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Voices Online Edition
VOICES - Vol. XX No. 3
Christmas 2005 - Epiphany 2006

Spiritual laziness may be ...
The Dominant Sin of Our Time

by Donald DeMarco

It may very well be that sloth is the dominant sin that has entered the Church, keeping countless Catholics from discovering, appreciating and benefiting from the richness of their religion. Sloth, of course, should not be equated with mere laziness. It is much more serious than that. It is the reluctance to be involved with --- or even disdain for -- anything that is spiritual.

As a teacher, I am particularly concerned about the critical need for students to read. Their almost universal reluctance to engage in this spiritual activity is ample testimony to the nearly ubiquitous presence of sloth. This discouraging reality was brought once again to my attention recently when my eldest son invited me to speak to members of his study group. The dozen students, who were hoping to learn something about John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body”, were lost. In the absence of a teacher and a text, they found themselves rudderless in a leaky boat. The one manual they shared emphasized group discussion. But without any real knowledge of their subject, they had nothing to say to each other. The situation was dire. It called for emergency measures.

I agreed to speak to the group and even to donate copies of a book I had written, The Integral Person in a Fractured World, which centers on the “Theology of the Body” and is dedicated to its esteemed author. My son, however, gave me a grim warning: “No one will read it!” I suggested that they be given a week prior to my arrival the Introduction and first chapter to read -- a total of ten pages. Don, Jr. was not optimistic. Apparently, these “students” had neither the time nor inclination to read anything. Yet, they aspired to learn about Pope John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body”. It all sounded very familiar and triggered memories of the slothful attitudes of my university students. “Where is the library?” one student asked me at the end of the course and the last time I saw him. “It is across the hallway”, I said, disconsolately.

George Weigel may be on to something. If Catholics are reluctant to read books, perhaps they will be more willing to read “letters”. So I read a passage to the study group from his 2004 book, Letters to a Young Catholic: “[I]n the first half of the twentieth century, perhaps as many as a hundred million human beings have paid with their lives for the consequences of some desperately defective ideas of who we are.”

This is a most startling statement. It must be very important, then, for we human beings to know who we are. The “total vision” of man, which is to say, an adequate “anthropology”, is vitally needed. Then, I read a passage from Humanae Vitae:

In considering the problem of birth regulation, as in the case of every other problem regarding human life, one must look beyond partial perspectives -- whether biological or psychological, demographic or sociological -- and make one’s consideration in the light of an integral vision of man and of his vocation, not only his natural and earthly vocation, but also his supernatural and eternal one.

This “integral” or “total vision” that Pope Paul VI speaks of is the very notion that moved John Paul II to produce his “Theology of the Body”: “We are children of an age in which, owing to the development of various disciplines, this total vision of man may easily be rejected and replaced by multiple partial conceptions. Dwelling on one or other aspect of the compositum humanum, these do not reach man’s integrum, or they leave it outside their own field of vision. Various cultural trends then take their place”.

Next, I read a passage from Weigel’s definitive biography of John Paul II, Witness to Hope, where the author refers to John Paul’s entire pontificate as “a one-act drama: involving the tension between various false humanisms that degrade the humanity they claim to defend and exalt, and the true humanism to which the biblical vision of the human person is a powerful witness”.

We look, then, to the Bible, a work distinguished from all other works by its complete immunity to political correctness, to begin our understanding of what it means to be a human being. The notions of human being and being human are not the same, though they are ontologically connected. All the drama of human life is contained in the question of whether a human being will choose being human as his proper mode of activity. Morality is simply a human being deciding to live in a way that is congruent with his nature, or deciding that being human is to be preferred over being inhuman.

If we want to know something about the truth of man, we need to do some serious thinking. It is so easy to fall for a partial truth that floats on the wind. It is easy because it requires no real thinking: a human being is simply an individual, or merely a part of the collective, or just a set of biological urges, or nothing more than a product of his culture, and so on. But to balance and integrate the paradoxes of body and soul, dust and divinity, masculinity and femininity, individuality and communality, reason and faith, time and eternity, to mention but a few, requires genuine thinking.

Real thinking is stimulated by the evidence of real thinking that is left to us in the form of good books. Reading good books, then, is essential if one wants to engage in serious thinking. People, all too often, imagine themselves “informed” when they do nothing more than watch TV and read the newspaper.

Sloth is maintained through complacency. It is the least detectable of the Seven Deadly Sins. By its own nature, it dams up the energy that is needed for is very recognition. How do we combat sloth? It is a problem that a motivated teacher must continually deal with in these spiritually sluggish times. He does have a great advantage, however, in knowing that reading is an adventure while sloth is a dead end.

My presentation of ninety minutes was well received. There were no dissenters. Everyone agreed that a “total vision” is better than a “partial vision”. That knowing who we are is better than remaining ignorant, that Church tradition is more reliable than popular trends.

We exchanged pleasantries and I hope (and even fancied) that the students went home more convinced than ever before not only that reading and thinking can be personally profitable, but that they are necessary for any conscientious Catholic who wants to live authentically and contribute meaningfully to today’s world.

Donald DeMarco is professor emeritus of philosophy at St. Jerome’s College in Waterloo, Ontario, and adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College & Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut. He is the author of many books, and co-author of Architects of the Culture of Death (Ignatius Press). He is a past contributor to Voices, and was a speaker at a WFF conference.

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