This Advent at Resurrection parish we are concentrating on a very positive theme—our call to the practice of The Cardinal Virtues. We need positive goals and actions as to focus our attention, since too much going on around us is in the negative. We don’t need to wallow in that or get real downhearted over things in life. Why so? Because we are born anew to become children of God; we are born for virtuous living!
The Cardinal Virtues are four special calls into the blessed living of goodness in and by Jesus Christ and the power of His rising and indwelling of His Spirit in us. Those four virtues are prudence, temperance, fortitude and justice. Last week we covered prudence (the lead charioteer of virtues), and this week we’ll cover temperance.
Homily: Are you a virtuous person? Are you a virtuous person who has learned to practice temperance well?
First, let’s review what virtue is.
When we are born into the natural world, we are given a complete set of faculties necessary to live a natural life in the world. When we are born again into the supernatural world by Baptism we are given a complete set of faculties to live a supernatural life in the world. Virtues are a part of this complete set of faculties. Virtue comes from the Latin word virtus, which in English means power. A virtue, then, is a power to accomplish moral good and to do it joyfully and perseveringly, even in the midst of interior and exterior obstacles and at the cost of sacrifice. When this power is not turned to good but to evil, then it is called a vice. So we have virtues and vices; virtuousness and vicefulness. This is Sunday number two of our focus on virtue for Advent and Christmas.
There are two sets of virtues; one which has to do immediately with our relationship with God and therefore is called the theological virtues, namely faith, hope and love (charity). Then the next set is the ones of moral virtues, which has more to do immediately with our relationship to others (and with ourselves and the practice of goodness).
The four moral virtues of prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude are called the Cardinal Virtues because the other moral virtues depend on them. Last weekend we looked at Prudence. It essentially is the ability to discern for the good: to discern what is to be done in a concrete situation. In other words, “What is the best way for me to do the right thing, and how shall I carry it out in action?” Prudence means to discern to make decisions and then truly to act on that decision, thus living out our personhood as a reflection of God and His goodness. We do so in hopes of becoming who we have been created to be, with our celebrated access to the redeemed life in Jesus.
The second Cardinal Virtue is Temperance. It is the moral virtue which enables us to control what has traditionally been called the concupiscible appetite, our fleshly desire for food, drink and sex, and main human drives. We know in Catholic teaching how humanity has been corrupted by the effect of sin upon us, so that we are messed up now in those desires and appetites. This residue of the fallen nature is called “concupiscence.” (Thus, the concupiscible appetite—meaning a mess up to our desires and wants and needs—and how much or how little do we have something. Concupiscence defines that humanity has fallen to the basic nature of living under sin and separation from God—we are even born into this sin condition—but the Spirit-led person can tap into the new life brought on by Christ Jesus, into a supernatural or spiritual realm or better put: a kingdom-of-God life. God has availed His people a turn-around life to Him, to get back to what was originally given by Him to us. This has a spiritual term called “metanoia.” That’s all I’ll say on it, and it sounds like met a Hoya, but the turn-about of metanoia is meeting God fully in your faith—and looking to Him.
This thing called concupiscence has confused us. We now ask: What is good? How much or how little is right for us? Or wrong for us? Does this thing or action or thought matter I am pondering—how it may be good or wrong for us?
Let’s talk “desires” here. One starting point is that we know that our God has given us a desire or liking for food, drink, sexual or physical acts of love, and for work, and for movement and interaction– and such, and these things were not meant to control us in a bad way, but we were always meant to find the right measure in all things.
Moderation in all things is the motto of temperance. We temper our lives. We don’t let ourselves get caught up in excesses, nor let ourselves get caught up in something as in a crutch, or escape, or addiction in our life. Likewise, the opposite end of it all is bad, too, if one has a regular behavior or mindset of avoidance or aloofness or of a some far flung independence from what goodness God has planned for us. Excess in either direction is a failure in healthy moderation.
