There is an ancient demon who the early Christians numbered among the most deadly: Acedia. It is a spirit not often spoken about…and he prefers it that way. This is the demon who specializes in mediocrity and comfort. His goal is to make sure we never progress in the spiritual life and fail to achieve the greatness for which we are created. St. Thomas Aquinas defines acedia as “sorrow about spiritual good.” In other words, it is a laziness and sadness that rises up in the human heart when they recognize their responsibility to become a saint. To put it another way, acedia is the demon that whispers in our ear, “That’s too hard” or “Someone like you could never be holy.” There are two main ways the demon of Acedia immobilizes us. First, by dredging up sins from our past so as to make us ashamed and resentful. Acedia is constantly reminding us of how we messed up in high school or colleges; all the mortal sins we committed and the stupid mistakes we made. The other weapon in his arsenal is to make us unnecessarily anxious about future events. Our minds become consumed with concerns about things that have not happened: “What if my son grows up and gets in trouble?” “What if people find out what I have done?” “What if I do not get that job I applied for?” “What if my spouse cheats on me?” “What if…What if…What if…” We can spend hours trapped in our minds wasting energy worrying about things that are not even real. These mental gymnastics make us mentally and spiritually fatigued leading to exhaustion and irritability. But acedia is not done yet. After he has tempted us with shame about our past or anxiety about our future, he then offers an escape. This escape can take many forms: technology, Netflix binges, social media, pornography, alcohol, drugs, career…Acedia offers all of these things as a means of medicating our wounds, lack of self-worth and fears. In the end, we are left empty as we return to the thoughts we tried to avoid and the cycle starts all over again. Some people remain trapped in this mindset for years never really maturing or progressing in the intellectual or spiritual life. One final note about the demon of acedia is that he will do all in his power to make us comfortable. In an attempt to keep us from realizing our vocation to sainthood, he will work hard to convince us that we are fine just as we are…there is no need to be challenged or converted. This is especially true in regards to our Catholic faith. The demon of acedia does not mind practicing Catholics, but he hates holy ones. He is content that you go to Mass every Sunday and confession twice a year. As long as you are going through the motions, he has won; you’re out of the game. People of routine are not a threat to Satan. It is the people who are striving to improve, learn and change that are most dangerous to the reign of evil. The best way to combat the demon of acedia is to avoid putting our faith on auto-pilot. We need to actively engage in Catholicism and constantly seek to grow. Only then can we become what the demon fears most…a saint.
The Seven Deadly Sins: Acedia