Am I Spiritual or Religious?

ju-on-90376 cropI’m telling my “story” tonight at a women’s meeting. My friend asked me to do it last weekend and I immediately said, “Sure.” I have no idea what my “story” is but I’m sure I can think of something!

It seems I have lots of little stories – like chapters, maybe. I can break my life down by ages, places I’ve lived, academic/career stages, relationships with men, being a mother. One thing is for certain, God has always been there. From my earliest memories I’ve always had a sense of the divine. I knew He was there. I loved Him, and He loved me.

Sometimes that was the whole extent of it. I knew He was there. I loved Him. He loved me. Like the sense of touch or smell. One of the ways I experience my world is through the lens of my “sense of God.” I don’t call it a “sixth-sense” because that phrase makes me think of a fortune teller. I don’t really call it anything. I experience it and know it’s there. It’s always been there.

Our senses Mr Webster tells us are, “the faculties of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch, by which humans and animals perceive stimuli originating from outside or inside the body.”

So, maybe perceiving the spiritual, the divine – which certainly can be a “stimuli originating from outside and inside my body – has been a big, consistent, unquestioned, ever-present thing for me. Just like touch or sight or smell..

As I’ve been journaling about what to say in my “story,” (I have no idea why I keep putting that in quotations?) I wrote a lot about knowing God, never leaving Him or abandoning my faith and spirituality. Many in AA have do experience leaving their faiths behind. Some joyfully find it again once sober, having that “spiritual experience” the AA Big Book tells us about.

When I got to the part in my story where I stopped going to meetings and participating in AA, I thought about my reasons why. I was sober almost two years, when I decided I wouldn’t go anymore. It had been building in me over a few months but I kept trying to overcome this because I’d heard the stories of alcoholics who had been sober for years stopped going to meetings and eventually relapsed. But, nonetheless I stopped going to meetings completely.

I had absolutely no intention to relapse. I loved sobriety. However, 18 months later I did. One glass of wine in a romantic bed and breakfast overlooking a lake in North Georgia in October…. leaves changing, time away from the children with my husband, feeling good and serene. Then, “Man that glass of wine looks good. I’ll have just one,” I told myself. Within three weeks, I was having the whole bottle of wine.

This first long-term AA experience did not include fellowship, which I understood to be a very important component of recovery. Fellowship with other alcoholics. I heard other women experiencing this “fellowship,” and they all seemed to LOVE EACH OTHER. I really liked all of them and was happy for them they found new friends in AA. I was happy “ for them” they had lots of new friends. But I didn’t need any more friends.

What was going through my mind at the time? I don’t know. Perhaps it was a confluence of factors: my temperament, my life experiences, my lack of trust of others, my introvertness. All I knew is AA was helping me and I loved it; but I already had many friends and five sisters who are my best friends. I went to a meeting each day but left immediately after in a hurry afraid someone might ask me to have lunch or something.

So, why did I leave AA back then and go it alone? Well, I had been sober almost two years, had no desire to drink and everything was fine. We started to have financial problems at home, so dealing with all that took me away from things, as did getting a new job which seemed to take up all my free time. Since I had no fellowship with other alcoholics, there was no one to stop me from rationalizing and justifying my decision to myself and those around me.

But what is the REAL reason I left? It was a self-righteous internal defense of my Catholic faith.

I started hearing – day after day, meeting after meeting a lot of “Catholic-bashing.” Maybe it was always there and I never paid any attention to it; but back then it seemed so prevalent in my AA meetings. Sober, I was drawn to learn more about my Catholic faith and why we do and believe the things we do. It became a very real part of me, of who I am; so when my AA “friends” in meetings spoke negatively about it, I took that as a personal affront. Like talking bad about my family. You just don’t do that around me!

