The Temperate Man Dies to Self that He May Live

the hard paradox of the gospel

The gospel is full of paradoxes but the one that seems most difficult to swallow is that we have to die in order to have life. We see this in John 12:24 when Christ talks about the grain of wheat that has to fall to the ground and dies in order to bear fruit. The world today tells us that we need to be free to do whatever we want, to “live life to the fullest”. But, this is not true freedom. Who is more free, a man who abuses alcohol or the man who is sober? The sober man has the freedom to enjoy a drink in a wholesome and healthy way without being consumed and controlled by his passions. The one who is master of himself is the man who is truly free.

Dying to self goes beyond just self mastery, though we certainly need that if we are to die to self. Life, as we saw with the seed, is full of examples of how we have to sacrifice for something greater. When a young man gets married, he “dies” to his bachelor way of life to have new life with his wife. When a couple has a child, they die to themselves and sacrifice themselves for their child. When we seek eternal life, we have to die to this earthly life.

Perhaps the most eloquent and stunning example of this is when Christ died and rose from the dead. He, of course, not only had eternal life for himself but he also bought it for us with his death. The story of the cross and the resurrection is told again and again in all the great stories all through the ages. You will find no perennial story that does not have some element of sacrifice for those the hero loves. Look at Maximus in the Gladiator, or William Wallace in Braveheart. Both men sacrificed their lives for their family, their people and their country. Look at any love story, if the man (in particular) is not sacrificing himself in some way for the one he loves then I can guarantee the story is not going to be very good.

The constant struggle we face on this earth is that we get blinded or sidetracked by all the many small goods that present themselves to us like pop-up ads. We need to constantly remind ourselves that God is the greatest good and being with him forever in heaven is worth any sacrifice or hardship this world can put forth because, in the end, we are not made for this life but for eternal life.

On denying ourselves and taking up the cross, from Thomas a Kempis’ classic Imitation of Christ:

My child, the more you depart from yourself, the more you will be able to enter into Me. As the giving up of exterior things brings interior peace, so the forsaking of self unites you to God. I will have you learn perfect surrender to My will, without contradiction or complaint.
Follow Me. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Without the Way, there is no going. Without the Truth, there is no knowing. Without the Life, there is no living. I am the Way which you must follow, the Truth which you must believe, the Life for which you must hope. I am the inviolable Way, the infallible Truth, the unending Life. I am the Way that is straight, the supreme Truth, the Life that is true, the blessed, the uncreated Life. If you abide in My Way you shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free, and you shall attain life everlasting.

If you wish to enter into life, keep My commandments.

If you will know the truth, believe in Me. If you will be perfect, sell all. If you will be My disciple, deny yourself. If you will possess the blessed life, despise this present life. If you will be exalted in heaven, humble yourself on earth. If you wish to reign with Me, carry the Cross with Me. For only the servants of the Cross find the life of blessedness and of true light.

Catechism 1809: Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. The temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion: “Do not follow your inclination and strength, walking according to the desires of your heart.” Temperance is often praised in the Old Testament: “Do not follow your base desires, but restrain your appetites.” In the New Testament it is called “moderation” or “sobriety.” We ought “to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world.”

To live well is nothing other than to love God with all one’s heart, with all one’s soul and with all one’s efforts; from this it comes about that love is kept whole and uncorrupted (through temperance). No misfortune can disturb it (and this is fortitude). It obeys only [God] (and this is justice), and is careful in discerning things, so as not to be surprised by deceit or trickery (and this is prudence).

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