Strong Drink is Not for Princes or Kings: Proverbs 31:4-7

It is not for kings, Lemuel,

not for kings to drink wine;

strong drink is not for princes,

5Lest in drinking they forget what has been decreed,

and violate the rights of any who are in need.

6Give strong drink to anyone who is perishing,

and wine to the embittered;

7When they drink, they will forget their misery,

and think no more of their troubles.

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My Thoughts on Why AA Can Be Difficult for Traditional, Practicing Catholics

split_pixel_personality__by_monsters_scare_you-d4yv6f7Because of this forum, I hear often from Catholics who are hesitant to go to AA. Certainly, AA isn’t for everybody. And there are more ways to get sober than Alcoholics Anonymous. What I hope to do is talk about the reasons why it was process for me to fully embrace the “program.” But, I’m glad that I did.  Maybe some of this resonates with you guys.

The Big Book
I like the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. I do. It makes a lot of sense, outlines a program of action and provides stories of alcoholics who have recovered using the program’s 12 Steps.  I do, however, still get uncomfortable when members of AA seem to treat the Big Book like the Bible.  This turns me off very much. Since AA is a spiritual program, it sometimes feels like some people worship the Big Book, quoting portions of it as if it is Gospel. This uncomfortability kept me from embracing parts of AA that would help me.

Finally, a friend told me the Big Book is not the “Bible” of AA, it’s just the “textbook.”  This helped me tremendously!  Looking at the Big Book as a text-book, I was able to read it without feeling threatened, or like I was being sacrilegious.  AA is not a religion, like Catholicism or Judaism. Some members do take it to that level; but if I’m able to look beyond this I can get a lot of insight and help from reading the Big Book.

My spiritual life is guided by the Church, not by AA.  So, as long as I can consider the Big Book the “text-book,” I am ok.  If I start quoting it like it’s the Bible, then I’m probably in trouble.

Community “Spirituality” with Non-Catholics
We Catholics have a lot of other spiritual practices, Sacraments, Mass, saints, devotions, the Rosary, Mary, priests, the Pope, etc… AA is not a Catholic devotion or Catholic spiritual practice. So, it’s uncomfortable for us to be in a spirituality-type meeting other than authentically Catholic ones.

In AA, in the beginning we’re encouraged to go to 90 meetings in 90 days. This was VERY helpful for me. The meetings were/are key for me–I hear other people getting through life sober and it gives me the strength to do so. Plus, my heart opens up to these people in a way that was impossible when I was isolating in alcohol.

But going one hour a day every day seems to me a lot like “worship.”  It seems a lot like “daily church.”  It seems like I’m starting to spend a lot of my time sitting with people whose faith and spirituality are much likely much different from mine–and none of it is Catholic.

Wouldn’t it be better if I go to daily Mass for 90 days instead of AA meetings for 90 days?  Certainly there’d be more grace!  But while going to daily Mass would be amazing, it’s still important to attend the meetings for me. In AA we focus on the problem we’re trying to overcome–alcohol.  There are all kinds of spiritual persuasions, but a strong Catholic can look beyond other’s ways of doing things and focus on the common problem: alcohol dependency.

12 Steps
Why would the Steps be problematic for traditional, practicing Catholics?  They’re a pretty simple, straightforward, action plan of turning my alcohol problem and my life to God. But they’re not Catholic.  I know I keep saying this, but for devout Catholics, we feel we already have the Steps. Turning our will over to God, surrendering, profession of Faith, examination of conscience, confession, reconciliation, penance, giving back to others through service.

So, why would I need AA and why would I need to work the Steps, as they say?

I’ve struggled with this one a lot. I’ve discovered that for we Catholics who already have all the resources of the Church it’s still important we sit down with another alcoholic, one-on-one and work through each Step, as it relates to our drinking.  Something about spending time with another alcoholic and working the Steps as they are written actually ends up making us better Catholics, more inclined to the Sacraments.

