Lex Cordis Caritas - The law of the heart is Love

by Bishop Thomas John Paprocki

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

Previously I reflected on the capital sin of lust, which is the disordered desire for sensual gratification or the inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. Closely related to lust is the deadly sin of gluttony. The dictionary commonly defines gluttony as "the act or practice of eating to excess." Others, however, consider gluttony to refer to an excess of anything, including drink, entertainment, toys, television, etc. For this reason, some theologians also link gluttony to lust, since uncontrolled lust involves the inability to control the sexual appetite.

In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis describes a type of gluttony as "a desire to have things exactly our way." He gives the example of food having to be prepared just right, or in just the right amount, but it isn't limited to food. We might complain about unimportant defects in a product, the temperature in the room, or the color of a laundry basket. There is a certain amount of discomfort to be expected in life, but the glutton will have none of it. Instead of becoming strong by suffering the minor inconveniences of life, the glutton insists on being pampered.

According to the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, the breakdown in the proper approach to food and drink may happen in five ways: too soon, too expensively, too much, too eagerly, too daintily. Clearly one who uses food or drink in such a way as to injure his health or impair the mental functioning needed for the discharge of his duties, is guilty of the sin of gluttony. It is clear that to eat or drink for the mere pleasure of the experience, and for that exclusively, is likewise to commit the sin of gluttony.

Gluttony is in general a venial sin in so far as it is an undue indulgence in a thing which is in itself neither good nor bad. Of course, it is obvious that a different conclusion would have to be given regarding a person so attached to the pleasures of the table as to absolutely and without qualification live merely to eat and drink, so as to be among those, described by the St. Paul, "whose god is their belly" (Phil. 3: 19). Such a person would be guilty of mortal sin. Likewise a person who, by excesses in eating and drinking, would have greatly impaired his health, or made himself unfit for duties for the performance of which he has a grave obligation, would be justly chargeable with mortal sin.

Perhaps a word that we are more familiar with in terms of eating to excess is obesity. Experts at the American Association for the Advancement of Science said that obesity is becoming an issue in areas where it was unknown just a few years ago. In many parts of the world, malnutrition and obesity now exist together, one a problem of the very poor, the other of a growing middle class.

A study published in the Lancet in 2011 found global obesity rates have doubled in the last three decades: 205 million men and 297 million women are obese and another 1.5 billion adults are overweight. In the U.S. almost 70 percent of adults and about a third of children and teens are overweight or obese, according to the Center for Disease Control.

The virtue that helps us to moderate our appetites is called temperance. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1809) defines temperance as "the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will's mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. The temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion."

Temperance is often praised in the Old Testament, as we read in the Book of Sirach: "Do not follow your base desires, but restrain your appetites" (Sir 18:30). In the New Testament it is called "moderation" or "sobriety." St. Paul wrote in his letter to Titus: We ought "to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world" (Titus 2:12).

Moderation in food and drink is just one factor in maintaining good physical health. Adequate exercise is also needed. Some people's work gives them plenty of physical exercise. Others whose lifestyles and work may be more sedentary must make conscious efforts and even schedule time in their day to engage in physical exercise.

Fasting, mortification and self-mastery are ascetical practices that help to combat the temptation to self-indulgence. Proper diet, adequate exercise and a devoted spiritual life are the keys to achieving the healthy goal of a sound mind in a sound body.

May God give us this grace. Amen.