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“Treat Yo’self!”: When small indulgences take over


Elizabeth Scalia - published on 03/13/17

It is a prayer I keep up, even all these years later. A happy penance, actually.

So, is it a sin to “treat yo’self” once in a while? Of course not, as long as we understand – like Tom and Donna on Parks and Recreation — that we are “treating” ourselves, and that a “treat” is, by definition, something that is not a daily indulgence but a real occasion. For them, and for geeky, uptight Ben, the one-day excursion into extravagance actually became an opportunity for grace to work in their lives; the friends listened to each other and enjoyed each other in profound silliness that still had a point: when Ben admitted that buying a Batman suit would be an unthinkable “treat” for himself, he was not laughed at but encouraged. In the final scene he signals with the snap of his Batcape that he has suddenly seen the value and gift of his nerdiness, and of all the small unglamorous but helpful ways it serves those about him.

I know a family whose members scrupulously avoid desserts and snacks of any kind, except one Sunday a month, when they spread ice cream and cakes and goodies about the table and have “dessert for dinner”; grace abounds in that nutritionally-suspect meal – which nobody misses — as the family relaxes and talks and laughs in each other’s company while “feasting” on what for too many of us have become such habitual pleasures that we no longer really enjoy them.

And that is the problem with too much self-treating, with the over-assuaging of our appetites, whether they originate in pride, or gluttony or wrath, or lust, or sloth, or envy or greed: after a while, genuine regard is not enough; we need fawning sycophants; after a while we don’t even taste the chocolate, we just want more; after a while it’s not enough to indulge in our anger, we seek to destroy; after a while, we forget that the lust, or the jealousy, or the greed that has taken hold of our hearts and begun to own us, and to warp our perspective, began with a small “treat” permitted without examination, without the recognition that we were, in fact, engaging in something unusual, and about which complacency could become deadly. Allow one fault, and you permit another, and eventually, grace gets crowded out.

What does Catholicism say about small indulgences?

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