Three 20-something women trying to figure out what it means to be lay, Catholic, and modern all at once.

February 26, 2009

On the Virtue of Temperance

I've been on a 'virtue' kick lately -- probably as a result of immersing myself in the ancient political philosophy of Plato and Aristotle these past few months. I thought I'd meditate on the virtue of temperance today, especially since we all had to practice it on Ash Wednesday as we observed the fast (and I don't know about you all, but I certainly struggle with it!!) After all, temperance is the moral virtue that keeps our desire for the bodily goods in check. How easy it is to indulge in good things, to rejoice in the goodness of the created world that God has given to us.

According to St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica, we naturally desire those things that are good for us and seem good to us. So why do we need temperance? Well, I'd like to consider this question by using a meditation on Christ's temptation in the desert by Father Thomas Rosica.

As you know, before Christ began his public ministry, he was tempted by Satan in the desert -- tempted to change stones into bread to satisfy his hunger, tempted to worship the evil one in exchange for power, and tempted to prove the Father's love for Him by casting Himself off the side of a mountain to see if God will send His angels to save Him. Each one of these temptations Christ overcomes through His faithfulness. So, what does this have to do with temperance??

Well, temperance is that moral virtue which gets us to curb our appetites. Now that's easy, we curb our appetites for food, drink, sex, etc. But consider the ways in which our appetites get in the way of our spiritual life. Consider how our spiritual lives can suffer if we are too busy inundating our lives with material things. Father Rosica writes:
"When and how do I find moments of contemplation in the midst of a busy life? How have I lived in the midst of my own deserts? Have I been courageous and persistent in fighting with the demons? How have I resisted transforming my own deserts into places of abundant life? "

Isn't that part of the purpose of temperance? That is, to turn those desert moments of our lives into an opportunity for grace, to allow God to give us His life more abundantly? Temperance disciplines us to put material goods in their proper place. And isn't so easy for women to get hung up on material goods? We love to decorate, shop, look fabulous, and give our surroundings that 'woman's touch.' And that's what I love about being a woman, but it so easily can dominate our lives and turn us away from God. Consider what Father Rosica says about the first temptation of Christ:
In the first temptation in the desert, Jesus responds to the evil one, not by denying human dependence on sustenance (food), but rather by putting human life and the human journey in perspective. Those who follow Jesus cannot become dependent on the things of this world. When we are so dependent on material things, and not on God, we give in to temptation and sin.

Temperance teaches us not to be dependent on material things and trains our minds and hearts to turn to God. Through it we realize as Father Rosica says, "that we must have some spiritual space in our lives where we can strip away the false things that cling to us and breathe new life into our dreams and begin again." That's what practicing temperance is all about, and that's what Lent allows us to do. Temperance prepares us to depend on God for our all, even in those moments we are tempted to despair. For in the midst of the desert, Father Rosica writes, we can "open our hearts to Him and allow Him to make our own deserts bloom."

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