By Fr. Massimiliano M. Zangheratti, FI
The recognition that everything we have is a gift from God is fundamental to a healthy sense of temperance. With it, we receive His gifts with joy and gratitude, use them with moderation, and have the spiritual strength needed to make sacrifices in reparation for our own sins and those of others.
Temperance is the virtue that holds disordered passions at bay. When it is put that way, it would seem to have a merely negative role of “repression” in moments of temptation and nothing more, even if we recognize that this repression serves the good of the whole spiritual life—somewhat as the police tend to dissuade criminals. But in fact, temperance also has a positive role: it fosters the praise of God and expiatory sacrifice.
Moderation in using created things comes from the recognition that we ourselves are mere creatures, essentially dependent upon God in every way. We are therefore paupers, but well mannered ones who look for God’s benefits not as a right, but as a gift. We are poor persons who receive and use what is given us with that attention, grace and reserve that essentially distinguish a person with self-control from an insatiably greedy one who throws himself at food or whatever and then complains that his stomach and pocketbook are insufficient for the enjoyment of all that is delightful and appealing. Moderation produces in us a sense of joyful gratitude for even the littlest things, for every scrap of bread, and turns life into a continuous surprise and continuous praise of God for the good and beautiful things He has made. St. Francis would not have written “The Canticle of Brother Sun” if he had not been the penitent that he was, and the discontent – Often tragic – from which many suffer is the result of none other than their belief that they have a “right” to receive everything they want without delay.
Temperance also fosters that work of charity, of supernatural love, which leads the soul to offer its earthly goods—by giving them up—and itself in order to expiate its own sins and those of others, with eyes fixed on the Cross and a desire to share in Our Lord’s Passion. This is the temperance that shines in the shepherd children of Fátima, who, with a readiness and ease superior to their age, offered thirst and various penances for sinners.
The temperance of the Virgin was motivated by all this, except for the reparation of “Her own” sins, since She did not have any. Nevertheless, perfectly united to Her divine Son, She took upon Herself our sins: from the moment of the Incarnation to the climax of Our Lord’s Passion, when She stood under the Cross, and afterwards in the years remaining to Her on the earth, as the Church took its first steps in history. This temperance of Mary, in a more profound way than that of St. Francis, led to the Magnificat, in which the Handmaid of the Lord proclaims, marveling at the gifts of God, His greatness, mercy, and goodness.
This spirit of the Virgin—a spirit that transforms life into something new, and makes voluntary sacrifice joyful—must be present in all Christians. And wouldn’t this be the best way to resolve the many “ecological” problems that afflict the earth, as well as the injustice—all of which very often have their origin in none other than thirst for pleasure and the consequent craving for consumption?