After two quarters in college I figured it was about time to write about the one thing everyone seems to talk about in relation to college: drinking. This post is not meant to be conciliatory nor judgmental. It is not meant to condemn those who do drink nor vindicate their actions. This post is solely meant to convey the truth founded in the Church’s teaching and through Scripture. Throughout this piece, I seek to answer one question: What is the proper Catholic response to drinking in college? This topic may seem like a black and white issue to some while others see it as a gray area. I will discuss the ins and outs of drinking and specifically how it pertains to living out a genuine Catholic lifestyle.
The first part I will talk about is the easy part: when is drinking okay and when is it not okay? Some may try to fudge these rules, but if we actually value our relationship with God we need to adhere to the teachings set down by Christ. In a second post, I will discuss the more difficult question: How should one respond, in a Christ-like manner, to those who drink? If we are set on being disciplined when it comes to drinking, how do we respond to those who drink in a way that is not judgmental yet still maintaining the truth?
So, let’s get started with the easy part, when is drinking permissible? The first distinction we have to make is between underage drinking and legal drinking. If you are under the age of 21 it is illegal for you to drink, and this is a law that many college students disregard. However, we have to remember the words of Jesus himself:
“Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” (Matthew 22:21)
In that moment, Jesus shows a respect for worldly, government authority and the laws it sets down, so long as those laws do not conflict with our relationship with God. What is important to take away from Jesus’s words is that government laws should be respected, including government laws in relation to drinking. Let me be clear, underage drinking is a sin, in and of itself (with a few exceptions which I will cover a little later) because it is a violation of a just law set down by a legitimate government, and Jesus Himself commanded us to respect the laws put in place. It is part of our calling to respect institutions that maintain order and peace in society.
I will be honest though, I think the fact that drinking is against the law is a weaker argument against underage drinking simply due to the pervasiveness of alcohol in college. The illegality of underage drinking is not the primary motivation for me, personally, to not drink. The stronger moral argument against drinking can be applied to drinking at any age, legal or illegal, and it has to do with integrity. Integrity is something we have already talked about. But here’s a refresher: Integrity means acting in a manner that is consistent with the principles we uphold, all the time. A more practical definition is, integrity is who you are when no one is looking. When we drink, our integrity is at stake.
Alcohol itself is not a bad thing, but one of its dangers lies in its effect of hindering our ability to have good judgment. When we do not have good judgment, we do not always act with integrity. Most people act differently when they are drunk, and the biggest question for us is: is that okay? Is it okay that a guy flirts incessantly with girls when he is drunk? Is it okay for a girl to act more provocatively with guys after a couple shots? Is it okay for a guy to slander another person’s name or reveal secrets he was not supposed to share just because he is under the influence? The list goes on. We do and say things while intoxicated that we would not do while sober, and that is an inconsistency in our actions, which we can also call a lack of integrity.
The fact that we act differently when we are intoxicated from alcohol compared to when we are sober and rational is not okay. It says something about how we as Catholics are called to respond. We all know how hard it is to avoid sin. We all know how hard it is to overcome temptation in all its forms. We all know how hard it is to maintain a strong relationship with God. So, why would we want to participate in something that hinders our judgment, thereby making it easier for us to sin, succumb to temptation, and fall away from God? We are living a contradictory lifestyle when we proclaim our love for God yet drink in a manner that forces us to lose our integrity and makes it easier for us to sin.
Not only can we talk about alcohol’s effect on our relationships with God but also its effect on our relationships with each other. I have heard numerous stories about how people’s perspectives of their friends and mentors change for the worse based on how those people acted while under the influence. We cannot deny that our actions have the power to hurt others, and that the excuse of “Oh, well you can’t blame me because I was drunk that night” just does not cut it. We have an obligation to act responsibly in our relationships with others as well as in our relationships with God.
Even in Scripture we see evidence of the dangers of alcohol:
“[Wine] goes down smoothly; but in the end it bites like a serpent, or like a poisonous adder. Your eyes behold strange sights, and your heart utters disordered thoughts.” (Proverbs 23:31-33)
“Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy.” (Romans 13:13)
“Nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (Corinthians 6:10)
God did not declare alcohol a bad thing, otherwise the Church would not have a history of brothers, monks, and priests who cultivated and perfected the art of wine-making and beer-brewing. Or, perhaps even more convincingly, God would not allow Himself to come to us in the form of wine at the Mass if He thought alcohol was inherently evil. However, we have to acknowledge that all good things can be twisted for evil ends. We are called to be good stewards of the blessings God has bestowed upon us, that means drinking responsibly and within our limits so as to not sabotage our relationship with God.
There are a few exceptions and clarifications I would like to make. When I say the word ‘drink’ I am referring to the consumption of entire alcoholic beverages. I am not referring to sips or small tastes of alcohol like ones a person would receive at the dinner table.
In reference to underage drinking, it is permissible to drink alcohol only for special circumstances such as if alcohol is part of a familial or cultural tradition within a certain event or gathering, since the purpose of alcohol in those circumstances is to fully participate in the cultural or familial traditions already in place. The other major exception is the consumption of wine at Mass because after consecration the wine becomes the blood of Christ, so our consumption of the consecrated wine serves a higher calling: establishing a deeper communion with God. Mass is an instance where our relationship with God overlaps with and supersedes the laws of this world, in a sense. (You could also mention that the amount of wine we consume at Mass is a very small amount anyway)