Idleness: the Devil’s Workshop

Idleness is the workshop of the devil. If we do not have anything to do then surely the devil will give us a lot do. St. John Bosco feared the vacation days for his boys because there was simply too much free time on their hands. The saint called vacation time the “harvest time of the devil”.  St. Bonaventure described it in this way: “When we are busy at work, one devil may tempt us; however, when we have nothing to do, then an army of devils are knocking at the door of our hearts.” Couch potatoes vegetate but never blossom and flourish!

Without a doubt, one of the best Biblical examples of the danger of laziness, sloth and indolence is in the example of the “Sin of David.” How could such a holy man of God, poet, mystic, Shepherd of the house of Israel, composer of most of the Psalms and (not to mention) “a man after the heart of God,” fall into adultery and, worse yet, the plotting of the murder of an innocent man? How could this all happen? It all started with Kind David shirking his responsibilities as king and military leader of the Israelites. He should have been leading his soldiers to victory. Instead, smug complacency, pride, and laziness got the best of him.

David had no plans, no goals set, too much free time on his hands, and took a long SIESTA! From here, he gave free rein to his eyes, lusting over Bathsheba and committing adultery with her. His sin snowballed to the point of placing Urias—the husband of Bathsheba—on the front line of battle in hopes of an untimely death. And it worked! Laziness can lead to serious sins–even murder!

Adolph Tanquery superbly defines sloth in these words:  “Sloth is an inclination to idleness or at least aimlessness, to apathy in action. At times this is a morbid disposition due to poor condition of health. More frequently it is a disease of the will, which fears effort and recoils from it. The slothful want to escape all exertion, whatever might interfere with their comfort or involve fatigue. Like the real parasite, they live on others to whatever extent they can. Tractable and submissive as long as no one interferes with them, they become surly and peevish when one would rouse them from their inaction.” (The Spiritual Life, Tanquery # 884) .

Keenly aware of the danger of sloth and the poisonous influence in our lives if we succumb to this proclivity, what then can we do? What might be our strategy or game plan so as to avoid being a slave to laziness?   Behold the remedy!

1.   PRAYER/HOLY SPIRIT.   Indeed sloth is a sickness of a weak and anemic soul, whose relationship with God is weak and mediocre, like smoldering coals turning to an ash heap! The Holy Spirit sets our hearts on fire and extinguishes sloth. For that reason Jesus exclaimed:  “I have come to cast fire and I am not at peace until that fire be ignited.” May the Holy Spirit burn away the dregs of sloth in our hearts!

2.   MEDITATE ON THE FOUR LAST THINGS: DEATH, JUDGMENT, HEAVEN AND HELL!  The Ignatian meditation on the “Four Last Things” can serve as a most efficacious tool to extricate our hearts from the quicksand of sloth. Every day we should call to mind our mortality—one day we will die and we know neither the day nor the hour! Then, judgment follows immediately. Paul states, “What we sow is what we will reap.” Hopefully we will go before the Lord with our hands, minds and hearts full of works of charity towards our neighbor. HEAVEN OR HELL!  One of the most striking parables of Jesus (Lk. 16) is that of Lazarus and the Rich man (Dives). Lazarus, the poor man, dies and goes to heaven. Dives, the rich man, dies and goes to hell! Why, then, did the rich man go to hell? It was not for what he did; rather, he was condemned for what he failed to do, a sin of omission.  The rich man miserably failed to see Jesus truly present in Lazarus the poor man, who was really Jesus in disguise!

3.   PLAN OF LIFE AND GOALS.  All of us should have two sets of goals: long term goals and short term. A long term goal might be to go to school to become a doctor or to the seminary to become a priest. A short term goal is what you strive to accomplish on a weekly or even daily basis. These short term goals can be of many sizes and shapes, but a few examples might be: daily Mass, daily Rosary, daily Holy Hour, visit a sick person, clean the house, clean the house  of my soul (a good confession), a half an hour of spiritual reading to finish that “spiritual classic.” With goals in mind, the devil of laziness is put at bay! Every morning write down objectives; at night check to see if they were accomplished!

4.   FRATERNAL CHARITY!   The most important virtue in the spiritual life is that of charity—both love of God and neighbor. Look at the cross. The vertical refers to our love of God and the horizontal, our love of neighbor. Due to laziness, we deprive our neighbor of many graces and blessings that he would have otherwise received. That is why St. Therese points out: “When somebody does good, the whole world is lifted closer to heaven; when one does evil, the world sinks down.” May it be our goal—on a daily basis—to do as much good as we can to motivate and edify our neighbor to do the same!

5.   JOY! We all know from sad experience that when we give into any vice, but especially that of sloth, then afterwards we feel sad, depressed, disheartened, and discouraged! On the contrary, after a hard days’ work, goals set and accomplished, with order, method, as well as purity of intention, then we lay our head to the pillow at night and can say to the Lord: “Jesus, thank you! Due to your grace and constant help, much was accomplished today.  Good night Lord! Tomorrow, I will be even more generous with you. Lord Jesus, with the help of Mary, Our Lady of fair love, and fervent charity, I want to conquer the world for your Heart. O Lord, you came to set the world on fire. Take me from your sheath and launch me into the world as a fiery arrow of love!


Fr. Ed Broom, OMV


Father Ed Broom is an Oblate of the Virgin Mary and the author of From Humdrum to Holy, which offers more words of wisdom for how to become a saint today. He blogs regularly at Fr. Broom's Blog.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • I fancied one of your quotes, Fr. Bloom and created a Pin. You may share it with others through this link –

  • Michelle Marie Allen

    I hope the Catholic Church does not equate “sloth” with serious clinical “Major Depression” or ANY other mental illness ! That would be showing a sign of lack of compassion and also is VERY uncharitable ! The mentally ill suffer enough with stigma from society without the Catholic Church being on the same band wagon !

  • Jim J. McCrea

    There is a distinction between a loss of will-power that is not due to one’s fault because of some psychological condition or even a mystical state from God, and a lack of will-power that is chosen and hence is sinful.

  • c s

     Agreed – Depression is a symptom of modern society making the extrication process that much more daunting.  I don’t debate the 5 proposed remedies.  Depression is also a tool of the Devil, as are all the psycho-pharm medications in reaction to the over-diagnosing of depression in society today.

  • MsMesuggah

    There are strict guidelines for diagnosing “Major Depression” usually associated with Bipolar, Schizophrenia and Schizoaffective mental disorders ! Psychiatrists DO NOT diagnose these lightly ! Are you saying that these illnesses are the “result” of modern society ? And inferring that the medications that treat these disorders are the tools of the devil is absolutely ridiculous as well as being ignorant ! 

    Mental illness is NOT in any way, shape or form a result of a “lack of character” or anything else which you have implied.Those so called “tools of the devil” have restored the “chemical imbalance” in the suffer’s brain chemistry. Mental illness is a genetics issue as 1 out of every 5 families have someone in their family diagnosed. It is a “REAL” illness !

    Please, your “Dark Age” thinking is most disturbing ! Ignorance is the “lack” of will to educate oneself before speaking on a subject. Google NAMI and “see” the light of Christ who’s Mercy and Understanding are always present among those who advocate for the “mentally ill”.

  • Mancipium Mariae

    Please read the article well before you become unnecessarily wary of the Catholic Church’s teaching. The cited quote from Tanquerry acknowledges that inaction could be from “poor condition of health.” 

  • Chicago Paul

    The Catholic Church does not equate sloth with serious clinical major depression.