By Mikki Sciba
What is Temperance?
Have you ever eaten too much food and felt bad afterwards? Or have you felt really angry and acted out by yelling or throwing a fit? Sometimes people struggle with controlling what they do and how they feel. The virtue of temperance is about practicing self-control. It helps you control your actions, thoughts, and feelings. Our bodies need things that help it grow and flourish like food, water, exercise, and rest. Temperance helps you balance what your body needs without having too much or too little of it. For example, food is good. It helps keep you alive and healthy, but if you eat too much you can become sick. Exercise is good. However, if you don’t exercise your body will not be very strong, and if you exercise too much you could hurt your body. Sleep is good. You need it for your body to rest, but if you constantly oversleep it prevents you from beginning your tasks for the day and doing what God wants you to do. It can make you lazy. Do you get the idea now?
Think of a thermostat: if you set it too far on one end it will be too hot, if it's too far in the other direction it will be too cold. It’s important to find that balance between too much and too little. Temperance helps you find that appropriate balance to make good use of those things our bodies and souls need or want without going overboard. We all have some type of work we need to do, but it’s important to make sure we get rest and leisure (play time) without forgetting to pray. Temperance helps you balance your work, play, rest, and prayer. (Use the “Temperance: Finding a Daily Balance” worksheet in the resources section to help you reflect on how well you are balancing those things.) Temperance also helps you control your emotions. There are many times in life where you may feel sad or mad. It’s not bad to feel those things but learning how to control your feelings is very important, and temperance can help you do that.
Below are some of the virtues of temperance. Take some time to read over these and think about ways to practice them in your life.
Shamefacedness - This sounds bad, but it's actually really good. Shamefacedness is a virtue that helps you back away from things that are evil or not good for you. When you have thought about or done something wrong it’s common to feel bad or guilty about it. This means you have a good conscience and recognize that you have sinned. You realize that your thoughts or actions have not honored God, so you stay away from those things that offend God. It is possible for someone to get used to doing evil or bad things that he no longer feels sorry for his actions or asks for forgiveness. Instead, he brags about doing those things that are bad and sinful. Temperance helps us avoid getting to this point.
Abstinence and Fasting - This refers to the practice of giving something up completely or reducing how much you do a certain activity. Fasting and abstinence are spiritual exercises that help you learn to control your desires and make your soul muscles stronger. They are useful for freeing your mind from the concerns of your body so that you can think more about God and his plan. It's also a way to show penance for your sins. There are some fasts that the Catholic Church requires such as fasting an hour before receiving communion, fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent. But you can practice abstinence and fasting at any time, and you can do it for a day, a week, or a month. Just remember, the longer you commit to a certain fast the more exercise your soul will get. Here are some suggestions on how you can fast or abstain:
- Give up sweets
- Give up juice
- Give up snacking between meals
- Give up your phones, video games, TV, or social media.
- Give up buying anything new for a certain time
- Give up your bed (sleep on the floor)
- Give up complaining or saying negative comments
- Give up your time to serve your family or do community service project
- Give up play time to pray
- Give up listening to music
* (You can also use the “Fasting Fitness” worksheet to help you practice fasting.)
Meekness - Meekness controls your feelings of anger. Think of a time you were really angry. What did you do? When people get angry and do not work on controlling it, it is easy to fight, argue, and say bad or unkind words to or about others. Controlling your anger can be challenging, but practicing meekness tames your anger so it doesn’t run wild. Here are some suggestions for practicing meekness when you are angry:
- Count to ten before saying or doing anything.
- Write how you are feeling in a journal.
- Close your eyes and take three deep breaths. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- Practice the “Meekness Minute.” You can find this sheet in the resources section. Print it off and hang it in your room.
Humility - Humility involves true knowledge of yourself. You know your strengths and weaknesses. When you can admit to your own failings and shortcomings, you are growing in humility. It’s important to realize that without God we are nothing, and what makes us special is the fact that we are God’s children. Do not be conceited and think too highly of yourself. Humility is the virtue that fights the sin of pride. Pride is when you think all the good you possess is because of yourself, not God, or you think you are better than you really are. Recognize that all you have been given and any talent you possess comes from God. Use your talents in ways that are pleasing to God but do not brag about your talents. Humility also gives you the ability to put other people before yourself. Here are some ideas on how to grow in humility:
- Thank God for everything you have.
- Congratulate other people when they do well on a test or game.
- Be happy for others when they get an award or special attention.
- Think of others before yourself.
- Say I’m sorry and recognize when you have failed or done wrong.
- Print out the “Litany of Humility for Young People” and pray it often.
Modesty - Modesty is having beauty or goodness of mind and conduct, especially in how we dress and speak. All people are created in the image and likeness of God and are called to imitate His goodness in their hearts and actions. The virtue of modesty helps you find the best way to order or control your conduct. St. Thomas Aquinas said, “Outward movements are signs of the inward disposition.” Basically, what we do with our bodies shows what is in our hearts. Psalm 51:10 says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” So pay attention to what your body is doing. Does it show a clean, pure, and modest heart? Here are some examples of things that are not modest: saying bad words, rolling your eyes, teasing others, yelling, being sarcastic, telling vulgar or dirty jokes, being loud, bragging, trying to be the center of attention, and wearing clothes that are not appropriate. Stay away from those things and practice these modest behaviors instead: speak gently, practice silence, use your manners by saying “please” and “thank you,” do not draw attention to yourself, and dress in appropriate clothes. Ask yourself this question before you speak, act, or get dressed, “Does this show God’s beauty and goodness?” If you cannot answer that with a positive and confident “YES!” than it is best to stay away from it.
Prayer for Temperance
Dear Lord, I pray for the virtue of temperance. Help me to learn to control my thoughts, feelings, and actions. Help me to desire what is good and reject what is evil. I want to honor You in my body and soul. Teach me how to find balance in my life between prayer, work, rest, and play. I ask for the grace to grow in meekness, humility, and modesty so I may reflect Your goodness. Amen.
Suggestions for Practicing Temperance
☐ Eat a little less at one meal.
☐ Pick one day a week to abstain from something. Do this for a whole month!
☐ Make a daily chart of how much time you spend on certain things. Iis there a good balance between prayer, work, play, and rest? Write down what you need to spend less time on and what needs more of your time and attention.
☐ Cut back on TV, video games, and social media time.
☐ When someone compliments you for a good job, respond with, “I thank God for the gifts to be able to do this.”
☐ Find a Bible verse about temperance or self-control and memorize it.
☐ Complete as many of the worksheets in the resources section to help you grow in virtue.
Mikki Sciba is the Seasons of Infancy and Initiation Specialist for the St. Philip Institute of Catechesis and Evangelization in the Diocese of Tyler. She develops and implements creative methods for evangelizing and catechizing children between the ages of 0-12 years.