The “Balanced” Virtue of Temperance

What comes to mind when you think of “temperance”?  Designated drivers downing pints of O’Douls or virgin daiquiris? The thrill of moral victory from leaving that last bite of chocolate cake on the plate? Lent?

The other day I came across an article by MaryEllen Tribby (Founder and CEO of WorkingMoms.com) entitled “The Success Indicator,” in which Steve Wozniack of Apple Computers describes characteristics of “successful” and “unsuccessful” people.[1] Bottom line: the successful ones demonstrate a “transformational” (that is, a temperate) approach to their relationships, especially in the workplace, while the unsuccessful ones take a “transactional” approach (that is, “what’s best for me”).

What does this have to do with temperance? The moral virtue of temperance is a kind of spiritual “plumline” that allows us to assess our relationships with others, to elevate them toward the good, and prevent them from being affected by concupiscence, greed, possessiveness, and pride. This virtue also enables us to find the “middle way” in relationships between men and women, recognizing that “genius” often has a corresponding weakness, which are best remedied when we allow God to use our complementarity as a source of unity rather than division.

The Catechism teaches that the moral virtue of temperance moderates our attraction to pleasure and consumption, enables us to master our desires and instincts, and restores balance to the “sensible appetites” that affect our feelings toward others (CCC 1890-91). Temperance restores the balance by directing these appetites “toward the good.”

Loving God is one thing . . . but how does one show a “temperate” love of other people? How are we to form “temperate” relationships, based not just on what feels good, but what truly is good for ourselves and our community?

The following Scripture passage describes what our relationships are to be like, as brothers and sisters in Christ who want to embrace a “transformative” (temperate) rather than “transactional” lifestyle. From 1 Peter 4:7-11

The end of all things is at hand. Therefore, be serious and sober for prayers. Above all, let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.

So . . . How do we begin to elevate our interpersonal relationships through the practice of temperance?

  • Begin by acknowledging that we do have natural personal preferences.  We tend to be drawn toward those who have similar gifts, values, and outlooks.  Ask God if any of these need to be tempered and brought into “balance.”


  • Ask God to give you “new eyes” for those with whom you do not share a natural affinity. Be willing to own and change patterns of behavior that are intemperate. Be willing to forgive this same tendency in others, as you would want to be forgiven.


  • Optimize your “successful” (transformational) stance and weed out “unsuccessful” (transactional) behaviors. Share information. Seek advice. Share the credit. Do what you can to support the goals of others.


  • When conflict emerges, see it as an opportunity to grow in temperance as well as the fruit of the Spirit: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-25).

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/maryellen-tribby/the-success-indicator_b_1874431.html

Heidi Hess Saxton, new Editorial Director at Ascension Press,  is the author of Raising Up Mommy and My Big Book of Catholic Bible Stories. Heidi blogs at A Rosary for my GPS, an online resource for mothers of adopted, fostered, and special needs children. She and her husband foster-adopted their two children in 2002.

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