This is a key question as the Holiday Season quickly approaches: “Do you live to eat or eat to live?” If you eat to live then you are practicing the moral or cardinal virtue called “Temperance”.  But if you live only to eat, Saint Paul calls this the god of the belly or classical spiritual theology term this as the Capital sin of Gluttony!

A concise and easy to remember definition of Gluttony is the following: “Gluttony is a disordered desire to eat and drink.” The key word is disordered!  Indeed we must eat; otherwise we will die—this is common sense! However, the problem is in the disorder in the manner of eating!

Indeed there is a real epidemic of over-eating and gluttony in USA. Articles have been written in the past years of obesity among so many in the country. There have also been articles written on the danger that obese children will incur in their near future!

High cholesterol, high blood-pressure, diabetes, possibility of heart attacks and strokes, intestinal problems and ulcers—are just a few of the negative side-effects of those who are living a gluttonous life-style. There is a saying that rings true:  “There are more in the cemetery for gluttony than for wars!”  We are digging our graves with our teeth.

Gluttony can manifest itself in a great variety of manners, but when all is said and done it is an eating disorder. What might be some ways that gluttony manifests itself? First of all simply over-eating or eating too much! Others might fall in to gluttony by eating too quickly or voraciously! Still others might be gluttonous in the sense that they eat at any time and place and have no sense of order in their eating habits—they might be the perpetual nibblers, having as distant cousins the rabbits! Then there is the class of glutton that eats only what he wants, the food that he likes, the food that damages his health(in disobedience to his doctor), rather than eating the healthy food that he knows he should consume. This too is gluttony!  Then there is the glutton who drinks too much—this too is gluttony, as well as the person addicted to drugs!  In other words, the sin of gluttony is much more extensive that might meet the naked eye!

REASONS FOR GLUTTONY?   They are many! In the USA one of the primary reasons for gluttony is the simple availability of food and eating.  Wherever you turn in any small, moderate or big city you are bombarded with Restaurants, all competing among themselves to get customers.

Then there is the “All you can eat buffet”.  We all know what these places are and the temptation that comes with entering the door!  The temptation is very simple! This “All you can eat buffet” gives you an incredible price: Tuesday night is all you can eat for only $4.99!  Wow!!! So what happens? Before you enter you promise that you will control your appetites! But then after finishing your 2nd huge platter, you reason: “Well I paid for it; why not go back and get my 3rd or 4th platter, even though after your 2nd you are already stuffed and your pants buckle have no further holes to adjust your bulging waist-line! Against reason and common sense you go to town!  That very night and the following morning you regret having over-eaten and all of the Alka-Seltzer you down cannot remedy your wrong choice!

Another reason for giving in to the sin of gluttony is what we might call the “Law of compensation” and it is this!   When you are experiencing, what St. Ignatius calls a state of desolation—sadness, discouragement, tepidity, lack of faith, hope and charity, and life seems to have no glimmer or meaning—that is the time when the devil will tempt you at your weak point.  And your weak point might be simply this—to seek refuge in the pleasure of the palate and the place at the table or the raid of the Refrigerator! Give it whatever term you like!

In other words, explained theologically, the human heart has been made to be filled with God and indeed only God can fill our deepest yearnings. Saint Augustine in his Confessions coined the classic: “O Lord you have made our hearts for thee and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.”  In other words there is an empty hole in our hearts placed there by God Himself. If this empty hole is not filled by a love for God then it will be filled with another God and that can be as Saint Paul calls it “The god of the belly.”

The Angelic Doctor, Saint Thomas Aquinas, gives it another twist.  This superb Doctor of the Church points out that either we will fall in love with the true God or we will fall in love with the false god. And that false god can be one of many, but it could be the god of gluttony! In other words, it is idolatry.

Put simply, if we put any person, place, thing, object or even idea above the One true God, then we have fallen into the sin of idolatry. Indeed how easy it is to take our eyes of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and to go after false gods. Never forget: our God is a jealous God and will take 2nd place to no person, place or thing. He is a jealous lover!

In conclusion, if you have fallen into gluttony never become downhearted, discouraged, or lose hope! Our God is a patient, loving, kind, compassionate and merciful God. Indeed the Psalmist asserts: “Our God is slow to anger and rich in forgiveness.”  Let us pray as the Holiday season approaches in which we give thanks to God for all His wonderful gifts, we rejoice at the Birth of Jesus the Lord and usher in the New Year under the loving gaze of Mary Mother of God that we would practice the virtue of temperance. In sum, let us not live to eat but eat to live! And as such the glorify God in our mortal bodies which are destined for eternal glory!