Q: Why do parish functions always have alcohol and what does the church say about it?

One of my favorite scripture passages is from the Gospel of St. John, the Wedding Feast at Cana. Here, Jesus and his disciples attend a wedding reception at which alcohol (wine to be exact) is served. I’m sure you know the story, they run out of wine and Jesus performs his first miracle, changing water into wine. The reason I love the story of the Wedding Feast at Cana is because of what Mary, the mother of Jesus, tells the waiter when it is discovered they have run out of wine. She says, “Do whatever he tells you.” (Jn 2:5)

It is a great line for us to apply to all aspects of our lives, “Do whatever he tells you.” So what does Jesus tell us about the use of alcohol? While there are no specific quotes from Jesus regarding alcohol, we do know that he consumed wine. Wine was a part of the culture, so to consume alcohol was not and is not a problem. However, the problem arises when we misuse and abuse alcohol.

Scripture does tell us in multiple places that drunkenness is a sin. Ephesians 5:18 says, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, “The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine. Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or love of speed, endanger their own and others’ safety on the road” (2290).

We should never tolerate drunkenness and absolutely never tolerate drunk driving. The abuse of alcohol, and the pain it causes to so many people as a result, is a terrible thing. We must do everything in our power to prevent the abuse of alcohol.

With that being said, yes, many social functions within the Catholic Church do serve alcohol. The problem is not with serving alcohol to those of legal drinking age. The problem occurs when alcohol is abused and used in excess. Never should a parish function allow an individual to get drunk and all precautions should be taken to prevent this, but to share a drink together and to enjoy each other’s company at the parish fish fry or at the parish festival is certainly an accepted part of who we are.

Q: What is the most difficult aspect of being a priest today, especially concerning the young adults of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee?

The most difficult part of being a priest today is having to do so many parts of my job that really have very little to do with being a priest. Allow me to explain. A major part of being a priest is ministering the sacraments, Sunday and weekday Mass, the sacrament of reconciliation, performing baptisms and weddings, visiting people in the hospital and offering the anointing of the sick. Through the sacraments God is able to touch the lives of so many people. I love being able to minister the sacraments and be a part of the lives of many people.

But another part of the work that I do is administrative. This work can be very difficult if you allow it to consume your life. Being the pastor of two parishes, I have to worry about budgets and stewardship, I need to supervise many employees, I need to make sure the property and complex are kept up to date and in good shape, I need to attend many committee meetings. This is all very important work, but it is not the main reason why I am a priest.

The thing I have to remember to ask myself is where is God in all that I do? Where is God in the sacraments I am a part of, and where is God in the administrative work that I do? I need to constantly keep God at the center of my life and the center of all my activities. When I fail to do this, it is then that I get bogged down and find the work difficult.

As a young adult, you have begun to enter into the part of your life when you will be making major, life-changing decisions – decisions such as:

  • What career path do I want to follow?
  • Do I want to get married and who will be my partner for the rest of my life?
  • Will I start a family and raise my children with strong morals and values?

These major decisions are difficult decisions that will help steer the rest of your life. The most important thing to remember is to keep God as the center of all of these decisions. 

(Fr. Jerry Herda, ordained in 1990, is pastor of St. Monica Parish, Whitefish Bay, and St. Eugene Parish, Fox Point. If you have a question you’ve always wanted to ask a priest, e-mail it to ruscht@archmil.org and place “Ask Fr. Jerry” in the subject line.)