"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, also known as acedia. 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 surrounds 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
~ Lack of zeal
~ Confusion (spiritual)
~ Apathy or discouragement
~ Putting off tasks or leaving them undone without good reason
~ A lack of awe
~ 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, 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.