Using Prayer to Fight Acedia, the Noonday Devil
“Can you vacuum before I get home?”
I was 15. The rest of my family was heading out for a few hours and I was left home alone to enjoy a quiet house, just me and the dog. My mom left one task for me to do while she was away, vacuum.
I should have dragged the vacuum out of the closet right when she closed the door. But I didn’t.
I snacked on what I could find in the pantry, I watched an episode of Glee (this was 2009), I texted some friends, I worked on memorizing my speech (I was on the speech team).
Two hours flew by and I got a text: “Hey! We’re on our way home!”
I sprang into action, realizing I had failed to do the one thing my mom had asked me to do. I picked up the rugs, grabbed the vacuum and proceeded to shoddily vacuum the main living spaces.
It was a terrible job. And I just barely got the vacuum into the closet and rugs back on the floor before my family pulled into the garage.
I know I’m not alone in this moment of sloth. Many of us have procrastinated, doing other things in order to avoid the one thing that we know we are supposed to be doing.
What is Acedia?
Everyone has struggled with Acedia, or “the noonday devil” at some point in their lives. It’s a universal feeling we have, despite not necessarily knowing what it is called.
St. Thomas Aquinas gives two definitions of acedia in his Summa theologiae: “sadness about spiritual good” and “disgust with activity.”
I’m reminded of Scarlett O’Hara’s line in Gone with the Wind: “Fiddle-dee-dee. I’ll think of that tomorrow.”
Acedia strikes when you are idle or bored.
You may think that you are being productive. You skim the other items in your checklist and complete those tasks, instead of that one thing that you know you have to do.
You know that you should sit down and open the scripture. You want to get into a good habit of praying the Rosary.
But there are dishes in the sink. Your kid’s closet needs to be organized. Your wife has asked you a million times to tighten the nobs of the cabinets. Prayer can wait.
Sometimes, this idleness stretches a man’s whole life, “I’ll have time to go to Mass later.”
But pause. Why are you doing all these things in order to avoid time for Christ your soul is longing for?
How to fight Acedia
If you can name it, you have power over it.
Dive into more of the Church’s resources on Acedia and know your enemy. Learn how to recognize it when it strikes and how to react when it does.
I highly recommend The Noonday Devil: Acedia, the Unnamed Evil of Our Times By Dom Jean-Charles Nault. There are also a ton of free resources from trusted Catholic Apostolates online.
Remember Your Death.
Tomorrow is not promised.
Heaven forbid you were to lose your life and be before your Savior, having to explain why you simply “didn’t have time” to know him.
It can be sobering to think of your death. But we are reminded each Ash Wednesday to “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
We are called to constantly reflect on how tomorrow is never promised and adjust our behavior accordingly.
You know yourself. You know when you are prone to be lazy and idle.
Rest is not a bad thing. But avoiding what you know you ought to be doing is.
Set reminders on your phone or with your Alexa/Google Home assistant for those times of day to drop what you are doing and fall on your knees to pray.
Schedule time in your calendar to spend time with the Lord.
Fr. Michael Scanlon, TOR, who was president of Franciscan University of Steubenville for 26 years made a daily appointment in the middle of the day in his appointment book to spend time with Jesus.
His secretary knew to never schedule a meeting, even with the most important donors and university alumni during that time. He wouldn’t have broken it to see the Pope.
This practice takes a lot of self-discipline on your part. But you will thank yourself later.
This one is a given. But it’s the hardest of the tips to achieve when in the midst of acedia.
We can come up with every excuse in the book to not pray.
“I don’t know what to say” - Start with an Our Father, the prayer that Jesus gave us for moments like that.
“I don’t know how” - That’s okay. St. Josemaria Escriva advises us to “put yourself in the presence of God and once you have said, ‘Lord, I don’t know how to pray!’ rest assured that you have begun to do so.”
“I’m too tired/too busy to pray” - I hate to pull this card, but so were the apostles the night before Jesus’ crucifixion. Judas was off tending to business and the rest of the apostles were asleep. Jesus asked them to pray for strength and grace for the events that were about to happen. And all but one of them failed him.
“Prayer doesn’t work” - We live in a culture that demands instant gratification, but that is not how the Lord wants to work. He’s not a vending machine. He’s not Amazon Prime. God hears us. Trust. He’s working. He’s always working.
Whenever you feel the grip of Acedia take a moment to name it, remember your death and pray. God wants to help you break through and move past this very human feeling. And if your mom asks you to vacuum, try not to wait until the last second to do it.