Finishing off our discussion on the capital vices and their corresponding virtues, today we will talk about gluttony and lust. People usually assume gluttony is simply eating and/or drinking too much – gorging oneself or becoming drunk. While gluttony is chiefly a disordered desire to consume food and drink, it can certainly extend into other areas of life as well. I’d like to highlight a couple different forms of this vice.
One form of gluttony is when one desires more pleasure from something than it was made for. Whether it is with food or fun, we find ourselves no longer able to enjoy other things. Normally, we can only eat so much food, but some people in ancient Rome wanted more pleasure, so they made themselves vomit after a meal, thus enabling them to eat more. This allowed them to enjoy eating more, but at the cost of their health and their dignity.
Another form of gluttony is the desire to have things exactly our way – such as food that is prepared just right, or in just the right amount – being exceedingly picky. This is the person who is always finding something to complain about. It is true that there is always a certain amount of discomfort to be expected in life. But the glutton will have none of it. They demand an excessive perfectionism. Rather than become stronger by suffering the minor inconveniences of life, they just try to pamper themselves.
How do we work against the vice of gluttony? We develop the virtue of temperance – i.e., a good order in desiring the pleasures of taste and touch. This happens by mortifying ourselves – by reducing our use of pleasurable things (not eliminating them, but perhaps by trying to fast or abstain for certain periods of time from certain things). If we are too picky, accept what is given to us as it is given to us, or just take things as they are.
Finally now, the vice of lust. Lust is a disordered craving for sexual pleasure. The good thing about lust is that it can’t persist into eternity. These sins tend to burn themselves out over time. After awhile, lust becomes a habit and what pleasure it once brought diminishes until we wonder what the attraction was.
First of all, it’s important to understand that our human sexuality is a good thing. It’s a gift given by God. But unless it is kept in check, it can easily get out of hand. In a marriage, lust enters in when sexual intercourse is not a mutual expression of love, but rather the use of one person by the other – and this is the case even if the “use” is mutual. This of course breeds resentment and eventual alienation, even if the couple does not separate. In dating, lust can easily cause us to miss the warning signs in a relationship. We can gloss over the major obstacles to a good marriage because our physical desires are driving us. Therein lies the great danger when relationships become sexual before the marriage vows have been taken, and there is no public, promised commitment in place. This is one reason why the Church sees cohabitation as such a harmful trend.
Whether a person is single and/or celibate, or married, lust may creep in, drawing us in on ourselves (often into an imaginary world) where it becomes harder to truly love. One of the great temptations of our day with regard to lust is the prevalence and addictiveness of pornography. This is something that needs to be confronted and dealt with in confession, for not only does it greatly disrespect human persons, but it also makes it hard for us to love by taking us out of reality.
The virtue to develop that works against lust is chastity – the proper use of our sexuality that gives us freedom and allows us to love God and others purely. Much like gluttony, some type of mortification or abstinence is helpful with this, especially with the help of regular prayer and the sacraments (Confession and Eucharist).