St. Patrick’s Day this year is in Holy Week, and the Catholic church is reminding the faithful, Irish and otherwise, that the commemoration of St. Patrick has therefore been moved to a different date. Bishops are reminding them that Holy Week is an inappropriate time for parties. Some places are going ahead with parades and festivities on March 17 regardless, with Boston insisting on having its parade on Palm Sunday. Anthony Esolen comments at Touchstone.
But this begs the question–are they not missing the forest for the trees? The bishops are focusing on whether or not it’s appropriate to have a drunken festival during Holy Week, and not engaging the bigger question of whether it is appropriate to have any drunken festival. The Catholic liturgical calendar is a human invention; its observance is a matter of obedience to human law, not divine. The bigger question is, should Christians be drinking?
Now there’s a topic no one wants to touch today.
And its prominence among Catholics.
And its prominence among priests.
It’s a major problem.
Its use is assumed to be as normal as drinking water.
Whenever I would attend campus ministry gatherings or the Texas Catholic Conference, we’d always end the day at a bar; there would always be a cash bar available before banquets. Ever conference would announce the time and place of AA groups that would meet during the session.
When there would be a Catholic event in Houston that would draw bishops from around the state or the country (such as the ordination of a bishop), a hospitality room would be set up (at diocesan expense) in a hotel with an open bar–seminarians would be asked to serve as bartenders for the bishops.
I supervised priests and deacons for nine years and became acquainted first hand with the problem of clerical alcoholism. A high percentage of the priests with whom I worked were either active alcoholics or were in 12 step groups or had periods of residential treatment in the past.
Returning to the topic of St. Patrick’s Day, I cannot help but recall that the greatest advocate for abstinence from alcohol in the 19th century, perhaps in history, was an Irish priest, Fr. Theobald Mathew, O.F.M.Cap. (1790-1856)–it is said that he administered the pledge to 7,000,000 people in his lifetime.
Where are the Fr. Mathews of our day?