Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Joy Thief

Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
"We would like to get back to our innocence and joy, but they are cold and sepulchered."          
                                                                             Archbishop Fulton Sheen

The Seven Deadly Sins steal your joy. But perhaps none so much as the deadly sin of sloth. If you lack joy in your life this may be the deadly sin to look at first, so great are its detrimental effects on the soul. Sloth is the head "joy thief" because, well...that happens to be its job description. It is sadness in the face of joy, sorrow for the things of God. Or as Peter Kreeft, in his book Back to Virtue, so bluntly describes it:

"Sloth is the most depressing thing in the world. It is hell on earth. It finds our very highest joy - God himself - joyless. If Joy himself is joyless, where can we find joy? If salt has lost its saltiness, how can it be restored? If the very light in us is darkness, how great is that darkness?"

This is the best explanation of sloth that I have ever seen. Sloth finds Joy himself...joyless.

Scary, huh? Sloth is like walking around in the bright sunshine with a huge black cloud hanging over your head. You can't see the light for the darkness that surround you.

St. Thomas Aquinas says that sloth is a "sluggishness of the mind which neglects to begin good...its evil is in its effect, if it so oppresses man as to draw him away from good deeds". So, sloth is not only joyless, it is neglectful as well.

Those who are encumbered by this deadly sin walk this world in a half-hearted fashion and I believe it is one of the biggest problems that this century is faced with. Those who are lukewarm almost always have a problem with sloth. Sloth is a spiritual torpor, a listlessness of the spirit that leads most often to sins of omission rather than sins of commission. Rather than confronting this joyless spirit head-on, many try to escape it by frantically rushing around in an attempt to outrun the heaviness in their hearts and the sword of sorrow hanging over their heads. This is where sloth gets ugly, for in trying to escape it we make matters worse. Sloth doesn't like to confront, it likes to avoid. It is a spiritual languor that says, "I still have time...I'll take care of spiritual matters tomorrow. Today I just have too many things to do - I have to get this shopping done, the game is on, these e-mails have to go out, my blog is waiting (hmmm), etc...

Here are a few of the signs (or symptoms, one could say) of sloth:
~ An aversion to prayer - this can be mild or great depending on how deeply rooted this vice is
~ Aridity
~ Lack of zeal
~ Disorganization
~ Confusion (spiritual)
~ Apathy or discouragement
~ Boredom
~ Putting off tasks or leaving them undone without good reason
~ A lack of awe
~ Ingratitude
~ Sadness (melancholy)
~ Excessive activity that hides a spiritual languor - too busy for God

The seven deadly sins tend to be "intertwined" with each other like interlocking pieces of a hellish puzzle. For most of us there tends to be one particular deadly sin that takes precedence over the others. In other words, it is the "kingpin" and hitting the kingpin helps take down the other deadly "pins" that have attached themselves to our souls.

Sloth is sneaky, irresponsible (good advice on this link), and apathetic when it comes to God but there are remedies for this vice and one of the ways we tackle it is by practicing the opposing virtue. In the case of sloth/acedia the opposing virtue is diligence. Exercising virtues builds your spiritual muscles. Another virtue which opposes sloth is charity. 

It's important to remember that joy isn't a "thing" to be grasped. Joy is alive. Joy is a person.
Set your heart on God and there you will find your Joy.


  1. Good post.

    Remember the 7 virgins who did not have enough oil in their lamps?

    Sloth dates back beyond this Century!

    God bless.

  2. I guess you're right :)

    God bless you too, Victor!

  3. Wow! These posts are excellent Mary. This subject always fascinates me...probably because I am especially guilty of this one. *Acedia* by Kathleen Norris is a really good one to read on that subject. This one by Peter Kreeft sounds excellent too! I will be revisiting these...thank you for a much needed PUSH : )~Theresa

  4. ouch! but...needs to be said, my prayer, stay on fire for God, may I stay HOT!
    Thank you Mary.

  5. Thank you, Theresa :) The Kathleen Norris book is on my wish list!

  6. Rayanne,
    Funny! May I say "DITTO"? Lol!

  7. Very good post Mary. I do believe this is a huge problem in our faith today. I've seen it so often. Sometimes this type of attitude can be so disheartening, that someone who is not particularly slothful starts to lose heart in faith because of the prevalent attitude around them.

    I've heard that we don't see many miracles in America for this very reason. Not like we should.

  8. Hi Cheri,
    Thank you for your comment. I agree, it can be disheartening and a bit "catchy" because we are so surrounded by apathy when it comes to the Lord. Your remark about the lack of miracles is very insightful too. No doubt we would see more of them if our hearts were on fire for the Lord.

  9. Hi Mary,

    As I sit here procrastinating, before I move on to things I really need to get done today, I wonder why...why do i so often do this? Read another blog post; check my e-mail yet again, etc.

    And then I get so annoyed with ME!

    Sometimes I feel like I'm stuck in a jar of molasses, and just can't seem to break free and get my life organized.

    I find that Sloth can invade every area of our lives, and that when we lose control of our daily duties and responsibilities, we become frantic, and then of course that impacts our prayer life, since we feel compelled to catch up on work, chores etc.

    May God grant us right order and faithfulness to His priorities in our lives!

    Signing off now...and staying off till at least tonight! : )

    Blessings to you Mary; I'm praying along too.


  10. Patricia,
    I get annoyed with myself too. You've painted a good picture of what happens to me! I could relate to your comment. (Boy, I wish I didn't have to say
    God bless :)

  11. Good post. Seems so much more solid when you insert a quote from Kreeft. I want that book but there are at least 3 or 4 in front of it.

  12. Hi Colleen,
    Back to Virtue is a very good book and I highly recommend it. If you are ever looking for a great book on sloth/acedia I just ordered Kathleen Norris' book, Acedia, on my Kindle today. Wow! She puts into words what I was trying to express in my posts on this subject in a more concise manner and it is clarifying a lot of my own thoughts on this subject. A fellow blogger recommended it and I decided to order it since it's what I've been writing about this week. Boy, am I glad I did! An eye-opener for sure!

  13. Hi JBR! I hope you are doing well! Sending you a great big hug :)

  14. Some very famous people struggled with Acedia and triumphed. I posted on St. Francis of Assisi early the past month and he certainly struggled with this sin but with God's grace he was able to triumph. He told the brothers:

    “The devil is most delighted when he can steal the joy of spirit from a servant of God. He carries dust which he tries to throw into the tiniest openings of the conscience, to dirty a clear mind and a clean life.”

    This is so true. Mother Teresa and C.S. Lewis struggled with sloth as well. I believe this may have something to do with what St. John of the Cross calls the "Dark Night of the Soul" but I may be wrong.

  15. Carnival,
    Thank you for your comment. I have been really trying to read up on this subject and I found your words and the quote helpful. St. Francis is one of my favorite saints :)