Thursday, April 14, 2011

Lenten Reflection: Gluttony, the Fifth Capital Sin

"Whether you eat or drink or do anything else, do all for the glory of God." (1 Cor. 10:31)

During World War I the Battle of the Marne was fought on Sep­tember 9, 1914. The Prussian Guard of the German Army crashed through the right flank of Marshal Foch, leader of the Allied forces. The victors were wild with joy; they had pierced the French line. When Foch heard that the enemy was celebrating, he telegraphed to headquarters: "My center gives way, my right recedes; the situation is excellent. I shall attack."

These were the famous fighting words of that thoroughly Catholic and heroic leader, Foch, who had often declared before: "A battle won is a battle in which one is not able to believe oneself van­quished."

He gave orders to prepare for the attack. The fate of France and the Allied countries was at stake. Either he would save everything or lose everything. About six o'clock that evening the startled Germans, till now certain of success, saw themselves faced by a revived French Army, filling in the gap which the Germans had made in the French line, the opening they hoped would be their road to Paris. Foch had not only blocked the road to Paris, he had also cracked the morale of the best troops of Von Buelow.

At nine the next morning, September 10, 1914, the Forty-second Divi­sion swarmed into the little town of La Frere-Champenoise, where the previous day's victors were celebrating. There on the floors of the bar­racks, surrounded by countless bottles of stolen champagne, they found the officers of the Prussian Guard, dead drunk.

What Sacred Scripture says to the drunkard, could have been said to these intoxicated German officers:
"Thou shalt be one sleeping in the midst of the sea, and as a pilot fast asleep, when the rudder is lost." Proverbs, 23:34.
The capital sin of gluttony had conquered the invading army, had opened the way for their opponents to enter unopposed, had turned a cer­tain victory into a rout and complete defeat. How often this is the case on the battlefield of the human heart. Gluttony opens the way to all the enemies of the soul of man. Gluttony puts the pilot of the soul to sleep, and permits the soul's enemies to take over.

1. Gluttony, the fifth capital sin, means an excessive desire for food and drink. It is a desire to eat and drink just for the sake of eating and drink­ing. It is the sin of those "whose god is their belly." Phil. 3:19. It is not gluttonous to find pleasure in eating and drinking, because God has planted in food and drink the power to please the palate. But it is gluttony to eat and drink solely for the sensible and physical pleasure gained from it.

2. The sin of gluttony is committed in various ways:
A. By eating and drinking just for the pleasure of it; finding all or most of one's happiness in the delights of the dish and the cup.

You have met people with an over-interest in nourishment, whether solid or liquid, or both. Their supreme joy is to put their feet under a table or one foot on the rail of a bar. They will converse continually about some tasty meal or cocktail mixture, about recipes for delicious dishes, about restaurants where the food is out of this world, about sauces and salads, meats and pastries. Taste is not just one of their five senses; it dominates the other four, as well as the reasoning power that should govern them.

B. Gluttony is committed by daintiness and sqeamishness in the choice of food. We find grown-ups as well as children who continually com­plain that certain foods are not to their taste. They complain of their dislike into the ears of the cook, usually some weary mother, who has half a dozen different tastes to satisfy at each meal. Such peo­ple often rate their relatives and friends by the amount and the quality of the drinks and dinners they serve.

C. It is gluttonous to eat more than is necessary for our health or our work. To take a second and third helping just because something tastes good, when we know it is too much for us, is to be guilty of this sin. This also applies to the extra glasses of intoxicating liquor.

D. The gluttonous are over-anxious about their meals. Their principal plans refer to when and where they will get their next meal, when and where they will get their next drink or round of drinks.

E. By eating and drinking ravenously, like mere animals, without any consideration for the feelings and sensitiveness of others, with the selfish ambition of proving that he who eats the fastest gets the most.

F. Gluttony shows itself in grumbling and grouching about the laws of fast and abstinence, and by keeping carelessly or totally neglecting those regulations. For the greedy, Friday is a fearful day. They let everyone know how unhappy they are, they even sell their souls for a steak by deliberately defying the direction of Mother Church, which is in line with Christ's direction that we do penance. Such so­called Catholics are totally unmindful of the spiritual motive and rea­son for the laws of fast and abstinence. And Lent? How they hate it! Again they do not and will not remember that we fast and abstain these forty days just because our Lord ate no food for forty days, and because we want to prepare worthily for, and share more fully in, the passion and death of our Savior. Lent is a perfect time for the gluttonous to take stock and overcome their capital sin.