Maybe I was looking for a reason to leave? So, that became my reason and I sat waiting for it in each meeting. Things people say in meetings (still):

  • I grew up Catholic (wink, wink, nods, everybody groans) so I had a twisted understanding of God.
  • I grew up Catholic (wink, wink, nods, everybody groans) so my concept of God was a “punishing” God. If I did something wrong, I was told I was going to hell.
  • I grew up Catholic (wink, wink, nods, everybody groans) so all I had to do was confess my sins to a priest, say one Hail Mary and go right back out there and do it again without guilt.
  • I grew up Catholic (wink, wink, nods, everybody groans) so I have so much shame and guilt to overcome.
  • I grew up Catholic (wink, wink, nods, everybody groans) so I had no personal relationship with God. We went to Mass every Sunday and that was it. I never knew God until AA.
  • I grew up Catholic (wink, wink, nods, everybody groans); but it wasn’t for me. Now I’m spiritual but not religious.

All these statements may be true for the individual expressing them in a meeting; but at that time in my life I took each of these very, very personally. Too personally, actually. That was my problem. Resentment built, which I’m told in meetings is the #1 offender and leads us back to drinking as our solution. And I just didn’t like anybody there anymore. Catholic bashing was not discouraged. It seemed to be a group-think mentality to me. Of course everybody hates the Catholic Church!

While sensitivities were increasing and evolving with all other religions, it seems it was/is still quite politically correct to bash our Faith. So, whatever. Today, none of this bothers me (unless I’m PMS’ing) – it seems easy for me to separate my experience from anyone else’s. I simply see it as that person has their own journey and they have the right to be wrong. lol. This is where she is in her life; and God is leading her down her path to Him.

But I do make it clear to my “friends” that I am Catholic and I love it. So, I think that causes them to think twice before expressing negative opinions about it. At the very least, they know they’re not going to get a wink, wink, nod, groan from me.

I think the theme in meetings, “I’m spiritual but not religious” is what irked me the most back then. It usually was expressed in a way that religion is “bad.” And spiritual is “good.” Some didn’t mean this in any spiteful way about religion – just expressing their understanding of things. And that’s cool.

But some did. In tone and undertone and the rest of their sentences in their shares, they meant it as as they’re right, enlightened, smarter, too smart to be brainwashed and tricked by man-made rules in religion.

So, that was my big thing. And I left AA just like that, relapsing about 18 months later. Over the next seven years, I went back out there and earned my “alcoholism” degree. If AA required us to bring a resume to our first meeting to prove that we belong there, I’d be immediately hired.

So many consequences: 2 more DUIs, 2 rehabs, bankruptcy, divorce. And even though the divorce saved my life and enabled me to finally get sober for good, I definitely realize our drinking was the main factor of our downfall if only making it impossible to have a true relationship. My confessor once told me, “An alcoholic married to their drinking buddy is a death sentence.” That was almost true for me.

So back to that whole “spiritual but not religious” thing… not wanting to make the same mistake again and stop going to meetings over something like this… I explored this topic. I believe spiritual and religious go together, can’t be separated – I’m not one or the other. I’m both. It’s a very modern day thing to separate the two. Today, (maybe the last 50 years?) the term “spirituality” has come to mean a person who doesn’t go to church or adhere to organized faith practices, but lives according to an individualized moral code. And, today “religious” has come to mean being overly concerned with rules and regulations, narrow-minded, judgmental. One sounds “good.” The other sounds “bad.”

I’m reading lots of interesting things about this — it turns out what I have always intuitively known (spiritual and religious go together) — has a big tradition in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Faith is the totality of our belief system, the common gathering point, the religion, agreement on a set of principals and truths we all share as humans. God wants us to connect with each other in communion.

Yet, Catholic SPIRITUALITY is the way we live out that Faith personally, at home, in our families and in our individual lives. It’s how I best experience God in my life. It’s how I live this big Catholic faith, PERSONALLY. Everybody is different. My way to God is definitely Catholic; but it’s a different path than another Catholic might have.

Understanding we are One Body with many parts; and based on our individual temperaments and life experiences each of us is drawn to one or more of these ways of spirituality over another. Modern (ie. arrogant) thought tells me since I am an “individual,” unique as a snowflake, I will find “my own way” of spirituality. This all sounds good unless and until our “way of spirituality” leads us to following Oprah. LOL. Modern day spiritual gurus don’t have the fullness of the Catholic faith as their foundation. They have themselves as their foundation. They may have good intentions but inevitably lead us down the wrong road.