When we are considering how much or how controlled our electronic living is (games, phones, internet)—this is a temperance matter. When we are pondering what to believe in the media, or government—this is a temperance matter. When we are weighing how much we kid around, or joke, or poke fun, or dodge thing, as in comparison to our seriousness, our living by our words and promises, and talking straight—this is a temperance matter. When we wonder what level of faith to practice, or prayer, or service—it’s temperance. When we wonder how much response is God expecting of us in response to the evils and immorality and moral blights going on—and how shall we do so? It’s temperance. When we weigh the difference of praise and recognition for a job well done against the spirit of humility and just service—this again is under the temperance category. Most people know it also pertains to how much food or drink we consume—and our honest, inner appraisals of it.
There is the happy medium in how to live—and it is called living temperately. Moderation is about finding a balance between two extremes – deprivation and overindulging. I put some definition of that in the Spirituality Page of the bulletin today. Take a look at it.
Temperance is the moral virtue that knows and keeps responsibilities to ourselves, to God, and to others. Temperance is a virtue that recognizes that we can get all sorts of desires going on inside of us, and we are meant to moderate and control these desires. We are meant to consider things before the immediate fleshy impulse to satiate a desire. The Holy Spirit can help a lot here in figuring out how to respond to desire.
“Moderation in all things is the best policy,” so have said all manner of wise sages, philosophers, saints and theologians—such as St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa. Oscar Wilde adds, amusingly: “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”
How is Temperance related to Advent? One verse can succinctly answer that, and it’s from Titus chapter one: “the grace of God has appeared, saving all, and now training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires, so as to live temperately, justly and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope… the glory coming.” Amen.
Temperance is a thing God has me thinking about in this homily. (How much should I say, or how succinctly?) This virtue had me consider: How much will I say in advice on temperance?! Should it be tempered?! Now I feel like I have just a couple of minutes more to get out of this homily, if I am to still show temperance in my message!
Like all the virtues, temperance must be learned through practice and patience. While it may not sound like much fun, the only real way to become temperate is through prayer and a true self-knowing and reflection, and then to follow a godly self-denial practice, just as Jesus advised. We also can really help one another in this virtue.
As for yourself, in an easier, no-nonsense term—what temperance means is that you just have to tell yourself and others NO now and then!
Can we be temperate people? Yes! We can curb or temper our appetites. By God’s grace! Such as in food: Americans love too much to eat, and fast food at that. We like big amounts of everything. Instead of a single hamburger, we want a triple cheeseburger on three bread slices, loaded with bacon, guacamole, and every condiment imaginable, accompanied by a 30 oz. diet soda! And we’ll have large fries with that, and maybe a hot apple pie! The advertising strategy of all this craziness to eat is to force the message of “indulge yourself—because you deserve it.” Actually, we deserve to treat our selves more temperately!
In conclusion… Temperance is usually considered by the ungodly as a gloomy and dour thing, practiced by those who don’t know how to have any fun. This simply isn’t true, however. When all of our appetites are controlled by reason and are working in harmony, we will find a new peace. We won’t be controlled by restless cravings and desires anymore, or not as much, but will instead be able to do what we really want to do (like serve God for one thing!), rather than what are passions are telling us to do.
How does this all relate to Advent and Christmas again? I think this is the most indulgent time and pleasure-oriented time of the year, and we would be wise to show temperance! Our opening Scripture today from Baruch the prophet encourages us to turn from vainglory and inordinate desires and choose, rather instead, to “live in the glory of the Eternal Name…and put on the splendor of glory from God.” Isn’t this the call to the new life in Christ, where and when and how we have the power (virtus, virtue) to take off “robes of mourning and misery” of the world’s making (as Baruch calls God’s elect to do), so rather to put on godliness, and live by His goodness? It’s a good proposal to consider for Advent and Christmas—the virtue of temperance, prudence, fortitude and justice. There are nice duds to put on and wear in the Christian life!
Here are three paths to the less-is-best spirit of moderation.
A/ Take less than you want. B/ Tell yourself that pleasure should be measured. C/ Remind yourself that being uncomfortable isn’t readily a bad thing, not if it’s something you are doing to buck the worldly way of the flesh-only or the flesh first orientation they follow. Don’t jump in for the feel good?—do it now! slogan. Instead, say: Denied! (And do like saying it, because you are in control, by the inspiration of God!)
