Spiritual Gluttony

“When we think of gluttony we think of overeating or overdrinking, an inordinate satisfying of what is in itself a legitimate appetite. [Saint] John shows us how this gluttonous spirit can express itself in spiritual things as well. This “selfish sensuality” (as Catherine of Siena frequently calls it) can express itself in the spiritual life in surprising ways. Spiritual gluttony can express itself by desiring to do the pious practices that we prefer rather than what is most helpful and most in harmony with our state in life or in obedience to a spiritual director. Whether it be fasting, prayer, or spiritual reading, devotions or particular ministeries, a desire for spiritual gratification can be an underlying motivation rather than a desire to conform ourselves to God’s Will. As [Saint] John [of the Cross] puts it “Their only yearning and satisfaction is to do what they feel inclined to do…They think that gratifying and satisfying themselves is serving and satisfying God.”

[Saint] Francis de Sales makes a similar point when he teaches that we should strive to develop those virtues most necessary to fulfill the duties of our state of life rather than those virtues that we find most attractive or most to our taste.

Learning to be led by the Spirit of God rather than by our own appetites is a major theme of the spiritual journey. [Saint] John paints a vivid picture of this often hidden and subtle struggle.

With their hearts set on frequent Communion, they make their confessions carelessly, more eager just to receive Communion than to receive it with a pure and perfect heart…

In receiving Communion they spend all their time trying to get some feeling and satisfaction rather than humbly praising and reverencing God dwelling within them….

They fail to understand that the sensory benefits are the least among those that this Most Blessed Sacrament bestows, for the invisible grace gives is a greater blessing. God often withdraws sensory delight and pleasure so that souls might set the eyes of faith on this invisible grace….

Excerpt from Fulfillment of All Desire from Ralph Martin, p. 344.