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Seven Deadly Sins: Sloth or 'Acedia'

A sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die.

The darkest side of sloth, however, is its distaste for worship and prayer.  Sometimes this aversion strikes at a very advanced stage of the spiritual life, but for most of us, it shows itself early on, after the euphoria of conversion or the sweetness of prayer wears off.  We avoid God, just when we need Him most.

The darkest side of sloth, however, is its distaste for worship and prayer. Sometimes this aversion strikes at a very advanced stage of the spiritual life, but for most of us, it shows itself early on, after the euphoria of conversion or the sweetness of prayer wears off. We avoid God, just when we need Him most.


WICHITA, Kansas (Catholic Online) - At the beginning of Mass, we ask forgiveness for “what I have done and for what I have failed to do.” A bad act is usually obvious, but those omissions are hard to detect. Sloth is the black hole among the Seven Deadly Sins – a nothing where there should be something.

Dorothy Sayers describes sloth as “a sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die.” Sloth can masquerade as tolerance. It can also be very busy, but the activity of the slothful leads nowhere, simply marking time in a life that has no ultimate purpose. Many of the slothful end up in despair, a hopelessness that is distinct from clinical depression requiring medical attention.

The Catechism describes sloth as a culpable lack of physical or spiritual effort that can actually refuse the joy that comes from God. The slothful person is lukewarm towards, perhaps even repelled by, divine goodness and spiritual practices (Catechism #1866, 2094, 2733). The loss of one’s spiritual moorings manifests itself in flight from God and apathy in the service of one’s neighbor.

How can we overcome this most deadly vice? Mass society engenders a sense of powerlessness, but size need not leave us apathetic. It is possible to carve out a more human scale of life. Begin with your family, your parish, your neighborhood, your child’s school. Get involved. Contribute something,

In the midst of New York City’s millions, for example, a humanly sized community lived in my apartment building. We knew one another, knocked on doors when a neighbor had not been seen for a few days, brought chicken soup when one was sick, and had Christmas parties in the lobby.

The darkest side of sloth, however, is its distaste for worship and prayer. Sometimes this aversion strikes at a very advanced stage of the spiritual life, but for most of us, it shows itself early on, after the euphoria of conversion or the sweetness of prayer wears off. We avoid God, just when we need Him most. This can be a tipping point in our spiritual lives. Either we grow in faith, hope and love, or we collapse into sloth and, perhaps, ultimate loss. What can we do to change this?

Resolve to spend time in prayer, at least a half an hour every day. If you find it distasteful, know that this is the deadly vice of sloth. Pray anyway. St. Jerome said that ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of God. Set aside time for prayerful study of Scripture. If you find this too burdensome, know that this is the deadly vice of sloth. Study anyway. The Cardinal virtue of Fortitude, “the virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good” (Catechism #1808) is absolutely essential to your spiritual survival, especially when in the deadly grip of sloth.

Above all, do not skip Mass or forsake the Sacrament of Confession. It is precisely these life-giving Sacraments that sloth most tempts us to abandon. Those who attempt to live without them often sink into the despair of doubting whether there is a God, whether He loves them, whether He can forgive them, or whether life has any ultimate meaning.

The spiritual and corporal works of mercy lift us out of ourselves and into the work of God’s Kingdom. They are listed in the Catechism (#2447). Ask God to show you what your personal contribution should be to the work of the Church. Then do it faithfully and let God attend to the outcome.

Finally, the theological virtue of hope dissipates the lassitude of Sloth. In the classic movie Marty, a small group of friends hang out under the street light on Friday nights, each one asking in turn, “What do you want to do?” “I dunno. What do you want to do?” “I dunno.” The conversation, like their lives, is a closed circle turned in on itself, until Marty chooses to break the cycle by seeking the company of a plain young woman with a view to marriage and family life. The gift of self is a powerful act of hope that overturns the futility of milling around on the street corner.

Ultimately, hope in God and in eternal life makes our lives here and now meaningful, filled with purpose and joy. Hope is the preeminent virtue of the pilgrim Church, calling us to participate in God’s work of bringing streams forth in the desert as we make our way to the heavenly city.

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Jeri Holladay writes from Wichita, Kansas, where she has been Director of Adult Education at the Spiritual Life Center of the Diocese of Wichita, Associate Professor of Theology, Chairman of the Theology Department and founding Director of the Bishop Eugene Gerber Institute of Catholic Studies at Newman University. She teaches moral theology and church history and is a contributing writer for Catholic Online.

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Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for November 2014
Lonely people:
That all who suffer loneliness may experience the closeness of God and the support of others.
Mentors of seminarians and religious: That young seminarians and religious may have wise and well-formed mentors.

Keywords:



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1 - 10 of 15 Comments

  1. efren pepito
    4 years ago

    thanks for the article, i learned someting about it..God bless!!!

  2. Val
    5 years ago

    What do I do? I have a friend that has "slipped into a dark depression" when ever he is gently confronted with the things that need to be done, the house needs to be cleaned, someone needs some support, a visit is in order...he does nothing but sigh and say he is too depressed and no one understands! Five years and counting of this- I am in a relationship with him, it is not healthy, yet I am afraid to leave him. I feel angry, disappointed in my choices, very lonely, and put on a great persona at work because that is the only place that I feel comfortable. He does not work any more! Financial problems prevail. I don't want to be a martyr for him- only Our Lord is worthy of such sacrifice, I know. I have children, 2 gone, one at home....and I need prayer. Could he be engaging in the sin of sloth or is it clinical DEPRESSION? HE WON'T GET TO THE DOCTOR EITHER- SIGH!

