The Temptation of Sloth

(Homily for First Sunday of Lent, Year A)

On this First Sunday of Lent we hear about temptations: those of our first parents and those of Christ. The Christian tradition understands them as temptations to pride, that is, self-exaltation or self-conceit. According to Genesis, the first couple rebelled against their status as creatures, desiring to become “like the gods.” By falling into that trap, Adam and Eve set the stage for human history, with its sad record of deception, revenge - and baffling stupidity. Individual humans have occasionally avoided the trap, but only one man consistently withstood the temptations. In doing so, he brought something new into human history.*

Christian authors, such as Augustine, Dante and C.S. Lewis have written brilliantly about the temptations. They agree that pride is the head and source of all other sins. Nevertheless, it is not the only capital sin. I would like to focus on a sinful tendency which plagues modern society. Many people avoid pride (or at least the appearance of pride) by falling into sloth. At first glance it seems like sloth or laziness is the last thing we have to worry about – everyone is so busy and no one seems to have much time at all. However, busy-ness can mask sloth.

Let me give a personal example. Once my niece had put me in charge of her four-year-old son while she ran an errand. I was not in the mood to converse with him or to engage in some activity like reading a story or helping him color a picture. All of sudden, the thought struck me that the dishwasher needed to be unloaded. It is one of the things I least enjoy doing, but I did it, leaving my grand-nephew to find something to do on his own. Anyone who came in might have thought I was being very ambitious – especially if they knew how I normally shied from that task. But the fact is I was being lazy. I had fallen into sloth – because I was avoiding what I really should have been doing: interacting with my grand-nephew.

Now, I hope the other guys here are better uncles than I, but I offer the example to illustrate what is behind a lot of our activity – or hyper-activity. We sometimes invent reasons for doing things, not because we enjoy the activities, but because they keeps us from facing something we are even more afraid of. Writing about sloth, Dorothy L. Sayers observed:

“It is one of the favorite tricks of this sin to dissemble itself under cover of whiffling activity of body. We think that if we are busily rushing about and doing things, we cannot be suffering from sloth.”

She then goes on to describe how other sins – gluttony, covetousness, envy, wrath and lust – all provide “a cloak for sloth.” (See The Other Six Deadly Sins, an article in The Whimsical Christian.)

The devil tempted the first woman by the sin of pride (“you shall be like the gods”) but it seems that the man’s original sin was sloth. For whatever reason, he was not where he belonged – at the side of his wife, caring for her and protecting her. He may have been gathering food or taming animals or even laying somewhere developing the first philosophy of life. He may have been busy about a hundred things, but he was not doing the one thing required of him at that moment.** He was like me ignoring my grand-nephew. A case can be made that he had fallen into the sin of sloth. It is certainly the besetting sin of men since that day. Once again, Dorothy L. Sayers hits the target:

“In the world sloth calls itself tolerance; but in hell it is called despair. It is the accomplice of every other sin and their worst punishment. It is the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, loves nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing and remains alive only because there is nothing it would die for. We have known it far to well for many years. The only thing perhaps that we have not known about it is that is a mortal sin.”

In that paragraph Miss Sayers describes why the secular West is shrivelling. Today’s Gospel indicates the one way out of this pit. By resisting the devil's temptations, Jesus vanquished the sin of sloth. On the surface, forty days and forty nights in the desert might seem an extravagant waste of time, but it was time well spent. Jesus was exactly where his Father required him to be. During those days he relinquished even the most normal activity – eating. His human flesh cried out for food. The three temptations offered him a ‘quick fix,” and easy way out, but Jesus resisted each one.

Jesus alone overcame the sin of sloth. In doing so, he showed us the way out of despair. Our human nature and human history do not give us a way out – but Jesus does. In today’s second reading St. Paul expresses it this way: “through one transgression condemnation came upon all, so through one righteous act, acquittal and life came to all.”


*The Virgin Mary is also sinless, although not on her own power, but because of divine grace given through Christ.

**Dr. Scott Hahn argues that fear held Adam back.

Spanish Version

Final Version

From Archives (Year A homilies for First Sunday of Lent):
Prayer and Spiritual Combat Week 1 (2014)
The Purpose of Temptation (2011)
The Devil is a Logician (2008)
The Temptation of Sloth (2005)
First Signs of Spring (2002)
Original Sin & Temptation (1999)

Complete List of Homilies for First Sunday of Lent ("Temptation Sunday"):

2014: Prayer and Spiritual Combat Week 1
2013: Do Not Talk to the Devil
2012: The Covenant with Noah Today
2011: The Purpose of Temptation
2010: Who Is Like God?
2009: Knee Mail
2008: The Devil is a Logician
2007: More Powerful than Satan
2006: Sir, Go on the Other Side
2005: The Temptation of Sloth
2004: Temptation of Spirituality
2003: Lent with C.S. Lewis
2002: First Signs of Spring
2001: How Satan Operates
2000: The Rabbit's Foot
1999: Original Sin & Temptation
1998: Hidden Sin of Gluttony
1997: Jesus' Temptation & Ours

Ash Wednesday homilies:

The Purpose of Lent
Two Cheers for Catholic Guilt
Don't Waste This Crisis
When You Give Alms
Back to the Basics
Dealing With Guilt
Exercise of Holy Desire

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Sunday Homilies

Audio Files of Homilies

Podcasts of homilies (website of my niece, Sara)

Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.

Bulletin (Five Million Mark, Walk to St. James, Valentine's Day)


Father John Corapi, SOLT, will again be at Holy Family on February 18th and 19th. To register for his conference, please fill out the registration form, and return it to the parish office. For more information please contact Tony Ritchie at (206) 244-1310.

Click here to view a message from Fr. Corapi regarding the topics of his talks.

How Daily Kos views God (and puts Evangelicals in their place)

From Scrappleface: NY Judge Bans Heterosexual Marriage

Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby" Euthanasia Plot Offends Disabled

From Amy:

An aspiring mother's fertilized egg mistakenly discarded by a fertility clinic was legally a "human being," a Cook County judge ruled Friday, clearing the way for a Chicago couple to file a wrongful-death suit.

Phoenix Bishop says that scandal may return a healthy sense of sin

my bulletin column

Parish Picture Album

Separated at birth? (March 2011)

40 Days for Life (Everett, WA)

Q&A about Planned Parenthood

Archbishop Dolan: Letting Crisis Pregnancy Centers Do Their Work



(A child in Peru who needs your help)

Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)

Parish Picture Album

MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru