When I began studying theology nearly ten years ago, I certainly never imagined that I would emerge all these years later as a voice for the addicted. I began the journey with an insatiable thirst for God, and theology seemed like the next step towards growing closer to Him. I thought I would be obtaining useful knowledge about my faith — knowledge that I hoped would take me one step closer to holiness. I felt certain that if I knew doctrine, the prayers, and the Gospels, I would be heading in the direction that God intended.
I think God admired my valiant efforts, and He rewarded me with suffering. I descended to the depths of despair as my daughter became addicted to pills her senior year in Catholic high school. I continued studying as best I could, reading Saint Augustine’s Confessions, while simultaneously learning about addiction through academic certification courses, the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book, and by reading countless other scientific and spiritual books about addiction.
I also sat in “open” Twelve Step meeting rooms of every sort (AA, NA, CA, HA, MA), where suffering people hid in shame from those they somehow deemed as more worthy than them. They were supported by others like them who understood their pain. And I wondered why and how these modern day lepers could feel anything less than mercy, as they shared their heartfelt stories in basements just beneath the floor where the tabernacle sat alone in an empty church. A tabernacle that bears the presence of the One who died for the very likes of these.
In retrospect, I realize that I came to understand and live my faith the only way that I could — by walking the path of suffering. I experienced the shame and the pain that families endure, and I accompanied “the outcast” as they struggled to survive. I learned that true knowledge doesn’t happen in the mind; it happens within a heart that has been tried, tested, and refined by the fire (Zechariah 13:9). I came to understand that knowing God means sharing in His sufferings and becoming like Him in His death (Philippians 3:10). I finally understood that being a Christian means following Christ (Mark 8:34) who “came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
There are so many suffering, and they need us to bring the Light of Christ, the mercy and hope of God, and the love of the Holy Spirit into the darkness of the addiction and overdose epidemic.
(Originally Written for the National Diaconate Institute for Continuing Education (NDICE) Newsletter, June 2019.)