G. The most common form of gluttony is taking more liquor than one can stand, more drink than is good for that individual. There are different types of the greedy drinker, but with most of them drink comes before everything else.
3. Gluttony is a mortal sin in the following cases:
A. When a person makes a god of his belly to such an extent that he finds practically all his pleasure when he has a fork or glass in his hand.

B. When a person seriously injures his health by stuffing himself with food or drink. Naturally the capacity of individuals will vary, but to harm one's health in a serious maimer by what you eat or drink, how you partake of it, and by the amount, is a serious sin. It is against the Fifth Commandment: "Thou shalt not kill."

C. When a person breaks the laws of fast and abstinence for the sake of satisfying the sense of taste. If a Catholic is lawfully excused from either or both of these regulations, he need not worry. But he should do some other penance. Many violations of Lenten regu­lations are caused by gluttony.

D. When a person wastes money and even property to buy unnecessary food and drink. Usually the drunkard sins in this way. He puts over the bar money that should go over the grocer's counter. Almost as bad, he spends twenty dollars on liquor, and the next morning drops a dollar in the collection basket. Should there be here any man, par­ticularly the head of a family, who is using for drink money that should go for his family or his Church, let him realize how unjust, how selfish, how miserably mean he is to his loved ones.

E. When a man overloads his stomach, either with food or drink, to such an extent that he makes himself unfit for his work or his duties. Many a person could do more efficient and satisfactory work if he did Not eat so much and drink so much.
4. With regard to intoxicating liquor the question is often asked: "When is a person drunk?" It might be put this way also: "How can a person know when he is guilty of a serious sin through drinking?"

In answer to this important and often-asked question we point out that the two most direct and certain ways of knowing whether or not one has committed a serious sin of drinking are these:
A. Look back, and examine your state of mind and your actions while under the influence of intoxicating liquor.

B. Ask sober witnesses, frank friends, what they thought of your speech and your actions.
Excessive drinking is a sin because its immediate effect is the impairment, that is, the lessening, and in many cases the loss of reason. If the reasoning power is lessened only slightly, then the sin is venial. In this matter you cannot judge the seriousness of the sin merely by the amount of liquor consumed. It depends upon the effect which the drink has on the senses and reasoning powers. Intoxication that ends in complete loss of reason is definitely a mortal sin. What do we mean by the loss of reason? You can presume and "even be sure that a drinker has temporarily lost the use of reason when he can no longer distinguish good from bad, when he cannot carry on a sensible conversation, and cannot remember recent, simple facts, especially when he cannot remember, after the drunkenness has passed, just what he said or what he did "under the influence."

With regard to this physical angle of intoxication we recall the half ­humorous story from the moonshine era of the fellow who was lying one Sunday afternoon in the boiling sun in the middle of the dusty road, with an empty bottle by his side.

"He's drunk; lock him up," ordered the sheriff, as he leaned down over the prostrate figure.

"No, he ain't drunk," interposed a woman. "I jes' seen his fingers move."

Seriously, intoxication is to be judged not only and merely from the physical angle. One is guilty of serious sin if he does things when he is drunk which he would not have done when sober. The sin grows in serious­ness according to the injury the drunkard does to his own health, the injury he causes others, the neglect of duty or responsibility, and the scandal which may result.

The drunkard thus becomes guilty of the impurity, the cursing, the quarreling, the destruction of property, the hurting of friends and loved ones, which he causes during his drunken stupor. Today we need to emphasize the guilt of drunken driving. If you mix alcohol and gasoline you are endangering your own life and health and the life and health of others. That is definitely against the Fifth Commandment.

The second and better way to judge the extent of one's drunkenness is to ask the prudent advice and counsel of sober and reliable witnesses. Too often the person who drinks to the point of impairing his reason and cloud­ing his senses is not in a position to judge the degree of his drunkenness.

In this matter you can be sure that the fellow who drinks to excess, and the fellow who has only in mind the idea of keeping from mortal sin in this business, will sooner or later fall surely into the mortal sin of excessive drinking. Accordingly, the safest policy, both from the standpoint of morality, and from the standpoint of health, is to stop long before you even begin to get stupid. The terrific toll that the excessive tippler pays we will try to consider when we point out the evils of gluttony in general.

5. What are the remedies for this excessive desire for the pleasures of the plate and the glass? We have many helps:
A. By prayer expressing our own weakness and trust in the powerful help of God, we can win the grace to overcome gluttony in any form. Silently, if not vocally, beg Almighty God to, help you be temperate. Do this whenever you are going to a party, or about to spend an eve­ning with friends who drink. Do it sincerely and honestly. God will help you.

