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Am I experiencing intellectual gluttony? – Part III of III

November 5, 2012 by  
Filed under Capital Sins, Fr. Bartunek, Sin

Dear Father John, there is just too much to read! I feel like I should be reading more about my faith and the spiritual life, because I want to grow more. But I am so frustrated, because even if I would spend all day reading, I feel like I would barely be scratching the surface. So I get tense, confused, and then I don't do anything. What's going on with me, and what I should I do about this?

In our first and second posts in this three part series, we discussed the spiritual gluttony of frustration and ways to recognize how to develop our intellects in a Christian manner. We examined frustration and also how we need to learn how to experience God's love for us.

One Step Enough for Me”

Third, the next-step factor. The practical trick for keeping this healthy desire for greater knowledge healthy is to think in terms of the next step. Don't look at the 3.3 million volumes in the Hesburgh Libraries at Notre Dame. Rather, look at the two or three books that you really feel drawn to right now – and dip into them, and work through them, seeking to increase both the breadth and the depth of your knowledge. As you are working through these books, other titles will come onto your radar screen. Put them on your wish list. When you are ready for another book, you can look through the list and see which ones draw you most intensely. This is how the Holy Spirit guides us, often – he will draw us to certain titles or courses, and we kind of follow along. He knows what will help us most in each moment and each season of our journey, and he will guide us in subtle, gentle ways.

Another approach, if you are a planner and an organizer, is to set yourself some goals for each liturgical season, or for each year. Plan ahead what you would like to study and why, then get all the materials on your active bookshelf, and work through it gradually, enjoyably, peacefully. You can have a goal, for instance, of reading four or five books on prayer this winter, or making your way through five great Catholic novels in the spring, or reading all the works of St. Francis de Sales this year. As more items and ideas pop up on your radar screen, put them in your wish list and pile them onto your inactive book shelf.

Attitude Management

If you find yourself worrying about whether you made the right decision as regards which books to read right now, watch out. Most likely, that is a distraction (unless it persists and persists and persists, then maybe the Holy Spirit is trying to get you to switch channels). Trust that if you are truly seeking to get to know better God and his plan for your life and for the world, he will make use of whatever you dive into. In fact, you will find yourself utilizing things you just read in conversations the very same day or week – God loves to multi-task, so he loves to create situations for us to use what we learn to help others.

Be grateful for the good, holy desire in your heart – the desire to know better and better all that God has revealed to us about himself, this world, and the way to live our lives to the full. Keep acting on this desire, but do so with the childlike humility and joy that Jesus values so much. We will always have more to discover as we venture towards the Father's house, and that should fill our hearts with delight, not frustration.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at

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  • Father John, what would you recommend for the Intellectual Midgets as Spiritual life-building Books that they can read, understand and relate to in their every day life?

  • JRKH

    I seem to have something of the opposite problem…Sloth in this regard. I will become interested in a subject or book recommendation, acquire the book(s), but then, many times, struggle to read it putting other things first (I have at least 3 within eyesight right now). I know that I should “set aside time” for such activities…But even then I somehow am not motivated to read, or am unable to keep it up for more than a few days. This too can become frustrating…

    • Ah – this is where the benefits of spiritual friendships or spiritual direction can be helpful. Try getting with a friend who might be interested in reading the same book – then commit to a schedule and get together to discuss the book…

  • Robert Kraus

    I used to put every recommended Catholic book on my Amazon wish list until it reached 500-600…and that amount just discouraged me almost as much as dwelling on the volumes in the library. Eventually, I had to cut it all out and limit it to 10 or so…and when I finished one book and bought one off the wish list, only then could I add another, thus making sure I was reading books in which I was generally interested.

  • Bill

    I have to tell you that i just came across Father John’s blogg/articles recently at the recommendation of a friend.  I have not read very many of the articles i get in my e-mailbox,  When I saw the name of the article and read the question …. I was INSTANTLY drawn in.  Father John, thank you.  GOD KNOWS this is JUST WHAT I needed!  I have about 15-20 book on my shelf gone unread because of frustration, confusion, and SLOTH, as one of your commenters has confessed to.  Thank You FATHER and to all those leaving comments you have HELPED me tremendously.  I know of a friend who has some of the same books and I will get together with her to commit to reading and discussing afterward…. one book at a time.  Thank you all.

    • Susan


  • Sean

    Like Robert, I too had a substantial Amazon wish list. To make matters worse, I would review the bibliographies at the back of a required textbook and realized I would be reading the rest of my life without scratching the surface (reference the 3.3 M volumes in ND library). The upside is, the wealth of guidance available to us ‘seekers’ of wisdom. In addition to my required textbooks of diaconate formation; I generally read one or two books (as led by the Holy Spirit; whether it is the title, synopsis or author which draws me) not necessarily in the curriculuum and lo and behold, they are meaningful reads for me and become reference sources in my papers.

    • LizEst

      We are honored to have you, Sean, a deacon candidate, on our site. May God bless you abundantly throughout your formation and in the life of service to come!

  • Jackie

    For me this website’s book club is an answer to a prayer.  It keeps me focused on one book and .has drawn me into reading one on Mother Teresa as well.  Both have given me great spiritual direction and even though I too have many books (70 plus some e-books) I now concentrate on ones recommended by this site and am not nearly as frustrated on what to read or how many I need to read before departing this earth!.

  • LisaB101

    Fabulous article. I was just mentioning to a friend that I have so many books, and never get around to reading them. And when I do find time, I am like JRKH in that I only read about 20 pages and never pick it up again. It’s not that I loose interest, I truly want to finish the book. Lack of discipline, perhaps? Regardless, this article has inspired me to pick one up, and focus only on it right now. Currently I’m trying to read Fire Within. God bless you all!

    • Becky Ward

      Awesome Book!!

  • diane

    This I leave to God. when my brain is full of new information , I know I have to leave it and let it settle, ponder, you might say. When ready, I pick up again and take in all i can muster. i find this helps, rather than to worry whether i am getting enough or too much.
    Thank you for the question and the space for me to speak

  • Another great practice that the saints had was to choose one book to read over and over again. Pope John Paul II (I know, he’s not been raised to the altars yet) carried a copy of True Devotion of the BVM by St. Louis DeMonfort in his back pocket, and read it over and over at every chance. St. Francis DeSales carried The Spiritual Combat. St. Thomas Aquinas read scriptures so much that he could recite the bible from memory from Genesis to Revelations (or so it has been said of him). Sometimes, it is much more effective to read the same spiritual treatise over and over than to go from book to book. Certain works, like the interior castle are so rich with the Spirit that it requires several readings. I can tell you that every time I read True Devotion, I always am finding something new in it. Is it because the book has changed? Or perhaps I have and now read it with new eyes. 🙂

    • LizEst

      So true! That is why there is so much profit from praying the Liturgy of the Hours, the Psalter, day in and day out over many years.

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