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How my 12-step program informs my Catholic faith, and vice-versa



"A Friend of Bill W." - published on 06/03/17

Working my program is nearly a hand-to-glove fit with working my faith.

For the uninitiated, to be a “Friend of Bill W.” is to be a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA.

“Bill W” is the AA moniker for Bill Wilson, the co-founder with Dr. Bob Smith of Alcoholics Anonymous, and you may not know it, but if you’re a recovering drunk in an airport and feel tempted to hit the bar, you can page “Bill W.” and it is very likely that another AA member will come to help you stay sober.

I have been and am now a participant in 12-Step programs.  I won’t say which one(s), but you can assume some sort of addition – alcohol, drugs, food, emotions, gambling, sex – on my part, or that I am a co-dependent of someone with such a problem, or an adult child of an alcoholic or addict. Any of these assumptions has some element of truth.

The recent formation of a Drug and Alcohol Ministry in our Parish has caused me to re-examine the 12 Steps and assess how the 12 Steps specific to AA relate to my Catholic faith.

STEP 1:  “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.”

This was the hardest thing for me to admit to myself—that I could not simply will myself to abstinence. As I grew in my Catholic faith, I came to realize that it was God’s will that sets the order of life. The beginning of understanding the concept of grace.

STEP 2: “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

In my first days with the 12 Steps I thought the “Higher Power” was the Program and the people participating in it. After a while I realized that this was too narrow a view, and that there had to be something more. The search for “something more” was what led me to the Catholic Church.

STEP 3: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”

This was my final decision to become a Catholic. I would let God do His will and put my trust in Him. All my reading had shown that this was the road that would bring me peace. It’s the way of the saints, too!

STEPS 4-7: “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”

  • “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs “
  • “Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”
  • “Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”

These steps in total relate to the Sacrament of Penance, Confession. I was fortunate (or maybe not) in coming to the Church late in life (65) as an unbaptized Jew and therefore did not have to confess 57 years of sins, because my Baptism at the Easter Vigil would cleanse me of them all.

I had gone through Step 5 with my sponsor two years earlier, and, while it left me feeling relieved, it did not have the same effect as my experience of Confession. The priest hearing my confession is indeed, in persona Christi, and although I know him personally I can (usually) ignore that, although sometimes I admit, I’d prefer a screen.

When, as often happens, I leave the confessional in tears, they are tears of joy, a fullness of joy I did not experience when I undertook Step 5.

STEPS 8 and 9: “Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”

These steps are those I would follow as I would the Second Commandment given by Jesus, “To love your neighbor as yourself.”

STEP 10: “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”

This self-inventory is that which I take before confession, and each evening before I recite the Night Prayer of the Office of Readings. Catholics would call this an “Examen” or “examination of conscience.”

STEP 11: “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.”

This is what I do before Mass, at Adoration and in times of private prayer.

STEP 12: “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.”

Ipse dixit, or “As expressed.” This is self-explanatory.

My conclusion is that the 12 Steps have relate very deeply to my my life as a Catholic; it’s almost a hand-to-glove fit.

At the end of the 12-Step Men’s Group Meeting I now attend, we join hands and say the Lord’s Prayer. We end with a program saying: “It works, if you work it—keep coming back.”

In great gratitude, so I will.

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