I am in Week 4 of Weight Watchers. Actually, I'm not a paying customer; I'm just along for the ride with Laura (though she hardly needs it, and I desperately do). Last week wasn't a good week - Noah's godparents sent home pasta twice (pasta with spaghetti sauce - she puts Italian sausages in her spaghetti sauce, mind you - and another night shrimp fettuccine Alfredo). But in spite of it, I've still lost 13 pounds in the first three weeks. I hope to do better this week, but I find I'm running headlong into my appetite.
Appetite is a bad thought. I don't have to eat as I do because I'm hungry. The reasons I eat as I do have nothing to do with my physical need or even the comfort of a spoiled stomach. Gluttony is a spiritual problem: It's finding solace in a means for communion with God, rather than in communion with God. And even the skinnies among us share in it. You don't have to look like me to struggle with gluttony. Saint John Climacus says,
"In our self-criticism we must refer particularly to the stomach, and indeed I wonder if anyone breaks free of this mistress before he dies.
Gluttony is hypocrisy of the stomach. Filled, it moans about scarcity; stuffed, and crammed, it wails about its hunger. ... Gluttony has a deceptive appearance: it eats moderately but wants to gobble everything at the same time. A stuffed belly produces fornication, while a mortified stomach leads to purity. The man who pets a lion may tame it, but the man who coddles the body makes it ravenous.
- The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 14, On Gluttony (my emphases)
And Saint Isaac of Syria says, "It is just as shameful for lovers of the flesh and the belly to search out spiritual things as it is for a harlot to discourse on chastity." This is what I love about the Church Fathers. When you need a good punch in the gut, they're happy to oblige. And most of us need the breath knocked out of us, every now and then, for our salvation. The added blessing of the Church Fathers is that it feels less personal when the guy's been dead for a thousand years. But back to the quote. Here I am, I write on spiritual disciplines, on ascesis, and I am a catechist at my parish and then Saint Isaac of Syria comes along and says that I'm no better than a harlot giving discourses on chastity. So where does that leave me? It makes me feel like saying, I can't do this - I'm a hypocrite. But that's not the answer - I don't think. The better answer, perhaps, is to recognize my hypocrisy, the reality of my situation - I am unqualified, but in my weakness, perhaps the Holy Spirit can reach someone.
Meanwhile I'm going forward with this business of taming my stomach and trying to squeeze more life out of my lifetime. I want to be an old man, surrounded by my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I don't want to swing to the other extreme, into a cult of the body, but I do want to take my appetite by the horns and find peace through the struggle.
Pray for me.