What is Temperance?
We have been given the five senses of taste, touch, sight, hearing, and smell. These senses are in accord with God’s good order of creation and they can involve pleasure. However, we frequently desire pleasure with our senses in excess. Therefore, there is a need for each person to develop temperance which helps to moderate our desires that involve the senses.
Words like moderation, restraint, self-discipline and self-control describe the practice of temperance. The virtue of temperance is an acquired habit that regulates, according to reason and faith, the attraction to pleasure by the senses, particularly the attraction toward food and sexual pleasure. God gave us the ability for such things as eating and put pleasure around it because it is necessary, but within limits. Temperance guides us in our enjoyment of good things in balanced moderation.
We can become overly attached and even addicted to things that are essentially good and pleasurable. We need to remember the purpose behind these things so that they contribute to our legitimate goals in life. Becoming overly attached to something leads to loss of freedom and joy. Such disordered indulgence also places the gift over the Giver of all gifts, Who is Jesus.
The practice of moderation and self-control is essential for developing character by controlling inordinate desires within our bodies and helping us to think of others, especially the poor. The ultimate goal of temperance is a good life in this world, a life characterized by love, joy and peace.
The supernatural virtue of temperance enables us, through the grace of the Holy Spirit and our cooperation through the power of our will (“willpower”), to use all things in moderation and to direct even the pleasurable things in life toward our salvation and the salvation of others. This virtue sometimes leads us to forego even permissible pleasures (mortification) for the sake of the greater good that transcends this world and is found in greater union with God, bringing a joy that far surpasses any earthly good.
Temperance goes against the grain of the worldly mentality that pushes us toward immediate and constant self-gratification. Parents face this challenge daily, and part of their mission is to guide their children to temper their desire for too many pleasures and possessions. An easy test is to see if children are willing to give some possessions away. For instance, when given a new toy, donate another toy to a collection for poor children. Parents will also want to be careful about how much they lavish upon their children while considering their own example of acquiring things. Children need to learn moderation in the use of time, limiting TV viewing, phone and internet use, while developing a daily routine for homework, prayer, chores and outside activities.
Teens need guidance in making purchases, learning to avoid impulse buying by waiting several days before purchasing an item that is not really needed. Ask teens to consider: Is it prudent for you to use your money in this manner? Do you feel peace about this purchase? Do you acquire things in order to show off, just for a change, to compensate for some inner dissatisfaction or to fill some kind of vacuum in your life? Teens need to learn moderation in appearance with clothing that is neat, modest, and appropriate.
During prayer time, we can examine our conscience each night to determine if there are areas in our life that need proper restraint to resist self- indulgence. For our spiritual wellbeing, let us grow in self-control by making more sacrifices and offering penances for the needs of family members or for those who have left the Church. These sacrifices strengthen our character so that when sufferings, setbacks, and contradictions occur, we have the spiritual courage to endure that suffering. Our task is to ask for and cooperate with God’s grace in developing the virtue of temperance, and to allow Him to perfect it in us.