According to an ancient fable, Death, the King of Terrors, decided to choose a Prime Minister, one who would be first in power and influence. He called all his chalk-faced servants, the ghastly train of diseases, and asked each to put forth his claim to the honor of being Death's best worker.
One after another, cancer, heart disease, tuberculosis, arthritis, diabetes, gout, colic and asthma each put in his claim to being the greatest killer.
In the midst of the argument the court was suddenly disturbed with music, dancing and shouting. Into the hall where all the diseases had gathered with Death, came a lady with bold and flirtive air, a flushed face and a canned smile. She was attended by a troupe of cooks and bartenders and a large group of humans, mostly young men and young women. She signaled for silence and addressed the crowd:
"As you all know," she shouted, "my name is Intemperance. Give way, you sickly band of pretenders, make way for Intemperance. How can any of you hope to rival me in killing? Our monarch, Death, knows my merits. He knows that I am the parent of all of you. He knows that you get your power of shortening life principally from me. He knows, you all know, that Intemperance is the beginning and cause of most diseases, the cause in some way or other of most deaths. I claim this office of Prime Minister of Death."Death grinned a pale smile, raised his bony right hand and declared:
"Intemperance, indeed, is Death's best worker. Intemperance is my favorite. Intemperance shall be my first assistant."
What that fable tells us is actual, awful fact. The greatest killer is intemperance, that is, eating too much, drinking too much, doing anything too much. It ruins health, shortens life and is against the Fifth Commandment.
God gave us an appetite and desire for food and drink. With that strong desire God has given us a reason, the ability to know when we have had enough for our health. God's book makes it clear that drunkenness is against His law:
"Neither fornicators. . . nor adulterers. . . nor drunkards. . . shall possess the kingdom of God." I Cor. 6:9.
Besides harming himself the drunkard also harms his home, his wife, his family. Only the recording angel knows how many lovely homes have been broken up, how many wives have led a hell on earth, how many children were undernourished, underclothed, underloved, because of a drunken father. Quarrels and fighting and cursing and breaking up furniture, not to mention the injuring of loved ones themselves, have resulted from excessive drinking.
The drunkard poisons his own system and often poisons the bodies, or at least weakens the bodies of his children. A child conceived in drunkenness often has poor health and particularly a weakened nervous system.
Should there be here today anyone reading this, husband or wife, any father or mother who drinks to excess, I beg you in the name of all that is holy and sacred and worthwhile, to make up your mind this very day that you will act the part of an intelligent, reasonable human being and not the part of a mere animal.
We admit the social and healthful value of an occasional friendly drink together. Liquor is truly a gift of God, given us to enjoy, but not to abuse. The Catholic Church has sensible views on drinking. She says that liquor is a gift of God, that we are to enjoy it. But with equal force Mother Church insists that to abuse this gift of God is a sin not only against nature, but against the will of the Creator.
In this, as in everything else, she teaches temperance, the moderate and reasonable and healthful use of God's gifts. She goes farther. Realizing that many cannot take one drink without going on to take too many, she begs such weaklings to abstain from liquor altogether. For some of you that is the only remedy. Stay away from liquor altogether. Drink some substitute. It will be better for your pocket-book, your health, your family, your job and above all your immortal soul.
Especially I would urge you young people to stay away from any and every form of intoxicating drink until you are 21 or even 25 years old. Don't think you have to drink to be a sport. You will find that excessive drinkers are often dull and offensive and anything but good sports.
Our Catholic view is practical and effective. We preach temperance as a virtue or power of the soul. We emphasize that excess in eating and especially in drinking is a mortal sin. It is a slow killing of the body.
Intemperance invariably leads to other sins: impurity, fighting, cursing, quarreling and even bodily injury.
The first principle of Alcoholics Anonymous, men who have conquered the excessive drink habit, is this: A man cannot overcome the habit by himself. He needs help. He needs the help of other humans. Above all he needs the help of God. Let me repeat two of their first principles:
"We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity."
"We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him."
Then they humbly asked God to remove their shortcomings. Let intemperance, the first servant of Death, rule others, if she will. Don't let her rule you. Be led by God and by God's law. Refuse that drink for the love of God. Then, as Jesus tells us, you will love Him and keep His word and the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit will come and abide with you instead of the demon of unreasoning drink. May God help everyone of you to keep His fifth law, especially in this regard. Amen.
Adapted from Talks on the Commandments
by Fr. Arthur Tonne, OFM (© 1948)