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Friday, May 20, 2016

Dignity in Today's World

Holy Mother Church teaches:

 The dignity of the human person is rooted in his creation in the image and likeness of God ; it is fulfilled in his vocation to divine beatitude.  It is essential to a human being freely to direct himself to this fulfillment By his deliberate actions the human person does, or does not, conform to the good promised by God and attested by moral conscience.  Human beings make their own contribution to their interior growth; they make their whole sentient and spiritual lives into means of this growth. With the help of grace they grow in virtue, avoid sin, and if they sin they entrust themselves as did the prodigal son1 to the mercy of our Father in heaven.  In this way they attain to the perfection of charity.


Like many people my age I am shocked by the number of attacks on children by other children reported in today's media.  It feels as though there are tons of kids being beaten up or killed in school bathrooms, on playgrounds or in classrooms all across America.  Any given day, the landscape seems to be littered with the broken bodies of our kids and it always seems to be the face of another child being paraded in front of the television cameras, being proclaimed as the reason another young girl or young boy is lying in a casket.

 While I know that feelings are NOT reality and that the issue of school bullies and fights is not a new one I honestly do not remember children being beaten to death by five or more classmates because of jealousy when I was in school.  I just don't remember having to worry that my classmates - even the ones who made fun or me and hurt my feelings on a regular basis - would surround me and beat me to death.  Shun me? yes.  Talk smack about me behind my back?  Of course.  Aim a baseball bat at the base of my skull because I spoke to their 'boyfriend' during recess? 

Oh hell no.

Yes, I understand that I grew up in the suburbs and attended Catholic Schools.  I understand that I was, essentially, a farm kid without a lot of animals to feed and that I grew up during a time when life was relatively simple.

I remember girls being mean to me at school and being told that it was because they were jealous.  I also can tell you that I did not understand that at all (I still don't, to be honest with you, despite the fact that it is the explanation I am handed today when 'mean girls attack').  What I do not remember is being surrounded by all of them at once in the girls bathroom at Christ the King and having them take turns punching and kicking me.

I have male friends who, because they were different in junior high or high school, got their head dunked in school toilets or their butts covered in tape or other horrible things but honestly that was the kind of stuff restricted to was awful and it was stupid and it caused my friends a lot of pain...but it was the anomaly rather than the norm.

Part of that, I believe, is because the world still accepted the idea that life is precious.  Someone's death, especially a young person's death, was more than a tragedy - it was a horror because it didn't happen on a regular basis.  For the majority of us, going to school did not include the fear that we would not make it out of the bathroom alive.  We might not be popular and we might be called names and excluded or otherwise tortured by the mean kids but those same mean kids would have no more tried to strangle us or beat us to death than they would jump into the local Canal.

We can blame social media or reality TV or drugs and alcohol but I think the reason we have become so violent towards each other is simple:  We have rejected God's Authority and decided we can make our own decisions about how we will live our lives...and if that means I get to get to take a swing with a tire iron at the head of an older lady who took my parking spot at Target or get into a fist fight in the aisle at WalMart with the man who took the last toaster oven off the shelf, so be it...I get to do it.  I get to take my frustration and rage and self importance out on you.

The first lie told to Eve was that God did not have her best interest at heart.  He didn't want her to do something because it would mean she would be like a god.  She would be able to determine for herself what was right and what was wrong.  I believe we have bought into that lie.  The results are all around me - and our dead children (whether through abortion or a beating on the playground) attest to the ultimate fallacy of this belief.  Let's face it, people.  When we decide to play god, we make a mess of everything.

For the Catholic the idea is to want to be LIKE God as opposed to LIKE A GOD.  If we make the decision to try and attain the perfection of God (be Perfect as your Heavenly Father is Perfect) we bind ourselves to Truth.  We have to show mercy, be just in our dealings with each other, care as much about our neighbor's well being as we care for our own.  We have to serve - to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, counsel the doubtful and visit the sick.  

Catholics are not immune to the Great Lie told to Eve.  What we have, however, is the antidote to that Lie.  We have the ways and the means to develop the grace necessary to walk as a people set apart in a world where  fifth graders beat up  six year olds because they think the younger, smaller and vulnerable being did something to deserve a beating.  Through the Sacramental Life of The Church, we can resist the temptation to assert what WE want and to do it through violence.  By receiving the grace afforded through regular Reconciliation and The Eucharist, by praying in front of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, by reading Scripture and honoring the teachings of Holy Mother Church we can build up the spiritual muscles necessary to resist the lie.  We won't find it necessary to stop a car and fight the guy who cut us off.  We won't find it necessary to have our girlfriends record us beating up another girl because she is dating our ex-boyfriend.  We won't need to have a fist fight at WalMart. 

