Understanding the Stages of Spiritual Starvation in the West

One of the ways of describing our longing for God is hunger. I suppose, in America and the affluent west most of us have never known real hunger. We may grumble when we miss a meal, or there is an occasional fast or diet. But we don’t know the real hunger. Imagine not actually knowing when or where your next meal would be. Most of us speak causally about “making room for dessert”  and “not spoiling our meal.”

It is a great embarrassment to me that I struggle with weight while others wonder if they will eat at all  tomorrow. I do not have simple solutions to this distribution problem.   It would seem we have enough food but getting to all the places needed seems adversely effected by war, corruption and poor infrastructure. It galls me that our government pays farmers NOT to plant and some have seen fit to turn corn into fuel for cars.  These are all complex issues, I know, but whatever the problem, it is a grief to me that some are hungry while I tip the scales. I can only strive to be more generous to the poor. (Now, as for my diet, that is a far more intractable problem! (Another blog on that, some day)).

But one form of starvation that is quite a problem here in the affluent West is spiritual starvation. It is a strange starvation to be sure, for it is largely self-inflicted. Further, it seems to be at an advanced stage. I am told that as starvation advances there comes a time when a kind of lethargy sets in and, though one knows he is hungry, he lacks the mental acuity or focus to want to do much about it. This seems the stage of spiritual starvation at which many Westerners are. Most people know they are spiritually hungry and long for something. But through a kind of lethargy and mental boredom they seem little inclined to do much about it.

I’d like to take a look at some of the stages of physical starvation and speak of their spiritual equivalent. From several medical sites it would seem that starvation unto death has some of the following stages. I will list the physical stage and them describe what I think is a spiritual component. Please understand when I use the shorthand “we” I am not necessarily talking about you. “We” here is a general term to indicate a large number in our culture, and perhaps a majority in our culture.

