Editorial: Err on side of virtue

  • January 27, 2023

Catholics appeared to reinforce our counter-cultural status by marking Epiphany with the Gospel reading of the Wedding Feast at Cana only to be told days later no safe level exists for consuming wine and other alcohol.

Wine, of course, is at the centre of our spiritual life alongside the bread of the Eucharist. It was given to us by Our Lord Himself at the Last Supper when He took the Cup and identified it as His blood to be shared in remembrance of Him. We also recall each liturgical year that it was the substance of His first miracle when, after some impertinent balking toward His Blessed mother, He transformed water into wine to help hapless wedding planners who’d run dry. 

Yet earlier this month along came latter-day seeming Pecksniffian secular researchers to plonk down data showing that “for numerous health outcomes such as gastrointestinal diseases, cancer, and injuries there is no safe level of alcohol consumption…” 

The media short attention span summary of the Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse and Addiction’s report was that we all must cut our drinking from a maximum 15 guzzles each week to one or, better yet, none.

In fact, “Lifetime Risk of Alcohol Attributable Death and Disability” is a careful full immersion baptism into the literature of “risk” related to booze intake. As with other studies, it does call for radical reduction in recommended weekly drinking limits. But it is no health-geek data-driven resurrection of the old Women’s Christian Temperance Union. It purposefully gives conscientious adults sound grounds to make prudent decisions about intake of the grape and other intoxicants — a tippler’s guide to examination of conscience.

It is also a reality-lover’s reminder that alcohol, despite what memes and marketing say, is a poison. It’s why we dub drunkenness as being in-toxic-ated. For Catholics, it’s a heaven-sent opportunity to refresh our faith’s understanding of imbibing. Our Lord did offer the Cup, but He never urged the disciples to bite the top off another wineskin and chug-a-lug it. The transformation at Cana was an initiation to the miraculous, not an invitation to get legless.  

It’s why St. Thomas Aquinas, in the Summa Theologica, classifies drunkenness as a species of gluttony and, ipso facto,  a mortal sin. The Angelic Doctor offers a spoonful of syllogistic sugar to help the medicine go down by showing overconsumption is a grievous sin when it is willfully indulged knowing it deprives us of our reason. As with all gluttony, he writes, we sin when we leave “the order of reason” to pursue “inordinate desire” and act against virtue.

Here “science-based” number crunchers catch up with the ancient wisdom of the Church. Rather than being sour grapes counter-culturalism, our faith makes risk assessment central to healthy physical and spiritual life by teaching us to err on the side of eternal virtue whatever the shifting guidelines advise.

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