THE VIRGIN MARY'S VIRTUE OF TEMPERANCE


-Saint Alphonse di Liguori "Glories of Mary"

"Behold a Virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and His Name shall be called Emmanuel. He shall eat butter and honey, that He may know to refuse the evil, and to choose the good." (Isa. 7: 14-15).

The virtue of temperance restrains our passions and moderates, according to right reason and faith, the use of food, sleep, and our sense. It is a cardinal virtue. If moderation is praiseworthy in everthing, it is especially so in the use of natural things: food, rest and pleasure. Contributing to temperance is modesty, that is, the fear which St. Thomas Aquinas calls "reserve" and also decency, that is, decorous behavior.

The fruits of temperance are: mortification, abstinence, sobriety, modesty and a just measure of rest and recreation. Created things are good. Scripture says, in fact, "Thou waterest the hills from Thy upper rooms: the earth shall be filled with the fruit of Thy works: bringing forth grass for cattle, and herbs for the service of men. That Thou mayest bring bread out of the earth: and that wine may cheer the heart of man. That he may make the face cheerful with oil: and that bread may strengthen man's heart." (Ps. 103:13-15) The use of natural things is good in itself; sin lies in the abuse of created things.

Temperance also teaches modesty, that is, a proper manner of dressing, adorning oneself, walking, talking, visiting, etc. "Where there is Christ there is also modesty," says St. Gregory. "Dress yourselves, speak, look, and walk in a manner pleasing to God, in keeping with your dignity, and edifying to your neighbor," says St. Ambrose. St. Paul wrote to Timothy: "In like manner I wish women to be decently dressed, adorning themselves with modesty and dignity, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothing, but with good works such as become women professing godliness." (1 Tim. 2: 9-10)

Even humility comes from temperance. It restrains our natural craving for grandiose things and the esteem and praise of men, by giving us a true estimation of ourselves, not an exaggerated one. It is a virtue proper to God's children.

The Blessed Virgin Mary was temperate in food, mortified in repose, regulated in the affections and sentiments of her heart.

St. Jean Marie Vianney was so temperate in eating that one wonders how he could have lived so long and labored so vigorously; St. Thomas Aquinas was so privileged as to be miraculously freed from the desires of the flesh; St. Charles Borromeo limited his hours of sleep to a very few each night. All of the saints knew how to regulate themselves with self-denial and mortification, abstaining from sin and everything that would lead to sin. The Blessed Virgin Mary, however, surpassed them all as their Teacher and Queen. Conceived without the least stain of sin, through the gift of integrity, there was neither excess nor abuse in her; all was moderate. She ate without being concerned about the taste of food, but only and always to maintain herself in God's holy service. Her body rested, but her Immaculate Heart kept vigil with God. The sole object of her pure Heart, with all its strength, was the Lord God; in Him alone she loved her chaste spouse, St. Joseph, her relatives, and all of mankind. Repugnance never kept her from fulfilling her obligations; never did any intemperate desire drag her to excesses.

Man, created in the image and likeness of God, possesses certain passions, which are forces that can spur him on to good or evil, but, unfortunately, having become rebellious and fallen through Original Sin, they often urge him on to evil. In the Blessed Virgin Mary this was not the case: human passions were perfectly regulated and only served for good. Her burning love was always directed towards good; hatred always turned implacably against evil. She always fervently desired God's Kingdom and His Justice; she was irreconcilably opposed to sin. She greatly rejoiced in everything that pleased the Triune Divinity; she only feared for offenses against God.

Arrogance is an exaggerated self-esteem and desire for glory. It puffs us up, it is conceited and rejoices in vain things. The Virgin Mary was perfectly humble; in her mind, where the truth alone ever held sway; in her will, which always sought God's glory alone; in her dress and comportment, which was simple, decorous and modest; in her actions, for she served everyone, took the last place, and was always perfectly obedient to God in the person of His representatives on earth.

Pride is the root of every sin; humility is the foundation of every virtue. The Virgin Mary was profoundly humble. "Just as there never was such an exalted creature," says St. Bernardine of Siena, "so, too, there was never a creature who had such a lowly opinion of herself."

