I must admit that I spent many years away from God. But that does not mean that he was ever away from me. I am sure that God has always been (and is, still) by my side. Guiding my steps and protecting me, sometimes even from myself. I believe my mother’s prayers have played a fundamental role in the latter, in particular. Thank you mama.
A while back, I read the news about this Catholic bar, which opened in France. And today with what I’ve learned, I thought: What a great idea! How nice it would be to have one here, closer by; a healthy and safe destination, a place to share, celebrate and socialize.
There was a time in my life (only a few years ago) when my thinking was different. Just the idea of a Catholic bar would have struck me as non-viable. Let’s say that at the time my morale suffered a mild attention disorder. I said mild. In the spirit of full honesty, I confess that I loved to go out at night, staying out quite late. The night, its lights, its curious characters, the language that appeared in those places, codes of behavior, forms, what is “permissible” when the sun goes down, the music and the mirages, all seemed something so attractive. I felt like it was a parallel world that suddenly appeared. Where I could be completely free and authentic. This of course hinged upon just the right dose of alcohol to set the proper stage. There it is, I said it.
Looking back on those nights, I feel that I was blessedly able to navigate risky situations – some uncomfortable and some even dangerous; first because God is great, and second thanks to a series of protective factors such as good friends watching out for me.
Recently one of those friends wrote: God draws good things from the bad things. And today that’s my intention: to show how God has brought good things from some of the not-so-good situations I once found myself in. My hope is that, by sharing what I’ve learned, I might be of some service to others.
Evidently, we are not necessarily encouraging people to go to a bar (especially those who have had problems with alcohol!). What’s more, the idea of a “bar” varies quite a bit depending on the type of bar and area of town that it is found in. There’s no doubt that certain kinds of bars which, due to the way the waiters/waitresses dress, the pictures on the wall, etc. are completely unacceptable. Others, however, that offer refreshing drinks, some live music, perhaps an exciting environment to watch the game are fine (granted one follows these tips).
It’s good to note that the Catechism invites us, above all, to temperance (2290):
“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 a love of speed, endanger their own and others’ safety on the road, at sea, or in the air.”
That said, Catholics are not a group of people living on an island in today’s world. We are immersed in the world, but always with one eye fixed on heaven in all circumstances of life, even – yes – in the unlikely venue of a bar. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with going to a bar. But because of the world and the culture, many times these environments can pose a challenge and even a danger for the Catholic. So, taking advantage of lessons learned, lived and suffered, I present a series of tips to take care of ourselves and care for our faith in such a “risky” place as the bar. It would be nice if someone had given me these tips back in the day. I hope you find them useful.
Finally, if you consider it questionable to even go to the bar, such an opinion is acceptable. Still, I am sure that you and others have many friends that do go and perhaps these tips might help them on their way to a healthier, more Christian lifestyle. For those interested, many dioceses around the world have adopted an interesting apostolic initiative called “Theology on Tap.” The idea is to offer an opportunity for adults (21+) to explore issues and topics that relate to their Catholic Faith in a fun and casual environment.
1. Choose carefully where are you going.
Cristal clear, Catholics are not going to dumps. Love yourself a little bit and avoid those places where you and your friends are likely to have a bad time. What do I mean? Fights, drugs, drunkenness, one-night stands and the like. Go to a bar, sure, but choose it well; don’t be naïve. The environment in which a Christian lives has implications on his very life. Do not presume that, because you’re regularly going to Mass, you have diplomatic immunity to pass through just in any environment unscathed. This way of thinking is completely contrary to our Lord’s command that we “be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” Check ahead of time on a social destination – the club, the pub, the bar: how is it? Request references, scope it out online, and without any hesitation don’t go if this is not an appropriate place. If it looks questionable, find a better alternative to suggest to your friends.
