The first step of the Alcoholics Anonymous Program is to admit that one is powerless over the control of alcohol. In the other steps, a person accepts that a Higher Power can help them and then they turn their lives over to the care of God, with the second to last step being the alcoholic’s commitment to improve their conscious contact with God as He is understood, praying for knowledge of His will for them and the power to carry it out.
John Garcia, a man in his early 40’s from California, embraced these steps but by the time he got to the 12th, he realized that he needed even more.
He went through AA, had more than 10 medications and psychotherapy, but also had many relapses and never quite found contentment. His breaking point came in 2006 when he relapsed again and was sentenced to 16 months in prison. A Catholic, it was in prison that he understood for the first time what the Church has to offer those who suffer from addictions.
Looking at his own faith journey, he shares in an interview that growing up, his family background was lacking in faith formation of the most basic things such as going to Mass and keeping the 10 Commandments. He also says that while therapy and psychological help were important, that “modern psychology deals with behaviors, but does not deal with the cause of those behaviors, which is found in the soul.” And, like all of us, John says he suffered from the consequence of original sin in that we all have a tendency to sin which we can control, but that ultimately he gave into that. He realized that was the root of his problem. But he says that once he realized that this was the root of his problem, he could strike at it with God’s help. That meant “totally giving oneself to God through His Church” and a serious reception of all that God and His Church had for him – the reception of the sacraments and use of the sacramentals, along with prayer and cultivating the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity in the soul through sanctifying grace.
While AA has a lot of good in it, John says he had to take it to the next level by realizing that God would help him through the addictions he had in a special way through the Church. Confession for him he says has been especially helpful as he receives the sanctifying grace through that sacrament, and the Church has helped him to better understand the First Commandment: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me.” For him, the alcohol and drugs became a god, and he recognized his powerlessness in the face of it. He says “we cannot control our behaviors – whether they be drinking or otherwise – without God’s grace. It’s not just a matter of sheer willpower which saves us apart from God’s help.” When he realized he needed to become sober, he needed to act on his own, but he needed God’s grace to make it happen. And now, clean and sober, he says he needs to daily renew this connection to God which he does with his family. He’s also taken his newfound sobriety and used it to reach out to others who are recovering addicts and Catholic. He closes his interview by saying “Jesus Christ came to save us from sin, so if the 12 steps were necessary to do this, he would have given them to us. He didn’t do this, but he did give us his Mother, his Church and the sacraments – the most important of which is the holy Eucharist. Once you’ve fallen in love with Jesus in the holy Eucharist…there’s a deep, abiding peace that fills the soul like no support group could ever do.”
We had a whole course on the Eucharist at seminary, and while there’s so much to say on our understanding of it, a couple of words that come to mind are love and surrender.
The problem is we can sometimes as Catholics forget about what the Eucharist entails. For some, they can take no notice of the Eucharist at all, or put no thought into it and see it as one thing among many. Many are also not aware of the Real Presence of our Lord in the Eucharist and see it as a mere representation. And on the other end are those who have a disconnect. They are aware of when to genuflect, and may have a personal sense of piety, but then disconnect the Eucharist from other people, and leave Mass or prayer time and judge others, gossip, put others down. All of us are susceptible to the effects of original sin.
So where does one find the proper balance? By remembering that all of us are John Garcia. We are all addicts, addicts to sin. And the antidote is God’s love.
There are many ways to experience this love in our prayer life. It’s important to remember that all prayer is good, and it’s good to use what works for you. However, one thing you might consider is making some time to come to visit the church.
I sometimes like to go into the church alone to pray. I’ve also said Mass alone before too, and I know when I do so, the angels and saints are there. When you enter into the church, you’ll notice the sanctuary lamp, the candle above the tabernacle that is always burning except on Good Friday. It symbolizes how Jesus is present in a special way in the Eucharist which the tabernacle holds. Sometimes it can be quite peaceful to sit there and meditate on God’s love which I feel in the church when I am in there praying.
Another opportunity is to come to Eucharistic Adoration. Down the road at some point we hope to build a reservation chapel (there is the slight matter of $5 million owed on the building though). But the first Friday of each month starting after Mass and running through the afternoon we have the Eucharist exposed in a monstrance. Some people find it helpful to look at the Eucharist and meditate, pray, or just sit in silence. It is a beautiful devotion, and I think can be summarized by one word, “love.” In the silence of the church during this time, many people find peace and comfort. God speaks to their hearts as they think about things that fill our minds; our fears and anxieties; discerning what to do in our lives; or thinking about our struggles with sin. It’s almost as if Jesus is silently saying to us “turn your struggles over to me” and reminding us that He is here with us.
Either way, I’d encourage you to consider coming into our church at anytime, or checking out Eucharistic Adoration on the first Fridays from September through June. No appointment is necessary, Jesus is always there for you. And no matter what type of prayer you prefer, talk to God regularly – He’s there for you always!