Sponsorship
I don’t need a sponsor. I already have a spiritual advisor or confessor.  My sponsor isn’t Catholic. How could she help me? This was my thinking when I first began to attend meetings and participate in AA.

However, I’ve learned sponsorship is key. This is the one person that you actually confide most of your bad drinking behavior too.  They listen and don’t judge; all they do is encourage you in the Steps. They tell you how they did it, how you too can just not drink one day at a time. Sponsors come in all sorts of varieties, but if you get one like mine, you’re blessed. Getting and staying sober is tough. Sponsors are there to guide us through the Steps because they’ve done them before. Also, in order for them to stay sober they have to help others get sober.

Tolerance vs Fear of Influence
This might not be an issue for every one but for me, someone who had previously been pretty susceptible to peer pressure, who avoids conflict and prefers everybody to be happy and get along–for me, I struggled with tolerance vs fear of influence.

What do I mean by this–I’ve always been and am tolerant of everybody, all religions, races, sexes, political-leanings, sizes, colors of people–I can “live and let live” pretty well.  But, I do prefer to stay closest to the people who are like me, or that are the way that I want to be. Because I am easily influenced by others. If you’re funny, I gravitate to you. So, I worried I would be influenced away from Catholicism if I got too involved in AA.  I worried I would lose my Faith.

That didn’t happen.  In fact, being a part of it actually made me a better Catholic, a better person even.  It’s hard to explain. But I really was pretty on guard at first.  Worried I would be infected with heretic points of view (ha ha–sounds lame). But in the meetings everybody respects (for the most part) everybody else’s faiths (or no faith).

So, these are my thoughts. Feel free to share yours or tell me why I’m wrong 🙂  XOXO

Number 9

He Submitted and Opened Not His Mouth

crucifixionGood Friday–my favorite holy day of the year. This morning I’ll be getting one of those big, horrible shots in my spine—the epidural/steroid shot. I hope I will still be okay to make it to Church between Noon and 3:00pm in order to walk the Stations of the Cross.

Isaiah (which today’s first reading is taken from) is my second favorite book of the Old Testament. It amazes me how perfectly it predicts the coming of Jesus and the New Testament.

My first favorite book of the Old Testament is the book of Wisdom, which is not in the Protestant Bibles–it’s considered one of the “apocrypha.”

The Book of Wisdom is one of the seven Sapiential or wisdom books of the Septuagint Old Testament, which includes Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon (Song of Songs), and Sirach. According to St. Melito in the 2nd century AD, it was considered canonical by Jews and Christians.

The second chapter of the Book of Wisdom (Wisdom 2) builds up to a prophecy of Christ’s passion. First the ungodly men are described (Wis 1:16-2:9), followed by their plotting against the righteous man (2:10-20).

But today’s reading (find it here at the USCCB web site) is from my second favorite book Isaiah, and it’s stunning:

Friday of the Passion of the Lord (Good Friday)
Lectionary: 40
Reading 1 IS 52:13—53:12

See, my servant shall prosper,
he shall be raised high and greatly exalted.
Even as many were amazed at him—
so marred was his look beyond human semblance
and his appearance beyond that of the sons of man—
so shall he startle many nations,
because of him kings shall stand speechless;
for those who have not been told shall see,
those who have not heard shall ponder it.

Who would believe what we have heard?
To whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
He grew up like a sapling before him,
like a shoot from the parched earth;
there was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him,
nor appearance that would attract us to him.
He was spurned and avoided by people,
a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity,
one of those from whom people hide their faces,
spurned, and we held him in no esteem.

Yet it was our infirmities that he bore,
our sufferings that he endured,
while we thought of him as stricken,
as one smitten by God and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our offenses,
crushed for our sins;
upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole,
by his stripes we were healed.
We had all gone astray like sheep,
each following his own way;
but the LORD laid upon him
the guilt of us all.

