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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Self Knowledge - Aquinas and Alcoholism

I am currently attending the Advent Mission at my parish, St Joseph's in Modesto, California. The priest giving the mission is world-renowned, EWTN contributor Father Wade Menezes of the Fathers of Mercy. It is Father Wade's third mission at St Joseph's in the past decade and it is truly his best so far. He has, in my humble opinion, improved over the years - still very strong and orthodox yet emphasizing the possibility that all of us have the ability to be great saints, to by pass the purification due to temporal punishment after death and go straight to heaven.

This past few days he has used examples of saints who were horribly wounded - lust addicts, alcoholics, bulimics, etc - that are now considered amazing members of the Church Triumphant. Designed to inspire hope, Father has made it clear to us that our responsibilities as Baptized Catholics, involve living the Truth, teaching the Truth and defending the Truth but doing so with an mind towards our own failings, our own woundedness and our own need for penance.

I have a dear dear friend that was accused by an errant spouse of being the 'Confession Police' because she insisted he take his actions to that Sacrament. I myself have been accused of thinking I walk on water when I have insisted to those who claim to be practicing Catholics that they must follow the precepts of the Church or they will be unprepared if Jesus shows up today.

Both my friend and me would be in trouble if we were not aware, keenly aware in my case (and hers, I suspect) of our own failings, our own inability to walk the path of Truth without ever falling by the wayside, for even a minute.

Father Wade has also spoken many times during the past few days of the teachings of Aquinas and his emphasis on self-knowledge. Again, as a Catholic, it is important for us to remember that Aquinas is a Doctor of the Church and not the entire magisterium. Yet, Aquinas is correct when he writes that the first step towards a virtuous and holy life is self-knowledge. We must be willing to face ourselves, to see a true vision in the mirror and to be aware and conscious that we have much to atone for on a daily basis. We must run the race to the end. We are not simply saved and there - BAM - done with it. Those fallen away from Truth who talk about not being snatched from His Hand forget that we are bedeviled by a fallen nature and can, without a second thought, leap from His Hand if only for an instant. The arrogance of the 'Once Saved Always Saved' heresy is an example of how Satan uses partial truths to cover his lies and we have to be mindful of this as we walk towards heaven.

The tough part of this teaching, however, is for people like me - those who struggle with the disease of alcoholism. Despite 21 plus years of continuous sobriety I cannot ever be arrogant enough to think that simple self knowledge would be enough to keep me from drinking.

Self knowledge, when it comes to alcoholism, avails me nothing.

Now, what do I mean?

I do not mean to imply that it is not important for me to KNOW I have this disease. Nor do I mean to imply that having important information about one's struggles is not helpful. It is, and I am glad that I have come to a full and complete understanding of my condition.

What I will tell you is that this disease is so cunning, so baffling and so powerful that if all I had in my arsenal was the knowledge that I am an alcoholic I would be toast - drunk toast.

For someone of my make up, I have to have this knowledge AND I have to be willing to turn fully to the Power that is Jesus Christ. I must be willing to turn my will and my life over to His care. I must keep my resentments at bay, clean up my messes and forgive those who have shunned, hurt, attacked or maligned me. I cannot hold a grudge. I must be of service.

If I let any of the above go?

Drunk Toast.

Which might be a great name for my new garage proto punk band.


1 comment:

R.L. G said...

Leslie, it seems that a lot of people want a “pass” for doing what they want. What used to be considered constructive criticism, accurate observation or telling the truth is now regarded as “mean” spirited or hateful behavior. It is a perversion that people think that their dignity is not an intrinsic quality, but something that can be removed by a simple comment, or by not getting what they want. While I may not like someone suggesting that I “get my ass to reconciliation” or “call my sponsor,” the source of my discomfort is that they may be right, and I may as well do it because it can only result in a neutral or good outcome. That is the kind of self-awareness I find useful, the kind that is checked by my friends and loved ones. Remember what Clint Eastwood said to Gene Hackman in “The Unforgiven” in the bar scene near the end of the movie? “Deserve's got nothin' to do with it.” Harsh sounding, but true. If I ever got what I deserved… well you get the picture, faith is a marvelous thing.