With our celebration of Independence Day, summertime is in full swing. With daylight “savings” and long weekends and vacation getaways, our life takes on a more leisurely pace.
Along the way, we find seasonal opportunities to share adult beverages. Neighborly cookouts call for spritzy cocktails. Theatre festivals feature the wines of the times. At ballparks, “a dog ‘n a beer” remain the staple on every menu. In summertime, “happy hour” tends to last much longer than 60 minutes.
Leisure and liquor seem to go hand-in-hand, the former as an opportunity for relaxation, the latter as a means to it. Even more, they can also put us on a path to something sacred.
So says Dr. Michael Foley, who shows the way there in Drinking with the Saints: The Sinner’s Guide to a Holy Happy Hour (Regnery History, 2015). In this still popular book, Foley connects specific cocktails to the feast days of the liturgical calendar. For each saint’s day, he mixes a bit of biography along with a recipe for just the right beverage to celebrate that holy life.
More broadly, Foley’s research offers interesting historical tales and convincing theological arguments that make for a spirited defense of drink. His apologia for alcohol is grounded on the power of joy, an altogether human emotion cultivated also by religious faith.
As to the sacred character of summer spirits, he reminds us that wine was the result of Jesus’s first miracle (during the wedding feast at Cana) and it remains today the sacramental matter of the Eucharist. He references ritual prayers for the blessing of beer and wine that speak of the former as a product of God’s kindness and the latter as a way to cheer human hearts.
Historically, Foley notes how the church has long been associated with the production of alcohol, thereby cultivating sacred joy in profane spirits. Brewing beer was perfected in Trappist monasteries. A Benedictine (Dom Pérignon) invented the method for making champagne, and the Carthusians created a magical liqueur at Chartreuse. Whiskey started with Irish monks (who sought a cure for “paralysis of the tongue”!), while fine California wines began when St. Junipero Serra brought grapes to that missionary region.
More than a paean to getting plastered, Foley’s work links social custom and virtuous intention by offering five insights on how to drink like saints. He insists on drinking with moderation, in a temperance that avoids excess in any and all things. He exhorts us to drink with gratitude, recognizing the benefits we enjoy. He counsels us to drink with memory (i.e., a reason) rather than simply to forget. To this he adds drinking with merriment that purposefully engages others.
Finally, he encourages us to drink with rituals, where joy coincides with sociability in the festive celebration of events, of people, and of life.
It’s good advice to be sure, offering practical wisdom to a perennial practice.
The Catholic Young Adults of Bucks County are sharing this wisdom through a summer series on “Drinking with the Saints.” Upcoming talks, along with drinks, focus on St. Francis de Sales (July 31) and St. Augustine (Aug. 28).
Still, as our Lord teaches, real holiness concerns more what comes out of our hearts than what we take in with our lips. The true taste of a saintly life comes not from the spirits we imbibe but from the Spirit we heed in our relationship with God.
One simple yet effective way to cultivate this relationship in every season lies in the practice of spiritual aspirations. For St. Francis de Sales, these are “short, ardent movements of your heart” or other prayerful good thoughts made throughout the day as a way to habituate us to being in a divine relationship, even while we are rightly busy about worldly things.
Using an image appropriate to our topic, the Savoyard saint explains that “there is no difficulty in this exercise (of making aspirations), as it may be interspersed among all our tasks and duties without any inconvenience, since in this spiritual retirement or amid these interior aspirations we only relax quietly and briefly. This does not hinder but rather assists us greatly in what we do.
“The pilgrim who takes a little wine to restore his heart and refresh his mouth stops for a while but does not interrupt his journey by doing so. On the contrary, he gains new strength to finish it more quickly and easily since he rests only in order to proceed the better.”
This summer, in a favorite pub or at a family picnic, you can make those sips more sacred by lifting up a holy thought each time you raise a glass. Cheers!
Father Dailey is the John Cardinal Foley Chair of Homiletics and Social Communications at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Wynnewood, and a research fellow for the Catholic Leadership Institute in Wayne.
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