I’ve had an extraordinarily good year. By any rational standard, every year of my life has been good, but this year in particular I have experienced a measure of personal and professional success that has been, to say the least, deeply gratifying.
I took this matter to God in prayer because I realized I was wondering – “Why me, God? What have I done to deserve this?” To my surprise, the answer that seemed to resonate within me was that, quite possibly, it was because I was open to receiving all God has in mind for me. This intrigued me, that being open to receiving made me more likely to receive, so I considered it further.
Rejected Blessings and Acedia
It is a strange concept, to think that anyone would ever reject a blessing. I came across a take on this in a recent article by Jim Schroeder called, “Is it possible that you’re refusing the joy God is offering you?” In the article, I came across a term I have seen several times in the past few years. The word is “acedia” and it is arguably one of the lesser known sins.
Acedia is typically defined as sloth or laziness. A commonly-referenced work on the concept is Dom Jean-Charles Nault’s The Noonday Devil: Acedia, the Unnamed Evil of Our Time. Fr. Paul Scalia referenced this book in a talk he gave to the Diocese of Arlington. He explained that, rather than a noonday devil, he found acedia to be about a 3 PM devil that crept in during that time of day when lunch has been over for a while, and the end of the work day is close. During this time we are bored and feel it is a perfect time to waste a few minutes (hours?) on Facebook.
But Acedia is more than laziness, it is a form of detachment that allows one to slip out of one’s own control. Alternatively, acedia can manifest as a meaningless “busyness;” a schedule full of brunches and happy hours with no real substance. It is only natural then that the fruits of this sin are not just boredom, loneliness, and self-pity, but also depression and anxiety.
As Schroeder notes, acedia is defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as going “so far as to refuse the joy that comes from God, and to be repelled by divine goodness,” (CCC 2094). This corresponds to the idea that all moments of life in the present are indeed given to us as a gift from God. We are able to reject the blessing of the present moment by giving away our inner spark – the thing that animates us, our true identity in Christ – by choosing to detach.
Acedia in the Modern World
I wonder if this recent resurgence of interest in understanding acedia has to do with how virtual our daily life has become, and how it allows one to disengage while still feeling fully engaged. Watching a cooking show substitutes for cooking dinner, a happy birthday post on a Facebook wall substitutes for a phone call, and a dating app keeps you from leaving your apartment to meet your true love. We are offered an endless array of opportunities to “try” new things, without really experiencing them physically and in the absolute present.
Afraid of Blessings
Acedia can also occur when we do not fully engage with life out of fear. We remain distant, not because we do not want blessings, but because we do not want to experience hardship. Sitting on the sidelines as a spectator is easier than getting involved and risking a loss. It is easier to be a critic than a struggling artist. It is easier to complain than to change your circumstances, and to never face failure, nor success.
The Defining Sin of Our Age
I would agree, then, that acedia really is the defining sin of our virtual age. A piece of this conversation that is missing, though, is how acedia relates specifically to the Christian’s inner life.
I believe a major part of why I spent most of my life (until my mid-20s) with little interest in the Catholic church was because I didn’t really see anyone living the faith. I experienced church once a week, however, we did not engage in any of the ministries and there was no hands-on feel to what the Church meant. It was a building, it was a ritual, and that was it. Sadly, I think this is the norm for most Catholics who attend Mass each week, which is good, but not enough. It is like we feel a hesitation to become a truly active part of the body of Christ. Do we fear the sacrifice that would entail or perhaps the drain on our very busy time? Or maybe we’re not prepared to stand out for unpopular reasons, to be different or look “uncool”?
It wasn’t until my mid-20s when I joined the Legion of Mary and participated in nursing home visitation, praying with strangers, and performing jail ministry that I finally understood what it means to be a Catholic. Our faith must be a living thing; it is our duty to live our baptism and therefore fulfill our purpose in life. That is what is so important and wonderful, that all are called to a lay vocation and that everyone has something to offer: the kind word to a stranger, the casserole for a new mother, the much-needed note of encouragement to a co-worker. This idea that every person has something to offer is at the heart of Legion of Mary philosophy, and truly it is at the heart of Catholic teaching. It is why we value life itself so highly, including the unborn, disabled, and elderly. Every single person, where they are, as God has created them, has something to offer. The world needs you.
There is fear, I know. Believe me, I never thought I’d be entering a jail, let alone talking about God with inmates. And yet I did, and it changed my life.
And truly, I believe that is part of why this year has been so good: because I went, and did, and tried, with full reliance on God, as a member of His church, without knowing the outcome, and prayed, “Your will be done.” By simply being open to what God wanted for me, the door was opened for so many blessings. Or perhaps I just got better at recognizing them.
A Beautiful Future Ahead
Even though I think I’ve had a good year, what is even more beautiful to remember is that I don’t know all of God’s plans for me yet, wonderful things that are waiting to be gifted according to His time. Have you ever thought about that for your own life? Rather than wondering what tragedy is next, have you taken time to wonder what incredible blessing could be waiting?
By the way, I have no fear of speaking casually of success without “knocking on wood;” what God has given me is certain today and if I lose it, or experience hardship, then that is part of His plan, too. I know that whatever talent I have is on loan from God and I can no more take credit for it than I can the color of my hair. So God gives, and He takes away, and what is more important is to know that through it all He will always be there. I do believe, also, that God meets us halfway, like Peter walking across the water. He fell, and Jesus caught him, and what mattered was that Peter tried.