My Big Fat Spiritual Life

The scene: 10 eighth-grade religious education students, their teacher, and yours truly—a plucky seminarian who was brought in for “Vocation Awareness Day.”  I talk, explaining the many ways we can all serve God in our lives, and that religious life is one of those ways — a very good way… yada, yada, yada.  Are there any questions?  A hand goes up.  I graciously call on the inquisitive young child.

“Why are priests always so fat?”

It is important to note that there was still some sugar on my shirt from the doughnut I had just scarfed down after Mass… black clothes do a terrible job of hiding sugar.  It is also important to note that the previous evening I had more than my fare share of Texas Barbecue at an establishment known as “The Salt Lick” and I can only guess as to how much brisket my system was still digesting.  The morning before that I delighted in a jalapeno-and-cheese sausage breakfast burrito.  At this point, I had gained eight pounds since arriving at my pastoral assignment with four months to go.  That’s in addition to the ten pounds I had gained since joining religious life.

KS_Priest_HotDog_CROPWhile I cannot claim to ever being known as a svelte human being, I have at times found it hard not to wince when looking at some of the “before” and “after” pictures from the last five years; specifically, the increased number of pixels it currently takes to adequately render a digital representation of my being.  I did a quick calculation of the number of pounds I have gained per year since joining the Paulists.  I eventually figured that if I continued at this pace, twenties years into my priesthood I would be decorating my lair with space smugglers encased in carbonite and telling young Jedi that their mind tricks will not work on me.

But of course, it is not just me.  AND it is not just those of us who are in religious life.  As it turns out, a recent study has been released that there is actually a statistical link between church attendance and obesity.  According to the article published by Technorati:

The study tracked 2,433 men and women for 18 years. Young adults ages 20 to 32, with a high frequency of religious participation, were 50 percent more likely to become obese by middle age, according to the findings. A high frequency of religious participation was defined as attending a religious activity at least once a week.

Which is odd in its own way… after all, here we are in the season of Lent, which is supposed to be all about fasting, self-denial in order to focus our souls on higher things than a meat lovers pizza, and then every gathering at church focuses around food.  Lots of food.

Here is the link about the study.  What I’d be really interested in is what you think is the reason this is so.  Why is there a connection between weight and church attendance?  Is it because some people confuse holiness with donuts?  (You know… because they have holes… Okay, I’ll stop).  In the meantime, I am going to comfort myself with Luke 5:33, the passage in which when some people ask Jesus why “the disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and the disciples of the Pharisees do the same; but yours eat and drink.”  I’ll be having a Diet Dr. Pepper during my meditation.

Fr. Tom Gibbons

Since 2009, Tom Gibbons, CSP, has shared insights on faith, pop culture, and seminary life in the Kicking and Screaming blog here at Busted Halo. On May 19, 2012, Tom was ordained a Paulist priest at St. Paul the Apostle Church in New York City. He will begin serving St. Peter's Catholic Church in Toronto, Canada beginning in July 2012.


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