Let the Oppressed Go Free

imageI have a bookshelf, well, actually it’s more like a couple of drawers full, of books that have and are helping me through my alcoholic journey.  As a Catholic alcoholic, or maybe just the way my contemplative/mystical brain works makes this so, I don’t gravitate towards Louis Hay and her affirmations – or even the AA books- when I’m feeling squirrely and in need of help. I don’t “call someone.” I don’t “go to a meeting.”  Instead I retreat into my world of Catholic books…with the Church, Her wisdom and guidance, Her help.  The saints, the Sacraments, Mass. Confession. Adoration.

These things fill me up.  The other things just don’t “do it for me” when I’m in the most need.  The company of others helps when I’m happy and content.  But when I am struggling, all I want is God.

So, I go into a place by myself, a place only me and God exist – other people would just distract me, no matter how well-meaning they are.  Being around others all the time exhausts me, drains me. As an ambivert (look it up) I do like other people a lot. I like to get out and talk to people and be social or bounce ideas off of others. But this also wears me out, leaves me tired and often confused.  My best friends in the rooms of recovery are not Catholic. And the rooms aren’t Catholic. So, while all of this camaraderie and all of the meetings do me a world of good for staying on track, they’re the last thing I look to when I find myself getting off track.

That’s when I turn inward. In order to refresh my soul.  I retreat into my world of Catholic books and my little quiet spaces with God.  Maybe that’s how Jesus felt when he sometimes went off to find a quiet place to pray.  Being around other people all the time makes me tired. Then I crave my quiet time with God, the same way I’d crave a drink.

Soooo…. I just took three paragraphs to explain myself!  Why so many explanations — I guess because in the rooms, I’d be told I was “isolating.”  Or, I’d be told to “call someone.”  As if my desire to be alone was a bad character trait that will make me relapse.  In treatment, when I really wanted to walk the grounds, rosary in hand, and simply be by myself – I was accused of not caring enough about others, of not opening up and talking with the other women.  In treatment they had a whole “group session” of the other women telling me I don’t care enough to open up and talk to them.

Come to think of it, it’s been this way my whole life – I was an ambivert in high school, too. And so, although I had a lot of friends and was involved in lots of activities, often I just wanted/needed to be by myself. Collect my thoughts, not be around people. I was accused of being a “snob” on numerous occasions. And I remember thinking, “God if you only KNEW how insecure I was?!” I’d think, “If you only knew that I’m the furthest thing from a snob – that I think you are so comfortable and happy and I am so uncomfortable and awkward!” I’d think, “All I want is to be alone, just me and God for a little bit; and then I promise I’ll be back.”

And so I feel a little insecure about my desire to retreat.  Nobody else seems to do this. At least not the people that are staying sober. They do the “we” thing.  I completely second guess myself. What if I was better at being a social being, wanted to be in community with others more? Maybe then I would be “doing this right.”

I know other people need their quiet time with God too. Of course. That’s not what I’m referring to here. I need that each morning too.  What I’m talking about is needing days of this!  Needing to step away from the world for days and recuperate from all this togetherness.  My need for retreat seems to be exaggerated. After too much time with people, I pull away and HAVE to have it. And so I’m sometimes not a very good friend.  At least in my own head, I’m not.

There’s a woman in the meetings, a new friend — she’s AWESOME. Wonderful, caring, loving, faithful (not in a Catholic way but in a very wonderful Jesus loving way) and she really likes me. She’s helped me with rides and stays in touch with me. So, I feel guilty pulling away but it’s exhausting me. And so again I lose a friend – or at least I lose the intensity with which she wanted to be my friend.  Her feelings appear to be hurt and I feel badly about this.

And my point is….

My point is, I’m doing this now. I’m in a retreat. Actually, creating my own little “retreat” with all of my wonderful books. I’ve been reading the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius Loyola — a tough read, but I love it! And my Magnificat, of course. And my book “In Conversation With God,” by Francis Fernandez. And my 30 day series of books with the Saints —namely St Teresa of Avila, St Teresa the Little Flower and the Cloud of the Unknowing. And I found a little book I bought last year called “Let the Oppressed Go Free” by Cardinal Rigali.  And THAT’s what I wanted to talk about today!

This little book should be in the hands of every Catholic alcoholic and family member who loves one of us.  It’s from “The Shepherd’s Voice Series,” published by Basilca Press.  Let the Oppressed Go Free: Breaking the Bonds of Addiction.

Cardinal Rigali writes perfectly for me. He explains the nature of addiction and how the Church can help addicts so simply and eloquently — I wonder if he is a Dominican? I usually am drawn to Dominicans.  My thoughts are so rambly today, sorry! I can’t even give a good review of this book because my head is swirling with too many thoughts.  So, I’ll spare you dear reader and close.

