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What’s Spiritual Gluttony? (Part I of II)

What is Spiritual Gluttony?
Part I of II

Dear Father John, Our God and our Catholic faith is so beautiful, I always want to learn more and go deeper into it.  I read a lot and have bought many, many books.  Almost every time I hear about a book that is true to the faith, I want to own it and read it, so I buy it.  Sometimes, I never find the time to read them.  Is it OK to want to know more?  Sometimes I feel that it’s just a security blanket.  Am I overdoing it?

THE DESIRE TO learn more about our faith is a good one, a godly one, a desire planted and tended by the Holy Spirit. It leads us to engage our intellect, memory, and imagination in the quest to love God with our whole mind.

For some Christians, the need to know more, to learn more, to “think of what is above, not of what is on earth” (Colossians 3:2), often feels like a burden. These Christians have to wage a constant battle against the sin of spiritual sloth—laziness when it comes to things of the spiritual life.

But for other Christians, the drive to expand and deepen our knowledge of God and his revelation provides not only supernatural benefits, but also natural pleasure. In some cases, it can stir up temptations to spiritual gluttony—a less obvious, and therefore more dangerous, arena of sin.

Keeping Tabs on Frustration

EstudoStudyBibleGod is infinite, so we will never come to know him so fully that nothing remains to discover. And yet sometimes we rebel against that reality. We become frustrated because we can’t find more time to study and learn, to master everything there is to master about our faith, or about certain aspects of our faith. We yearn to learn more and more, but we run into so many obstacles: time limits, energy limits, resource limits. Even the basic responsibilities of our state in life seem to be obstacles in our going deeper with God, and so we begin to neglect them. All our free time, all our conversations, all our friendships—all our everything becomes more and more stuffed with devotions, and spiritual talks, and Bible studies, and faith-sharing groups, and conferences, and retreats, and seminars. And even then, we are frustrated because we can’t fit more in.

This frustration seems holy, because it is directed toward wanting to know God better. But something deeper is going on. This is clear, because instead of leading us to greater internal peace and external generosity, the flurry of spiritual over-consumption seems to make us tense, anxious, brittle, and even judgmental. What’s really happening?

Frustrations of this kind are dangerous traps along our spiritual journey, traps often set by the ancient enemy, the devil himself. Christians thirsting for more knowledge of the faith are too in love with God to be exceptionally vulnerable to temptations of material excess. So the devil has to change tactics in order to impede their spiritual progress. Enter spiritual and intellectual gluttony. If our spiritual and intellectual eyes get bigger than our stomachs, and we act on that, we will experience some spiritual indigestion, and that will become a nice ally in the devil’s efforts to slow our progress along the path of Christian maturity.


Editor’s Notes:

Art: Personal Bible Study, Steelman, 15 April 2007, CCA-SA, Wikimedia Commons.

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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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  • marybernadette

    ‘Thank you Father I really needed to hear this. Also, the person who posed the question, you are definitely not alone. I am ‘burdened’ with so many books, particularly ‘spiritual’, frustrated with knowing that I can’t possibly read them all.
    I want to start donating them to my prayer group etc. but need help in choosing which books to give and which ones to keep, I remember hearing about ‘spiritual gluttony’ from one of the teachings on the ‘doctors of the church’ presented by Ralph Martin. I believe this and your teaching Father, is the Lord telling me I need to deal with it.

  • Judy Silhan

    I cannot believe the timing of this reflection, Fr. Bartunek. Just this morning, after Mass, a friend and I had a discussion about this very issue. Last year, after listening to Arch-bishop Elect Robert Barron speak about attachments as part of the seven deadly sins on a CD, I thought to myself, “I don’t really have any attachments.” My office and family room were overflowing with books (about 300-400), yet I did not see this as an attachment, until that is, when reading Scripture and heard this voice or thought – “Get rid of the books.” This did not happen just once, but rather three days in a row, each day with the same voice or thought from our Lord. Though I had books from many Christian authors, I also had books by authors I had followed for years who were not Christian, and which as soon as the latest one was published, it found its way into my library.
    So, after these reminders from our Lord that I, indeed, had an attachment to books, I donated most of them to a local long term hospital and the others to a maternity home.
    The shelves did not stay empty for long, however, because, I, like the person who posed the question about wanting to learn more and more about our faith, just replaced the secular books with Spiritual books. Being a student here at Avila and a subscriber to Spiritual Direction, I learn of Saints or topics on our faith, prayer life, etc. and “just have to have them – and I find a way to do just that.” So, can attachments to even spiritual books have a downside? I look forward to your post about that.

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  • Ioannes

    Wow! Thx for the heads up Fr

  • Robert Kraus

    This is me. I once had two totes of unread books in my closet that I eventually sold or donated. I also had a 500+ book wish on Amazon. I listened to everyone who suggested a book or a devotion. I literally had to spiritually declutter. A timely article and I look forward the follow up!

    • LizEst

      Hey Robert, long time no see! Good to hear from you. 500+ book wish list??? Wow! Thanks for your witness!

      • Robert Kraus

        Thanks, good to be back. I think it was some intellectual pride. I’m smart, why shouldn’t I know everything or as much as everyone else? And I think, in my case, I used books and devotions in the place of a real faith practice. Trying to start over

        • LizEst

          Good for you! When we are following what the Lord is calling us to, He provides the increase. Wishing you continued growth on your spiritual journey.

  • DM Bungo

    I think it ironic that at the end of half an article about the evils of buying too many books, you’re selling a book, to get the “rest of the story”.

    • LizEst

      Fr. Bartunek doesn’t say do away with all books. It’s a matter of discernment on which books are most helpful, etc. Might be good to run one’s wish list past one’s spiritual director.

  • Mary P

    Boy, who hasn’t fallen into this trap of the evil one at one time or another? I did. One day I brought ALL of the spiritual books I owned and read and took them to my spiritual director. I said to him, “Save me from myself! Even if I read and understands all of these books, I STILL have to do the hard work of conversion!”

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  • TabithaRaised

    I find I can’t retain much of what read unless I am going to write on a topic, then I read for what I am going to write. The classic sources of the Catechism, scripture, Encyclicals, early Church Fathers and well-known theologians are the ones to keep. When you want to write, just be familiar with the sources so you know where to go to get the references to back up what you are writing. The Diary of St. Faustina is so full of prayers, it is my daily read for spiritual formation.

    • LizEst

      Yes, learn by doing! The Avila Institute helps so much with this retaining these things because it aims to move the material from book learning to making it part of our heart. Take a look at what the programs have to offer here:

  • LizEst

    Hey Patti, There are some great suggestions posted already. Get with your spiritual director/confessor and go over the various titles. Tell that person that you want to be sure that the books and authors are faithful to the Magisterium. If you have books that don’t conform to Church teaching, toss them. Don’t make the mistake of giving them away. Just swallow hard and-deep six them because it’s not good to pass along error. Put them in the round file, as we used to say. It gets easier as time goes on.

    Ps. If you want some great books, start taking classes with Avila. You will read from authors and Church documents that are definitely worth hanging on to.

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