  1. Early signs of starvation include weakness– Surely in our time of spiritual starvation there is a great moral weakness that is evident. Simple manifestations of ordinary self control about sexuality, and general self discipline seem increasingly lacking  in our culture. Many are too weak to keep the commitments they have made to marriage, religious life and the priesthood. Addiction is a significant issue as well and is manifest not only in alcohol and drugs but includes addition to pornography, and addiction to greed as we are obsessed about more and more possessions,  and do not seem to be able to live without them.  Many increasingly declare that they are not responsible for what they do and/or cannot help themselves. There is a general attitude that it is unreasonable to expect people to live ordinary biblical morality, that it is unreasonable to have to suffer, or endure the cross. All of this manifests a kind of weakness and a lack of courage and strength as spiritual starvation sets in.
  2. Confusion– As spiritual starvation sets in, the mind gets cloudy and thinking becomes murky and distorted. There is thus, lots of confusion today about even the most basic moral issues. How could we get so confused as to think that killing pre-born babies is OK? Sexual confusion is also rampant so that what is contrary to nature (homosexual acts) is approved and what is destructive of the family through illicit heterosexual behavior is widely approved as well.  Confusion is also deep about how best to care for the poor, how to raise, properly train and discipline children, how to effectively educate children and so forth. Confusion is a second sign of spiritual starvation
  3. Irritability– As spiritual starvation progresses, a great deal of anger is directed at the Church whenever she addresses the malaise of our times. Beyond merely the Church there is an anger and resistance to lawful authority and respect for elders and tradition. St. Paul describes well the general irritability of a culture that has suppressed the truth about God and is spiritually starving:  They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. (Romans 1:29-31). Since we are starved spiritually of the common meal of God’s word and revealed truth and have rejected in the natural law, we have been reduced to shouting and power struggles. We no longer agree on the essentials that the “food” of God’s truth provides. We have refused this food and, starving, we have become irritable and strident in our culture.
  4. Immune deficiency– As our spiritual starvation grows we cannot ward off the increasing attacks of the disease of sin. We more easily give way to temptation. Deeper and deeper bondage is increasingly evident in a culture that is deeply mired in sin. Things once thought indecent are now done openly and even celebrated. Many easily give way to sin and consider any suggested resistance to it to be unreasonable and impossible.  Sin spreads more widely. STDs have rapidly spread, teenage pregnancy, abortion, Internet porn are becoming rampant. Divorce and cohabitation have spread widely. Sin, like a disease, spreads because, spiritually starving, we are less capable of fighting off the effects of spiritual disease.
  5. The middle stages of starvation occur after all the fat cells have been depleted and the body starts to feed on it’s own muscle tissue – And we too, as we spiritually starve start to feed on our very own. We kill our children in utero and use embryos for research. We euthanize our elderly. In gang violence young  people kill other young people. We see strife, power struggles and wars increase. In tight economic times we who have depleted the fat cells of public funds and amassed enormous debt, instead of reasonably restraining our spending and re-examining our priorities, we turn on one another for the scraps that are left and refuse to give an inch of our entitlements. Starving people can be desperate and often turn on others. But in the end, we as a body are consuming our self, A fifth symptom of spiritual starvation.
  6. After this point, your internal organs will shut down one at a time– In the spiritually starving west many of our institutions are becoming dysfunctional and shutting down. Our families are in a major crisis. Almost of half of children no longer live with both parents. Schools are in serious decline. Most public school systems have been a disgrace for years. America, once at the top of worldwide academic performance, is now way down the list at about 17 or 18.  Churches and parochial schools also struggle as Mass attendance has dropped in the self-inflicted spiritual starvation of our times. Government too is becoming increasingly dysfunctional as strident differences paralyze and scandals plague the public sector. Yes, as we go through the stages of starvation, important organs of our culture and nation are shutting down and becoming dysfunctional.
  7. The final stages of starvation will include: hallucinations, – St Paul spoke of the spiritually starved Gentiles of his day and said, their thinking became futile and their senseless minds were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools….Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind (Romans 1:21-22,28). Hence as we in the West become increasingly starved, spiritually, our thinking becomes increasingly bizarre, distorted, fanciful, silly, vain, and often, just plain stupid and lacking in any common sense. Since our soul is starved we hallucinate.
  8. Convulsions and  muscle spasms– Violence and turmoil run through our culture as basic social structures shut down and become dysfunctional. The breakdown of the family leads to many confused, incorrigible and violent children. And not just in the inner city. Violence, shootings and gangs have long been in the suburbs. Even non-violent children have short attention spans and are often difficult to control and discipline. ADHD may be over diagnosed but hyper stimulated children with short attention spans are a real problem for us. Adults too manifest a lot of convulsive and spasmatic behaviors, short attention spans and  mercurial temperaments. As we reach advanced stages of starvation in our culture, convulsive and spasmatic behavior are an increasing problem.
  9. An irregular heart beat– In the spiritually starving west, It is not as though we lack all goodness. Our heart still beats but it is irregular and inconsistent. We can manifest great compassion when natural disasters strike but still be coarse and insensitive at other times. We seem to have a concern to care for the poor but abort our babies and advocate killing our sick elderly. Our starving culture’s heartbeat is irregular and inconsistent to say the least.  Another sign of spiritual starvation
  10. A sleepy and comatose state–  Our starving culture is sleepy and often unreflective. The state of our terrible fall eludes many who seem to barely notice the deep symptoms of our spiritual starvation. St Paul says, So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled (1 Thes 5:6). He also says, And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed (Rom 13:11). Jesus speaks of the starvation that leads to sleepiness in this way: Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap (Luke 21:34)
  11. And then Death– Spiritual death is the final result of starvation. We become dead in our sins. The Pope recently said that the lights are going out in Europe. As Europe has forsaken its spiritual heritage and embarked on a self-imposed spiritual starvation its birthrates have dipped steeply. It is quite possible that, in the life time of some of the younger readers of this post, Europe as we have known it will, quite literally, cease to exist. Western liberal democracies that have starved themselves to death will be replaced by Muslim Theocratic states. But this is what happens when we starve. Death eventually comes. America’s fate at this time is less obvious. We do have many on a spiritual starvation diet, but many here still believe and there are signs of revival in the Church here. Pray God the reversal will continue!  Pray too that it is not too late for Europe.

