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Every Day Catholic - May 2009

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Battling Addiction—Surrendering to God’s Grace
By: Paul M. Smith

I don’t belong here. I don’t belong here! The thought kept repeating itself in my impaired brain as I sat propped against the cold concrete wall. My head was pounding, my stomach churning. I’m the father of three children, a leader in my community, a radio and television personality. How could this happen to me again? The evening was a blur except for the flashing lights in my rearview mirror, prompting a familiar sinking feeling in my gut. There was no point in trying to take the field sobriety test. I could barely stand, much less walk a straight line. I vaguely remember verbally abusing the arresting officer and faking a heart attack in an attempt to avoid a Breathalyzer test. No one was fooled but me. My blood-alcohol content was well over the legal limit.

Now, sitting in the drunk tank, surrounded by a dozen men, some vomiting, others lying in their own urine, I wondered: How I could have fallen this low again? Was it like this for Saul, who fell to the ground on the road to Damascus? Was he convinced in that flash of light that his entire life’s direction had been completely wrong? I can’t say that I heard the voice of Jesus, as St. Paul did, calling, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” It was more like a moment of clarity, a voice in my head crying, “Paul, Paul, you’re a drunk, and you’re in the drunk tank again.” No sooner had I accepted this ugly truth than I knew without question that I never wanted to be there again. It was in that moment that I determined I could no longer drink alcohol. So now what?

I had not gone more than a day or two in my adult life without drinking or using drugs, usually both. I was 14 when I took my first drink, warm whiskey right out of the bottle. I drank the whole thing and passed out. That set a pattern for my life: I had found an escape from reality and used it every chance I got. As a teenager, drinking helped me fit in. It made me feel more comfortable around people. I could talk to girls. I even thought I could dance. (I know now that I can’t!) It wasn’t long before I had to drink just to feel normal and, for years, that seemed to work for me. I got used to the morning hangovers and the constant friction with loved ones. Then came the divorce, the first arrest, the threat of losing a good job and the alienation of my children. My answer to all this was to simply drink and drug more.

Debts piled up, my body took a beating, and there was another failed attempt at marriage. A second arrest resulted in a month-long suspension of my driver’s license, but the drinking continued. While I tried desperately to control it, alcohol now wielded great power over me. With the first drink, the drink took me. Finally, yet another humiliating arrest convinced me of my powerlessness. It was only then that the grace of God could enter me to expel the obsession for self-destructive drinking.

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Unlike Paul’s Damascus-road conversion, mine was gradual. I had abandoned my strict Catholic upbringing in favor of the lure of the world. Having no idea how to live life on life’s terms and with nothing to numb the pain, I became more miserable with each passing day. I visited recovery groups but rebelled against the idea of actively joining a 12-Step program. They talked of a Higher Power that most called God and, though I believed in God, I had kept him out of my life.

Then I met the man who would become my spiritual guide. A recovering alcoholic himself, this missionary priest showed me by gentle example his love for Jesus and the Church. I gradually became willing to ask for help and to embrace the support community that is the backbone of recovery. I had to break my natural tendency to isolate in order to join in the group. I returned to church and became active in my parish. I was encouraged to pray and make a fearless and thorough examination of conscience, followed by an honest confession in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. I humbly approached the eucharistic table, receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in the form of both bread and wine. Through receiving his Precious Blood for this final time, I was freed from the sins of my past, became willing to make amends and able to become the man I was created to be. The Catholic formation of my youth has become a firm foundation for continued spiritual growth.

Life is still life, filled with daily challenges, hardship and pain. I’m still an addict, but my “addiction” today is to God’s grace. Through faith, there is joy, hope and love—sustaining substitutes for chemical escape. I now know that, while most people can drink socially, some of us simply can’t ingest alcohol or other mood-altering drugs. I also know that I am uniquely qualified to help those caught in the trap of addiction. I offer only my experience, strength and hope. I’m often asked what can be done to help those who appear so hopelessly addicted. As harsh as it seems, the addict must suffer the consequences of poor choices. Recovery requires complete surrender, and one doesn’t often surrender until there is no place else to turn. The most loving thing we can do is set an example and be there if and when help is sought. I’m grateful that the obsession to drink and drug has been lifted by God’s grace. As I face other destructive patterns in my daily walk, I’m reminded of the words of St. Paul as he struggled with his “thorn…in the flesh.” The Lord spoke to him saying, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Permission to Publish received for this article, “Battling Addiction—Surrendering to God’s Grace” by Paul M. Smith, from Rev. Joseph R. Binzer, Vicar General, Archdiocese of Cincinnati, 12-9-2008.

Paul M. Smith (a.k.a. Brian Patrick on Cincinnati TV and radio) founded The Good News Network (, a media ministry spreading God’s word through television, radio and the Internet. He hosts the “Son Rise Morning Show” on Cincinnati’s Sacred Heart Radio (AM740).