As Catholics, we are bound by certain beliefs.  The belief in the fundamental and inherent dignity of every human being is a belief all Catholics are to hold.  We might not want to and we might be tested in that belief, but unless I am willing to open my mind and my heart to Truth I become vulnerable to the Great Lie and go from trying to be like God to thinking that I can be like A god...and make my own rules.

Today I am traumatized by the events I see unfolding and I am frightened for the future of our young people and my country.  My only hope lies in the knowledge that God wins in the end.

I have read the book.  I know He will triumph...I just wish everyone knew and believed it.

Maybe if they did, our kids would be safe at school.


Monday, May 16, 2016

Emotional Flashbacks

In Mass on Sunday, the Feast of Pentecost, I knelt after receiving Jesus in the Eucharist and closed my eyes in prayer and meditation.  I listened to the music and allowed my mind to fill with the wonder of what I was experiencing:  the immense Love of my Lord and my God being my actual Food. 

Without warning, I found myself sitting in the kitchen of my childhood home, dressed in my Catholic School girl uniform and watching my father spank my baby brother's bear bottom with a ruler because he had disobeyed him.  I felt the anguish, my eyes filled with tears and the horrible feeling of helplessness as the child I adored sobbed in pain.  I was only 8 years old.  I know that...I know I couldn't have done anything but to this day the memory fills me with shame because I was incapable of protecting my baby brother from injustice.

The big lie that I have told myself for years is that I am not enough.  I was not enough to keep my father from leaving us.  I was never enough to protect my baby brother from the sadness of not having a mother at home and having to be with babysitters or from a father who was not able to deal with his own moral lapses.  I have never been enough for anyone to love just as I am and so had to give in to what the world told me boys wanted in order to belong.  I am not a good enough daughter, sister or aunt.  I am just not enough.

The amazing healing power of God and His Church, along with the healing power of the 12 Step program I use to arrest my alcoholism, has brought me a long, long way from that helpless 8 year old girl.  I am much better today at recognizing that the occasional emotional flashbacks I experience do not have to define me or ruin a wonderful day.  I was able, that morning, to shed some silent tears, wipe my runny mascara from beneath my eyes and carry on with my prayer and the worship of Jesus Christ.  I had a lovely day at the Pentecost Pot Luck and got to take my dog for a walk as well as go to the gym for 45 minutes.   I watched my Zombie show, dealt with a billing issue with AT&T and got to bed early.  All in all, it was a lovely day.

What Sunday taught me, however, is that my journey is far from over.  My healing is not complete and quite frankly I question if it is ever going to be complete.  Perhaps it is the wound itself that allows me to remember I am vulnerable and I need Jesus Christ, His Church and Her Sacramental Life in order to function in the world.  Perhaps this wound, caused by the lie that I am not enough, is what keeps me humble and looking to Him for help.  Perhaps, if I was not aware of this wound, I would not be able to have the humility necessary for obedience.

My life today is pretty grand.  I have lovely friends, a great relationship with most of my family and a better understanding of how God has worked in my life even when I didn't know He was there.  I cannot complain about anything, really, except perhaps that I don't really understand the game of Hockey and I would like to root for the Sharks during the playoffs.

What I acknowledge, however, are the very real feelings of pain and sorrow felt by the little girl in that kitchen.  I wish I had been stronger at age 8.  I wish I had been like those kids today in parts of the world who are dying for The Faith and I suspect that if I had been faced with that kind of choice at age 8 I would have failed the test of martyrdom.

I also wish I had protected my baby brother.

Today, I ask for forgiveness for that child and I give it to her.  She wasn't the best she could have been but she grew up into a woman who knows how important it is to be strong - and where to go for that strength when it is needed.

Thank you, God, for my life today exactly as it is...I wouldn't change a thing.

Even if I could.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

'I feel like I let Everyone Down'

Yesterday I had a chance to reconnect with an old and dear friend.  We had not spoken for quite awhile, despite being members of the same parish and living fairly close.  I had not thought too much about it, really, chalking it up to busy lives. She has several children and they are all growing up pretty fast...the two youngest are still High School age.  It wasn't until I saw pictures of those kids dressed up for their proms that I realized how much time had passed and so I made a mental note to reach out and comment on her FB posts as much as possible.  I wanted her to know I was still around.

Last night she called.  I was in the parking lot of the local grocery store when I saw her name pop up on the phone.  I was so excited!  I snatched up the phone and settled in for a bit of a chat, more than willing to put off my errands until I had had the chance to talk with her.

The news of her life made my heart sink.  This beautiful, devoted wife and mother had been dealt a terrible blow by her husband.  Suffice to say the marriage had, in the eyes of the secular world, ended.  Now it was up to the courts and the attorneys to sift through the ashes and try to salvage something to insure the economic safety of the kids.  She was now in charge of making sure the roof stayed firmly over their heads, food was on the table and any wolf showing up on the property was told that its face was not welcome at her door. 

