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“Ask a Priest: Am I experiencing spiritual gluttony?”
Q: I want to know more about spiritual gluttony. I think I have this. I’m really fond of reading books about the Catholic faith and the spiritual life but can’t finish any. I also collect prayer books. I am also interested in practices or exercises used by the religious. I have so many ideas about the spiritual life. Am I going too far? Am I sinning? -F.D.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: There is nothing wrong about not finishing books on the faith and spiritual life. Sometimes a chapter of a book is enough to satisfy us and nudge us on the right path.
The key here is that you want to aim for a healthy balance. Books can help feed the mind and soul — we need that. But we shouldn’t become stagnant ponds, where water comes in but never leaves; that is, nothing goes from us, such as acts of charity. “Whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20).
Good spiritual reading should spur us to action. The seeds of the Gospel are meant to bring forth a harvest of good deeds, as well as our closer union with Our Lord.
As to your specific questions: Are you going too far? It might be good to ask if you are going far enough. For “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). Are you sinning? Again, you might ask yourself whether the preoccupation with reading is keeping you from those acts of charity that should animate the life of a Christian. A fault often overlooked is the sin of omission. Recall those lines from Scripture: “Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:44-46).
A disciplined use of time can help strike a healthy balance in our spiritual lives. The amount of time we spend in prayer or other spiritually nourishing activities should be proportionate to the duties of our state in life, as well as proportionate to our works of mercy. Having specific prayer commitments and personal formation goals can bring some order into this area of our lives. You might find it useful to use a prayer book, such as the one published by Regnum Christi. Also, you might want to discuss your use of time with your confessor or spiritual director.
For further reading, check out “experiencing intellectual gluttony“. But, of course, you will want to be sure to go beyond just reading. Count on my prayers!