Men, its time for us to train together, every day, to become better men. Join me in the boot camp of life.
Read the introduction and the first exercise from this new blog series called The Training Ground.
While plenty of folks give up beer for Lent, there is also a long history of specific beers being particularly consumed during this season as well. What we should do about beer (or any of the good things of God's Creation) during Lent is not obvious one way or the other, and should be prayerfully considered based on individual circumstance and the state of our spiritual life. On this first Sunday of Lent, I take a small break from the series on drinking to share this quick guide to our practice of Lent (I wrote this up for my Parish). I hope it proves beneficial in deciding how you approach beer--and penance in general--during this Holy Season. Many blessings this Lent!
We begin Lent this week, the 40 days of preparation before the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Why 40 days? Beyond the number being symbolic to the Hebrew people (remember that it rained for 40 days and 40 nights in the time of Noah, connecting this season to a time of great cleansing in Salvation History), our Gospel reading puts it very plainly for us. “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.” Through this act, Jesus shows that he not only became a human being like one of us, but faced the temptations of human life that we face every day. In thanksgiving for this great gift of solidarity, we join Jesus for 40 days in a spiritual desert, hoping that, in the end, we too may be ministered by angels.
In St. Matthew (4:1-11) and St. Luke’s (4:1-13) account of the temptation of Christ in the desert, we are given more detail about Satan’s attempts to try Our Lord. First, he tempts the hungry Jesus to turn rocks into bread. Second, he tempts Jesus with endless political power if Christ would only bow down to him. Finally, he tries to persuade Jesus himself to do the tempting, suggesting that Our Lord throw himself from the Temple, quoting scripture that God would send angels to catch him “lest he dash his foot on a stone” (Psalm 91). Jesus responds to each in kind, that we do not live by bread alone, that we will worship God alone, and that we will not put God to the test.
In looking through this sequence, Our Lord gives us an important guide in accessing our Lenten practice. The three temptations (bread, power, testing God) correspond to what Catholic tradition defines as the three principle temptations we will face in life (the flesh, the world, and the devil). When we are hungry (and we can be “hungry” for many different things, not just food), our bodies are tempting us to hold the passing things of this world higher than our souls. When we yearn for power (and political power is not the only power we seek to have), we puff ourselves up with pride, thinking we hold our own fate in our hands. Finally, when we are tempted to put God to the test, the Devil himself is rehashing his oldest tricks—remember what he told Eve in the garden? These temptations are especially difficult to fight, because the devil is crafty. Notice that in each case (the garden and the temple mount), what the devil says is “technically” true: Eve and Adam did not immediately die, God did send Angels to minister to Jesus, etc. The devil himself knows scripture well! When we see ourselves twisting the word of God to our favor, we know the devil is involved.
So knowing that we would face these three temptations, Christ willingly faced them representatively in the three temptations of the Devil. Our tradition also gives us three specific practices during Lent to counter these temptations. First, we are to fast in order to counter the flesh. Second, we are to give alms in order to counter the world. Finally, we are to intensify our prayer in order to counter the Devil.
Each of these practices will help us gain the virtue necessary to counter the temptations we face in life. In fasting, we learn temperance. Temperance is not the avoiding of bad things, but the well-ordered appreciation of that which is good. We give up good things in Lent not to despise God’s creation, but to approach it in a well-ordered way. In almsgiving, we learn justice. The strong owe it to the weak to provide for them out of their abundance. In this, we imitate Christ, who though He needs nothing, came among us in order to die for our sins. Finally, in prayer, we learn courage. If we know that Christ Himself fought the same fight we did, and if we draw near to Him in prayer, then even the devil cannot frighten us. If we have so great a Savior, then 40 days in the desert is nothing to be afraid of, but an honor, that we may share it with Our Lord!
[Forgive me for the lateness of my post--I had technical difficulties over the weekend. I will make this post brief--I owe you guys a shorter one anyway after the mammoth reflection I wrote last time. Here's to a wonderful New Year! - Bo]
Make your way in by the narrow gate. It is a broad and a wide road that leads on to perdition, and those who go in that way are many indeed; but how small is the gate, how narrow the road that leads on to life, and how few there are that find it! - Matthew 7:13
Fortitude, the virtue better known as courage in modern parlance, is rightly associated with fear. The only problem with this association is that most folks think of it as the opposite of fear. Instead, as I will repeat often anytime I bring up virtue, courage is a mean between an extreme and a deficiency, therefore courage cannot simply be the opposite of fear, although the two terms are correctly intertwined in our imagination.