The truth is I am just not that unique. My “personal” way of spirituality has been practiced for many hundreds of years, and so has yours. It’s actually not anything unique to me and me alone. Like-minded Catholics for 2,000 years have explored these various spiritualities, lived them, written about them, studied them, expanded them… My way is already out there somewhere. No need to reinvent the wheel!

Here are some forms of Catholic spirituality. Pick one!

Benedictine spirituality
Dominican spirituality
Franciscan spirituality
Ignition (Jesuit) spirituality
Opus Dei spirituality
Carmelite spirituality
Missionaries of Charity spirituality
Trappists spirituality
Augustinian spirituality
…and more and more paths of spirituality —- all different personal paths to the same end: union with God and salvation of our souls with the Catholic Church at their foundations. I lean most toward the Dominican way of spirituality, with a mix of Franciscan and Augustinian.

Ok, I am writing WAY too much. I should edit but I don’t have time. Oh well. I’ll write another post some day soon describing these different spirituality paths. Sorry for any typos. Bye.

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July 31 – Feast Day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Spiritual Exercises and the Twelve Steps   

Saint-Ignatius-Loyola1

I have the book: The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. I’d tried to read it, study it, and bounce around in it. Then I’d put it away, not ever able to really “get into” it like I’d hoped. I purchased it years ago hoping to get inspiration and understanding about myself and my relationship with God. But the book was over my head.  I couldn’t sustain my interest long enough to really incorporate the exercises into my life in any meaningful way.

I remember thinking, “I wish there was a “Spiritual Exercises” for Dummies book I could read.  I laughed at this thought when I considered that’s basically what the 12 Steps are. I know, not really but sort of Spiritual Exercises for Dummies.

But that didn’t satisfy me either. The 12 Steps were too simplified. And truthfully, they relate only to a small part of the vast Exercises. I wanted the meat of what St Ignatius of Loyola taught but not so simplified it watered down the most important aspects of devotion to Christ and life in the Church.

I am “working the steps” again. In AA. It is called “working the steps,” the same way I suppose St. Ignatius called it “practicing” the Spiritual Exercises. Both are intended to be a “way of life,” if practiced daily promised to improve our relationships with God and other people. I don’t believe my salvation (my sobriety, yes but not my salvation) lies in the 12 Steps, as some swear. I believe I’ve indirectly practiced the Steps my whole life through my Catholic Faith. But by intensely directing these principles and practices at my alcoholism, however, I’ve been able to arrest the destruction and trajectory of my life, turn away from alcohol and to God.  A micro-conversion of sorts. I didn’t need to be converted to believe in God; but I needed to apply this conversion principle specifically to my alcoholism.

My 17-year-old son attends Catholic school and came home a couple of months ago with a homework assignment comparing the 12 Steps “process” of Alcoholics Anonymous to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  I was giddy excited about this and asked him if I could have a copy of it and mention in in my blog. He said, “Sure.”

These were my son’s answers:

  1. Step 1: Sorry for sin and realizing we have done wrong.
  2. Step 2: Realizing God is merciful
  3. Step 3: Contrition
  4. Step 4: Examination of conscience
  5. Step 5: Confessing our sins
  6. Step 6: Going to confession
  7. Step 7: The Act of confessing our sins
  8. Step 8: Atonement and satisfaction
  9. Step 9: Penance
  10. Step 10: Daily Examination of conscience
  11. Step 11: Engaging in prayer to overcome our problems
  12. Sept 12: Seeking to help others

Fr. Edward Dowling, a Jesuit and friend of Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, was convinced that the Spiritual Exercises influenced the 12 Steps. Bill Wilson said he had never heard of Ignatius or the Exercises. He said he sat down at his kitchen table one day and wrote out the 12 Steps in about 20 minutes. The principles of the Spiritual Exercises were the same principles that inspired Bill Wilson to write the Steps, but there is no direct connection apparently.

