5 Reasons Pope Francis is a Great Choice for Alcoholics

ignatius.trinity5 Reasons Pope Francis is a Wonderful Choice by the Holy Spirit for Alcoholics

1.       A Jesuit, Pope Francis embraces Ignatian spirituality

The spirituality of Saint Ignatius in the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous is undeniable. Bill W., the “co-founder” of AA did not rely on Ignatius’ teachings in drafting the Steps; however, he developed a devoted friendship with Father Ed Dowling, a Jesuit priest who was the first to notice the presence of Ignatian spirituality in the Steps.

A gentle, charming man, Fr. Dowling sought Bill Wilson out and introduced him to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. It is said the Bill Wilson took his 5th Step with Father Dowling. The similarities between the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius and the 12 Steps hint at why the Steps have survived intact over the years. The principles of the Steps are based in ancient Christian principles.

ignatiusspirituality projectA remarkable Chicago-based Jesuit ministry which offers retreats to those who are homeless and seeking recovery from alcoholism and addiction is the Ignatian Spirituality Project. This ministry helps them find meaning and purpose as they reclaim their lives. The Ignatian Spirituality Project also trains the formerly homeless to assist in giving retreats.

As a Jesuit, Pope Francis no doubt is familiar with and practices these Spiritual Exercises, which would foster an empathetic understanding of the plight of the alcoholic and the recovering individual.

2.       Choosing the name “Francis” and the Prayer of Saint Francis for Alcoholics

In Alcoholics Anonymous’ companion book, the “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions,” Bill Wilson offered the Prayer of Saint Francis to alcoholics as a way of practicing the 11th Step. This prayer is typically noted as the 11th Step Prayer:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love. For it is in giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life. Amen.

What practicing, active alcoholic is not focused on self?  By design alcoholics put the drink before all else. We may call ourselves “functioning alcoholics,” but are we really?  Are we really present in the lives of our loved ones or are we seeking to be understood, loved? Aren’t we in the end in despair and lacking in hope?

By choosing the name Francis, this pope is reaching out to all of us to let us know that the key to peace, the keys to the kingdom are in serving others and thinking less often of ourselves and our needs, which also happens to be the foundational principles of 12 Step programs.

3.       Pope Francis and the “War on Drugs” in Latin America

As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, then Cardinal Bergoglio was familiar with alcohol and drug addiction and its impact on families, cultures and parishes.

In 2011, in the annual Mass for Education he spoke to more than 5 thousand students about fighting drug trafficking in the schools. “We are giving future generations a culture of death and darkness,” adding that, “drugs and alcohol kill.”  On Apr 23, 2009, he exhorted thousands of students present not to be trapped by “the proposal of the easy shortcut, instant gratification, alcohol or drugs, because that is darkness.”

He urged, “Open your hearts to the light even though it is hard, do not allow yourselves to be enslaved by the promises that seem to be freedom but are in reality oppression, the promises of vain happiness, the promises of darkness.”

To the same group in 2008, he spoke about the children of alcoholic parents, of the boys and girls who are “abandoned of love, meaningful conversation, joy and who do not know what it is to play with Mom and Dad because their parents have succumb to the proposal of alcohol or drugs, which,” he says, “is darkness.”

An alcoholic mother myself, I appreciate Pope Francis’ focus on the perspectives of our children and how family alcoholism affects them.

in 2008, on Holy Thursday he washed the feet of 12 recovering drug addicts at a rehabilitation center in Buenos Aires.

4.       Pope Francis and Humility—the hallmark of recovery

One of the first things we discovered about our new Pope Francis was his apparent humility. From asking the crowd to pray for him to the stories of him washing the feet of AIDS patients, this Pope has already been identified to us as a very humble man.

ignatius2In Alcoholics Anonymous, one of the guiding principles behind the 12 Steps, and especially steps 2, 5 and 7 is humility. The word “humility” occurs 52 times in the first 164 pages of the “Big Book” and the “12&12.”  An alcoholic who fails to capture the essence of humility in her heart—not just in her mind—has a difficult road of recovery.

