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But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law (Gal 5:22-23).
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love (2 Pet 1:3-7).
Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified (1 Cor 9:25-27).
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Pet 5:8).
Working with metal requires precision. If you make a metal too hard, it will be brittle, and it will break when you try to use it. If you make it too soft, it will bend and be worthless. When you make a knife, you have to temper the metal: you heat it up to the right temperature, and you keep it there for a time, so that the metal is hard enough to be strong but soft enough not to break. Then the metal is useful.
Or if you like to cook, you probably know you have to temper chocolate. If you don’t heat the chocolate right, it will either never set up, or it will seize into a bunch of nasty, grainy clumps. You also need to temper eggs when you want to make an egg-based sauce, like a hollandaise. If you don’t temper your eggs, you won’t have a sauce; you’ll have scrambled eggs.
What does this have to do with people? What does this have to do with you?
What is temperance?
The Catholics put it this way in the 2290th paragraph of the Catechism:
The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine. Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endanger their own and others’ safety on the road, at sea, or in the air.
So often we think of temperance in the sense of the Temperance Movement, which made alcohol illegal in the United States in the early 20th century. In our minds, temperance is the abstinence from things that are bad.
But that’s not it at all. Temperance isn’t the avoidance of things that are bad for you. As you can see, some of the things the Catechism mentions are good, like food and medicine.
No, temperance isn’t the abstention from things that are bad for you. Temperance is the avoidance of excess in anything. Temperance is another word for self-control.
It is entirely natural to want food. We biologically need food. Without food, we will die. Yet too much food will also kill us.
And it’s not just food in general. Something is killing Americans through obesity, and the cause has finally come to light in the past few years: an excess of carbohydrates in our diet. America developed a phobia of dietary fats, and so food producers cut them out. But fats make things taste good and help people feel full. So what did the food producers do? They replaced all the fats with cheap, delicious carbohydrates. So now carbs are ubiquitous, and America is eating far too many of them, so Americans are getting fatter and suffering more metabolic and cardiac disorders, like diabetes and heart disease.
All because of an excess of one of the four basic nutrients in food. Not necessarily an excess of food itself, but an excess of one part of our food.
And now some people are going the other way. You have people who cut out carbohydrates from their diet entirely. Which is just as bad for you. Because you need carbohydrates to survive. There is a reason they’re one of the four basic nutrients: they’re important for us to live. Total abstinence from carbs isn’t temperance.
Self-control is something that is, on some level, antithetical to our culture. Ours is a culture of excess. You are being told constantly through advertising to indulge. They’ll even use the word in their commercials. They’ll even use words like it being “sinful.” How has that become a good marketing term?
You are told to indulge. You are told, “you are worth it.” You are told, “ you deserve it.”
They will tell you whatever you need to hear to get you to buy their stuff.
And so now we have a culture of indulgence. A culture of excess. A culture that hates self-control.
But self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. Self control is something that marks you as a daughter or son of God. Self-control is something that draws you away from temptation and toward Christ.
Self-control is one of the most-neglected virtues. Yet it is so vital to the Christian life!
Who is in control of you? Are you controlling yourself, or are you letting your desires control you? Do you let what you want get in the way of what you need, what God wants for you?
What is controlling your life? What is excessive?
How will you work with God to conquer that? Create a concrete game plan. Tell other people about it and ask them to hold you to it, to encourage you in it.
Glorify God with your self-control!