Though he was harshly treated, he submitted
and opened not his mouth;
like a lamb led to the slaughter
or a sheep before the shearers,
he was silent and opened not his mouth.
Oppressed and condemned, he was taken away,
and who would have thought any more of his destiny?
When he was cut off from the land of the living,
and smitten for the sin of his people,
a grave was assigned him among the wicked
and a burial place with evildoers,
though he had done no wrong
nor spoken any falsehood.
But the LORD was pleased
to crush him in infirmity.

If he gives his life as an offering for sin,
he shall see his descendants in a long life,
and the will of the LORD shall be accomplished through him.

Because of his affliction
he shall see the light in fullness of days;
through his suffering, my servant shall justify many,
and their guilt he shall bear.
Therefore I will give him his portion among the great,
and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty,
because he surrendered himself to death
and was counted among the wicked;
and he shall take away the sins of many,
and win pardon for their offenses.

Late on the Gospel But Thoughts About Fathers

me and dad 001I’m a few days late on this. Last Sunday’s Gospel reading (Luke 15:11-32) was the infamous story of the Prodigal Son. One of my favorites, of course–no need to explain that one–but aside from the obvious (me being the prodigal son–ok there I explained it) I like the story for others reasons, too.

I’ve got two sons. If one squandered and messed up but then came back home I’d be thrilled and unconditionally welcoming. Like the Father in the story, all I would care about is that he had returned, humbled and reborn- and wanted to turn his life around.  I’d probably run up to Publix, buy his favorite meal, call everybody to let them know he was back, make up his room with new sheets and fresh flowers, and take him shopping for new clothes.

But at the same time I’d be really intuitive to the other son, the one that stayed with me all along.  His feelings of resentment are natural, but not healthy. And I’d figure out a way to instruct and walk him through this.

All the articles and posts and homilies on Sunday focused on one of these two characters, the repentant son or the prideful one.

My brain wants to focus on the father.

My dad is my hero.  Now 80 years old, he’s lived such an interesting life. He is a great story-teller. I wish he would write all of his stories down so that I could  pass them to my children. Story-telling is a terrific way to help children feel part of a “tribe,” a family. Before the advent of the printing press, most stories were passed on verbally.  The stories of our ancestors in the Bible were originally passed on verbally.  But today, I think it’s so important to write things down. That gives them a permanence and an accuracy. Especially if they’re written in first person.

Imagine if Jesus had written the Bible in first person?  How interesting that would have been!

My dad was born in 1932 in upstate New York. It actually might not be called “upstate New York,” because it was the Catskills, not a place like Rochester or Syracuse.  I don’t know much about his life before his father left them but after his father left his mother (he was I think about 8 years old) I love the stories of him helping his mother run things. A single mother and a divorced woman, I can only imagine the hardships my Nana went through emotionally and spiritually.  I wish I could go back in time and hang out with her, help her.

My dad collected the eggs from the chickens, did odd jobs for the community and helped his mother run a boarding house to make ends meet.  Last year, my parents took a trip and spent 3 weeks back in my dad’s hometown. They visited his old house and even spoke with the woman living there now who is renovating it.  Good stuff.

DaddyAnother way my dad made money when he was a boy was to caddie for the golfers at the nearby resort. In doing so, he learned the game of golf. He started playing and became quite good. The golf pro at the resort hired him to run the shop. My dad was very mature from a young age, probably because he had to be the man of the house after his father left.

The one room school house ended up being a tremendously instructive environment and my dad progressed quickly through the lessons, graduating high school at age 16. He took a year off, moved to FL to live with his father who had remarried and he played golf every day. After a year, the golf coach from the University of Florida discovered him and recruited him to play on full scholarship.

My dad really took to college life. He was a leader, not a partyer. He became president of his fraternity and president of the Lyceum Council on Campus which brought in a variety of entertainment and events to the University students.

I think he moved back home after college. And that’s when he met my mother. My mom, a true city-girl born and raised in Brooklyn, and her sister were vacationing at the resort and my Dad courted her. Those stories are priceless!

