Monday, February 17, 2014

The Joy Thief


"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
~ 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, 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. Oh my heavens this is excellent. Absolutely excellent. In my humble opinion, it nails it. Thank you.

    1. Thank you for your encouraging words, Nancy. I have had a tremendous battle with acedia over the years so I would say it's probably the deadly sin I have learned the most about. Reading the Psalms helps me tremendously in this area. Even when I don't want

    2. Errr...don't want to - brain malfunction :) (Here I go trying to hit enter again!)

  2. Mary,

    I sometimes wonder why we (me) would choose to be slothful when we could have Joy. Nancy is right. Your words are perfect. I am determined to be more diligent. Thank you!

    1. Hi Sue,
      That "we" would be me Sloth is a tough one for many people I think because it's a vice that likes to hide itself under other guises. Not as obvious as anger and some of the other deadly sins. Thanks for commenting, Sue :)

  3. Mary, this is me. I've been without internet for the last 3 days and surprised (not really) how much I get done when I'm not slothing on the internet. You nailed the symptoms right on its head. I think Lent is a good time to plug off and work on my anti-sloth.

    1. Hi Anabelle,
      I wondered where you were :) Did you lose your electricity?

      "Slothing on the internet" Leave it to you to come up with that phrase! (Hmm...what a mental picture that creates. Okay...maybe it fits. I think I'll go "diligently" clean my kitchen for a bit ;)

  4. A friend of mine is so lazy that if he fainted he'd need help to get him to the ground.

    In fact he named his TV remore control "sloth" because it saves him having to get up and change the channels. He was fired from his job because he complained the snails were following him. He doesn't bother to take a bath or shower because it takes too long. He just sits in the bath and vacuum cleans himself.

    OK Mary ... enough jokes. This is a great post, as usual, and certainly pin-points the malaise of our times - sloth! (I like the word malaise - it makes me sound intelligent).

    Sadly too many people are apathetic and don't care much for what is going wrong around them. And society is the poorer for it. (I can be serious too).

    God bless you Mary.

  5. Hi Victor,
    No, don't stop on my account - I like jokes! I especially liked the remote control named "Sloth"! How fitting is that?

    I'll have to remember the word malaise for a future post. Nah, people wouldn't buy it coming from It doesn't work for people who post pictures of "Hellmouth" and stuff. Malaise IS the perfect word to go with sloth though.

    Thank you for the smile AND the wisdom, Victor!

    1. Malaise ... apathy ... sloth are the exact words for today's society. Recently they held a meeting at our church to discuss why people don't participate at the various events organised. No one turned up ... not even the people who organised the meeting!

      I was the only one to turn up and I had to drink all the cups of tea and coffee I had made for the guests. It was a looong way hooome !!!

    2. I bet it was a long ride!!

      Your comment reminds me of an Adult Bible Study held by my previous parish. Most of the time nobody showed up except for Randy and I. Out of thousands of parishioners. I didn't understand why. The Bible Study for the young people was packed, on the other hand! Strange.

  6. Mary, this is such good information! LOL! I can see that I've got work to do! Thanks for recommending the book. Well, I'd better get busy! HA!

    1. Hi Monica,
      Thanks, I'm glad you found the post helpful. I love Peter Kreeft"s books!

      Have a great week!

  7. Thanks, Mallory, I appreciate the feedback :)

  8. Hi Mary! You really made a case for avoiding sloth. Wow. I know I have put off things I needed to do for no good reason. Sloth leaves me right where it found me. And as we all know, if we're not going forward in faith, we are certainly going backward. It sounds a lot like a 'spiritual depression.'

    I am so thankful for Reconciliation. It really cleans away all the debris from the soul, and allows the joy to return. Like you said, it's always there. Sometimes it gets blocked from sight, like it's hiding behind a snowdrift. The grace of God melts that drift. Yay!
    Good to see you today my friend!

  9. Hi Ceil,
    "Sloth leaves me right where it found me" - lol, what a great description of sloth!! I loved your words about Reconciliation as well. I always feel joy and peace after going to Confession. Thanks for commenting, Ceil. I hope you have a great day :)