We can clear this up by thinking about the opposite of the brave person, and for most people, that of course would be the coward. Why is a coward someone we rightly say is lacking in courage? The temptation would be to say, because they feel afraid, implying that the brave person lacks all fear. But the better answer is that the coward reacts to fear too strongly--which strangely implies that there are those who do not feel fear enough! And these people very much exist--Aristotle calls them the foolhardy, and if we stop to think about it, we know plenty of people who fall into this category, especially when it comes to drinking. Foolhardy people come to vicious ends precisely because they do not fear what they should--for instance, the Grand Canyon.
What this means for fortitude is that to obtain it, one does not avoid, ignore, or repress fear. Bizzarely enough, it tells us that to have courage, one must come to a good relationship with fear. This may sound alien to Christians, who are told in the Scriptures that "perfect love drives out fear" (John is very insistent on this point!). Is not the one who fears lacking in trust and faith? Yet, the Scriptures tell us as well that fear is the root of wisdom, and that we should work out our salvation in fear and trembling. Does the Bible contradict itself in this regard?
One way people side step this issue is to say we are commanded to fear only God, and nothing else. Others try to claim that fear is the basis of the Old Testament way of spirituality, but the New Testament eradicates this attitude. St. Paul, however, throws out both possibilities. St. Paul's letters make up a great portion of the New Testament, and all the while, he points out the importance of fear (and not only of God) throughout his letters. Suffice it to say, we cannot easily dismiss this calling to fear.
How do we solve this impasse? I contend that a distinction is to be made when speaking about fear. It is surely the case that courage has to do with how we react to the raw feelings of fear--but in what way do we react to the fear that we feel?
On one hand, someone who is afraid could be considered anxious or worried, and they are usually anxious or worried for or about someone or something else. In this regard, they allow the fear to eat away at them, agitated at those things they wish they could control, wasting their energy feeling afraid, but doing little about it. On the other hand, one can feel fear as awe. Awe (or even terror) is what occurs when some has a fear of something, and that something is usually greater than the one in fear--God, Salvation, our significant other, etc. Fear that is encountered as awe takes the stunning reality of that which is other than one's self seriously, realizing the beholden nature of our relationship toward the thing we are holding in awe.
In order to be courageous, the brave person feels awe at whatever creates the feeling of fear (be it a battle or trying to ask someone out on a date) and responds accordingly, with the proper respect of that thing in mind. The coward feels anxiety over the thing they face, and flees out of worry, or is paralyzed out of dread. The foolhardy person ignores or is insensitive to both awe and anxiety, and proceeds irrationally, lacking a proper respect for what they encounter. In this way, we can rightly say we should fear particular things, but fear them in the proper way.
Hopefully, the application for drinking well is obvious. For people who binge drink and the like, foolhardy lack of respect for alcohol drives them to abuse that which they should fear. In terms of anxious fear, this usually drives people to drink to avoid or escape that which they are worried about. For we who would drink virtuously, let us drink out of awe, respecting the great and dangerous good that is all wonderful things God has made, but particular the creature that is fortified drink.
By doing so, we will attain the narrow road. Unlike the foolhardy, who attempt the narrow road without fear, we will not underestimate our need for help along the way. Unlike the anxious and worried, we will not settle for the wide road because it is easy. Instead, we will hold all the goods that God gives us in awe, and use them gratefully as we walk toward the narrow gate.
Like I said, I had technical difficulties this week, and did not have time to research for a beer recommendation. But there is a place called Courage Brewery, so I think that is recommendation enough to give their beers a try. Enjoy!
Temperance in the American historical imagination has become synonymous with dumping beer in the gutter, and this mother-of-all party fouls was backed by the force of law. All this came to pass because temperance, in its many applications, is so fundamentally misunderstood. Oscillating between binging and purging (in matters of drink and all others besides), our culture's confusion about temperance provides us with few alternatives to this unhealthy pattern. A meditation on temperance and drinking is timely indeed.
My contention is this: if we reflect on what it means to drink virtuously, and implement our findings into the way we drink "in but not of" the world, we will find a practical means to "give flesh" to our Life in Christ. To modify the words of a hymn, they will know we are Christian by the way we drink.
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