I’ll review the book tomorrow or something.

Woman at the Well from Monsignor Charles Pope Archdiocese of Washington

Woman-at-the-Well-5001Wow!  I just read the most perfect homily from Monsignor Charles Pope, about the previous Sunday’s Reading of the woman at the well.  What a perfect Gospel and Homily for Catholic alcoholics! I hope it’s ok I copied and pasted it but here is the ORIGINAL POST from the blog over at the Archdiocese of Washington.

No words.  This is amazing.

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The beautiful gospel of the woman at the well, which we read, Sunday, has so many wonderful teachings that not all can be dealt with in a single sermon. Hence, I’d like to consider today just a couple of the teachings that relate to this gospel.

In this post, I’d like to deal with the question of the efficacy of Grace, which many struggle to experience when it comes to the promises that Jesus extends. Jesus promises the Samaritan woman water that will satisfy her, unlike the water of the world. Specifically, Jesus says, Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4:13-14).

The Samaritan woman seems less than convinced, at one point even scoffing that Jesus doesn’t even have a bucket! While perhaps rude, her scoffing does give voice to legitimate questions people raise to the promises of Christ, and those of us who preach his message.

Even many faithful Catholics struggle to understand exactly what Jesus means when he says that we will never thirst again. Indeed, many who have accepted Christ still struggle, still long for completion, still feel thirsty.

How then, can we understand what the Lord is teaching here? What does it mean to never thirst again, and how do we lay hold of this promise? Let’s look at the issue in three stages.

I. Clarity– As the Gospel opens, we have a teaching from Jesus that helps us to clarify our desires. A woman (this means you) comes to a well (this means the world). She comes because she is thirsty (and this refers to all of our desires). She thinks the well will satisfy her, but it will not. For no sooner does she have a drink, than she’s on her way to being thirsty again. And thus the well (i.e., the world) can provide momentary pleasures, but no lasting ones.

Jesus is there waiting for her. He is also waiting for you and me who are filled with many desires and questions. He says to her, Everyone who drinks from this will be thirsty again (John 4:13). In this he is helping her, and us, to clarify that it is a simple fact that our desires are infinite and unlimited. Therefore, a finite in a limited world cannot satisfy us.

And in this, the Lord clarifies our desires. They are in fact infinite; we are never really satisfied. Therefore our desires are not really about the world at all; they are ultimately pointing us to God who alone is infinite, and who alone can truly satisfy our desires or fill the God-sized hole in our hearts. Yes, here is clarity: only God can satisfy us; the world simply cannot cut the deal; it is finite and limited.

Meeting us at the well of the world, where we come (once again) to draw from it, the Lord says in effect “How’s that working for you?” Indeed, how foolish we are! We really think that a new job, a new relationship, a little more money, the latest upgrade to the software, etc. will somehow satisfy us. It will not; it cannot. An old song says it well, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” Everyone who drinks from this will be thirsty again.

So here is clarity about our desires:

  • First, they are infinite.
  • Second, the well, i.e., the world, cannot fulfill our      infinite desires because it is finite.
  • Third, our desires are thus about God who alone can      satisfy us since he alone is infinite.
  • Fourth, Jesus says he is the One; he is      God who can give us living waters welling up to eternal life so that      we will never thirst again.

Okay Lord, thanks for the clarity, but now along with the Samaritan woman we want to say to you, “Give us this water so that we will not be thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water!” (John 4:15)

In other words, how do we unlock this blessing? Do we simply answer an altar call? Do we simply accept baptism? Do we simply say “I believe, now give me my blessing”?

Some of us may be even more cynical, saying, “Look I’ve been doing this walk with Jesus for a while now, and I’m still thirsty; I still haven’t found what I’m looking for!”

And thus the questions “How do I unlock these blessings?” “How do I lay hold of this promise of Christ?” become critical ones for the Church, and for any who would preach this gospel.

The answer is twofold: conversion and conversation. Let’s look at each one in turn.

II. Conversion When the Samaritan woman says, “Give me this water…”  Jesus answers her by saying, Go call your husband and come back. (John 4:16).

In other words, Jesus wants to give her this blessing, but first there is an obstacle, an obstacle that must be dealt with. Most of us to know the story of the Samaritan woman and thus know that she has had five husbands, and is now simply living with a man outside of marriage. Though we do not have all the details, this personal history speaks to us of her many sorrows, sins, and struggles. Surely there are issues of sexual sin; she’s living together with a man outside of marriage. But there are any number of other issues that must have accompanied her many marriages such as struggles with forgiveness, patience, mercy, self-esteem, the list could go on. These struggles and sins must be dealt with before the living waters can fully flow.