In speaking to the necessity for Step 7, Bill W writes in the 12&12, “That basic ingredient of all humility, a desire to seek and do God’s will, was missing.”

In speaking of taking Step 2, Bill writes on page 33 of the 12&12, “True humility and an open mind can lead us to faith, and every A.A. meeting is an assurance that God will restore us to sanity if we rightly relate ourselves to Him.”

And to Step 5, it says in the 12&12 on p.58, “Therefore, our first practical move toward humility must consist of recognizing our deficiencies.”

Fr. Joseph A. Tetlow, S.J., who became a Jesuit in 1947 and has served as a professor of history and dean of arts and sciences at Loyola University, writes in Making Choices for Christ,

“True humility does not attract many in this new age of self-realization. We tend to equate humility with self-abasement, but such “humility” would attract only the mentally ill. Christian humility, properly understood, requires a strong sense of self, and the greater the humility, the stronger the sense of self. For as more than one saint has remarked, humility is seeing and acknowledging the truth about yourself and your world.”

By practicing such a deep and obvious humility Pope Francis will show the way to those of us in recovery hoping to do the same.

5.       12th Step Work and the then-Cardinal Bergoglia’s call for a new evangelization in Latin America

Pope Francis, as Cardinal and head of the Church in Argentina, has shown a committed focus to the new evangelization, which is key for Catholic alcoholics.

Last May, along with the Latin American Bishops at their convention, then Cardinal Bergoglio, presented the Aparecida Document, which is the comprehensive document proposing a new evangelization. Pope Benedict gave his blessing to the Document. Our new Pope Francis spent a great deal of effort through this Document insisting the way to bring others back to Christ is by evangelizing through our actions. We normally might think of “evangelism” as intrusive and salesy. But this is not what is meant here. We are to evangelize by our example.

According to 12 Step texts, alcoholics are initially spiritually bankrupt; but many find their way back to God through practicing the principles of the 12 Steps.

The 12th Step calls us to “carry this message to other alcoholics.”  We are to “evangelize.”  We are, through our actions and example, to show active alcoholics how good life can be without alcohol.  We never insist or compel. We don’t force interventions. We can only be an example. We are to “evangelize” other alcoholics not with words but by our actions.

Taking the 12th Step a bit further, the Catholic alcoholic is in a position to be an example of how Christ transforms us.

Alcoholism has driven many away from the Church. In AA meetings I sit beside many “ex-Catholics.”  These ex-Catholics have found their way back to God, yet have not found their way back to their Church.  How do we evangelize them?

This is delicate but important 12 Step work. And I believe in addition to participating in communities like the Calix Society, the best way is by our example. Like Pope Francis’ example of forgoing the palace and the limo, our example of living our Catholic faith joyfully in recovery will lead ex-Catholics home. The New Evangelization called forth in this Latin American Aparecide Document, in the Year of Faith is in essence “12 Step work” for the Church.

Book Review: Seeds of Grace–A Nuns Reflections on Alcoholics Anonymous

seeds of grace bookSeeds of Grace, A Nuns Reflection on Alcoholics Anonymous
by Sister Molly Monahan (not her real name)

ISBN-13: 9781101215678
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date: 3/19/2001
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: eBook
Pages: 208

Review:  A+

I was so happy this book was available as an eBook. I was able to purchase it on the spot.  That’s the thing about eBooks. You’re looking around for a book to read and you find one. With print books, I’d have to wait 3 to 5 days to get it in the mail and by that time I’d already started another book. So, IMHO eBooks are the best invention ever.

Like the good little traditional, practicing Catholic that I am, I had “contempt prior to investigation” with this book. I began reading it with bias. Why?

