Drinking with the Saints: The Sinner's Guide to a Holy Happy Hour
michael p. foley
regnery, 487 pages, $26.99
Growing up as the son of a Baptist minister I confess that my attitude toward alcohol was, at one time, less than positive. Drink was associated in my mind with drunkenness. Like most late-Gen X/early-Millennial evangelicals, my attitude changed. In fact, even my parents now enjoy a glass of wine on occasion.
What I regret most about this upbringing is not the absence of adult beverages. Having an aversion to these things as a teenager may well have saved me a host of troubles. What I regret is not having been initiated in a positive manner into the enjoyment of fine drink by older and wiser men, for the culture and community in which we learn to drink affects us well into the future. I had to stumble around, so to speak, and find my own way.
But I did find mentors, I suppose—mostly Catholic ones. I learned from Chesterton that there are radically different motivations for imbibing. His advice? “Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable.” Just as we must not grieve as those who have no hope, I learned, neither must we drink like them.
From Augustine I learned about the soul’s sorrow when one seeks pleasure in lesser goods at the expense of higher ones. In the Confessions, which I now regularly teach to college freshmen, I saw Augustine awakening to the fact that his run-away appetites have made him disordered, less godlike—a wasteland. The appetites have their place, of course. They are created to seek pleasure. But they must seek it in harmony with reason; they must seek pleasure according to the hierarchy of goods that reason can perceive.
And so I learned one of life’s key lessons: if you seek lower goods at the expense of higher goods you get neither; yet if you seek higher goods you receive the lower as well. As I have often asked my students: Who is it that enjoys a drink more, the moderate man or the drunkard? The latter man ends up miserable with his face on the cool porcelain.
It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that it is a scholar of St. Augustine, Dr. Michael Foley, who has attempted to reconcile what some will see as a contradiction—drinking and the life of holiness—with his new book Drinking with the Saints. And in my assessment, it is brilliantly conceived and executed.
Foley has long had a passion for helping others live out the Catholic faith and its traditions in their homes (see his previous work Why Do Catholics Eat Fish on Fridays?). The current book is a year-round guide to honoring the witness of some of the greatest forbearers of the faith, filled with apposite cocktail, beer, and wine suggestions. It weaves together Christian tradition and history seamlessly with creative ways to celebrate the feast days of the liturgical calendar. One can easily learn a great deal about the saints through its lighthearted yet serious commentary.
After extensive research—more extensive than I have done for other book reviews—I am happy to report that Drinking with the Saints is also full of delicious drink suggestions and recipes. In terms of cocktails alone, there are riffs on old classics as well as delicious new inventions. For instance, the Sancta Lucia Martini (pictured above) creatively recalls the martyrdom of Saint Lucy, who, according to tradition, had her eyes gouged out prior to her execution. And classic cocktails are made to serve a higher purpose: the Sazerac (because of its connection to New Orleans) is repurposed for the pre-Lent season, the Old Fashioned (for obvious reasons) is repurposed in honor of Pope Saint Pius X, and the Margarita (Latin for “Margaret”) is repurposed in honor of the eleventh century queen Saint Margaret of Scotland.
Foley’s new inventions include the hilariously named Prompt Succor Punch (a combination of gin, lemon juice, yellow Chartreuse, Herbsaint, sugar, and water) for the feast of Our Lady of Prompt Succor and, for the feast of St. Michael, the delightful St. Michael’s Sword (made with Jim Beam’s Devil’s Cut Bourbon and a cocktail spear appropriately transfixing a Maraschino cherry).
Because of the long tradition of religious orders producing wine, beer, and liquor, Foley pays particular attention to a number of delightful liqueurs for inclusion in cocktails. He uses Chartreuse (the magnificent herbal liqueur made by Carthusian monks in the French Alps), Benedictine (invented in a French abbey), and other such liqueurs frequently.
We live in serious times which call for action in the public square. But I sense that in addition to fighting for the truth about the human person in public Foley is urging us to live out the joy of the gospel among our friends and families. The dour Christian forgets that we are surrounded—yes, even at happy hour—by a great cloud of witnesses who have endured far worse times than ours. Who knows? Perhaps even some of John Piper’s Christian hedonists will join us there in fellowship, reflection, and friendly dialogue on the witness of these saints.
Logan Paul Gage, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of philosophy at Franciscan University of Steubenville.