AA was about five years old when Bill W. met Father Dowling. Bill was depressed and had thoughts of giving up. Father Dowling had heard of AA and saw similarities between the 12 Steps and the Spiritual Exercises; and he set out to meet Bill to learn more. Bill writes this meeting re-inspired him and gave him the grace he needed to persevere. His depression lifted. When their initial meeting together was over, Father Dowling told Bill W. if ever Bill grew impatient, or angry at God’s way of doing things, if ever he forgot to be grateful for being alive right here and now, he, Father Ed Dowling, would make the trip all the way from St. Louis to “wallop him over the head with his good Irish stick.”

Father Ed did give Bill a copy of the Spiritual Exercises in 1952, underlining the “Two Standards” meditation. Father Ed reminded Bill of the place he had bottomed out and surrendered to a “higher power.”  Father Ed believed that this was the place where humiliations led to humility and then to all other blessings. In saying this, he paraphrased Ignatius’s closing prayer of the “Two Standards” meditations. This was where AA became most like the Exercises.

When we forget to hold God as the center, something else will surely take God’s place. When we take our focus off God—pushing love, humility, and service to the side—something insidious creeps into us, turning our passion into poison. Sometimes we create our own demons without even knowing it. The Two Standards meditation isn’t a choice between the good and evil that’s out in the world—it’s a choice that lies within one’s own heart.

After the death of Father Dowling, Bill Wilson wrote, “Father Ed, an early and wonderful friend of AA, was the greatest and most gentle soul to walk this planet. I was closer to him than to any other human being on earth.”

 

Prayer for the Intercession of our Blessed Mother for those in Recovery

I found this prayer in the Spring 2017 issue of The 12 Step Review online4967. I love it and wanted to share with you!

Oh Blessed Mother, heart of love and mercy, hear my prayer. I am comforted in knowing your heart is ever open to those who ask for your intercession. We trust those in recovery from alcohol who are sick, lonely or hurting to your gentle heart. Help us all, Holy Mother in the recovery from the burden of our sins until we may share eternal life with you in the kingdom of your son, who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen

Getting Down on My Knees

jesus-mary-magdaleneI get emails from people who wonder if it’s possible to be a practicing Catholic and a full-participant and “member” of AA. To them, I emphatically say, “Heck yeah it is!” One of my FAVORITE practices (traditions) in AA stems from Step 11, “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve conscious contact with God, as we understand God, praying only for the knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry it out.”

“As we (individually) understand God…”
This gives me the freedom to use the tools and the fellowship in AA to help me stay sober each day, without compromising any of my own Catholic beliefs.

Most people in meetings truly live this practice—most evident when we “share.” Sharing in a meeting is when someone takes three to five minutes to talk about their own experience with a certain topic or subject. In sharing their experience, strength and hope with others, it helps us each see how we too can get through life’s circumstances without drinking.

Phrases like these included in our shares really help:  “for me, what I do, what’s worked for me, what I find helpful, I can’t speak for anybody else but for me I….”

Sharing like this is an important, unwritten rule (tradition) passed down from the 75 years of alcoholics meeting and sharing with one another.  Never give advice. Never tell someone what they “should” do. Never “judge” another’s way of relating to God. Love and tolerance is our code, we say.

If you’re like me, you hear the word “tolerance” and immediately cringe – uh oh. Tolerance. That’s what is preached politically to mean anything goes, and I can live my life however I want. You must accept it. Change all the laws to accommodate my way of living. There is no moral law. Everything is relative.

This is NOT at all what is meant in this AA practice of only speaking for oneself, in my opinion (ha! See? “in my opinion lol).

God gave me and you free will, so He must think it wise to “allow” us to choose His will or not. He “allows” us to be wrong. He “allows” us to follow the wrong paths, sin, even spend years looking everywhere but to Him for our solutions. I’d say God is pretty tolerant in this regard. He is constantly drawing us to the Truth, but He doesn’t punish us, turn his back on us, strike us down or judge us too harshly for getting off track. He is there when we finally come home to Him, our Father. He is waiting with a fatted calf and a ring!