I’ll tell you. It’s well-covered in the media how there are a lot of nuns in the US that have sort of “gone rogue.” The “nuns on the bus” event last year really bothered me. The media made it seem like all nuns in America are like these nuns on the bus, which made me very sad.

So I read this book as a skeptic, looking for traces or hints of Kennedy Catholic opinion–cafeteria Catholic.  But there was none! She did mention her horoscope sign and her Ennegram number (she is a 1 on the Ennegram scale), which is a little un-Catholic but that was only one sentence. And I like looking at that stuff too and it doesn’t mean I believe it to be Truth, just interesting.

My opinion about the Ennegram method is informed by someone I completely trust, Peter Kreeft.  He has said, “I know Christians who are cultivating ingrown eyeballs trying to know themselves so well—often by questionable techniques like the enneagram, or Oriental modes of prayer—so that they can make the decision that is exactly what God wants for them every time.”

BTW, I am a mix between the 4 and the 7 on the Ennegram scale.  But I digress.

I was so happy that there was nothing cafeteria Catholic about the book. She fully embraces the teachings of the Church. Yay! And I want to find this nun and develop a friendship with her because I feel so connected. Unfortunately she followed AA tradition and so the book is published anonymously, so I can’t find her. I even tried to Google and search for some way to find her but to no avail. I was hoping she had a blog or Facebook page I could connect through.  Oh well.  Back to the book:

From the Publisher: 

Sister Molly Monahan had been drinking, quietly and compulsively, for years when she finally decided to attend her first AA meeting. There she found the emotional support that AA is famous for-but she also found a surprising source of spiritual strength. In this unique book, she reflects on how a nonreligious group brought about such a powerful reawakening of faith-and explores gratitude, community, forgiveness, prayer, and many more subjects of interest not only to alcoholics but to anyone on a spiritual quest.

“Monahan’s unique understanding of both the human and spiritual side of alcoholism forms an important, personal understanding of theology in action.” (Library Journal)

Sister “Molly” was trained in the methods of Ignatian Spirituality, had made week-long retreats annually, had studied spirituality and obtained a graduate degree in theology, yet as she writes, “None of this prevented me from becoming an alcoholic.” And she claims that without Alcoholics Anonymous’ spiritual program of recovery she would be “spiritually bereft.” That is a big statement!  She had all the spirituality and knowledge of Catholic sacramental life yet still couldn’t break the alcoholism cycle until she made it into AA.

cardinal newman

the late Cardinal John Henry Newman

The book is her effort to explain this dichotomy. How could a very devout and spiritual nun say she credits her rebirth in her spiritual life to AA?  Read on to find out.  I did and it was beautifully written and spot on perfect in its descriptions of AA meetings, sponsorship, and the Steps. It’s obvious the author is very intelligent. Every paragraph is smart, interesting and well-designed.

Sister Molly tackles head on some of the questions her experience in AA has raised for her in her Catholic faith.  And like me (and there are so few of us out there that I almost jumped for joy when I read this), for her spirituality and religion are one. Connected. Can’t be separated.  That is how it is for me.  One of the things that held me back from embracing AA in the beginning were all the “Spiritual But Not Religious” people. In so many meetings I hear, “I’m spiritual but not religious,” and I’m sensitive to that statement because in my warped mind it infers that religion is bad and spirituality is good.  For me, I’m spiritual AND religious. And Sister Molly explains this so well in her book.

Most importantly, she explores the distinction that Cardinal Newman made between real and notional assent to dogma in his paper Grammar of Assent, where he explores the phenomenology of religious belief. He explains how those that take religious belief in dogma just a bit further into an experience of religion fall in love with their religion in a  personal, intimate, loyal and difficult to explain with words way…This is what martyrs die for. This, in my opinion is what the mystics and contemplatives of the Church experience and represent, like Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint John of the Cross, Saint Teresa of Lisieux…

Anyways, a great intelligent read.

