Sloth, the Un-sin

After reading about sloths — the animal — I wondered: why aren’t they a more popular pet? Sloths barely move (fifteen feet a minute at best) so you would never need to chase after an animal that slips out of the door when you go to get the mail.  They are a monkey-like-but-not-really-a-monkey sort of creature.  Their faces have an odd expression as if they are smiling at you.

They sit in trees, barely moving, and they eat leaves and insects so you could pretty much stick them in your yard and call it good.  But wait, it gets even better.  They only go potty about once a week; digging a hole and covering it afterwards.  They even go to the same spot each time.  You, the pet owner, do not even need to housebreak or clean up after your sloth.

It’s About Doing

As a parent that has indulged my kids in many pets over the years, only to later regret the amount of work involved, the idea of a responsibility-free animal caught my attention.  Then, I considered the true value of getting something (a pet) but not putting anything into it (pet care) or getting anything back (a relationship).  Upon more consideration, I realized that this is exactly what many Catholics want to do — call themselves Catholic, but not put anything into it.  Ouch – -you didn’t see that one coming, did you?

The sluggish creature is named after one of the capital sins — sloth.  That, I suppose, is reason enough to give it a bad persona.  After all, capital sin, also referred to as a deadly sin, can destroy grace in your soul, and lead to eternal death.  That’s huge.  That’s forever.

How often then do we consider the sin of sloth?  When was the last time you confessed “sloth” in the confessional?  Of course, you may have confessed it using other names like neglect, as in; I neglected to go to Mass last Sunday.  But really, how often do you examine your conscience and attempt to weed out the sloth?

Sloth is the un-sin.  It is in what you are not doing.  Sloth is the spiritual or emotional apathy or carelessness that results in a person not bothering to put forth an effort in spiritual things and ignoring God’s directives.  It includes wasting your God-given talents and not bothering to pray or read God’s Word (you know–the Bible).  Missing Sunday Mass is an obvious one but failing to serve others can be too.  If there is an abortion clinic in your neighborhood and you never have taken the time to join pro-lifers praying in front of it, that could be sloth.  If you let your kids sit in front of TV unsupervised for hours rather than taking proper care of them, that’s another example.  There are always people in need, so the opportunities to serve others are endless.  And the command in Scripture to do so is clear.  The Seven Corporal Acts of Mercy and Seven Spiritual Acts of Mercy are important ways outlined by the Church to serve others.  Not to serve others is sloth.

Not too Busy to be Slothful

When I first considered the sin of sloth, I was not too concerned about it threatening my spiritual well being.  As a busy mother of a large family engaged in all sorts of activities, I always felt that my busyness inoculated me from sloth.  I have come to recognize more often than I like to admit, that I am tempted to be slothful at times.  Wasting time or skills or not helping when I can, are such temptations.

I say this with a word of caution, however, to people with a tendency towards scrupulosity.  For them, over-contemplating sloth can cause torment.  After all, it does seem that we can always do just one more thing; join one more committee, say yes to one more request.  But we can’t do everything.  Instead, we need to balance between using our time and talents in union with God or using them selfishly or not at all.  Keep in mind that Jesus did not do everything and he is God.  He had helpers, disciples and apostles and he left much work undone.  Thus, there is still much work for us to do in order to follow Him and not be slothful, but God doesn’t expect us to do everything.

More often, the risk is in not putting ourselves out enough.  Our Christian faith teaches us that we need to work to support one another and to further God’s plan.  Sloth is when laziness is behind our lack of effort.  It’s when there is a work that God is asking of us and we simply don’t want to exert ourselves to do it.  It’s the feeling of “I don’t care.”

We Can’t Love What We Don’t Know

Anything of value is worth working for, and that includes our Catholic faith.  Likewise, not knowing your faith or passing it onto your children or defending it when it is attacked, are forms of sloth.

To be a good Catholic doesn’t just mean getting busy with work.  We must know the faith before we can practice it fully.  Anything less is sloth.  For some reason, many people that are willing to sweat at the gym or put in long hours at work, expect religion to come without effort or not at all.  How often do people say they don’t get anything out of Mass so they don’t bother to go–simply not willing to take the time to go or understand what God is offering us?

Through sloth, an unwillingness to learn the teachings of our Catholic faith leads to Catholics doing their own thing rather than God’s thing.  Thinking that their own opinions are superior to God’s teachings leads them astray, following their own opinions over God’s law.  Thus, sloth regarding learning the faith, leads to ignorance, which leads to pride (I know better than the Church), which leads to the wrong path–the one not pointed to heaven.

If we operate in this misguided way, we are really saying that we are above the Church; we can make the rules and decide right or wrong; we are God.  Oh, if presented to people in this way, they would scoff, “I do not think I am God.”  But in effect, that is what is happening.

As I present this, I don’t think I am holier than thou because I’m describing myself many years ago.  I thought I was a perfectly wonderful person — always nice to people.  But, I didn’t bother to understand the faith.  So, when I didn’t follow the teachings or had opinions opposed to them, I put my opinions above those of the Church.  That means, without my having analyzed it as such, that I put myself above the Church and thus above God.  Luckily, my ignorance began to bother me enough to overcome such sloth.  Now, if the Church tells me to jump, I just want to know how high.  Once I took the time to know my faith, I learned that the Bible calls the Catholic Church, “the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).  No one has ever bestowed that title on me.  Therefore, I look to the Church to form all my opinions so they are Catholic opinions.  It’s not just a matter of rules or facts, but it’s a matter of knowing them to increase our understanding and to further our relationship with God.  We can’t say we have a relationship with God but ignore his truths and what he has to give to us.

So, getting back to the symbolic sloth as a pet, if one cannot expect to be a real pet owner without real responsibilities attached, then so much more one cannot expect to be a real Catholic without the responsibilities.  Living the Catholic life means knowing the teachings and following them.

If you want a pet without responsibility, you should get a stuffed animal — a pretend animal.  If you want to be a Catholic without responsibility — well, then you will be a pretend Catholic.

Patti Maguire Armstrong


Patti Maguire Armstrong and her husband have ten children. She is an award-winning author and was managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’s Amazing Grace Series. She has appeared on TV and radio stations across the country.  Her latest books, Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families and children’s book, Dear God, I Don’t Get It are both available now. To read more, visit Patti’s Catholic News and Inspiration site. Follow her on Facebook at Big Hearted Families and Dear God Books.

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  • waynergf

    A most excellent article with a different perspective on a common failing. Thanks! 🙂

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  • Great post! Love the author, literally;). Sometimes when it is hard when we have so much to realize it is a burden rather than a blessing too.

  • Cheryl Dickow

    What I love about you, Patti, is that when I want to be a pretend Catholic–‘cuz I’m feeling a bit slothful–you never let me be! That is why it is important to make sure that along with being immersed in the Word and in the teachings of the Catholic Church, we are also making conscious choices to surround ourselves–buffer ourselves, if you will–by people who we can count on to keep us from those times where being a pretend Catholic seems a bit appealing.

    And who doesn’t love reading Mark’s posts on your articles?! Gotta love those Armstrong’s!