So, unlike the political understanding of “tolerance,” in AA we all have a God-like understanding of tolerance, which has nothing to do with whether abortion or gay marriage are legal. Each person has the right to be wrong. We trust each other to find our way because the program is built upon the premise that doing God’s will is our goal each day. God’s will for us first and foremost is SOBRIETY.  That we all agree on!  Without sobriety, people like us couldn’t possibly ascertain God’s will. It’s hard enough when we’re sober! So, as we help each other stay sober, we love each other unconditionally, which is the ONLY environment in which one can be safe to explore their character defects (sins) in front of others. We leave all political (and other) topics outside the doors.

And there is a rule we call, “No Crosstalk.” This means we do NOT comment on what the previous person just shared. We just share our own truth. We don’t even really acknowledge the other person’s share, which feels kind of odd at first. Even if that person was crying over something sad during their share, we don’t comment or coddle or speak sympathy or give advice. We keep going.  It’s really beautiful when practiced well.

If I shared my vulnerabilities then people gave me advice on how to “fix” it, I’d be so annoyed. I would never share if I thought I was going to get bombarded with advice from other people. Even though these “other people” have become my friends, I’m not looking for advice. Nobody pretends to be better than anyone else. Nobody knows what someone else “should” do.

Does this make sense? Sometimes I talk in circles, but I feel like this is important for people unfamiliar with AA to know. It’s OK to be Catholic – or Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Agnostic, even atheistic — in AA. Everybody has the right to be wrong.

I’ll try to think of an example of how I shared in a meeting, which shows how I can be Catholic and a participating member of AA.  Let me think of one…

OK, the other day the topic was “humility.” People shared about when they weren’t very humble and how they work on being humbler in our daily lives. Humility is the principal behind the 7th Step. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. A couple of people shared something passed down over the years in AA— the practice of GETTING ON OUR KNEES to pray.  The act of getting on our knees to pray is a recognition of humility before God. He is God and I am not.

So, when it was my turn to share, I said this:

“My name is ______,  and I’m an alcoholic. I love all the talk about the importance of “getting on my knees” in the morning and at night when I pray. It makes sense and I’m going to start doing this now! Funny, I’ve been doing this my whole life at Church — people even joke about Catholics standing up and kneeling and standing up and kneeling. And I’d never thought of “why” we kneel. But hearing others talk today about getting on their knees to pray makes me recognize that getting on my knees is an outward, physically expression of my inner humility. An outward sign of my inner love for God as my King. I’m not just “thinking” about humility. I’m physically humbling myself before God. Now I have a better understanding of why we did that so much at growing up. Thank you for letting me share.”

And that was that.  I sometimes work my Faith into my shares if my experience on a certain topic is better explained through the eyes of my Catholic faith. This is as the 11th Step instructs, “as I understand God.” And nobody feels threatened by me because I share it all from the perspective of what works for me, how I understand this topic. And then I actively listen when they share their own experience, strength and hope.

The person after me shared about being agnostic and not feeling comfortable about getting on their knees. The person after him shared about how adding this one practice of getting down on their knees first thing in the morning when she gets out of bed, makes all the difference in her day.  She puts her phone under their bed at night so she remembers to get down on her knees first thing when she wakes up (to retrieve her phone!) While she’s down there, she prays.

Nobody gives advice. If they did, I’d probably never go back. I certainly wouldn’t love it as much as I do. Everybody listens. Everybody is safe. Including me, a freakin’ practicing Catholic. I feel safe to fully live my Faith in AA. As long as I remember to speak only for me, no one else.

Will, Willingness, Free Will, Free Willy lol

Warren-Wiersbe-Quote-Will-of-GodHeylo. I don’t really have a lot to say this morning; but I woke up with an understanding I wanted to share! I’ve had too much coffee so my title to this post is goofy, but who cares?

The will of God is a beautiful thing, isn’t it? I remember in high school, in Father Dominic’s “Catholic Catechism” class first learning about the “will of God.” I remember being fascinated with this. It made sense to me, intellectually. While all of my peers were just getting through the class to pass, I was enthralled with the material.  It was my favorite class in all of high school, ha! I’m such a dork.

