Many of us have that “one thing” that we refuse to give up. We justify our sin or weakness with many excuses and feel uncomfortable when others try to poke holes in our defenses. Or maybe we want to give it up, but feel powerless to it. We all have something, or have had something like that at one point in our lives. I can think of many things in my own life.
On St. Patrick’s Day, I found myself thinking a lot about the culture that we live in. I woke up that morning, remembering how people used to get up early on March 17th when I was in college to go drink a little (or a lot) before their morning classes. My heart was heavy all day as I thought about all the people who would enter into mortal sin (yes, drunkenness is a mortal sin), some who would probably drive drunk, and many who would make bad decisions because of being intoxicated. All day, I prayed for those people. It saddens me that we live in a culture that promotes a lack of self-control, when there are so many people already suffering from an addiction to alcohol.
After experiencing the negative effects of alcohol in my own life, and in the lives of those close to me while I was in high school, I made a decision the summer before I went to college that I wouldn’t drink underage anymore. College was a difficult time to stick by that decision, but by the grace of God, I did. I wanted to glorify God even though it was difficult, and I knew that underage drinking didn’t do that. Jesus asks us to obey the laws. He says in the Gospels, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.” Basically, we should obey the laws, unless they cause us to go against our faith and make us unable to “give to God what belongs to God.” Obviously, since the Church doesn’t teach that we MUST drink underage in order to be good Christians and since waiting to drink will not harm us, but will make us more patient and prudent and holy and obedient and willing to follow our Lord even when it is difficult, this is not an unjust law to follow – although it is unpopular in our culture.
In college, I was also younger than everyone else in my grade, which meant that everyone turned twenty-one before me. I went through three and a half years of college under the age of twenty-one, without having an alcoholic drink. It can be done! The unfortunate part was that all of my best friends and a good portion of my other friends turned twenty-one about a year before I did. While I never went to any crazy college parties, I often found myself in situations with friends where they were drinking and I wasn’t. I also know there were events and get-togethers in college that my friends didn’t invite me to because they knew I wouldn’t drink.
Then and now, I take comfort in knowing that we are called to be different. We are called to be set apart. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”
I wouldn’t ever for an instant change my college experience, even and especially on the nights where my friends drank without me, or when I refused a drink that was offered to me. It taught me so much about patience, self-control, real joy, and following Jesus instead of the world.
I also ran into a lot of otherwise good, Catholic people who didn’t agree with my decision. I heard a lot of people otherwise striving for holiness who wanted to justify this one thing in their lives. I heard many excuses. “I’m not hurting anybody.” or “It’s an unjust law, so it’s okay for me to break it.” or “Wouldn’t you rather I drink safely with friends, than crazily at a party?” As I met a lot of opposition, I came to be even more firmly grounded in my beliefs.
While I know that one beer does not mean that someone is going to become an alcoholic and ruin their life, I know that that happens to enough people in our culture that I want to stand up and be able to say that alcohol does not have to “rule” us.
To people who drink underage and are otherwise trying to be holy, I would say: Stop. Because if you can’t stop, then you might have a problem. And if you just won’t because you don’t want to, then you might want to re-evaluate if you are trying to follow God, follow the world, or follow your own compulsions.
It reminds me of the rich young man in Luke 18. Jesus says to him, “There is still one thing left for you.” When confronted with that “one thing” in our lives, I hope that none of us walk away sad like he did, but that we turn towards God for His mercy and His grace, for help with that sin or attachment. As the rich young man questions how anyone can be saved when there are such high expectations, Jesus reminds us, “What is impossible for human beings is possible for God.”
So let us not be discouraged, rebellious, or stubborn as we face the things in our lives that we hold onto when God asks us to give them up, whether that is alcohol, or something else entirely. Let us grasp onto our faith, and remember that our God was persecuted because He was different, and we are called to be like Him. Let us also not feel powerless against these things, but be encouraged, knowing that, “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Christ is in you. He is bigger than your sin, bigger than your temptations. Let Him be the one to conquer them, and trust that He will if you ask Him.