2. Always go with good friends. Yes, I said good, and I said always.
“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn 15:13) Good friends are those who bring us closer to Christ. True friendship is a great treasure. Always try to go out in the company of true friends, those who really know you and whom you can trust to be there to take care of you. Likewise, be a good friend to them. Don´t ignore them when they “call you out” on your behavior. When you’re alone or with mere acquaintances, it’s easy to fall into temptation and be deceived by appearances, yielding to behaviors that go against your Christian life. A good friend by your side will always be very helpful.
3. Carry with you something that reminds you who you are.
© Ashley Rose/ Flickr.com
Bring something with you, an inscription on the your T shirt, a necklace with a cross, a ring on your finger… something! Lights, noises, interferences can give you a temporary amnesia, or blind you to truths you know. Always remember who you are, where you come from and where you are going. Keep an eye on it.
4. Don´t do what “everybody is doing”.
© Daigo Oliva/ Flickr.com
In other words, be careful! Be mindful of your words and your actions. Trying to be the fun guy or the cool girl can end up getting you into trouble. Be willing to moderate your impulses, your words and your actions especially in a place where you’re more prone to stumble. Remember when you stumble, we all stumble. The world will not only judge you, it will judge the entire Church.
5. Dress well. Yes well!
© Dollar Photo Club
Take care of your body. Don’t wear a skirt that looks like a bathing suit or a shirt that looks like a scarf, or something so skin-tight that it looks more like body paint! Your body is sacred. Respect yourself, love yourself and have respect for others also. I once read that modesty is not a garment but a conduct and a way of behaving. And, just because you might dress more modestly, that doesn’t mean your behavior and mannerisms can send the opposite message of seduction. It doesn’t matter if you’re wearing a tunic if your heart, mind and body language aren’t properly oriented underneath. Dress well and behave well.
6. Don’t drink… to the point of losing control.
There is nothing wrong with a drink. But if you’ve never done it, it is best that you not choose a bar to start. If you drink, do so with restraint and – again – with good friends around you. I won’t go into the details of the sin of gluttony itself. The effects of alcohol cloud our understanding and self-control, leading us to do things we will later regret, or, even worse, put our lives at risk. Don’t be naïve; be aware. And never lose of sight your glass. Do not try to be the cool one or the one that knows it all because you definitely don’t know it all.
7. Do not criticize everything and everyone.
© Jan/ Flickr.com
If you are in a bar, you go to hang out with friends, to distract yourself. You don´t go to a bar to indulge in gossip and criticism of the other people there, their conduct or their morals. We are not called to judge, and he who casts the first stone should be free of sin. Each of us lives in a different situation or context. Not everyone we encounter will have the same spiritual formation or share our beliefs. Even if you are in a church, do not enter to gossip. Pope Francis tells us that with gossip we can kill others. We are all children of God, beloved to infinity. And, when appropriate, choose comments of constructive criticism that can at least provoke reflection, always with an eye on the goodness of the other person.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta said: “a heart filled with joy is a heart full of love… If you are joyful, this will glow in your eyes and in your appearance, your conversation and your content. You cannot hide it. Joy overflows. “Wherever you go, the joy in God is your companion. If you are among good friends, enjoy the moment and let your happiness pique the attention and curiosity of people around you”. Allow your manner to bring them closer to God. If you go to a bar, it ought not to be to drown your sorrows or indulge in a bad mood. If so: stay at home. The reason to go out is to have fun with your friends. And as Catholics we know what we mean by fun.
9. Help your friends who drink beyond a healthy limit.
© Adriano Agulló/ Flickr.com
Protect them, assist them and take them safely home. Talk to him or her the next day. If you happen to be the one who needs support, allow your friends to help you. If you can’t control yourself, it is better not to go to a bar. Do not put yourself in a situation you cannot handle.
10. Don´t spend all night looking at your phone
And this is true not only at a bar, but also in any social setting. It is so annoying to be in a group and that everyone looks at the cell phone rather than look to each other face and talk. True encounter and communication happens not through a phone or on a screen. It is not “smart” to do so. The message you communicate to the live person in front of you is “I don´t care.” This is bad enough in any setting, but it is especially dangerous in a bar. Why? Because you’re distracted from what is happening around you, and sadly there are those who prey on people in situations like these. Leave your phone in your pocket.
