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Some Discernment on Spirits - November 2017

posted Nov 25, 2017, 9:32 AM by RSO The Fenwick Review
By Jack Rosenwinkel '21

When people from back home (I’m from the Midwest) find out I go to a school named Holy Cross, they assume that here on the Hill, we all like to spend our Friday nights praying the Rosary. They think that since it’s a Catholic school, there isn’t a lot of partying. That’s perpetuated when they hear that (allegedly) 40% of students say they don’t drink. Now I haven’t been on campus that long, but I know that number is either false or the other 60% drink enough to make up for the abstainers. So yes, here at Holy Cross, contrary to what many Midwesterners assume, we enjoy our drink. But this line of thought exposes a very real misconception: that there’s a contradiction between Church teaching and drinking alcohol. There isn’t.

Take the word of G.K. Chesterton, apologist, poet, and Catholic literary giant, who once said, “In Catholicism, the pint, the pipe, and the Cross can all fit together.” He compared the Catholic Church to a thick steak, a cigar, and a glass of red wine. Then there’s St. Thomas Aquinas, a Doctor of the Church, who not only supported drinking, but believed alcohol should be used to “cheer men’s souls” and that we should “drink to the point of hilarity.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church has no opposition to the use of alcohol, tobacco, or gambling in moderation. Jesus’s first miracle was turning water into wine -- and he didn’t use grape juice at the Last Supper. And last but not least, the Trappist monks make the best beer in the world -- or so I’m told.

But before you grab the keg, it’s also important to note that Aquinas--the one who recommended drinking to cope with sadness--also said that being drunk is a mortal sin. As a Catholic College, where we embrace the cross and the pint, it’s critical to discuss the intersection of morality and mischief that comes with drinking. At first glance, Aquinas’s classification of drunkenness as a mortal sin may seem a little extreme. But then Aquinas, in all his wisdom, points out that when we drink, we occasionally do stupid things. And to think - Thomas Aquinas figured that out even though he had no idea what a darty was.

But it’s true. So many people say that alcohol can get rid of your inhibitions, but is that honestly a good thing?

If my inhibitions keep me from doing something stupid - like streaking, for example - then I think society should be all the more grateful that I’m inhibited. To top it off, we also live in a society where people post random and inappropriate things online while sober. Spend five minutes on Tumblr and you’ll agree that inhibition is not society’s greatest threat. But even then, Aquinas says, drunkenness may be a reason for sin, but it’s not an excuse. Coming back to the streaking example, the real issue isn’t me being drunk, it’s that I’m running naked across the Hoval.

So if we just don’t do anything stupid while drunk… we should be good, right? No. The real danger, according to Aquinas, is the “drinking to get drunk” mentality that permeates American college campuses. He says it’s a mortal sin if a man drinks with the conviction that “he would rather be drunk than abstain from drink.” Now -- Aquinas isn’t arguing that wanting to be drunk is a sin. If that were the case, everyone who’d ever sat through Freshman Convocation should go to confession. Drunkenness gets sinful when we knowingly and happily choose inebriation over sobriety. There are a couple good reasons for this. For one, it’s gluttony. If you sit down and eat three pizzas, you may have a problem. If you sit down and drink a fifth of Svedka, same goes. On top of that, you destroy your body. But it gets seriously problematic when is when we drink to get sloppy drunk, because in doing so, we knowingly give up human reason, and in turn, reject our God-given human dignity.

It loops back to the inhibition thing, but in a deeper way. When we drink so much we can’t make a rational decision or walk in a straight line, we’ve essentially become toddlers or very, very large squirrels. Human reason is a gift from God. It’s part of the mystery of salvation history -- that we can use reason as a way to discover and choose the things that lead us closer to -- or further away from -- God. When we drink to get drunk, we essentially decide to “turn off” the rational brains that God gave us. We are no longer in a position to love, reverence and serve God. It’s not just about avoiding stupidity, it’s about safeguarding and reverencing our God-given dignity.

The issue is not that we drink on Friday night. Or Saturday night. Or maybe even Saturday during the day. Or Wednesday. Or Thursday. (As a classic Irish folk song says, “I only drink on the days that end in y.”) The issue is that when we drink, we pee on lawns. We dehumanize ourselves. Drinking to loosen up isn’t problematic- it’s a foreshadow of heaven and it can help us be the person God calls us to be. But when we get drunk, we’re not the best, most loving version of ourselves. Instead of “Men and Women for and With Others,” we become “Men and Women Puking on Others.” We can’t focus on God- we can barely walk straight. And when we choose to get obliterated, hammered, sloshed, schmizzed, totally tuckered or absolutely blitzed, we choose that over God. We say, “Tonight’s about me.”

So with Aquinas, Augustine (a patron saint of beer), the Trappists, Chesterton, and even Jesus, let’s raise our cups (in moderation) for the love and the glory of God. Hillaire Belloc might have put it best -- “Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, there’s always laughter and good red wine. At least, I’ve always found it so -- Benedicamus Domino!”