July 20, 2010

On Temperance

"I can resist anything but temptation," Oscar Wilde once quipped. Temptations come at us from many sources - the world, the flesh, and the devil - and, no, we can't stop them from coming. What do we do with those temptations?

"Temperance moderates the attraction of the pleasures of the senses and provides balance in the use of created goods." [1838] Note the language used in the Catechism: "moderates" and "balance". Temperance is not about being boring or bland. It is not about rejecting every pleasure and "living" a sterile existence. God made this world and the things in it - and they're good!

Temperance is about moderation. We must be neither ingrates nor idolitors.

Our focus in being temperate is usually on avoiding excess. The Catechism gives too much food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine as examples. [2290] We are a people of excess, so rarely do we need to be told to "tune it up" rather than down. But it is important to remember that both proscriptions are there. Have a drink. A little wine is good for you, as both doctors () and Saint Paul (1 Tim 5:23) tell us. Stay off the road afterward [2290], and never drink so much that you throw up in my sink. (I'm talking to you, guy that crashed on our sofa in college.) Take your medicine, but follow your doctor's directions. Be modest and chaste, get married, and then have lots of great sex. (God's command to "be fruitful" isn't tell us to stock up on oranges!)

But we are people of excess. Rarely do we have to be reminded to enjoy something, but often we must be told when to stop. (The Church comes across as very stodgy and anti-fun as it tries to rectify this imbalance.) How do we resist that urge to go too far? Jesus overcomes Satan's temptations in the desert (Matt 4) by knowing and obeying Scripture. Just hearing Scripture read at Mass isn't enough if we're not discussing them, thinking about them, absorbing and making them part of our lives. Paul tells us to put on the armor of God - faith, truth, righteousness, hope of salvation - and to arm ourselves with the "sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." (Eph 6:11-17) Read the Word of God today and arm yourself to resist temptation.

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