Gluttony – The Spirit Is Willing, but the Flesh Is Weak
For years we have been hearing about how the obesity epidemic in America is primarily caused by trans fats, fast food, and drinks that contain large amounts of sugar. We are treated as though we are mindless sheep who have no will-power and are under the spell of an evil force that influences us to continually consume what will ultimately fatten us up and kill us.
As a consequence of our fallen human nature, most of us are always looking for someone other than ourselves to blame for our unhealthy and dysfunctional condition. We buy into the claim that we’re fat because evil corporations engineer their products so we will become addicted and continue to purchase and consume them. In addition, if we drink to excess, we blame our behavior on factors we say are outside of our control.
Every year, billions of dollars of “diet food,” pills, equipment, potions, programs, DVDs, and surgeries are sold to consumers for the purpose of helping them lose excess weight. In most instances, we are unwilling to admit that the real reason for our obesity is our inordinate love of eating and drinking. Who wants to admit fault when there are numerous villains to choose from?
What did the Son of God do to keep His weight down and His body in shape? You could sum up His healthy living plan in three words – prayer, fasting, and walking. That’s it. No pills or protein bars. No treadmills or abs machines. No need for coaching or counseling.
What is unknown to most people is that there is one passion we were all born with that contributes most to obesity and the unhealthy condition we often find ourselves in – gluttony.
Fr. John A. Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary defines gluttony as follows:
Inordinate desire for the pleasure connected with food or drink. This desire may become sinful in various ways: by eating or drinking far more than a person needs to maintain bodily strength; by glutting one’s taste for certain kinds of food with known detriment to health; by indulging the appetite for exquisite food or drink, especially when [it is] beyond one’s ability to afford a luxurious diet; by eating or drinking too avidly, i.e., ravenously; by consuming alcoholic beverages to the point of losing full control of one’s reasoning powers. Intoxication that ends in complete loss of reason is a mortal sin if brought on without justification, e.g., for medical reasons.
St. Thomas Aquinas provided five ways in which a person can engage in gluttony: (1) eating too soon; (2) eating too expensively; (3) eating too much; (4) eating too eagerly; and (5) eating too daintily.
One or more of the following attributes will be found in a person who succumbs to gluttony: excessive thinking and talking about food; complaining about plain food; eating impulsively or hastily; neglecting others who are at the table; immoderation in wine, beer, or other alcoholic drinks; and loud and boisterous behavior at the table.
While attempting to satisfy inordinate desires for food and/or drink, the person whose primary fault is gluttony eventually loses all desire for the supernatural. As he continually gorges himself with that which is perishable, he becomes indifferent to the promise of everlasting life. His soul becomes a slave to his body. His will is weakened, and his ability to exercise self-restraint leads him down the path to the other root passions, most notably lust, anger, envy, and sloth.
There are two key virtues that act as the antidote to gluttony – temperance and self-denial. These virtues can be practiced by:
• Deciding ahead of time how much food or drink to take, and sticking to this decision
• Developing the habit of denying oneself something at every meal
• Keeping in mind that the pleasure that comes with gluttony is always followed by shame and regret
• Remembering that each act of self-denial can be offered as a prayer to God
• Cultivating the habit of eating and drinking in the presence of God
• Frequently attending Mass and receiving the Holy Eucharist (“He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood dwells in me and I in him.” John 6:56)
The practice of voluntary self-denial is known as mortification. When a person voluntarily abstains from things that he likes, such as food and alcohol, he strengthens and trains his will to say no to other things that are pleasurable.
The practice of Christian mortification was endorsed by Christ Himself when He said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24; Luke 9:23) It is impossible to maintain a fruitful and ongoing relationship with Christ without the consistent practice of self-denial.
Next I’ll cover the primary fault of avarice.