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.

7 Quick-takes: 7 Reasons I Like Alcoholics Anonymous

aa-logo2Here we go again with our 7 Quick Takes Friday hosted by Jennifer Fulwiler over at Conversion Diary. We reciprocate links to her blog and then post 7 “quick-takes” on our blogs.

7 Reasons Why I Like Alcoholics  Anonymous

1. Meetings

I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer. I was always an A/B student. There are plenty of folks much smarter than I, especially probably psychiatrists and counselors. But for some reason, every time I’ve ever gone to a therapist I’ve found myself figuring out what it was she wanted me to say, then saying that.

I’m certain the therapist saw right through me.

I’d try to impress her by how introspective I was, while at the same time try to get her to like me by pretending I had all this self-awareness. If I had been honest and open to the process, I could have learned a thing or two and been truly helped. I believe in therapy, but I never did it right.

I assumed AA meetings were group therapy for drunk people, so I stayed away because “therapy didn’t work for me, right?”  Once I checked it out, though I found it is not like therapy. I am absolutely unable to get away with my bull-crap. I have to be painfully honest, in a way at first I didn’t know how to be, because inevitably the truths that come out during a meeting are so real that saying anything other than the God’s honest truth is obvious to all.  Common phrase in AA is, “You can’t bullshit a bullshitter.” It’s quite refreshing, actually!

2. Fellowship

The last thing I wanted was new friends, especially with all these sober women. I had five sisters who were my best friends plus a non-family BFF, plus two kids, a husband, a house and a business to run. Understanding that any new friendships I made would take time, take me away from my already filled priorities, I decided I wouldn’t reach out to make new friends.

Plus, the word ‘fellowship” bugged me. That seemed like a thing Protestants did on Wednesday nights. It wasn’t a Catholic thing. And slogans like, “You Are Not Alone” rubbed me the wrong way because I wanted to be left alone. I was quite independent, thank you very much, so maybe you guys need fellowship but not me.

7quicktakesAfter sitting in the meetings for months, I found that I really liked these sober women.  I learned their stories, their struggles and mostly admired their courage in facing life on life’s terms.  But still I didn’t reach out.

It wasn’t until I relapsed and found that I couldn’t get back to my sober life without help, that I reached out in desperation.  And, immediately these women I had kept at arm’s length came to my rescue. And ever since then I’ve discovered the (evolving) fellowship is one of my favorite things.

3. “Sharing”

AA, like any other “organization” has developed its own lingo.  “Sharing” is when you raise your hand talk for three to five minutes in a meeting.  Initially sharing terrified me. And the more I tried to sound smart and evolved when I shared the more I was left feeling like a goof.

For example, in the beginning I would share something like this: “It’s so hard for me to stop drinking because I am married to my drinking buddy. Every day I come home to the one person I love to drink with the most. If only he would stop drinking too then I would be able to stay sober.”

Uh-uh.  This just wasn’t “honest.”  Sure it would have worked in a therapy session. Perhaps the therapist and I would have spent $100 discussing whether or not my husband was an alcoholic (he is not, btw!) or how I can separate from him for a few months while I get this sobriety thing down.

Not in an AA meeting.  And nothing was said to me, except maybe by my sponsor after the meeting—there was no real progress until I was able to share, “My husband was my drinking buddy, but his drinking has nothing to do with me. All I can do is focus on my own behavior, turn my dishonest will over to God and not drink one day at a time. I can’t control him nor should I try to.”

4. 12 Steps

It was very easy for me to like the 12 Steps because they were all very familiar to me. After Bill W, Dr Bob and the pioneers of AA wrote their book and developed the 12 Steps, a Catholic priest named Father Dowling had a meeting with Bill W to find out if he had used the principles of the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius Loyola to come up with them. He had not. But the similarities were startling and there began a life-long friendship between the two men.

Turning my will over to God, doing an examination of conscience, confessing my sins, making amends, all these things are part of my beloved faith already so it was easy to like the 12 Steps.

5. Every one in positions of authority in the Church seemed to recommend AA to Catholic alcoholics.  

Believe me, I searched for a reason to believe that AA’s “higher power” and her “spirituality” contradicted the Church. But priest after priest recommend the program. In the confessional I would say, “But there are so many anti-Catholics in the meetings (which wasn’t true but that’s what I wanted to see).” And my confessor would without hesitation say, “There is nothing contrary to the Church in Alcoholics Anonymous.”

6. There are so many X-Catholics in  AA

Why would this be one of my reasons for liking the program?  I’ll tell you.  It’s wonderful, actually. Many times I’ve watched as x-Catholics come back to the Faith after working the Steps.  Apparently, after developing a way of life based on the Steps, these x-Catholics discover the Church had it right all along!  Many re-conversions are the direct result of x-Catholics getting sober in Alcoholics Anonymous.

7. My Sponsor

My sponsor, AF stuck by me when I picked up enough white chips to wallpaper my kitchen with. She never judged me, gave up on me nor told me what to do. She simply made herself available for whenever I was ready. It took a while, but once I was truly ready to live this way of life again she was there to show me the way through the Steps. The neat thing about sponsorship in AA is, when done right, sponsors are completely detached from the results of their work with another alcoholic. Helping another alcoholic is the work that helps the sponsor stay sober. They do it for themselves and that’s how it works. So, if a sponsee drinks or relapses, the sponsor doesn’t judge or take it personally. True sponsorship in AA is done with a spirit of healthy detachment and a desire to be useful, to help another person struggling. Sponsors do the work of sponsorship, but they leave the results to God.