By: Fr. Roy Cimagala
The reason is simple. Freedom is such a tricky thing to handle. It can easily be abused and ruin us. If not handled properly, its comeuppance is much graver than whatever pleasure its so-called perks and privileges can give us. So, caveat emptor!
That’s why St. Paul in his Letter to the Galatians issued this warning: “For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.” (5,13)
We need to understand that freedom is a gift from God and is governed by God’s law. Freedom is not something we generate ourselves. It is something given by God and received by us. It cannot be exercised simply on our own designs. By definition, it has to be related to God, its source and law. It is something relational, not something absolutely ours.
We have to be most wary of linking freedom with being absolutely ours, sadly a common phenomenon these days. That is not true freedom. That would be an abuse, a distortion of freedom. It would be a false freedom that sooner or later will lead us to some form of bondage.
We need to understand then that the proper exercise of freedom is not simply a matter of being free to choose anything. Yes, there is a free choice involved, but it has to be a choice that has to be related to God. Our choice that is inspired by true freedom is when such choice coincides also with God’s choice in a given situation.
But, alas, this is not easy to do for us. And that’s because of our wounded, sinful condition that often leads us to give priority to what we want rather than to what God wants. And often, this anomaly springs from the urgings of our flesh that definitely needs to be disciplined and purified and directed to our proper ultimate end—God.
This is where the virtue of temperance enters. It has as its purpose the integration of the bodily aspect of our nature with our spiritual dimension and supernatural goal. It aims to keep and nourish the integrity of our life that is often threatened by a variety of divisive factors and fragmenting conditions of our earthly life.
It’s actually a very positive virtue, though it obviously involves some restrictive and prohibiting elements. Unfortunately, many of us get stuck with the latter negative side of it, while ignoring its very constructive character.
We need to be realistic about our life. We should not forget what Christ said once in this regard: “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” That’s the naked truth about ourselves insofar as the relation between the body and soul is concerned.
We have to overcome that prevalent thinking that somehow allows the body to have whatever it wants as long as it does not make a mess in public or with the law. In short, it can have what it wants even if it goes against God’s law for us or even our own nature as long as one is not caught.
It’s this kind of thinking that is behind the surge these days of alcoholism, gluttony, eroticism, infidelity, frivolity, etc. Modesty and moderation are hardly known, let alone practiced.
Temperance actually constitutes for us a liberation from our carnal self. It’s actually an expression of freedom so that we can realize more fully our dignity as persons who know how to think and love properly, and as children of God who are supposed to live their lives with God.
So, far from undermining our freedom, the virtue of temperance helps us to live our freedom properly. It helps us to be always vigilant so that we don’t get easily deceived by the false values our wounded flesh often offers us.