November 2019 Print

Idleness is the Enemy of the Soul

By a Benedictine Monk

Our spiritual life is composed of God’s grace and our reception of His grace. Everything is a gift from God, but we must do all in our power to dispose our soul to receive Him into our hearts without any obstacles. The major obstacle that opposes God’s free action in our souls is a bad attitude, a disposition that turns our hearts away from God and His will. St. Benedict in his Rule for Monks defines this attitude as idleness. Idleness is an enemy to our soul because it is the first step to forming bad habits.

Idleness or sloth is a type of willful negligence with regard to our duty of state. The soul becomes sluggish to accomplish God’s will because of a growing repugnance of obstacles that are difficult to overcome. When the soul flees from effort, it seeks to replace God’s plan with an easier option, rewarded by an immediate satisfaction. All types of disorder and sin creep into the life of the slothful man. The family life becomes a terrible burden; everyone seems to be an obstacle to his newfound “freedom.” A type of general disgust invades his life and all that was before considered sacred by him, is now like a millstone weighing him down. A troubled kind of anxiety slowly overtakes his personality and those that love him the most become his worst enemies. He begins to feel that they accuse him by the light of their good example. His life of darkness cannot bear the light of their virtues.

This poor soul can fall into two opposite extremes that stem from the same disorder of sloth. The first is simply giving up whenever any effort is asked of him. One result is to seek consolation through continual sleeping. In a parable of the Gospel, Our Lord says that the cockle was sown in the field while men slept. The cockle of vice enters into the soul when he flees the necessary effort to correct himself, seeking the deep sleep of slothful negligence. The other extreme that flees from God’s will is to fall into excessive activity. One flees from the struggle to do God’s will to embrace an exaggerated activism. Instead of doing his duty of state, considered to be too laborious, he seeks another activity to replace it. He spends much time and effort accomplishing something, which is nonessential. This activity may be in itself good, but it is an escape from his duty of state. The following examples are often observed. One may be tempted to flee the family under the pretext of charity for others and leave the children without the necessary care. A mother that does not prepare the meals for her children because she wants to improve her spiritual life is shirking her duty. The father who spends all of his free time at the bar or the gym is refusing his paternal duty.

These means of escape slowly become habitual. This habitual disorder of sin is known as vice in the spiritual life and leads to real addictions. Many of today’s youth find themselves becoming slowly attached to technology, video games, pornography, alcohol, and drugs because they are disgusted with their duty of state. The reason that they find themselves in this position is often from too little love from their parents or from the vice of sloth that takes control of their soul. Many parents spoil the child fearing the effort that it would take to correct him. They permit the growth of passion and vice that will destroy the child’s life. The child imitating the example of sloth given by the parents will habitually shirk his basic duties as a Catholic.

Addictions come from a spiritual disorder and the true remedy is a spiritual re-ordering. When we choose dependence upon a creature to satisfy our desire of goodness, that God alone can satisfy, we find ourselves slaves to that creature, whether it be the bottle or the internet. The soul that tries to replace God with a consoling creature will be disillusioned. The true remedy is to patiently return to God. Spiritual reading, prayer, and the practice of virtue are necessary to overcome addiction to sin, but they must be put into act in a very prompt and eager manner.

St. Ambrose, speaking of the Paschal lamb of the Old Testament, explains how the meal had to be taken in haste: “It is not enough to do good, we must do it with eagerness. The Law ordained to eat the Paschal lamb with haste because the fruits are much more abundant when our devotion is prompt.” The book of Ecclesiasticus gives similar advice: “In all thy works be quick, and no infirmity shall come to thee.” If we desire to conquer the infirmity of addictions to vice, we must promptly change our bad attitude and put into practice our good resolutions. With God’s grace we will persevere, running in the way that leads to the kingdom of Heaven. We should eagerly take to heart the words of St. Benedict: “Idleness is the enemy of the soul.”