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Hope and courage are the virtues to conquer your slothful self

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When we can’t be bothered to do good, we need a dose of courage and the hope to root us in reality, writes Dr Philippa Martyr. Photo: Unsplash.org
When we can’t be bothered to do good, we need a dose of courage and the hope to root us in reality, writes Dr Philippa Martyr. Photo: Unsplash.org

This week we’re tackling sloth, which the monks called acedia. It’s a spectrum, ranging from work-shy to over-scheduled.

It’s also when you can’t be bothered doing anything good, including prayer, going to Mass, or doing any good works. The catechism tells us (CCC2094) that spiritual sloth refuses joy from God and is repelled by his goodness.

Those are pretty strong words. But if you’re on social media as a Catholic, you’ll quickly meet people who are like this.

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Some of them are your fellow Catholics, ready to leave the church after gorging themselves on the Catastrophe Diet. This diet is very effective: you lose your faith and most of your friends.

It’s all a bit depressing and can send us into despair about the church’s future. Before you know it, you’re being slothful too.

The first virtue you need is the theological virtue of hope, but also you need to stir up some of your Confirmation gifts. I don’t mean the little gold necklace your Nonna gave you.

I mean the seven actual gifts of the Holy Spirit that God gave you all those years ago. The one I’m thinking of today is fortitude, or courage.

Let’s start with hope. We symbolise hope with an anchor because it roots us in reality.

Reality consists of two important facts: You are not in charge of the church, and you are not in charge of the universe. Those two things are God’s job.

Although God does not always do what we want, I think most of us would agree that he meets his key performance indicators in these two domains. I for one wouldn’t hesitate to renew his contract.

A third fact is that we know the war is over, and Jesus Christ won. He has conquered everything and is in the process of putting it all under his feet.

What we see today are minor skirmishes that are sorting the sheep from the goats, and the wheat from the darnel. As this reality takes hold in your heart, you will realise that what you are in charge of is whether you turn out to be wheat or darnel.

Vatican II called us all to the pursuit of personal holiness. How’s that working out for you?

Are you disagreeable, lazy, and self-pitying—at home, or at work, or in church? Do you take your family and friends for granted?

Are you in fact a pompous ass with a sense of entitlement that’s visible from space? Maybe it’s time to get off the internet and focus on correcting your personal faults instead.

The other virtue is courage or fortitude. It’s normal to want to avoid suffering; we all do it.

But you can’t grow spiritually without some degree of suffering and discomfort. Why? Because you (and me) actually aren’t all that good, and we still need a lot of work.

We are a very slothful, comfortable society, and keep our sensitive little selves wrapped up carefully. The same disease infects our church.

We love our online echo chambers, our carefully chosen parish that offers Mass just the way we like it, and our safe middle-class take on the gospel.

It’s so cozy (do have another gluten-free cupcake). But it’s also killing our church. We are dying from niceness because no one is willing to suffer things like unpopularity, criticism, rebuke, or correction.

People in the early church were willing to lose their property and be eaten by lions rather than put up with pagan nonsense. Yet today we can’t even talk about (for example) sexual sin without apologising profusely to the people committing it, as if it’s our fault rather than theirs.

If some poor priest tries to preach on the sins his parishioners might be doing on a regular basis, he’ll have six huffy people complaining to his bishop and then flouncing off to Fr Jim Kindness at St Languid’s. Fr Jim is far too nice to make anyone feel uncomfortable (unless they don’t sort their recyclables).

This is where Lent is really useful. It shows you just where you’ve gotten slothful, sluggish, comfortable—and resentful of the God who calls you to greater, but somewhat socially embarrassing, things.

These are the places where God wants you to do the work. The kingdom of heaven is taken by those who are prepared to make an effort (Mt 11:12, Mk 3:27).

Take courage! He has already overcome the world. Find your personal sloth and start tackling it now, while you can. Today is the favourable time! Today is the day of salvation.

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