What’s Spiritual Gluttony? (Part I of II)

What is Spiritual Gluttony?
Part I of II

Dear Father John, Our God and our Catholic faith is so beautiful, I always want to learn more and go deeper into it.  I read a lot and have bought many, many books.  Almost every time I hear about a book that is true to the faith, I want to own it and read it, so I buy it.  Sometimes, I never find the time to read them.  Is it OK to want to know more?  Sometimes I feel that it’s just a security blanket.  Am I overdoing it?

THE DESIRE TO learn more about our faith is a good one, a godly one, a desire planted and tended by the Holy Spirit. It leads us to engage our intellect, memory, and imagination in the quest to love God with our whole mind.

For some Christians, the need to know more, to learn more, to “think of what is above, not of what is on earth” (Colossians 3:2), often feels like a burden. These Christians have to wage a constant battle against the sin of spiritual sloth—laziness when it comes to things of the spiritual life.

But for other Christians, the drive to expand and deepen our knowledge of God and his revelation provides not only supernatural benefits, but also natural pleasure. In some cases, it can stir up temptations to spiritual gluttony—a less obvious, and therefore more dangerous, arena of sin.


Keeping Tabs on Frustration

God is infinite, so we will never come to know him so fully that nothing remains to discover. And yet sometimes we rebel against that reality. We become frustrated because we can’t find more time to study and learn, to master everything there is to master about our faith, or about certain aspects of our faith. We yearn to learn more and more, but we run into so many obstacles: time limits, energy limits, resource limits. Even the basic responsibilities of our state in life seem to be obstacles in our going deeper with God, and so we begin to neglect them. All our free time, all our conversations, all our friendships—all our everything becomes more and more stuffed with devotions, and spiritual talks, and Bible studies, and faith-sharing groups, and conferences, and retreats, and seminars. And even then, we are frustrated because we can’t fit more in.

This frustration seems holy, because it is directed toward wanting to know God better. But something deeper is going on. This is clear, because instead of leading us to greater internal peace and external generosity, the flurry of spiritual over-consumption seems to make us tense, anxious, brittle, and even judgmental. What’s really happening?

Frustrations of this kind are dangerous traps along our spiritual journey, traps often set by the ancient enemy, the devil himself. Christians thirsting for more knowledge of the faith are too in love with God to be exceptionally vulnerable to temptations of material excess. So the devil has to change tactics in order to impede their spiritual progress. Enter spiritual and intellectual gluttony. If our spiritual and intellectual eyes get bigger than our stomachs, and we act on that, we will experience some spiritual indigestion, and that will become a nice ally in the devil’s efforts to slow our progress along the path of Christian maturity.


Editor’s Notes:

Art: Personal Bible Study, Steelman, 15 April 2007, CCA-SA, Wikimedia Commons.

About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller “Inside the Passion”–the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: “The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer”. He has also published four other titles: “Seeking First the Kingdom”, “Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions”, “Meditations for Mothers”, and “A Guide to Christian Meditation”. Fr. John currently splits his time between Rome and Rhode Island, where he teaches theology as an adjunct professor at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum and at Mater Ecclesia College. He is also continuing his writing apostolate with online retreats at www.RCSpirituality.org and questions and answers on the spiritual life at www.RCSpiritualDirection.com. FATHER JOHN’S BOOKS include: “The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer”, “Inside the Passion”–The Only Authorized Insiders View of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, “Meditations for Mothers”, and “A Guide to Christian Meditation”.

This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.

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