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Philippa Martyr: Say ‘enough’ when the world says ‘more!’

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Temperance enhances your pleasure in normal eating and drinking. Photo: Freepik.com
Temperance enhances your pleasure in normal eating and drinking. Photo: Freepik.com

The devil works hard to make us believe that sin is somehow daring, fun, and exciting.

We all know the reality that sin is repetitious, cruel, selfish, and unfair. It always leaves a trail of harm, destruction, and death.

The devil also works hard to make us believe that the virtues are impossible ideals. This Lent, I plan to teach myself (and you) that practising the virtues is in fact achievable, lively, and pleasantly challenging.

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It’s certainly going to be counter-cultural. But I do need to warn you that it’s going to be harder than you think.

I love comfort. So do you. Many of us have sunk into a sort of spiritual sofa, and it’s hard to get out without some help.

That’s what Lent is for. It’s the time of year to recognise that some habits have taken hold that aren’t helping us to grow spiritually.

Last Lent I wrote about the seven deadly sins, starting with gluttony. I’ll go in the same order with the virtues, which means we’ll start with temperance or moderation.

Temperance is one of the four “cardinal virtues,” which the Catechism says “moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods” (CCC1809).

Temperance is the virtue you need to work on if you have a problem with gluttony. Gluttony is a distorted way of relating to food so that it becomes an idol in your life.

Temperance is simply learning to consume food and drink in a healthier and less idolatrous way. It’s learning to say “enough” in a world that says “more!”

Most of us are seriously deluded about our eating habits. We’re increasingly either obese or anorexic, obsessed with sourcing posh ingredients, or haggard with food allergies and intolerances.

We need to step back and look at our consumption through God’s eyes. God gave us good things to eat and drink, and we live in a country with abundant food.

But it’s hard to know how to practise moderation when food has become your identity, your comfort, your cure for loneliness, or the place where you exercise manic and occasionally self-harming levels of control.

Don’t worry. You have made food a false god, that’s all. It’s time to turn to the real God to fix it, because he can show you where you personally need to practise moderation.

It’s going to be different for everyone—and that’s another wonderful thing about the virtues. How you live them is as individual as you are.

It might be cutting out your takeaways in Lent. Or giving up alcohol for Lent. Or admitting and seeking help for your eating disorder.

Someone taught me the trick of looking at a menu, ranking the foods from favourite to least favourite, and then choosing my second-favourite items. It’s a tiny thing, but it helps.

You might have to detach your God-given identity from being a chronic food snob. Or turning your secret lonely eating into sharing meals with friends.

Temperance might also involve getting you out of the house and away from the food porn on TV. Do you need to volunteer at a soup kitchen?

Donate essentials to your local food banks. But this year, buy them the more expensive stuff—the kind of goods and brands you would eat yourself.

Reduce your coffee intake, even by just one cup a day. You will sleep better, be less reactive, and probably less anxious.

If you’re human, you’re probably wondering, “What do I get out of this, apart from feeling superior to other people?”

A warning: please don’t turn temperance into a new idol that you can abuse everyone with.

Thankfully you’ll fail so often, especially at first, that this should keep you humble. But don’t give up when you fail. Keep trying.

The first and greatest benefit is that you can’t practise any virtue without God’s grace. That means asking him for it. So even trying to be temperate means that you’ll be talking to God a lot more, which is always good.

Temperance—like all the virtues—also helps you to enjoy life more. It enhances your pleasure in normal eating and drinking.

Saying no to yourself in food and drink also builds up your self-control in other areas, especially your sexuality, if that’s currently a problem for you.

Spiritually, it helps you to learn detachment, which is the basis of a good spiritual life. One day, you will have to let go of life itself, so practising letting go now is a great idea.

Above all, it puts God back in his rightful place in your life. Try it this Lent. It won’t kill you, and it will definitely make you stronger.

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