In age of excess, temperance helps one experience real joy, pope says

Pope Francis gestures from the popemobile after his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican April 17, 2024. (CNS photo/Pablo Esparza)

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Exercising the virtue of temperance is not a recipe for a boring life, Pope Francis said, but rather it is the secret to enjoying every good thing.

If one wants “to appreciate a good wine, savoring it in small sips is better than swallowing it all in one go. We all know this,” the pope said April 17 at his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square.

Continuing a series of audience talks about vices and virtues, the pope focused on temperance, which the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines as “the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods.”

Temperance is “the virtue of the right measure” in what one does and what one says, the pope said. “In a world where so many people boast about saying what they think, the temperate person prefers instead to think about what he or she says.”

“Do you understand the difference?” Pope Francis asked people in the square. It means “I don’t say whatever pops into my head. No, I think about what I must say.”

A temperate person does not allow “a moment’s anger to ruin relationships and friendships that can then only be rebuilt with difficulty,” the pope said. Temperance with words is especially important in families to keep “tensions, irritations and anger in check.”

“There is a time to speak and a time to be silent, but both require the right measure,” he said.

Being temperate, he said, does not mean never getting annoyed or frustrated, Pope Francis said, but he kept repeating the phrase with “the right measure” and “the right way.”

For example, “a word of rebuke is at times healthier than a sour, rancorous silence,” he said. “The temperate person knows that nothing is more uncomfortable than correcting another person, but he or she also knows that it is necessary; otherwise, one offers free reign to evil.”

A temperate person “affirms absolute principles and asserts non-negotiable values,” the pope said, but he or she does so in a way that shows understanding and empathy for others.

In other words, he said, a temperate person has the gift of balance, “a quality as precious as it is rare” in a world given to excess.

“It is not true that temperance makes one gray and joyless,” Pope Francis said. On the contrary, it increases “the joy that flourishes in the heart of those who recognize and value what counts most in life.”

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