By Father Jacob Dankasa
Special to The Texas Catholic
In a world of insatiable pleasures, temperance is the ultimate saving virtue. Temperance is the virtue that enables a person to have a balanced spirituality and a balanced life. In the Catholic Church, temperance is described as one of the cardinal virtues. Temperance uses reason to moderate or restrain our desires and the pleasures of our senses. Through the virtue of temperance, we moderate pleasures such as food, sex, drink, and the accumulation of material possessions. Although St. Thomas Aquinas in his discussion of temperance as a cardinal virtue explains it in terms of pleasures that concern touch and senses — food, drink, sex, in our pleasure-saturated world we can also broadly look at temperance as a virtue that moderates many other human pleasures.
Temperance means that we control our desire for pleasure, that we are able to distinguish what we need from what we don’t need, and that we know when to avoid excessive sensual pleasures that may lead us to sin. Being temperate does not prevent us from enjoying the things of life that God has given us, but it means that we are able to enjoy the pleasures of life in moderation and serve God at the same time. It means that we do not allow ourselves to fall into sin as a result of our pleasurable actions. Pleasure is part of human life, and we all desire pleasure at times. We don’t have to be overly serious, ascetic, stoic, or moody to show that we are living a good Christian life. As humans, we have a natural desire to relax, have fun, and enjoy the good things of life. It is the virtue of temperance that allows us to live the good life and yet not sin against God as a result. Temperance helps us to know when to limit our actions and behavior; it shows us where the line between having fun and committing sin should be drawn, so that we don’t cross it.
We can practice temperance at any stage of our lives — as an individual, a couple or a family. For a family, for instance, the virtue of temperance is an important one to consider. It is good for the family to spend time together in recreational activities such as taking vacations, watching movies, playing cards, or shopping. These activities help to develop the human family socially, and we can do all these activities with love for one another. It is temperance that lets us know when we have the means to do these things and when we don’t, when it is convenient and when it is not. Temperance enables us to make choices that will not plunge our family into chaos, fraction, or financial difficulty because of our social desires. Like any other habit, the virtue of temperance can be developed through the conscious practice of choosing appropriate times for taking care of ourselves socially and spiritually. It is temperance that helps one to be holy and still enjoy the good things of life. In bringing up your family you must not deprive yourself of either of the two — holiness or the joy of life. What is important is to know the difference between the two and to be able to distinguish between what is holy and what is sinful.
The virtue of temperance is a safeguard against all forms of extremism. Those who have the responsibility of raising children (parents and teachers, for example) need to bring them up to respond to pleasure in moderation by instilling in them from an early age the virtue of temperance. The way a parent responds to pleasure will be a model for the child. If the child learns to indulge in intemperate behavior from an early age, the desire for inordinate pleasure will only grow stronger as he matures.
We must also remember that all Christian virtues are achieved through a life of prayer. As we as individuals strive to live as an example of temperance, we must support our efforts by developing a life of prayer.
Father Jacob Dankasa is the pastor of Holy Family of Nazareth Catholic Church in Irving.