Consider I have fifty gold bricks to give you, and you are holding a box, but it is full of sand. In order to make room for the gold bricks, I must first help you to empty your box of the sand. The sand must go in order to make way for the gold. So it is with us; our sins must give way to make room for the living waters of God’s grace.  Conversion is necessary and essential to laying hold of the promises of Christ.

And so the Lord says to this woman “Go call your husband.” What does the Lord have to say to you? What conversions are necessary in your life? What obstacles must be removed for the living waters to flow?

And thus, the Lord’s promise of living Waters is not mere magic. It is a promise that stands, but simply answering an altar call, or thinking some perfunctory declaration will be enough is just not realistic. There is more involved here than simply cleaning a house. Human beings are complicated; we have many moving parts. Through conversion, we must increasingly turned to the Lord allow him to make way for these living waters.

III. Conversation -  The Lord goes on to have a rather lengthy conversation with the Samaritan woman. We do not have all the details, and many of them are none of our business. Nevertheless, the conversation leads her, by stages, to greater joy, and finally to the point that she is able to leave her water jar (a very symbolic act) and run to town joyfully telling others of the glorious Lord and Messiah she has met!

Of course her conversation is a symbol for the longer conversation the Lord needs to have with us. “Conversation” can be understood here as a kind of journey we make with the Lord, who along the way enters into an ever-deeper dialogue with us through prayer and his presence in our life.

There is for the Christian the summons to enter into an ever deeper, living, and conscious contact with the Lord at every moment of our day. And thus, not only in our prayer, but throughout our day, in the people we meet, in the created world, and in the events of our day, we experience the Lord speaking to us, present to us.

Here then is described an ever-deepening conversation with the Lord, a transformative union in which his living waters flow ever more deeply. The increasing results, if we stay with him in the conversation, are deeper serenity, joy, freedom from sin, and ever-deepening satisfaction with the magnificence of his grace, and his word.

And so we, like the woman at the well, see less and less need for a water jar, that is, for our obsessive need to collect the things of the world and store them up. We, like the woman at the well, come to the point where we can leave the water jar behind. We live more simply, are less needful of the world’s false and empty promises. We live more simply and joyfully in the presence of the Lord, in the power of his Word and Sacraments, in the joy of knowing him, and in his Body the Church.

And thus, for those who might scoff or be cynical of the Lord’s promise of living waters wherein we will never thirst again, there comes a double call to be converted, and to embark on a lifelong conversation with the Lord.

It works only if you work it; so work it because you’re worth it! Of this, I am a witness. I am 53 years old, but I have only been serious about my spiritual life for the last 30 of those 53 years. Prior to that time I lived frivolously and the details are both unedifying and unnecessary. But 30 years ago I entered the seminary and began to pray for an hour every day, to read Scripture every day, to attend Mass every day, and to go to confession once a week. The result? My life has become simpler and richer. Less do the passing obsessions of this world interest me. The Lord is my strength and my song. Living Waters are in fact welling up within me; I am increasingly satisfied only by God and the things of God. Yes, the Lord’s word is true!

Letter from Bill Wilson to Sister Ignatia

Originally posted on Catholic Alcoholic:

sr ignatia The scroll given to Sister may now be seen at Rosary Hall. This is the inscription:

IN GRATITUDE FOR SISTER MARY IGNATIA ON THE OCCASION OF HER GOLDEN JUBILEE

Dear Sister,

We of Alcoholics Anonymous look upon you as the finest friend and the greatest spirit we may ever know. We remember your tender ministrations to us in the days when AA was very young. Your partnership with Dr. Bob in that early time has created for us a spiritual heritage of incomparable worth.

In all the years since, we have watched you at the bedside of thousands. So watching, we have perceived ourselves to be the beneficiaries of that wondrous light which God has always sent through you to illumine our darkness. You have tirelessly tended our wounds; you have nourished us with your unique understanding and your matchless love. No greater gifts of Grace than these shall we…

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How I Discovered Happiness

Number 9:

Love this post from Soberista!

Originally posted on :

I’m 38 years old and struggled with depression, anxiety and the odd panic attack for twenty years of my life, prior to April 2011. My nerves frequently got the better of me, and my obvious lack of confidence in work and social situations held me back and prevented me from fulfilling my potential for many years. If you had asked me to describe my personality a few years ago, I would have responded with a jumbled, insecure answer; unsure of who I really was, full of pretence as to the person I wanted to be, knowing that inside I didn’t particularly like myself but not fully realising how to change. All of that stopped when I quit drinking alcohol three years ago.