Thus, while we know little of physical starvation in the affluent West, spiritual starvation and its symptoms are manifest.  Mother Teresa once spoke of the West as the poorest part of the world she encountered. That’s because she saw things spiritually, not materially. One of her sisters recently spoke to students from Christendom College who worked with her among the poor in Mexico. She had this to say as reported by Cassidy Bugos:

In the East [India], the soul is different. It is stronger, as she put it, and solid. Whether a person is Christian, or Hindu, or Muslim, or Buddhist, he is a solid Christian, a solid Hindu, Muslim, or Buddhist. He will not lose faith because he is hungry, or because he is well-fed. And in India, if people are hungry, they are still happy. The poorest people on the streets, she said, are the happiest. If they have food today, they are happy; they do not wonder if they will have food tomorrow. Their joy, she insisted, is something unlike anything you see on any face in the West….

Here in the West, she said, it is different. Here most poor people have enough [materially], even though they don’t understand how little “enough” is. But they are unhappy, she said…..They are unhappy, because they have no God. That is the real poverty. The farther North you go in America, she added, the more wealth you see, and the less joy you find. Those people….the depressed, and the sad people “with no God and a great big house”, are the poorest of the poor. That’s what Mother Teresa meant. It is hard, she added with a sigh, to find Christ in them. …We must put Him there. …

More than that, she wanted us to understand whom we were serving, when we served anyone’s spiritual or material needs. We were serving Christ. When one of “the Grandmas”, blind and deaf, cried out from her wheelchair, “Agua, por favor!”, on the wall over her head we were bound to see a crucifix and beside it the motto of the Missionaries of Charity, the two words, tengo sed. “I thirst.” [1]

The Lord want to feed us on his Body and Blood, and on a steady diet of his Word. Let the Lord feed you:

  1. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”  “Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.” Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty…. I am the bread of life.  Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died.  But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. (John 6:varia)
  2. Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” (Matt 4:4)
  3. When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty (Jer 15:16)
  4. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous.They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb (Psalm 19:11)

Be well fed spiritually! Spiritual starvation is an awful thing. It is the worst thing.

Now this post has been a bit heavy. So I hope you won’t mind a little humor in this video. The video, though humorous makes an important point: You’re not you when your hungry. Spiritual starvation can rob us of our identity as joyful children of God meant to be fully alive and fully functioning. Ultimately we are meant to be Christ, to become what we eat in Holy Communion. When we do not eat we are not “ourselves.” This video is trying sell snickers, but please understand I am talking about Jesus. And if you’re hungry, you’re not your self.

16 Replies to “Understanding the Stages of Spiritual Starvation in the West”

  1. Dear Msgr. Pope,

    Another great article. For me it sometimes feels like I’m in mud up to my knees trying to overcome this inertia. And I’m still trying to figure out how you have the time and energy to write as much as you do. Outstanding!

    On an unrelated note, you are in serious need of a proof-reader. As an example, check the last line of Stage 6 above. Oops!

    1. Thanks for the tip. Even when you pointed out the error, it took me a few reads to see it. I wish the wordpress editor were better at helping me. Sometimes I compose in WORD and that helps, but then I have to convert to plain text to bring it over into WordPress and do alot of reformatting. It’s all very clunky.

  2. Great use of the snickers commercial:

    To whom has the discipline of wisdom been revealed?
    And who has understood the multiplicity of her ways? Sir 1:7

  3. Dear Msgr,

    The whole article was excellent, clear and to the point, once again.

    Just as one example of the spiritual dilemma we are in, here in the UK. In the free local Diocesan newspaper, a local Catholic High School was congratulated when they put on a performance of the musical “Grease”. There were four performances to a total of 1,200 people.
    As most people will recognise this show promotes a culture which is against any Catholic ideas of decency and morality.

    My thoughts on this were:
    What was the Head and Staff of a Catholic senior High School thinking when they allowed and supported this production?
    Where was the School Chaplain or the local Parish Priest when this was considered for the school?
    Where there any comments about the message this was promoting to all the pupils within the school from 11 year upwards?
    Did the parents react to the underlying message or were they interested only in the “performance”, the “show”?
    Why was this included in a Diocesan newspaper as a good news event?

