Concern for sobriety is concern for life

The appeal of the Apostleship of Sobriety Team of the Polish Bishops’ Conference for August 2009

Dear Sisters and Brothers!
Dearly Beloved in Christ the Lord!

This year we return with grateful memory to those important events that transformed Poland. Reflecting on the decisive moments of our history one cannot omit the enduring work of those who in the shadow of the great events struggled no less zealously for the sobriety of Poles. We recollect the 50th anniversary of the Guidelines of the Polish Bishops’ Conference for the ecclesiastical sobriety activities. The document issued on 17 June 1959 was the foundation of the sobriety pastoral work in Poland. It also contains the main principle of the pastoral abstinence service, ‘Through voluntary, complete abstinence of many towards sobriety of all states and professions.’ In the beginning of August we again reflect on these words. With confidence we repeat the urgent desire to offer the personal gift of abstinence as our contribution to build sober society. What would we have from our regained freedom if we lost our souls in drunkenness and human harm, which flows from it?
Concern for sobriety is one of the most important challenges that our society faces. The latest survey shows alarming data. For the last five years the level of consumption of alcoholic drinks has increased and earlier this trend was stopped! The lives of over 800,000 of our countrymen are marked by the drama of addiction. Ca. 16% of our society overuses alcohol in a risky way. We are worried about the data concerning young people because many of them regularly get drunk. More and more girls get drunk. Easy access to alcohol and its promotion exert a domineering influence on these negative phenomena. In Poland there are ca. 200,000 places, which sell alcohol and they often infringe the regulations of the bill concerning education for sobriety and struggling with alcoholic problems. We do not focus only on pure statistics. We are concerned about human suffering and humiliation, lost health and life, harmed families, lost dreams and disappointed hopes of so many people. Therefore, in the current pastoral year we proclaim the motto, ‘Concern for sobriety is concern for life’. Reminding the faithful of the supernatural dignity of human life whose source is ‘man's call to communion with God’ (Gaudium et spes, 19) we want to make Poles aware of how much sobriety or its lack influences our lives.

Care for spiritual and physical life

Dear Beloved! First of all, sobriety is the foundation of care for spiritual life. Man created in the image and likeness of God is called to holiness. The condition to take this way is our openness to the gifts of the Holy Spirit that allow us to use this freedom properly. But the imprudent use of alcohol makes it impossible to grow in spiritual life. It causes many sins and is an obstacle in our unity with God and people. It also hinders life in love and truth, the source of which is the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. Sobriety is also care for the physical aspect of human life. The fifth commandment of God obliges us to proper care for our body, which is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 6:19). Therefore, we must know how much damage alcohol does in this sphere. First of all, we appeal to mothers, reminding them that even the slightest amount of alcohol is dangerous to babies growing in their wombs. Keeping abstinence in the blessed state of pregnancy and breast-feeding is an important examination in mature motherhood, and fathers and whole families should offer mothers their help. Whereas doctors and family counsellors should inform about the dramatic consequences of drinking during pregnancy. Let us also remember about the harmful influence of alcohol on human organism in its mature phase. According to the health reports drinking alcohol is the main factor of losing health and life in the countries where the level of civilisational development is similar to ours.

Challenges that families face

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ! Concern for sobriety is also concern for the family that is the natural environment of giving and developing life. When we lack this concern painful dramas occur. Alcoholic problems are often sources of violence towards defenceless children and their mothers. Life in a family devoid of love and dignity, family marked by constant fear, is a series of suffering and humiliations. The media speak about that too seldom. It is not permissible to talk about these issues unless some tragedy happens. Poland needs sober families since proper attitudes can only be formed in them. Many young people expect adults to give them clear encouragement to keep complete abstinence and first of all, they expect them to give good examples. That’s why we again appeal to mothers and fathers to give their testimonies. May families, strengthened by love and unity, radiate the atmosphere of soberness to which explicit and inviolable educational principles lead. Parents should lay down clear requirements motivated by love. They can never neglect even the slightest symptoms of drinking by their children. They should especially be interested in what kind of parties organised in big discotheques and clubs their juvenile daughters and sons participate at weekends. One should repeat loudly again and again that the only form of sobriety of children and youth under 18 is complete abstinence.

