Pioneer magazine


june 2017FR BERNARD J McGUCKIAN SJ Central Spiritual Director, Pioneer Association, gave a talk at he Annual Divine Mercy Conference held at the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) at Ballsbridge on 26 February 2017, which happened to be Temperance Sunday in Ireland. He had spoken the evious day on the connection between devotion to the Sacred Heart as revealed to St Margaret Mary in the seventeenth century and that of the Divine Mercy, revealed by the Lord Himself in private revelations to St Faustina Kowalska in the twentieth century.

It is over ninety years since Devotion to the Sacred Heart was first given public expression in this impressive building that is the Royal Dublin Society (RDS). The occasion was the celebration of the Silver Jubilee of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of the Sacred Heart in June 1924. The founder, Fr James Aloysius Cullen, had died three years earlier in Dublin on 6 December 1921. This was also the day when the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed in London with such fateful consequences for subsequent Irish history. 

No Pioneer Central Director has been a speaker at the RDS during the intervening ninety-three years. So I have an added reason to be grateful for the kind invitation to speak at the Divine Mercy Conference 2017. I think this is an auspicious and providential day for me to be here. It is Temperance Sunday in the Irish church. So I think I am justified in taking the opportunity to say a few words about this virtue.

All through their history, Pioneers have tried to apply Sacred Heart Devotion to grappling with intemperance – a perennial problem in family life with its endless deplorable effects in the whole of society. Fr James Cullen was convinced of the truth that the Heart of Jesus is the ‘Abyss of All Virtues’, one of the invocations approved by the Church for public recital in the Litany of the Sacred Heart. For this reason, he encouraged people to seek for Temperance, one of the Four Cardinal Virtues, in the Heart of Christ. He began his campaign for the promotion of temperance with four women nearly 120 years ago in 1898. By 1918, a mere twenty years later, over 200,000 of the so-called ‘drunken Irish’ had committed themselves to total abstinence from alcohol, in honour of the Heart of Jesus and as an expression of love and mercy to those suffering from the consequences of addiction. Worldwide, the Association is much bigger, number-wise, than ever before, with the biggest concentration now in Africa where preparations are well advanced for the Pan-African Congress scheduled for Lusaka, Zambia in August 2017. 

For historical reasons, the virtue of temperance has been largely reduced in the Northern Europe, and this includes Ireland, to care in the use of intoxicating drink. This preoccupation with intemperance in the use of alcohol has tended to obscure the full significance of temperance as an essential human virtue, with repercussions in almost every area of life. Temperance is the virtue needed to deal wisely and prudently with all the pleasurable areas of life. Alternatively, fortitude is the virtue we need to face up effectively to the difficult, challenging and painful dimensions of life. To some, it might seem surprising that it requires virtue to deal wisely with the pleasurable areas of life. The reality, however, is that for many of us, pleasure can constitute a bigger stumbling block to happiness and full human development, than pain. We rarely hear of a family destroyed through cancer. Such a trying experience normally brings out the best in family members as they draw closer in solidarity and support with the member who suffers. But, sadly, we all know of instances where a family has been torn asunder because of the inability for one reason or another of a member to resist the attractions of the pleasure linked to an illicit sexual relationship.

Traditionally, four aspects of temperance have always been regarded as essential to living a reasonable life. The old Latin words are not hard to translate: modestia, abstinentia, sobrietas, castitas. Modestia or modesty may have an old-fashioned ring about it but we all know what it means and how much it is, in fact, valued when it is genuine. Modesty takes many forms. It reveals itself in the way we present ourselves to others, how we dress, our living accommodation, our entertainment, our means of travel, our way of speaking, especially about ourselves, our ambitions, plans, hopes and dreams, etc.

temperanceAbstinentia traditionally has not focused on drink but on food. We still have a couple of days of fast and abstinence in the Church where drink is not mentioned. I don’t think the Church requirements in this area are considered particularly onerous. Yet, people who are outstanding in this matter, seem to attract the attention and admiration of others. Just think of Blessed John Sullivan or the Venerable Matt Talbot. Both, in the ascetical mould of the famous Curé of Ars, Saint John Vianney, were extremely abstemious in their use of food. Sobrietas is in the area of wine or its equivalents that have a mood-altering capacity. This requires a special care. I don’t have to labour this point. We are only too well aware of the heartbreak and sorrow caused by excessive drinking. There is hardly one of us here today that is not aware of a member of our own family or extended family where addiction to alcohol has not had ruinous effects. Sobriety is the value to which all are called. Total abstaining is one norm. The other norm is moderate use; the normal way of living out the value by the majority of the human race. 

The aim of the Pioneer Association has never been that all become members. Its aim is a society where moderation is the accepted and lived out norm. Speaking to a group of Pioneers in Rome just over sixty years ago, Venerable Pius XII said: “ Proverbially, Ireland is the land that combines the smile and the tear. And alas, what a flood of tears, drowning out the joy and laughter of home and hearth has poured through the shattered dyke of temperance.” He continued, “Your Pioneer Association of the Sacred Heart is a valiant attempt fortified by a genuinely Pauline spirit of self-denial for the spiritual advantage and need of one’s neighbours, to repair and strengthen that indispensably necessary dyke, and we have only praise for your generous charity.” (Address delivered to a Pilgrimage of Pioneer Members of an Garda Síochána, 1956). But Castitas, chastity is the main area where temperance is essential. It is central to the good ordering of society in its origins in family life. It is essential in the lives of us all – married, single, consecrated. There is a hint in the word temperance itself in the way this virtue is acquired. ‘Temper’ comes into it. There has to be an ongoing ‘tempering’ effect in the human personality to produce the virtue. Just as ‘well-tempered steel’ is the consequence of a long process, so with chastity and the other aspects of the virtue.

Saints are canonised because they practised the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity as well as the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance, to a heroic degree. These seven virtues are the basis of a life that glorifies God in this world and prepares us to see and enjoy Him forever in the next.