Letter to Robinson K. Russo a young seminarian, continued…
Alcohol and the devil. An unfortunate, yet common combination. “How can you say that, father? Wine is mentioned frequently mentioned in the Bible. Jesus made wine at Cana. Wine was used at the last supper and is used at Mass.”
On the contrary, I am very fond of a nice glass of wine, like a 1982 Chateau la Vieux Canard Gras 1982 or a Gewürztraminer. (I just threw that in because it’s so much fun to say.) Alcohol consumption has changed since our Savior was making the stuff out of water. In a word, distillation! The ancients always watered their wine, unless they were out to have a good time and subsequent headache. This is reflected by the custom of pouring a little wine into the chalice, symbolizing the joining of humanity and divinity in the person of Jesus. At the time of Christ anyone who drank wine un-watered was out to get drunk. Even so, it takes a lot more work to get hammered on wine than on distilled beverages.
The earliest evidence of true distillation of alcohol comes from the School of Salerno in southern Italy during the 12th century. The formula for making the stuff was written in secret code. In 1437, brandy or “burned wine” is mentioned in the archives of Katzelnbogen, Germany. The distillation process evaporates all the intoxicating essence of wine and squeezes out anything that even resembles fruit. As the saying goes, “Wine is fine, but liquor is quicker.” With distilled liquor one can kill as many brain cells in a few minutes as it takes wine to obliterate in perhaps an hour or so. One can go from sane to stupid in minutes with distilled liquor, hence its popularity. Thomas Jefferson said that the country with little wine has much drunkenness. He knew what he was talking about. The founding fathers were huge consumers of booze, much to the chagrin of the founding mothers one suspects. George Washington was the largest producer of whiskey in the United States, producing 11,000 gallons in just the year 1799. When the fifty-five founding fathers finished writing the U.S. Constitution, they celebrated by drinking, putting away 54 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of claret, eight bottles of whiskey, 22 bottles of port, eight bottles of hard cider, 12 beers and seven bowls of alcoholic punch so large that, “ducks could swim in them.” Said one participant, Americans drank hooch, not wine, and this was true until recently. Watered wine with dinner is a lot different than three or four Long Island Iced Teas. “What has this to do with religion?” well you may ask. Plenty.
We Christians are all about freedom, because we are all about love. If one is forced to love one cannot Love and we believe that God is love, stone sober freely given sacrificial Love. Not the fake kind of “luv” that one encounters on a moonless night in a dimly lit bar. True Love happens in the cold clear light of morning. The devil knows this so he is going to want to get you into a lot of dimly lit places. I have never been an exorcist, but I know people. There really is such a thing as demonic possession. It’s rare though not as rare as it used to be. We give the devil a lot more openings in the modern world than we used to.
I’ve heard that a possession is rather like when a thug has invaded a home and has the owner tied up and gagged in the basement. A huge element of exorcism is the attempt to get the possessed person to exercise his own free will. The creed is very important as a tool against the devil. In effect the sufferer is encouraged to make an act of the will say, “I trust in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” The work of the exorcist is to help the person possessed to get free. The devil accomplishes the same thing with sin and addiction. He feasts on the will of another, as already mentioned above.
Addictions (be they to alcohol, jealousy, hatreds we cherish, gossip, sex, pornography, drugs, television shopping, pick your poison) are all useful to the devil in snaring his dinner – you. Any sin, but particularly addiction, is part of his hunting arsenal and you, father, are one of his favorite foods (though not as tasty as a bishop, cardinal or pope). He also enjoys snaring a nun or a monk, but he has already overfished those waters, so they are relatively a rare treat for him. So, father, or father-yet-to-be, learn your limits. And by the way, never drive under the influence. Even if you’ve just had a little – if it’s a little more than the police like, the devil has you.
A few years back, a truly holy man, a bishop was arrested for drunken driving. He had been to dinner with his aged mother. It seems he was set up by a waiter with whose political and social agenda this bishop did not agree. The waiter called a policeman, a friend of like preferences who ambushed the bishop and his mother. The breathalyzer said a little too much wine, the bishop was hauled in, and the press made it seem like he had run over a litter of kittens on the way back from a night of debauchery in Vegas. His ministry was trashed. The devil couldn’t get his soul, but he could still cause plenty of harm. If you, father, drink and drive, you are driving for a lot of people. You carry the diocesan lawyers in the back seat because it’s the diocese that your victims if any will sue. You carry your parishioners, who will be scandalized and grieved for you, and more than that you carry Christ and his bride.
Scandal is a dreadful thing and the people who hate the Lord and his beloved bride, the Church are always looking for one. I don’t know if it’s still true, but when I was young, if you were arrested – arrested, mind you, not convicted – of a DUI, you were shipped off to that place I mentioned a while ago, the place where they send priests who need to think about things for a bit. It meant good-bye to friends for a while and probably to your parish permanently.
“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, prowls about, seeking whom he may devour.” (1Pt 5:8)
Note, the first pope, Peter advises us to be SOBER. Why? Because the devil is peckish and we make a tasty snack when served with sauce.
More about the priest and the devil next week