What’s Spiritual Gluttony?
Part II of II
Editor’s Note: In Part I, we discussed how good it is to want to learn more about God, how one can become frustrated at not knowing more, and how that can lead to spiritual and intellectual gluttony. Today, we will looking at spiritualizing the capital sins and how to find the right balance in seeking Him. Here is the question we are examining:
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?
Spiritualizing the Capital Sins
Both sloth and gluttony are capital sins—sins that give rise to other sins. We are used to seeing them in the material sphere, but we are not so used to seeing what they look like when they are spiritualized; yet sooner or later these sins do indeed show up on the doorstep of faithful, maturing Christians, dressed up in their spiritual disguises.
We experience pleasure in learning about the God we love. This is a good thing—all pleasures, in their proper settings, are good things. God created both our capacity for pleasure and the objects that stimulate those pleasures. The devil can’t change that. But he can twist it around a bit, and he can get us to be more and more attached to the pleasure to the point that we begin preferring the pleasure itself—in practice if not in theory—to the God who created it.
We understand this clearly in the material realm. The physical pleasures associated with gluttony, lust, and sloth are obvious. We are less aware of the spiritualized forms of these capital sins. If our eagerness to learn about God and our faith stirs up anxiety, tension, conflict, and frustration instead of contentment and joyful enthusiasm, some intellectual gluttony may be creeping in. When this happens, we need to nip it in the bud. We need to accept once again, intentionally, the truth that we already know: We will never be able to learn everything about God and the spiritual life; our journey to Christian maturity will continually present new vistas and discoveries, and we don’t have to try to exhaust them.
The Right Amount
The practical trick for keeping our God-given desire for greater knowledge healthy is to think in terms of the next step. We don’t need to look at the 3.3 million volumes in the libraries at the great Catholic universities. Rather, we should look at the two or three books (or whatever other resources) that we really feel drawn to right now and dip into them, working through them and seeking to increase both the breadth and the depth of our knowledge. As we work through these books, other titles will come onto the radar screen. Put them on a wish list. When we are ready for another book, we can look through the list and see which ones draw us most intensely. This is often how the Holy Spirit guides us. He will draw us to certain titles or classes or other resources, and we will find ourselves just kind of following along. He knows what will help us most in each moment and each season of our journey, and he often guides us in subtle, gentle ways.
Another practical approach, for those who like planning and organizing, is to set some personal study goals for each liturgical season, or for each calendar year. Plan ahead what you would like to study, thinking through it intentionally, and then get all the materials, place them on your active bookshelf, and work through them gradually, enjoyably, peacefully.
You might have a goal, for instance, of reading three books on prayer this winter, or reading all the works of St. Francis de Sales this year. As more items and ideas pop up, put them on your wish list and pile them onto your inactive bookshelf. This approach can be used as an individual, or by plugging into study circles with other fellow Christian travelers.
We should be grateful for the good, holy desire that we feel deep inside—the desire to know better and better all that God has revealed to us about himself, this world, and the way to live our lives to the full. We need to continue acting on this desire, but doing so with the childlike humility and joy that Jesus values so much. We will always have more to discover as we venture toward the Father’s house, and that should fill our hearts with delight, not frustration.
Editor’s Note: 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: Portrait of an Old Woman Reading a Bible, Gerard Dou, circa 1630-1635, PD-US; Dove (Holy Spirit) as Part of the Holy Trinity, Johann Michael Rottmayr, 1714, CCA-SA,Wikimedia Commons. Old Books, Dan Burke file copy.