Drinking is easy. Any college student can show you how to be an idiot with liquor. And while there are some who take the opposite extreme and forbid the drinking of any spirits, Catholicism happily takes neither path.
Since we've been gifted with two fabulous books on Catholic spirits this month, I thought I would share some of the suggestions from Drinking With the Saints and The Catholic Drinkie's Guide to Home Brewed Evangelism.
Drink with moderation
“We should thank God for beer and burgundy by not drinking too much of them.” – Chesterton
Being drunk is great. You act like an idiot, sometimes throw up and typically feel horrible the next day. There isn't anything Catholic about that.
Saint Thomas Aquinas pointed out that when you intentionally get drunk you are also intentionally giving up your free will and your ability to be rational, both of which constitute sin.
And haven't you noticed that when you are eating or drinking something that you reach a point where it stops being enjoyable? That two pound bag of M&M's may look like it will be delicious to the end but believe me, it won't.
Drink with merriment
Another way to consider the difference between healthy and unhealthy drinking is to reflect on the notions of “fun” and “merriment.” “Fun” implies a form of entertainment that is not necessarily bad but is usually superficial and can usually be enjoyed alone. Perhaps a young man would have more fun playing video games with his friends, but it is conceivable that he can still have some fun playing the game by himself.
“Merriment,” on the other hand, necessitates fellowship. People usually do not make merry alone in a room; they make merry at a festival or a great banquet. At least to my mind, merriment presupposes strong community and a truly divine and memorable reason to celebrate: think of how absurd it would be to say “Merry Administrative Professionals' Day.” But “Merry Christmas” still has theological meaning, and not just because Christ's Mass is mentioned. When we wish someone to be merry on Our Lord's birthday, we are hoping that they will have more than just a good time.
Of course, all of this involves risk: there is an obsolete term in English, “merry-drunk,” that suggests as much. But as Josef Pieper points out in his work In Tune with the World: A Theory of Festivity, all festivity contains “a natural peril and a germ of degeneration” because all festivity carries with it an element of lavishness. But just as lavishness need not involve decadence, “wet” merriment need not involve drowning.
Drink with thanksgiving
The production of good spirits is a commitment of time and love. When you enjoy a beer or a glass of wine, be thankful to the monasteries that spent centuries perfecting the recipes.
Be thankful that Christ saw fit to elevate wine to the level of a sacrament.
Appreciate the fact that Christ's first miracle was producing a first-rate wine for a wedding.
Being thankful for something also gives you a chance to enjoy and savor it more. When you are thankful for something you don't make use of it without thinking. If you had to live without electricity for a long time, every time you turned on a light switch and the light actually worked, you would appreciate the convenience that is so easily taken for granted.
Drink to remember
When I was in college one of the most common reasons I heard for getting drunk was so that “I won't have to think”. There is also the very sad state of those who “drink to forget”.
Drinking should be part of celebrations and friendship. It also is part of the Mass. Remember Christ saying “Do this in memory of Me.”? When we drink we should do it as part of events we want to remember – weddings, graduations and other moments of happiness.
I have noticed that when some people start drinking, they also start acting like someone else. Like that car salesman who pretends to be your buddy, the fake Christian is easy to spot. You can be who you are when you share a round with friends and still, believe it or not, be attractively Catholic.
Drink with friendship
As Catholics, eating and drinking in community have been part of the Church from the beginning. The Acts of the Apostles and the Didache both speak about gathering for meals as well as for Mass.
Being Catholic is to be part of a community that wants all of its members to get to Heaven. If you aren't friendly to those around you, it's usually pretty hard to convince them to follow you.
Whether you are enjoying a drink with other Catholics or with non-Catholics, be a true friend. Truly listen to and care about what others are saying.
As Sarah Vabulas says in her book, “Acknowledging a person by looking him in the eye and genuinely seeing him can have a profound impact. You never know the inner turmoil someone may be battling.” The Catholic Drinkie's Guide to Home Brewed Evangelism, P. 94
Drink with discrimination
At the wedding feast in Cana, do you remember what the steward said about the wine? “You have saved the best for last.” Think about that. Jesus didn't just make wine, He made wine that was noticeably better than what was typically served.
At Mass, wine becomes the best drink we could possibly receive – the life blood of salvation.
We should follow Jesus' example and develop some discrimination in our taste for liquor. This doesn't mean that we should become snobs where we only drink the most expensive liquor because it is the most expensive or that we should misuse our finances to buy expensive liquor to the neglect of our family and neighbor.
What it does mean is that we should learn to appreciate and savor what we drink and be able to distinguish between the quality of Lone Star Lite and a local micro brew.
What do you think? Are there other ways to “Drink like a Catholic” but still become a saint?
He lives with his lovely wife and eleven kids in northern Colorado.
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