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Moderation in All Things

Temperance is moderation or self-restraint in satisfying bodily appetites. It’s not a matter of stoically repressing them, but of controlling them, channeling them, keeping them within limits. Appetites in and of themselves are good, but they need to be supervised by our intelligence and controlled by our will.

A practical rule of thumb for limiting bodily appetites is contained in St. Ignatius of Loyola’s precept “as much as.” We must eat, drink, sleep, rest, and so forth as much as necessary to meet our physical needs; in other words, as much as is healthy. Any symptom of excess or overload indicates crossing into intemperance.

Food is perhaps the most difficult area for temperance. We must watch three aspects: quantity, quality, and scheduling. Cover the energetic, metabolic, and structural needs of the body by using the 80/20 rule: If 80% of what we eat is nutritious food—what we need—the remaining 20% can be food we like. And nothing is better for the stomach than to feed it at regular times.

Christ valued, appreciated, enjoyed, and shared legitimate pleasures. It was he who brought joy to a wedding by turning water into wine.

Looking at temperance as enjoying everything in the right measure as opposed to depriving ourself of things we like brings a sense of freedom. Temperance sharpens our senses, fine-tuning them to be more open to enjoyment. We become more sensitive to the needs and hardships of others. We discover that pleasure is not found in things, but in ourselves.

These are the legitimate and enjoyable rewards of a temperate life.

Adapted from Vices and Virtues: Knowing, Accepting, and Improving Yourself by Alejandro Ortega Trillo (Liguori Publications, © 2015. All rights reserved. Available in English and Spanish).

Published inReflections