    The issue needs to be addressed from the top down: the Bishop, his advisers as well as the clergy and the school need to determine what is their level of responsibility in this matter.

    We, as a Catholic community, are like the frog in a pan of water: if the water heats up too fast and the temperature increases too rapidly then it will leap out to escape but when it slowly heats up, the frog will sit there blissfully unaware of the changes until it reaches the boiling point and then DIES.

    As you said far more eloquently than me, we are slowly dying and we do not realise it; which is the saddest part.

    Keep up the good work you are doing there is the US and inspiration will be taken over here from your message.

    Thank you and may the Holy Spirit continue to support and guide you.

  4. We are living in the time of the walking dead. How many countless Americans are living in Mortal sin and a great number of them have no clue. How many Catholics are not in the state of grace and have no clue. The Devil has us in a spiritual chokehold. It will take a miracle of God to end it. Although, I do remember reading that Satan once told St John Vianney that if there were three such men has himself on the face of the earth his kingdom would be broken.

  5. One also has to keep in mind the words of St Philip Neri: “Give me twelve truly detached men and I will convert the world”

  6. On Tuesday, February 22nd, some Montgomery County restaurants will be donating a portion of their proceeds to agencies that provide meals/groceries to the less fortunate. A list can be found on the attached link: http://www.thanksgivinginfebruary.org/2011/where_to_eat.asp

    On another note: Msgr Pope’s comment about struggling with his weight while knowing that many in our own community have empty cupboards hit home with me. In 2009, I joined Weight Watchers and took off nearly 40 pounds over an eight-month period. Under normal circumstances I would have been immensely pleased with my success and shared it with my mother and sister. However, about halfway through my weight-loss project, my mother was diagnosed with cancer of the stomach/esophagus. While I was forgoing chocolate doughnuts (6 points) for chocolate-chip granola bars (2 points), my poor mother could not eat or drink anything at all because of the tumor’s location. Nor could she have a stomach tube because her cancer had already spread throughout her abdomen. She died six weeks after her diagnosis.

    Although my mother’s suffering was mercifully brief, it still pains me to know that while I was “dieting” my mother was starving.

  7. Wonderful post. I’ll be sharing this with the children. It’s never too late to stop, and turn towards God. I feel like the laborer who’s squeaked in at the 11th hour to work in the vineyard… So thankful for our Lord’s mercy.

  8. Great commercial. Even when I’m hungry, if I eat junk food, in twenty minutes I’m hungry again. We all are eating. The question is What?

  9. I just started dieting and losing weight. I see some really good informaiton on here that I am going to consider following.

  10. This is an interesting topic on diet, because it teaches us about suffering with those who are starving and sick, as we try to loose weight.

  11. So true, I’ve been dieting for our upcoming nups and basically starving and there are those out there who have no choice

    1. I am so blessed reading this message. I had a prompting in my heart to write a message titled” WHEN THE SPIRIT MAN IS STARVED” and I saw your this blog while doing research on the net. So so helpful. God bless you.

  12. Having traveled through many 3rd. world countries, I have seen, (1st. hand), the devastating effects of (physical) starvation…(and, human suffering, such as lepers lying helpless & uncared for on the streets of Manila.) However, in many of these “deprived” 3rd. world countries…What I DID notice was that many of these families seemed happy, joyous, committed to raising their (numerous) children…finding peace, contentment & gratitude in the simplest aspects of life ! When I returned to the States, the “moral decay” that had set in was so apparent and heart-breaking that I could scarcely stand to look at it ! Unfortunately, the “slide” into this deep abyss, (here in one of the greatest nations on Earth), only grows worse as each year passes. So many young people today are aimless, rootless and bereft of any morally values…(with NO idea at all of what to do with their lives.) Parents often can’t cope with the challenges of their OWN lives…Let alone, guide their children into meaningful adult-hood. (Unfortunately, religion can ONLY help those who attend religious services…) No, I don’t have any answers, personally…But, I DO feel that our new Pope may bring a new awareness of spirituality to a nation starving for what has been lost.

Comments are closed.