Last fall, a new microbrewery opened near my Southern Indiana town. In this day and age, that’s not such an unusual occurrence. But this brewery opened on the grounds of the Sisters of St. Benedict Monastery in Ferdinand, Indiana, offering beers based on German monastic recipes, and boldly proclaiming the motto “Pray. Work. Brew.”
A year later, the brewery’s tasting room is routinely packed. They sell out of their specialty beers almost as quickly as they bring them to market. People snap up their T-shirts, drink out of their glasses, and carry their growlers into their homes. Whenever customers do this, they’re not just carrying the logo of a cool new beer. They’re carrying a stylized version of the St. Benedict medal out into the world.
Pray. Work. Brew.
Recently, the brewery offered its first retreat. Retreatants could spend the day learning about beer and the history of beer-making while they meditated on Scripture. The brewers are preaching and spreading Benedictine spirituality through beer. In festival beer gardens, in restaurants, and in the world, their beer marches on, carrying Benedict and Christ with them as it goes.
Pray. Work. Brew.
Out into an America where Christianity is associated with a Puritanism that eschews all jollity and looks down its nose at people who dare to laugh and rejoice, St Benedict’s Brew Works marches with Catholic beer. Some drinkers see it as a contradiction. A beer that urges prayer and work? A cross that unites friends and encourages conversation and camaraderie? How crazy are those Catholics? So crazy, so in love with their God, that they’re willing to plaster his symbol on everything, even a delicious Hefenweiss.
These Catholics are so crazy, they’re preparing our post-Christian nation for re-evangelization, and they’re doing it in a way that echoes both Scripture and Tradition. Pope Francis reminds us that before we proclaim the Good News to our neighbors, we need a relationship. St. Benedict reminds us that Christians are called to offer hospitality to those around us, just as Jesus offered wine to the wedding guests and bread and fish to the 5,000.
Our culture is no longer Catholic. But worse than that, most people can’t even hear what we’re saying. They’ve bought into the idea that we’re haters, that we’re no fun, that we’re backwards and angry and just want to steamroll over them and remake everybody into a generic plaster image. Before we can tell people that God became man and that he loves us so much that he comes to us in the form of bread and wine, we have to first acknowledge that the person across from us is worth knowing, and that we think there’s something about humanity worth celebrating.
It’s a big country, and there are all types of people who need to know Jesus. Some of them will be happiest if their cross is etched in the dainty icing atop a tea cake. But if we want to renew Catholic culture, we also need a cross that can come into the room on a growler and stand the rough and tumble debates of the barroom. Where Catholic beer goes, can Catholic culture be far behind?
Disclosure: I know one of the brewers behind St. Benedict’s Brew Works. It’s a small town and he runs the local paper, so it would be more remarkable if I didn’t know him. But I’m also fussy about my beer, and his is wonderful.