Intemperance in eating and drinking

Fr Antoni Tatara

Every living organism must receive nourishment. Basically speaking, it takes as much food as it needs. However, man is the only creation that can eat irrationally.
Satisfying the need to eat and drink is necessary. It serves to maintain our organic functions in a natural way. Since the earliest times eating has been an occasion to associate. For the table unites people, giving them food but most of all it creates some unique space in which we can meet and get to know one another better.
Jesus of Galilee knew that and the editors of the Gospels very often showed him during meals. During a meal Jesus established the Eucharist, which is a spiritual meal for believers.

Cult of consumption and ortorexia

It seems that in our times issues related to eating and drinking become the key problem of human life. Using advertising campaigns the concerns producing food dazzle people, from their childhood, with certain illusion of happiness flowing from satisfaction of the need to eat.
Consequently, artificial intensification of this basic need and the forms of its satisfaction practically brings about the ruin of all societies. This problem concerns the countries of the West (first of all the U.S.A.) to a special extent. The result of gluttony is simply the evident obesity of even small children. The problem of overweight comes from satisfying one's hunger in fast foods serving unhealthy food, larded with chemicals, which sometimes cannot be eaten. People simply stuff themselves with food. That's why we can notice the fashionable tendency to eat the so-called 'healthy food', produced in farms using natural methods. One can also notice many that people become vegetarian.
Intemperance in eating and drinking often leads to many diseases rooted in human psyche. One can mention anorexia, bulimia or alcoholism that take a heavy toll. Alcoholism is often connected with physical pain. One can more and more often speak about a new illness that has a psychological background and refers to eating.
This is ortorexia. It is a kind of cult of eating. Its symptom is the obsession of cleanness in cooking and obsession to eat healthy food. At first, a person gives up eating concrete dishes. Then he eats only certain kinds of food. Briefly speaking, an ortorexic person produces and cooks his own food in order to preserve perfect health and prolong his life at all costs. The cause of ortorexia lies in rationally unjustified obsession with health. People who are centred on themselves and who desire perfection at all costs fall prey to this illness.

Virtue of moderation and culture of eating

Intemperance in eating and drinking obviously harms us. Therefore, we must say distinctly and loudly: STOP! Exercising the virtue of moderation is a desirable recipe for our eating and cooking impulses (for example cf. Si 31:12ff). Intemperance in eating and drinking leads to a loss of joy flowing from meeting at the table, which is to unite and not to divide people.
The concept of the widely understood culture of eating and the central role of meals in family life is related to this problem. The table is the space that unites people. Unfortunately, today more and more people reject family meals. We should return to this practice as soon as possible. Perhaps it can be the first step to teach the culture of eating and drinking, as God's gifts. That concerns proper fasting.
It is worth praying before and after meals as Christian thanksgiving for the great gift of bread. Once we used to kiss a slice of bread when it incidentally fell off the table. Another expression of our respect for God's gifts was to make the sign of the cross on the loaf of bread, which we were to eat. Unfortunately, we see such gestures less and less, the reason being that many people (not only young people) have never experienced real hunger.

Being aware of the need of other people

The period of Lent is a unique time for Christians. For we mortify ourselves for religious reasons. One of the key practices is abstaining from food and drink. Fasting is meaningful if it is done for religious motifs and offered to God, praying for some concrete intentions.
Moreover, during the week preceding Easter, under the impulse of our faith in God, expressed in concrete deeds rooted in merciful love 'to keep together' (cf. Colossians 3:12-17), we can take many initiatives aiming at satisfying other people's needs to eat and drink. For every responsible man is aware of the immense poverty and hunger in the world. First of all, it would be worthy thinking of those who live nearby. The needy are everywhere. People offer food for them. Secondly, we should think of those who suffer hardships in the so-called Third World countries and help them by giving money for various missionary initiatives. We should not forget to pray.

Love is the remedy for sin

Sins are transgressions against God's laws and the will of our Creator. As a matter of fact, sinning is doing harm to others and ourselves, leading us to substantiation of others and ourselves. The biggest and most important law is the commandment to love God and neighbour. The measure of this commandment is Jesus' love for his disciples, and we are his disciples, too. We are to love as he loved us (John 15:12ff). God is the beginning and the end of true love (1 John 4:7ff). Where there is no love there is space where sin reigns. And that contradicts love. This is simply lack of love. This is lack of God.
Intemperance in eating and drinking is undoubtedly one of the expressions of the lack of love. And thus it is a sin. We should nurture the feeling of hunger. This is to be the attitude of spiritual hunger for God and his almighty love for us thanks to which we exist. There should be no form of gluttony. Throughout his entire life a true believer aims to satisfy his inner need. It will happen when we are united with the glorified Lord who conquered sin, giving us eternity in the mystery of his resurrection. Now Jesus invites us for his never ending feast in his kingdom where, as we deeply believe, we will be satisfied with the fullness of his gifts, especially with the fullness of his love.
Jesus of Nazareth teaches, 'for it is from within, from men's hearts, that evil intentions emerge, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride, folly' (Mark 7:21ff; Matthew 15:19 and Galatians 5:19f).
One can say that this is a catalogue of sins that appeared in various names in Christianity, changing its sequence and meaning. There are seven sins: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth.

In Lent we want to make an existential reflection and examination of our conscience to experience this special period of preparation for the Passion of the Lord. We begin by reflecting on one of the cardinal sins, which is gluttony since it stands in a unique contrast to fasting.

"Niedziela" 8/2007

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: