First, a rather long, but passionate quote from Peter Kreeft:
Sloth in the theological sense is one of the very deadliest faults because it is a “No” to God and to what God is; it is a turning away, an ignoring, an active refusal to act for the good; an act (not just a feeling) of “sorrow when faced with great spiritual good.”….
Real religion is a romance with God. The infinite ecstasy of the spiritual marriage comes in the next life, but the courtship (the seeking) and the engagement (Baptism) begin in this life…. Imagine Juliet arriving at Romeo’s house ready to elope with him. Now imagine Romeo saying to her that he is too bored to get out of his room. To add to the irony, imagine that he is mooning over her portrait. That is sloth, and that is us, and that is insanity.
The one most spiritually destructive deadly sin (or vice) of all… is so far from being obvious that we often think of it as a virtue rahter than a vice: our niceness, our politeness, our passionlessness, our sloth…. Every one of us will live forever either in infinite and unimaginable ecstasy or in hopeless misery and despair. If that is not a fact, then atheism is the only sanity and all religion is childish make-believe. If it is a fact, then the only honest and rational response to that infinite fact is what Kierkegaard called “infinite passion.” It is not faith, but reason, not sanctity but sanity, that demands nothing less than that. Sloth is irrational, sloth is stupid, sloth is literally insane. Here we are, standing and swaying on the razor edge between two eternal abysses, with fire and darkness on one side and infinite joy and light on the other — and what is our reaction? A yawn. Is that sanity? But the deck chairs are so comfortable here on the Titanic!
There is a gorilla in our house who will not go away. What do we do? How do you hide a gorilla? You cover him up with millions of cute little hamsters, and then spend all your time and attention and thought playing with the hamsters and ignoring the gorilla underneath. If that’s not insanity, what is?
Even within the Church we find a slothful insensitivity to “infinite passion.” For we find even there such an over plus of unctuousness and toadyism toward “getting along” with our apostate culture that most priests never dare to talk about controversial topics lest they be labeled “fanatics” by the culture (“fanatic” is our culture’s real F-word), “divisive” by their ecclesiastical superiors, and “judgmental” by both. Only small outlier segments take spiritual warfare literally and seriously. Most of us are not spiritual warriors but spiritual pacifists, quislings. We’re not “the Church Militant”; we’re the Church Mediocre….
My students simply don’t get it. Their hearts have never felt the fundamental religious emotion of awe. Religion to them is simply the attempt to do their duty to God and each other, They do not understand God’s wildness because they do not dare to be wild. They would never design a Gothic cathedral…. They are already in a Brave New World. Camus said that the culture of modern man could be summarized very simply: “They fornicated and read the newspapers.”
We are so accustomed to our fanatical anti-fanaticism that it takes an outsider like Alexander Solzhenitsyn to notice it, Look up his 1978 Harvard commencement address, where he shocked his audience by noticing the absence in America of one of the four cardinal virtues, the one that is a necessary ingredient of all the other virtues: courage, the will to sacrifice and suffer pain for a higher good, There is no need for courage, or for heroes, in Brave New World.
Sloth even trumps lust; even our lusts are slothful, not world-shaking and romantic. They are calculated! We no longer have even pagan blood in our veins; we have water. At room temperature.
— Peter Kreeft, Wisdom of the Heart
The Bible and the history of Christianity are full of characters who risked all for God and their faith. Many gave their lives. Slothful people do not give their lives for anything.
May I not approach the Catholic Faith, or the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as a set of propositions. Hearts are not enflamed by propositions. Christian Faith and Belief are only incidentally assent to propositions.
Flannery O’Connor famously said of the Eucharist, “If it’s only a symbol, then to hell with it!” I grasp and share her point: The Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is a mystery so incredible, that Faith demands a passionate leap over a chasm of rationalizations. If assent to the Real Presence does not rend the veil of your world view, then don’t bother with it — it’s not for you, or you’re not ready for it! The slothful, carefully rooting about in the leaf litter of intellectual analysis, avoid the leaps of faith above their heads.
Did I not thrill to the dreadful intoning of the Evening Gatha at Zen Mountain Monastery years ago? Yet soon after, I turned and walked away. I slothfully stored away once more the immensity of the Absolute on a dark shelf of nostalgia. Such is the immense soft and suffocating power of Sloth — like extinguisher foam depriving fire of oxygen.
It is a miracle that two years ago the Holy Spirit filled my lungs one more time. O my God, your mercy is indeed unbounded!
Yet every day I teter on the brink of reinstalling Intellect in the Wisdom seat that rightly belongs to the Will of the Heart. Once the parsing of propositions takes over, I can dig very deep holes.
It helps put things in perspective to step back and carefully examine the great Tractatus Theologicus that is the Bible — but no! It’s not that at all! It’s a revolving saga of men and women who risked all in courageous and humble obedience to God. None of them wrote treatises before assenting to act bravely, although some took a bit of convincing (e.g. Jonah, Peter, Thomas, Paul). Consider the examples of Abraham (especially with his son), Moses, Daniel, Elijah, Elisha, Simon Maccabeus, Isaiah, John the Baptist, Mary, Jesus (of course), and eventually all the disciples and Paul and his followers. Then the great host of saints over the centuries — not only those who were martyred, but also those many who literally gave up all in obedience to Jesus’s admonition to the rich young man.
There are many ways to express passion short of martyrdom. Consider Ignatius’s invitation to become a humble fool for Christ. Do I not hesitate over just that point? Consider the members of the Mystical Body of Christ in the present — there are saints all around!
Is it for lack of passion (unwillingness to bite that bullet) that I obsess over doctrinal details? At least that’s a corner of the tapestry of faith I can subject to careful, dispassionate analysis! But perhaps it would be better to focus on Passion! Consider Elizabeth of the Trinity for example.
Consider also my hobby of intellectual analysis of particular sinful indulgences. Would it not be more pertinent to the real life of faith to say to myself or others, with a Jesus-like invitation: “If you would truly follow me, then identify that worldly desire to which you are most attached, and give it up!” The attachments I am unwilling to give up tell me quite a lot about the depth of my discipleship.
Image: Wax model of a female head depicting life and death, European, possibly 18th century. With plaque giving quote from Bible; Ecclesiastes, Chapter 1, verse 2; Vanitas vanitates et omnia vanitas. Credit: Science Museum, London. Wellcome Images email@example.com http://wellcomeimages.org Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/