Moral Briefs – Chapter XVI – Sloth

cover of the ebook 'Moral Briefs' by Father John Henry StapletonNot the least, if the last, of capital sins is sloth, and it is very properly placed; for who ever saw the sluggard or victim of this passion anywhere but after all others, last!

Sloth, of course, is a horror of difficulty, an aversion for labor, pain and effort, which must be traced to a great love of one’s comfort and ease. Either the lazy fellow does nothing at all – and this is sloth; or he abstains from doing what he should do while otherwise busily occupied – and this too, is sloth; or he does it poorly, negligently, half-heartedly – and this again is sloth. Nature imposes upon us the law of labor. He who shirks in whole or in part is slothful.

Here, in the moral realm, we refer properly to the difficulty we find in the service of God, in fulfilling our obligations as Christians and Catholics, in avoiding evil and doing good; in a word, to the discharge of our spiritual duties. But then all human obligations have a spiritual side, by the fact of their being obligations. Thus, labor is not, like attendance at mass, a spiritual necessity; but to provide for those who are dependent upon us is a moral obligation and to shirk it would be a sin of sloth.

Not that it is necessary, if we would avoid sin, to hate repose naturally and experience no difficulty or repugnance in working out our soul’s salvation. Sloth is inbred in our nature. There is no one but would rather avoid than meet difficulties. The service of God is laborious and painful. The kingdom of God suffers violence. It has always been true since the time of our ancestor Adam, that vice is easy, and virtue difficult; that the flesh is weak, and repugnance to effort, natural because of the burden of the flesh. So that, in this general case, sloth is an obstacle to overcome rather than a fault of the will. We may abhor exertion, feel the laziest of mortals; if we effect our purpose in spite of all that, we can do no sin.

Sometimes sloth takes on an acute form known as aridity or barrenness in all things that pertain to God. The most virtuous souls are not always exempt from this. It is a dislike, a distaste that amounts almost to a disgust for prayer especially, a repugnance that threatens to overwhelm the soul. That is simply an absence of sensible fervor, a state of affliction and probation that is as pleasing to God as it is painful to us. After all where would the merit be in the service of God, if there were no difficulty?

The type of the spiritually indolent is that fixture known as the half-baked Catholic – some people call him “a poor stick” – who is too lazy to meet his obligations with his Maker. He says no prayers, because he can’t; he lies abed Sunday mornings and lets the others go to mass – he is too tired and needs rest; the effort necessary to prepare for and to go to confession is quite beyond him. In fine, religion is altogether too exacting, requires too much of a man.

And, as if to remove all doubt as to the purely spiritual character of this inactivity, our friend can be seen, without a complaint, struggling every day to earn the dollar. He will not grumble about rising at five to go fishing or cycling. He will, after his hard day’s work, sit till twelve at the theatre or dance till two in the morning. He will spend his energy in any direction save in that which leads to God.

Others expect virtue to be as easy as it is beautiful. Religion should conduce to one’s comfort. They like incense, but not the smell of brimstone. They would remain forever content on Tabor, but the dark frown of Calvary is insupportable. Beautiful churches, artistic music, eloquent preaching on interesting topics, that is their idea of religion; that is what they intend religion – their religion – shall be, and they proceed to cut out whatever jars their finer feelings. This is fashionable, but it is not Christian: to do anything for God – if it is easy; and if it is hard, – well, God does not expect so much of us.

You will see at a glance that this sort of a thing is fatal to the sense of God in the soul; it has for its first, direct and immediate effect to weaken little by little the faith until it finally kills it altogether. Sloth is a microbe. It creeps into the soul, sucks in its substance and causes a spiritual consumption. This is neither an acute nor a violent malady, but it consumes the patient, dries him up, wears him out, till life goes out like a lamp without oil.