  3. Justin Bronson
    5 years ago

    Above, you said that if you find prayer distasteful than it is sloth,that is not true, everyone finds prayer distasteful sometimes. It is sloth if you STOP praying because it is distasteful.

  4. Madeleine Fisher
    5 years ago

    Thank you so very much for this information about sloth--I had no idea it was such a spiritual sin---I thought it was just taking life easy--sleeping late etc....Wow, my eyes are opened!!

  5. michael kithusi Kenya
    5 years ago

    SLOTH AND EVERY OTHER CAPITAL SIN IN THE FIRST FALL OF MAN.
    1) PRIDE: Prayer is an act of humility to God. The grace to humble oneself comes from God. If one refuses this grace by an act of the will then Pride enters the soul. When pride enters the heart, one's Ego places itself above God and thus one can disobey God's commandments. The grace to pray is consequently stopped by pride and thus one cuts off the grace to be humble to God. Because Eve's ego placed itself above God she ate the fruit (Genesis 3:6 SO SHE TOOK SOME OF ITS FRUIT and ate it. SHE ALSO GAVE SOME to her husband who was with her, and he ate it.). Adam failed to confront the woman and so his Ego too placed itself above God.
    2) ANGER: When we pray to God we show that we love Him and trust him. By not praying we show an act of mistrust. This mistrust is as result of some form of anger towards God. This anger has a root in the feeling that God has deprived us something the we perceive as good. I the Garden Eve perceived that the fruit was good to eat Genesis (3: 6 THE WOMAN SAW THAT THE TREE WAS GOOD TO EAT) yet God had said it would lead to death (Genesis 3:3 , "You must not eat it, nor touch it, under pain of death.")
    3) LUST: The eyes are doors to the heart. If Eve's eyes had turned to God when she was tempted she would have decided to consult God. Eve saw the fruit and decided it was good to eat. (Genesis 3: "THE WOMAN SAW " ). Some evil desires enter the heart through the eyes. These desires turn on lust and the consequence is sin. Lust entered Eve when she admired the Fruit. Simple had she turned her eye to God lust would never have overcame her.
    4) ENVY: Eve wanted to be like God in his majesty. The devil told her (Genesis 3: 5 ) "God knows in fact that the day you eat it your eyes will be opened and YOU WILL BE LIKE GODS, knowing good from evil." Therefore the capital sin of envy entered Eve. She wanted to be like God. She envied God and wanted to be like Him. Also here Pride enters Eve because she is only a creature and by herself she can do nothing yet she thinks she can be like a god by eating the fruit. This is another reason she ate the fruit.
    5) AVARICE: The act of Eve knowing good from evil like a god was a desire for the wealth of extra forbidden knowledge. This what is called Avarice the desire for both material and spiritual wealth without the permission of God. Genesis 3: 5 5 God knows in fact that the day you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, KNOWING GOOD FROM EVIL.'
    6) GLUTTONY: Eve had an uncountable number of fruits trees to eat from in the Garden of Eden. When she "Genesis 3:6 THE WOMAN SAW THAT THE TREE WAS GOOD TO EAT" saw the fruit was good to eat she had many alternative choices. On choosing to eat from this tree and there by disobeying God she was driven by gluttony which is the desire to eat more that one is allowed by God.

  6. LYDWINA CHIATOH
    5 years ago

    God bless you for this article. i am really so guilty and now i know i have been friends with sloth all this while.our friendship has just terminated right now for good.I now know what had been going on with me and i must change from that today(now)and strenghten my relationship with my loving creator.friends,pray for me.

  7. michael kithusi Kenya
    5 years ago

    Seven Deadly sins and the fall of man. Gluttony
    Gluttony. Genesis 3:6 "The woman saw that the tree was good to eat." After refusing to pray (sloth) the woman desired to eat the fruit by seeing it was good to eat. She has uncountable fruit trees in the Garden to eat from and thus she is not deprived of food, rather its gluttony which is her driving force. And so was Adam Genesis 3:6 "So she took some of its fruit and ate it. She also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate it."

  8. michael Kenya
    5 years ago

    Sloth in the First fall of Man.
    Genesis 3:1 "Now, the snake was the most subtle of all the wild animals that Yahweh God had made. It asked the woman, 'Did God really say you were not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?'
    2 The woman answered the snake, 'We may eat the fruit of the trees in the garden.
    3 But of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden God said, "You must not eat it, nor touch it, under pain of death." '
    4 Then the snake said to the woman, 'No! You will not die!
    5 God knows in fact that the day you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, knowing good from evil." At this point Eve has two opinions, God's and the Devil's (snake) concerning the fruit. All she needs to do is consult with God the Devil's opinion of the fruit and God would have enlightened her. She must have thought of leaving God out of this encounter with the devil and hence she was lazy in prayer ( sloth). And so was Adam who was with her.

  9. Todd
    5 years ago

    Thank you so very much. I am coming into the Church this year and am so very appreciative of this clear description of such a deceptive sin.

  10. Anita Roth
    5 years ago

    Wow, this article was eye-opening. I could always sense a spirit of sluggishness with people my age (20 somethings) everywhere I go. I'm just beginning my own studying of the Bible out of curiosity since I never really got it in my youth, so I'm not up to speed on what all the sins are and what they actually mean. I see now how most people's idea of tolerance and moderation is a mask for sloth.


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