For some, alcohol is normal, if not necessary, part of life associated with happy memories and fun times. For others, it is dangerous substance, associated with pain and abuse, that should be avoided entirely. Both are very real, very important experiences. To say that alcohol is something everyone should share forgets the inability of some to control their consumption or deal with immense hurt caused at its abuse; to prohibit it universally to protect those affected by it forgets the pervasive and arguably inseparable connection it has to most cultures (our own most sacred liturgy requires it and was allowed to continue it even during the American prohibition… that’s how pervasive and inseparable it is!)
Because of this, I have been asked on more than one occasion as a friar, “Are you allowed to drink?” For some, the question is a question of morality, and seeing friars as penitents and holy people, they assume that drinking alcohol is too base of an act for us to engage in.
I assure you, this is not the case.
While drinking alcohol certainly has moral aspects, e.g. financial cost, sobriety, charity, affect on one’s work, inclusivity of those who don’t drink, etc., it is not, in itself, a moral question for Franciscans, nor do I find it to be a difficult question for Catholics in general. In essence, we recognize that it can easily be abused and we want to avoid that, but there’s nothing wrong with a glass of wine or a cold beer among friends. How often that occurs and in what quantity are two very different questions, but to all those wondering if we are still allowed to drink alcohol now that we’re friars, the answer is a clear “yes.”
Happy Friday, and happy Fourth of July weekend! To celebrate both, I present to you a twofer: a video AND a blog reflection. Although focused on the same topic–the way in which Jesus calms the storms of life and then calls us to do the same for others–the two mediums, written and video, offer very different perspectives from one another. I hope you enjoy them both, and since this is America on the Fourth of July, celebrate your freedom: it’s up to you which you enjoy first!
Being that it’s Father’s day, I thought that I would start with a story about my father. My father is a great guy. He’s smart, he was an all-American in high school, a great coach and teacher. And oh my gosh is he funny. My dad was born without the ability to feel embarrassed, so it doesn’t matter where we are or who’s around, he will do something stupid to make us all laugh, whether it’s intentionally tripping down the steps or pretending to play soccer with a statue. Actually, now that I think about it, he might just be crazy. That’s just who my father is, and I love him very much.
But that’s not what makes him a great father. Yes, it’s great to have someone who is silly and easy to get along with, but there’s more to being a father than that. What makes him a great father is what happened my senior year of college. After four years of driving 70 miles each day for a job that offered tuition exchange, the only way I would have been able to go to college, he calls me: “Hey Casey, I just wanted to let you know that I got let go today. They’re downsizing the department and had to cut someone.” I was devastated. Why him? He’s such a good man. I started thinking about a lot of things: how were they going to pay the bills, how was this going to effect their marriage, how was this going to effect his pride/was he depressed? I said, “Dad, I’m so sorry. Are you okay?” I’ll never forget his response: “Why wouldn’t I be okay? Don’t you see how God has blessed us? When you were looking to go to college, there was no way we were going to afford it. God provided me with a job that made that possible. Now you’re graduating, and I don’t need this job anymore. I’m just so thankful for the blessing we had for four years.”
Wow. That is what makes my dad a good father. When I was ready to focus on the negative, fall into despair at what I didn’t have, my dad was calmly there pointing me to our Father in heaven. In the midst of chaos, my dad brought me the peace of Christ.
All too often I find myself playing the role of the disciples in our Gospel. When things go wrong, when the world comes crashing down on me, my first reaction is to let the chaos get the best of me. Like the disciples, sometimes I forget that Jesus is right there in the boat, waiting for me to awake him. No matter what is happening all around us, no matter who we are, no matter what we’ve done, Jesus is always there offering himself.
