Today we will talk about the capital vices of anger (or wrath) and sloth, and their corresponding virtues. First of all, it is important to understand that anger in and of itself is a natural passion that we all have. It’s not inherently a bad thing – at least initially. Anger should be what drives us to act when there is an injustice or wrong-doing that has occurred. The emotion is not necessarily a bad thing. The vice or sin of anger, on the other hand, is when one harbors anger or resentment, allowing it to fester – and when anger gets to this point, then it can even lead one to harmful actions. Dealing with anger to the point where it festers and becomes sinful is something with which a lot of us struggle. First of all, when we feel anger or resentment toward another person, if it is at all possible (and sometimes it is not), we must confront the person, motivated by charity (desiring what is ultimately good for them and that there is justice done) and give them the chance to explain or defend themselves, or to even apologize if there has been a misunderstanding. Many of us harbor anger or resentment toward another person for a long time without even doing this first and most important step.
The other thing to keep in mind when dealing with anger is that secretly, deep down inside, we like holding onto it. That is because it feeds into our pride. We may think to ourselves, “How dare this person do this to me!” – as if we were the only person to experience some injustice or offense. Finally, we should also try in some way to identify with the person who has hurt us. Put yourself into their shoes. Imagine the challenges that they have experienced in their life that may have led to their sin, and recall the fact that they, just like us, desire what is good and to be happy, but for whatever reason, just like us at times, they choose poorly.
How do we work against the vice of anger? We try to develop the virtue of meekness. It’s important to understand that meekness is not the same as weakness, or being soft and letting people walk all over you. Meekness is having self-control that is inspired by God’s mercy, which allows us to master our emotions when we are attacked or wronged. So, motivated by God’s mercy and patience with ourselves, we are able to control our tendency to harbor resentment or to fly off the handle.
Now for something on sloth, or spiritual laziness. With this vice, many people think of one just sitting around doing nothing or being unproductive, but it’s a bit more complex than that. Often, we can stay busy most of the time, but we don’t always do the things that we should do. Instead, we put the things we should do off for later. We might be staying busy so that we have an excuse – and we can even deceive ourselves with this! Sloth is not making it a priority to do what we should do, or change what we should change in ourselves. This might also be called apathy, which means a lacking of feeling. First and foremost, this vice concerns our spiritual life. On the one hand, it might concern the person who tends to neglect their Sunday Mass obligation – either sleeping in, or being on vacation, or just being “busy” with other things. On the other hand, it concerns our other spiritual duties: not taking time to pray, or to read the Scriptures, or to do some other spiritual reading, or to continue to educate ourselves in our Faith. Sloth can also manifest itself in other parts of our life. It could be keeping ourselves so busy with work or other activities that we neglect to spend time with our spouse or our children.
How do we work against the vice of sloth? By exercising the virtue of diligence. Diligence is an eagerness to do what is needed, inspired by the zeal of God’s love, which makes even a difficult task achievable. If we pray and take part in the sacraments, we are availing ourselves to knowing and experiencing God’s love and mercy. Those things should motivate and drive us on to live out our Christian vocation faithfully.