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The spirituality of nourishment

English Spanish Fr. Eduardo Barrios, SJ Profile

Nourishment is a fundamental human right. The right to food prevails over the right to property. In many countries, legislation protects so-called "starvation theft": the hungry have the right to steal in order to eat. It should be remembered that stealing does not imply violence, like robbery.

The other side of the coin relates to the duty to eat. Whoever abstains from eating for a long time transgresses the fifth commandment of God's law: "Thou shalt not kill." Whoever flatly refuses to eat, incurs the sin of suicide. Prolonged hunger strikes arouse sympathy because of their political or other motivations, but they lack moral justification.

Naturally, most people try to eat well and do so with great pleasure. The stomach’s appetite and the taste buds cooperate with the instinct of self-preservation. Let it be clear that the pleasure of eating is itself a gift from God. Hence the practice of believers not to begin eating without saying a prayer of blessing and thanksgiving. What is to be avoided is that vice surrounding eating and drinking known as gluttony. One falls into gluttony in the quantity as well as in the quality of what one eats and drinks. One must practice zealous vigilance over one's desires.

Gastronomy has undergone an impressive development in recent times. The quality and taste of food have reached that refinement and exquisiteness that are designated by words such as "gourmet" or "delicatesse."

Nutritional spirituality seeks to curb the propensity for excessive sybaritism. Those who give free rein to their disordered fondness for opulent and exquisite meals weaken their spiritual life.

It helps to remember that much hunger exists in the world. If we decided to eat less and use leftovers, perhaps food would become cheaper and more affordable for the poor.

In his retreat manual, "Spiritual Exercises," St. Ignatius of Loyola gives guidelines known as the Rules with Regard to Eating. The seventh rule exhorts man “to be master of himself,” and not a slave to his appetite. This mastery is exercised by eating slowly and in moderate quantities.

The spiritual person must remain alert to the mechanism of satiety. Before the hypothalamus warns them that they have eaten enough, eaters must stop eating. Never eat to maximum satiety. That damages spiritual health, and of course, physical health. In developed countries there is an epidemic of obesity due to overeating. It should be noted that not every obese person eats excessively; there are hormonal or metabolic disorders that contribute to overweight.

Those who need to eat more abundantly due to their build and the heavy work they do are advised to eat more of the ordinary foods and less of the fine foods, which St. Ignatius calls "delicacies."

The saint teaches that controlling one’s eating to the point of practicing fasting fosters devotion or spiritual consolation. He also advises that when we eat, we should not let the good taste of the food monopolize or absorb all our attention; we should seek elevated thoughts and, if there is company, conversations on beneficial subjects so as not to let ourselves be completely enveloped by gustatory pleasure.

This article was published first in Spanish in the June 2021 edition of La Voz Católica.

Fr. Eduardo Barrios, SJ
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Comments from readers

Jose Ignacio Jimenez - 07/05/2021 10:46 AM
Thank you for this article Father. I agree that society's interest in gastronomy has resulted in diners talking about food and restaurants at dinner as if that was the objective of the dining experience. We would do well to remember that that the dining experience should center around the relationships of the people at the dinner table with each other, the world we live in, and especially with the Creator who made the meal and our presence at it possible. If delicious food can help us achieve those objectives, that's wonderful, as long as it doesn't dominate them.
Rodolfo G - 07/05/2021 10:28 AM
¡Muchas gracias Padre por el muy oportuno y buen artículo! Dios nos bendiga con la Gracia de entenderlo y practicarlo. Amén


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