The previous blog I wrote, 'Thinking about Drinking,' brought with it a lot of feedback. The most common response I received was from high school teens who don't drink but were wondering if it was wrong for them to go to parties where there is drinking.
This is an old debate – so old that I even had it with my own youth minister back when the only dribbling LeBron James was doing was from his mouth . . . in his crib.
Some say if you're at the party and you don't drink, you can be a good example to people who need it. Others say that if you go at all, you're basically approving of what's going on there because of your very presence at the party.
You can argue either point all day long; both arguments are valid and need to be prayerfully considered. On one hand, yes, people at parties need Jesus, too. On the other hand, yes, going does condone on some level what is happening there. Presence nonverbally communicates a variety of things to different people.
So, the fundamental question is, 'What am I going to accomplish by going or by not going?'
Yes, maybe by going and not drinking you'll be a good example, but that isn't enough of a reason to go. There's no guarantee that people there will know you're not drinking – they might be too drunk. They might assume you drink but lost the flip of the coin and are the designated driver. They might think you're okay with underage consumption but signed a contract with your coach not to drink, or made a pact with someone else not to do it. Standing there with a bottle of water in your hand might communicate one thing in your mind but it doesn't necessarily say it to the room.
The next question becomes whether or not you need to be there at the party to be a much-needed example. There are plenty of other places, times, and opportunities to point thirsty souls to the living water of Christ (John 7:37).
Too often, going to a party with the intention of 'being an example' is a justification people use to avoid standing out or standing up for their faith. They want to do the right thing but not to suffer socially for it.
Not going to the party makes a much bolder statement. It doesn't mean you're judgmental. It doesn't mean you're anti-fun or anti-friend. It means you're pro-God. You might think people won't notice or won't care, but you're wrong. No, the entire school might not take notice but some people will. Your courageous example to step away might be exactly what others need to see to do the same. There are others who, if given another option, would rather not be at the party.
If you're willing to stand and lead you might spend some weekend nights alone, yes, but your soul will be at peace. Your confidence and your esteem will grow because you know who you are and what you stand for. In reaffirming Who you live for your faith life will grow too. That's attractive and contagious. Others will want what you seem to have. You'll be amazed how many people (who might lack the courage) would be willing to blow off parties to do something a little more creative and a whole lot more fun.
It just takes a leader. It takes someone willing to stand up and be counted even if it means mockery or social suffering. Saints didn't set out to have huge followings. Saints set out to follow Jesus, and others followed them in their pursuit of Him.
I talk to teenagers just about every day, and the conversations are often the same. They deal with the Bible and what the Church teaches and how challenging it can be to live a holy life in an unholy culture. I'd say that most teens that I talk to are truly looking for the Lord; some, however, are looking less for the Lord and more for the 'loopholes.'
For instance: 'I heard that the Bible doesn't say drinking alcohol is a sin.'
'Well, no, the Bible does not say that drinking alcohol is a sin,' I respond. I then go on to explain that it does become sinful (very easily), if any of the following happen:
Some young people embrace these truths and accept them with humility as they try to grow in holiness. Others just try to debate, justify, legitimize, or argue their way around them because they don't like the answer. Here's where the disconnect usually happens. Where do you want your energy to go: toward the Lord or towards some desired 'loophole?'
High school students sometimes argue that they are mature enough to drink alcohol before they're 21. 'I can die for my country, but I can't buy a beer,' I often hear uttered by seniors.
The question at hand is not your maturity, necessarily. I know plenty of people who are chronologically legal to drink, but far too immature to be doing so. Maturity is about more than age, but true maturity also encompasses humility, and wisdom. Obedience is an even greater sign of maturity than courage; it takes courage (and humility) to be obedient.
Some teens say there's just nothing fun to do in their town or argue about how stressful their life is and how they just need a drink to relax. If you need alcohol to have fun or to relax – that's a sad statement about your life, your friends, and a probable sign of a far deeper problem like addiction.
Some people just want an excuse … alcohol – to act like an idiot or to be sexually promiscuous without being held too accountable for it. Drunkenness doesn't excuse or justify sins … it adds to the sin and often magnifies them even more. You are not held accountable by God only for what you remember… but for what you do.
Others think that drinking alcohol in some way validates and legitimizes them, or makes them more of an adult. This is just stupid. Your worth comes from Jesus Christ, not from drinking. Your dignity comes from God. And while the Bible does not overtly say that drinking alcohol is sinful, it is very, very clear in warning about the dangers and problems that often come with alcohol.
Our holiness is not measured by what we want but by what God wants for us. Obedience and humility make us holy. An openness to God's grace makes us holy. Allowing that grace to make us more virtuous makes us holy.
The cup that Christ offers us to drink from is not being passed from a keg … it is a cup of sacrifice, a cup of suffering that comes with putting God's will ahead of our own.
For those of you still reading, I'm proud of you. I'm very proud of you, because your heart is open – maybe more open than you realize – and the Lord wants to speak to that openness.
For those who have gotten angry while reading this – I'd invite you to pray about this more in the Lord's presence. Go before the Blessed Sacrament with your arguments and philosophies and see if the Lord is as supportive of them as your friends are.