Years later sitting in my seat in AA meetings, all the talk of doing the “will of God” was familiar to me. I knew instinctively this is something to aspire to.  I trusted AA because it was based on this Truth.  And I eventually came to realize how safe it is in meetings to explore “my” Truth—which is all found in the Catholic Faith. Nobody in AA tries to get me to do their idea of Truth. It’s all about me and my God.

So, this morning— before I grabbed my phone and got out of bed (yes, I sleep with my phone lol)—I stopped and asked God to direct my thinking and my actions today.  A form of the 3rd Step, turning my will and my life over to the care of God.  If only I could remember to do this every day!?

And I said to Him, “Thank you for the miracle of sobriety, the gifts of obedience, detachment and forgiveness. I recognize I’m in a more perfect state of obedience to Your will right now, God, so please take advantage of this! I know it will pass. I wish it would last forever, but I know from experience that my human nature and self-will eventually takes back over. It’s a lifelong journey, an ebb and flow, a push and pull with you, God…surrendering and taking back control and then surrendering again. Today, I’m all yours.”

I asked God before I got out of bed, to please take full advantage of me today! Be productive with me! I’m here to do your will. Use me.

I hope He does. Let’s see how the day unfolds.

Happy Fourth, y’all!

Obedience & Freedom

19424044_10213039011391472_7126129926460239037_nI have been walking around with so much anger—or as we say in AA, “resentment.”

AA has its own lingo I learned through attending so many meetings. Like the aversion to the word “sin.”  AA softened that word to “character defects.” The word “sin” has too much of a religious undertone to it, which doesn’t sit well with my AA spiritually high-minded friends.  Lol.  Sorry, I love my AA friends but that doesn’t mean I can’t make fun of their religious bias.

But back to my anger.  It’s been simmering. And lately it’s gone into full-blown horribleness affecting my days, moods and interactions even with the innocent.  And my anger went hand-in-hand with blame.  So much blame.

I think this bothered me so much because it is the opposite of how I see myself, of how I try to live my life. It is the thing I dislike most in others (blame) so seeing it in myself was unbearable for my conscience. Or perhaps it is teaching me that once again I am no better than anyone else. We all have those moral lines, don’t we? The ones we wouldn’t cross? And we can accidentally use our own moral lines to tell ourselves we are better. “I would NEVER do THAT.”

The tolerance of a recovered alcoholic is pretty high. We understand each other, how human nature works and how we can sometimes do bad things.  This dynamic is one of the reasons why I’ve found so much healing in AA, the ability to share my filth without fear of judgment.  We get it.  But still, even the most tolerant among us has lines we think we would never cross.

In my life, I kept having to move my lines.  That’s when you know something is wrong, when you start breaking your own rules! My experience proves the phrase “never say never” has a lot of truth to it.

Long story short: I was in a pretty crappy marriage and over the last few years of it became a shell of a person.  People who love me tell me there was emotional, mental and spiritual abuse going on. I find it tough to use the word “abuse” (I’m a word girl) because there were no physical signs on my body. In my case, the weird thing was I started abusing MYSELF physically in the end. Weird.  Maybe one day I will understand what happened, but that’s for another post.

After the divorce was final, I drank a bottle of wine and took a bunch of pills of whatever I could find in my house—knocked me out for two days and I woke up in the hospital a little confused about what had happened. My sister was there and I later found of she had a local priest come by to give me the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. Looking back, I 100% believe the sanctifying grace from that sacrament saved me spiritually and put me on a path the healing I never would have achieved without it. Grace is one thing, but SANCTIFYING grace is one whole other miracle making serum!

But, I’m walking around almost nine months later with all this anger—-my ex-husband and I are getting along okay but it’s really confusing. He says he regrets divorce, which make me happy, of course. But his actions don’t really indicate he regrets it, thus my confusion and anger.  Soooo… what’s my point? Ugh.

