by Msgr. Joseph Calise
I HAVE BEEN involved with people in 12-step recovery for the past 23 years. I have had the wonderful opportunity to share time and stories with men and women, rich and poor, young and old, white collar, blue collar – and roman collar – who come together solely to explore their journey from addiction to sobriety.
Some were addicted to alcohol or drugs; others to food or tobacco and still others to gambling, lust and other behaviors that caused them great pain. Yet, they were able to move away from the grasp of their disease into a healthy lifestyle.
I can honestly say that I have met some very inspirational people in 12-step recovery. Their return to spiritual, physical and emotional health most often took place through a process known as the Twelve Steps. These steps, outlined by Bill W. and Dr. Bob, the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, take the seeker on a quest through self knowledge to the awareness of a power greater than oneself who gives strength, meaning and purpose. If I asked each of these brave souls, “Why? Why did you start?,” the answer would be similar for most. In the stories I have heard, most people reference “something that was missing.” Simply put, they were unhappy and were searching for something to fill the void that was causing their unhappiness. As they came to learn, it could not be filled with things or substances.
In 1980, Johnny Lee sang the song, “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places,” in the movie Urban Cowboy. The song, I believe, testifies that we are all on the same journey with the same propensity for detours – we are looking for happiness but sometimes look in the wrong places. I am far from a prude, but there is a tremendous difference between a glass of wine with a good meal and a bottle of gin for breakfast. An after dinner cigar and three packs of cigarettes a day do not pose the same health hazard. Intercourse between husband and wife can be holy – hours of Internet pornography are not. Many things, which can be part of life’s simple pleasures, lose that appeal when they become the destination of the journey rather than roadside decoration.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells the parable of a man who builds space to hoard more. Little did he know he would die that night, and all the “stuff” he accumulated would be someone else’s. How sad for him that he devoted so much time to the pursuit of wealth that he missed out on other opportunities. I have yet to hear a man look back on his life and say, “I sure wish I spent less time with my kids and more at work.” Sadly, the inverse is often true. The challenge, of course, is to identify what real happiness is and then to seek after it with zeal.
Today’s readings from Ecclesiastes and Colossians call us away from that which offers only fleeting joy to seek, as St. Paul says, “what is above.” Perhaps, it would be better put to say “seek Who is above.” Ultimately, if we are going to find true happiness, it will not be by chasing after the fleeting pleasures of this life but by using that which God places before us to grow in His image and likeness.
The Eleventh Step of 12-step recovery reads, “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.” How simple it can sound that prayer, the lifting up of our hearts and minds to God to discern His will for us, will, once put into action, lead us to real happiness. The last paragraph of this recovery step in the book, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions reads, “Perhaps one of the greatest rewards of meditation and prayer is the sense of belonging that comes to us. We no longer live in a completely hostile world. We are no longer lost and frightened and purposeless. The moment we catch even a glimpse of God’s will, the moment we begin to see truth, justice, and love as the real and eternal things in life, we are no longer deeply disturbed by all the evidence to the contrary that surrounds us in purely human affairs. We know that God lovingly watches over us. We know that when we turn to Him, all will be well with us, here and hereafter.”
Happiness is available to all of us, we just have to look in the right place.[hr]
Readings for the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23
Psalm 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14, 17
Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11
Msgr. Joseph Calise is the pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish, Williamsburg.