Moderation in eating & Drinking
First Meditation - Nature and Importance of Moderation
I. Abstinence and sobriety, as against gluttony and drunkenness, are two subjective species of the virtue of temperance, taking the latter in its general philosophical sense.
Not all appetite for eating and drinking incurs the reproach of gluttony and drunkenness. An appetite in itself is necessary for the preservation of life and, as such, is a good thing. It is sinful only when indulged in to excess, in a manner offensive to right reason.
St. Thomas teaches that everything delectable which is of service to human needs has these needs for its goal, and therefore, we should make use of pleasurable things in so far as they are required by necessity or the lawful usages of life. Now, the vice of gluttony or drunkenness consists in gratifying the appetites of eating or drinking without reference to what is a guiding principle of human life, right reason.
If excesses are due, not to ill-regulated desire, but to a misjudgement as to what is necessary for life and health, then there is not a sin of intemperance but mere lack of practical wisdom and knowledge that does not come within the province of morality or immorality. To eat and drink for the exclusive purpose of gratifying an appetite for pleasure and to go beyond the bounds of moderation in doing so would definitely be a sin.
The natural need of food, which comes under the principle of the "vegetative" life in man, does not enter the orbit of virtue or vice; it is the sensitive pleasure which should be subordinated to reason, and the insubordination of which constitutes vice, in this case gluttony or drunkenness. This is the excess which we are going to meditate upon here, so that, by God's favour, we may keep our appetites under restraint.
II. Abstinence and sobriety are the two specific applications of the virtue of temperance which bridle and moderate the appetite for eating and drinking in accordance with the dictates of reason. Reason demands that, since these two animal functions have health and life as their sole aim, there must be no gratification either in quantity, quality, manner, or other circumstances except in so far as they contribute to the life and well-being of the body entrusted to our administration by God, the Author of our being.
Thus it is that these two manifestations of the virtue of temperance raise the lowliest freely-willed acts of our composite human nature, acts of themselves wholly on the animal level, to the lofty sphere of reasonable and spiritual acts, to the sphere of human acts, wherewith, if done in the state of God's sanctifying grace, heaven itself is. purchased.
What a pity, what a shame, I have so often behaved like a mere animal, like a being without rule or reason, perhaps stooping even lower than the brutes, which are never entirely ungoverned by law, the law of instinct and natural need! In my intemperance I come under the indictment of the psalmist: "Short is man's enjoyment of earthly goods; match him with the brute beasts, and he is no better than they."
Homo cum in honore esset non intellexit; comparatus est jumentis insipientibus et similis factus est illis. (Ps. xlviii, 13)III. In speaking of moral beauty, St. Thomas points out that "Decorum est convenientia, et honestum dicitur quod nihil habet turpitudinis, nam honestas dicitur quasi honoris status." Where there is balance of proportion and harmony under the guidance of a higher principle there is that "honestas," that "becomingness" which belongs to the essence of moral beauty.
And since temperance is the virtue which establishes due proportion and appropriateness, and moreover diffuses the light of the intelligence, among our animal acts of eating and drinking, it is a principle of moral beauty, its absence brings ugliness into morals and manners, debasing man to the brute level, to the extent of extinguishing the light of reason and plunging us into the darkness and quagmire of matter.
Haven't I dishonoured myself sometimes with this hideous vice? Haven't I chosen to shut out the light of reason, as something of a hindrance, in order to wallow - more pecudum - in the low-down pleasures of eating and drinking, as if God had created me only to gratify my palate and my belly? Agnosce, Christiane, dignitatem tuam.
IV. My priesthood imposes on me an additional obligation of repressing these vicious instincts. With so many privations inescapably ours as priests, the appetite for those pleasures permitted to us and necessary for selfpreservation is perhaps all the sharper in us; or, as it is put sometimes rather too bluntly: "It's the only enjoyment left to us." But, the stronger the craving and the greater its aptitude for disguise, the more need there is for the bridling force of temperance to deliver us from its slavery.
My age, ministry, state, the integrity and alertness of mind and senses required for teaching others, the devout attentiveness with which I should assist and preside at divine worship, the wisdom and discretion I need to govern my flock well; all this bids me live absolutely untrammelled by the base fetters of intemperance, which so weaken, obstruct, and upset, the right use of reason.
In solemn acts of worship I, as a priest, am on a higher plane than the laity, I am in a leading position; but in my ordinary life in spirit and in flesh, do I rise above my senses and their short-term satisfaction? Has my mind descended so low to earth that its flight is arrested by the bird-lime of pleasures of the palate?
1. Intemperance is one of the capital sins because it is the source and root of many others. It is a mortal sin, however, only when it involves a grave transgression of the law of God or of the Church; for example, failing to observe the fasts through the pleasures of eating or drinking; deliberately forfeiting by drink the use of one's faculties to the point of being unable rightly to distinguish between good and evil and thus to expose oneself, without adequate reason, to the grave, voluntary, and immediate danger of committing a mortally sinful act, at least gravis in causa.
So I resolve to keep a careful watch over myself lest I incur this vice; and I shall be on my guard against minor offences, which, being such a slippery slope, would soon bring out the truth of the utterance: "Little things despise, and little by little thou shalt fall." (Ecclesiasticus xviii, 1)
2. I shall diligently avoid the following defects at table, defects, moreover, which are thoroughly bad manners and unworthy of my priestly state, and destined only to make me repulsive to others: namely, to eat "praepropere, laute, nimis, ardenter, and studiose"; praepropere before the appointed time, like a greedy and ill-bred child; laute, sumptuously and splendidly, at variance with priestly modesty and simplicity; nimis, in excessive or huge quantities, more proper of animals being fattened for the kill; ardenter, with great zest, as if there was no soul inhabiting the body and possessed of noble faculties, as if every atom of my being was just a voice clamouring for the satisfaction of its base appetite; and studiose, with elaborate presenting and flavouring of dishes, which might be all right for a royal banquet but not for the table of a servant of Christ, the Father of the poor.
Grant, Lord, that neither my table nor my spirit be sullied by such base practices.
Adapted from The Priest at Prayer
by Fr. Eugenio Escribano, C.M. (© 1954)
Translated by B.T. Buckley, C.M.
Please pray for our priests and pray for vocations to the priesthood!