THE DEADLY SIN OF SLOTH AND HOW TO OVERCOME IT
Since we are now in the midst of the 40-days of lent we may from time to time be tempted to succumb to sloth which can destroy one's spiritual opportunity to persevere toward a good and fruitful lent.
I recall a story about Fr. John Hardon, S.J. and his personal valet/bodyguard, Dan Burns, who travelled with him on numerous occasions. Mr. Burns once stated that "[Fr Hardon] took a vow in 1937 or so never to waste time, and I've never seen him waste time. The last motion picture he saw was in 1939."
According to Burns, just prior to the departure of a flight Fr Hardon went to confession. Upon his arrival at his destination he immediately stated to Burns that he needed to go to confession again. Burns mildly protested asking why it was necessary since he had just went to confession prior to the flight. Fr Hardon replied that he had wasted 15 minutes while on the plane.
This story among other things highlights the importance of avoiding sloth. Sloth is one of the seven deadly sins--which destroys charity in the heart and thus may lead to final impenitence and damnation. Sloth is the desire for ease and a reluctance to attend to duty. The slothful person is unwilling to do what God wants because of the effort it takes to do it. Thomas Aquinas said 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."
And from one of my favorite books, The Sinner's Guide, (not a "how-to" book) here is the Venerable Louis of Granada on sloth and how to avoid it:
"The peril to which this vice exposes us is clearly set forth in these words of Our Saviour: "Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be cut down and shall be cast into the fire." (Matt. 7:19)...He again warned His disciples when, exhorting them to diligence, the opposite of sloth, He told them to watch and pray, for they knew not when the Lord of the house would come. (Cf. Mk. 13:35).
"If this shameful vice attack you, banish it by the thoughts we are about to suggest.
"First call to mind the extraordinary labors which Our Lord endured for you; the many sleepless nights He spent in prayer for you; His weary journeys from city to city, healing the sick, comforting the sorrowful, and raising the dead. How ardently, how unceasingly He devoted Himself to the work of our redemption! Consider particularly how, at the time of His Passion, He bore upon His bruised and bleeding shoulders the heavy weight of His cross for love of you.
"If the God of majesty labored thus to deliver you, will you refuse to cooperate in your own salvation? When this tender Lamb endured such rude labors to free you from your sins, will you endure nothing to expiate them? Remember, too, the weary labors of the Apostles, who preached the Gospel to the whole world. Think of the sufferings endured by the martyrs, confessors, virgins, anchorites, and by all who are now reigning with Christ. It was by their teaching and their toil that the Faith of Christ spread through the known world and that the Church has been perpetuated to the present day.
"Turn your eyes towards nature, and you will find nothing idle. The heavens, by their perpetual motion, unceasingly proclaim the glory of their Creator. The sun, moon, and stars, with all the brilliant planets which people almost infinite space, daily follow their courses for the benefit of man. The growth of plants and trees is continual until they have attained their appointed strength and proportions, Behold the untiring energy with which the ant labors for its winter's food; with which the bees toil in building their hives and storing them with honey. These industrious little creatures will not allow an idler to exist among them; the drones are all killed. Throughout nature you find the same lesson.
Will not man, therefore, blush for a vice which the instinct of irrational creatures teaches them to avoid? To what labor do not men condemn themselves for the acquisition of perishable riches, the preservation of which, when they are obtained, is an ever-increasing source of care and anxiety! You are striving for the kingdom of Heaven. Will you show less energy, will you be less diligent, in toiling for spiritual treasures, which can never be taken from you?"
"Life is short, and obstacles to do good abound. Do not; therefore, let the promptings of sloth cause you to lose advantages which will never return, for "the night cometh when no man can work." (Jn. 9:4).
"Our works in themselves are paltry and insignificant, but united to the merits of Christ they acquire infinite value in the sight of God. The labor endures but a short time; the reward will continue for eternity. We are told of a saint who was wont to exclaim at the striking of the clock: "O my God! Another hour has flown – one of those hours sent me in which to work out my salvation, and for which I must render an account to Thee." Let his example inspire us with a determination to profit by the time which is given us to lay up works for eternal life.
"If overwhelmed with labors, remember that we must enter Heaven by the way of tribulation, and that he only will be crowned who strives lawfully. (2 Tim. 2:5). If tempted to abandon the struggle, remember that it is written: "He that shall persevere unto the end, he shall be saved." (Matt. 10:22). Without this perseverance, our labor will neither bear fruit nor merit reward. Our Saviour would not descend from the cross when asked by the Jews, for the work of our redemption was not yet accomplished. If, then, we desire to follow in the footsteps of our Divine Model, let us labor to the end with unwearied zeal. Is not the reward which awaits us eternal? Let us continue to do penance; let us carry our cross after Christ. What will it avail us to have weathered the storms and triumphed over the perils of the sea of life, if we suffer shipwrecks as we are about to enter the port of eternal rest?
"Let not the duration or difficulty of the labors alarm you. God, who calls you to combat, will give you victory. He sees your weakness; He will support you when you falter, and He will reward you when you conquer. Reanimate your failing courage, not by comparing the difficulties of virtue with the pleasures of vice, but by comparing the labor which precedes virtue with the trouble which surely follows vice. Place side by side the fleeting pleasure of sin and the eternal happiness of virtue, and you will see how preferable is God's service to the fatal repose to which sloth allures you.
"If you are sometimes wounded, beware of throwing away your arms and surrendering in dismay. Rather, imitate those brave warriors whom the shame of defeat spurs to more heroic resistance and greater deeds of valor. Thus you will rise from a fall with new strength. You will see the enemy to whom you were formerly submitted now flying before you. And if, as it may happen in battle, you are repeatedly wounded, do not lose heart, but remember that the valor of a soldier does not consist in escaping wounds, but in never surrendering. We do not call a combatant defeated when he is covered with wounds, but when he loses courage and abandons the field. And when you are wounded lose no time in applying a remedy; for one wound is more easily cured than two, and a fresh wound more quickly than one that has been inflamed by neglect. Do not be satisfied with resisting temptation, but gather from it greater incentives to virtue, and with the assistance of God's grace you will reap profit rather than harm from the attacks of the enemy.
"If you are tempted to gluttony or sensuality, retrench something from your usual repasts, even though they in no way exceed the limits of sobriety, and give yourself with more fervor to fasting and other practices of devotion. If you are assailed by avarice, increase the amount of your alms and the number of your good works. If you feel the promptings of vainglory, lose no opportunity of accepting humiliations. Then, perhaps, the devil may fear to tempt you, seeing that you convert his snares into occasions of virtue, and that he only affords you opportunities of greater good. Above all things fly idleness. Even in your hours of relaxation do not be wholly unoccupied. And, on the other hand, do not be so absorbed in your labors that you cannot from time to time raise your heart to God and treat with Him in prayer."