What is the sin of "Sloth"?
One of the Seven Deadly Sins is “sloth.” I once thought this meant physical laziness, and since I’ve been gainfully employed for the past 40 years and do chores around the house on a semi-regular basis, I was certain sloth was the one Deadly Sin I didn’t have to worry about. (The other capital sins, by the way, are Pride, Anger, Lust, Greed, Envy, and Gluttony. Since I’m an American living in the 21st century, I most certainly DO have to worry about these sins.)
However, I recently read an article that defined 'sloth' in theological terms - and it turns out, sloth as a sin does not mean physical laziness, but instead refers to spiritual laziness. The deadly sin of sloth is a lack of spiritual hunger.
When people struggle with the sin of spiritual sloth, they become bored with God and all things of spiritual good. There is no real passion or desire to engage in prayer, read Scripture, or be involved in church activities. Some people abandon all religious endeavors entirely. Others go through the motions: they recite rote prayers blandly; they skim through a few pages of the Bible without letting the words touch their hearts; they show up for Mass or church services on a regular basis, but their minds are a million miles away.
In short, their faith life is dry and dusty and sterile. These folks have more emotional passion when they watch a mediocre movie on Netflix than when they bow their heads and communicate with the Divine Being who created the Universe.
Some people lacking in spiritual hunger eventually walk away from all faith-related exercises. At least they’re being honest about it. God is not important to them and so they don’t waste their time with anything religious.
Other people who also lack spiritual hunger, continue to go through the motions out of inertia or a sense of obligation. They actually might be in worse shape. This is because they THINK they’re doing all the right things, and therefore God must be pleased with them. After all, they can boldly mark all the key items on some unofficial Christian Checklist: Recite prayers? Check. Read the Bible once in a while? Check. Go to church each week? Check. Throw a few bucks in the collection basket? Check. Refrain from robbing banks? Check. Avoid committing murder? Check. Never root for the New York Yankees? Check.
We are in a very strange moment in human history. For the first time in 2,000 years, Catholics are NOT obligated to attend Mass. During the past four months, the bishops said it’s OK not to attend Mass because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Remember the good ol’ Sunday Obligation? When I was a kid, the nuns who taught our Catechism class told us that maybe someone could be excused from going to Mass on Sunday if they were in a coma or locked in a North Vietnamese prison camp. Maybe. Otherwise? Mortal sin.
I don't think I'm exaggerating when I observe that many American Catholics have been spiritually slothful for quite a few years, long before the pandemic occurred. Now that we have this unprecedented experience of being excused by the bishops from having to attend Mass, I have a question: Once public Masses are in full swing again, how many Catholic will respond by saying, “When I went to Mass, I didn’t get anything out of it. When Masses were cancelled, I didn’t miss it. So, why bother going back?”?
I now see the sin of Sloth as spiritual sorrow. And it's very real. A lack of hunger for God is why the Church has been so lukewarm for most of my adult life. If we only realize how awesome God is, and how much He wants to be the center of our lives and fill us with joy and passion, we won’t be spiritually slothful. It may be hard to believe, but the Divine Creator of the Universe is actually a lot more exciting than a mediocre movie on Netflix.