Making Connections

■ What self-destructive behaviors (addictive or not) have you participated in?

■ What were you avoiding or seeking through such behavior?

■ How will you turn to God and the faith community to help you avoid engaging in self-destructive behavior in the future?

Movie Moments

Divine Revelation
By: Alan Schreck

More Test

Next time you watch Divine Revelation, ASK YOURSELF:

■ What are the clues that Joe and Kirsten have addictive tendencies? Why can’t they drink and still control their lives?

■ Watch the film through the perspective of Kirsten’s father. How would I react to the tragedy unfolding before my eyes? What is my attitude now toward alcoholics I know?

Putting Shoes on the Gospel

Ben St. Hillaire
By: Joan McKamey

Comunità Cenacolo is mostly set up for drug addicts, but it’s the kind of help that everyone would benefit from,” says Ben St. Hillaire of his five years living in “Community.” Italian for “Community of the Upper Room,” Comunità Cenacolo is a “school of life” rather than a therapeutic program. Ben is not an addict himself, but he was encouraged to join the Community in St. Augustine, Florida, after being dismissed by a seminary. He says of the dismissal, “It was a devastating experience for me. I was totally lost and broken for a year.”

Founded in Italy in 1983 by religious sister Elvira Petrozzi, Comunità Cenacolo serves the poor of the modern world: disillusioned young people who live in desperation and hopelessness, convinced that life has no meaning or value. Many of them turn to drugs and alcohol in an attempt to fill their emptiness. Comunità Cenacolo is built on Sister Elvira’s conviction that only Jesus Christ can heal and transform their shattered lives.

“I had a lot of anger toward God, the seminary and my parents. I didn’t have what I needed to face life,” Ben tells Every Day Catholic. “I knew at once that this [Comunità Cenacolo] was a place that I could find the answers I was looking for. I believed in God but had so much fear and so little confidence in my own abilities.”

“I didn’t have a drug problem,” says Ben, “but the interesting thing is that drug addicts don’t have a problem with drugs either. They have problems with attitude and with saying no to themselves. They deny that their troubles are caused to a certain extent by themselves. Community teaches us to listen to what people around us are saying and to try to get the truth out of it. You correct others, and you need to find the strength to accept their correction too.”

The three fundamentals of Community are 1) prayer, 2) friendship and 3) family healing. Ben says, “It took a while to convince me that I needed to make daily prayer a part of my life. I came to understand that I draw strength from prayer. The friendships I made there are very important. What Community gives me is something I need. It’s the love that’s there—that’s what heals people.”

Family involvement is an important part of the Community equation. “Sister Elvira teaches that we’re born into a family, and the problems begin in the family. That’s where you have to start looking—to family—for answers,” says Ben. “Through suffering and sacrifice, family relationships can be purified and healed.”

Back home in Washington State and farming with his brother, Ben is a regional contact for the Community, building a network of those in the Northwest with ties to Comunità Cenacolo. Ben learned well the lessons from its “school of life.” He credits his Community experience with his ability to enter into the lifelong commitment of marriage to his beloved, Angele, in December 2008.

Passing On the Faith

Taking Addiction Out of Hiding
By: Jeanne Hunt


Father Dan enjoys his walks down Clark Avenue. The families seem happy and successful with well-groomed lawns and barbecue grills. But behind the nice-looking façades hide a few demons: Jim and Sarah, #306 Clark Avenue, struggle with debt because of Jim’s addiction to shopping; Louise, the recent widow at #514, numbs her grief with alcohol; Terry and Bill, #621, confront their son Brian with drugs found in his bedroom; Jennifer at #837 cannot leave her Internet connection; and Sharon, #852, is addicted to prescription pain medication.

A response

Addiction is a demon that the average family cannot escape. Whether it’s one’s own, a neighbor’s or a family member’s problem, we must not ignore its presence. The beginning of healing is honesty. While admitting one’s addiction is humiliating, the acceptance of one’s weakness opens the door to rehabilitation.

We cannot go it alone. Whether it’s marriage counseling, a weight-loss support group or drug rehab, when addiction rears its ugly head, the best defense is an offense of a knowledgeable and supportive community.

With truth and support in place, the whole family needs to rearrange life patterns to erase old patterns of behavior. This could mean avoiding friends who use drugs, paying cash for purchases, moving the computer to a family area, etc. We need to shake things up in order for lasting change to take root.

We must also clean up the messes we’ve made. It’s time to forgive ourselves and ask forgiveness of those we’ve harmed by our addictive behavior. Everyone we love was affected by our choices. Saying “forgive me” is a healing balm.

Finally, the addict and those who love the addict must wrap all this good work in prayer. The power of intercession is a weapon that moves mountains—mountains of failure and years of dysfunction, pain and fear. God wants to bring wholeness to our wounded lives.

