Spring 2013 Issue of Twelve-Step Review: Christian Friendship

12A wonderful, and under-marketed project by Father Emmerich Vogt, OP is the Twelve Step Review. He writes and sends out a quarterly newsletter on topics relevant to Catholic alcoholics and also provides CDs and DVDs of his talks about recovery. Father Vogt has published a book The Freedom to Love on the subject of adapting the 12 Steps to a serious understanding of the Seven Deadly Sins.

This issue of the Twelve Step Review covers Christian Friendship, inspirational quotes from Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat, as well as information on Father Vogt’s most recent talks and recordings.

Here is a quote from the newsletter and the book of Sirach on Christian friendship:

A faithful friend is a strong defense. He that has found him has found a treasure. Nothing can be compared to a faithful friend and no weight of gold and silver can countervail the goodness of his fidelity. A faithful friend is the medicine of life and immortality. The book of Sirach 6:5-17

The emphasis here seems to be on the “faithful” friend.  We all know there are many other kinds of friends (Facebook “friends,” acquaintances, business contacts) but the “faithful” friend is a treasure.  Let’s hope we each have one or two of these types of friends in our lives!  I do, thank you God.

Prayer of Saint Catherine of Siena "My Nature Is Fire"

In your nature, God I shall come to know my nature. And what is my nature? Boundless love? It is fire. Because you are a Fire of Love. And you have given me a share in this nature, for by the fire of love you created me. Oh how ungrateful I can be!

What nature has God given me? His very own nature! Am I not ashamed to cut myself off from such a noble gift through the guilt of deadly sin? Oh, eternal Trinity, my sweet Love! You, Light, give me light. You, Wisdom, give me wisdom. You, Supreme Strength, strengthen me.

Today, eternal God, let my cloud be dissipated so that I may perfectly know and follow your Truth in truth. God, come to my assistance! Lord, make haste to help me!  Saint Catherine of Siena

Book Review: The Freedom to Love by Father Emmerich Vogt,O.P.

freedom to loveBook Review: The Freedom to Love by Emmerich Vogt, O.P.

BN ID: 2940014633703, Publisher: Mill City Press, date: 4/24/2012, Pages: 158

Verdict: A

It’s funny when I experience something, I sometimes make the mistake of thinking I am special, that I am the first to ponder these things and the one to share my findings. And then the more I delve into and explore my ideas I inevitably discover this has all be done before.  No need to re-invent the wheel here.

In my quest to reconcile the 12 Step Program (of which I am an enthusiastic participant) with my Catholic faith, I have often found myself alone, isolated. I’m not comfortable nor would it be appropriate to explore my Christianity in recovery meetings. These meetings and the 12 Step Program are necessarily non-denominational.

And I have checked out “Celebrate Recovery,” which is a terrific Christian-based recovery program started by Rick Warren at Saddleback Church in California. Celebrate Recovery pulls from the 12 Steps but is based on their 8 Principals rooted in the Beatitudes. I have enjoyed the CR meetings I’ve attended; but I longed for a Catholic Christian version.  We have our own lingo, the saints, the traditions, Mary and established Catholic moral teachings passed down to us over the last 2000 years to study.  So, although I see the value of CR, it didn’t draw me in as much as regular AA meetings did/do.

Also, since I am basically a Catholic “activist” I am unfortunately aware of the ex-Catholic leanings of many members and leaders within Saddleback and in many of her offshoots.  For reference, check this out and this.  So, even though I did like CR, it just didn’t sit right with me, like regular AA meetings did.

So, where do I look for answers and consolation–certainly I look to the 12 Steps but I have to go beyond the 12 Steps into my faith in order to have a complete “design for living” as it promises in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Gratefully, I’m not unique, after all.  Many have gone before me and have shared truly amazing resources and faith-based guides for me to follow.  Thank goodness for Google (or Bing, if I’m feeling counter-cultural)

Father Emmerich Vogt, OP published a book last year called The Freedom to Love.  It may very well become part of my repertoire and my design for living.  It’s that good. And it speaks my language (Catholic Christianity) so well that I immediately felt connected to the author in our common understanding of taking the 12 Step Program just a little bit further into living Christian principles.

In our Catholic faith tradition, I don’t think we’d ever (never say never?) create a “Catholic Program of Recovery.”  12 Step Programs work well for the Catholic alcoholic, are basically free and widely available throughout the world–thousands of convenient meetings every single day.  So, no, there’s really no need for a “Catholic AA.”

But there is a need–at least for me and since I’m  not unique most likely others have the same desire as I do—-for us to take the 12 Steps a little bit further and incorporate our Catholic faith into our design for living.

