· Vatican City ·

In his weekly catechesis the Holy Father reflects on vice of acedia

Overcoming the demon that destroys the joy of the here and now

 Overcoming the demon that destroys the joy of the here and now  ING-007
16 February 2024

At the General Audience, on Wednesday morning, 14 February, Pope Francis continued his series of catecheses on vices and virtues, this time reflecting on the vice of acedia, commonly referred to as sloth. This vice, he told the faithful gathered in the Paul vi Hall, is like a demon that wants to destroy the simple joy of the here and now. After giving his catechesis, the Pope extended a special greeting to 95-year-old Cardinal Ernest Simoni, who was imprisoned by the Communist regime in Albania for 28 years. The Pope thanked him for his steadfast witness to the faith. The following is a translation of the Holy Father’s words which he delivered in Italian.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Among all the capital sins, there is one that is often overlooked, perhaps because of its name, which is often incomprehensible to many: I am talking about acedia. This is why the term acedia is often substituted by another in the list of vices, one which is much more commonly used: sloth, or laziness. In reality, laziness is more an effect than a cause. When people are idle, indolent, apathetic, we say they are lazy. But as the wisdom of the ancient Desert Fathers teaches us, the root of this laziness is often acedia, which literally means “lack of care”, in Greek.

It is a very dangerous temptation, which one must not joke about. It is as though those who fall victim to it are crushed by a desire for death: they feel disgust at everything. Their relationship with God becomes boring to them, and even the holiest acts, those that used to warm their hearts in the past, now appear entirely useless to them. A person begins to regret the passing of time, and the youth that is irretrievably behind them.

Acedia is defined as the “noonday devil”: it grips us in the middle of the day, when fatigue is at its peak and the hours ahead of us seem monotonous, impossible to live. In a famous description, the monk Evagrius represents this temptation thus: “The eye of the slothful person is continually fixed on the windows, and in his mind he fantasizes about visitors [...] When he reads, the slothful person often yawns and is easily overcome by sleep, wrinkles his eyes, rubs his hands and, withdrawing his eyes from the book, stares at the wall; then turning them back to the book, he reads a little more [...]; finally, bowing his head, he places the book underneath it, and falls into a light sleep, until hunger awakens him and urges him to attend to his needs”; in conclusion, “the slothful man does not do God’s work with solicitude”1.

Contemporary readers perceive in these descriptions something that closely recalls the evil of depression, both from a psychological and a philosophical point of view. Indeed, for those who are gripped by acedia, life loses its significance, prayer becomes boring, and every battle seems meaningless. If in youth we nurtured passions, now they seem illogical, dreams that did not make us happy. So, we let ourselves go, and distraction, thoughtlessness, seem to be the only ways out: one would like to be numb, to have a completely empty mind. It is a little like dying in advance, and it is ugly.

Faced with this vice, which we recognize to be very dangerous, the masters of spirituality provide various remedies. I would like to note one that to me seems most important, and which I would call the patience of faith. Although in the clutches of acedia, man’s desire is to be “elsewhere”, to escape from reality, one must instead have the courage to remain and to welcome God’s presence in the “here and now”, in my situation as it is. Monks say that for them the cell is the best teacher of life, because it is the place that concretely and daily speaks to you of your love story with the Lord. The demon of acedia wants to destroy precisely this simple joy of the here and now, this grateful wonder of reality. It wants to make you believe that it is all in vain, that nothing has meaning, that it is not worth taking care of anything or anyone. In life we meet slothful people, people about whom we say, “He is boring!”, and we do not like to be with them; people who even have an attitude of boredom that is infectious. This is acedia.

How many people, in the grip of acedia, stirred by a faceless restlessness, have stupidly abandoned the good life they had embarked upon! The battle of acedia is a decisive one, that must be won at all costs. And it is a battle that did not spare even the saints, because in many of their diaries there are some pages that confide terrible moments, of genuine nights of the faith, when everything appears dark. These saints teach us to get through the night in patience, accepting the poverty of faith. They recommended, under the oppression of acedia, to maintain a smaller measure of commitment, to set goals more within reach, but at the same time to endure and persevere by leaning on Jesus, who never abandons us in temptation.

Faith, tormented by the test of acedia, does not lose its value. On the contrary, it is the true faith, the very human faith, which despite everything, despite the darkness that blinds it, still humbly believes. It is that faith that remains in the heart, like embers beneath the ashes. It always remains. And if one of us falls prey to this vice, or to the temptation of acedia, try to look within and fan the embers of faith; that is how we keep going.

Special Greetings

I extend a warm welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, especially the groups from England, Wales, Nigeria, Korea and the United States of America. As we begin this season of Lent, I invoke upon all of you the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ. God bless you!

We have all read and heard the stories of the first martyrs of the Church. They were many. Here, where the Vatican now stands, there is a cemetery, and many of those who were killed are buried here. Digging, one finds many tombs. But today too there are many martyrs across the world. Many, perhaps more than at the beginning. Many are persecuted for the faith. And today allow me to greet, in a special way, a “living martyr”, Cardinal Simoni. As a priest, as a bishop, he spent 28 years in prison, in the prisons of communist Albania, perhaps the most cruel of persecutions. And he continues to bear witness. And like him, there are also many, many others. He is now 95 years old and he continues to work for the Church, without becoming discouraged. Dear brother, I thank you for your witness. Thank you.

Lastly, my thoughts turn to young people, to the elderly, to the sick and to newlyweds. Lent begins today. Let us prepare ourselves to experience this time as an opportunity for conversion and inner renewal, in listening to the Word of God, and in caring for our brothers and sisters who are most in need. And let us never forget tormented Ukraine, Palestine and Israel, which are all suffering a great deal. Let us pray for these brothers and sisters of ours who are suffering due to war. Let us move forward in the process of conversion, in listening to the Word of God, in caring for our brothers and sisters in need; and let us move forward in intensifying our prayers, especially to ask for peace in the world.

I offer my blessing to all of you!

1Cf.   Evagrius Ponticus, The Eight Spirits of Evil, 14.