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Spiritual Sloth


We now come to the seventh and final capital sin—spiritual sloth.  Like children who become bored when their senses are not satisfied with excitement, many beginners in the spiritual life become bored with prayer and the practice of virtue when it does not satisfy their senses with delight or excitement, even if it does feed and strengthen their spirit with grace and God's presence.  Furthermore, the more spiritual the activity the more bored they become.  This is due to spiritual sloth, a heavy sensuality and lack of good will that prevents the soul from rising to more spiritual activities.  Spiritual sloth causes souls to neglect prayer and other spiritual practices, such as spiritual reading, or at least to perform these carelessly and half-heartedly.  The spiritually slothful become weary, sad, dry, and discouraged in following the difficult way of the cross.  They want God to fulfill their will, instead of them fulfilling God’s will.  They should recall that in the cross is all grace and glory and spiritual resurrection, as stated in The Imitation of Christ:  “In the cross is infusion of heavenly sweetness; in the cross is strength of mind; in the cross is joy of spirit.  There is no health of soul nor hope of eternal life but in the cross.” (Book II, Chap. 12)  Or, as Our Lord declares in the Gospel: “Strive to enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and easy the way that leads to destruction, and many there are who enter thereat.  How narrow the gate and hard the way that leads to life, and few there are who find it!” (Luke 13:24, Matt. 7:13-14)

However, it may be that this dryness and difficulty in prayer is not due to the negligence of spiritual sloth, a lack of effort or discipline, but to the deeper grace and spirituality of the dark night.  If God is bringing the soul into the passive  purification of the dark night of the senses she will no longer find satisfaction in the prayer of active (discursive) meditation which involves thinking about particular spiritual topics with successive reflections and human reasoning.  At the same time, she will lose interest in thinking about worldly things too.  Another way to say this is that “these souls do not get satisfaction or consolation from the things of God, they do not get any out of creatures either.” (DN, Bk. I, Ch. 9, No. 2)  More and more, the soul’s one desire will be “to remain alone in loving awareness of God, without particular considerations, in interior peace and quiet and repose.” (Ascent, Bk. II, Ch. 13, No. 4)  Although the senses will be in dryness, “very cast down, slack, and feeble,” the spirit will be “ready and strong” in the desire to serve God and please Him. (DN, Bk. I, Ch. 9, No. 3)  If this dryness were the result of spiritual sloth and lukewarmness, or a chemical imbalance like depression, then there would not be this strong desire to serve God and please Him.  The remedy would be good action or medicine, respectively.  Likewise, if this dryness in prayer is the result of sins recently committed, then there will be an inclination and desire to enjoy worldly things and to seek satisfaction in them according to the sin committed.  Here, the remedy is Confession, penance (self-denial), and prayer.

Spiritual beginners should continue with their active meditation in prayer as long as they are able to derive spiritual satisfaction and consolation from it, until they receive the greater grace of infused contemplation which, initially, will dry up their senses, pacify them, and bring them more into order in the dark night.  (After this dark night of the senses, they will experience far greater delight and satisfaction in contemplation than they ever did from meditation.)  By actively engaging their mind and imagination in the prayer of meditation beginners turn away from the things of the world and become more inclined to the things of God.  From the spiritual sweetness and satisfaction they receive in prayer and other spiritual practices they are encouraged to practice virtue, self-discipline and self-denial in order to fulfill the will of God, and thereby, grow closer to Him, becoming less worldly and more spiritual.  When they are ready, God will wean them from these palpable graces and sensible consolations to receive the far greater grace of divine contemplation in a more mature spiritual life.  That is the purpose of the two dark nights—to bring souls from the life of the senses to the life of the spirit, from drops of grace to a river of grace, and finally, to a flood of grace in perfect and complete union with God, as far as this life allows.


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