That’s what this book does well!  Vogt takes the reader through the Steps by putting a Catholic understanding to them.  It’s splendid (and I love that word, “splendid!”).

On to the book:

From the Publisher:

Addicted persons are unable to choose to really love themselves and others without being grounded in sound moral values. The founders of AA in the Big Book encouraged the recovering alcoholic to inventory the seven deadly sins in preparation for the 4th Step because recovery meant – not simply giving up drinking – but embracing a moral lifestyle.

As a priest who has worked with the 12-step program for over thirty years, Fr. Emmerich combines traditional Christian spiritual principles with the wisdom of the Steps. An understanding of the moral virtues, and the extremes that set a person up to become an addict, is addressed in this book.

For centuries Western culture has provided a moral sense of the deadliness of sin.  However, modern culture has dropped this wisdom, which the author believes has led to an  increased vulnerability to addiction.

The seven deadly sins are shown to be destructive of the love of God and neighbor. Uncovering these character defects in our lives should guide the Christians actions. A very real and profound moral disorder is found in the un-recovered person. The person who abuses himself and others through addiction and codependency does not love himself and cannot love others. There is nothing so beautiful and salvific as the revelation of God’s love, which alone makes man fully alive. We communicate this love by His grace, which heals the wounds of addiction and sets us free to love.

This book (eBook version is just $9.99 at bn.com) explains how relevant it is to look at how the seven deadly sins manifest themselves in our lives. And then it shows how the virtues (as presented in the Catechism) can be an excellent tool for us to redirect our sins to a higher calling.

Modern Psychology, with all her wonderfulness and contributions to understanding the emotional and psychological workings of our brains and relationships, has perhaps unintentionally caused misunderstanding of what used to be common vocabulary. Words like “sin” and “morals” and “guilt” have become four-letter words. To me, those words have meaning and help me grow towards my quest for an intimate relationship with my Creator.

So, we can’t let these words (sin, morality, virtue, confession, redemption) used throughout the book scare us.  In Catholic culture, those words are just part of our lingo and they make sense.

And finally, a wonderful resource for the Catholic alcoholic looking to blend their recovery with the Faith, the author of this book Father Vogt maintains the web site and ministry The 12 Step Review at 12-step-review.com.

Great book.

And All is Vanity

In Western art, vanity was often symbolized by a peacock,

In Western art, vanity was often symbolized by a peacock,

There is this girl in my meetings who often says God will keep repeating the lesson until the lesson is learned.  We nod in agreement because nobody has been better at not learning our lessons than we alcoholics.  And sometimes we’re described as “insane” by doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results.

It’s a myth that alcoholics have no willpower. We have more willpower than the average guy–we just misdirect our will, trying to do things our way no matter what the consequences. It is a very strong will that refuses to accept things the way things are.  Do we not see the consequences or do we just insist stubbornly on our own way by ignoring God’s reality?

How wonderful life could be if only everything went our way!

What ever it is, it’s me.  God is once again trying to teach me a lesson He’s tried to teach me for years: to tame my vanity.  The only way for God to break me of my vanity is to allow me to be humiliated and embarrassed over and over again until finally on my knees I remember to turn back to Him.  Like a little child, I am reprimanded by the lesson; but then repeat it as if I’m convinced the teacher is wrong.  (Convinced I am God?)

It wasn’t until a few years ago I even realized vanity was my problem.  Like people have preconceived ideas of what an “alcoholic” is, I had a preconceived idea of what vanity was.  A vain person always looked in the mirror right?  Well, that wasn’t me.  A vain person thought they were beautiful, right?  That certainly wasn’t me.  A vain person thought the world revolved around them, right?  I didn’t think that was me. But was it?

Then my sister got a spiritual director who instructed her to pick a vice to work on, just one.  And to fix that vice in herself, she was instructed to practice the opposite virtue for a month.

I wanted to try this, but I didn’t know which vice to pick.  I read all the definitions of the various vices — and I was quite proud of myself for not being infected with pride. I kept returning to vanity.  The definition was foreign to me–in this day and age, the definition of vanity has been distorted so much so we don’t recognize it in ourselves. Stupid Screwtape does it again.

The necessity of countering the vices with virtues has always been recognized by Christians. Saint Francis of Assisi describes the power of the virtues in destroying vices in his poetic discourse on The Praises of the Virtues (Salutatio Virtutum).

