One of the Cardinal Virtues is Temperance. This virtue is explained in The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1838 as a virtue which “moderates the attraction of the pleasures of the senses and provides balance in the use of created goods.” It basically means that we are to temper our desires wisely. Temperance allows us to see the good things of the earth and also helps to form and shape our character.
I recently led a retreat for middle school students on the Fruit of the Spirit, self-control, and it reminded me that this is something we all can struggle with at times. For example; do we have the self-control to NOT eat the donut when we are tempted and our goal is to lose weight? Our thoughts can get the best of us because maybe it was a donut from THE best donut shop in town and "it is only one donut"... "okay, maybe two donuts, but that is all." Or perhaps it is getting in a hotel elevator and having the devious desire to press the buttons for ALL 15 floors right before you exit. To learn and grow in the Virtue of Temperance is practicing self-control. So, how do we do this?
“A man without self control is like a city broken into and left without walls.”
To use this proverb - we don’t want to be left vulnerable to our enemies, so we must fortify and protect ourselves from those enemies. Please don’t think that I am saying donuts are bad. Donuts are not the enemy; it is more the desire we have to eat them when it doesn’t fit within our goal of losing weight that can be a problem. Maybe we can have half a donut, or we can treat ourselves to a donut every now and then, tempering our desires for those earthly pleasures.
Here is what I recently presented to a group of middle school students: We can describe the use of self control by the 3 S’s:
Knowing our impulses and desires
Where do we struggle?
When do we struggle?
How are we feeling and what is happening within ourselves when we are faced with an impulse to do something?
What do we actually have control over?
We have control over our thoughts, decisions, actions, interests, friends we choose to spend time with, and the effort we put into things.
What do we NOT have control over?
We do not have control over other people’s thoughts, opinions, actions, or their emotions.
We all live by some standards. We have a set of rules and expectations that are set in place for us through families, schools, jobs, healthcare professionals, cities, and most importantly our moral compass and our faith. The Catholic Church has the Precepts of the Church, which teach us the minimal ways we can practice the Faith. God gave us the Ten Commandments to calibrate our moral compasses.
Within these standards we set goals for ourselves.
We want to get an education
We might want to learn a sport
We might want to lose weight
We want to be good and kind
We want to live a virtuous life
We need to know what we want and have goals, before we can learn how to practice and use self control.
Strength comes from two places: our willpower and our Lord.
We only have so much willpower in a day. But, our Lord's strength is endless!
When we have goals, they can help us use our willpower wisely. How do we do this?
We avoid the temptations or at least minimize them.
But if our Lord has endless power and strength, why do we spend so much time fighting against NOT using that strength? If we allow the Lord into our lives, we have to create a relationship with Him and call upon Him when we need help - HE will give us the strength we need to withstand the temptations. We can look to two examples in Scripture: when David spares Saul, in 1 Samuel 24:1-22 and when Jesus is tempted in the wilderness, in Matthew 4:1-11.
Keep in mind that when we pray to ask for strength, God will give it to us, but it doesn’t mean we don’t have to take an active part in the process. His strength might be to give you creativity on ways to avoid or temper your desires for something. Or, He might put people in your life to help you overcome a situation. We can’t do things alone; we need God. So, to lean into Him is strength itself and will be beneficial in your work toward the Virtue of Temperance.
Here is a suggested prayer to help you; this prayer has done wonders for alcoholics to become sober and stay sober. Maybe it will be helpful for you in this journey towards increasing the Virtue of Temperance and working on self-control: