The Journey of a Spiritual Life: “Alcoholics Anonymous is the beginning, not the end.”

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By John Francis C.

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience.”

Since my first few years as a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, the voices of spiritual teachers throughout the centuries have reverberated within me with the message that the Principles we find in AA are deeply a part of all the greatest spiritual thinkers of the ages.

In Appendix V of the Big Book, called “The Religious View on A.A.,” Father Edward Dowling, S.J. writes:

“Alcoholic Anonymous is natural; it is natural at the point where nature comes closest to the supernatural, namely in humiliations and in consequent humility. There is something spiritual about an art museum or a symphony, and the Catholic Church approves of our use of them. There is something spiritual about A.A. too, and Catholic participation in it almost invariably results in poor Catholics becoming better Catholics.”

Many times during my journey, while reading some of the great spiritual writers and teachers, my mind wanders some and reminds me of the intersection between what is written in the Gospels and analyzed through the ages, and the simple truths of the Big Book.

While reading St. Augustine it occurred to me that many in AA would find Augustine a perfect soul-mate. He started as a lawyer who was constantly fighting against Christian teachings. His personal slave was also his lover, by whom he had a child. He lived in the same house as his Mother who constantly prayer for his salvation. He ended as a bishop — and the author of some of the most learned texts in the library of great Christian thought.

Similarly, St. Francis de Sales, takes us on a spiritual journey in “An Introduction to the Devout Life.” St. Francis de Sales frequently preached upon the essential nature of man’s total dependence upon God. Francis speaks to us in laymen’s terms and he always challenges us to find and do the Will of God.

Reading “An Introduction to the Devout Life” by St Francis de Sales probably increased my understanding of the life AA wants us to live, more than any other single book.

A few AAs have told me they found the use of the word “devout” off putting. Of course, until our devotion to alcohol dissipates for some time, many of us are unsure of how and where to devote our new-found energy.

For readers that might find reading this most complete of Francis’s works too time consuming, several key topics have been broken out and published separately in short, easy to read volumes dedicated to small portions of the spiritual life.

“Consoling Thoughts on Sickness and Death,” by St Francis de Sales (Edited by Pere Huguet) gave me my first understanding of Christian suffering and death, which we read while assisting another AA with lung cancer, radiation, chemotherapy and finally, death.

“Abandonment to Divine Providence,” by J.P. de Caussade teaches us how to “pour ourselves out” in service to others. By pouring out for another, we forget to focus upon our own selfish ego and learn some small amount of humility — a commodity not often highly valued in our modern society.  But humility is the key commodity of Jesus and the disciples.

When we pour out, we make room for the someone much more helpful than “self.” We make room for the “Indwelling of the Holy Spirit.”

Even after more than sixteen years of Catholic education, I confess that I had no clue to how the Holy Spirit was meant to be a part of my life.

Father Edward Leen, a sober Irish priest and author of “Holy Spirit” set me straight.

Simply put, Fr. Leen teaches that from birth be have sanctity in the form of our soul and the one who dwells within us: The Holy Spirit. Leen encourages us who start with only a small light within us — something the size of the pilot light in a gas stove —  and to stoke that fire up so that it glows within us and changes how we lead our lives.

All of the authors and books that became essential to my small but growing understanding of the spiritual life are frequently cited here in the Peace and Freedom web site — especially in the daily “Prayer and Meditation” articles.

And why would anyone go on a journey of spiritual awakening by reading and studying spiritual books? Well, after AA gets our sobriety started, each of us has to decide what to do next. Service to others, especially other alcoholics, is the best way to stay sober, according to the Big Book. But we also have this little problem of eternity waiting for us somewhere. Time marched on while we were drunk and not too cognizant of our spiritual nature and our spiritual journey. After we get sober, it becomes difficult to ignore the goodness of God. Once out of a deep, dark pit — we naturally want to give thanks for this miracle and look ahead to eternity, instead of living in constant fear.

Father Benedict J. Groeschel C.F.R.

On Easter Morning, just a few days ago, I picked up Father Benedict J. Groeschel’s book “The Reform of Renewal,” opened it at random, and read the first thing that my eyes had found:

“Realize that you are really powerless to overcome serious spiritual obstacles, because the things that are opposed to your conversion are usually more immediately attractive. This is most obvious in the case of compulsive behavior, but it is a hidden fact in many other problems. We simply cannot heal ourselves. For this reason fervent intercessory prayer is necessary. We must constantly acknowledge that Jesus Christ is our Savior and that we do not save ourselves. Often we do not understand our own motives. We need to analyze the roots of our spiritual problems.”

Groeschel cautions us against resentments.

