1. Intemperance consists in eating and drinking much more than is necessary, and in being greedy or dainty in regard to one’s food.
“Food ought to be looked upon as a medicine to sustain the body,” says St. Augustine, and by no means made use of for the gratification of the palate. Intemperance is displayed by sumptuous feasting (witness Dives); excess in drinking, e.g., Baltassar; greediness, e.g., Esau in regard to the pottage of lentils; daintiness, e.g., the Israelites in the wilderness, who longed for the flesh-pots of Egypt (Exod. xvi. 3). The glutton and the drunkard are more contemptible than brute beasts, for the latter leave off eating when they have had enough, and the glutton does not do this. Those who eat with great avidity are like birds of prey, which in their voracity swoop down upon their victim the moment they decry it. Intemperance is productive of much harm. We must not forget that had the apple not been attractive to the appetite death would not have come upon the human race.
2. By intemperance a man injures his health, weakens his mental faculties, destroys his reputation, and reduces himself to poverty; falls into vice, often comes to a miserable end, and is eternally lost.
Intemperance destroys the health. The fire goes out when too much coal is heaped upon it, and the stomach is ruined when it is overloaded with food. Excess in drink is as prejudicial to the system as excessive rain is to agricultural districts. Dyspepsia, loss of appetite, dropsy, apoplexy, are the results of want of moderation in eating and drinking. Many lose their reason by indulgence in strong drinks, and end their days in a madhouse. By surfeiting many have perished (Ecclus. xxxvii. 34). Over-indulgence in the pleasures of the table has a bad effect on posterity. Physicians assert that there is an innate weakness in those that are the offspring of drunkards. Intemperance weakens the mental faculties. Intoxication obscures the mind as a fog obscures the sun. The intemperate cannot raise their hearts to God, any more than a bird that has gorged itself with food can soar aloft to the sky. Intemperance also weakens the will; it renders us incapable of resisting temptation and avoiding sin, just as a ship too heavily laden cannot outride a storm. It also destroys a man’s reputation; Noe, when drunk with wine, became an object of derision to his own son. Thus a man when in liquor makes a fool of himself, talks nonsense, and is mocked even by children. The Lacedemonians used to show drunken Helots to young people that they might learn to despise this degrading vice. Intemperance reduces men to poverty. The drunkard squanders in one day the wages earned by many days of work, and renders himself incapable of labor. “A workman that is a drunkard shall not be rich” (Ecclus. xix. 1). Intemperance leads to all kinds of sins, to immorality and godlessness As in a morass all manner of weeds grow rank, so evil lusts grow and flourish in an over-fed body. Those who eat and drink immoderately waste their money, feel disinclined to prayer at night on account of the inertia produced by excess, and in the morning because of headache and sensations of discomfort; they miss Mass on Sundays, contract debts, live in discord with their families, and fall into sins of impurity. Remember that Herod had been feasting when he caused John the Baptist to be beheaded; Baltassar had been drinking deeply when he desecrated the sacred vessels of the sanctuary; the rich man in the Gospel who refused a morsel of bread to Lazarus fared sumptuously every day. Intemperance leads to uncleanness and godlessness; the glutton and drunkard forget their final end; they have no understanding for the truths of religion; “the sensual man perceiveth not those things that are of the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. ii. 14). A sudden and miserable end often overtakes those who indulge in strong drink. Our Lord thus warns such persons: “Take heed to yourselves, lest perhaps your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness and the cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly” (Luke xxi. 34). As we live, so we die. Holofernes was asleep, exceedingly drunk, when Judith cut off his head (Judith xiii.); the voluptuous Baltassar was sleeping off the effect of his revels when the enemy made their way into the city (Dan. v.). The death of individuals who perish in this manner is all the more deplorable because they die unrepentant and without the last sacraments. Those who are addicted to excess seldom correct themselves; they may amend and abstain for a time, but too often they relapse into their former sins, and eternal perdition is their fate. The rich man was buried in hell. Our Lord says: “Woe to you that are filled for you shall hunger” (Luke vi. 25). Drunkards shall not possess the kingdom of God (1 Cor. vi. 10). “He that soweth in his flesh, of the flesh also shall reap corruption” (Gal. vi. 8). Think of the flames of hell, and you will be able fully to subdue the impulses of nature. Resolve never to omit a short prayer before and after meals; to take what is set before you so as to check daintiness, and never to eat to satiety.
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