Temperance Matters

27 Oct

Temperance not only is undervalued but also misunderstood today. It does mean moderation, but not in a quantitative, mathematical sense. I could probably eat a dozen donuts, but that would be excessive. Yet not having any donuts would be excessive in the other direction, so I decide to eat only a half dozen. That’s a compromise, but not a temperate one!

Temperance is not pleasure avoidance, even though Prohibition was brought about by the “temperance movement.” And temperance is not merely “sin avoidance,” namely the mere absence of serious sins of gluttony or lust.

Temperance is all about living the good life. Here’s a textbook definition: Temperance moderates the attraction of sensual pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods.

Let’s simplify that: Passions (also known as desires or emotions) are a “given.” They are not good or evil in themselves, but must be harnessed by the intellect and will lest they run amok.

When emotions such as fear keep us from pursuing the good, we need the virtue of fortitude or courage to press on.

Other times our desires pull or even seduce us to seek what isn’t good for us. In those instances, temperance is the virtue that moderates these desires and directs them in a good and healthy way.

Temperance involves staying strong during a storm of passion. We know those storms: “munchies,” sugar cravings, a cold beer or two, sexual urges, anger, the thrill of a gamble or athletic competition, or an exhibition of speed.

Let’s face it, our sins tend to be rooted in disordered desires, so we need the virtue of temperance lest our desires take control of our lives. The various vices of intemperance will lead to addiction and enslavement—spiritual and at times physical and psychological as well.

The virtue of temperance when specifically applied to the area of sexuality is called chastity.

Everyone is called to chastity. It’s a manly thing, and it’s a difficult thing. Chastity does not mean denying our masculine sexuality, nor does it necessarily mean abstaining from sexual activity, though single men and men who have taken vows to remain celibate are to abstain from sexual intimacy.

The vice that corresponds to chastity is lust, one of the seven deadly sins. We can’t overcome lust without growing in chastity—which empowers us to give fully of ourselves to God and to others, especially our spouse.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: Either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy” (Catechism, no. 2339). God made us to be free, not to be enslaved to our passions.

The Catechism also says that those who want to remain faithful to Christ in the area of sexuality must adopt all the means for doing so (see no. 2340). This is real work, and it never completely ends. The great thing is that Christ doesn’t expect perfection overnight. Just the opposite: Our imperfections and sins teach us to trust in his mercy and redouble our efforts to grow in Christian virtue.

When it comes to attacks on our sexual purity, we have to be aware that there is much working against us, both outside us in our culture, but also inside us, because of the effects of sin. Temptations are said to come from the flesh, the world, and the devil, and that’s certainly true in the sexual arena.

When it’s not assaulting us, the world is sneering at us, telling us that virtue will hurt you, meekness is weakness, chaste makes waste. We need to be strong. We need character muscles.

We can’t just go with the flow in a clueless, thoughtless way and expect that we’re going to be immune to sexual temptation and sin. It’s not going to happen, any more than we can lie around day after day on the sofa drinking beer and eating chips and expect to be able to run a marathon. It doesn’t work that way. We’re in a “culture war,” not a “culture lounge”!

The starting point is reconciliation with God through the Sacrament of Confession, especially those of us mired in sexual sin or who haven’t been to Confession in years. Part and parcel of that is to walk away completely from the sin in our lives. Examples include:

  • Terminate extra-marital (and pre-marital) sexual activity
  • Throw away the pornographic magazines
  • Use filters to block online pornography
  • Discontinue the premium cable channels that carry “adult” movies

All that is a great start, but we’re likely to go back to those things if we don’t maintain our chastity “muscle tone.” And how can we claim any moral authority on key culture-of-life issues if we lack integrity in our own personal lives? So here I’ll close with eight exercises to help men build their character muscles.

1. Avoid temptation: We need to know ourselves well enough to know our weaknesses. It may seem counterintuitive, but the manly thing to do is flee temptation, not engage it. Good football teams have “take out corners.” They’re able to neutralize a star receiver; as the team essentially says, “you’re going to have to find another way to beat us.” Similarly, with some self-knowledge and foresight, we can take out of play some of our recurring temptations.

2. Practice self-denial: Penance is part of any healthy spiritual life. Beyond that, since chastity is related to temperance, intemperance in our
eating, drinking, entertainment, and pleasure-seeking can easily carry over into the area of sexuality!

3. Discipline the eyes: Rather than “check out” women, let’s strive to look women in the eye, as a person, and not as an object. It’s also important to limit or better yet avoid “surfing” the TV or computer.

4. Manage alcohol, stress, and fatigue: When our defenses are compromised, our moral judgment can easily become clouded. In this regard, we should watch how we use our downtime. If we’re tired or bored, it may not be the best time to watch TV or log onto the computer if those have been areas of difficulty.

5. Foster real friendships: Chastity leads to forming friendships, to treating others as persons created in God’s image, rather than using people as objects of our own desires or agendas.

6. Confess regularly: Lust thrives on secrecy. We shouldn’t treat Confession as mere crisis management for really big sins. Rather, regular
Confession gives us the grace to nip sin in the bud as we build our character muscles.

7. Be accountable: In addition to the Sacrament of Confession, it’s important for us to be accountable at home and at work. In addition, many men are now involved in various study groups where there is an opportunity for friendship and godly conversation in a faith context, which is very important.

8. Meditate daily: We need new wineskins. We need to be different, to be better, to become more like Christ and see reality through His eyes. Spending time with Him in the Gospels is simply an irreplaceable part of this exercise program, as is frequent recourse to the Eucharist—including, if possible, daily Mass or time spent in Eucharistic adoration.

As we renew our efforts in this area, may we come to a deepening realization that the “culture of life” truly begins at home.

This post is taken from a longer article that originally appeared in This Rock magazine.

One Response to “Temperance Matters”

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  1. Temperance Matters... - Christian Forums - October 27, 2011

    […] and men who have taken vows to remain celibate are to abstain from sexual intimacy. Continued- Temperance Matters… __________________ Your socks stink. To view links or images in signatures your post count […]

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