Tepidity is a serious danger that threatens those trying to lead good and pious lives. It is, indeed, a peculiar state of the soul. The Lord has given us abundant graces and inspirations and strength, and nevertheless our spiritual growth has remained stunted. And now grace seems to produce little or no effect in us. We have become like the fig-tree of the Gospel story, which Our Lord saw by the wayside. “He came to it and found nothing on it but leaves only. And He saith to it: May no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And immediately the fig-tree withered away”
It is a dreadful thought that there are so many souls who begin well and fervently and successfully to lead a spiritual life and then little by little, almost without noticing it, fall victims to tepidity. That man, that Christian, is tepid who is patient as long as he has nothing to suffer, who is meek and gentle as long as he is not contradicted, who is humble provided his reputation is not questioned in any way. That person is tepid who wishes to be a saint without paying the price in effort and self-denial, who wants to acquire virtue but without practicing mortification, who is willing to do many things but not to bear away the Kingdom of Heaven with violence (see Matt. 11:12). An inclination to omit, without very much reason, our practices of piety, our prayer, meditation, spiritual reading, or visits to the Blessed Sacrament indicates tepidity. Carelessness about the so-called little things, letting the daily opportunities of doing good pass by unheeded, coming to terms with venial sin and adopting the attitude that it is enough if we avoid mortal sin: all these are signs of tepidity.
A person cannot be reproached with being tepid on account of one single fault. Tepidity is rather a state, characterized by the fact that one, more or less deliberately, treats venial sin lightly. It is a state in which one has no zeal or fervor. Being in a state of aridity or of desolation or even feeling repugnance for the things of the spirit and of God is not tepidity; for in spite of such feelings, the ardor of the will and the determination to do right can remain strong and steadfast. Even the fact that a person still frequently commits venial sins does not mean that he is tepid, provided that he is sorry for them and fights against them. Tepidity is a state of conscious and deliberate lack of fervor, a state of lasting carelessness and half-heartedness, that pretends to justify itself by maxims like these: “One should not be petty,” “God is too big and magnanimous to bother about such little things,” “Everybody else does the same,” and so on.
The danger of falling into tepidity is especially great for the man who does not keep himself steeped in the truths of the Faith and allow his whole outlook to be colored by them. God, eternity, the soul, the salvation of souls, doing God’s will and pleasing God, the development of the interior life: all these mean little to such a person. His interests are in all sorts of other things: amusements, pleasure, recreation, radio, business, moneymaking, gaining the esteem of others. He does not want to consider his interior state. A really earnest meditation on the eternal truths is something he scarcely ever does. He prays and examines his conscience only superficially and hurriedly. He likes to busy himself with exterior occupations because he has lost his taste for the interior life. He seeks his pleasures among creatures and in his own favorite hobbies and amusements. And so the light continually grows dimmer in his soul, and his interest in and understanding of and esteem for the things of God become less and less.
Then there are several other factors that, as it were, aid and abet tepidity. There is, first of all, the fact that the practice of Christian virtue is always very difficult for our fallen nature. In our spiritual striving, we have to contend all the time with our own concupiscence and with many enemies and obstacles from without. We often meet with failure and defeat and disappointment. Our souls are troubled in many ways by the claims of various tasks and duties. Then there is the bad example of others; little by little, it can lead us away from the fervor that once was ours, until we, too, begin to take slow and weary steps along the path of virtue. Finally, there is human respect, that wretched malady that does such immeasurable damage. Indeed, to be a devout and fervent Christian requires much strength of character!