In yesterday’s post I discussed how the vice of sloth is by no means limited to the “couch potato,” but is a widespread problem in our busy, workaholic world. Now I would like to offer a three-point plan for conquering the vice of sloth and replacing it with virtues that will move us in the right direction.
1: Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day.
I recently had the occasion to reread Pope John Paul II’s magnificent 1998 apostolic letter Dies Domini, on keeping the Lord’s Day holy. It’s hard to single out “favorites” from among John Paul’s voluminous writings, but surely this meditation on the Lord’s Day will benefit Christians “with ears to hear” for many generations to come.
I heartily recommend this apostolic letter as spiritual reading. Perhaps we can even give up an hour or so of sports (gasp) this Sunday to soak in some of the Holy Father’s insights as to what Sunday is all about in the first place.
One passage of Dies Domini really struck me: “[The Sabbath is] rooted in the depths of God’s plan. This is why, unlike many other precepts, it is not set within the context of strictly cultic stipulations but within the Decalogue, the ‘ten words’ which represents the very pillars of the moral life inscribed on the human heart” (no. 13).
Sunday Mass is not simply another requirement imposed on us by a Church that’s obsessed with “rules.” Rather, the obligation to remember to keep the day holy is prefigured and rooted in the commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy, which in turn is rooted in the very act of creation. And by creation I mean both God’s creation of the world, from which He took his rest on the seventh day, and God’s creation of us. This call to worship, to rest from servile labor, to take stock of all that God has given us, is inscribed in who we are, and we are acting against our own good when we fail to remember to keep Sunday holy. As Our Lord noted, the Sabbath is made for man, and not the other way around.
On top of all that, we are commanded to “remember” to keep the day holy, which suggests that we might tend to “forget.”
When it comes to tithing our money, assuming that we even make an effort to support the Church financially, we look for the minimum we can get by with. Nobody ever says, “Is it okay to give more than 10 percent?” let alone tries to imitate the widow in the Gospel (Luke 21:1-4). Instead, we tend to give a mere pittance of what we’re able to give—certainly not enough to affect our overall spending habits. God asks for our first fruits and we give Him our spare change.
In a similar sense, God asks us to tithe our time, to give him one day per week. We’ve reduced the Lord’s Day to Sunday Mass, and even then we squawk if it lasts more than 45 minutes. We can’t get out of Church fast enough once we’ve “done our time.”
But as long as we view the Sunday obligation minimally and as a burden, we’re missing the point. While Sunday Mass is the source and summit of our Christian life for the week, the entire Lord’s Day should be set aside for God and family—in other words, for leisure and for freedom from servile labor. Surely there must be some flexibility in application, especially given our diverse, secular culture, but I daresay just as we can probably do a better job of tithing our money, we can do a better job of remembering to observe the Lord’s Day.
2: Take stock of our schedule.
Time is one of our most valued commodities, and we should spend it in a way that reflects our values and priorities. Getting the Lord’s Day right is the first and most important step, but we still have six other days to order correctly. Faith, family, work, and other pursuits are like ingredients that need to be added at the right time and in the right measure to make a tasty dish. If we don’t take the time to read and follow the recipe, the ingredients won’t come together in the way we’d like.
That’s why it’s so important for individuals, couples, families, and communities to take the time to identify their priorities and commitments and schedule their days and weeks accordingly. For those of us who tend to be lazy “under-achievers,” a schedule will keep us on task to make sure we meet our obligations. For those of us who tend toward workaholism and to be driven by the tyranny of the urgent, a schedule will make sure that we make time for prayer, reading to the kids, or other priorities that might get shoved aside if we’re not vigilant.
3: Cultivate virtue.
If we’re not actively engaged in cultivating virtue, then our lives will start looking like my lawn. There are some patches of grass, but each day there are also more weeds. Overcoming vice and developing virtue go together, just as it’s not enough to pull weeds without also planting and fertilizing the new grass.
When it comes to sloth, the corresponding virtues are justice, charity, and magnanimity. Sloth is about fulfilling our obligations to God and neighbor, which brings into play the various manifestations of justice. However, the motivation for fulfilling these obligations should be supernatural charity, which moves us out of our small, self-serving world so that we might live for others.
When the spiritual laxity of sloth overtakes us, we are like a football team that has lost its momentum. We are set back on our spiritual heels and feel ill-prepared to do what is necessary to turn the tide. From this perspective, we can see how the “end game” of sloth is despair, as eventually the negative momentum snowballs, and we lose the will to compete. Magnanimity, however, literally means being “great-souled”; it is the virtue that gives us the confidence that we can do all things in him who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13), that we can truly run so as to win (1 Cor. 9:24).
Each time we act against our disinclination to pray, as well as work into our day habits of prayer (e.g., saying a Hail Mary when we’re stopped in traffic) and sacrifice, we are replacing sloth with virtues that will help us become saints. And it all starts with getting up off the couch and onto our knees.