About a year ago, I attended a state-wide teaching conference where I was able to chat with a variety of teachers from both public and private school settings.
Amidst our conversations, the topic of going out for drinks came up. Many teachers jokingly expressed the inner turmoil they experience when going out for alcoholic beverages with friends or having a drink during a date night with their spouse. They discussed how nervous they are about one of their students “catching” them drinking. They told stories about how they planned outings with their coworkers during “dead times” at restaurants so as the lower their chances of seeing one of their kids.
This baffled me.
These teachers are adults over the legal drinking age. Why do they feel the need to hide their adult beverage? As leaders, setters of example, and role models, why do these teachers equate their profound influence with the absence of truth? Why are they so concerned with being “found out”, as if they were committing a crime?
You see, I don’t care if my students see me drink.
I won’t hide my glass of wine from them when I see them at weddings, I won’t try to pass off my beer as my husband’s when I run into them at Buffalo Wild Wings, and I won’t be shame-faced when I chat with them and their parents with a margarita in my hand at our local Mexican restaurant.
I don’t care if my students see me drink because I don’t drink to get drunk.
There’s a terrible misunderstanding in our culture, and particularly in my part of the country, that drinking at all necessitates being a drunken mess. Unfortunately, this misconception is also true when it comes to the Catholic Church. You all know the stereotype. Catholics drink a lot, right? This point of view was made blatantly clear to me while we were planning our wedding. During our meeting with the coordinator of our reception site, we were discussing the amount of alcohol we needed to order. She tallied the number of drinks per guest and then stated, “But it’s a Catholic wedding, so we actually need to double that number.”
It’s true, Catholics know how to party. We love getting together, celebrating, mourning, whatever. We love being together. We love sharing food and drink and story. It’s a huge part of our tradition. And sometimes, in our fallen human nature, we take what is good (celebrating with our fellow human persons and enjoying the goodness of the earth) and abuse it to where it becomes negligent and sinful (becoming drunk and hindering our reason).
Such is the case when it comes to enjoying a little bubbly. Alcohol in and of itself is not evil, and drinking in and of itself is not sinful (so long as it’s legal). What we, as people, do with alcohol can be evil and sinful.
But it’s not supposed to be that way. It’s not meant to be one or the other. We are not made to live in the slavery of all or nothing. We are meant to live the virtue of temperance.
I spent a lot of time in the classroom chipping away at the wide misconception among my students that holiness = boring. I labored to model the Christian life of joy, fun, and true freedom for them. They get this idea in their heads that if they were to hand their lives over to Christ, that they would no longer be able to have any fun in life.
A life lived for the Lord is fun because there is freedom to enjoy the beauty and wonderful things of this earth without separating them from their ultimate purpose. That is why authentic Catholics are such great partiers. Not because they drink a lot, but because they have learned to revel in the goodness of earth all while keeping their gaze upon God, understanding that all their actions must point toward eternity with Him.
As teachers, then, and particularly as teachers in a Catholic setting, we have the obligation to strive to model this joy of the Christian life. That means being authentic, that means showing our students what it looks like to follow Jesus.
That means not hiding the fact that we like to have a glass of wine with our friends.
We must lead them, we must show them how to savor life with prudence and temperance. We must illustrate the fact that you can enjoy a drink without having the intention and getting hammered. We must prove to them that holiness is a freaking blast. We must convince them of their ability to control themselves. We must be champions of the truth.
We must care enough about them to be honest with them. Because if we don’t, MTV will. And which gospel do we want them to believe?