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Americans’ Other Favorite Sin

Thomas Hawk

Jim Schroeder - published on 08/21/14

We don't talk any more about gluttony but we do need to stop wallowing in it.

A few weeks ago, on the celebration of the miracle of the fishes and loaves, the deacon-homilist stood up, grabbed his generous gut, and stated: “I like to be well fed.”  

He went on to confess that he loved to eat (while providing other flourishes about food), and that he had never met a buffet that he didn’t like. He continued with the buffet theme, stating that if anyone ever said they left a buffet without being well-fed, “It was their fault.” He noted that “many Christians today are not well fed” and that many seek out worldly things (food not mentioned) when they are not well fed.

Sitting in the pews with my impressionable young children, I must admit I felt very uncomfortable. When his homily opened, I had hoped that he was going to take on the very timely sin of gluttony (a very unpopular topic and a sin that’s all but forgotten). To this day I cannot recall a homily that has focused on this vice.  

But as the sermon continued, and as I waited for any humble acknowledgement of personal failing from someone who frequently provides wonderful, candid spiritual insights, the admission never came. Due to my own sinfulness and imperfections, a voice I’ve rarely experienced almost leapt past my lips, shouting, “Gluttony is a sin.” I was struck by the irony, as I then looked up at the bare, protruding ribs of Christ in the painting behind the altar. And I thought of how scandalous it would have been if a pastor boasted to the assembly about his lustful experiences or about the wads of cash that he had greedily obtained from investments.I felt enraged and saddened that he and so many others had adopted the American habit of excessive consumption, and that the sin of gluttony had found a home even in our Church.

As a pediatric psychologist, I am daily privy to the tragic consequences that gluttony (and sloth) have had on peoples’ lives in all four primary dimensions of our being—physical, psychological, social, and spiritual. Statistics indicate that almost 70% of all adults in this country are overweight or obeseObesity has more than quadrupled in adolescents and doubled in children over the last three decades.

Obesity is on the verge of overtaking smoking as the leading cause of death in the United States, and health care costs rise exorbitantly because of obesity. Meanwhile, studies continue to pour in about the negative effects of obesity on mental health in addition to obvious physical consequences, including for our kids. Two headlines in 2013 (published through Medscape) offered the following warnings: Stop the Pop: Soda Linked to Aggression, Inattention in Kids and Early ‘Junk Food’ Exposure Risks Kids’ Mental Health. Although some of the culpability lies with the food industry and others, such as marketers, eating remains a personal decision (albeit one admittedly fraught with many complex factors).

But what saddens me even more than the state of our country is the state of our Catholic Body of Christ, both clergy and laity. Over-indulging in food is especially surprising because Catholics have a particular advantage: our teachings specifically warn against the consequences of overeating. Here’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say:

Vices can be classified according to the virtues they oppose, or also be linked to the capital sins which Christian experience has distinguished, following St. John Cassian and St. Gregory the Great. They are called "capital" because they engender other sins, other vices. They are pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth or acedia. (no. 1866)

And here’s an admonition from Proverbs:

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