And consider this about temperance….Don’t the 10 Commandments warn twice about coveting (out of control desire), and also teach us not to indulge beyond boundaries in sexual love, or to get too caught up in lying or in the hating spirit? It’s better to be temperate! ‘Right?
Temperance is closely connected with Christian asceticism, those exercises which help us to regulate the conflict between the spirit and the flesh which is a result of our original sin. Temperance has us draw from the goodness of God in Christ, the incarnation wonder, and it leads us to seek living the holy, virtuous path with others, all in the goodness and redemptive power of Jesus.
Temperance does not kid around about sin, as in any excuse, as “well, I am forgiven so I can do whatever I want now!” No, it is not freedom to sin, but a freedom now to act in the good. St. Paul expresses this conflict of flesh and spirit very well in his letter to the Galatians and Romans, as for example he said: “For I take delight in the law of God in my inner self but I see in my members another principle at war with the law of my mind taking me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” (Rom. 7:22-23) He then asks: “Who or what can free me to the good?” He answers it in a few verses later: “Praise be to the Lord Jesus Christ! He frees me.”
Paul the Apostle advised the churches and her leaders to get deeply into temperance. He said that anyone aspiring to his office of apostle, therefore, “must be a steward of God, blameless… a lover of goodness, temperate.” Titus 1:7-8.
As for the general believer awaiting the Second Coming, Paul explains in the next verses (12-13) that “the grace of God has appeared, saving all, and now training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires, so as to live temperately, justly and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope… the glory coming.” So, by this exhortation, we see how life is an ongoing conversion process, even if one has fundamentally decided upon Christ (which we should do). Key idea: The Christian has much to learn in getting their whole life and being under the Lordship of Jesus, and submitted to the power of the Holy Spirit. Pray for the Cardinal Virtues to be in full go in your life—so to live in this calling .
The “concupiscible appetite” can be expressed as the pleasure principle. Pleasure is an indispensable element in human life. There is nothing wrong with pleasure. God put pleasure in the use of things to get us to use them. For example, the most powerful instinctive drive in every human being is for self-preservation. With all the fibers of our being we want to live. Self-preservation depends on our taking sufficient nourishment, food and drink. Therefore, God put pleasure in eating and drinking to insure that we would take enough nourishment to preserve our life. The second most powerful drive in human beings is for race-preservation. Therefore, God has put an intense pleasure in the exercise of the act by which this is accomplished. The population of the world has been helped by this intense pleasure, a good, though some today want to take too much control away as well as responsibility in it—really a shame! Here is where temperance is so important a virtue to practice. Desire can be a great good—and we need to see goodness in God in what is to be chosen at our disposal.
So pleasure is an indispensable element in preserving and propagating human life. But the unbridled, unrestrained, undisciplined pleasure seeking is self-destructive. We can eat ourselves to death. Obesity is a great national problem today. We can drink ourselves to death or insatiate ourselves with drugs or stimulants to danger. We can overdo it on use of the computer, internet, virtual games, the phone and the like. We can work ourselves to death. We can become a workaholic. “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy, but all play and no work makes Jack a neurotic.” What we need is moderation, balance, temperance. We should be willing to sacrifice the short-term pleasure principle for the long-term happiness principle. Pleasure and happiness is not the same thing. In fact, pleasure can be the cause of great unhappiness. Perhaps nothing has caused as much unhappiness as the pleasure of adultery or fornication with one misuse of our drives. Our desires always exceed our capacity. Anticipation is always greater than the reality, both in pleasure and in pain. There are limits to human power but there are not the limits to human desires.
Desire is what will lead us ultimately to God. It can be a great thing. One of the great Christmas songs is Jesu, Joy of Man’s desiring. Johann Sebastian Bach wrote the words and music.
Jesu, joy of man’s desiring Holy wisdom, love most bright
Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring Soar to uncreated light
Word of God, our flesh that fashioned With the fire of life impassioned
Striving still to truth unknown Soaring, dying round Thy throne.