In our last two blogs (here and here) we extolled the virtues of “sacramental drinking”–the art of drinking virtuously and with a Catholic sacramental imagination– and we held up this model as a superior alternative to the drinking culture typically found on college campuses today. As a part of this ongoing conversation and in preparation for the new school year, we now offer a few specific tips on how to survive college with both your liver and integrity intact.
1. Avoid bad friends. Beware of what St. Augustine calls “friends unfriendly,” buddies who will egg you on to ever greater vice and make you ashamed to be ashamed of indecent behavior. These are the kind of people who will dare you to get into trouble and then promptly desert you once you do. They are also more likely to lead you into bad social situations.
2. Avoid bad parties. Frat parties are the proverbial epitome of a dangerous event where binge drinking, brawls, and sexual assault abound, so heed Vergil’s famous warning and beware of Greeks bearing gifts. That said, not all Greek fraternities conform to the stereotype, and some can even be respectable. Ask around about a fraternity or sorority’s reputation before attending one of its functions. And conversely, remember that not every bad party is going to be sponsored by a member of the Greek system. Non-Greek parties can be just as perilous if not more, as they may not have the same institutional restraints placed on them from above.
3. Fill up your time with good things. It is much easier to avoid the bad when your life is filled with the good. The traditional spiritual advice for combatting lust does not involve sitting in a room and trying not to think of lustful images (which becomes self-defeating) but thinking of something else instead. Which way is easier to get air out of a bottle: hooking it up to an elaborate vacuum, or filling it with water? So fill your life with positive, good things and you won’t crave the bad. Questionable get-togethers will not be even a temptation for you if you already have a group of good friends who are capable of enjoying each other’s company without being liquored up. A round or two with them at a friendly pub or coffee house will be infinitely more attractive than the rave at the local Animal House.
4. Make leisurely use of your free time. Too many people in our society, students included, have a “work hard, play hard” mentality. Maybe “the play hard” aspect is acceptable in the case of vigorous sports, but even here it is not a good thing if it is the only use of your free time. Free time is for the sake of genuine leisure, a contemplative opening up of oneself to the higher things: friendship, love, beauty, truth, God. It is leisure that truly rejuvenates, but more than that, leisure is the relaxing and rewarding exercise of the best and highest part of ourselves. Having a beer or two with friends and engaging in stimulating conversation is an example of genuine leisure; doing jello shots with a gaggle of hooting philistines is not. One should never, ever party hard; always party soft and gentle.
5. If, despite these precautions, you find yourself in a less-than-ideal social gathering, be like the pearl oyster mentioned by St. Francis de Sales that “lives in the sea without ever taking a drop of salt water.” By this I do not mean that you should never have a drop of whatever liquid refreshment your hosts are offering (although do be careful there) but that you should not have a drop of whatever unhealthy vibe they may be emitting. One obvious example is to abstain from all drinking games, which are a sure path to short-circuiting good judgment and self-control.
One of my favorite saint stories is from the life of St. Alphonsus Liguori, who loved to hear the music at the “Broadway Shows” of his day but did not want to be corrupted by the impure scenes on stage. His solution was to attend the show but to take off his glasses so that he couldn’t see what was happening.
Odd as it may sound, this is not a bad strategy when you find yourself stuck in an unfavorable environment. College parties typically feature loud music, a keg in the corner, and the ubiquitous red Solo plastic cup—recognizable to generations of Americans as an icon of unimaginative and juvenile bacchanalia. A comparable “St. Alphonsus solution” of tuning out the bad would be to walk around with your Solo cup filled with water or soda so that others will not try to fill it with beer or put a fresh one in your hand, and to find a quiet corner to have a decent conversation with someone about how awesome your Great Texts class is.
(Note: My Alphonsus/Francis de Sales advice is for situations that are “less than ideal” as opposed to truly violent, reckless, lewd, offensive, etc. In the case of the latter, don’t wait for your ride but get out of there as fast as you can. There’s only so much a good oyster can take.)
The last piece of advice, for drinkers both in and out of college, is to know thyself. To this important topic we shall turn in our blog next week.