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Am I experiencing intellectual gluttony? – Part I of III

October 22, 2012 by  
Filed under Capital Sins, Faith, Fr. Bartunek, Sin, Spiritual Life

Dear Father John, there is just too much to read! I feel like I should be reading more about my faith and the spiritual life, because I want to grow more. But I am so frustrated, because even if I would spend all day reading, I feel like I would barely be scratching the surface. So I get tense, confused, and then I don’t do anything. What’s going on with me, and what I should I do about this?

The good thing is that you are feeling a passionate desire to grow in your faith. Do you realize what an amazing grace that is? That is a holy desire, a supernatural desire, a desire that can only come from God. Be grateful! Rejoice! God has planted this desire in your heart (I mean, where else can it come from?), and so he will make sure that the desire is fruitful, and, eventually, is fulfilled. So that’s the first point: this is a very good problem to be facing.

Now we can dissect the struggle. I would say that you need to keep three things in mind.

Christianizing Our Minds

First, the intellectual factor. Your desire is for more knowledge about your faith, and about how to live out your faith. This corresponds to the first function of our intellect – gathering information. Increasing our knowledge is necessary for spiritual growth. Jesus is the Word of God – a word communicates content, meaning. The more we know about God, about God’s purpose for the world, about God’s plan of salvation, about how God sees us and wants to interact with and guide us, the better. Receiving God’s revelation, grasping it with our minds, overcomes the natural ignorance of our human condition. It also gradually purifies the malicious mis-information that comes with living in a fallen world with a fallen human nature. We are full of distorted ideas about ourselves, our world, and God. God’s revelation is given to us to expose these lies and enlighten our darkened intellects.

The second function of the intellect has to do not so much with gathering more and more information, but rather with deepening our understanding of the truths we already know. A schoolboy can memorize the Gettysburg Address, but the words he memorizes will mean much less to him than they did to Abraham Lincoln when he wrote that address. Truth has breadth, but it also has depth. The Latin root for the word “intelligence” includes two words – “intus” and “legere.” Together they connote reading into something – penetrating the deeper meaning of things. Our minds are meant to do this too. When we forget about this, we may grow in breadth of knowledge, but we will not necessarily grow in wisdom, in understanding. We will be more like a computer with lots of data, but not necessarily a deeper spiritual person, in tune with the true meaning of God’s wonderful universe.

Recollecting and Imagining

The third function of our intellect links our minds to our memories. In order to interact with the world around us in a Christian way, we have to learn to recall the truths of revelation and allow them to guide and enlighten us in the various life-situations that we encounter. What good is it to be able to define Divine Mercy if we refuse to allow that mercy to give us hope and comfort after we commit a grievous sin? Ancient Israel had a memory problem. God would perform amazing miracles for them, and a week later, when things got tough, they would forget about the miracles and whine and complain.

Connected to this capacity for memory is our faculty of imagination. Our imagination can enhance all the other intellectual functions – gathering and learning information, penetrating into the depths of the truths that we learn, and recalling those truths in order to allow them to influence our daily living. But for this to happen, we have to train the imagination. Unfortunately, this training is severely handicapped by consumerism (which keeps our imaginations passive in order to be better able to manipulate our emotions by playing with our imaginations) and by media saturation (which keeps our imagination overloaded and therefore, often, uncontrollably hyperactive).

We need to recognize that the Christianization of our intellects involves developing harmoniously all of these facets of our minds. The Christian mind has learned God’s revelation, assimilated it and taken ownership of it. As a result, mature Christians will naturally see themselves, others, the world, events, and God through the clear window of truth. Faith does this for us. It frees us from ignorance and misinformation.

So you see, your desire to learn more about your faith is a good one, but it will be helpful to remember that vast amounts of knowledge in and of themselves will not lead you to the greater spiritual wisdom and intimacy with God that you are pursuing.

In our next post on this topic, we will discuss the second spiritual gluttony factor of “frustration”. After examining the cause of the frustration, Fr. John will cover the area of learning to experience pleasure because of God’s love for us.

Art:  The Divine Comedy Category, Gustave Doré; PD-US copyright expired, Wikimedia Commons.
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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 two other titles: "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.

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  • Robert Kraus

    This is absolutely a timely post. I struggle with anxiety and depression, partly fueled by an obsessive reading of religious books and listening to religious podcasts, which confuse me and cause doubts. I’m trying to cut back, but I look forward to reading the rest of this question’s series to get more advice on how to address this issue.

  • http://www.rcspiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

    Robert, you might want to read (yes another book) Fr. Caussade’s “Abandonment to Divine Provide” to gain some perspective on what should or shouldn’t be read when. Glad you are finding some help here.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Robert-Kraus/100000177360746 Robert Kraus

       I think I have it but haven’t read it, which is part of the problem sometimes, buying not reading. In this case, it helps as I can focus on something productive for myself. Thanks for the recommendation…

    • Ramaniew

      I have read this book Fr. Caussade’s “Abandonment to Divine Providenceonce and I am going to read it again. Its a classic All the best.

    • Mary Wagner

      As a recently reinvigorated Catholic, I, too, can’t seem to read (and listen) to enough, so the original question is very much one of mine, too.   I meditated over “Abandonment to Divine Providence” recently, and was somewhere between amused and really convicted by the preface:  “If this book in this very moment is causing you to neglect your God-given duties, for God’s sake, put it down right now!”

      • http://www.rcspiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

        Amen!

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  • Veronica

    Thank you for an amazing article. i understand what you are saying simply because of my own spiritual journey. The Lord is truly leading all who want to follow Him. Let us all pray for the grace of desire for others so they may want to learn about the Faith. 

  • Gabrielle

    An extremely timely article for me, so fascinating to see the weaving of Gods blessings.
    It is so important to keep a grateful heart when God has called us, to hold tightly to the grace that allows us to see the confusion of the world. To hold tightly to that sublime gift of the grace of spiritual desire.
    But what I think I know is that we can ask God for this grace and He will give it to us, we only have to wait for His timing, but know that if we keep asking it will come.
    A step at a time, the only thing we need to do is say “yes”, just simply say “yes”.
    God seems to like to ‘shower’ His obedient children with all kinds of blessings, again we wait for His timing though without expectation, we learn to trust Him, because as we wait for Him we realize He is already here, blessing us. Our God is so great!

  • Jackie

    This is an awesome post!  I can’t begin to tell you how many books I have purchased in the last year and half since a return to the church and I see something recommended and I immediately buy it or download to my Nook.  But I will say this website’s book club has slowed me down and forced me to concentrate on one book at a time and it has helped immensely.  I always try to remember, faith is of the heart not the head.

  • Ramaniew

    Dear Father John, Having read this article I feel you have answered my problem too. Thank you and God bless you

  • http://rcspiritualdirection.com/blog Mary@42

    Thank you, Father John, for this wonderful Post. I await with abated breath for the following Posts on this very important Spiritual Subject which is relevant to very many of us.

  • Mary Wagner

    I was going to ask what the illustration was, but when I clicked on it to open it in a larger window I saw that it was of Gluttony from Dante’s Purgatorio.  RCSpiritual Direction adds great art to many of your posts; I like the way you can click on the art and see it in a larger size. 

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