Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Catholic Defender: Alcoholism, From a Christian Perspective

The Catholic Church has been a target for some who oppose the drinking of alcohol.

Some of my Protestant friends primarily from the fundamentalist background really do not have the understanding in culture nor customs going back to the time of Jesus.

Most of these denominations were founded in the United States within the past 100 years.

They were largely influenced with the rugged individualism of the American culture.

Unfortunately, Americans are not known for our ability to drink without getting rowdy, raunchy, lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable.

It is also an established fact that alcohol is usually involved with domestic violence. Drinking has lead to the lowering of inhibitions and the result is more lewd behavior. Drinking and driving is always a problem as thousands die each year on our highways. Many more are crippled for life, scared beyond recognition not only in body but also spirit.

Is there a "Christian" approach to drinking? I personally have never been drunk in my life and I thank God for His protection in my life. I've had people close to me who have been alcoholics, had to struggle with this problem. During the time of Jesus, in that part of the world in particular, the water was not healthy to drink.

The people grew accustomed to the desert. Much of this land is desert even to this day. I've been deployed in the Middle East from Saudi Arabia to Iraq to Kuwait. It is one large sandbox. Traveling by foot, or by camel was the way of life. Not a lot has changed there, but there are signs of civilization when you get to the cities.

Matthew 9:17 states, "people do not put new wine into old wineskins, otherwise the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined. Rather, they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved". Just thinking about this scripture reminds me that we must change our entire being, to be made whole, in our conversion to the Faith, that way the Holy Spirit (New Wine Acts 2:13) work in this new "wineskin".

Jesus was able to speak to the crowds with such parables getting their understanding. This made sense to the crowd because the desert was their environment. Unfermented wine would not nor could not be utilized without refrigeration. Grape juice would spoil in a short period of time. Wine however, could last months without spoiling. It would eventually turn to vinegar to be used in everyday cooking. So wine was used in everyday normal life.

The people of God survived on it. To my friends who will claim alcohol is a sin, I will have to ask them; "is Jesus a sinner because he tasted wine"? I do not believe so, not at all. There are over 230 verses about wine in the Bible. Wine was used as a medication (1 Timothy 5:23), as well as for joyous occasions (John 2:10). Wine was used at the Last Supper (1 Cor 10:16). The ritual of Passover itself goes all the way back to Israel's freedom from Egypt, "Delivered by God's own hand".

I can find many verses in the bible favorable to the use of wine. I can also find scripture that warn against it, especially the over use of it (1 Peter 4:3 and Ephesians 5:18). There were those chosen known as "Nazarite", who were never to touch wine or strong drink such as Sampson (Judges 13:5).

Then you also had the joyous ceremonies like the wedding feasts where wine symbolized the life of the party.

It was the wedding feast of Cana where Jesus changed the water into wine, His first public miracle at the request of His Mother (John 2:1-12).

The Catholic Church has always utilized wine in the Eucharistic Celebration.

The fruit of the vine made by human hands, made for the joy of man, made for the cup of Christ, His blood offered once and for all reenacted (Matthew 26:26-29).

Unfermented wine (grape juice) has been authorized in special cases if the priest is an alcoholic. This is granted to the particular priest as a special dispensation and not the norm. I have personally seen this only once.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endangers their own and others safety on the road, at sea, or in the air".

In our day and time, in our culture, the Pope has recognized alcoholism as a serious problem. Each year annually there are 25,000 deaths due to drunk drivers in the United States alone.

Alcoholism has destroyed many lives causing spiritual and physical health problems. Many people under the influence of alcohol will be violent.

Domestic violence such as child abuse is up 500% since 1973. With the deterioration of the family and the rise of incidence of alcoholism, it's no wonder why some of the fundamentalists Protestant churches have looked attractive to war torn lives living on the edge.

Catholics are seen as sinners compromising with evil, seen during the week drinking and carrying all the ills with it, only "going to Mass on Sunday's to get forgiveness".

For the most part our Protestant friends are greatly exaggerated and uncharitable in grouping a whole group of people as one with those with drinking problems.

Many alcoholics come from religious backgrounds which condemn alcohol altogether. In 1978 I interviewed the head of the local AA chapter in Branson Missouri, and he told me strait up that 75% of people involved with AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) come from religious backgrounds that condemns the use of alcohol period.

St. Paul states, "you cannot drink the cup of the Lord and also the cup of Demons" (1 Corinthians 10:21). Alcoholism has thus become demons to those who have experienced these social problems. As Catholic, St. Paul reminds us, "It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble "(Romans 14:21).

Catholics who are having problems with alcohol should take Romans 14:21 to heart and Alcoholic's Anonymous has been a great help to many who have sought help to get their lives in order. I have seen people die premature as a result to their drinking problems. It is an ugly picture. Many will deny having drinking problems which I've heard boasting such as: "I can handle my booze, I can drive without any problems, I've done it for years".

I am reminded of the commercials of kids on video talking and laughing, then a caption showing the kids were killed by a drunk driver. This hits home hard. With our Protestant friends, the Catholic Church agree, this must be stopped. The Pope has strongly condemned this himself. We agree on all the ills of society.

The question comes back, "is it a sin to drink alcohol"? Based from the teaching and practice of the Catholic Church and scripture, no, it is not. But it carries the weight of personal responsibility.

In our society it has become difficult to see anything Christian in our social habits. The music and movies we entertain ourselves with, the lifestyle we uphold has thrown our Judeo-Christian ethics out the window enhancing the result of these social ills.

The question remains, "How do we clean it up"? One, it must begin in the home, fathers must take the leadership with his children.

Secondly, we must clean house, "evil company corrupts good morals". We must make our homes a good family environment to worship God in freedom. As families coming together as a community, this would strengthen us, to liberate us from bondage.

Thirdly, to follow the Shepherds of the Church, the teaching Magisterium of the Church, not to be confused with all this liberal line as to be deceived by wicked individuals. We can change society only as we can change ourselves. Are we "new" or "used" wine-skins?

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