Book Review: Recovery Rosary for Alcoholics and Addicts

Book Review: Recovery Rosary-Reflections for Alcoholics and Addicts
By Paul Sofranko,
Published: April 01, 2012, Words: 12,824, English, ISBN: 9781476307558
Review:  A+

RosaryCoverWhen I first started to be “public” with this blog–yeah, I was a little nervous about being openly alcoholic–I surfed around for kindred spirits before “coming out.”  I found one in Paul Sofranko (Paulaholic) via his resourceful blog Sober Catholic.

My New Year’s resolution was to pray the Rosary every day.  When I discovered he had written a book, Recovery Rosary: Reflections for Alcoholics and Addicts, I naturally purchased it on the spot.  Impulsivity is one of my character defects, but in this case it boded well for me! The eBook version for my iPad mini was only $3.99, so I wasn’t taking much of a risk.

It’s simply wonderful!

From the Smashwords description: “The Recovery Rosary: Reflections for Alcoholics and Addicts” helps people to reflect on their recovery and relationships with others, and ultimately with Jesus Himself. Whether people are still struggling with their addictions, or have been clean and sober for a few weeks, months, or years, the reflections will lead them to meditate on the spiritual growth they have achieved so far.”

Loving the Rosary as I do, I was pleased Sofranko strikes the delicate balance between protecting and honoring the format and mysteries of this most holy spiritual practice, but at the same time providing a fresh take for recovering alcoholics to meditate alongside Jesus and Mary.

Contrary to popular belief, the Rosary is not about the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is about Jesus. Catholics believe Mary points the way to Jesus; and through Mary we are able to develop an even closer relationship with our Savior.  What was it like to give birth and raise the Son of God? Luke 2:1-7.  How happy must Mary have been when she and Joseph found the child Jesus praying in the Temple after having lost him for three days? Luke 2:41-52.  What’s the mother-son dynamic at play during Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding at Cana? John 2:1-11. What would it have felt like for Jesus when he was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane? Matthew 26:36-45. Why was it so important to Jesus to give us his mother before he died on the cross?  John 19:25-27.

All these things we ponder as we meditate on the holy Scripture passages while fingering the delicate beads and repeating the Hail Mary prayer over and over..  Through the Rosary, we go deep into the life of Jesus and contemplate these things.

And Sofranko points out to us, “The Rosary is Twelve-Step-friendly.”

The 11th Step of Alcoholics Anonymous states:

Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understand Him praying only for the knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry it out.”

As we understand Him.”

Sofranko continues, “You want to know God’s will for you?  The Bible is a good place to start looking. You want a great role model for following the will of God?  His own Mother is a perfect example. By praying the Rosary you will be meditating on the Scriptural passages that each section (mystery) is based. You can nicely combine Mary’s submission to God’s will with direction from Sacred Scripture.”

Jesus in the Temple Luke 2:46-50In the Introduction, the author explains to the unfamiliar exactly what the Rosary is and what it means–in simple terms even non-Catholics can understand.  He clears up some common misconceptions as he explains how Biblically based and how in line with 12 Step Recovery the Rosary truly is.

As he takes us through each of the Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious and Luminous mysteries, Sofranko explains a mystery, “is something divine that we cannot fully understand with our limited human intellect.”  He then for our reference provides precise Bible verses where each mystery is highlighted in the Word of God. At the end of each chapter he offers a meditation for the recovering person, suggesting we consider each of his meditations in light of where each is in his or her recovery walk. He explains that the meditations are meant to be personalized for the individual in order that the reader ponders his or her own step on the path.

rosary1I wholeheartedly recommend Recovery Rosary certainly for all Catholics in recovery, but even for all Christians who wish to expand their meditation practice of the 11th Step to include the Scriptural passages and the life of Jesus.

To purchase (seriously guys–just $3.99!), please visit the order page on Sofranko’s blog here.  Or, you can find it in all the major online booksellers:

on Amazon
on Smashwords
at Createspace

I look forward in this time of Lent especially to diving into Paul’s second book, “The Stations of the Cross for Alcoholics.”  Thank you Paulaholic for these recovery treasures!

