Wednesday, June 11, 2014

CHAPTER 40: Of the Quantity of Drink

Saint Paul says that "every person has his proper gift from God, some this, and some that”(1 Cor 7:7). We are reluctant, therefore, to dictate the quantity of food for others. However, allowing for the weakness of the sick, we think one hemina of wine a day is sufficient for each. But for those who are strong enough to abstain completely, let them know that they will have their special reward.  We read that wine is not at all proper for monks, yet because monks in our own times cannot be persuaded of this, let us agree at least to drink in moderation; because "wine makes even wise men act like fools”(Sir 19:2).  But in poorer places where they cannot afford wine, let the monks who live there bless God and not grumble. This we charge above all things: that they live without grumbling.

    The exact measure of the hemina is a topic hotly debated by monks all over the world.  It could be anything from a glass to three quarters of a gallon.  But one thing is certain: wine meant something entirely different to monks of the Middle Ages than it does today.  For starters, it wasn’t entirely recreational.  Wine made dirty water drinkable.  So it was actually rather hard to survive without it.  Nonetheless, I find it amusing that Benedict tried—and failed—to talk his monks out of recreational drinking.
    I operate under no illusions when it comes to teenage alcohol consumption, but for the purposes of this commentary, we may do better to use the analogy of video games or internet usage.  It is entirely appropriate to use either or both in the course of a day.  But like alcohol, the computer can become addictive and soul-destroying; and one must be capable of doing without.
    I have a friend who claims he once spent thirty-six straight hours playing “World of Warcraft,” breaking only for bathroom and pizza runs.  Honestly.  This can’t be healthy.  We have to set limits for ourselves, and if we can’t meet those limitations by virtue of our own self-discipline, we may need to enlist the help of friends or family.  One of my students invented an ingenious solution to his late night gaming:  every evening at 6pm, he would hand the computer cord to his dad.  When his laptop battery ran out, he knew he had reached his limit.  It wasn’t very good for his laptop, but it was good for his soul.
   Oh!  And did you notice the bit about grumbling?  It will turn up in the next chapter too.