitudeknowledgeunderstanding, counsel, and wisdom – by slowing spiritual progress towards life, neglecting our duty of love of neighbor, and breeding animosity towards God.  There are three prominent forms of spiritual acedia:  distraction, spiritual melancholy, and occupation with unnecessary things.

  • Acedia makes us indifferent toward our sanctification.  We don’t care as we should.
  • We feel an aversion to spiritual effort.  It’s too hard!  It’s too time consuming!  Or we believe that our case is hopeless or impossible.  We fail to trust in God’s mercy.
  • Work-a-holism and busy-ness are also forms of acedia.  We never have the ‘time’ to care for our spiritual well-being.  It’s not a priority or something that we even think about as serious or important.
  • According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, acedia or sloth goes so far as to refuse joy from God and is repelled by goodness.

How can I identify sloth within me?

  • Malice – intention or desire to do evil.
  • Spite – desire to hurt, annoy or offend.
  • Faintheartedness – timid or lacking courage.
  • Sluggishness around living the 10 Commandments.
  • Wandering of the mind after unlawful things.
  • Do I have feelings of despair, hopelessness, doubt, and mistrust?
  • Am I apathetic?  Prone to goof off?  Ok with being ignorant?  Melancholy?  A slacker or procrastinator?

The way of the sluggard is blocked with thorns, but the path of the upright is a highway.

Proverbs 15:19

Swap sloth with diligence.

The virtue of diligence aids us in fulfilling our duties and cultivating a strong work ethic.  It means following God’s will, even if it means sacrificing comfort.  We should practice zeal in working for God and the good of others.

  • Be all-in and commit.
  • Be zealous – have great energy or enthusiasm.
  • Give your best effort to all you do, even if discouraged or doubtful.
  • Resist the urgings to delay or be lazy.
  • Do spiritual reading for inspiration and practical advice.
  • Pray for assistance and for will power.
  • Be diligent.  Have a schedule, and don’t let your life revolve around resting and comfort.

One of the biggest epidemics in our world today is that of indifference.  When we take a deep dive into understanding the sin of sloth, it is easy to see how we face such an epidemic.  It is also interesting to contemplate the link that Christian author and clinical psychologist Dr. William Backus makes in the similarities between sloth and depression, which is also at epidemic proportions: 

Depression involves aversion to effort, and the moral danger of sloth lies in this characteristic. The work involved in exercising one’s will to make moral and spiritual decisions seems particularly undesirable and demanding. Thus, the slothful person drifts along in habits of sin, convinced that he has no willpower and aided in this claim by those who persist in seeking only biological and environmental causes and medical remedies for sloth.

Let’s pray for God’s will in our life and practice diligence combined with zeal in everything we do.  Let’s claim the gifts of the Spirit we are given and bear their good fruit.  Let’s get out of our addiction to comfort and set the world on fire with love, living in spiritual maturity and living the good life.

May we be Smitten with Diligence,


P.S. Enjoy the six bonus reflections below.

Reflection One

The sorrow about spiritual good.

Sloth is sluggishness of the mind which neglects to begin good…it is evil in its effect, if it so oppresses man as to draw him away entirely from good deeds.

Summa Theologica, Saint Thomas Aquinas

There are two steps by which someone fails to regard an unpleasant good. First, he comes to withdraw from, or avoid, the good itself. Then, he seeks for something else more agreeable.  In other words, he struggles actively against having to perform the higher good in question. Lord lead me away from any malice, spite, faint-heartedness, despair, and sluggishness in following the Commandments, and wandering of the mind after unlawful things.  Fill me with diligence.

Reflection Two

Salvation takes effort.

Sloth is the desire for ease, even at the expense of doing the known will of God. Whatever we do in life requires effort. Everything we do is to be a means of salvation. The slothful person is unwilling to do what God wants because of the effort it takes to do it. Sloth becomes a sin when it slows down and even brings to a halt the energy, we must expend in using the means to salvation. The Pocket Catholic Catechism  Lord, give me strength to be diligent and full of zeal for the good life.

Reflection Three

We are not an island to our own.

We should recall that no man is an island, entire of itself. Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, and do, and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better or for worse. So, my prayer for another is not something extraneous to that person, something external, not even after death.

Pope Benedict XVI

Lord, help me remember that my sin doesn’t just impact me but has a ripple effect throughout the world.

Reflection Four

We are not alone. We have an advocate that gives us zeal.

In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s possession, to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1:13-14

Lord, help me use the seven gifts of grace given by the Holy Spirit – fear of the Lord, piety, fortitude, knowledgeunderstanding, counsel, and wisdom – to grow in spiritual maturity.

Reflection Five

A Prayer to be diligent and order my day.

O merciful God, grant that I may desire ardently, search prudently, recognize truly, and bring to perfect completion whatever is pleasing to You for the praise and glory of Your name. Put my life in good order, O my God. Grant that I may know what You require me to do. Bestow upon me the power to accomplish Your will, as is necessary and fitting for the salvation of my soul. Grant to me, O Lord my God, that I may not falter in times of prosperity or adversity, so that I may not be exalted in the former, nor dejected in the latter. May I not rejoice in anything unless it leads me to You; may I not be saddened by anything unless it turns me from You. May I desire to please no one, nor fear to displease anyone, but You. May all transitory things, O Lord, be worthless to me and may all things eternal be ever cherished by me. May any joy without You be burdensome for me and may I not desire anything else besides You. May all work, O Lord, delight me when done for Your sake and may all repose not centered in You be ever wearisome for me. Grant unto me, my God, that I may direct my heart to You and that in my failures I may ever feel remorse for my sins and never lose the resolve to change. O Lord my God, make me submissive without protest, poor without discouragement, chaste without regret, patient without complaint, humble without posturing, cheerful without frivolity, mature without gloom, and quick-witted without flippancy. O Lord my God, let me fear You without losing hope, be truthful without guile, do good works without presumption, rebuke my neighbor without haughtiness, and—without hypocrisy—strengthen him by word and example. Give to me, O Lord God, a watchful heart, which no capricious thought can lure away from You. Give to me a noble heart, which no unworthy desire can debase. Give to me a resolute heart, which no evil intention can divert. Give to me a stalwart heart, which no tribulation can overcome. Give to me a temperate heart, which no violent passion can enslave. Give to me, O Lord my God, understanding of You, diligence in seeking You, wisdom in finding You, discourse ever pleasing to You, perseverance in waiting for You, and confidence in finally embracing You. Grant that with Your hardships I may be burdened in reparation here, that Your benefits I may use in gratitude upon the way, that in Your joys I may delight by glorifying You in the Kingdom of Heaven. You Who live and reign, God, world without end. Amen.

The Aquinas Prayer Book: The Prayers and Hymns of St. Thomas Aquinas

Reflection Six

Need some ideas to overcome boredom and sloth?

Dr. Andrew Swafford says that spiritual boredom is closely tied to one of the famed deadly or capital sins, which are so named because they tend to beget other sins. Hence, they quickly become a toxic poison in the spiritual and moral life. He provides 7 tips to overcome boredom and sloth: Recognize the truth of the Creator and His providence, The combination of prudence and magnimity, perseverance, sweat – both physical and spiritual, recover a sense of wonder, be festive, pray and practice the presence of God. (You can read the full article 7 Tips for Overcoming Boredom and Sloth on Ascension Press.) Lord, help me overcome any boredom or sloth in my life.

3 thoughts on “Winning All Souls for God’s Glory. Winning the Spiritual Battle of Sloth with Diligence.”

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