B. Receive the sacraments more frequently. Go to Confession and re­ceive Holy Communion more often. At the sweet moment of Communion the drinker should tell our Lord that he will not imbibe to excess before his next Communion. Work from one Holy Communion to the next.

C. Practice self-denial in other and perhaps smaller matters. Control­ling the other senses will strengthen the will to control the sense of taste. Is it not lack of will power that permits the drunkard to fall again and again? Develop that power of will by exercise.

D. Avoid the occasions of your intemperance. The man who gets drunk every time he visits a certain tavern, cannot expect to stay temperate unless he stays away from that tavern. Certain persons, certain places, certain conditions of the mind, were the occasions of exces­sive drinking in the past. Steer clear of those occasions.

E. Think of the forty days' fast of our Lord, out there in that comfort­less desert without food and drink, denying Himself the tastes of the table in order to make good for your sins. And then behold Jesus on the cross, Hi. body dripping blood. Imagine the terrible thirst. And then listen, listen, O drunkard, to His agonizing cry from the cross: "I thirst." Loss of blood causes an almost intolerable dryness. Jesus suffered it for your sins of drunkenness.

F. Open your eyes and your mind to the horrible results of excess to soul and body:
i. Excess brings on poor health and an untimely death. Too much food and too much drink shorten life. Admiral George Dewey, the hero of Manila Bay, was once complimented on his superb and rugged health at the age of seventy-five. He smiled and explained: "I at­tribute my good condition to plenty of exercise and no banquets. We eat too much. One-third of what a man eats is all he needs in order to live."

When a reporter present asked the Admiral what becomes of the other two-thirds, Dewey replied wryly: "Oh, that enables the doctor to live."

What he said about food is all the more true about drink, especially intoxicating drink. Our hospitals and asylums number by the thou­sands the moral and physical wrecks they take in, people who have ruined their health and their lives by imbibing too much.

ii. Excess in the matter of food and drink clogs the mind and dulls the intellect. After a heavy meal one does not feel like thinking even if one could. As for taking too much drink, the halting speech, the un­certain movements, and slow reactions of the drunk are proof suf­ficient that liquor has lulled his thinking faculties to sleep.

Why, it might even make a man so dull of wit that a Mason would turn Catholic. They tell the story of a Catholic chaplain making his rounds in a large hospital when they brought in on a stretcher a man who was unconscious. He had been seriously injured in an auto accident. The Sisters and nurses did not know who he was. There was nothing about his person to identify the injured man. Taking a chance, Father baptized the man conditionally and gave him the Last Sacraments.

Two weeks later the priest met the injured man going down the hallway in a wheel-chair, and told him:

"Vou were really in bad shape last week. I thought you would surely die. Are you a Catholic?"

"No," replied the patient, "I am a Mason - thirty-second degree."

"Well," said Father, "you are a Catholic now."

"How so?" asked the Mason.

"I took a chance;" explained the chaplain, "while you were uncon­scious, I baptized you."

"Father, don't tell me! exclaimed the fellow, "So I am a Catholic. Serves me right for getting so drunk and then trying to drive."

iii. Excess in eating and drinking brings on lazy habits of mind and body. Tests have proven that too much food and too much liquor lessen the powers of concentration, even make a person unwilling and un­able to think, and also lessens physical energy and efficiency.

iv. Intemperance leads to excesses of the other lower appetites. Drunk­enness particularly is a companion and cause of several other capital sins:
a. Many a person, especially the young, have committed their first sin of impurity while under the influence. Don't touch liquor until you are twenty-five - if ever.

b. Some drunks get stupidly sullen and silent, expressing their anger in that way. Most of them talk a great deal, indulging in filthy lan­guage, unkind remarks, and especially in cursing and swearing. Anger is a direct result.

c. How the recording angel must weep as he marks down the sins of avarice - stealing, cheating, neglecting to pay just bil1 ~ ommitted by the man addicted to drink. He wants more money to buy more drink.

d. The capital sin of sloth is also a direct descendant of drunken­ness, making the drinker neglect the duties of his state in life.
Indeed, excess in food and drink opens the door to the enemies of the soul, even more treacherously than the drinking of the victorious Germans made it possible for their opponents to walk in and take possession.

Look to our Leader Christ during this Lent. Think of His suffering for your sins of the palate. Think of Him on the cross and His dying words: "I thirst."

Without Christ you cannot conquer intemperance; with Christ you can become temperate. Amen.
Adapted from Lent and the Capital Sins
by Fr. Arthur Tonne, OFM (©1952)

No comments: