Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Fulton Sheen, Part V: The Fifth Word and the Virtue of Temperance

Background and Part I, here.
Part II, here.
Part III, here.
Part IV, here.


Continuing with Lenten meditations on the Seven Last Words and the Seven Virtues, by Venerable Fulton J. Sheen.


The Fourth Word:
"I thirst."

The Corresponding Virtue:
Temperance


Excerpts from Sheen's March 17, 1940 address:


Because our needs are limited, but our wants are unlimited, a virtue is necessary to restrain our inordinate appetites and desires -- and that virtue is called temperance. It has for its object the regulation of the sensible appetites by reason. The two strongest appetites in man are eating and drinking which sustain his individual life, and the sexual act which propagates his social nature. Excesses in these appetites are the sources of the two sins of gluttony and lust. Temperance is the virtue which moderates them for the sake of the soul.



Temperance must not be confused either with Puritanism, which because of the abuse of a thing would take away its use; nor with license which would interpret all restraint as an infringement of liberty. Rather there is a golden mean, as revealed in Our Lord's first miracle at Cana where he changed water into wine to satisfy the individual appetite and blessed the married couple for the satisfaction of the creative instinct.  There is no consolation here for those gloomy souls who would kill the joy of living, nor for those frivolous souls who would isolate pleasure from the end of living, namely, the salvation of the soul. 



[T]he material exists for the spiritual. Christ expressed a physical thirst for a spiritual reason, namely, the fulfillment of a prophecy as a proof of His Divinity [Psalm 68:22]. In like manner, every material thing on the earth, from salt to flesh, is a means, not an end -- a bridge, not a goal of life. 



Because temperance teaches us that the earthly exists for the heavenly, the motive of a Christian is far different from the motive of a pagan. Take two persons who by cutting down on their food lose twenty pounds each. Materially, twenty pounds off a pagan is the same as twenty pounds off a Christian. But the motive in each case is quite different … The pagan diets for the sake of his bodily appearance; the Christian fasts for the sake of his soul. Each receives his corresponding reward, either the praise of men who love leanness or the praise of God who loves virtue. The tragedy of so much dieting, from a Catholic point of view, is how much restraint goes to waste. That is why one of the first questions in our [Baltimore] Catechism is: "Of which should we take more care, our soul or our body?" And the answer is: "We should take more care of our soul, for 'what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his immortal soul?'"



The basis of the Catholic secret of temperance and discipline is exchange. All life is founded on exchange … We get light in exchange for heat; bread in exchange for a dime. If you want to be an expert in mathematics you have to give up being an expert in tennis; if you want to give your body all its satisfactions, you have to give up the joys of the soul. 



A saint is always joyful, but our modern pleasure-hunter is always melancholy. He is not really happy, because he laughs too much. The laughter is artificially stimulated from the outside by a stooge with a wise-crack; it is not a joy that proceeds from the inside because of a duty fulfilled out of love of God. Happiness comes from self-possession through temperance, not from self-expression through license. 



Loving enemies out of a divine intention is worth more than loving friends out of a personal satisfaction. The philanthropists who give millions to erect art museums, libraries, and playgrounds out of purely humanitarian reasons will not further their eternal salvation as much as the poor widow who gives a nickel to a poor man on the street because in his need she sees the poverty of Christ. 



It is not what is given that profits unto salvation; it is why it is given. That is why a friendly meal given to an enemy in the name of Him who loved us when we were His enemies, is worth more on the day of our judgment than a 50 million dollar hospital given to perpetuate a family name. There is no injustice in this. Each gets the reward he wanted: In one instance, the love of Christ; in the other, the memory of men.



Great sacrifices without love are worthless for the soul; nor because they are great does it follow they were done with love; it is the motive that matters -- do them out of love of God!




Venerable Fulton J. Sheen



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3 comments:

  1. Boy, I'm having a hard time leaving a comment today! this is my second attempt.

    What I wanted to say (but now I have to shorten it) is that I'm learning through my own battles with my weaknesses, human pride, and crosses, that we don't thank God enough for the crosses he sends us for our holiness. It's rare for us to really be thankful for hardships--but I think that's because we are used to looking at things in the human context and hiding behind the "I'm only human" excuse. God made us to become divine. Are we really going to use the "I'm only human" excuse when we have to face Him?

    Here is a great quote from St.Josemaria Escriva. This is taken from his book The Way of the Cross--it is such a great book filled with points of meditations after each station--great esepcially for Lent!

    " 'St Peter writes: through Jesus Christ, God has given us high and treasured promises, to make you sharers in the divine nature.' (2 Pet 1:4.)

    This divinisation of ours does not mean that we cease to be human...Men, yes, but with a horror of grave sin. Men who loathe venial faults and who, while having daily experience of their weakness, are aware too of the power of God.

    This way nothing can stop us: neither human respect, nor our passions, nor this flesh of ours which rebels because of our baseness, nor pride, nor...loneliness.

    A Christian is never alone...If you feel abandoned, it is because you do not want to look at that Christ who is passing so close to you...perhaps with the Cross."

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  2. I am loving this series! Shakespeare said "How beautiful, how temperate" that has always stuck with me. Temperance is one of the virtues that we don't pay too much attention to but when we do the rewards from God are great.

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  3. Excellent series, Leila. Wisdom upon wisdom. Thank you.

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