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Spiritual Gluttony


The fifth capital sin that St. John of the Cross examines is spiritual gluttony.  This is the most common vice and imperfection in spiritual people.  Just as physical gluttony leads one to overeat and drink in the pursuit of physical pleasure and bodily delight, spiritual gluttony leads one to overdo religious (spiritual) practices for the sake of spiritual sweetness and spiritual delight.  The spiritual glutton will overdo harsh bodily penance and fasting, will multiply religious prayers and practices, all for the sake of spiritual savor and sensible consolation, not for the grace of infused contemplation and union with God which spiritual gluttony undermines.  They seek to please themselves and not God, to satisfy their own will for spiritual sweetness and sensible pleasure instead of pursuing the will of God and solid spiritual progress, which is to say, growth in grace and virtue.  They forget that “an obedient man shall speak of victory.(Proverbs 21:28)  They disobey God’s will when they seriously harm their health or fail to fulfill their daily duties and responsibilities due to spiritual gluttony.  It is true that God sometimes wants us to do more in order to overcome sin and practice virtue so that we can grow in grace, but never to simply satisfy our spiritual gluttony for more sweet feelings of sensible consolation or spiritual pleasure.  A wise spiritual director or mature Christian will know the difference. 

The devil will try to get you to do either more or less than you should, by using spiritual pride or gluttony on the one hand or spiritual sloth on the other.  The remedy is spiritual sobriety, temperance and discretion. These come from a pure heart.  “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.(Matt. 5:8)  If our heart, in all honesty, truly desires to do the will of God and not our own will, then we will see the will of God through His divine providence.  God will direct us through the right person, book, or circumstance, or directly through the Holy Spirit by way of spiritual inclination, aversion, enlightenment or inspiration, or even through human reason aided by grace, or by some combination of these.

The Mystical Doctor reminds the Christian that “the perfection and value of his works does not depend upon their number, or the satisfaction found in them, but upon knowing how to practice self-denial in them.” (DN, Bk. I, Ch. 6, No. 8)  In other words, it is not how much you do, but with how much true love you do it.  True love that is sincere and pure, detached and disinterested, purely for God and not for self, comes from God’s action and our cooperation.  St. John of the Cross continues, “These (spiritual) beginners ought to do their part in striving after this self-denial, until God in fact brings them into the dark night and purifies them through temptations, aridities, and other trials.” (Ibid.)

There is also the danger, with spiritual gluttony, of being deceived by the devil with counterfeit visions (internal or external apparitions), revelations (new knowledge), locutions (interior or exterior words), or consolations (sensations or feelings of delight).  When the devil can see that the soul is longing for more of these type of spiritual experiences instead of pure and simple contemplation, humility and obedience to God’s will, he will come as sweetness and light to gain some control over the soul and mislead her.  “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.(2 Cor. 11:14)  The Lord taught St. Catherine of Siena how to tell whether the “sweetness and light” comes from God or the devil.  “If it is the devil who has come to visit the mind under the guise of light (of something good), the soul experiences gladness at his coming.  But the longer he stays, the more gladness gives way to weariness (dreariness) and darkness and pricking (anxiety).”  So, “when it is the devil, the beginning is (seemingly) happy, but then the soul is left in spiritual confusion and darkness.”  On the contrary, when it is God (or a holy angel) that visits the soul, in the beginning there is a feeling of holy fear and unworthiness, then, a sense of gladness (peace) and security, and in the end, spiritual joy, gratitude and “a hunger for virtue.” (The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena)



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