O most holy Virtues, may the Lord protect all of you, from Whom you come and proceed. There is surely no one in the entire world who can possess any one of you unless he dies first. Whoever possesses one (of you) and does not offend the others, possesses all. And whoever offends one (of you) does not possess any and offends all.  And each one destroys vices and sins. Holy Wisdom destroys Satan and all his subtlety. …Holy Charity destroys every temptation of the devil and of the flesh and every carnal fear.

Vanity refers to egoism, in which one rejects God for the sake of one’s own image, and thereby becomes divorced from the graces of God. My simplistic definition is that I care more about what people think of me than what God thinks of me.

Hieronymus Bosch's The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things.

Hieronymus Bosch’s The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things.

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “Vanity is the fear of appearing original: it is thus a lack of pride, but not necessarily a lack of originality.”  And one of Mason Cooley’s aphorisms is “Vanity well fed is benevolent. Vanity hungry is spiteful.”

I was happy in a sense to discover vanity was not one of the Seven Deadly Sins.  Phew!  But then I learned in Christian teachings vanity is considered an example of pride, which is indeed one of the worst of the seven deadlies. This list of seven evolved from an earlier list of eight sins, which included vainglory as a sin independent of pride.  Yikes!

All is Vanity, by Charles Allan Gilbert (1873–1929), carries on this theme. An optical illusion, the painting depicts what appears to be a large grinning skull. Upon closer examination, it reveals itself to be a young woman gazing at her reflection in the mirror. In the film The Devil’s Advocate, Satan (Al Pacino) claims, “Vanity is my favorite sin”.

So, here we are on our annual trip to Florida. This year we decided to go to Tampa to visit one of Rob’s biological relatives and also check up with his best friend who just got out of rehab.  Then we drove to Orlando; and we have tickets today to attend the UGA vs NE bowl game.  Go Dawgs!

In Tampa, we stayed with his biological relatives–who happen to live in a beautiful house on the Bay and are quite wealthy and connected politically.  I have become friends with these people over Facebook and I could tell they liked me. I always like people who like me 🙂  So, I wanted to impress them a little bit, show what a happy little family we were and how worthy we were of operating in the same circles.  YUCK!  Just writing this truth disgusts my better brain.  They are such a nice and happy family and I wanted them to think we were too.  Are we?  Yes, but I suppose in my twisted mind we weren’t as nice and happy as they were? So, I felt the need to pretend.

Ugh. Vanity is grose.

Stupid :0 Husband decides to tell them that I’m in AA.  WTF?  They were offering us drinks and I declined; but he felt he needed to explain, so he tells them he “doesn’t drink around his wife to support her.”  The conversation went on and the questions came and he was completely open and honest about me being an alcoholic!  I about died.  In fact, I sunk into a 12 hour mini depression over this! I still pretended around them but despaired in grossness behind closed doors.

What is going on in my brain? I’m having all kinds of irrational thoughts: I’m a loser. I assume I know what they’re thinking. Everybody thinks alcoholics are bums; and an alcoholic mother is the bottom of the bottom, right?  I assume they’re just being polite now that they know the real me.  I assume they wish we would hurry up and leave.  They are probably worried I might steal something.  That’s what alcoholics do, right?  on and on…  my brain is absolutely convinced of my complete unworthiness. I was so embarrassed.

Composition of flowers, less obvious style of Vanitas by Abraham Mignon in the National Museum in Warsaw. Barely visible amid vivid and perilous nature (snakes, poisonous mushrooms) a sole bird skeleton is a symbol of vanity and shortness of life.

Composition of flowers, less obvious style of Vanitas by Abraham Mignon in the National Museum in Warsaw. Barely visible amid vivid and perilous nature (snakes, poisonous mushrooms) a sole bird skeleton is a symbol of vanity and shortness of life.

No where do I remember Jesus.  No where do I turn my focus to God.  As long as my focus remains on comparing myself to other people, I am doomed.

Because the truth is not only am I not unworthy, but Jesus died for me.  Not only am I not a heathen outcast but God made me wonderfully and beautifully in His image!  So, who am I to think so often so little of myself? This bottom of the barrel thinking becomes my turning point, my spring-board into new life.  Now, I am able to turn back to God, if only to ask Him this question–why did you make me to be such a loser?

Turning to God with this question is the only beginning I need. My thoughts begin to turn around.  My focus slowly moves back to where it should be: on my husband and children and on God.  Pray to do God’s will and be of service to Him today.  My depression lifts and irrational thoughts become rational again.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change–what other people think of me!  Not only do I have no clue what these people are thinking of me, it is entirely none of my business.  All that matters is what God thinks of me.  All that matters is that I impress God, not men.  And how do I impress God? By my authenticity.