I know this woman.  I watched her go through RCIA at our parish during a time of crisis in their lives - a crisis that would have destroyed another woman but which she used as the catalyst to  bring all of them closer to Christ,   By her example and her embracing of Catholic Truth she brought her children to the Sacramental Life.  I had been there at her Baptism, watched her children receive their First Holy Communion and marveled at the healing power of Jesus and His Church as it manifested in her family. 

Now I sat and listened as the tears in her voice matched the ones forming in my eyes.  Her thoughts were not for herself - she was concerned about her babies, her children who are understandably devastated and have, temporarily, rejected the Faith because of their father's behavior.  They are so angry.  They are so very, very hurt.

The only time I heard this woman speak about herself was when she said, "I feel like I let everyone at the parish down by getting divorced".

In a flash I was thrust back over fifty years to the little girl sitting on the bench at recess at Christ the King, crying and feeling all alone.  I was the only kid in the class who had a Daddy that did not live at home, who had walked away from me, my soon-to-be-born baby bother and my Mommy without seeming to have a care in the world.  Without any doubt I knew it was my fault, that somehow if I had only been a better daughter and better big sister to the coming baby that Daddy wouldn't have packed his bags and told me that first big lie.  "I'm going on a business trip, Princess.  I will be back in a few days".

The hardest part about being me during those years was the attitude of the kids in my class.  Good Catholics did not get divorced.  Good women did not get left.  The judgment upon my family was there, just below the surface, and would simmer through the holes of their own sin every once in awhile with cruel taunts on the playground.  Occasionally, someone would try to be kind and loving, and that was almost worse.  My Irish/Italian temperament (I will choke of a piece of pride pie rather than spit it out and admit I took too big a bite) would kick in and the child that tried to be kind because I was the kid with the divorced parents would be rebuffed with a fury only a seven year old can feel when they are wronged by a world way too big for them to traverse alone.

Last night, while that little girl inside of me raised her head once more, I tried only to focus on the pain my friend was feeling. I am no longer seven.  I am sixty.  Someone else needed me.  My duty was clear.  I could comfort myself later but right then, right there I needed to say the right thing to this lovely and scared and brave and strong woman on the other end of the phone.

Our call ended with promises of mutual prayers and support.  She knows she can call me anytime.  I told her to tell the kids I loved them and to remind them that other people's bad behavior is not excuse for them to walk away from Jesus and His Church...and to tell them we miss them at the parish and we need them there.

I also told her we love her, we need her and that she did not let anyone down.  She has a rocky path ahead, one that plenty of Catholic men and women who entered into the Sacrament of Marriage only to find themselves discarded when the going got a little boring or tough had walked before her.  I told her we want her there, that she is a necessary member of the Body of Christ.

I hope she believed me.  I told her the truth about The Truth.

Only time will tell.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

May 4, 1992

I have no idea why, when I came to that morning, I went 24 hours without a drink.

That in and of itself is not that big a deal.  For two years I had been able to go 24 hours without a drink several times.  What I couldn't seem to do is go longer than 28 days without a drink. 

So May 4th, for me, is not the real miracle.

The real miracle day is JUNE 5th.  On JUNE 5th woke up and realized I had not had a drink or a drug for over 30 days.

I began to have some hope that day - hope that I might be able to really do this deal, to actually live my life without alcohol or cocaine or meth or marijuana or anything else that softened the lines of reality and made it bearable to live in the world.

Six months later I wanted to run people over with my car but that was my disease - the disease of alcoholism - kicking in with a vengeance. 

Most people think alcoholism is all about drinking - that is definitely a big part of it but I have news for you..if you hate being sober, if being sober hurts both mentally and physically, then you might be an alcoholic.

If, when you do drink, life becomes tolerable again, then you might be an alcoholic.

And if, when you do take that life saving drink you suddenly feel the urge to take another, and another and another until you have once again cause havoc in your life...then you might be an alcoholic.

I am an alcoholic.  The Holy Trinity is my Higher Power.  I am healed of the need, one day at a time, to take a drink and for that I am grateful.

Today is May 4, 2016 - and today I celebrate 24 years of continuous sobriety.

Thank you, God.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

No Matter WHAT - I drink

In a couple of weeks I will be, I hope, celebrating 24 years of continuous sobriety.  To the person who does not have the disease of alcoholism, or tends to regard all problems that have been addressed using the 12 Steps developed by Bill Wilson and Dr Bob Smith (with the contributions of organized religion, evangelical movements and other drunks like them) as 'the same', that probably does not seem like that big a deal.  Afterall, common sense tells you that if you discover you are not a successful social drinker of alcohol, or that you cannot imbibe in cocaine or marijuana or heroin or cheesecake or watching pornography without getting arrested, spending the rent money, beating your husband or your kids, becoming numb to sex with real people or otherwise negatively impacting society then you should stop drinking alcohol, doing cocaine, smoking marijuana or shooting/smoking/eating heroin or cheesecake and stop watching pornography.  It's a no-brainer, right?  if it hurts you or others, then stop doing it.

