Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
Sunday within the Octave of Christmass 2002
On Sloth

"There was one Anna, a prophetess... far advanced in years... a widow until fourscore and four years; who departed not from the temple, but by fasting and prayer served there both day and night." (Luke ii)

    Most of us have difficulty relating to this passage from the Gospel. If we pay attention to it, we realize that this lady, Anna, must have spend something like 50 years of her life in continuous worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. She lived 7 years with her husband, and then, what remained of her 84 years, in the house of God.

    Most modern Americans think they are doing something heroic if they spend 60 minutes a week in church. This prompts us to say a few words about one of the capital sins -- the sin we know as sloth.

    First of all, I'll remind you that they are called "capital" sins, not so much because they are the greatest sins in and of themselves, but because they are the chief causes of other sins. In a sense they are dispositions to sin. They are dispositions which can rapidly cause us to fall into serious sin, and ultimately to lose our souls.

    They are usually enumerated:    PRIDE    COVETOUSNESS    LUST     ANGER    GLUTTONY    ENVY    and SLOTH.

    We'll have a look at some of the others at another time, but for the moment, we will have to concern us with the last of these; sloth.

    In the natural order of things, sloth is essentially laziness. Ever since the fall of Adam, man has been obliged and obligated to earn his living "by the sweat of his brow." If he doesn't till the soil, if he doesn't tend the net and the trap, if he doesn't spin and weave, if he doesn't take up the hammer and the saw -- if he doesn't do these things, he will go hungry, thirsty, naked, and unsheltered. He has no right to expect others to do his share of the work, and, indeed, is positively obligated to do these things for those who depend upon him.

    In the spiritual order, the obligation is even stronger. Here we are dealing not with simply with physical comforts and needs, but with the eternal salvation of souls.

    We need to distinguish -- there are degrees of sloth. There is, first of all, what we call "tepidity," or "lukewarmness." The lukewarm person is one who knows his obligations to God -- knows that he is supposed to attend Mass and receive the Sacraments regularly, knows that he is supposed to pray at least daily, knows that he is supposed to keep the Commandments, and so on.

    He knows that he is supposed to do these things -- and he does them -- but he does them in a slapdash and a careless manner. He physically attends Mass, but makes no attempt to love God or to be loved by Him at that Mass. He makes the Sign of the Cross and then rattles quickly through 53 Hail Marys, and thinks he has said the Rosary. He has what we might call a "prayer wheel" mentality. {{Explain}} As long as he turns the wheel, he feels he is fulfilling his obligation to worship God.

    Worse, of course, is the truly slothful person -- the one who has allowed himself to develop genuine distaste (or even hatred) for the things which must be done for salvation.

    But even the lukewarmness is very dangerous. After all, the lukewarm may seem externally pious. They may fool others -- they may even fool themselves. In the Apocalypse, God makes His distaste for the lukewarm very plain -- the language is kind of strong -- "Because thou are lukewarm, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth." God's dislike of spiritual sloth is, thus, very clear.

    We do need to make a distinction, however. In all of our spiritual lives there come times of "dryness," or "aridity." A person can be approaching the worship of God exactly as he should -- yet feel no consolation, no joy, in his closeness with God. This is part of the human psyche, and is, in no way, sinful. When dryness takes us, we must simply go about our business -- "muddle through," as it were -- and eventually the consolation of God will return.

    There are several things we can do to overcome spiritual sloth in ourselves. Many of these work for natural laziness as well.

    The first is prayer. Even if we aren't particularly pious, we should call upon God, asking for His help in drawing closer to him; in drawing greater relish from holy things; and in developing a true horror of sin. Without prayer, probably nothing will succeed.

    We must be careful to avoid sin and the occasion of sin. We need to make a conscious effort to examine our consciences every day -- taking an inventory of what we have to do to improve. We should never remain in the state of mortal sin any longer than it takes us to get to Confession -- at our first opportunity.

    Something like prayer, but a little different for purposes of this discussion, is meditation. We need to devote some of our time to contemplating the lives of our Lord and Lady, developing an appreciation for what they have done for us -- developing a taste for the sacred in general.

    For most of us, that means at least a little bit of spiritual reading. You can't love anything that you don't know. God and the things of God are no different. We need to do our homework before we can expect to become fervent.

    We have to establish our priorities. We have a right to wholesome material goods and pleasures -- but we must be sure we don't value them more than the things of God. Occasionally, we need to make sacrifices, giving up even what we are entitled to. This enables us to resist temptation when it comes along, and enables us more easily to conform our wills to the will of God.

    Likewise, a measure of regularity will help most of us. A regular time for prayer, for work, for reading, for meditation, for Mass, for Confession, and so on. If we are regular in our habits, we won't miss much of what we are expected to do -- and it will become commonplace for us -- not something done grudgingly.

    Each one of us needs to overcome any measure of sloth which we may possess. We might look to today's scripture readings for help.

    We are adopted sons of God. We have a right to call out to him "Abba, Father." Actually it should be more like "Dad" of Pop," a sign of family intimacy.

    We can look to the aged Simeon and Anna for models to emulate. Faithful servants who have spent their entire lives in God's service.

    And finally, we can think of the sword which pierces the heart of our Blessed Mother. Are we so callous as to pierce it with another? That is what we do whenever we reject the Love of God in favor of human opinion or material convenience.


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