My point is I could not forgive.  When he is nice, I feel like I forgive him and I have peace. But my anger was still directed at his parents, his sister, his college girlfriend, his college other woman friend and his other woman friend.  Lol. Usually when I talk about them I put very degrading, explicit adjectives in front of their names, but I’m getting better.

And angry at him for how mean he was, trying to get full custody of the children and in the end getting the house, cars, money but gave me 50% of the physical custody of the boys.  I didn’t have the money his parents had to keep fighting and truly all that really mattered to me was the boys. But, now I find I’m pissed he got the house and money and cars. Asshole.

So, forgiveness.

I’m up at Lake James in Nebo, NC. It’s so beautiful, peaceful. God is loud here.  So loud.  A friend of mine let me use his lake house for a few days, so I took the boys up here to chill.  I do have to work while I’m here; but I decided when I got here I was going to get really close to God and work on forgiveness. It’s really affecting my life, so I have to do something about it.

And I think I’m on to something!  God, in his great mercy has given me insight, or I guess He would call it “wisdom.” And I feel like I’ve struck gold so I had to share!

I don’t have to feel forgiveness. I don’t have to understand it. I don’t have to want it or believe anybody deserves it.  I just have to do it because God says so.  All I have to do it be obedient to God.  Do what he says, even if I don’t understand it or want to. Like a loving parent, He only asks me to forgive because it is in my best interest. He knows I must forgive in order to have peace and move on. I knew this intellectually. Logically, I already knew this, but my feelings were getting in the way. Like a little child who doesn’t want to do her chores…  “I don’t FEEL like it.”

The thing about God (like my parents) is He is trustworthy. Like, 100% trustworthy. Questioning His direction obviously only hurts me. Obedience to His trustworthy direction is giving me freedom.  And I’m now FEELING it. Ha ha. So, the good feelings of forgiveness come AFTER I do it.  I don’t have to have the feeling first. The feeling comes afterwards.  All I have to do it obey God. Easy peasy, right?

So I got this wisdom. My next hurdle was, “Ok God I get it but HOW?”  I “hate” these people.  They are truly awful, horrible, evil people (lol) and I can’t forgive them!  But you say I must, so you’re going to have to help me here. I have the willingness to do it, but only because you say so.

And that was God’s opening into my heart: my willingness.  My willingness to forgive even though I didn’t want to. That was the door God walked through to give me His power to do what I couldn’t do. And two days later, I’m sitting here in freedom for the first time in months. Shocked. I have claw marks on my past, not wanting to let go or forgive. But with willingness, God walked in and performed a miracle in my mind/heart.

He even put in my readings yesterday morning the one about the woman caught in adultery and Jesus instructing the one without sin to cast the first stone. I laughed at this one—ok God, yes, I am a sinner, so how can I condemn these others?  I’m putting my stone down and walking away from the fight.

I forgive only because it pleases God.  I want so badly to please God. He has given me so many good things. He deserves my obedience. I trust whatever He wants me to do is ALL for my good. So, I step out on faith. I pray. I am honest with God, telling him I want this only because He wants it for me.  I am willing to forgive because it pleases you, God. I want to be obedient to God even if I don’t understand it or feel like it.

And voila! Freedom. Obedience equals freedom. And the good feelings that follow forgiveness are overflowing in me right now.  Thank you, again God.  Why do I fight you so hard? Can it really be this easy?

Saint Monica: another patron saint for alcoholics

st-monicaI looked at my blog stats yesterday. I hadn’t looked at them in so long but what has always stood out to me when I do is the posts that get the most traffic. This one from 2013 is ALWAYS in the top five of the posts people read or come across when they search for something Catholic alcoholic related on google.  This post about Saint Monica.

So many of us must be seeking help (whether for ourselves or for a loved one) and who better than Saint Monica to ask for prayers from? Heck, if her prayers were strong enough to convert Saint Augustine then certainly they’ll be strong enough to help me, right?  And seeing now she is also the patron saint of difficult marriages, victims of unfaithfulness, and victims of verbal abuse…my devotion to her has taken on another new meaning.  Here you go:

Saint Monica is patron saint of married women, alcoholics, difficult marriages, disappointing children, victims of unfaithfulness, victims of verbal abuse.

