Do you know the first words of Jesus Christ that were recorded in the Bible? His mother asked Him why He had not told her where He had been for three days, and the twelve-year-old Son of God responded, “How is it that you sought Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49)
What was this young boy talking about? What was His Father’s business?
Do you know the last words that were spoken by Jesus immediately prior to surrendering His life to His Father? They were, “It is finished.”
What was our Lord talking about? What was He finished with?
On both occasions – when He was going about His Father’s “business” and when He said that “it” was “finished” – He was referring to the work He was sent to perform on Earth.
The word “business” is defined as “purposeful activity” or “an immediate task or objective” or “a particular field of endeavor.” Similarly, “work” is defined as “activity in which one exerts strength or faculties to do or perform sustained physical or mental effort to overcome obstacles and achieve an objective or result.”
As children, we were taught that we were created by God to know, love, and serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him in the next. Saying that we were created to know, love, and serve God can be translated into saying that we were created to work. We were put on this Earth to be about our Father’s business from at least the age of twelve until we are “finished.” When are we finished? When we die.
That brings us to the sin of sloth. The simple definition of “sloth” is this: the failure to engage in the work – which includes the physical, mental, and spiritual activity – that we were created by God to perform. The Modern Catholic Dictionary provides a more formal definition of sloth:
Sluggishness of soul or boredom because of the exertion necessary for the performance of a good work. The good work may be a corporal task, such as walking; or a mental exercise, such as writing; or a spiritual duty, such as prayer. Implicit in sloth is the unwillingness to exert oneself in the performance of duty because of the sacrifice and the effort required. As a sin, it is not to be confused with mere sadness over the inconvenience involved in fulfilling one’s obligations, nor with the indeliberate feelings of repugnance when faced with unpleasant work. It becomes sinful when the reluctance is allowed to influence the will and, as a result, what should have been done is either left undone, or performed less well than a person is responsible for doing. Sloth may also mean a repugnance to divine inspirations or the friendship of God due to the self-sacrifice and labor needed to cooperate with actual grace or to remain in the state of grace. This kind of laziness is directly opposed to the love of God and is one of the main reasons why some people, perhaps after years of virtuous living, give up in the pursuit of holiness or even become estranged from God.
One or more of the following attributes will be found in a person who succumbs to sloth: laziness, tardiness, procrastination, idleness, indifference, discouragement, softness, nonchalance, moodiness, gloominess, focusing on the past rather than the present, distastefulness toward life, disquietude about position or work assignment, unwillingness to make commitments, feeling sorry for oneself, indifference to character development, lukewarmness, failure to develop and cultivate virtue, and distaste for the spiritual.
Most individuals who have sloth as their primary fault were born with traits that make them generally unfocused and undisciplined. They have a tendency to dream about the future rather than focus on the needs of the present. They generally have a charming disposition that assists them in persuading others to do things for them. They are gifted with the ability to figure out shortcuts and faster ways to get things accomplished and, over time, become proficient at delegating tasks to others.
The people who are close to the person whose primary fault is sloth – spouse, children, friends, and fellow workers – have learned that they cannot rely on him to keep his commitments. In fact, they have trouble getting him to make commitments in the first place, since each new commitment requires him to engage in the one thing he has become an expert at avoiding – work.
Most individuals who have sloth as their primary fault have become experts at making excuses for not following through with obligations. Throughout their lives, they have been criticized and ridiculed by family members and teachers who themselves are proficient at getting things done but may suffer from the primary fault of anger. As slothful people grow older, their pride causes them to become defiant toward others. In most situations, they get satisfaction (without realizing it) from resisting those who criticize them or are in positions of authority over them.
In addition to humility, there are two other key virtues that act as the antidote to sloth: diligence and self-control. These virtues can be practiced in a number of ways:
• Developing and remaining faithful to a formal daily prayer ritual
• Prior to going to bed, planning and writing down tasks and activities that need to be accomplished the following day, and assigning beginning and end times for each task and activity
• Militantly keeping to the daily schedule that was created the night before
• Making commitments with deadlines even though you’re inclined to put them off
• Performing little acts of self-discipline starting with denying yourself something at every meal, which will help you build up the ability to exercise discipline when it comes time to work
• Frequently thinking about the rewards that await you in eternity after your work on Earth has finally been finished
• If you’re unable to do physical or intellectual work because of age or infirmity, offering up suffering and extra prayers for others
• Realizing that starting is the hardest part, when there is a task that needs to be done, mentally talk your way through the task as though you were talking to a two-year-old child. For example, if you notice the garbage needs taking out, instead of immediately disregarding the task with the thought that you’ll do it later or someone else will do it, literally tell yourself: “Walk over to the drawer and grab a tie, then walk over to the garbage bag and pick it up, then twist the bag, apply the tie, and walk it out to the garage” or “Pick up the rosary, make the sign of the cross, and begin saying the Apostles’ Creed.”
The book of Revelation gives a very clear warning to those of us who are indifferent to the work that we were created to perform: “But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold, not hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3:16)
At the moment of death, when we appear before our Lord, we will be expected to account for the physical, intellectual, and spiritual work we performed on His behalf during our lifetime. If we want to avoid being vomited out of His mouth, we need to take His warning seriously and do the work that was intended for us.
“Come to me, all you who labor, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek, and humble of heart. And you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light.” (Matt. 11:28-30)