If you have a sneaky suspicion that alcohol is controlling you a little more than you feel comfortable with then read on – this may be the first…

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12 Step Review Winter 2014 Issue – Father Emmerich Vogt

This Winter 2014 issue of the 12 Step Review opens with a piece about “turning the other cheek.”

photo“There is a principle that all seminarians learn that St Thomas Aquinas presents in his theological work, the Summa.  This gives insight as to why the teaching of Jesus about turning the other cheek is so often misunderstood.  The principle goes, ‘Whatever is received, is received according to the mode of the receiver.”

Father Vogt writes, “We are very much influenced by our own personality, backgrounds, the level of faith, knowledge we’ve acquired, etc..”

He writes about a woman who can’t stand up to her husband on an important family/marriage issue.  The husband informs his wife they are moving, to pack up — without discussing things with her.  She seeks the help of a priest to talk her through her challenge of being a good wife and honoring God’s will for her life.

So, when Jesus’ teaches us about turning the other cheek, is He is telling us to be a doormat?

Certainly not.

Now I don’t speak for Jesus but the way I understand things is that He teaches us to turn the other cheek to teach us to forgive and not judge.  DO NOT JUDGE.  It doesn’t matter that somebody offended you or killed your child.  Forgive.

If somebody offends me, it’s pretty easy for me to forgive.  And my temperament — cutting me off in traffic or canceling your ad at the last minute.. easy. forgive. easy peasey lemon squeezy.

Kill my child? not so much.

So let’s go with Jesus’ teaching as if it was applying to just every day stuff.  Every day annoying people that cross our paths.  His teachings about turning the other cheek when it comes to the big stuff can be taken to our confessor, our spiritual advisors.

 

 

 

Another Catholic Role Model for Alcoholics: Father Ford

Thank you to one of my blog readers for telling me about Father Ford! What a great role model for Catholic alcoholics!  Here is an excerpt from his biography that is particularly pertinent for us.  Go to THIS LINK HERE to read all about him, how he was a friend to Pope John Paul II and has an amazingly interesting story.  Anyways, here is the excerpt:

FordMusically talented and gregarious, Ford enjoyed playing the piano and partying with his fellow Jesuits. In the early 1940s, his drinking got out of hand. Realizing this, he obtained treatment from Dr. William Silkwood at Towns Hospital in New York, regained his sobriety, and became friendly with one of A.A.’s co-founders, Bill Wilson. Finding that A.A. was more effective than previous organizations at helping alcoholics remain sober, Ford subsequently sought to ensure that A.A. would not be problematic to Catholics and would be recommended to Catholic alcoholics by their pastors. In 1948 he participated in a summer program of Alcohol Studies at Yale University; he then served as a regular lecturer in that program for many years. He also personally helped many fellow alcoholics, especially after he retired from teaching in 1969.

The experience of alcoholism nurtured Ford’s previous interest in the psychological aspects of moral life and in people’s complex, psycho-moral problems. Through the 1950s and ’60s he continued reading in psychology, conferring with professionals in the field, and addressing psycho-moral issues in his writings. Catholic professionals and pastors, including bishops, as well as many lay people with problems increasingly sought his advice and help not only with alcoholism but with other addictive behaviors, sexual problems, scrupulosity, and so on. Competent, compassionate, and generous with his time, Ford by his confidential pastoral work provided great though little-noticed service to the Church.

Buy the Book: Stations of the Cross for Alcoholics

Number 9:

Reblogging this from last year! My friend “Sober Catholic” wrote this wonderful book and it’s perfect for Lent! You can buy a copy over at his blog Sober Catholic. Enjoy!

Originally posted on Catholic Alcoholic:

stations-cross-for-alcoholics-paul-sofranko-paperback-cover-art Just in time for Good Friday , I’ve discovered, The Stations of the Cross for Alcoholics by Paul Sofranko, a terrific e-book written by my friend who blogs over at ‘Sober Catholic.’

Sofranko also wrote, The Recovery Rosary: Reflections for Alcoholics. You can read my review of that book here.

From the Catholic Sun, “Sofranko, a recovering alcoholic himself, has added one more element to the whole scheme of fighting addiction — hope. While many or even most self-help books suggest that we are the only ones capable of fixing our brokenness simply by reading the book, Sofranko elevates the place of prayer in the healing process and reminds readers of the necessity of relying on God for the grace to overcome our addictions.”

At our parish and I expect in most parishes the stations of the cross are offered every Friday during Lent. I usually only do…

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