Bishop Hying

Salvation, success, fruitfulness usually all won or lost in the middle of the struggle

As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on May 14, 2017


       Acedia is an uncommon word that defines a common experience. Its Latin and Greek antecedents mean “negligence” and “lack of care.”  The definition is “a state of listlessness or torpor, of not caring or not being concerned with one’s position or condition in the world.  (Acedia) can lead to a state of being unable to perform one’s duties in life. Its spiritual overtones make it related to, but distinct from depression.”  

       Linked to boredom, lukewarmness and apathy, acedia can particularly overwhelm us in our spiritual practice and pastoral ministry.

       We all go through times when we feel like the weather on most days - partly cloudy. Nothing very interesting is occurring in our busy lives. The regular rhythm of work, cooking, driving children to sports events and juggling the schedule consumes our days. Marriage and parenthood are okay, but not that exciting. 

       We go to Mass on Sunday, but don’t really feel anything. Someone asks us what the homily was about and we can’t remember. We try to pray, but distractions and boredom lead us to give up. Life is this grey monotony, and we are just kind of there, going through the motions.

       Monks in the early Church first articulated acedia as a spiritual problem. Long days and years of solitude, prayer, work and silence as cloistered religious or hermits led many to go through very dry and dark nights of the soul, when all of their efforts to follow the religious life seemed useless and fruitless. 

       Called the “noonday devil,” acedia would eat away at a young monk or nun after the original enthusiasm and novelty of the life had worn off. St. Therese of Lisieux shared her experience of this phenomenon. 

       Fighting her way into the cloistered Carmelite convent at the idealistic age of 15, she expressed in her spiritual autobiography feelings of listlessness, boredom and struggle when the harsh reality of what she had gotten herself into started to sink in. 

       Priests, religious, deacons and lay ministers are probably more prone to acedia in its spiritual context.  Preaching, celebrating the sacraments, praying the Liturgy of the Hours, leading others in prayer and faith formation on a constant basis can desensitize us to the holiness and grace of our ministry.

       Leading the 47th youth retreat, offering the 3rd Mass of the day, praying the same Psalms for 36 years, preaching your 48th Christmas homily can all be challenging. How do we keep it fresh, interesting and alive?

       My favorite Station of the Cross is the seventh: Jesus falls the second time. Not the most dramatic or emotional station, this moment occurs when Jesus is smack dab in the middle of the road to Calvary.  Having none of the little energy he may have had at the beginning of his climb, and still far from the top of the hill, Christ falls down. 

       I always meditate at this station on how difficult it is to be in the middle - the middle of a marriage, a project, a school year, a religious vocation, a basketball game.  Anybody can start something, and when the end is in sight, it is easy to muster the energy to finish, but the tough part comes in the middle. 

       Salvation, success, victory, fruitfulness are usually all won or lost in the middle of the struggle.

       So what are the antidotes to acedia?

       All I know is what works for me. When I feel listless or distracted, I try to focus on the present moment and what I am currently doing. I try to celebrate every confirmation as if it is the first one. I try to offer every Mass as a fresh encounter with the Lord in this time and place. 

       Sometimes, I just need to rest, take a break, go work out or do something totally different in order to gain a fresh perspective. Talking to a good friend always helps. Other times, I just have to slog through the greyness that envelops me, trusting it will eventually lift as it always has. 

       I remind myself that if I don’t feel God’s presence, the change is in me, not in him. Even on the darkest of days, the sun is still shining behind the clouds. I have fleeting moments of acedia. I pray for those for whom the clouds never seem to lift. Such a dark night is a tough battle.

       As we move closer to our diocesan synod,  I pray that the Holy Spirit will move and shake all of us, so that any cynicism, torpor, boredom, hurt, indifference, sadness, laziness, tepidity, lack of zeal or passion, anger or despair that afflict us, in especially our pastoral leaders, will be lifted and burned away, just like the rising sun burns off the fog and mist in the early morning. 

       In the big scheme of eternity, Christ’s crucified wounds are fresh, the resurrection just happened, Pentecost is still exploding and the Church is young. As St. Paul urges us, let’s throw off the darkness and embrace the Eternal Day whose burning rays warm our hearts. 

       God calls us to bold action and daring visions!


       + Donald J. Hying

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