“[O]bedience to God is not, as some would believe, a heteronomy, as if the moral life were subject to the will of something all-powerful, absolute, extraneous to man and intolerant of his freedom . . . Law must therefore be considered an expression of divine wisdom: by submitting to the law, freedom submits to the truth of creation.”
— Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, no. 41
It was nearing four in the morning, and seven men who had been shut out of the town’s inns for lack of funds were still warming themselves around a fire.
A traveling Irishman, seeking work in those parts, had met the others earlier that evening: a student, saving money on his way to school by living off the land, a soldier traveling home on furlough, the town’s own hopeless drunk, and a handful of other ragged men.
Throughout the night, some had been giving their own profane testimony about their alleged feats and misdeeds. The drunkard sat slumped to one side, but the irascible Irishman’s eyes bored into the fire as he grew weary of the chatter.
“Such frivolity,” he sneered. “Not one of you dares speak as a man to another man.”
“What do you mean by that?” asked the soldier. “What harm is it to you if we want to sit around and talk about nothing, or even less than nothing? What harm is it to you?”
“Let me tell you something worth hearing,” the Irishman rejoined. This came to the delight of everyone because his arrogance was so preposterous. Even the drunkard stirred and began to listen.
“You all talk of your adventures, and particularly your adventures with women,” the Irishman said. “Let me tell you, I’ve slept with more of them than I’ve even met. But look where it’s gotten me now — I’m standing here with six men around a fire in the wee morning hours.”
This elicited nods and grunts of affirmation, as it was plain to all present.
“I’ve taken a great lesson from it all,” he continued. “The only important thing,” he said, “is to find the one woman who will clear away all the bullshit, look me in the eye, and demand to know, ‘Who are you?’ A partner for life, sworn and bound always to be there. Another part of myself. Nothing short of that would really make me happy. That is the lesson I’ve learned.”
He then addressed the group of revelers: “None of you sitting here around this fire can look me in the eye and tell me you haven’t slept with women you didn’t really love. And if you do, you’re a liar.”
Some sighed and nodded in agreement, others fell silent. The drunkard, however, clinging to his last thread of consciousness, took notice. Although earlier he had only been able to mutter incoherently, he gathered all of his concentration and spoke up.
“What you say is very wise,” came his reply. “But I can look you in the eye and tell you just that — I have never slept with a woman I didn’t love.”
Here he required another deep breath, and a moment to focus, giving the others a chance to joke at his expense.
“What opportunity could such a filthy drunk have with women?” said the soldier.
“I am a Catholic,” the drunkard said, provoking odd looks from every side of the fire. Everyone there was Catholic, but the drunk meant it differently. “I did not need to sleep with hundreds of women to learn the same lesson you have learned the hard way,” he told the Irishman. “I learned this as a fact in school, and I was told its origin is divine.”
The Irishman, being Irish, had heard plenty of this from his own mother, and he had no use for it. He uttered an audible “Tssk!”
“You mock the idea,” the drunkard replied, “yet how do you explain this? You and I have both come to the same conclusion about love — I quickly on the word of others, and you after long years of aimless whoring — you said so yourself. It goes to show that the divine wisdom is the best human wisdom.”
Everyone was a bit surprised at this answer, particularly given its origin. Some were even amused, but the Irishman was positively furious.
“I swear on my mother’s life,” he bellowed, balling his fists, “I came here to warm myself in peace, not to get a sermon from a worthless drunk who’s slobbering all over himself. You are stupid and irrational, thoroughly unenlightened. And on top of it all, your mind is shackled by your divine superstition, yet you can’t even keep yourself sober for an hour of your waking life! How do you dare preach to me with your commandments and threats of hellfire?”
His anger was so palpable that his fellows, try as they may to keep silent, burst into laughter.
“I don’t think he said anything about Hell,” said the student sitting directly across. “But I’ll tell you to go there.” More laughter.
The drunkard, however, remained earnest, almost tearful. “I’m not preaching to you,” he said, his head now feeling woozy. “I didn’t tell you how to live. You see how I live. I just answered your question, that’s all. I said I knew what would make me happy. If God wants us to be happy, why would his laws make us anything but happy?”
When no one laughed at him, the drunkard began to feel he had said something profound. His overconfidence thrust him back into absurdity as he tried to summon up more religious fervor. Holding a jug of some strong spirit, he made a toast, shouting ridiculously, “I drink to the Pope, who’s now just passed away. May he live a hundred years!” He then made an attempt to drink but spilled most of the liquor on his face.
The others roared with laughter as the drunkard, belching loudly, slumped back and returned to his muddled, drunken thoughts. They laughed even harder as the Irishman spat at the flame and stomped away into the night.
David Freddoso, a native of Indiana, is a political reporter for Evans and Novak Inside Report.