One of the biggest health issues we face as a nation is obesity.  It seems like there are numerous articles each month telling us about this epidemic and its long-term effects on individuals and the economy at large.  This article is not about trying to shame people about their personal choices, but rather, to examine a far more deadly issue—gluttony.  As with the other deadly sins, gluttony comes out of a disordered view of life, the world and our proper relationship with God, others and creation.  How gluttony is disordered is based on some of the same issues we looked at last week concerning lust, most importantly that our bodies are not our own.  Gluttony is not about being overweight or having an extra dessert.  Gluttony is disordered because it treats food as an end unto itself.

People might look at me and wonder what I could have to say about this on a personal level.  But again, gluttony is not about how much you weigh, but about how you make use of food.  I hate to admit it, but there were many times I would eat more than was really necessary, particularly when I was younger.  I was underweight for a good portion of my life and I had a very high metabolism.  I could eat pretty much whatever I wanted and as much as I wanted, and still not put on weight. (That changed when I turned thirty.) I remember after I graduated from college, I would buy a pound of extra-lean hamburg, a 1/2 pound of deli-sliced American cheese and two Kaiser rolls.  I would make two hamburgers out of the pound of hamburg, put two slices of cheese on each hamburger, and eat the rest of the cheese while I cooked.  Now, I did not get fat eating this way but it was more food than I needed.  Similarly, I once went out to dinner with two friends to an Italian restaurant.  On the menu, there were two different-size portions for lasagna.  I asked the waitress what the difference was.  She said that one was for an individual, and the other, for three or four people.  I ordered the larger portion.  The waitress looked at me like I was crazy.  My friends said, “Don’t worry!  He’ll eat it.”  I ended up eating most of it.  Again, I consumed more food than was necessary.

The ultimate purpose of food and drink is to sustain our bodies, providing the fuel we need for our bodies to function properly.  The primary concern in choosing our food and drink should be its benefits, i.e., what vitamins and minerals we will receive.  It’s okay to have a piece of cake, or pie or cookies.  It’s okay to want to enjoy what one eats.  The problem arises when dessert or junk food becomes our primary food source: when we take in wasted calories for no good reason other than we like it.  When we simply ‘eat to eat’ and not in accord with what our body actually needs, food is no longer being used as a gift from God.

Gluttony is more than just eating too much, as can happen at Thanksgiving.  It is rather about how we relate to food—when food moves from basic nourishment to indulgence, or trying to fill some need.  It is there that gluttony becomes a problem.  In gluttony, food begins to ‘meet needs’ emotionally or psychologically; we turn to food rather than to God or others.  Gluttony actually becomes an addiction.  We only feel right or satisfied when we are consuming food or drink.  And to make matters worse, it is usually not the kind of food or drink that is good for us, but rather, empty calories.  It is a self-destructive course of action that ultimately harms the body and spirit, for when we abuse our bodies it always affects us spiritually.

The way we combat gluttony is to change our attitude towards food and our bodies.  First, we need to recognize that our body is not our own.  It is a gift from the Lord and needs to be treated as such.  And we need to also recognize that our food and drink are gifts from the Lord and need to be used according to his plan.  Again, last week’s feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Mother tells us what we need to know.  The assumption of the body of our Blessed Mother into heaven teaches us about the deep respect God has for the human body.  We also must have that same respect for our body’s dignity.  Our bodies are holy and through baptism became temples of the Holy Spirit.  Our bodies are an integral part of our humanity and thus are part of our very dignity as human beings.  When we recognize this truth, it calls us to realize that how we make use of this gift is extremely important.  God has a plan for all of his creation.  We must acknowledge that God has a purpose and an ultimate end for all that He created.  Our job is to figure out what God wants of us and to do just that.

Therefore, as we consume food, we need to ask ourselves if it is in accord with God’s plan.  As I said before, it’s okay to want to eat the things we believe are delicious.  It’s just trying to do so in a way that does not harm us.  In other words, we must seek a true sense of moderation and maintain a healthy balance in what we consume.  A good way to do this is to say a blessing each time we eat.  This helps to remind us of where our food comes from and why.  We need to begin to treat food and drink not as an end in itself, but as a means to accomplish the good that our God desires for us.  Consuming food in a healthy way not only creates a healthy body, but helps us to grow in a healthy relationship with God.  When we are able to treat one of the most basic necessities for sustaining life for what it truly is—a gracious gift from God—it can only strengthen our attitude to treat all that we receive as gifts from the Lord.

If you have any questions about anything, please do not hesitate to ask me directly, or send your questions to me at fr.brian@chelmsfordcatholic.org.

Please keep me in your prayers.

In Christ,

Fr. Brian