Growing in Virtue: Temperance

There was once a hermit in the desert who prayed for God to take his passions away from him so that he might become free from care. He went and told an older hermit: “I find myself in peace, without an enemy.” The older hermit said to him, “Go, beseech God to stir up warfare so that you regain the affliction and humility that you used to have, for it is by warfare that the soul makes progress.” So he besought God and when warfare came, he no longer prayed that it might be taken away, but said, “Lord, give me strength for the fight.”

Our society today has forgotten about a lot of things. Among them, it seems to have forgotten about the importance of dominating our own passions. Everything having to do with our five senses is given free reign. Food, alcohol, sex, violence, and drugs are misused and more than often abused. Society not only accepts vice, it promotes it, especially in the different means of communication like television and internet.

The virtue of temperance requires us to keep in check the human acts that require moderation. God has made everything good and has designed many of the human acts that we perform to be associated with pleasure. Why? - Because they are so important, they ought to be repeated, like eating and procreation. God, in His wisdom, made these acts enjoyable so that we wouldn’t experience them as boring or painful. However, we have to keep in mind that there should be an order between the action and pleasure. God has also placed an order in our spiritual faculties: intelligence and will to be above and guide our senses, feelings, and emotions.

Many people have stopped practicing the virtue of temperance, which is key to our desire for pleasure that our nature tends towards in check. If we want to live with the dignity of human persons and not become lower than the animals, then the practice of this virtue is absolutely necessary.
Temperance is important, not because it makes us not want to desire pleasure or enjoy things. On the contrary, it helps us to recognize the value of our desires and the satisfaction of them but in balance and according to their nature, guided by our reason.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines temperance as “the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will's mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable” (1809).
The temptation is always to prefer ourselves and obey our instincts, but to do that results in disaster. As Mark Twain once said, “No animal is capable of being as beastly as human beings.” On the other hand, when our lower faculties are governed by reason and grace, our life can become a great gift for the world. We can become instruments of peace, order, and love for others only when we surrender ourselves to our true object of love: God Himself.

Temperance should be practiced in the areas of:
    •    self-control, particularly with the delights of the senses
    •    chastity in the face of lust
    •    meekness in the face of temptations to anger and vengeance
    •    humility with regards to our instinct to dominate and our self-esteem
    •    discretion with regards to our curiosity and desire to know.

Here are some practical tips to keep in mind and help us practice this virtue in our daily life:
    •    Be yourself and be true to your personal and Christian convictions. Don’t just follow the trends and behaviors that are thrown in your face through the media.
    •    Be reflective and don’t act on impulse. To be guided by instinct makes you irrational, not free.
    •    Examine your conscience on a daily basis and make resolutions to fight against your weak points. This will bring you interior peace.
    •    Offer sacrifices during the day. Mortification will help you to gain self-control and be stronger in the hour of temptation.
    •    Make an effort to be discreet, humble, and kind in the way you treat others, regardless of how you feel towards them. This will help you strengthen your will.