The Virtue of Temperance


Taken from

The Virtue of Temperance:
Finding the Right Measure in the Good, the True, and the Beautiful
“In the Footsteps of Our Infant King” Monthly Meditation
Baking in the kitchen, taking care of plants, running a marathon, in all of these activities too much water, or too little water, is never a good thing. Just the right measure of water is needed.

Finding the right measure applies especially to the virtue of temperance. Temperance is self-control to find the correct measure in our thoughts, words, and actions, thus regulating any excesses and deficiencies in our behavior.

During the forty days of this Lenten season, we accompany Our Lord who is fasting in the desert. His example encourages us to practice the virtue of temperance so that our passions and movements are moderated according to the right measure known by our human reason enlightened by Faith. St. Thomas Aquinas, patron of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, shall be our guide in understanding this important Lenten virtue.

Why do we need Temperance?

Temperance is necessary for us, because our human nature has been wounded by Original Sin. Our fallen nature is drawn to whatever pleases us, regardless of whether or not what we desire is morally good.

We certainly need food and drink, clothing and shelter, sleep and rest for the body. In order to survive, the human race needs to reproduce itself. On the mental level, we need to acquire knowledge. On the social level we need acceptance, companionship, and understanding love.

However, our wants tend to exceed our needs, and our needs do not always correspond to our wants. There is often excess and imbalance. There is a struggle between reason and the spontaneous desire of passion. Reason tells us to stop eating because

we have had enough. Reason tells us to calm down so that anger does not boil over. Reason tells us to restrain from lust and selfish love which is hurtful to others. Reason is supposed to guide us toward things which are high and worthy. However, we can become inebriated with the overpowering movements of sensual pleasure and unreasonable passion.

Temperance: Mother of many virtues

Temperance is among the four cardinal, or pivotal, virtues which form the foundation upon which all the other moral virtues can build. Mother of sobriety and fasting, temperance seeks to control our appetite for food and drink so that we avoid the vices of gluttony and drunkenness, which are at the root of many evils. Protector of the virtue of chastity, temperance curbs the desires of the flesh in order to overcome lust and incontinence.

Furthermore, temperance also subdues the desires of the spirit. Temperance in the form of modesty overcomes pride and vanity. Promoter of studious diligence, temperance regulates curiosity by the exercise of moderation in knowledge about ourselves and about others. Humility is a form of temperance which preserves us from the prideful self-deception which often seeks to exaggerate who we think we are.

The Mechanics of Temperance: Natural and Supernatural Perspectives

Temperance is at once a brake and an accelerator. As a brake, it keeps our desires from getting out of control. It tempers our urges in order to ensure that these correspond to what reason and faith tells us is really, and not only apparently, good for us. As an accelerator, temperance can motivate us to want what we should truly desire, rousing ourselves from laziness to seek out the good, the true, and the beautiful.

Throughout the Gospel, Christ is encouraging His followers to temperance and self-control which safeguard the practice of charity for God and neighbor. By His grace Jesus made available supernatural means to subdue our irrational drives so that the virtue of temperance helps us to imitate the virtues of His own Most Sacred Heart.

Thus, to inspire us to Christian abstinence and sobriety, Jesus has given us the Holy Eucharist so that this divine Bread of Angels may awaken our hunger and thirst for the heavenly Banquet. To foster the true beauty of human love, Jesus has promoted the natural institution of marriage to the dignity of a sacrament and has encouraged by word and example the holy practice of celibacy and virginity for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. To uplift our minds to Christian diligence and studiousness, Jesus has given us His teaching in the Gospel which, through the authentic interpretation of Holy Mother Church, raises our minds to the splendor of divine truth. Natural virtue for our moral life, temperance is elevated by grace so that we can participate in the ultimate measure of goodness, truth, and beauty as perfections in God.

Temperance at the Service of Truth

Temperance of life must go hand in hand with the truth which we believe. If we do not live as we believe, we will end up believing as we live. How many heresies have begun; how many conversions have tragically never happened; how many people have lost the faith they once believed; because Catholics did not conform their lives and manner of living to the truth they recognize with their reason!

How can we profess to embrace Church teaching and tradition, if we make no effort to measure our words and actions in accordance with the Will of God? How can we say that we truly love God, but that we want to keep His morality out of our bedrooms? Christian morals are inspired by faith, but also help to safeguard this faith. That is why St. Paul tells us that he practiced temperance to the point of mortification, so that he might not lose the Faith he preached. “I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection: lest perhaps when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway.” 1 Cor 9:27

Temperance: Virtue of Spiritual Beauty

Indeed, temperance is a most necessary virtue for Catholics today. The good example of temperate behavior in our words and actions will attract others to the beauty of the truths we believe. For St. Thomas Aquinas, temperance itself brings about a spiritual beauty in a person which he calls it “honesty” or decorum. It is the beauty of an unselfish heart, which recoils from the disgrace of intemperance. Such beauty can in many ways overflow into the body, especially into the face of a person. Temperance can give a finer beauty which outshines make-up or hair coloring. Indeed, like the moon pales in comparison to the sun which outshines it, so does natural beauty pale in comparison to the divine beauty of grace.

Intemperance: the Childish Vice

But if we do not turn from our intemperance, what shall be the consequences? For St. Thomas intemperance is a childish vice. Intemperate people behave like spoiled children. But left unchecked, intemperance can lead us even further down, since it is about pleasures that are common to man and brute animal. The intemperate man, as he moves away from reason, approaches the bestial level. The light of reason becomes increasingly dimmed. The result is a loss of interest in things spiritual and intellectual. The mind descends further into the realm of the sensual, such as, for example, films that require little thinking and are dotted at regular intervals with scenes of violence, revenge, and indecent material.

Intemperance can easily ruin a marriage. Intemperance hinders the development of kindness, generosity, and a gentle spirit, which imply an awareness of another’s suffering and needs.

How to be Temperate: Identify our excesses and why we do them

During this season of Lent, let us ask ourselves which are the excesses in our life. How can we identify them? Sometimes they are readily apparent. I eat too much, I waste time on mindless things, I lack purity of heart.

However, what is not always so apparent, is why we do these things. Why do I eat too much? Is it because I worry? Why do I waste so much time on the internet or why do I indulge in so much mindless entertainment. Am I trying to escape from something which I must courageously work to overcome?

Helpful Means to Temperance

As we work to unmask the excesses in life and why we commit them, let us have recourse to the Sacrament of Penance, which will give us the grace to regulate our excesses. Each Holy Communion will provide us the grace to overcome our sluggishness and to seek out with energy the goodness, the truth, and the beauty of the things of God. Then, inspired by good spiritual reading of Holy Scripture and writings of the Saints, our minds may rise more freely to the contemplation of truth, in order that we may learn just how to love God and neighbor more than ourselves.

Cultivate a spirit of thanksgiving for all of God’s gifts in your life. Prayerfully count those many blessings, even those which are more simple and subtle, so that nothing is ever taken for granted. Gratitude will help us and our children to maintain temperance in daily life.

To be temperate, learn to do without the superfluous. Be satisfied with a simple sufficiency in the things of life. Although you may be limited in your time, means, or energy, always be ready to give what you can to someone else in need.

Finally, frequent meditation on the impending reality of our death and our judgment before God, as well as the everlasting pains of hell and the eternal joys of Heaven, will motivate us to persevere in a life of temperance for the loving service of God and neighbor.

Do not bank on the passing things of this world. Let us rather set our hearts on the heavenly treasure which Jesus has promised to those good and faithful servants who seek the glory of God and the well-being of neighbor in all things!

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