As we journey forward, we now turn our attention to the virtue of temperance. Traditionally, temperance has been understood as the virtue of moderation. Hardly a popular or attractive virtue in a society like ours in which it is much easier to say “is that all?” than “thanks”. And yet, if we want to dare to dream of a different way of relating to each other and to creation, we have to rediscover the values of simplicity, sacrifice and sobriety in a world which, contrary to the assumption underpinning neoliberal capitalism, is finite with limited resources[1].

Correctly understood, temperance and sacrifice should not be equated or associated with a kind of self-denial which is an end in itself. In fact, temperance, detachment, sacrifice are countercultural values which, properly understood, lead us in the direction of happiness, greater freedom and care for others on a personal and communitarian level. When we distinguish between our wants and our needs and strive to overcome that limitless greed which is at the root of so many of the wounds described in the first section, we start glimpsing that happiness which belongs to those who know how to limit the wants which diminish us, whilst freeing us up to the many different possibilities which life can offer[2].  When we learn “familiarity with the simplest things and how to enjoy them”[3], we will necessarily question – as individuals and as a society – the priority we give to economic advancement at the cost of our relationships, our health and our environment. This “idolatry of money”, intimately connected to corruption in all its forms, leads to the disintegration of the social fabric we are witnessing here in Malta and which is leaving in its wake countless victims.

A social and political conversion of the kind we are proposing, cannot begin without allowing ourselves to be decentred, in a movement which always implies a degree of renunciation and sacrifice. Imbued by the Church’s social teachings we are challenged “each one of us, personally and communally, to be a Church for and from the peripheries, seeking their justice above our wealth, their well-being above our comfort”[4]. In the context of the grave challenge of climate change, for example, many are those who refuse to live simply so that others may live, on the basis that they would not receive any immediate benefit from adopting a more sustainable lifestyle (“Ma jaqbillix”). Such a response betrays not only an irresponsible short sightedness, but also an insensitive unwillingness to pay a price in order to stand in solidarity with those who will suffer the most from the devastating effects of climate change. In fact, we all know that the impact of this crises created predominantly by the world’s richest and most industrialized countries, will be felt disproportionately by the world’s poorest people.

On a political level, the virtues of temperance and sacrifice are often better left unsaid. But people deserve to be treated as adults by being told the truth, even when this truth is inconvenient. When faced with difficult realities, such as during the Covid-19 pandemic, citizens all over the world rightly demanded to be told the truth, without any spin or sugar coating. This same spirit of leadership in truth, as opposed to a form of populism which only tells people what they want to hear, should be the norm, not the exception. We know that the construction of more inclusive society built on truth, justice and respect for our common home doesn’t come easily. All those who promise us otherwise are doing society a great disservice. And as Christians, we should be at the forefront in taking up the invitation to respect those limits which are imposed by our love towards others and towards our common home. Our “calling to renew the world must be lived with temperance”[5], by denying the urge to always have more and be more. In this we must be guided by the hope that one person living temperately gives a good example. A community living temperately represents a political force which can change a society for the better.

[1] Cf. Kate Raworth, Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2018.

[2] Cf. Pope Francis, Laudato sii, 223

[3] Ibid.  

[4] Archdiocese of Malta, One Church, One Journey. A process of ecclesial renewal, 59. 

[5] Idem, 40