Some Thoughts for Temperance Sunday
And the reason why the word Temperance has so many negative associations now is that the world we live in is out of tune with what temperance represents. Temperance is about moderation and control. It’s about having a balance in your life; it’s about being able to stand back and see where out lives are
unbalanced, maybe where our lives are out of control in some sense. And that’s difficult to do today
because the ethos of our time is about saying Run with the flow, Don’t be negative, Go for it, and so
on. And the flow of life today is in the direction of having a great time and indulging ourselves and getting loads of money and having a great time and having everything we want and spoiling ourselves.
Excess is often now the order of the day and advertising fuels that excess. A sobering question for
all of us is: of all the things we spoil ourselves with, what do they really add to our lives? And this is a time for asking the question: is there an area of our lives where we need to be more moderate,
where we need to be more temperate?
And we ask those questions not to accuse ourselves or run ourselves down or to make life more difficult
but in order to bring into our lives the kind of balance that will help us to live more human and ultimately more satisfying lives.
The question for each one of us on Temperance Sunday is: what is the area of my life that is creating
an imbalance, putting my life out of focus? And each of us can answer that question for ourselves.
(ii) For some people it will be simply saying: I need to control my consumption of alcohol / I need to get myself off drugs, the way I drink (or take drugs) is upsetting not just the balance of my own life but the lives of those most precious to me in the world. ‘Proverbially, Ireland is a land that combines the smile and the tear’. So said Pope Pius XII in 1956, addressing a group of Garda Síochána, who were also Pioneers. He went on to lament the fact that, as a result of intemperance, more tears were shed in Irish homes than ought to have been the case. Many of us are only too well aware from painful, personal experience that the Pope’s observation was true. Like every gift of God, alcohol is good. It has its place at times of celebration and relaxation. However, it is also a drug that can be devastating in its consequences. What comes to us as a gift can be a curse for some, unless it is wisely used.
The Ireland of 2008 is very different from that of 1956. It is a more complex place: less unified in its culture; less certain of its religious roots. We are all rightly proud of the many positive changes of these decades, ranging from success in such fields as the economy and the arts to the confidence of a new generation aware of its European horizons. But among the various shadow sides of this New Ireland is the need to face our complacency over alcohol particularly, and other drugs too, and their increasingly dominant place in our social life.
The challenge to practise and encourage temperance is there for all of us. We must seek to find
credible ways of protecting our young people from habits of dependence on alcohol and other drugs.
In this regard nothing can take the place of human awareness and of human responsibility. Parents
need to talk openly about these issues, listening to what their children have to say, alerting the
younger ones, in good time, to the dangers of alcohol and substance abuse, the seductive power of
advertising and the peer pressure that must inevitably come.
Schools have an important role to play in promoting discussion on the question of addiction. The
advantage the school enjoys, in dealing with large numbers, is the capacity to create a common
appreciation of the issues involved. If the school can increase understanding, heighten motivation
and engender a positive attitude towards temperance, the efforts of the individual pupil will be
encouraged and advanced.
Even the changing of attitudes, important though it is, will not be sufficient in itself.
Opportunities need to be provided within local communities for healthy recreational activity.
Those who create such opportunities and involve themselves in youth work and sport do a great
service, not merely to the young but to our country as a whole.
(iii) But drink and drugs aren’t the only addictions. There are others too, like work or rather
the obsession we can sometimes have with work. At the end of life, married people who are workaholics
invariably regret that they didn’t spend more time with their families and missed out so much in
life and in family due to their obsession with work. Life got out of shape, lost the sense of
balance, and all the things they would say are important – spouse, family, children, home,
health – all of them are sacrificed on the altar of work or money or success or whatever.
So, what is the great obsession of my life and who’s paying for it? Where’s the imbalance in my
life now? Where’s the obsession that’s taking a toll not just on my own life but on the lives
of those around me? And what can I do to moderate the obsession? What can I do to begin to control
Lent offers us an opportunity to do that. That’s what Lent is about, an opportunity to try to bring
an element of moderation into an area of our lives that is creating an imbalance.