40 days to Freedom


Day 29

Reflection

 "Freedom from Sloth / Acedia"


by Fr. Rick Heilman

Recently, I wrote a reflection on pride. I said, "Pride is the Biggie," because it's "the sin that is most at work to divide and destroy our culture." Although I believe that to be true, I would say the most dominant sin that characterizes our culture today is acedia. Acedia has been referred to as the "noonday devil."

 

"Acedia" originates from the Greek, akèdia, meaning "lack of care." It's a kind of indifference or a "lack of spiritual energy," which is a phrase from the book by Jean-Charles Nault, O.S.B., The Noonday devil: Acedia, the Unnamed Evil of Our Times. Nault, the abbot of the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Wandrille in France, is one of the world's experts on acedia. I recall the acclaim this book had in 2015, and I ordered it right away. I highly recommend it.

 

Nault references how it came to be called, "the noonday devil." In the writings of Evagrius of Pontus (345-399, one of the Desert Fathers), he explained that acedia manifests itself as a temptation for the monk to depart his cell. This temptation is often worst around midday, hence the "noonday devil."

 

The reasons for abandoning his cell could all be reasonable or even noble: He may want to work on his health, or he is just seeking a change of scenery, or maybe he wants to visit family, or he believes he could help more people outside his cell. Therefore, acedia doesn't necessarily always have to do with laziness. It could be manifested in activism.

 

Acedia can often be associated with "spiritual instability," a kind of restlessness. So, the soul may find itself horrified by its commitments, even abhor the spiritual life. The soul finds itself stuck in a kind of spiritual malaise which prevents it from advancing in the spiritual life.

 

St. Thomas Aquinas said of acedia that it is a "sadness about spiritual good." It's a sadness of even the ultimate good of union with God. How can that be? St. Thomas says that man can become sad at the prospect of union with God because it requires him to give up goods to which he is attached.

 

Once someone detaches from their call to advance in the spiritual life, they can become satisfied with what St. Thomas calls a mere "animal beatitude." In other words, we demote ourselves to mere animals, aimlessly feeding the flesh with all its lust and wants. Once this fails, and it usually does, we are left to fall into a nihilism, or even a hatred of being.

 

For a soul adrift in acedia, and therefore unstable with loss of meaning and purpose in life, he is left to vacillate between reducing himself to just another animal species, or worse, a blight on an otherwise perfect natural world. Is this sounding familiar yet? It should be; it is pervasive thought in a world becoming more and more disconnected from God.

 

How did we get here, and how do we get out of this epidemic of acedia in our culture, and even in our Church? I continue to believe we Catholics deserve much of the blame. Why?

This is where I point to a previous reflection I gave on lukewarmness. Recall it was Pope St. Pius V who went so far as to say, "All the evil in the world is due to lukewarm Catholics."

 

If we are the one true Church founded by Jesus Christ - and we are - then we were called to lift the world out of the emptiness of acedia that leads to believing we are mere animals. Yet, for more than 50 years, we have been peddling a weak and watered-down religion; a religion that denies the power of God; a religion of "activism" that seems to abhor the call to advance in the spiritual life. It almost seems like the proponents of this modern-day Catholic religion were (and are), themselves, plagued with acedia. Some even militate against a restoration of sacred beauty and sacred worship. "It's too much," they proclaim. "People won't like our Church if we promote all the 'sacred stuff.'" In essence, they are saying, "We need to be a 'Church of Acedia' in order to reach those caught in acedia." And so, the acedia is left to spread like a virus.

 

In Paul's letter to Timothy, he warned about just such a time as ours: "But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God- having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people" (2 Timothy 3:1-5).

 

Thank God, many are talking about the need for us to repent. But repent from what? We must repent from creating a Church that has the "form of godliness but denies its power."  This renewed faith and trust in the power of God, and worshiping as though we actually believe in it, is the antidote for our global pandemic: acedia.


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