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

What's Spiritual Gluttony?
Part II of II

Editor's Note:  In Part I, we discussed how good it is to want to learn more about God, how one can become frustrated at not knowing more, and how that can lead to spiritual and intellectual gluttony. Today, we will looking at spiritualizing the capital sins and how to find the right balance in seeking Him. Here is the question we are examining:

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?

Spiritualizing the Capital Sins

Both sloth and gluttony are capital sins—sins that give rise to other sins. We are used to seeing them in the material sphere, but we are not so used to seeing what they look like when they are spiritualized; yet sooner or later these sins do indeed show up on the doorstep of faithful, maturing Christians, dressed up in their spiritual disguises.

GerardDouOldWomanReadingABibleWGA06639We experience pleasure in learning about the God we love. This is a good thing—all pleasures, in their proper settings, are good things. God created both our capacity for pleasure and the objects that stimulate those pleasures. The devil can’t change that. But he can twist it around a bit, and he can get us to be more and more attached to the pleasure to the point that we begin preferring the pleasure itself—in practice if not in theory—to the God who created it.

We understand this clearly in the material realm. The physical pleasures associated with gluttony, lust, and sloth are obvious. We are less aware of the spiritualized forms of these capital sins. If our eagerness to learn about God and our faith stirs up anxiety, tension, conflict, and frustration instead of contentment and joyful enthusiasm, some intellectual gluttony may be creeping in. When this happens, we need to nip it in the bud. We need to accept once again, intentionally, the truth that we already know: We will never be able to learn everything about God and the spiritual life; our journey to Christian maturity will continually present new vistas and discoveries, and we don’t have to try to exhaust them.

The Right Amount

The practical trick for keeping our God-given desire for greater knowledge healthy is to think in terms of the next step. We don’t need to look at the 3.3 million volumes in the libraries at the great Catholic universities. Rather, we should look at Holy SpiritKarlskircheFrescosHeiligerGeist2the two or three books (or whatever other resources) that we really feel drawn to right now and dip into them, working through them and seeking to increase both the breadth and the depth of our knowledge. As we work through these books, other titles will come onto the radar screen. Put them on a wish list. When we are ready for another book, we can look through the list and see which ones draw us most intensely. This is often how the Holy Spirit guides us. He will draw us to certain titles or classes or other resources, and we will find ourselves just kind of following along. He knows what will help us most in each moment and each season of our journey, and he often guides us in subtle, gentle ways.

Another practical approach, for those who like planning and organizing, is to set some personal study goals for each liturgical season, or for each calendar year. Plan ahead what you would like to study, thinking through it intentionally, and then get all the materials, place them on your active bookshelf, and work through them gradually, enjoyably, peacefully.

Old Books featuredYou might have a goal, for instance, of reading three books on prayer this winter, or reading all the works of St. Francis de Sales this year. As more items and ideas pop up, put them on your wish list and pile them onto your inactive bookshelf. This approach can be used as an individual, or by plugging into study circles with other fellow Christian travelers.

Grateful Trust

We should be grateful for the good, holy desire that we feel deep inside—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. We need to continue acting on this desire, but doing so with the childlike humility and joy that Jesus values so much. We will always have more to discover as we venture toward the Father’s house, and that should fill our hearts with delight, not frustration.


Editor’s Note: This is another excerpt from Father John Bartunek’s new book “Seeking First the Kingdom” filled with “practical examples and down-to-earth wisdom which will show you how to bring Christ into each facet of your life”. Click here to learn more about the book…or if you wish to get it for a friend or relative who doesn’t read on line.


Art: Portrait of an Old Woman Reading a Bible, Gerard Dou, circa 1630-1635, PD-US; Dove (Holy Spirit) as Part of the Holy Trinity, Johann Michael Rottmayr, 1714, CCA-SA,Wikimedia Commons.  Old Books, Dan Burke file copy.

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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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  • Judy Silhan

    I thought about your reflection on this desire to keep learning, and, indeed, as you mentioned, I do have a wish list of books for future reading. However, I volunteer at the Church thrift store and have access every Saturday to books which come in. There in lies the temptation. As I am very limited in financial resources, and because I receive a very generous discount by being a volunteer, it does not seem plausible to pass up a book on the wish list, or even one that is not on it, especially if it is one which seems to have potential benefit in the spiritual realm. Perhaps, I should pray that no such books come across my path while I am volunteering. I have your book – Seeking First The Kingdom, but obviously have not read it all the way through. I enjoy the discussion questions you present at the end of each section. The Better Part, and now this latest one, are very easy to comprehend and become engaged in. Thanks for your great work as well as the retreats.

    • LizEst

      Something that may help a little is to give yourself a time frame to wait before considering the purchase of anything, such as waiting until the following week. As well, a consideration that the book(s) may be useful for someone else’s growth in holiness (as in Cardinal Merry del Val’s Litany of Humility ) may assist you in reducing the temptation.

      • Judy Silhan

        Great response Liz. I shall, indeed, wait a week, and then, if it is God’s will that read it, it will still be there. Your other idea about the book helping someone else grow in holiness made me realize how selfish I have been. You shared me with the Litany of Humility, and I did not think about it; but I will read it before making more purchases at the thrift store. Thank you so much for your much needed guidance. God bless.

        • LizEst

          Quite welcome, Judy…and thanks to the Holy Spirit for His guidance. I have room to grow in this regard as well. God bless you, too!

  • bdlaacmm

    About 6 months ago, I finally cured myself of wanting to have a huge library, and now pass along the majority of “spiritual” books that I read. Some I leave on a table at the back of my church with a post-it note on it saying “Free Book”. (They’re always gone in a day or so.) Others I leave on the “Take a book – Leave a book” shelf at my local coffee shop. The only books I hold on to nowadays are those I intend to read a second (or third) time, or might use as a reference (like my volume of Augustine’s sermons or C.S. Lewis’s “God in the Dock”).

    • LizEst

      Great ideas as well.

    • marybernadette

      Good for you, I have sensed the Holy Spirit wanting me to do something like this. However, I have a problem parting with ‘books’ I have not yet read.

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  • DebraBrunsberg

    I have been a book addict my entire life. Reading has always been my “hobby” and my escape. I had a major conversion eight years ago and have been on fire for the Lord and the faith ever since. I also live close to Loome Books, the Catholic book lovers dream store. I have about 400 books waiting to be read and several going at once, books that are too deep to just plow through, so a chapter a night from one or two has to suffice. I have wondered if I am not being manipulated by the enemy into looking at so much at once, that I never get to take anything in properly. I am pretty sure I am a Spiritual Glutton and not just in reading. I appreciate the advice on how to slow this down and plan my reading.

    • marybernadette

      I do so relate to you, Debra.

  • David Brandt

    I have been through phases where I have an insatiable craving to learn more about the faith. But I got to a point where I realized it had to be to an end. In other words, gaining and having this knowledge created a sense of obligation to serve in some ministry fortified in this knowledge and understanding. If it is not in some way leading to evangelization and/or works of mercy, it is gluttonous and self indulgent. That’s my rule.

  • marybernadette

    Thank you Fr. John, just what I needed to hear.

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