|A little taste of heaven...|
I have a great group of friends. We don't always agree on everything. We may even have different approaches to faith, life and politics. But, what binds us, most of all, is our sincere love of God, family and, for the most part, one another.
Over the past eight years, some of my closest friends are the guys in my men's church group. We have become a tight-knit community that share in each other's personal lives; spending time socially with our families, as well as time serving God through our ministry and encouraging, supporting and guiding one another through difficulties.
We joke, we laugh, we even shed a few tears from time to time (me more than others) and we earnestly enjoy each other's company; usually centered around meals, wine and spirits, conversation and an occasional cigar.
Now, some Christian groups might frown upon our mixing of faith and spirits (in the alcoholic sense of the word) because they see the body as the temple of God and are against anything that may defile the body; i.e. liquor. Fortunately for us, Catholics are not one of them!
That's not to say that the Church promotes drunkenness or overindulgence, and we all walk a fine line between social drinking and going over the edge, but, the way I look at it, God gave us physical pleasures for our enjoyment out of love, and, so, who are we to reject that love, as long as we don't distort it's intent and purposes, where we lose dominion of our senses, end up praying to the porcelain god and can't recall what we did the next morning (not that I know from personal experience!). Therefore, sharing a few laughs with friends and with some cocktails in hand is definitely within limits!
Let's just say, my friends and I take to heart the advice of St. Paul, who, when writing to Timothy, encourages, "No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments." Since, most of us are in our 40's and 50's, where getting out of bed to go to the bathroom in the morning is sometimes painful, boy, do we all have ailments!
One of my favorite quotes by Archbishop Fulton Sheen is a reference to Jesus at the Wedding at Cana. He said, "You've got to love a guy, whose first miracle was to keep the party going."
Partying, celebrating and merriness are part of the Christian identity from the beginning. In fact, for Jesus, meals, wine and good cheer were part of the human condition and served as a powerful bond among friends; think Last Supper!
In the Gospel of Matthew, the Lord himself admonishes the Pharisees for their criticism, "The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'" (Matt 11:19)
Moreover, not only did He take an occasional drink, He appeared to be a connoisseur. He knew the difference between good and bad wine, "no one who has been drinking old wine desires new, for he says, 'The old is good.'" (Luke 5:39)
In any case, Jesus is a man's man and, while wine was the drink of choice during His time on earth, I'm sure he would enjoy a good brew if he were walking around today (Maybe, like the Most Interesting Man in the World; a Dos Equis or two), as my friends and I do at our favorite watering hole every week after our meetings. (The owner reserves a table for us!)
It is there over beers, burgers and chicken wings (and an occasional lentil soup, since one friend is usually dieting) that we bond and share in friendly banter on sports, politics, life and family. It is there, however, that we also sometimes share in the most intimate and profound conversations on faith or personal struggles; marriages on the rocks, children who have gone astray, and fears and temptations that appear to consume.
Christianity is not always rosy; it wasn't meant to be. Suffering, pain and loss are part of the equation. Jesus came to teach us about suffering; the ultimate gift of one who loves ("Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends."). Maybe, that's why God gave us wine.
As the great GK Chesterton once put it, "In Catholicism, the pint, the pipe and the Cross can all fit together." And, to my friends and I, they clearly do...