Mary did not consider herself a sinner, for she knew that "He Who is mighty had done great things" unto her. She indeed recognized her exalted privileges, but she attributed them all to God's infinite goodness, regarding herself as a poor handmaid gratuitously adorned by His Majesty. In her sublime canticle, the Magnificat, she speaks of none but God and herself; of God, to exalt Him, and of herself, to be humbled. It is as if she said to her saintly cousin who reverently venerated her: "Thou, O Elizabeth, dost exalt me for the dignity I possess, but I exalt only the Lord Who has thus given it to me."

This humblest of all creatures keeps her treasure jealously concealed. She learns the sublime mysteries from the Archangel, but because they redound to her glory they remain hidden in her Immaculate Heart. She does not speak of them to anyone, not even to the High Priest, Zachary, her relative; nor to Elizabeth to whom she knew God had miraculously revealed them; nor even to St. Joseph, under the most delicate circumstances, when it seemed she had every reason to speak. And that was not all. When her Divine Son performed wondrous miracles: fed thousands of people with a few loaves of bread, freed the possessed, cured the sick and raised the dead, Mary simply remained hidden in the crowd. However, when Jesus ascended Calvary and expired as a condemned criminal upon the Cross, then Our Lady made herself known as Christ's Mother, and publicly assisted Him in His Agony.

God shed numberless gifts upon the Blessed Mary: nobility of birth, talents of spirit and perfection of body; beauty, but without ostentation; wisdom, but without arrogance; affability, but without frivolity. The beauty of the dawn, the mid-day sun, the silver moon, the most exquisite blossoms and most beautiful plants are all images of the Immaculate Virgin Mary. Rich in interior gifts, she has: a keen mind, an upright will, no disorderly inclination, admirable attraction for virtue, imperturbable calm in emotions and manner and an affable character. Even in the midst of such a wealth of gifts, what was Mary's bearing? It was always reserved, composed, and simple. What a remarkable masterpiece of virtue–this Blessed Lady whom we are privileged to serve–and what a marvelous example for our instruction, inspiration, and imitation!

We are called to the perfect exercise of temperance, according to the command of Our Divine Lord: "Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt. 5:48) Moderation teaches us not to be discouraged by contradictions and opposition, nor to exalt ourselves in success. The earthly lives of the children of God are composed of both tribulations and consolations. "Now we know that for those who love God, all things work together unto good." (Rom. 8:28)

Thus was Mary's entire life. She was always even-tempered: she suffered, but she never became discouraged by sorrow; she rejoiced in consolation, but did not exalt herself; her virtue was perfect. This is called the virtue of equinimity.

Without humility it is impossible to be saved: "Amen I say to you, unless you turn and become like little children, you shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven," Our Divine Lord declared to us. (Matt. 18:3) "If you asked what road leads to truth, or what virtue is principal in religion and in the imitation of Christ, I would answer: the first is humility. What is the second? Humility. What is the third? Humility. If you questioned me one hundred times, I would give the same answer each time... Do you wish to build a great edifice that not only reaches the sky, but also to the very sight of God? Think first of the foundation of humility, and the higher you wish to erect the building, the deeper must you dig the foundation of humility." (St. Augustine)

When faced with contradictions, moderation in anger produces meekness. Jesus said: "Learn of Me, for I am meek and humble of heart. (Matt. 11: 29) Jesus rightly associates meekness with humility, for one cannot be practiced without the other. Meekness must not be confused with weakness of character; for dominating ourselves requires great strength and virtue. The truly meek not only moderate their anger, but abstain from it, according to what Jesus Christ said: "But I say to you, love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you." (Matt. 5:44) What is here commanded is a Christian patience under injuries and affronts, and to be willing even to suffer still more, rather than to indulge the sinful desire of revenge.

Does this not describe the entire life of the Immaculate and Sorrowful Virgin whom we are so privileged to call our own Mistress? Let us earnestly endeavor to conform our hearts and our conduct to hers, employing that essential art of self-denial commanded by her Divine Son, that we may be worthy children of so great a Mother and Queen.

Prayer for the Virtue of Temperance

Lord Jesus Christ, I have the tendency to over-do almost anything. When I am involved in something I plunge into it so that I am oblivious of everything else. Give me a spirit of temperance to maintain my balance in all things---whether it be sleeping, thinking, or working, playing, visiting, or partying. Let me realize that whatever I do, I should do for You---and I should do it in moderation. Amen.

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