14. THE OPPOSITE OF ZEAL: SLOTH
1. Sloth consists in shunning everything that conduces either to our temporal or eternal well-being, provided it be toilsome.
Sloth displays itself either by indolence, dislike of work, and the non-fulfilment even of the duties of one’s calling; or by tepidity in and indifference to what is good and conducive to one’s spiritual welfare. The slothful man displays distaste for all good works. We find life and movement and activity in all nature; the celestial hosts laud and magnify the Most High continually; the heavenly bodies revolve unceasingly in space; trees and herbs grow to their appointed size; the tiny ant lays up a store in summer, the busy bees make honey and do not suffer drones to live; and shall man alone be an idler, an exception to all creatures whom instinct teaches to abhor idleness? ”Go to the ant, O sluggard, and consider her ways” (Prov. vi. 6). The indolent postpone all work to a future day, and only pursue sensual pleasures. To-morrow, to-morrow, not to-day, is their cry. The lukewarm Christian wills and does not will; he would fain have the wages God gives, but he will not work for Him; as soon as it is a question of putting force upon himself he shrinks back. Yet the slothful think they do more than others, for while the fervent look at those who do better than themselves, to learn humility, they on the contrary look at the good, not in others but in themselves. Hence the slothful never attain perfection. Great sinners have been known to become great saints, but the lukewarm never.
2. Idleness leads to all kinds of vice; it brings misery in this life and eternal damnation in the life to come.
Idleness hath taught much evil (Ecclus. xxxiii. 29); it is in fact the source of every evil habit. Man is like the earth: if a field be not sown with good seed, a crop of weeds spring up and grow apace; so if man has no useful occupation, his natural activity turns to all manner of mischief. Iron rusts when it is not used; water when stagnant becomes foul; and man, corrupted by idleness, becomes the abode of evil passions, and falls into manifold temptations. The busy man is assailed by one demon, the unemployed by a hundred. Idleness ruins the young, for it destroys all that is good in them. The man who does nothing all day long is like the trunk of a tree, without foliage and without fruit. Idleness brings misery in this life. Holy Scripture says of the slothful: “Want shall come upon thee and poverty” (Prov. vi. 11). St. John Chrysostom declares idleness to be the parent of poverty and the root of despair. It also brings a man to eternal damnation. Idleness is in itself a sin. A servant may not steal, or drink, or be insolent; but if he has the fault of being lazy, his master will dismiss him from his service. God acts in the same manner. “Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be cut down and cast into the fire” (Matt. vii. 19). The servant who refuses to trade with the talents his lord has confided to him, shall be cast into the exterior darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. xxv. 30). The idler cannot indeed hope that heaven will be his portion, for Our Lord says: “ Call the laborers and give them their hire.” God does not love those who love their own ease. He expressly states that those who are lukewarm, neither cold nor hot, He will vomit out of His mouth (Apoc. iii. 16), that is to say, He is disgusted with them. Our God is a consuming fire, and He delights in the adoration of the seraphim, who are inflamed with burning love. An open unbeliever is less abhorrent to Him than a tepid Christian.
3. Those who are inclined to indolence should think frequently of the reward, both temporal and eternal, of industry, and thus they will overcome their distaste for work.
“Look not, O Christian,” says St. Augustine, “on the labor that it costs thee; look rather to the rest and the joys which God promises thee; see how infinitely they outweigh all thy toil.” “In doing good let us not fail; for in due time we shall reap, not failing” (Gal. vi. 9).
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