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