Addicts are lucky.
Would that everyone admitted they were powerless over their sin.
Would that everyone knew they needed God to heal them.
Would that everyone’s sin made their lives “unmanageable”.
Would that we all could hit bottom.
Of course, I’m being a bit misleading here. We all either have personal experience of physical addictions or know someone who has (or for the lucky ones like me, both!), and the destructive force those addictions can wreak on souls and families is devastating at times.
But in another sense, I’m not being misleading at all.
If we’re going to be Catholic, we have to plead insanity. We do what we know will make us unhappy. We do what ruins our lives. We do what screws up our families. And we know that, and yet we stick with our behaviors. We keep sinning in our favorite ways, despite the fact that we know it will make us and those around us unhappy.
Fr. Robert Barron suggests that we’re all addicts. He says the Beatitudes are calls to be freed from addictions to wealth, power, pleasure, and honor. They are the fulfillment of the moral code inscribed in our hearts and on the tablets: no longer rules to be followed only for obedience’s sake, but for “beatitude”, blessedness, happiness, a share in the Divine life, a life free from the chains of our sin.
Who wouldn’t choose that? Only an addict. Only someone who is powerless over their drug, be it alcohol or anger, booze or bigotry, cocaine or criticism.
Gossip can keep you from beatitude just as much as meth. Sin is simply what we fill our hearts with instead of God.
But how to admit I need to let go of my addiction to pride? How can I hit bottom with envy? That’s why I said addicts (in the traditional sense) are lucky – their problem is obvious, public, and socially unacceptable. So many ask for help.
We all need to do that.
Until we admit we have a problem with sin (i.e. until we stop pretending), we won’t know we need grace.
The first step is admitting we have a problem.
If you’ve never read the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, you should. They’re just darn good catechesis.
THE TWELVE STEPS OF ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature
of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make
amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do
so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with
God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us
and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to
carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our
So, admit your sin is out of control and you need Jesus to heal you (steps 1-3). Go to confession (steps 4-7). Do penance (steps 8-9). Continuously examine your conscience (step 10). Pray every day (step 11). Evangelize (step 12).
That’s a simplified, Catholicked version of the steps, but I think there’s something there.
This is how many people are freed from their addictions to drugs and alcohol and sex and eating. It could be the means to our freedom from our spiritual addictions, like pride and envy and lust and greed.
But we won’t use or work the steps unless we admit our powerlessness. We have to quit thinking the moral life is just a great effort of willpower that some of us are doing quite well and others quite poorly.
The moral life is a question of how to live sanely, i.e. how to do what’s best for yourself (what alcoholics would call “your own enlightened self-interest”). When we don’t do that, it doesn’t mean we are just weaklings in need of pMoral-X to buff us up properly.
We are sick with sin. We need spiritual medicine. We need healing.
This is the second step in our journey towards “life to the full”.
1) Quit pretending you are okay.
2) Identify your sin and work the steps on this.
So now it’s time to look those addictions in the eye and see the hope shining behind them.
N.B.: This is not meant to belittle or oversimplify the dangers or seriousness of alcoholism, drug addition, sex addiction, etc., or the deep and difficult task of working the steps. Rather, it’s to point out, as Chesterton says, “We’re all in the same boat, and we’re all seasick”. Grace is our dramamine.