Mom and Dad on their Wedding Day, May 26, 1956 (feast day of St Philip Neri :) )

Mom and Dad on their Wedding Day, May 26, 1956 (feast day of St Philip Neri 🙂 )

They married and he joined the army, which brought them out to Oklahoma. My mom was in culture shock! And she’d never driven a car so my dad taught her. She totaled his Jaguar. In the army, the boss discovered my father’s golfing talents so my dad’s “job” in the army was to run the golf pro shop and golf course for the officers and play on the golf team.  On the golf team in the army, his teammate was the amazing PGA great Chi Chi Rodriquez.

After the army, my parents moved to Pensacola, FL and my dad ran the golf pro shop at the Naval air base. He became president of the Pensacola Sports Association (now on their “hall of fame” wall) and expanded the course from 18 to 36 holes.

Great stories from this time! Once he threw an officer out of the shop (literally, by his pants threw him out into the bushes) because the officer had belittled a private in front of my dad. My dad always looked out for the little guy—even when he WAS the little guy.  They had nine children (I’m number 9!) in Pensacola, before moving to Atlanta to join an exciting venture to open a golf and country club.  For fifteen years, he ran the club, had two more children and supported all of us with a very nice lifestyle!

Today, he and my mom live simply and in retirement he has gotten deeper into his Catholic faith, something he must have found difficult to do when working to support a big family. He got a PhD (or maybe a Masters degree, I can’t remember), has read all of Shakespeare’s works and every other work of classical fiction. He has made his Faith a study, reading Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and all the great works of the Doctors of the Church.  He enjoys his grandchildren but I think the biggest lesson he’s taught me is the lesson of marriage.

mom and dadHe and my mom have been married 57 years. I’ve never seen them fight. They put each other first. Even when we were little, I always knew that their marriage was first, a priority above the children.  I think this is so important.  It’s something we miss in modern times because we put so much focus on the kids and neglect our marriages.  But this focus on their marriage as primary taught me that marriage is a sacrament, for life, the bedrock of the family and the foundation needed to raise children.

In the story of the Prodigal Son, my Dad is the Father. Always open, always forgiving, always encouraging me to grow and celebrating it when I would. Where was the mother in this Gospel? hmmmm.  Maybe I’ll write a short story from the mother’s perspective of this Gospel.  That’s all for today.  Time to wake the children, make breakfast and lunches and send them off to school.

Mustard Seed, God’s Peace, Sobriety

I’m re-blogging this post from July 27, 2009 because it shows what I gave up when I relapsed three months later (in October 2009) and it shows what I finally have back now that I’m sober again.  Dear God, please don’t let me throw this gift of sobriety away again.

***

 “a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade” (Mark 26: 31-32).

This reading I read today (some time in Ordinary Time in 2009) was about slow and patient growth in the spiritual life. Jesus talks about the tiny mustard seed which slowly grows into a really big bush, where the birds of the sky come to dwell in its branches.

This parable is one of the ones that resonates with me because three years ago when I was on my final couple of months of fighting to stop drinking for good I was just like that mustard seed. I had that little bit of faith, the cracked open door that let just enough light in to set me on my new course. When I look back at that summer of 2006 and how far my life has come since then I am filled with gratitude AND fear.

Gratitude. I’m a sober Mom, a sober wife, a sober sister, a sober friend. I am fully present in this world and face my problems straight on. I live life on life’s terms, God’s term’s and not my own…in a sense that I don’t escape from what is handed to me any more. I am grateful for this because for the first time in my life, I have peace. Of course I’ve had peace before, but it’s always been temporary peace, not permanent.

This peace is different. This is the peace that the Bible describes Jesus as giving us, the peace which surpasses all understanding. The kind of peace one can have despite external circumstances. The kind of peace those people in Tanzania that Taylor and Annie visited on their mission trip had. Their lives were almost completely void of material goods yet they were happy, always smiling and praising God. The joy. Beautiful. I do not yet have their perfect peace, but I’m heading in their direction for certain.

