A term I come across quite often while reading about the lives of the saints is "holy indifference". I think this is a term that is widely misunderstood in today's world. It's confused with a certain type of apathy which is prevalent in our society today. The apathy I speak of here is a generalized apathetic stance toward certain aspects of our life here on earth including a "dullness" of the heart concerning God and things of a spiritual nature (though not limited to this area).
The "holy indifference" of which the saints speak of stems from a lack of attachment to the world and self. Apathy stems from being overly attached to the very same things. A simple definition of holy indifference : detachment from the world which stems from a total attachment to God.
In other words, it is a complete abandonment to God's will. This holy indifference has nothing to do with a lack of compassion for others - it actually leads us to action and away from the indifference associated with apathy. Mother Teresa is a good example of a person in our day who reached this state of holy indifference and this quote from her is a perfect example of apathy versus holy indifference.
If you are preoccupied with people who are talking about the poor, you scarcely have time to talk to the poor. Some people talk about hunger, but they don't come and say, "Mother, here is five rupees. Buy food for these people." But they can give a most beautiful lecture on hunger.
I had a most extraordinary experience once in Bombay. There was a big conference on hunger. I was supposed to go to that meeting and I lost the way. Suddenly I came to that place, and right in front of the door to where hundreds of people were talking about food and hunger, I found a dying man.
I took him out and I took him home.
He died there.
He died of hunger.
And the people inside were talking about how in 15 years we will have so much food, so much this, so much that, and that man died.
Their fault didn't lie in speaking about hunger but in the fact that they failed to act. Apathy is closely associated with sloth. They are partners and sloth is one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Holy indifference results in a freedom of spirit while apathy is the result of bondage and being overly concerned with self. The heart is closed off to a degree rather than completely open to God. When we are closed off to God, we are closed off to our brother and sisters in Christ.
Here is a link to a post and poem about apathy that I wrote last year on one of my other blogs. The best way for overcoming apathy is through prayer (see link) and by practicing the opposing virtues of diligence and prudence.