Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sloth - Homily for the 3rd Sunday in Lent

In the Gospel today, we hear of a couple tragedies and how Jesus responds to the disciples worries about those tragedies. In that day and age, it was commonly held that if someone died in a tragedy, it was because that person was an evil person. Jesus knew that His disciples held this wrong but common belief and He corrects them of this by saying, in essence, “You need to take a look at your own souls.”

They were focused on the bad, they were judging souls, and in that obsession about the things of the world, the disciples were forgetting about what they, personally, had to do.

We are all tempted by this. When something happens in the news cycle or at work or at school, it is easy to hone in on that and become frustrated and melancholy-- even to the point of forgetting about heaven and that I have responsibilities to keep if I'm going to make it.
This neglect or complacency concerning our soul is called the sin of sloth.

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(For the Sundays in Lent, in this Year of Mercy, I am preaching on the Seven Deadly Sins).

Sloth is not laziness. Rather, it is a "sluggishness of the mind which neglects to begin good" (Aquinas, ST II-II.35.1). It involves a wrong way of thinking that focuses on the bad, the tragic, the heavy, the passing of The World, and in so doing loses sight of the good, the beautiful, the adventure of life, and its joy. Sloth refuses to do good because doing good seems too difficult and what difference would it make?

The slothful person is slothful precisely “because he doesn’t think there is anything worth getting up for” (Fr. Longenecker). The slothful person, therefore, will complain of boredom and will lack creativity.

Whereas gluttony brings about a flabbiness of the body, sloth is a flabbiness of the soul, precisely because it doesn't spiritually exercise.

It must be noted that sloth is not clinical depression, although sloth can contribute to it.

Sloth is a spiritual illness. It is faint-hearted and easily wearied by responsibilities and obligations. A slothful person has a “sluggishness about the commandments” (Aquinas, ST. II-II.35.4). This is mostly due to the fact that sloth doesn’t see much value in friendship with God or really believe in it (Hütter)—and so it dismisses the fact Jesus said, “You are my friends if you keep my commandments” (Jn 15:14). The Commandments and Jesus' friendship are burdens and a source of a weary sadness.

As a result, the slothful person will flee from the Commandments and God’s Friendship and thus avoid the rigors of prayer and time in the spiritual life. In order to rationalize this, the slothful person will have to deny that there are any objective moral realities in the world and, in doing so, will have to invent his own way of moral living. Of course, he is too lazy to do much inventing, so he will simply do as he pleases, rationalizing it by saying “it’s not a big deal” or “it doesn’t really matter” or, even, “God understands.”

This laziness will eventually become resentful of having to pray and sacrifice and having to do one's duty. It doesn't see the value in carrying the Cross or how love shows its true colors precisely when it is difficult. Commitment is not in the slothful person's lexicon.

It will become resentful of those who tell him to do as much and to love in such ways. This resentment becomes outright contempt when such duty conflicts with the slothful person’s worldview—a worldview, it is worth noting, that they have likely developed as the result of their (or their parents’) slothful approach to understanding the faith, avoiding the accompanying rigors that studying the faith necessarily demands. This is our culture writ large.

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How does Jesus respond to this? He says:

I tell you, if you do not repent,
you will all perish as they did!

We need to repent of that creeping sluggishness that refuses to do what is good and true and right. We need to repent that we have focused too much on the fleeting world and not enough on the eternal God.

Part of that means that we have to stop sabotaging our friendship with God and the joy that comes with it.

What I mean by that is: sometimes we choose, intentionally or unintentionally, to do things that directly undercut our joy; we choose things that make us spiritually flabby and which make it harder to choose spiritual things in the future.

For example: If you’re always listening to sad, melancholic music, you’re not gonna be happy. You’ve gotta choose to listen to something joyful. Something that raises you mind and soul to God. And the same goes for news-media: many of us need to take a fast from the news this Lent and choose to have our mind and souls raised to God.

Likewise, if we’re spending long hours sitting at home or at work, refusing to go outside and get a fresh breath of air and exercise and a new perspective, then you’re not going to be happy. You’re going to get in a rut. Or throw pity parties. Go for a walk and ask our Blessed Mother to go with you.

Finally, procrastination. If we’re always procrastinating—from delaying our time of prayer or confession or whatever that one thing that we really know that we need to do—if we put those things off, then we’re going to become anxious under that heavy burden, and that’s going to wear you out and you’re not going to be happy. Choosing God and doing so promptly will lead to your joy!

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C.S. Lewis, while riding a train that was most uncomfortable, had an insight about joy. While riding that train, Lewis felt a faint breeze on his face and realized that he had a choice: to revel in the breeze or to ignore it and so curse the misery. He realized that joy is like a faint wind that brushes your cheeks and which is easy to ignore, unless you choose—choose—to stop and delight in it. But this means first, that you have to seize the invitation to climb aboard the train, comfortable or not; else, in the sadness of sloth, complain that everyone else is on it and joyful and why am I not? (cf. C. S. Lewis, Present Concerns, 52-53)

Let us conclude.  The deadly sin of sloth is a choice. It is, ultimately, a choice to live in a small, melancholic world. The slothful person sees how small a road is, but has forgotten that it leads to Rome. He feels the weight of the duties of life, but has forgotten the lightness of a budding flower. His focus has become so narrow on the things of the world that he no longer thinks about the grand things of the world: like the Himalayas and, above them, the moon and the Milky Way, and the vastness too great to measure—a vastness which is, sadly, still smaller than the great distance between him and the person sitting next to him.

If only the slothful would “break out of this tiny and tawdry theatre in which [their] own little plot is always being played, … [they] would find [themselves] under a freer sky, in a street full of splendid strangers” (Chesterton, Orthodoxy), the strangest and the most splendid of which is God, Jesus Christ, who came as our savior and friend so that we “may have life and have it to the full” (Jn 10:10). 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting! My husband wanted a copy of your homily. God is so good!!!