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Battling Acedia

Battling Acedia

Anxiety, depression, listlessness, sloth, apathy—those are just a few of the emotions I’ve experienced the last year. Let’s face it, 2020 was rough and the pessimist in me is feeling 2021 doesn’t look much better. Sitting and stewing in negative emotions is not where we should be and certainly will not change the world around us. What is a faithful Catholic to do? If you have heard of Saint Benedict’s motto: Ora et Labora (pray and work), what I propose below will seem fairly familiar and may assist in overcoming the malaise of 2020.

It is proved by experience that a fit of acedia should not be evaded by running away from it, but overcome by resisting it.

Saint John Cassian

Physical Health

The “Covid-19” weight gain may be something we all joke about, but I have been truly guilty of neglecting my health the last several months. One way for us to combat lethargy and malaise is to take care of our physical health. I’m not proposing we all go on strict diets and start exercising like maniacs, but I am encouraging us all to take a look at how we are neglecting our health by eating poorly and by not moving our bodies in some way. It is a medical fact that physical health is very closely linked to mental health. For a good start, try cutting sugar, alcohol, and processed foods out of your diet and make sure you’re eating nutritiously dense foods including plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Make sure you are staying adequately hydrated (think 8 glasses of water each day).

Very few of us are employed in manual labor as Saint Benedict’s monks would have been in his day, but physical activity is an integral part of physical health. Move your body. Start slow and easy if you’ve been neglecting regular exercise. I count a good house cleaning or weeding in the garden as being physically active. Grab a friend, a child, or your spouse and go for a walk. Getting your activity out of doors is a huge plus as adequate “sunny” vitamin D is also linked to improved mood.

Idleness is the enemy of the soul; and therefore the brethren ought to be employed in manual labor at certain times, at others, in devout reading.

Saint Benedict of Nursia

Intellectual Health

Mindlessly scrolling through social media, bingeing on Netflix, anxiously watching or reading alarming news accounts can all be huge contributors to general torpor. Set time limits for yourself or avoid these activities altogether and instead focus on something that will improve your mind. In his holy rule, Saint Benedict encouraged his monks to read selections from the Holy Fathers to grow in virtue and knowledge. Read a great book, play games with your family, work on brain teasers or puzzles, learn a new skill; anything that takes you out of yourself and causes you to engage your brain in a more challenging activity. Cultivating an intellectual life will be time well spent leading to much less time scrolling mindlessly through social media.

Spiritual Health

Acedia is primarily an issue of the spirit. Squandered time and can rob us of hope and joy. This is where the battle is most importantly focused. If you’ve been struggling or have given in to listlessness take it to confession as soon as possible. Repenting of the sin of sloth is probably the most important step in overcoming acedia. Next, you must take active steps to combat this sin in your spiritual life.

Pray for guidance and help from the Holy Spirit. Start spending more time in deliberate silence, prayer, and spiritual reading. Set a goal of devoting an hour a day in prayer and/or spiritual reading. Divide that time into reasonable parts throughout the day. Try to cover the ACTS of prayer: adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, and supplication. Read from the Bible everyday. The readings from daily Mass are a great place to start. Read encouraging and good spiritual works that will help you grow in holiness. 

Anxiety is the greatest evil that can befall a soul except sin.  God commands you to pray, but He forbids you to worry.

Saint Francis de Sales

Three Hours

We are given the gift of 24 hours each day. What are we spending those hours on? Obviously, adequate sleep is important, but are we making the most out our waking hours? It may seem pretty difficult to devote an hour a day to each of the three: physical labor, education, and spiritual works. We are a busy people but it is not completely impossible. Start with a shorter length of time for each or combine two. You might listen to a podcast or pray while you exercise or clean the house, for example. The world seems to be in a real downward spiral. If we do not pull ourselves out, how can we ever hope to change it for the better? Called to evangelize the world, it is time to cast aside our inactivity, pull up our sleeves and get to work. Who’s with me?

Resources:

How Mental Health and Physical Health are Linked

How Fit Are You?

The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had

Daily Bible Reading with the Church (takes you through the entire Bible in 2 years)

USCCB Daily Readings

Divine Intimacy

The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Imitation of Christ

Sayings of the Desert Fathers

An Introduction to the Devout Life

The Noonday Devil: Acedia, the Unnamed Evil of Our Times (ebook)