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.
- In part II, we will look at the spiritualization of the capital–or deadly–sins, what should be the prudent amount of knowledge of God to have, and the grateful trust necessary.
- This is another excerpt from Father John Bartunek’s new book “Seeking First the Kingdom” filled with “practical examples and down-to-earth wisdom which will show you how to bring Christ into each facet of your life”. Click here to learn more about the book…or if you wish to get it for a friend or relative who doesn’t read on line.
Art: Personal Bible Study, Steelman, 15 April 2007, CCA-SA, Wikimedia Commons.