God wants us to be pure. God wants us to live for Him. God wants us to be examples. God wants us to lead others to holiness, not to sin. St. Paul called this 'the law of love.' It basically meant that we should avoid anything that could cause one of our fellow brothers or sisters in Christ to stumble or fall on their walk toward Him.
So where do you want to spend your energy … seeking the Lord or the loopholes?
You never know who God is going to bring into your life. This past week I had an amazing experience of God while waiting for my dinner.
'Iced tea, please.' I requested with a genuine tone.
'You guys goin' to get ripped on Friday?' the waiter asked me (and my friends).
'I'm sorry?' I asked a little confused and more than a little intrigued.
'You know, are you guys gonna get lit up to celebrate Saint Patrick's day this Friday?' he asked again, (obviously assuming that because we were young adults that binge drinking and public drunkenness must be our favorite past time’Ìâ‰âÂÌâ_)
'Um’Ìâ‰âÂÌâ_no.' I replied with a stern and disapproving but gentle, non-judgmental tone.
'Why not, are you guys like recovering alcoholics or something?' he pushed, searching for an answer as to why we would not choose to inebriate ourselves on the altar of public opinion or conformity.
'What's your name?' I asked.
'Thomas' he replied.
'Thomas, I have to ask you a question. You obviously plan to get wasted on Friday to 'celebrate'. Why is getting drunk necessary? I don't want to sound prudish, but I just don't understand why you consider that the ultimate sign of your freedom as a young adult?'
His facial expression showed how perplexed he was. His body language did little to disguise his defensiveness.
'What nationality are you?' he asked me (in an odd retort).
'I'm Irish and German.' I replied.
'Oh well, you see, I'm 100% Irish, so you wouldn't understand. Drinking is a part of our heritage, and only being half Irish you wouldn't understand the significance of St. Patty's Day. It's how our ancestors celebrated and it's been passed down from generation to generation. Maybe the Irish in your family weren't proud of their heritage, but my family is’Ìâ‰âÂÌâ_' His attempt to justify his intention to binge drink was obvious, but his assault on our family pride in our heritage was unfounded and ignorant.
I had planned to let his comments go, but I could not’Ìâ‰âÂÌâ_for he would undoubtedly spin the same inane dribble on another unsuspecting table later in the day, and he needed a little dose of reality.
'Hey Thomas, I don't know how to break this to you, but getting hammered doesn't demonstrate your freedom, it relinquishes it. Further, saying that your ancestors celebrated their Irish heritage by getting wasted is unfounded and a sad commentary about your family tree. Alcoholism, like any addiction, is not an exercise of freedom, it is an exercise of slavery. Ironically, the very slavery that your ancestors were probably fighting in Ireland prior to the arrival of Saint Patrick.' His face went white. He was confused, upset and grew a little angry (but not too angry, because he was still working for a tip).
'Well, that's your version, but I know my Irish history' he replied, clinging to the rationalization that would leave him drunken and guilt free.
Saint Patrick, an Irish Saint?
'Oh, and Thomas, one more thing’Ìâ‰âÂÌâ_Saint Patrick wasn't Irish’Ìâ‰âÂÌâ_at all' I said with a gentle but assured humility.
That was it. You would have thought I pulled his still beating heart out of his Kelly-green covered chest and smashed right in front of his (no longer) 'smiling' Irish eyes.
I would have been fine letting it go, but after his last comments, I felt the need to set straight my belligerent, well-intentioned new friend who was way long on ego and bit short on actual knowledge.
'Saint Patrick was Welsh-Italian. Most agree, too, that there weren't any actual snakes in the country. That is a myth. He wasn't the first Christian missionary sent to Ireland, either, that was Saint Palladius. Lastly, Saint Patrick is not only the patron saint of Ireland, but also of Nigeria. He spoke out against slavery, pagan worship and was a champion of women's rights in a time when people treated them as objects (not unlike today). He stood for Jesus Christ, spoke out against pagan influences and the debaucherous lifestyles that were leading countless masses into sin … including drunkenness, idolatry, witchcraft, and sexual sins. In short, Saint Patrick would be rolling over in his grave if he felt that millions every year ‘Ìâ‰âÂÌâèÏcelebrated' his life in the ways that you are suggesting we do.'
Thomas had nothing to say. He had forgotten his argument. He had forgotten his heritage. He had forgotten our order (it took forever to get our food).
'I understand that you like getting wasted and see it as the ultimate exercise of young freedom, I used to think that way, too. The reality, though, is that it's a lie. Freedom is not ‘Ìâ‰âÂÌâèÏdoing whatever you want'. Freedom is the capacity to love and to do what is right. Alcohol, like any drug, enslaves the human person. Saint Patrick went to Ireland to free the slaves with the Gospel. hose temptations were the ‘Ìâ‰âÂÌâèÏsnakes' that were killing the masses. I don't judge you, brother, and I don't want to come off as ‘Ìâ‰âÂÌâèÏholier than thou' or any of that garbage. I genuinely want you to know that. God has bigger plans for you than you do for yourself. Those plans will be hard to see and hear if you're hiding behind a drunken stooper for the most formative years of your life. Do what you will do, and know that I'll be praying for you this Friday. I pray that you choose wisely.'