Check out this other review of Recovery Rosary: Reflections for Alcoholics and Addicts on the Phoenix Diocese newspaper:
The Catholic Sun

Calix Atlanta

chaliceWe’ve got a date for the first Calix Atlanta meeting and created a web site to give people information about Calix here in Atlanta.  Here is a link to the website–quick and easy template just like this blog.

Calix Atlanta members meet monthly to practice the 11th Step in community with other local Catholics in recovery.

Calix is not Catholic AA. Calix is a lay organization approved by the bishops in the various chapters’ respective dioceses. There are chapters in 21 states in the US. Here in Atlanta, we have just begun process of getting that approval. Calix doesn’t attempt to “sober anyone up.” An alcoholic who is not sober is not ready mentally or spiritually for Calix membership.

Why Calix?

The Twelve Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) is generally accepted as the best remedy for we who are afflicted with the disease of alcoholism. The Calix Society, an organization of recovering alcoholics, their friends and family, shares this view.

Why is there a Calix Society? What does it do? Answers to these questions are vital to the Catholic recovering alcoholic attempting to achieve and maintain a sober life.

We have spent a long time, often many years, developing a physical dependence on alcohol. Finally by the grace of God, we reach the point where we must change – physically, mentally and spiritually. We manage to put together a short period of sobriety by attending AA meetings and working the 12 Steps.

For Catholic alcoholics; however, sometimes something more is desired to fulfill our spiritual program of recovery. We realize that the 12-Step program advocates recourse to a “higher power,” and is necessarily non-denominational. But having been raised in the Church, rich in tradition, dogma and ritual, we begin to yearn once again for the faith we may have neglected or abandoned when we were drinking.

Through Calix, we reintroduce ourselves to our Catholic Faith, in sobriety. Some important points to consider:

  • 12 Step Programs are necessarily non-denominational and need to remain that way
  • The 12 Steps are not opposed to Catholic teaching; and Calix is not divisive of 12 Step fellowships – it is a true symbiotic relationship.
  • Calix provides an opportunity for those with resentments about the Church to explore those issues by reintroducing Catholic alcoholics to their childhood faith.
  • While it is not a forum for airing grievances against the Church, Calix meetings are a safe place for fallen away Catholic alcoholics to grow in knowledge of their faith.
  • Calix provides Catholic in recovery an opportunity to openly discuss scripture and utilize the Sacraments to enhance their 11th Step work.
  • While Calix is not a forum for airing grievances about 12 Step programs, those skeptical about specific recovery programs are welcome and encouraged in sobriety.
  • Recovery literature suggests alcoholics in recovery might do well to return to the church of their youth.
  • Recovery literature also suggests we would do well to learn about prayer and spiritual matters from clergy. Calix provides Catholic alcoholics a forum to do so.
  • Fr. Ed Dowling convinced leaders in the Catholic Church that there is nothing about the 12 Steps that was contrary to the Church’s doctrines.
  • In a letter to the Calix Society, co-founder of AA Bill Wilson wrote that he found nothing about Calix that was in conflict with AA traditions.

Amen.

Revisiting Calix

calixlogoA few years ago, when I had about 18 months of sobriety I started isolating myself from AA because of the non-denominational aspects. How ironic because it was sobriety and the gift of AA which had initially brought me closer to my faith–but it was an election year (2008); and some of the sharing in meetings felt anti-Catholic.

Election years are hard on me. I always take politics personally–the religious freedom and pro-life positions are very dear to me.

But during the fall of 2008 and winter of 2009, me and three other like-minded folks started meeting monthly in the hopes of forming a Calix chapter in Atlanta. I absolutely loved these meetings. Finally, I found people in recovery who spoke openly about loving being Catholic. After about six months, our little association fizzled before we got approval from the Archbishop to launch a chapter here.

