Monday, 12 November 2012

Spiritual Combat World

I am on a diet. I am on a diet because, while I realised I was putting on weight, for the first time in my life I had to buy a pair of size 16 trousers. As an adult I've always been a bit weight obsessed: the amount of exercise I did went dramatically downhill at the same time as my spending power increased when I went to university, and like many first year students I started to get heavier. In the last 18 months my weight has gone up and down like a yo-yo, mostly due to illness, and I'm now the heaviest I've ever bee (17kg more than 12 months ago). I know why I'm too heavy. I eat too much and I don't exercise enough. I'm also greedy and lazy. I often look to food for strength and consolation instead of God. I trust chocolate more than him.

I am, in short, a big fat sinner.

I'm also totally capable of justifying this to myself, because I'm neither morbidly obese nor living in a state of grave sin. I muddle along OK. With the eyes of vanity, I can tell myself I look OK, especially as the clothes I tend to wear are far from tight, and therefore leave me a lot of room for change.

I am, in fact, mediocre: frequently willing to settle instead of striving to be better.

This diet has led me to reflect on my life in general and I have come to the conclusion that dieting is a lot like spiritual combat...
  1. Actions have consequences. If I eat a whole packet of biscuits I will not lose weight. If I choose to sin I will separate myself from God. The latter is obviously more serious: I want to go to heaven and be with God, I'm not interested in whether I look good in my coffin.
  2. If you're on a diet don't read the menu. That's just asking for trouble. In the same way I must avoid occasions of sin.
  3. Be watchful. Yesterday I accepted and drank a glass of orange juice without thinking when someone offered it to me. Fortunately it was a small glass and didn't put me over the allowed limits. Often we can sin through carelessness and omisison. In a moment of distraction we can end up giving in to temptation. Keep your eye on the ball.
  4. Come at it both ways. Losing weight is about eating less and exercising more. Our conversion will come about through loving God and hating sin, loving virtue and hating vice.
  5. Remember the goal. I want to be with God, I want to be as holy as I can and go to heaven. And I want my clothes to fit. You have to have the long view with both to get past the temptation of the moment.
  6. It's not easy. I am going to fail a lot! Often when I've tried dieting before I've given in and eaten (a lot) of something I shouldn't and then thought, right, well today has been a failure, so I might as well eat an entire pizza for dinner and start again tomorrow. No. The moment to start trying again is as soon as you realise you've failed. As St Augustine said, "No-one promised you tomorrow."
  7. Try to channel what you can't beat (yet). Spiritual authors such as Cassian speak of channelling the vices which you haven't yet conquered to help you get over the one you're currently working on. In the same way that my pride and vanity stop me losing my temper, or swearing, or doing things I would be really ashamed and embarrassed to say in confession, they're also going to help me stick to my diet because I don't want it announced in the group that I've gained weight this week! My diet is going to help me get over my tendency to gluttony.
  8. Take measures. I don't take more money than I need when I go to the shop so that I don't buy biscuits (which I will then eat). I try not to answer immediately becasue I have a terrible habit of reflexively lying. If I do lie, I will admit it immediately.
  9. Keep track. I write down what I eat each day. And I should really examine my conscience (and write it down) before I go to bed. The former is important so as not to accidently eat too much. The latter, so as to help me see where I need to focus my efforts (also, it's quite hard to achieve a sense of contrition when you can't remember having done anything wrong).
  10. This is all much easier with a community. I'm doing my diet with my Mum, and we go to a group. We also need spiritual friendships, so that we have support in our spiritual battles. We need ideas and encouragement for how to keep going and win!
Obviously the analogy only goes so far...dieting is way easier than spiritual combat. And in dieting, the occasional planned treat helps you stay on track, whereas the occasional planned sin would defeat the object of spiritual combat.


  1. Have just found your blog for the first time, courtesy of a post by Mac of Mulier Fortis. I have had a look at the current page and it looks very interesting: I intend to have a read of your earlier posts if I get some time over the next few days.

    I have posted a link on my own blog, Sub Umbra Alarum Suarum, and will add you to my bogroll.

    Welcome to the blogosphere.

    Dominus Tecum,


  2. Welcome, Recusancy, to the Catholic Blogosphere.

    With the calibre of your Postings, the Catholic World has recently gone up a notch.

    in Domino


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