I have written in the past about the disease of alcohol being something that hits us when we are stone cold sober.  I won't revisit my thoughts on that subject here.  What I am reflecting on today is a phrase I have used and one I hear often around the tables of the 12 Step program I use to stay sober.

Don't drink no matter what.

I understand the sentiment.  I have, as I said, used that phrase myself, but I am uneasy with it and I will tell you why.

I am an alcoholic.  I drink no matter what.

Beloved aunt's funeral?  I show up on time but hung over and have a drink before the Mass starts to steady my nerves.

My nephew is in ICU after almost losing his life in a car accident?  I show up to be supportive of his father - but I have a bottle in my purse and I left the house and drove 80 miles to where they are under the influence.

I have a job interview in three days and it is important that I look fresh and happy and competent?  I drink up until 3am of the morning of that interview and get there with dirty shoes and not-quite-combed hair, trying to pull it off as though I am stylishly ragged and too cool for my shoes.

In other words, telling me that something important or wonderful or serious or necessary is happening to me, around me or for me and so I should 'not drink, no matter what' is not the answer.  I know when I am not supposed to drink.  I understand I am taking my life and the lives of those around me into my unsteady hands when I get behind the wheel of a car but you don't get it - I am not a bad person.

I am an alcoholic and I drink no matter WHAT.

Okay so what should I be saying instead?  What wisdom should I be imparting to a newcomer sitting around those same tables or calling me in the middle of the day sobbing that everything sucks, nothing works right and the whole world hates her/him?

I believe with all my heart that Smith and Wilson developed the 12 Steps with the guidance of a loving and merciful God.  In the words of Mr. Smith, the program he wrote down was not invented - it grew and it has evolved.  What I believe I need to do is to remind the people just starting out (and those who have been here awhile) that those 12 Steps help people like me re-establish (or establish for the first time) a personal and powerful relationship with a Power of the Universe, a loving and merciful God, The Creature, The Alpha and the Omega.  It is THAT relationship that gives me the power I do not have to not drink alcohol one day at a time.

Here is what I have to do, no matter what:

1.  I must start my day with prayer and meditation.

For me, A Catholic and a Lay Dominican, I have my morning prayer through the Liturgy of the Hours.  I must be willing, each morning, to deliberately and intentionally give my life to God and ask Him to do with it what HE wants.  I am willing, deliberately and intentionally, to open myself up to the Grace that gives the strength I need to fullfill my purpose.

2.  I must stay in service.

No matter what, I have got to be of service to others.  I have to be willing to love the unloveable, to counsel the doubtful, to instruct the ignorant.  I must be willing to perform the corporal works of mercy under any conditions and no matter how tired, how stressed or how inadequate I may feel at the time the request is made of me.  I have to be willing to put God, His Church, my family, my community before me.  My very recovery depends upon my constant thought of others.  My mantra and prayer must be, "How may I help?".

3.  I must attend meetings.

No matter how I feel or how tired I am or how incredibly stupid I might decide a group of people are, I need to shut up, suit up and show up.  I need them.  I need to hear how it is going in their lives.  I need to meet newcomers and support oldtimers.  I need to wipe down tables, make coffee and pick up cigaret butts on the sidewalk outside so we are considered good neighbors.   I have to be right in the middle of the herd ready to take two or three with me to go rescue a stray one that is limping along behind us.  I have to be a member among members.

4.  I must keep in contact with the person helping ME.

No matter what, I have got to be willing to tell at least ONE person the complete truth about myself; however I am feeling, how I am doing and WHAT I am doing.

5.  I must receive the Sacraments.

As a Catholic, I know the incredible grace that is available to me through a Sacramental and Liturgical life.  I MUST take advantage of that - I cannot pretend that doing the minimum is going to be enough for someone like me.  I have to remember, no matter what, that Jesus instituted the Sacraments so that I can receive the grace I need, and as an alcoholic I need more grace than the average bear.

There are many other things I have to do in order to stay sober.  I know that, to many of you, this might seem to be a matter of semantics.  For me, however, remembering that there is a difference between trying to exert my will on my Alcoholism and concentrating on bringing my will into line with the Will of God.

St Thomas Aquinas said for us to approach situations by looking at what we want the result to be - and I want the result in my life to be sobriety.

To that end, this Alcoholic acknowledges that she drinks no matter what - and in order NOT to do that, she stays close to God and His Church.

No Matter What.