Tag Archives: addiction

3 April, Desert XXXV, Praying with Pope Francis: Freedom from Addiction.

door, Francis, Bangui Advent 2015 (Radio V)

Pope Francis this month asks us to pray:

that those suffering from addiction may be helped and accompanied.

Here we see Pope Francis opening wide the Door of Mercy  at the cathedral of Bangui, in his words as “a sign of faith and hope” for the people of the Central African Republic and “symbolically for the whole African population who are most in need of rescue and comfort.”’

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My great-great grandfather, an actor, is seen here with a gin bottle, then a cheap source of alcohol and oblivion – not what Francis meant by comfort. Mother’s ruin, it was called. Many were addicted to it, and attracted the attention of the forces of law and order; here, it seems, the gin itself is under arrest.

I’m not sure what Grandfather would have made of the rough sleepers and street drinkers of today. Many seem to avoid the people who might be willing and able to help, stuck in their personal deserts. We saw that with Ruby, eighteen months ago. I don’t think she was addicted to any substances, but she most definitely was refusing to have anything to do with me. I hope she’s accepted help and is making  her way somewhere.

The illegal drugs for sale on our streets have taken the place of 19th Century cheap alcohol. As well as those who are addicted, we should be praying for a change of heart along the supply chain. How do we support young people who are vulnerable to the suppliers? I first met Ruby when she was in care but lost touch when I left that job; she more than likely went overnight from being well accompanied in a residential home to almost no support ‘in the community’. If our society were merciful, that would not happen but Francis called us to be merciful like the Father during the Year of Mercy. We should not stop being merciful!

Pope Francis’s prayer needs to be consolidated with action to accompany, not only those already addicted, but also those most obviously at danger of becoming addicted. The very least any of us could do is to have a smile or a ‘good morning’ for whoever we meet. They may need it today! If you do it to one of these little ones, you do it to me.

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February 6: And then comes what shall come— Brownings IV.

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Robert Browning is writing to Elizabeth Barrett, his secret fiancée. She has told him of her dependence on morphine, as prescribed by her doctor, who is reluctant to take her off it, but agrees to do so, ‘slowly and gradually’. Robert is keen for her to get out and about, for she has been housebound for a long time, and offers her some encouragement. He writes this day, February 6, 1846.

‘Slowly and gradually’ what may not be done? Then see the bright weather while I write—lilacs, hawthorn, plum-trees all in bud; elders in leaf, rose-bushes with great red shoots; thrushes, whitethroats, hedge sparrows in full song—there can, let us hope, be nothing worse in store than a sharp wind, a week of it perhaps—and then comes what shall come—”

Elizabeth (‘Ba’) had written of when the drug was prescribed:

I have had restlessness till it made me almost mad: at one time I lost the power of sleeping quite—and even in the day, the continual aching sense of weakness has been intolerable—besides palpitation—as if one’s life, instead of giving movement to the body, were imprisoned undiminished within it, and beating and fluttering impotently to get out, at all the doors and windows. So the medical people gave me morphine, and ever since I have been calling it my amreeta* draught, my elixir,—because the tranquillizing power has been wonderful. Such a nervous system I have—so irritable naturally, and so shattered by various causes, that the need has continued in a degree until now, and it would be dangerous to leave off the calming remedy, Mr. Jago says, except very slowly and gradually.

  • The drink of the Hindu gods, conferring immortality.
 from “The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846”, available on Kindle or online. 
The Apricot is also in bud now, and will soon flower, leaving us to fret about late frosts killing off the developing fruit. Comes what shall come …

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January 10: Temperance IV: Our Appetites and our Reason

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Our human nature was created by God in such a way as to insure our survival as a species. The bodily appetites that deliver the most pleasure also happen to be the very ones we most need in order to keep us going on the planet earth. In themselves, they are good, as St. Thomas affirms, and there is nothing wrong with the pleasure they give. But, paradoxically, we need some moderation in these areas in order to enjoy the pleasure they give. How do we manage this?

There is very little in our secular culture to help us here. The advertising media exploits all our appetites in order to sell its products, thereby increasing our desire to posses those products and experience those pleasures, and giving us a vague feeling of inferiority if we do not. Being sexually active is presented as the greatest and most fulfilling human experience by the story-line of most films, plays and television shows. Chastity is rarely presented at all, and almost never shown in a positive light. The pleasures of food and alcohol are raised to the level of culinary art by celebrity chefs and the entire food industry. Yet, the fact that there are a rising number of individuals pursuing Twelve Step1 programs in order to handle addictions in these areas testifies to the truth that the Church has always known and St. Thomas clearly articulated in the thirteenth century. We need self-control with regard to our pleasures.

