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Every Day Catholic - May 2009

Every Day Catholic uses an engaging and practical approach to help readers confidently apply Christian values to their everyday decisions. Great for group or individual study, and FREE online discussion guides are available for each issue. Get more information and order here.

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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 (www.tgnn.com), 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

Scenario

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.



Prayer

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.

OPENING SONG

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

OPENING PRAYER

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.

SCRIPTURE

Proverbs 3:5-6

RITUAL

“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.)

CLOSING PRAYER

“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.”




Bernadette Soubirous: Bernadette Soubirous was born in 1844, the first child of an extremely poor miller in the town of Lourdes in southern France. The family was living in the basement of a dilapidated building when on February 11,1858, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette in a cave above the banks of the Gave River near Lourdes. Bernadette, 14 years old, was known as a virtuous girl though a dull student who had not even made her first Holy Communion. In poor health, she had suffered from asthma from an early age. 
<p>There were 18 appearances in all, the final one occurring on the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, July 16. Although Bernadette's initial reports provoked skepticism, her daily visions of "the Lady" brought great crowds of the curious. The Lady, Bernadette explained, had instructed her to have a chapel built on the spot of the visions. There the people were to come to wash in and drink of the water of the spring that had welled up from the very spot where Bernadette had been instructed to dig. </p><p>According to Bernadette, the Lady of her visions was a girl of 16 or 17 who wore a white robe with a blue sash. Yellow roses covered her feet, a large rosary was on her right arm. In the vision on March 25 she told Bernadette, "I am the Immaculate Conception." It was only when the words were explained to her that Bernadette came to realize who the Lady was. </p><p>Few visions have ever undergone the scrutiny that these appearances of the Immaculate Virgin were subject to. Lourdes became one of the most popular Marian shrines in the world, attracting millions of visitors. Miracles were reported at the shrine and in the waters of the spring. After thorough investigation Church authorities confirmed the authenticity of the apparitions in 1862. </p><p>During her life Bernadette suffered much. She was hounded by the public as well as by civic officials until at last she was protected in a convent of nuns. Five years later she petitioned to enter the Sisters of Notre Dame. After a period of illness she was able to make the journey from Lourdes and enter the novitiate. But within four months of her arrival she was given the last rites of the Church and allowed to profess her vows. She recovered enough to become infirmarian and then sacristan, but chronic health problems persisted. She died on April 16, 1879, at the age of 35. </p><p>She was canonized in 1933.</p> American Catholic Blog In humility, a woman ultimately forgets 
herself; forgets both her shortcomings and accomplishments equally and 
strives to remain empty of self to make room for Jesus, just as Mary 
did.

 
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CATHOLIC GREETINGS
Wednesday of Holy Week
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Tuesday of Holy Week
Today keep in prayer all the priests and ministers throughout the world who will preside at Holy Week services.
Monday of Holy Week
Holy Week reminds us of the price Jesus paid for our salvation. Take time for prayer at home and at church.
Palm Sunday
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