Gluttony is not joy

| Father Michael Schmitz | April 5, 2017 | 1 Comment

Q. It seems like every time I want to do something that I think will be fun, the Church has a rule against it. Why is the Church so against pleasure?

A. This is a great question. It is connected to how profoundly misunderstood God’s rules and the Church’s teachings are. You mention that there seem to be so many “noes” for those who want to follow God that we can be tempted to think that God dislikes pleasure and enjoyment. But is that really the case?

For example, think of all the amazing things in this world that we are made to enjoy. Consider that we only emphasize God’s noes because if we tried to emphasize all of the yesses, there would be too many. The great Catholic convert G.K. Chesterton once noted, “The truth is, of course, that the curtness of the Ten Commandments is evidence, not of the gloom and narrowness of a religion, but, on the contrary, of its liberality and humanity.”

God approves of so much joy! He made a good world and then set his beloved humans in the midst of this world and bid us to enjoy it.

Our problem is not that God has prohibited joy; our problem is that we do not know how to enjoy the good things God has given. Every one of us tends toward using good things in the wrong way or at the wrong time. We find something that gives pleasure, and we will binge on that thing until we no longer enjoy ourselves. And then we find that we can’t stop. Isn’t this a common phenomenon in our lives?

Students tell me about the entire season of a television show that they watched over one weekend on Netflix or Hulu. Others will joke about how they started eating some Doritos and didn’t stop until they hit the bottom of the bag. We have all had the experience of enjoying some kind of food or drink so much that, in the middle of eating one piece or drinking one glass, we ordered another, only to find that it was “too much.” Not only did we take in too much, but we found that we were no longer able to enjoy it.

This is a brief description of the rarely-confessed sin of gluttony. We find something that we enjoy. This thing is almost always good in itself. But then we choose to use it in such a way that we a) no longer truly enjoy it and b) become enslaved to it.

Gluttony, or intemperance, afflicts every person who finds it difficult to say “no” to a thing.

Now, you might say, “I don’t struggle with gluttony! I don’t eat too much!” That’s interesting, because we normally associate gluttony with those outward signs of being unable to say no. But things like a lack of fitness or drunkenness are not the only indicators.

When discerning whether gluttony is present, a person could pay attention to four areas: quantity, quality, when and why. Gluttony is most obvious when it involves a large quantity of a thing — the super-sized meal, the extra large shake or the entire bottle of wine.

But there is also gluttony less associated with quantity and more associated with quality. C.S. Lewis describes this as the person who needs food to be “just the way I like it.” They might not eat a large amount, but if they are served something that isn’t prepared how they like it, they are unable to rise above that. This is one reason Aristotle called intemperance a “childish fault.” Some children will only eat certain foods or foods presented in a certain way. They will, hopefully, grow out of that through discipline and gratitude, but we all know people who seem stuck in perpetual petulance.

But there is also “when” and “why.” Are you familiar with the term “hangry”? It refers to the fact that some people can’t seem to control their temper when they get hungry. This inability to wait or say “not right now” gets many people in trouble.

When I cannot wait for a good thing, I am not free. In addition, when I cannot wait for a thing, then I cannot truly enjoy it, either. If I must have it now, then I can’t savor it at all.

The same is true for “why.” Many of us eat because, well, we don’t know why we are eating. We don’t know what we are hungering for. We don’t know why we are pouring that next drink. We don’t know why we don’t just turn off the device and go to sleep.

Gluttony can be when I consume a good thing, but I am doing it for the wrong “why.” This isn’t freedom, and this isn’t even pleasure. It is merely desperation.

But you are made for freedom. And God has placed you in this world so that you can truly enjoy the good things in life. This is one of the reasons God asks us to say “no” to good things at various times in our lives: Not because he is trying to spoil our fun, but because he wants us to freely and truly live. I invite you to make a regular practice of saying “no” to at least one good thing a day. You will not only find more freedom, you will find more enjoyment of what you say “yes” to.

Father Schmitz is director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and chaplain of the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Reach him at fathermikeschmitz@gmail.com.

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Category: Seeking Answers

  • Mark johnson

    Excellent article!!!

    There are more than a zillion references to self-control in the scriptures (a zillion is not a real number–just to make a point). Gluttony is a CAPITAL sin. There are many forms of gluttony. There is a VERY fine line between enjoying God’s creation and His gifts to us and OVER-ENJOYING them to the point of sin.

    This is where the glory of the Cross of Christ has a laser focus in our lives. If we make an act of the will to LOVE GOD by limiting our pleasure of food, drink and other things that tempt us to excess, we are sanctified–made holy–by the Holy Spirit. We receive grace every time we say “no” to something that we REALLY want to say “yes” to . . . as long as we attach this “suffering” to the Cross of Christ. THIS IS THE TRUE MEANING OF THE CROSS OF CHRIST folks! Well, at least PART of the meaning anyway.

    God knows human nature intimately because He created it–and gave us this way to show our love for Him. It’s just one of a zillion (see note above) ways we can love Him by denying ourselves.