We also need to think. Our mind, our reason is more powerful than we may realise and can give us the real guidance we need. How reassuring this information is: that we have within us the capacity to direct our growth in goodness. This is nothing to do with IQ, and everything to do with opening our mind to the truth and our heart to the promptings of grace.

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The media and pop culture rely on us not thinking very deeply – and certainly not praying – so that we may be seduced by the personalities and products the media presents, and become consumers of what they sell. If we do not think too much, then our appetite for power and pleasure and possessions will move us to buy things that the businesses supporting the media want us to buy – things that will seem to feed these appetites, and give us the illusion that we, too, look like media stars and share somehow in their life of glamour and pleasure. This is manipulation on a grand scale. This illusion is something from which we need to withdraw in order to discover our true identity. We desperately need our ability to think, we need the use of what St. Thomas would call our reason, in order to live on a level in which we see through what is fraudulent and empty. Only then will we discover the joy of living in communion with God, and with what is true, and with a set of values in which temperance as a virtue becomes possible to us.

SJC

1It is important to point out that there can be a difference between addiction and intemperance, at least where drugs and alcohol are concerned. Drug and alcohol addiction is usually considered a disease which originates in a genetic pre-disposition to it. The only “cure” is complete abstinence from all substances. This is not the place to give a full description of the characteristics of addiction. I refer those interested in learning more about this to any writings on the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

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1 August: Work, work, work, the whole day through?

 

 

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I invite you to share Fr Austin’s homily on Martha and Mary: a good thought for the holidays. WT.

Luke 10:38 – 42.

What kinds of things frustrate you? The phone rings as you are about to leave – you run back in, and find someone sitting there near the phone. And the answer you get – it won’t be for me!  I think today’s Gospel is all about this.

There are dangers in overwork, no matter how good the work and no matter how noble the motivation for doing it. Spiritual guides, beginning with Jesus, have always warned of the dangers of becoming too taken-up in our work. Many are the spouses in a marriage, many are the children in a family, many are the friends, and many are churches, who wish that someone they love and need more attention from was less busy.

Generally too our society supports us in this escapism. With virtually every other addiction, we are eventually sent off to a clinic, but if we are addicted to our work, we are generally admired for our disease and praised for our selflessness: If I drink too much, or eat too much, or become dependent on a drug, I am frowned upon and pitied; but if I overwork to the point of neglecting huge and important imperatives in my life, they say this of me: “Isn’t he wonderful! He’s so dedicated!” Workaholism is the one addiction for which we get praised.

Beyond providing us with an unhealthy escape from some important issues with which we need to be dealing, overwork brings with it a second major danger: The more we over-invest in our work and daily routine, the greater the danger of taking too much of our meaning from our work rather than from our relationships.

As we become more and more immersed in our work and the things that interest us, to the detriment of our relationships, we will naturally begin too to draw more and more of our meaning and value from our work and, as numerous spiritual writers have pointed out, the dangers in this are many, not least among these is the danger that we will eventually find it harder and harder to find meaning in anything outside of our work and daily routine.

Old habits are hard to break. If we spend years drawing our identity from working hard and being loved for being anything from a professional athlete to a dedicated mum, it will not be easy to simply shift gears and draw our meaning from something else.

Classical spiritual writers are unanimous in warning about the danger of overwork and of becoming over-preoccupied with our work; with on-line interests; with anything that excludes others; when using hospitality becomes abusing. This is in fact what Jesus warns Martha about in the famous passage in scripture where she, consumed with the very necessary work of preparing a meal, complains to Jesus that her sister, Mary, is not carrying her share of the load.

 Jesus, instead of chastising Mary for her idleness and praising Martha for her dedication, tells Martha that Mary has chosen the better part, that, at this moment and in this circumstance, Mary’s idleness trumps Martha’s busyness. Why?

Because sometimes there are more important things in life than work, and what I prefer to be doing; even the noble and necessary work of tending to hospitality and preparing a meal for others. Idleness may well be the devil’s workshop, but busyness is not always a virtue.

AMcC

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