The Catholic school I work at is very…Catholic.
A lady once told me we think we’re more Catholic than the Pope. Not sure what that means, but it doesn’t sound good. Regardless, this place is about as orthodox as it gets.
That’s why it caught me so off guard when we got back from Christmas break this year and our staff readily joked about committing a deadly sin.
When asked, “Describe your Christmas break in one word,” multiple people answered, “Gluttonous,” to the amusement of the group.
I could have answered the same. Only it wasn’t very funny for me. I ate cookies like they were ballpark peanuts; one after the other, no regard for amount, discarding the shells of my self-respect to be crunched underfoot. The meme below sums it up beautifully:
I start with gluttony because it’s the deadly sin most widely ignored by Catholics. Me too, to be honest. But it’s DEADLY. It will kill our souls! Why is it a joke?
When I was taught about gluttony in high school, I was told about knights who would gorge themselves at feasts, go out to the courtyard and make themselves vomit, and then return to gorge some more. That was my picture of gluttony. That seemed completely removed from the realm of possibility for me. After all, I’m not a knight.
But gluttony for me is a very real thing. It’s the third bowl of cereal. It’s the second handful of Teddy Grahams. It’s the one last piece of pizza I sneak before I put it away.
It can be deadly. Not just in the blood-pressure and cholesterol sense, but in the soul sense. And here’s why:
“Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state of the other.” -C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
I can feel that central part of me turning with each of these bites. And even though one might not be that big of a deal, when they’re all put together, they take a toll on my body and my spiritual life.
The virtue of temperance is one I do not have. At all. I tend to be an all-or-nothing guy. When I wanted to be more well-read, I bought ten books, not one, and most of them were by Russians. When I wanted to get in shape, I signed up for a marathon instead of just going to the gym. When I wanted to spruce up our master bath, I didn’t just paint it; I did the floor and cabinets and trim as well.
It’s the same with eating. When I diet, I’m all in. I’m cooking tilapia and veggies, I’m eating almonds for a snack, I’m drinking nothing but water and coffee, etc.
But when I’m not on a diet, I’m crushing a Red Baron pizza by myself or sneaking handfuls of Cheez-its anytime the wife’s not around, eating second breakfast like a hobbit and three-course midnight meals instead of snacks.
But the good news is, temperance is attainable. It’s possible. And while it’s better to be a teetotaler than a drunk, the best of all is to be able to enjoy the pleasure without it controlling you. Now, you can reach the point of no return where temperance in a certain area is no longer within reach and abstinence, even lifelong abstinence, is necessary. But we are destined for fulfillment, not emptiness, and even if you must choose to be empty in one area because of addiction, God fills you with something else.
All I need to do is start with the next choice. There are donuts in the back office at work right now. I don’t need them. The virtue can start there. I don’t need a full-on diet to win. At least, I don’t have to start there. I just need to win the next skirmish.
And while the idea of temperance sounds like a fancy word for sucky-life, the idea of skirmish and battle speaks to something inside me…
Til next time…