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Seven Deadly Sins: Gluttony

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By Jeri Holladay
3/20/2017 (1 year ago)
Catholic Online (

Gluttony is a disordered appetite -- a relationship with food that is obsessive, either by excess or defect.

Temperance is the cardinal virtue that moderates and provides balance in the use of created goods (Catechism #1809). It rightly orders the vital powers in light of their proper goals -- physical, social and spiritual. This includes food.

Temperance is the cardinal virtue that moderates and provides balance in the use of created goods (Catechism #1809). It rightly orders the vital powers in light of their proper goals -- physical, social and spiritual. This includes food.


By Jeri Holladay
Catholic Online (
3/20/2017 (1 year ago)

Published in Lent / Easter

Keywords: Gluttony, Seven Deadly Sins, Sins, Deadly Sins, Lust, Pride, Sloth, Envy

WICHITA, Kansas (Catholic Online) - We are a nation obsessed with food, and we have the waist-lines and health problems to prove it. We eat far more food than our grandparents ever dreamed of, in spite of our sedentary lives. Even at the gym, the TV often is turned to the Food Network, and we watch the host prepare a tasty dish that has our mouths watering, longing for more food, while we try to work off the last meal.

The desire to eat and the pleasure of it are natural, good and necessary to sustain life, but food is often used to calm emotional hungers. We often eat when we are bored, lonely, angry, or sad rather than in response to a genuine, bodily hunger. Over time, emotional eating can leave us not only unhealthy but isolated and alienated from others

Gluttony is a disordered appetite -- a relationship with food that is obsessive, either by excess or defect. (Catechism #1866). It abuses the body by eating too much food, food that's too rich, or ersatz, food that does not actually nourish. We eat hastily and thoughtlessly, at the wrong times, or at any time, or all the time. We are picky gourmands or, less frequently, we refuse to eat much at all, starving our bodies and threatening our very lives.

It's difficult to master this visceral appetite. Unlike the alcoholic, the glutton cannot give up eating altogether. Even worse, our deepest survival instinct kicks in when it comes to food. Victor Frankel, writing of his experience in the German concentration camps, spoke of the widespread temptation of the stronger prisoners to take the meager rations of the weaker ones.

Temperance is the cardinal virtue that moderates and provides balance in the use of created goods (Catechism #1809). It rightly orders the vital powers in light of their proper goals -- physical, social and spiritual. This includes food. Saying grace at the beginning of a meal, for example, reminds us that the fruitfulness of the earth is a blessing from God.

Food is for the body, but the body is not the center of life. Overeating can mask a spiritual hunger that only God can satisfy. The bodily act of eating has a spiritual significance. The Eucharist, for example, is food, a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, spiritual food but food nonetheless.

Communion with God is the answer to our craving for love. Only He can fill that voracious void in the pit of our stomachs that we try to fill with huge quantities of rich foods. Our daily meals are a sign and preparation for "The Meal", and gluttony has no place at the heavenly table.

St. Paul sharply corrected the Corinthians when their agape feasts became occasions for selfishness (I Cor 11:17-22). In their grab for physical food, they missed the presence of the Lord.

Meals are intended to be a time of fellowship, a time to share conversation, counsel, and the conviviality of the table. Table fellowship was a central part of Jesus' life and ministry. He not only quaffed wine at the wedding in Cana, He made more and even better wine. Feasts as well as fasts are an integral part of the Church's life and relationship with God and with food.

Fasting prepares us to eat appropriately and to master our appetite. It was an integral part of the lives of the desert Fathers, and throughout history, the Church has proposed that lay people fast also. Why?

In his Lenten message, Pope Benedict XVI teaches that fasting began in Paradise, when God told Adam and Eve not to eat of the Tree of Good and Evil. Jesus Himself fasted 40 days in the desert, revealing the true interior nature of fasting. The Holy Father says, Jesus "Himself sets the example, answering Satan, at the end of the forty days spent in the desert that "man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Mt4,4). The true fast is thus directed to eating the 'true food,' which is to do the Father's will (cf. Jn 4, 34). If, therefore, Adam disobeyed the Lord's command . . . the believer, through fasting, intends to submit himself humbly to God, trusting in His goodness and mercy.'

Fasting is the Church's answer to the glutton's disordered relationship with food. It restores the proper order to all aspects of creation, including the way we use its fruitfulness for the nourishment and gladness of our bodies.

Our meals are directed toward Communion, promote fellowship with one another and incorporate all of bodily life into life with God. St. Augustine once said of the Eucharist that 'we become what we eat.' Let us respond, 'Amen,' and keep food in its proper place.

Jeri Holladay writes from Wichita, Kansas, where she has been Director of Adult Education at the Spiritual Life Center of the Diocese of Wichita, Associate Professor of Theology, Chairman of the Theology Department and founding Director of the Bishop Eugene Gerber Institute of Catholic Studies at Newman University. She teaches moral theology and church history and is a contributing writer for Catholic Online.


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