I will never forget the look of horror on a Baptist friend’s face when the priest who was to officiate at our wedding ordered a vodka and tonic at the rehearsal dinner.
While our former pastor, properly attired in his Roman collar, happily enjoyed his drink, our friend gazed in astonishment.
Had she not been there, Father ordering a drink would have seemed perfectly normal. He was a trusted family friend and someone known to drink moderately and responsibly. Besides, my husband and I both drink. We regard it as a pleasure that, when enjoyed in moderation, does not conflict with our Catholic faith.
In that, we are hardly alone. Getting together with Catholic friends nearly always means a bottle of wine (or more, depending on the size of the group) will be opened, poured, savored, described and discussed over good food and conversation.
Not surprisingly, a favorite quotation among those of us who imbibe is Hilaire Belloc’s ditty: “Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, there’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!”
Although it’s tempting to laugh off our difference with Protestants who don’t drink (and bless God for making us Catholic) it’s also good to remember that the Church does not give us unbridled freedom when it comes to intoxicating beverages.
For starters, getting drunk is a sin. The Catechism (No. 1852) is clear about this, citing Paul’s letter to the Galatians (5:19-21). Indeed, the danger that drinking will lead to drunkenness is one reason many Protestants abstain from alcohol altogether. As a Protestant friend told me, “Why drink if you risk getting drunk?”
We all know drinking loosens our inhibitions and can weaken our resolve so that, even if we intend to have “just one,” we end up having three or four. While this may happen to some only occasionally, for others it can become habitual. And, because some people may be genetically predisposed to alcoholism, those who abstain reason that the only way to protect yourself is to avoid drinking.
Some Christians also abstain so they do not cause a “weaker brother” to fall (Romans 14:21). This was the case at a recent “dry” wedding reception my husband and I attended. The groom, a youth minister, decided to serve only soft drinks out of concern for young guests and those for whom alcohol might be a problem.
As Catholics, we know that, although the Catechism calls drunkenness a sin, it saves most of its breath on the subject for temperance (see No. 809), defining it as “the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods.” “The temperate person,” we are told, “directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion.”
Let’s enjoy a glass of wine, a bottle of beer or a mixed drink — and lift them in a toast to temperance.
Judy Roberts writes from