MustardSeed_LOGO300pxFEAR. I’m afraid of losing this. I’m afraid of my humanity and how I may so easily one day throw all this away for the whims of the world or a pleasurable moment. I am afraid I will one day choose the world over God and give up all that I have gained. I fear being “cut off” from the source, my source of peace and happiness, which is God. This is not a “higher power.” This is God. Jesus Christ. The holy Catholic Church. The communion of saints. For me, drinking cut me off from my source. Drinking in and of itself obviously isn’t bad and doesn’t normally cut people off from God. But, for ME, it did.

Drinking was my source…my misunderstood spring of (false) life-giving water. If I had a bad day, having a few drinks made it good. If I had a good day, drinking at the end of the day made it even better. If I was upset with my marriage, drinking prevented loneliness. If I was bored with housework, drinking made it fun! If I was tired from a long day, drinking pepped me up. If I was awake and couldn’t sleep, drinking brought me down. It was my end-all-be-all solution to all my human emotions and activities.

God knew this. And even though I continued to do my daily prayers and go to Mass and hold on to Him, there was something still blocking me from Him. I was trying to serve God and Mammon. He saw so much more in store for me. And when I gave Him the cracked open door, He flooded me with His light and love. So much so that I thought, “Hey? This is nice. This is really nice. This is what I’ve been searching for. And this won’t ever let me down.”

So, the longer I am sober the more God reveals to me. Like the mustard seed that I am, God starts small. He doesn’t flood me with His life-giving water all at once because as a little seed I would be washed away. He gives me a little water here and there and as I grow He gives me more water, based on my needs. He is patient with my littleness and my slow growth. And my goal is to one day, at the end of my life become that big bush where the birds of the sky dwell.

Intimacy Between Mother and Son

Jesus at Wedding of CanaLast Sunday’s Gospel reading is one of my all-time favorites.  So many good things in it–and there was wine!

Jesus performs his very first public miracle.  How cool is that?

And his mother Mary is involved. She instructs them to, “Do whatever he tells you.” Simple advice for all of us!

But mostly in this Gospel I especially love the interaction between Jesus and his mom–having two sons of my own, I imagine the underlying messages in Jesus and Mary’s exchange.

Woman, how does your concern affect me?”

This makes me laugh. I LOVE THIS.

“Woman.”  Many writers have made note that at first glance this sounds a little disrespectful.  But not willing to concede that Jesus was ever disrespectful to his mom, thankfully, more context is given which shows how the norms of the culture and language of Jesus’ day makes this address make sense.

To me, a mother of two sons ages 10 and almost 13, I don’t see disrespect at all—and I’m not an ancient culture or language scholar. I see humor, intimacy, a little sarcasm and a knowing smile behind Jesus’ chosen words to his mother in Cana.

Humor?  Sarcasm?  Where do I get that?

So, for example, my boys joke around with me all the time as a sign of affection.  I think they get this from their father.  When a boy teases a girl, it’s his way of showing her he likes her.  It starts way back in grade school.

The other day I mentioned to Ben, “Ben, we really need to rake the yard or the grass isn’t going to grow this spring.”

Ben answered, “Yeah, Mom, we really do. (pointing) The rake is right over there.”

Of course, he grins when he says this and we both know my little phlegmatic-sanguine child will comply with my request.  But he’s got to mess with me a little bit first.

Little boys—including Jesus—-love their mamas.

Jesus also uses, “Woman,” to address Mary Magdalene in John 20:15, saying, “Woman, why are you weeping?”  He knows why she’s weeping — she came to the tomb and his body was gone.  Next thing Jesus says in John 20:16 is “Mary!  Like, “Hello?  It’s me.  I’m here. It’s okay.”

Last Sunday’s Gospel John 2:1-11

There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told the them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it. And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from — although the servers who had drawn the water knew —, the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.