Sloth is spiritual laziness, although it includes laziness of the body too. It is caused by a certain lack of trust in God and makes us indifferent in the use of the means necessary for our sanctification. It is an aversion to spiritual effort, which leads to the neglect of grace. Its worst effect is to make us put off our return to God after mortal sin. How many souls who have neglected their Easter duty, or have fallen away from the Church, go on, year after year, endangering their salvation because they cannot break the bonds of sloth!
Sloth resides in our mind and will and is the most dangerous of all vices because it makes us refuse to co-operate with grace. Sloth inclines us to habits of sin and leads us to despair of breaking away from their slavery. It may thus lead us to final impenitence and the loss of our soul.
Countless venial sins result from our lukewarmness, tepidity and indifference in God's service. These in turn further weaken our will, and we find ourselves caught in a net, which we have, no will to break.
We can recognize how sloth affects us by our faint-heartedness in spiritual matters; by our sluggish will; by our procrastination or putting things off until another time; by our dissipation and useless work, which is a sort of feverish activity that distracts us and does not allow time to attend to the needs of our soul; by our seeking bodily ease and comfort; by our idleness, or doing no good at all.
Sloth leads us to neglect the duties of our state. It makes us give up trying to carry out our resolutions. It makes us low-spirited and sad, because we know we are not using our graces. It makes us do things with a grumbling, grudging spirit because we are not generous in giving ourselves. It inclines us to much talking, because we do not want to call ourselves to account, and so we dissipate our spiritual forces and put off our "conversion."
The parable of the slothful servant, told by Our Lord in the Gospel of St. Matthew (25:14-30), warns us of the dangers and sterility of sloth, and its end: Hell.
There are three chief forms of sloth: occupation with unnecessary things, which has been sufficiently touched upon above in explaining how we divert ourselves in this way so we have no time to listen to the voice of conscience; distraction; and spiritual melancholy.
Distraction destroys our recollection in prayer, leads us to fulfill our spiritual exercises without zeal and attention, and fills us with an overpowering weariness so that we postpone what we should do here and now. We see only an intolerable burden in our duties–not the privilege of doing them for God and storing up eternal merit in Heaven.
Spiritual melancholy, or depression, is a secret anger with ourselves and a species of self-love. Because of it, we have no courage to break with our faults and imperfections, with our habits of sin, and we feel a sense of despair. This in turn makes us quarrelsome and contentious. To get away from our inner conflict and anxiety, we turn to creatures and become preoccupied with unnecessary things, while we continue in our state of lukewarmess, procrastination and mediocrity or sin.
Our spiritual melancholy gives the devil power over our soul and is a condition of soul that easily leads to many grievous sins. It weakens and hinders the effects of the Sacraments. It makes the salutary means of the spiritual life act like poison. We cannot find God, and our unhappiness increases, though we are not really so much concerned with finding God as with finding His consolations. His will and His honor do not matter to us so much as our desires and our reputation. Our goal is not God, but our own spiritual peace or progress; that is, a spiritualized "self-seeking." We have lost sight of our true end and the way to it.
Father Faber says of this condition of soul: "Sadness is a sort of spiritual disability. A melancholy man can never be more than a convalescent in the House of God. God has rather to wait upon him as his Infirmarian that he to wait on God as His Father and King... There is no moral imbecility so great as that of querulousness and sentimentality. He who lies down at full length on life as if it were a sickbed–poor, languishing soul, what will he ever do for God?"
Today, sloth often goes by the name of "escapism." The person who is the victim of sloth realizes he is in a spiritual fog and may try to blame it on spiritual dryness or some other cause, when it is an inaction of the will which destroys love.
We may flounder through a lifetime and never recognize that what is keeping us from spiritual advancement is sloth. No one will know how many are dept away from the Sacraments, or from daily Mass and Holy Communion, by sloth. No one can judge how much the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, upon which we are to be judged, are neglected because of sloth, but it is certain that this vice works havoc in countless ways.
Even the sloth of mind which makes us neglect to occupy our intellect with useful things or serious work is very dangerous, because a mind that is not so occupied tends to evil, and nothing stops its rapid descent. Our mind may be occupied with culpable thoughts even when our body is busy. On the other hand, sloth of body, or idleness and inactivity, may lead to a thousand temptations which we will be unable to resist because of the weakness and sluggishness of our will, sleeping in the inaction of sloth.
We must fly sloth because it prevents us from working out our salvation; because it is the parent of many evils. If we sow nothing, we shall reap nothing. Life is short, and the years are few for meriting the eternal joys of Heaven. We must follow the example of Our Lord who won the glory of Heaven by toils and penances, by His Passion and Cross. To fail to store up eternal merits is to lessen our merit in Heaven; to fail to do penance for our sins is to prepare ourselves for a long Purgatory; and to fail in attaining our eternal salvation is to fail utterly and reap the eternal woe of damnation.
Diligence or zeal in working for God and the good of souls is the virtue contrary to sloth. It brings ease and joy in fulfilling our religious duties. The light of faith is nourished with the oil of good works. It enables us to avoid many temptations and sins and helps ensure our final perseverance.