Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, Apostle (2007)

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, the Apostle. As a result of his conversion, in a rather direct and not-too-subtle manner, he went from being a persecutor of the followers of Christ to being their leading apologist (defender) and evangelist. Christianity was largely shaped by his efforts to spread it beyond Jewish communities and into Gentile (non-Jewish) lands.

What does this mean to us sober Catholics? Paul, previously known as Saul, lived a life fixed on a certain course. He was firm in his convictions, even though they were at odds with God. Despite the fact that he was essentially a faithful Jew practicing and defending his faith from what he perceived to be a threat to it, his life was going contrary to what God had desired for it. God could have raised up a Jewish convert to Christianity to spread the Word. Someone without Paul’s baggage of Christian-bashing. But no, God instead chose someone with a known reputation for doing wrong to the Church to instead be its chief protagonist.

In AA’s Step Three we are learn that we must turn our will and our lives over to the care of God (as we understand Him). Paul did that. (Incidentally, Scripture records that Paul’s conversion was during his vision of a white light. See the readings from the Acts of the Apostles for today: Acts 22:3-16 or Acts 9:1-22. The basic text of AA, Alcoholics Anonymous, also records that AA’s co-founder, Bill Wilson, describes a “white light experience” as a starting point for his conversion towards a sober life. Not implying a direct connection or comparison between the 2 events or men, but it’s an interesting point to ponder.) Paul lived a life of his own will, carrying out his own agenda, an ultimately was met with a Will greater than his own, and he surrendered. Again, not drawing any moral comparison between Paul’s pre-conversion life as a Jew and the life of a practicing alcoholic, but the similarity is in the direction of will, and its orientation to God. Paul’s will was his own, until God intervened. Then Paul surrendered and proceeded to carry out the Will of God. Paul’s life was no longer his own, but God’s. He gave it back and did God’s Will.

As sober Catholics, presumably by the grace of God through some conversion experience that led us towards the sober path, our lives are no longer our own. (No life really belongs to the person who holds it, all life belongs to God, the difference is whether you recognize and acknowledge this. This is the beginnings of humility.) As Paul was on the road to Damascus with a subpoena for the city’s Jewish Christians, we were on our own road. Paul’s intended destination had an original intent, as was the practicing alcoholic’s. Through a conversion experience, the road may essentially be the same, (but re-paved?) but the destination is different.

AA’s Step 12 reads “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 affairs.” Like Paul, we had a spiritual awakening. Like Paul, our destination is different. And like Paul, we may be needed to carry this message to other alcoholics. And more so like Paul, we may be needed to carry out the Catholic Church’s message to people who suffer from alcoholism and addictions. Many newly sober people end up in AA or alternative sobriety programs and stop there. They abandon the Faith of their youth because the message of the program seems sufficient. Or they just pay it a certain amount of lip service. The program is their way of life, Church is just flavoring.

It shouldn’t be like that and that is what this blog is about, to show Catholics who are struggling with alcoholism, (or maybe defeated it years ago) what their Faith can offer to maintain and safeguard their sobriety. The Catholic Christian Faith can and should be the primary tool for one’s sobriety. AA or the alternatives can serve in their capacity to directly address the affliction. The Faith can serve as an all-encompassing way of life, in which alcohol and other addictions simply have no place, and are not even a regular consideration. No more “struggling with alcoholism” or “struggling with sobriety”, in which the need to attend numerous meetings a day/week/month are needed to cope. A way of life in which alcohol, or the avoidance of it, is not on the agenda. Maybe on occasion it is considered, in weakness or in times of stress and anxiety, but not in the normal course of coping. “I didn’t feel the need to have a drink today” is often stated at meetings as a preamble to a member’s sharing. Why would I even need to think I might have needed one? Or to declare it? Aside from the occasional brief passing thought, it should eventually be a non-issue.

That, to me, is what recovery is about. To recover a life that might have been had one not picked up that drink, (or had not been made an alcoholic. I won’t bother with discussing the origins of addiction, as it’s beyond the scope of this blog.) To give back to the program for its initial early help is grand, but to maintain that for years to come is in my opinion misplaced direction. The model for AA (and maybe other programs) can be newly sober (or sobering) people can join, stay for few years and leave, to be replaced by additional newcomers. To counter any arguments that this would leave AA bereft of experienced members and thus be dominated by people in early sobriety, I would point out that when Alcoholics Anonymous was first published in 1939, it was written by AA’s first members, none of whom was sober for more than 4 years. Not bad for a bunch of ex-drunks in “early sobriety”.

See you on the road to Damascus.

Know someone, perhaps yourself, who might like Catholic devotionals for alcoholics? Please take a look at my books! (Thank you!!)

"The Recovery Rosary: Reflections for Alcoholics and Addicts"

and "The Stations of the Cross for Alcoholics"