Virtue of temperance can offer life balance

Published: November 17, 2018

By Paula Standridge
St. John the Baptist Church, Hot Springs

“What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.” These lyrics are from a popular song from way back in 1965.

This sentiment about the world needing more love still applies today. But I would like to add, although not so lyrically, that the world needs a dose of temperance today as well — also something that there is much too little of.

Temperance is not a word you hear very often these days but temperance is one of the four cardinal virtues, which means temperance plays a pivotal role in living a virtuous life.

Temperance is 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. The temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion: “Do not follow your inclination and strength, walking according to the desires of your heart.” Temperance is often praised in the Old Testament: “Do not follow your base desires, but restrain your appetites.”

In the New Testament it is called “moderation” or “sobriety.” We ought “to live sober, upright and godly lives in this world.”

Temperance is 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. The temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion.

So temperance is not merely abstinence or moderation in food or drink. Temperance is realizing when enough is enough of any of the worldly goods God has given us.

An in-temperate person shows an over-focus on one good at the expense of others and may be so absorbed with work, hobbies, exercise, sports or their favorite form of technology that they ignore or take time away from family or other valid and beneficial interests or responsibilities.

Our society’s focus on consumerism is a defilement of temperance. How much of what we consume do we really need — will our lives truly be permanently changed for the better by having the “must-haves” of the season?

St. John Paul II in one of his general audience addresses had this to say about temperance: “A temperate man is one who is master of himself. One in whom passions do not prevail over reason, will and even the ‘heart.’ A man who can control himself! … What a fundamental and radical value the virtue of temperance has. It is even indispensable, in order that man may be fully a man. It is enough to look at someone who, carried away by his passions, becomes a ‘victim’ of them.”

This teaching expands the definition of temperance even more to say that temperance is balance, equability, freedom from extremes in one direction or the other in the way we control ourselves.

Temperance is exercising restraint or constraint in being overzealous even in our communications with others and instead being charitable and equitable in conversations, exchanges and dialogue — especially with those of different opinions. Temperance can mean controlling our appetites or controlling our tongues.

Bringing chaos to order, in a sense, defines what temperance does to a man.

God sanctifies the disorder of man’s fragmented, sinful mind, attitude and behavior through the virtue of temperance and makes the man whole — more like Christ.