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What is temperance and do we still need it?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 19, January 2020 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
Temperance
Temperance is one of four cardinal (“hinge”) virtues, along with prudence, justice, and fortitude. It refers to the development of self-control, which is the hallmark of the mature person.

The virtue temperance is often conflated with the Temperance Movement, a social phenomenon of the 19th-20th centuries. The movement decried consuming alcohol to the point of intoxication. Its adherents promoted moderation or, in some expressions, teetotalism: complete abstinence from liquor. The movement was fueled by some effects of drinking in the industrial age, including injury, crime, disease, death, and suicide. Churches took up the cause, as alcohol often had an adverse affect on families. Emerging religious groups, like the Seventh Day Adventists and Mormons, promoted teetotaling as a pillar of their teaching. Other groups sought to close saloons early, restrict sales, or increase taxes.

In 1920, the movement led to the legal measure of Prohibition in the United States. The Eighteenth Amendment banned the manufacture, sale, and distribution of alcohol across the nation. Other countries like Russia preceded the U.S. in prohibition, while Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Finland, Iceland, and Canada attempted selective restraints. By 1933, the U.S. was ready to repeal nationwide Prohibition with the Twenty-First Amendment. It was determined that making drinking essentially illegal had proved cumbersome to enforce, encouraged unhealthy drinking habits, fostered organized crime, and hurt the nation’s economy.

This history clouds the issue of what the virtue of temperance offers to those who practice it. Temperance is one of four cardinal (“hinge”) virtues, along with prudence, justice, and fortitude. It refers to the development of self-control, which is the hallmark of the mature person. Temperance is gained by educating one’s passions to orient habitually toward the good. Resisting temptations to indulge in over-eating, excessive drinking, casual sex, fits of rage, money lust, monopolizing conversations, aggressive displays of ego, or other unbridled exercises of desire isn’t enough to qualify one as a temperate person. Genuine temperance must lead a person to organize each choice toward a greater good.

So, while severe dieting may seem temperate, if it harms the health, it isn’t. Sexual abstinence to prove one’s personal righteousness would also not qualify. Withholding your anger and giving someone the silent treatment doesn’t resolve the argument. When the good choice also becomes the natural one, the virtue of temperance is on display. And yes: we still need it.

Scripture: Genesis 3:6; 9:20-21; Leviticus 10:8-11; Deuteronomy 21:20; Psalm 68:31; Proverbs 20:1, 3, 13, 21; 23:2-8, 19-35; 31:1-7; Sirach 18:30-33; 19:2; 23:6; 31:12-31; 37:27-31; Isaiah 5:8-16; 28:1-3, 7-9; 56:9-13; Daniel ch. 13; Matthew 11:18-19; Luke 12:16-21; Galatians 5:16-23

Books: Public Dimensions of a Believer’s Life: Rediscovering the Cardinal Virtues, by Monika Hellwig, (Sheed & Ward: 2005)

The Virtue Driven Life, by Benedict Groeschel, CFR (Our Sunday Visitor, 2006)

When we give a blessing, what do we actually do?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 19, January 2020 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Prayer and Spirituality
Jesus at the Emmaus supper
Jesus demonstrates blessing activity in the miracle of loaves and fishes, at the Last Supper and the Emmaus supper, and at the moment of his Ascension.

Since blessings are delivered during solemn liturgies but also after the most mundane sneeze, one might wonder what a blessing involves. Biblically, a blessing communicates divine life to the recipient. Which implies that God alone can supply a blessing. God blesses us with strength, peace, success, children, and every good thing. When a representative of God performs the blessing act, it’s God’s blessing and not a personal bounty that s/he invokes.

Creatures are first blessed as they’re launched in Genesis. The seventh day, on which God rests, becomes a source of blessing itself. Patriarchs are each blessed and bestow blessings in turn. The tribe of Abraham becomes a fulcrum of blessing on earth, and Israel a vehicle of blessing for all the nations.

Blessings may literally flow from one person to another with the imposition of hands between fathers and sons. (There are no biblical stories of mothers blessing daughters, but I know plenty of women who do.) Once a blessing is spoken, it can’t be undone—which is what makes the story of Jacob cheating his brother Esau of his paternal blessing so tragic and impactful. These examples convey the seriousness of the blessing act: it’s not magic, but it is real and vital.

While it’s clear the power to bless originates with God, in the psalms we’re urged to “bless the Lord” frequently. In what capacity might we bless God? The intent is to offer thanks or to recognize God’s glory. In “blessing the Lord” we don’t add to God in the same way that God adds to our welfare in the act of blessing. 

Jesus demonstrates blessing activity in the miracle of loaves and fishes, at the Last Supper and the Emmaus supper, and at the moment of his Ascension. Jesus also taught that we should answer each curse pronounced on us with a blessing: crossing the streams of bad intent with benevolence, we might say. Paul compares the church’s Eucharist with the blessing cup of Jewish rituals. Finally, it helps to remember that Mary of Nazareth was called “blessed among women” by Elizabeth, and claimed that blessing in her Magnificat.

All of which may give us pause the next time we casually “bless ourselves” with the Sign of the Cross. What aspect of divine blessing do we need, and what do we hope to receive?

Scripture: Genesis 1:22, 28; 2:3; 12:2-3; 27:18-40; 32:27-29; 39:5; Numbers 6:22-27; chs. 22-23; Isaiah 19:24; Matthew 14:19; Mark 14:22; Luke 1:42, 48; 6:28; 24:30, 50-51; 1 Corinthians 10:16

Books: The Priestly Blessing: Rediscovering the Gift, by Stephen Rossetti (Ave Maria Press, 2018)

Blessed Beautiful, and Bodacious: The Gift of Catholic Womanhood, by Pat Gohn (Ave Maria Press, 2013)

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