Clark Avenue looks the same from the street. Yet, the demons of addiction are being dealt with. There are no magical happy endings; it’s hard work to walk away from addiction. Jim and Sarah cut up the credit cards and work with a debt counselor. Louise joined A.A. and is learning healthy ways to cope with grief. Brian has changed schools, and he and Sharon spend Saturdays at the rehab outpatient clinic. Jennifer moved her computer to the family room. And on Sundays, when Father Dan sees them at Mass, he prays for the folks on Clark Avenue and their journeys to freedom.


For Addicts (and those who love them)
By: by Jeanne Hunt

(for praying alone or with others)

Preparation: Place a large bowl of water, a rock for each participant, a lighted candle and a Bible on a prayer table.


“Create in Me” by Bob Hurd (or other suitable hymn)


The Serenity Prayer

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway
    to peace;
Taking, as he did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that he will make all things right
If I surrender to his will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in
    this life
And supremely happy with him
Forever and ever in the next. Amen.


Proverbs 3:5-6


“I invite you to take a rock. The rock is a symbol of a hard place in your life, an overwhelming wound, addiction, loss of freedom or dysfunction. It might be overeating, spending too much, alcohol, gambling, loss of control or bad temper. Let us sit in quiet for a moment and each name the rock for ourselves.” (Sit in silence for a few moments.)

“You are invited to come forward and place your rock in the bowl of water. It was through the waters of Baptism that God claimed you as his own. As you release your rock into the water, ask God to heal that place in your heart that suffers from the pain of addiction. Then, sign yourself with this water as a reminder of your Baptism, that you are God’s own. Pray to God for healing.” (Play quiet music during this time.)


“O Divine Redeemer, take our fragile spirits and restore them. Give wholeness to the broken. Remove any anger, resentment or fear that keeps us from freedom. Gently enfold us in your love, so that we may know your healing. Amen.”

John Paul II: “Open wide the doors to Christ,” urged John Paul II during the homily at the Mass when he was installed as pope in 1978. <br /><br />Born in Wadowice, Poland, Karol Jozef Wojtyla had lost his mother, father and older brother before his 21st birthday. Karol’s promising academic career at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University was cut short by the outbreak of World War II. While working in a quarry and a chemical factory, he enrolled in an “underground” seminary in Kraków. Ordained in 1946, he was immediately sent to Rome where he earned a doctorate in theology. <br /><br />Back in Poland, a short assignment as assistant pastor in a rural parish preceded his very fruitful chaplaincy for university students. Soon he earned a doctorate in philosophy and began teaching that subject at Poland’s University of Lublin. <br /><br />Communist officials allowed him to be appointed auxiliary bishop of Kraków in 1958, considering him a relatively harmless intellectual. They could not have been more wrong! <br /><br />He attended all four sessions of Vatican II and contributed especially to its <em>Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World</em>. Appointed as archbishop of Kraków in 1964, he was named a cardinal three years later. <br /><br />Elected pope in October 1978, he took the name of his short-lived, immediate predecessor. Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. In time, he made pastoral visits to 124 countries, including several with small Christian populations. <br /><br />He promoted ecumenical and interfaith initiatives, especially the 1986 Day of Prayer for World Peace in Assisi. He visited Rome’s Main Synagogue and the Western Wall in Jerusalem; he also established diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel. He improved Catholic-Muslim relations and in 2001 visited a mosque in Damascus, Syria. <br /><br />The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, a key event in John Paul’s ministry, was marked by special celebrations in Rome and elsewhere for Catholics and other Christians. Relations with the Orthodox Churches improved considerably during his ministry as pope. <br /><br />“Christ is the center of the universe and of human history” was the opening line of his 1979 encyclical, <em>Redeemer of the Human Race</em>. In 1995, he described himself to the United Nations General Assembly as “a witness to hope.” <br /><br />His 1979 visit to Poland encouraged the growth of the Solidarity movement there and the collapse of communism in central and eastern Europe 10 years later. He began World Youth Day and traveled to several countries for those celebrations. He very much wanted to visit China and the Soviet Union but the governments in those countries prevented that. <br /><br />One of the most well-remembered photos of his pontificate was his one-on-one conversation in 1983 with Mehmet Ali Agca, who had attempted to assassinate him two years earlier. <br /><br />In his 27 years of papal ministry, John Paul II wrote 14 encyclicals and five books, canonized 482 saints and beatified 1,338 people. <br /><br />In the last years of his life, he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and was forced to cut back on some of his activities. <br /><br />Pope Benedict XVI beatified John Paul II in 2011, and Pope Francis canonized him in 2014. American Catholic Blog Lord, may I have balance and measure in everything—except in Love. —St. Josemaría Escrivá

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