Grace: For light to see the disorder of tepidity in my life and to be disgusted by it, to seek forgiveness for it, and the grace to amend it.
Text for Prayer: 1 John 2:1-11
Reflection: It is part of our human nature to get into habits. What exactly is a habit? A habit is an established disposition to act in a certain way by repeated choices of the will; it is a direction we freely choose by repetition. This makes habits both real work to establish and (the bad ones) difficult to break.
Our contemporary society has not lost touch with the idea of habit. Unfortunately, the negative habits we often hear about today do not touch on the most important realities. While not bad in themselves, these messages often focus on, for example, diet, exercise, or business success. True, it takes good habits to act well in these areas of life; but if it is true for them, how much more true it is for the spiritual life! I once heard someone comment, “I know people who will work harder to loose weight than to get out of their sins!” Even though this comment summarizes the culture by which we are surrounded and by which we are all affected, we can still choose to stir our generosity and reflect on habits in our spiritual life.
All along the spiritual life we are engaged in the work of breaking sinful habits, whether mortal or venial, and building virtuous ones. So we try to grow in holiness. Yet, no matter where we are along the spiritual path, the danger of growing slack in our effort looms. This slackening we call tepidity or luke-warmness. It happens that when we become distracted with other concerns or are simply negligent about our fidelity to God, tepidity begins to take hold. In fact, because these sinful ways become habituated, we often do not even consciously think of them when we act!
Tepidity is a state of soul, a losing of the firm commitment to shedding sin and moving toward God. While tepid souls may avoid obvious sins, they miss many opportunities to serve the King and cooperate with the will of God. They are sluggish in their disposition, especially regarding spiritual exercises – prone to shorten prayer, give into distractions at it, or even forgo it altogether. (It is important to remember that having distractions in prayer is not sinful, but giving in to them.) They are remiss in their duties, and forget that the fulfillment of the duties of their state of life is according to the will of God.
The tepid soul is self-indulgent, diminishing in self-control, mortification, and self-sacrifice for the good of others. There is a desire to avoid the loss, even if slight, that the real love of Christ demands in our lives, in situations big or small. Tepidity draws souls away from God’s will manifest in the moment and into themselves.
It may be useful to think of tepidity as a loss of love. For we can approach God as one who loves Him and seeks to do all that is possible for the beloved, or we can approach God with disinterest and as one for whom doing the minimum required is enough. The trick with tepidity, though, is that it leads very easily into sin. St. John warns in the book of Revelation, “Yet I hold this against you: you have lost the love you had at first. Realize how far you have fallen. Repent and do the works you did at first” (Rev 2:4-5b).
As all of us are moving out of sin and toward God, it is important to be aware of this dangerous spiritual habit and its creeping closeness. Unless we are vigilant tepidity is the enemy which can sneak up on us before we know it.
To resist tepidity requires a firmness of will, a perseverance which God gives and for which we must ask. A humble and discreet zeal, which is willing to serve God in whatever way He asks of us through the circumstances of life He provides, is our greatest weapon. This charity, combined with the help of the daily Examination of Conscience in order to see the patterns of our own choices more clearly, strengthens us to persevere. In short, to fight tepidity requires the generosity of love rekindled daily.
To close, a small quote from last year’s post on this topic which summarizes the essence of tepidity so well.
“If God does not entirely fill our hearts, we will seek to fill it with worldly pleasures. We must see tepidity for the cruel tyrant that it is. We must learn to hate this sin in us that constantly chips away at the spiritual progress that we have made with the help of God in the past.”
Prayer: Let me first ask the Lord for an ever-increasing hatred of my sins and my so often offending Him. Then let me ask Our Lord for understanding of the nature of tepidity and its opposition to love and our eternal good. What are my most significant spiritual habits? What is the general disposition of my soul toward God at this time?
I ask Our Lord to help me feel the disorder of my own life and my ordinary sins and failures, how they are rooted in a lack of order, of self-control, of generosity, of pure intention. Rather, I can be rooted in self-indulgence, fear, and complacency. How am I most easily led astray from the road to God? Do any of these habits have a real hold on me?
Finally, let me ask our Lord for insight into how the world and our culture affect me – how they can draw me away from authentic Christian love and cause me to love myself more than God. In what ways am I most distracted by the world? To which temptations of our culture am I most weak? Do I really love God above all things?