School and university involved in the mission of education for sobriety

Dear Beloved! Education for sobriety must find an important place in the system of education. Pupils should not only find knowledge about addictions but also and above all, patterns of good attitudes. Even the most interesting prevention programmes will not yield expected fruit if they are not strengthened by consistent testimonies of teachers. School must be free of the presence of alcohol, including high school proms, important celebrations and excursions. No pupil should see a teacher drinking alcohol. There are no exceptions from this principle. Higher schools should show concern over developing proper attitudes towards alcohol. Since students are the age group that can fall into the trap of the addiction most easily. Let us then ask universities about supervision over their students’ halls of residence, which are not only convenient places to get drunk but also become areas of illegal trade of alcohol. One should also ask openly about the frequent presence of alcohol during students’ festivities and concerts held in the university facilities. One cannot neglect scandalous students’ behaviours. Universities, educating the Polish intelligentsia, must not only teach knowledge but also formation if they want to be faithful to their missions. The most talented and best educated young people will lose their lives if they enter maturity with a baggage of addiction.

Sobriety as condition of social development

Dear Beloved in Christ! Concern for sobriety is concern for social and national life. Many experts think that a condition of moral and economic development of society is sobriety. Facing the present economic problems it is worth stressing that the estimated costs of damage resulting from use and misuse of alcohol exceed the budget income from excise duty and other fees at least five times. History also brings a lot of evidences that drunken society is unstable and defenceless and thus unable to build subjectivity enabling harmonious development. The Servant of God Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski understood that well, often reminding people that ‘nation that struggles for the noblest ideals must be sober!’ Therefore, concern for sobriety is one of the duties of people responsible for the shape of the law determined in our homeland. Regulations limiting the access to alcohol are indispensible. One should also work on the effective execution of the bill prohibiting the sale of alcohol to underage customers. The central and local authorities, the representatives of local communities and non-governmental organisations should be more active in taking up initiatives for the cause of sobriety. However, let us remember that even the best law and the most interesting social actions do not relieve us from personal responsibility for Poland. Modern patriotism should be expressed in our concern for sobriety. May we have endurance to fight against evil. Let us oppose consistently and firmly the practice of selling alcohol to juveniles. Let us share our testimonies of sobriety, opposing the dictate of drinking in almost every situation that is prevailing in our society. Let us support the organisations and institutions, especially the local self-governments, which act for the cause of sobriety. Each of us can find a good way to show concern for the sobriety of our neighbours and through that show care for the quiet, safe and worthy life of our society. All those who make these valueless efforts every day in many places of our homeland should receive the highest respect and deep gratitude. Each person that through prayer, personal testimony and involvement in various forms of help saves only one man from this addiction becomes a real defender and servant of life. Discussing this problem related to social life we must mention the promotion activities of the producers of alcohol. Using various specialists they prepare advertisements in which alcohol is shown as the guarantee of good fun, the foundation of friendship, the sign of good taste or enrichment of sports emotions. They exert strong influence on the attitudes towards alcohol, especially among young people. That’s why the advertisements concerning alcohol should be prohibited. Modern marketing communication also resolves to other forms of influencing consumers, entering increasingly strongly our daily lives through organising popular festivals, concerts and summer mass events or sponsoring sport. Let us not yield easily this harmful and destructive propaganda. May we also have courage to oppose those who ridicule and hamper noble work aiming at creating new morals. Unworthy and dishonest are mockeries at non-alcoholic wedding receptions, often extremely successful, or at vows of abstinence taken by children and youth, the decisions that are needed so much nowadays. Remember that a nation that induces its own children to drink is a nation devoid of its future.

Sobriety as a way to build a new culture of life

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ! 25 years ago the Holy Father John Paul II appealed to young people all over the world, ‘do not submit to the culture of death. Choose life’ (Speech to young people gathered in Rome for the Jubilee of the Redemption, April 14, 1984). Despite the lapse of time this papal appeal is still valid. We can also respond to it through our concern for sobriety, which is in its deepest essence concern for life. Therefore, we direct this appeal for abstinence from alcohol in August to all believers and people of good will. Let this appeal move the hearts of all people who want to build a new culture of life. May it open the minds so that they will let us see the August gift of abstinence as an instrument of concern for the soul and health, dignity and freedom, family and job of every man. We confidently entrust this great work to Our Lady of Jasna Gora who has led us throughout ages and embraced us with her motherly love.

Bishop Tadeusz Bronakowski, President of the Apostleship of Sobriety Team of the Polish Bishops’ Conference.
Lomza, 10 June 2009.

Prayer of alcoholics
God, grant me peacefulness,
So that I could accept what I cannot change;
Courage so that I could change what I can;
And wisdom so that I could see the difference between these two.

"Niedziela" 31/2009

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: