Here’s a list of the seven deadly sins: pride, avarice, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth. We basically understand most of them, except perhaps for sloth, which is more than laziness. The best way to understand sloth is with a description. Imagine a man who’s successful in life: He supports and loves his family, succeeds at work, sleeps enough, exercises, and makes time for friends. When it comes to his relationship with God, he gives little time to this, and does the minimum for his spiritual needs. He’s not a bad person. But we know he has the sin of sloth precisely because, in other areas of his life, he’s driven.
[Watch Fr. Justin’s homily delivery here.]
Many of us commit this sin, and remember that it’s a sin because we’re choosing it. We’ve given into the demon of coasting. I’ve seen this sin in my own life: I’m enthusiastic about all sorts of spiritual things and physical exercise, but not about spiritual fasting, and haven’t done anything about it. We’re willing to talk to anyone about our favourite Netflix show, but not about Jesus. We give time to our physical appearance, but not to our soul.
One of the worst problems of sloth is that we’re often okay with it. It’s extremely hard to motivate the spiritually lazy because they usually don’t care. But, here’s the thing: We must care at least a little, if we’re participating at Mass. Deep down, all of us want to be better. In talking to people who commit sloth, they actually don’t like the way they act. And that’s the beginning of facing this demon.
Now that we’re starting the holy season of Lent, which emphasizes spiritual diligence, energy, and sacrifice, the Holy Spirit wants to help us. Let’s meditate on five points from the Gospel: “After Jesus was baptized, the Spirit drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the Angels waited on him” (Mk 1:12-13).
1) First, as we mentioned a month ago, ‘the Spirit drove him out’ to be tested. The word for ‘driving out’ is the same word used when Jesus drives out demons, so now is a time when the Spirit will drive us to confront our demons, and this will happen whether we like it or not, because it’s for our own good.
2) Here are pictures of ‘the wilderness’ where Jesus would have been; and this represents what’s supposed to happen in our lives during Lent: A time that is barren, simple, without distractions and noise; and we’re alone to face the reality of our sins and weaknesses.
3) ‘Forty days’ is the biblical number for testing, as the Hebrew people were in the desert for forty years, where they rebelled against God, but also learned to trust Him. Make a mental note: These next six weeks will be a time of testing.
4) Various biblical scholars indicate that Jesus’ being ‘tempted by Satan’ is a fight, a spiritual battle between good and evil (Mary Healy, The Gospel of Mark in Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, 38; Leroy Huizenga, Loosing the Lion, 91). Will Jesus live as an obedient Son of the Father, or will the devil overcome Him?
The weapons in our fight are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. One way to understand spiritual weapons is that they’re signs of sincerity. You see, when we’re sincere, we make signs to God and to ourselves, external gestures that say, “I’m serious about this”. Many people, for example, ask God for things, but aren’t truly invested. If you really want to grow and improve, prove it: What are you willing to give up? To what prayer are you willing to commit? How are you going to love other people concretely? For example, those of us who want an end to abortion should fast as a sign that we’re begging God to change the hearts of people who are considering abortion—that’s a powerful weapon!
5) ‘Angels waited on him’ means that they ministered to and helped Jesus. So, we’re driven out into the wilderness for 40 days to fight, and we have help.
Today’s help comes from Dr. Peter Kreeft, a Catholic philosopher, with three suggestions in his solution to sloth.
1) The first suggestion has to do with hunger. Our bodies need food, and so do our souls. But, though we hunger for God, we fill ourselves with other things. Jesus, however, did the opposite: When He was fasting for 40 days, He let God fill His bodily hunger. So the first way to defeat our sloth is to feel the hunger for God. If we can, this Lent, give up some food to remind ourselves that we hunger for God. For example, skip a meal, skip your favourite food, or eat something healthy that you don’t like—the point is that the practice should make you think of your hunger for God! But, let’s say some of us are too spiritually lazy to do even this. For us, we’re going to pray something very unusual: We’re going to pray today during the Prayer of the Faithful that we feel a souring of our earthly joy, that we feel a divine discontent, an unhappiness that turns us to hunger for God!
2) The second way to defeat our sloth is to pray for more faith. Everyone hungers to receive what’s good, even the lazy. But not everyone hungers to give what’s good. Why is it that not everyone knows that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). “Because we know this only by faith” (Peter Kreeft, Back to Virtue, 162). So, spiritually lazy people are weak in faith, while the energetic are strong in faith. Pray for more faith!
3) Kreeft writes, “How blessed is poverty, suffering, and anything that destroys the most deadly thing in the world, the quiet drift to Hell!” (163). Material poverty can force us to think of God and other people. If we see other people suffering materially, this will also wake us to realize that we shouldn’t hoard material things, but use them for others, and this will make us more spiritually energetic! This is almsgiving. If we donate money to a worthy cause, or needed items to St. Vincent de Paul Society, we create more room for God in our hearts. Give away material things!
Let’s now finish off with a time of silence and reflect on six ideas. As part of our Lenten wilderness experience, we’re going to use silence as a spiritual tool, because it helps us face our demons. Sloth is usually so deep that one homily isn’t enough to defeat it, but an experience in the wilderness is. These six ideas are ones I say to myself, and they’re pointed, because the wilderness isn’t meant to be comfy. Just meditate on the ones that hit you hardest.
1) Because of your sloth, you’re losing spiritual power to help the people you love the most.
2) Stop making excuses and face this demon. God the Father loves you, which is why He says in Revelation: “I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm… I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (3:16).
3) Don’t blame COVID-19 for your sloth. It’s just revealed something that’s deeper in you.
4) There are people in your life that want to help you. Talk to them about your struggles.
5) One small step in the right direction is a brave step. Can you fast? Can you give alms?
6) God’s grace is available. Ask daily for an increase in faith.