“This is important because we can all blame someone else for out problems. People with Spiritual problems may blame God, their parents, the Church, life or others…”

A few lines down the page Fr. Groeschel discusses the steps that might be helpful in moving us toward a better life and cautions readers to seek out a spiritual director to assist in the process of recovery, conversion or whatever we care to call it.

Fr. Groeschel mentions in his books that he is “an honorary member of Alcoholics Anonymous.”  When we asked him about that he said, “I was not addicted to alcohol, but many spiritual people told me that Alcoholics Anonymous provided the most powerful spiritual renewal method of the twentieth century,” so I went to learn where the smart people were.

He also said, once we become sober, our spiritual life begins. “Alcoholics Anonymous is the beginning, not the end,” he told us.

Father Groeschel and many of my other favorite teachers have gone off to heaven now; and as I encounter more pain and suffering I still relish the joy and love of recovery — and how each of us can change a life for the better on our Spiritual Way.

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God, I offer myself to Thee-
To build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help
of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!
Thank you, God, Amen!

“Introduction to the Devout Life,” By St. Francis de Sales

“Self- Abandonment to Divine Providence” by de Caussade — the goal is total dependence upon God.

“Holy Spirit” by Edward Leen

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Books and published works by Father Benedict Groeschel:
  • God and Us, Daughters of St. Paul, 1982
  • Listening at Prayer, Paulist Press, 1984
  • Spiritual Passages: The Psychology of Spiritual Development “for those who seek”, Crossroad, 1984
  • The Courage to be Chaste, Paulist Press, 1985. ISBN 978-0-8091-2705-4
  • Stumbling Blocks or Stepping Stones: Spiritual Answers to Psychological Questions, Paulist Press, 1988
  • Thy Will Be Done: A Spiritual Portrait of Terence Cardinal Cooke, Alba House, 1990
  • The Reform of Renewal, Ignatius Press, 1990. ISBN 978-0-89870-286-6
  • A Still Small Voice: A Practical Guide on Reported Revelations, Ignatius Press, 1993. ISBN 978-0-89870-436-5
  • Healing the Original Wound: Reflections on the Full Meaning of Salvation, Servant, 1993
  • Heaven in Our Hands: Living the Beatitudes, Servant, 1994
  • Augustine: Major Writings (Crossroad Spiritual Legacy Series), Crossroad, 1995
  • Arise From Darkness: What to Do When Life Doesn’t Make Sense, Ignatius Press, 1995. ISBN 978-0-89870-525-6
  • In the Presence of Our Lord, Our Sunday Visitor, 1997
  • A Priest Forever: The Life of Eugene Hamilton, Our Sunday Visitor, 1998
  • Praying In The Presence Of Our Lord: Prayers For Eucharistic Adoration, Our Sunday Visitor, 1999
  • Quiet Moments: 120 Daily Readings, Servant, 2000
  • The Journey Toward God, Servant, 2000
  • The Cross at Ground Zero, Our Sunday Visitor, 2001
  • Behold, He Comes: Meditations on the Incarnation, Servant, 2001
  • From Scandal to Hope, Our Sunday Visitor, 2002
  • The King, Crucified And Risen: On The Passion And Glory Of Christ, Servant, 2002
  • Rosary: The Chain of Hope, Ignatius Press, 2003. ISBN 978-0-89870-983-4
  • There Are No Accidents: In All Things Trust in God, Our Sunday Visitor, 2004
  • Praying To Our Lord Jesus Christ: Prayers and Meditations Through the Centuries, Ignatius Press, 2004. ISBN 978-1-58617-041-7
  • A Drama of Reform, Ignatius Press, 2005. ISBN 978-1-58617-114-8
  • The Virtue Driven Life, Our Sunday Visitor, 2006
  • Praying with the Creed: Meditations from the Oratory, Our Sunday Visitor, 2007
  • Questions and Answers About Your Journey to God, Our Sunday Visitor, 2007
  • Everyday Encounters with God: What Our Experiences Teach Us about the Divine, Word Among Us, 2008
  • Experiencing the Mystery of Christ: Meditations from Oratory, Our Sunday Visitor, 2008
  • The Journey of Faith: How to Deepen Your Faith in God, Christ, and the Church, Our Sunday Visitor, 2009
  • Tears of God, Ignatius Press, 2009
  • After This Life: What Catholics Believe About What Happens Next, Our Sunday Visitor, 2009
  • Praying Constantly: Bringing Your Faith to Life, Our Sunday Visitor, 2010
  • Travelers Along the Way: The Men and Women Who Shaped My Life, Servant, 2010
  • I am with You Always, Ignatius Press, 2010. ISBN 978-1-58617-257-2
  • The Saints in My Life: My Favorite Spiritual Companions, Our Sunday Visitor, 2011
  • Jesus and Mary: In Praise of Their Glorious Names, Our Sunday Visitor, 2012

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