You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man… Proverbs 104:14-15
I was raised Protestant, and while my particular brand of Protestantism didn’t condemn drinking, it always seemed to me to be something we were getting away with – a concession. Of course there are many other Protestant denominations that see wine, beer, and alcohol as sin and strictly forbid alcohol consumption. I have some experience with both camps. Throughout my teens and twenties I was involved in a variety of Christian groups and ministries, but no matter what their view on liquor, I never got the feeling that drinking and Christianity were particularly compatible. Yet, when we take a look at history and at scripture, we see that this tense attitude toward drinking has its roots, not so much in traditional Christianity, but in Teetotalism of the 19th century and in the Prohibition movement of the 20th century.
In fact, Christianity has a long and healthy relationship with festive and ceremonial drinking (After all Jesus’s first miracle was turning water into wine.) But somehow over the years, we’ve lost that connection. We’ve forgotten how to drink like saints. Fortunately, in his new book, Drinking With the Saints – A Sinner’s Guide to a Holy Happy Hour, Michael P. Foley (husband of my dear friend and his research partner, Alexandra Foley), is bringing back that connection. The book follows the liturgical calendar and offers recipes, blessings, and toasts to go along with the celebration of saint’s days and Christian feasts.
In a recent article in Crisis Magazine, Foley explains five lessons he learned about saintly drinking while researching for the book. Here is a summary of those lesson (but you definitely want to read the article too)…
Foley explains that drinking moderately is the only way to foster health, ensure friendship, and enjoy wholesome (rather than carnal) pleasure. Like other gifts that God has given us – food, sex, recreation- our drinking must be morally responsible. Drinking, when done in excess, is sinful and an abuse of God’s kindness. Drinking with the Saints isn’t a Catholic guide to boozing it up. It’s a Christian’s guide to enjoying one of God’s gifts
Here Foley quotes G.K. Chesterton, “We should thank God for beer and burgundy by not drinking too much of them.” For centuries Christians have seen wine, beer and spirits as gifts from God, Foley reminds us that it’s time to return to that way of thinking and to give thanks.
There is healthy and unhealthy drinking. A key difference, Foley points out, is whether one is drinking to remember or to forget. Healthy drinking often involves reminiscing and creating new happy memories. Unhealthy drinking involves drinking alone and embittered in order to forget one’s troubles. This reminds me of a saying I once heard, “Never drink to feel better. Only drink to feel even better.” Like food, alcohol should never be a crutch or a go-to response to stress or negative emotions. Instead, alcohol should always be a part of a larger celebration, even it it’s just celebrating two friends getting together for a drink!
Merriment necessarily involves fellowship. Again, drinking alone is often the sign of unhealthy drinking. Of course, merriment can become slobbering drunkenness if we aren’t careful, but the joy of eating can also become overly-stuffed misery if we don’t take care. Moderation is the key to merriment. Can we be merry without alcohol? Of course. But in the same way good food lends itself to celebration, so does good drink. Both are a natural accompaniment to and expression of joy.
Here Foley extols the virtue of the toast. Ritual sometimes gets a bad rap in our modern culture, but when speaking of toasts as ritual, Foley points out, “Catholics should be natural toasters, for ritual is in our blood: we recognize that formality does not replace spontaneity or joy but completes it, channels it, enriches it.” I love that. Formality does not replace spontaneity or joy! This so true. How I would miss the ritual of a Christmas tree or a Thanksgiving feast or an Easter brunch. These traditions give greater meaning to important days. So, when we come together in fellowship and merriment over a nice glass of bourbon or mug of beer, it’s only fitting that we have some ritual to make the occasion all the more special. Fortunately, Foley offers several beautiful toasts in his book.
There’s so much I love about being Catholic, not the least of the which is the ability to see God’s goodness in many of life’s seemingly trivial moments. This book helps me do that – not just with drinking, but by reminding me that everything we do, whether work or play, can be done with and through Him. Thanks be to God for His great goodness in all things!
Image source: amazon.com