11. If you have a girlfriend, stay away from the blurry line
If you have girlfriend, go to the bar with your girlfriend. If you do go alone with a group of friends, and you meet someone attractive, do not seek out or enter into an intimate conversation. Guard yourself and take care of your relationship. If you play with fire you will get burned.
12. Avoid flirting (especially for girls)
And this is related to the previous point as not. It seems that girls like to be admired, and many times when we catch someone looking at us, we want to arouse even more admiration – even without giving it deliberate thought. Do not flirt with others if you don´t want others to flirt with you. Vanity is not going to lead you anywhere good, but it can lead you into awkward situations. Remember that today many people go to bars to look for fleeting amusement and one-night stands. You are not a one-night stand.
13. Catholics don’t have one-night stands.
© Dollar Photp Club
Continuing with the above. If you find someone interesting, the best thing you can do is talk. Nothing more. Introduce him or her to your group of friends. Keep in touch to continue getting to know each other for a good while longer. We are not things that get thrown away; we are not disposable to use and discard, as the world would have us believe. Don’t fall into the bravado of feminism or machismo that tell us we’re free to do whatever we want with our bodies. Love yourself, respect yourself, and do the same with others.
14. If they ask you for your faith: evangelize. The Apostle is not on vacation in a bar.
© Dollar Photp Club
If they ask you is the operative premise. Your reason for going to the bar is not to give a sermon. On the other hand, if someone asks you, be ready to respond freely and without embarrassment. Remember that the best ministry we can do is to bear witness by our lives.
15. If someone crosses a line with a friend, be ready to come to his or her defense.
This is for both men and women. Today, it’s not only men whose approaches can make women uncomfortable, but women can be inappropriate aggressors in the other direction, too. If a girl is making improper propositions to your friend, help him out or gently or subtly divert the girl in question. Don’t misunderstand: Do not start a fight. Violence does not lead anywhere. But watch out for these risky or potentially volatile encounters and steer clear of them.
16. Help your friends stop before they’ve had too much… but remember that they are free to be idiots.
I think I already talked about this point, but it is worth reiterating: Help them recognize that they’ve had enough – or even too much. Help him remember that he has a girlfriend and the conversation with this stranger can get him into trouble. Help divert your friend from that just long-enough conversation with this or that random guy. And try to do all this while keep in mind that they may have the freedom to be idiots. Still, always, it is preferable they get angry with you for being firm with them, than to leave them to their own unsafe or uninhibited actions that can cause them harm. Anger eventually passes. The wounds leave scars.
17. Say NO
Simple as that. When you want to say no, say NO. I don’t drink. I don’t want any more. No, I’m calling it a night. No, I have a girlfriend. No thanks. No, no, no, no. You do not lose anything if you reject things that can hurt you. There is no shame here. Act with dignity and say NO.
18. Do not reveal extensive information on your private life.
© Alberto Ortiz/ Flickr.com
This is good advice. Picture this: A girl and a guy in a bar. Talking agreeably, he is interested and wants “something more” with the girl. Instead of saying NO and quickly getting out of the situation, she divulges full explanations and confidences that are not appropriate to share with a stranger, much less in a bar. For example: look I’m Catholic and Catholics don’t have one-night stands. Actually I am a Virgin… NOOO! That is not casual conversation material; it is most intimate and personal. Revealing something like that can only expose you to danger. The details of your personal life are not to be spilled out in a bar. That’s called prudence. Period.
19. Return home before the spell is lifted; yes, like in Cinderella.
Look for a reasonable hour to return home. This hour will not only depend on what time it is, but the environment and the actions of those around you. Always stick with the group of friends you came with, never alone or with someone you just met. Even if you think he’s a very good person. NEVER. Appearances can be deceiving.
Tell us what you think about these tips, what you think we missed and any you had never considered before. Remember, an apostle is never on vacation.