Why did we fizzle out? I have a theory. I think it’s because we weren’t in full agreement with the mission of Calix, which is to “maintain our sobriety through affiliation with and participation in the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous.” We bonded because we had resentment against AA–and I even started scaling back on meetings hoping that Calix would take the place of AA for me.

That was IMHO the reason for our fizzle. The first sentence of the Calix Credo states, “Calix is an association of Catholic alcoholics who are maintaining their sobriety through affiliation with and participation in the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous.”

Deep down I was hoping, I think for a “Catholic AA.” And Calix absolutely is not Catholic AA. In fact, in her literature, Calix takes great pains to insist that she is not Catholic AA, that AA is the way to get and stay sober. Calix recommends her members maintain affiliation and participation with AA. Calix sees herself more as an elaboration of and a practicing of the 11th Step: “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understand Him.”

As we understand Him.

So that’s where Calix comes in–in practicing the 11th Step Calix meets monthly with other AA members that understand God the same way–through their Catholic faith and Church.

Anyways, I’ve reinstated my membership in Calix (just $25 per year) and will look once again into starting a Chapter here in Atlanta. God has enlightened me by showing me the primary importance of AA in my recovery–so this time I’m not turning to Calix as a substitution, but instead an extension of my program.

As Bill W. stated in a letter to the society (copies available from the office), “This (Calix) presents no problem of A.A. Tradition at all. Of course they (A.A. members) are entitled to join Calix. Nothing is more certain about A.A. than that the principle of the individual’s freedom to practice the religion of his own choice. Our Tradition merely requests A.A. members not to link the A.A. name with other activities.”

Currently there are Calix chapters in 21 states! But there isn’t one in Georgia.

Here again I pray the 3rd Step prayer: God, I offer myself to Thee, to build with me and do with me as thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do your will. Take away my difficulties that victory of them may bear witness to those I would help of your Power your love and your way of life. May I do thy will always.

Why CALIX?

The following is information taken from the CALIX SOCIETY web site.  To me, Calix seems like the perfect bridge between AA and the Catholic faith for those of us practicing Catholic alcoholics.

The Twelve Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) is generally accepted as the best therapy for those afflicted with the disease of alcoholism. The Calix Society, an organization of recovering alcoholics, their friends and family, shares this view.

Why is there a Calix Society? What does it do? Answers to these questions are vital to the Catholic recovering alcoholic attempting to achieve and maintain a sober, serene life.

WHY CALIX?

Consider the men and women, who have spent a long time, often many years, unwittingly developing a physical dependence on alcohol. Finally they reach the end of the line – physically, mentally and spiritually. Assume that they manage to put together a short period of sobriety and tentatively are testing the Twelve Step program. Their physical condition improves rapidly and, after a longer period, so does the emotional side of their lives.

For Catholics, however, something more is needed that can not be found in their Twelve Step meetings. They realize that the Twelve Step program advocates recourse to a “higher power” and God, but they also know that Twelve Step programs are necessarily non-denominational. Having been raised in a church rich in tradition, dogma and ritual, these recovering alcoholics begin to yearn once again for the faith they probably have neglected or abandoned. At this point the Calix Society can say: “Come back home. You must maintain your sobriety through your affiliation with Alcoholics Anonymous, but let us help you to regain the spiritual life without which you may not succeed in the never-ending fight against your addiction.” Perhaps the disease never will be conquered completely, but the sincere men and women of Calix have the answer of the Calix Society: “Substitute the cup that sanctifies for the cup that stupifies.”

11th Step Prayer

STEP 11 Prayer

Higher Power, as I understand You, I pray to keep my connection with You open & clear from the confusion of daily life. through my prayers & meditation I ask especially for freedom from self-will, rationalization, & wishful thinking.I pray for the guidance of correct thought & positive action.
Your will Higher Power, not mine, be done.