Which is more commendable: praying while you drink, or drinking while you pray? Are these two different things, or are they the same—perhaps two sides of the same thing?
They certainly involve the same kind of actions—or do they? Would it be helpful to describe them as my primary action, and a secondary one? If they occur simultaneously, how could I distinguish one as primary and the other as secondary? Perhaps I have to revert to my intention, that is, my initial intention. That is, maybe I initially intended to pray, but then thought it would be nice to take a drink while I’m praying. Or, on the other hand, perhaps I at first planned to relax with a drink, and then thought it would be a good thing to say a prayer while I’m drinking.
On the basis of this last example, some of us may feel that what starts off as a good and defensible action becomes vitiated by trying to insert prayer into an inappropriate setting, while others of us may judge that, if I begin by seeking some R and R, I elevate this relatively innocuous action to the level of a better action by deciding to pray while relaxing. It is possible, of course, to vitiate an action that, to all intents and purposes, seems to be a good and commendable deed, by slipping in an evil, or inappropriate, purpose or intention, like giving a gift to a politician with a view to soliciting a favor from him or her later on. Just as it is possible to ennoble an action that to all intents and purposes seem to be wrong and hurtful, like speeding through a red light, but with the intention of rushing my pregnant wife off to the hospital to give birth to a child.
Hilaire Belloc, the combative Catholic apologist, once wrote a poetic ditty to the effect that: “Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino.” On the basis of this verse, Belloc seems to have had no great problem in combining drink and prayer. Does this, however, throw any light on the issue of whether he enjoyed drinking while he prayed, or praying while he drank? Perhaps we had better look to Jesus Himself, especially His presence at the wedding feast of Cana, on which occasion we may wonder: did He drink while there, and, if so, did He combine His drinking with a prayer recited over the newly-weds? Was He at Cana primarily to pray for the couple, or to celebrate with them, or both? And we can well wonder if His miraculous amplification of the water-made-wine was the result of His Mother’s prayerful concern lest the newly-weds be embarrassed, or was it compensation for over-drinking on the part of His Apostles, who were also there, and who may have been responsible for the wine shortage?
Perhaps the key to untying these knotty problems lies in a full-blown appreciation of what joy is all about: joy in drinking, joy in praying. If both of these activities could fall under some same larger appreciation, they would no longer stand in contrast with one another as irreconcilables, and be two ways of looking at the same thing. Pope Francis seems to be on to something in his recent exhortation about THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL. After all, the gospel means GOOD NEWS. Joy is a scarce commodity in our contentious society today , unlike the era of Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill, who could disagree all day on Capitol Hill, but who, during the after hours, could enjoy a good drink together, while swapping jokes. Belloc seems to have had it right: “…laughter and good red wine…Benedicamus Domino.” Surely they can go together.