Thomas disappeared to the kitchen. You could see he was thinking a great deal. You could tell that what started as small talk turned into far more. The conversation had done more than challenge his mind, the words we exchanged … two strangers that were now acquaintances, were challenging his heart.
Later on in the meal, when the check came, something unexpected happened. My new brother in Christ, Thomas, thanked me.
'I saw your crucifix. I'm assuming you're Catholic. I was raised Catholic but I haven't been to church in a long time, since I moved out of my parent's house. No one has really talked to me like that since my grandma died. Where did you learn so much about the faith?' He inquired.
'Here and there' I replied. 'Lemme give you a website.' (pointing him to Lifeteen.com)
'I'm still going out on Saint Patrick's day, you know' he admitted.
'I figured' I replied with an appreciation for his honesty.
'Maybe I won't drink too much' he offered.
'Maybe you won't drink at all’Ìâ‰âÂÌâ_' I urged with more belief in him than he has in himself.
'What is the point in that?' He asked.
'To celebrate the life of a man who put God's will before his own wants, and the salvation of an entire nation ahead of his own bodily desires. Basically, to truly honor Saint Patrick.' I suggested.
'What's your name?' he asked me.
'Mark Joseph Hart' I replied. In fact, 'Thomas' was my Confirmation name.
'What's yours?' I asked back.
'Thomas Patrick’Ìâ‰âÂÌâ_' he replied.
'Well Thomas, it was a pleasure. I'll be praying that Saint Patrick makes you uncomfortable this Friday.' I said jokingly.
'He already has’Ìâ‰âÂÌâ_' Thomas replied honestly.
As we left and I headed to my car I had to grin. Over 1500 years later, Saint Patrick's life is still converting hearts. And in the middle of a restaurant, Thomas Patrick had an experience of God’Ìâ‰âÂÌâ_Thomas (the doubter) is no match for Patrick (the snake charmer).
God is good.
Happy Saint Patrick's Day.
Get this Irish-inspired Celtic cross Life Teen t-shirt in the Life Teen store today! A great way to show of your Irish Catholic pride!
As a homeschooler, my prom experience wasn't exactly the kind of thing you see in the movies. Instead of a giant museum hall filled with balloons, streamers, and an amazing DJ, I had a boombox and some microwave taquitos.
Okay, that might be an overstatement. Honestly, I didn't go to prom … which makes it weird that I'd be writing about it for all of you guys getting ready for it. So to fill in my gaps in prom knowledge, I asked around the Life Teen staff to come up with some tips for making the big dance a night to remember.
Don't fear parents.
You're almost at the end of high school, almost through the gateway of becoming an independent adult. It can seem like prom is the perfect time to cast off your parents and ‘Ìâ‰âÂÌâèÏbe your own person,' but you can actually have a great time getting them involved. You might not want your dad to be the DJ, but having dinner at someone's parents' house can save you money and build trust between you and them. If your parents are willing to help out or get involved, don't be too quick to shrug it off.
And guys … every dude older than you remembers that super-awkward moment when they had to wait for their date to finish getting ready. You. Parents. Living room. Awkward. Here's how to burst that uncomfortable bubble: take initiative and be yourself. If you're trying to live out your faith, there's nothing you need to hide from them (and nothing that'll make your date's dad have to show you his gun collection). Be respectful, stay relaxed, and give them as much info as you can. Remember … parents love knowing what's going on.
The more, the merrier.
A good date is important … if having a good time is your goal, make sure that you're going with someone you actually get along with. Status is no reason to put up with a date that doesn't actually want to hang out with you. There's nothing wrong with taking a good friend to prom, and if you're going to actually make it a date date it probably shouldn't be the first one. That's just putting a lot of unnecessary pressure on both of you.
Whether you have a date or not, going to prom in a group is always a good plan. It makes sure you have people to talk to and hang out with, cuts down the cost of transportation and dinner, and lets you create your own dance-within-a-dance if things get sketchy on the dance floor.
Take a breath.
Prom is a fun, once (or twice) a lifetime kind of thing … but it's not going to be the most important night of your life. It takes a lot of prep work (and money), but ladies, it's not your wedding. When push comes to shove, you're going to a dance with your friends. The more you relax and focus on having a good time, the less pressure you'll put on yourself (and your date) to make it into something out of a Nicholas Sparks book.
Stay true to who you are.
There are a lot of people trying to sell you an idea of prom. Maybe it's that independent streak that kept me wearing punk rock jackets and Chuck Taylors in high school, but I think you need to be yourself. If that means picking a weird suit or dress, getting hamburgers for dinner, or even spending some time in the Chapel before or afterwards.
Most of all, stay Catholic. Live out your values and have a good time. Hooking up or getting drunk aren't going to leave you with anything other than regrets and bad memories the next morning. Like I said before, if you're living for God, those shouldn't be in your plans anyway.
Oh, and one last thing. If your date's wearing white, don't order the spaghetti with red sauce. Trust me.