Canon Aaron Huberfeld delivered the first sermon this past Sunday on the Capital Vice of Sloth. He was kind enough to send the text for publication:
All run in the race, but only one receives the prize. Run so that you may obtain it.
The next three Sundays have perhaps the most mysterious names of any throughout the year, even for those who know Latin. The season takes its name from the first of these Sundays – Septuagesima, which we celebrate today. This Sunday marks the seventieth day from Easter (or from the completion of the Octave of Easter, to be precise). This period is a symbol of the seventy years of Babylonian captivity which the Hebrew people underwent. In the night office of the Church, we read the opening chapters of Holy Scripture and the history of the fall of man; thus this period also signifies the captivity to sin which is the lot of the unhappy children of Adam.
Septuagesima Sunday is also the first of seven violet Sundays before Holy Week. The Church invites us on these Sundays to reflect on the reality of our bondage to sin. That is why this year at St. Francis de Sales Oratory, we will offer a series of sermons on the seven deadly sins.
The seven deadly sins are more properly known as the seven capital vices – seven unsightly creases in our moral fabric which form the foundation of all manner of sinful behavior. They are not just sinful actions; they are a way of life, or rather, a way of death. And on this Septuagesima Sunday, we are invited to begin by considering the vice which is always listed last among the seven. It is the sin which exemplifies more than any other this way of death which we must avoid at all costs. It is the sin which abhors action, abhors real thinking, abhors feeling, abhors living, abhors even existing. It is the deadly sin of sloth.
If you know anything about Germans and German culture, you know that the worst descriptive that can ever be applied to you by a German is faul – lazy. Nothing is worse in the eyes of a German than a man who doesn’t like to work. American culture may stress this point a little bit less, but we do always hear about the importance of “keeping busy”. Well, keeping busy is easy enough. Many families need two incomes just to make ends meet, and many Americans, rich and poor, willingly work 100 hours a week. If there’s any time left after running a household and raising children, there’s phone conversations, books, television, the internet. Surely no one in our day and age has any time to be slothful. Germans and Americans should be content. But laziness and leisure are not the same as sloth. Leisure has nothing to do with sloth, and laziness is just an occasional symptom. You can tear through each day of your life without one moment of free time – working, socializing, performing your duties at home – and still be overcome with sloth.
In my sermon for Gaudete Sunday in Advent, I explained that sloth is sadness over spiritual good. As you will soon hear, envy is sorrow over our neighbor’s good, but sloth is sorrow over good itself, sorrow which a man harbors over God and the means of salvation. St. Thomas, writing 800 years ago, called sloth, “an oppressive sorrow which so weighs upon a man’s mind that he chooses to do nothing.” This may sound like the modern description of clinical depression. But when this sorrow has God as its object, it has moral consequences. Being bored with God and not caring about your spiritual life is the most deadly of spiritual diseases. And if we make no effort to fight this disease, it is mortally sinful – a sin against the love of God. It is, somehow, even worse that hating God – it is showing Him utter indifference. As Our Lord predicted, the light came into the world, and men preferred darkness. Busyness is no remedy for this deplorable state. Our only hope lies in spiritual combat.
Three weeks before the start of Lent, the Apostle tells us, run so that you may win the prize. And he says the priest must be the one to set the example. I fight not as one beating the air, but I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection, lest after having preached to others, I myself should be condemned. Like all Christians, he must take heed to the frightful warning which the Apostle gives us today: they all were baptized; they all ate the same spiritual food, and drank the same spiritual drink; but with most of them God was not well pleased.
What a priceless gift is time! Three weeks before Lent, and the Church exhorts us to shake off the sin of sloth. We still have time to prepare ourselves, and offer to God this year a Lent well spent. Do not fight as one beating the air. Do not be angry with yourself and upbraid yourself for your faults. If you know your faults, lay them before the altar of God with a humble and contrite heart. Seek the Divine Heart of Our Savior, because when you find it you will find a joy which will consume your heart and rid it of sloth forever. Remember the Sermon on the Mount, and the beatitude which the Fathers of the Church always recognized as the antidote for sloth: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall have their fill. Blessed are those who do not seek passing joy in this miserable world, but who delight only in saying to Our Eternal Father, thy kingdom come.
God says to the men at the end of the day, why have you stood here the whole day idle? Don’t think about the time you have wasted; God will still hire you into His vineyard, and give you a just reward for your labors. Fight the good fight; finish the race; keep the Faith. Hope in our Savior, who came to save us from the wrath to come. Love this Savior who bought you at so dear a price. His Cross is our only hope, and if we think on the blissful eternity which He has won for us, God help us if our hearts are not on fire to run the race of this short life to win that incorruptible crown. Many are called, but few are chosen. Run so that you may win. May Our Blessed Lady, cause of our joy, keep ever before our eyes that joyful port which awaits us on eternity’s shore. Amen.