I remember back a few years while I was visiting home for Christmas. My uncle, Tim Houle, asked for me to join the men of the family in conversation over a beer and cigars. The experience sticks out for me in particular because for uncle Tim, these rituals are special moments of sharing and love. When I joined the men of the family out on the porch, uncle Tim had a surprise for us: a bottle of Sam Adams Utopia, a specialty beer that is only released on a limited basis (in fact, each bottle is numbered and comes with a certificate of authenticity). He told us that he had been saving this bottle for this particular occasion, and even though each of us were only able to have a small sample, I can honestly say that it was by far the best brew I had ever tasted.
More importantly, however, I remember sharing in a family ritual that meant more to the men of the family than any expensive beer or cigar could ever buy: the fraternity of being together with one another. Although speaking about wine, I believe the psalmist captures my sentiments well:
“You bring bread from the earth, and wine to gladden our hearts” – Psalm 104:14-15
In my relatively short time as a Dominican, I have come to value those moments when I can sit down with my brothers over a beer and we can simply be with each other. This may involve just catching up after a long week of studies and ministry, or it may be sharing in the sorrows of my brothers. In any case, beer has a special ability for facilitating the building up of fraternity.
St. Augustine, a man who often preached against the enjoyment of earthly goods, would even agree that the enjoyment of temporal things, when done with the proper intention, could help to lead us to God. Now of course drinking alcohol must be done in moderation; drinking should never lead us into the sin of gluttony. However in a culture of rampant individualism, we need to rediscover the role of fraternity in bringing about mutuality and concord. How often has beer been a catalyst for just this!
Augustine also reminds us in his Rule that “the chief motivation for your sharing life together is to live harmoniously in the house and to have one heart and one soul seeking God.” I often joke with my brothers that “all of the world’s problems are solved over beer!” While my joke is obviously hyperbole, I can honestly say that I have come to know and understand my brothers better by engaging in regular recreation, which often times includes having a beer or two. So after the example of the “Red Stripe” man: Hooray fraternity! Hooray beer!