And I want to focus on that for a second. Sometimes we hear some things so many times that it loses its effect; we hear it doesn’t touch us like it should. “God is always here; Jesus loves us; the Eucharist is the real presence. Yeah, I know these things.” But really, take a moment to let this Gospel image set in a little. In the midst of all the chaos of our lives, the problems with money, children, careers, loneliness, bullying, whatever it may be, whatever our storm is… Jesus is right there in the boat, waiting for us to call on him. Jesus is here… now. I mean, seriously. When we listen to the word of God, when we share this meal together, we’re not just doing nice things… we are experiencing the living and true creator of the universe. Wow. There is no chaos too strong for our Lord; no problem too big. With him in the boat with us, there is nothing we could ever fear, even the raging sea. And why is that? Because if we believe with all our heart that what we’re doing is more than some nice gesture but really is the living and true God giving himself for us, if we let him take hold of us and become a part of us, how could we we ever fear or be concerned with anything else? The peace of Christ that we receive conquers every pain, every worry, every suffering, and every misplaced desire that we can ever have, and makes us whole again.
And if I stopped there, you’d probably think to yourself, “Well that’s nice. Good encouraging message from Br. Casey… and it was short! Nice!” And I could stop here, but that’s not the whole story, is it? As nice and true as it is to be reminded that God is always there to take away our pain and to calm the chaos, to stop here gives us the image of our God as the powerful psychiatrist in the sky, a genie that fixes our problems. God becomes someone who exists solely for the sake of making us feel comfortable and happy. To stop here leaves out an essential part of what it means to be Christian: mission.
Having experienced the love and peace of Christ in our lives, the transformative nature of the Eucharist that fills us with joy and hope in the midst of chaos, we are now called to do the same for others. Remember how our Gospel passage started: Jesus told the disciples to get into the boat. He led them into the chaos, not away from it. Why would he do this? Why would he put them in harms way? As Christians, those who know the power of Christ to heal wounds and bring peace, we are not meant to flee from pain and despair, but to be the first ones running towards it. We are called to get into that boat and to bring Jesus where he is needed most.
A quick look at our world shows that there is no shortage of chaos all around us. Everywhere we look a storm is brewing and ships are sinking. People are being shot in churches; pope Francis reminds us that we are turning the earth into “an immense pile of filth”; there is human trafficking and spousal abuse; bullying and loneliness; war and mass migrations. Given it all, we could easily say that it is not our problem, claim that it doesn’t affect us, and just wait for someone else to take care of it. We could hide in our safety and comfort. But what if, as Christians, those who truly know the power of Christ to heal wounds and bring peace, what if we were the first ones running towards the chaos, bringing Jesus to those who need him most? What a world that would be…
And so I pray, on this our Father’s day, that we may always remember two things. The first is that there is no amount of chaos that could ever overwhelm our God. No matter what we are going through, no matter how crazy it may seem, God is there, waiting to be awakened to calm our storm. The second is that, once we have received this great gift, the only thing we can possibly do is go to those in the chaos, go to those in the place that we were before we knew Christ, and bring them the love and peace that we have received. It’s the story of the Gospel and it is our Christian mission. In the midst of chaos, may we always be as my father was to me: calmly pointing others to the Father in heaven.
The video series rolls on. And does it ever. I want to thank everyone for your amazing support over the past week. I’ve received a lot of encouraging messages and really appreciate how much people have shared the new video series with others on social media. Comments are nice, but seeing that people like it enough to share is so affirming. (To give you an idea, a normal day is about 80 hits and the most in a day in 308. Four straight days now it’s been over 200, and yesterday reached a new high of 555 hits! As of 10:00am this morning, there have already been 70 hits.)
Also, special thanks to Rob Goraieb, OFS (a parishioner and Secular Franciscan at the parish) for his many hours of planning, filming, critiquing, editing and making me laugh! You’ll catch him at the end of the video in our “bonus segment.”
After a fairly positive response all around, it looks like I’m going to start making videos on a regular basis along with writing the blog. As mentioned in the last post, I have been working on a trailer for the channel and am happy to present it to you now. I’m also working on two or three new videos, and hope to get a regular reflection up about this past weekend’s readings, so check back in a few days!