Saint Monica was the mother of St. Augustine of Hippo. She is honoured in the Roman Catholic Church where she is remembered and venerated for her outstanding Christian virtues, particularly the suffering against the adultery of her husband, and a prayerful life dedicated to the reformation of her son, who wrote extensively of her pious acts and life with her in his Confessions. Popular Christian legends recall Saint Monica to have wept every night for her son Augustine.

Monica was born a Christian at Thagaste, North Africa, around the year 331, the daughter of devout parents who educated her in the faith. Augustine gives only one incident from her youth, obviously relayed to him by Monica herself, of how she was in danger of becoming a wine bibber, but was corrected when her secret sips in the wine cellar were discovered and a maid, in a moment of anger, called her a “drunkard.” This stinging rebuke prompted her to change her behavior and develop perseverence. Perhaps this is why recovering alcoholics are among the many groups who intercede to Saint Monica.

Prayer for the Intercession of Saint Monica
Dear St. Monica,
Troubled wife and mother, many sorrows pierced your heart during your lifetime. Yet, you never despaired or lost faith. With confidence, persistence, and profound faith, you prayed daily for the conversion of your beloved husband, Patricius, and your beloved son, Augustine; your prayers were answered. Grant me that same fortitude, patience,and trust in the Lord. Intercede for me, dear St. Monica, that God may favorably hear my plea for (Mention your intention here.) and grant me the grace to accept His Will in all things, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

She was married early in life to Patritius, who held an official position in Tagaste, He was a pagan, his temper was violent, and he appears to have had bad behavior outside the marriage. Consequently Monica’s married life was far from being a happy one. Her mother-in-law was as bad as her husband. Her habits of prayer annoyed him, but it is said that he always held her in a sort of reverence.

Monica had three children: Augustine the eldest, Navigius the second, and a daughter, Perpetua. Monica had been unable to secure baptism for her children, and she experienced much grief when Augustine fell ill. She asked Patritius to allow Augustine to be baptized; Patritius agreed, but on the boy’s recovery withdrew his consent.

Eventually her husband became a Christian but died shortly afterwards. She decided not to remarry.

All Monica’s anxiety now centered in Augustine; he was promiscuous and partied all the time. And, as he himself tells us, he was lazy. Augustine had become a Manichean and when on his return home he shared his views regarding Manichaeism Monica drove him away from her home. However, she is said to have experienced a strange vision that convinced her to reconcile with her son.

It was at this time that she went to see a certain holy bishop, whose name is not given, but who consoled her with the now famous words, “the child of those tears shall never perish.” Monica followed her wayward son to Rome, where he had gone secretly. She met St. Ambrose and through him she ultimately had the joy of seeing Augustine convert to Christianity, after seventeen years of resistance.

In his book Confessions, Augustine wrote of a peculiar practice of his mother in which she “brought to certain oratories, erected in the memory of the saints, offerings of porridge, bread, and wine.” When she moved to Milan, the bishop Ambrose forbade her to use the offering of wine, since “it might be an occasion of gluttony for those who were already given to drink”. So, Augustine wrote of her:

In place of a basket filled with fruits of the earth, she had learned to bring to the oratories of the martyrs a heart full of purer petitions, and to give all that she could to the poor – so that the communion of the Lord’s body might be rightly celebrated in those places where, after the example of his passion, the martyrs had been sacrificed and crowned.

— Confessions 6.2.2

Mother and son spent six months of true peace and then he was baptized in the church of St. John the Baptist at Milan.

At the port of Ostia, Monica fell ill. She knew that her work had been accomplished and that life would soon be over. She had such a joyful disposition that her sons were unaware of the approach of death. As Monica’s strength failed, she said to Augustine: “I do not know what there is left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled. All I wished for was that I might see you a Catholic and a child of Heaven. God granted me even more than this in making you despise earthly felicity and consecrate yourself to His service.”

The finest pages of Augustine’s Confessions were written as the result of the emotion he experienced after his mother’s death.

The “weeping” springs outside Santa Monica, California were named for Saint Monica.