Catholics believe that Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, became man to accompany us humans in every single human experience to the point of experiencing even the agony of torture and death. For those of us who have experienced the torture and (sometimes even death or near-death) of drug addiction, the patient understanding of a God who accompanies us in the midst of this suffering is a profound and powerful belief to align with.
If you were raised Catholic, you likely were taught many prayers you had to memorize–like the Our Father, Hail Mary, Act of Contrition, Glory Be, and others. There may, too, have been exposed to more “freestyle” prayers, but usually coming from the mouth of a priest, nun, or someone in “authority.” Or, maybe, you have a personal discipline or way of speaking to God through the Catholic contemplative tradition. In any case, the Catholic faith offers many oaths to experiencing the freedom of God through the healing power of prayer.
Catholic spirituality believes that each human being is made in the perfect image of their creator, a merciful god who loves and accepts every part of one’s life and soul. Even all the pain, horror, and demoralization that comes with drug abuse.
Catholic spirituality and addicts and alcoholics
Drug addicts engaged in the work of recovery have a unique and open attunement to a higher power. Drug addicts in addiction recovery who were raised Catholic may have mixed feelings about their religious background or have found renewal and a reclaiming of some
parts of the tradition. They may decide that referring to a higher power as “heavenly father” is odious or familiar and comfortable. Like any other part of the spiritual journey, even by way of a specific religious tradition, the individual has their own unique recovery journey and spiritual path, and there are likely to be some parts of the tradition that resonate and others that don’t.
Catholic prayers in the literature of AA
Some may recognize that some of the literature of Alcoholics Anonymous contains originally Catholic prayers. The Eleventh Step Prayer, for example, was actually written by the Catholic Saint Francis of Assisi. A modern translation goes:
O Lord, make me a channel of Thy peace;
that where there is hatred, I may bring love;
that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness;
that where there is discord, I may bring harmony;
that where there is error, I may bring truth;
that where there is doubt, I may bring faith;
that where there is despair, I may bring hope;
that where there are shadows, I may bring light;
that where there is sadness, I may bring joy.
Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort, than to be comforted;
to understand, than to be understood;
to love, than to be loved.
For it is by self forgetting, that one finds.
It is by forgiving, that one is forgiven.
It is by dying, that one awakens to Eternal Life.
This prayer is not ascribed to St. Francis of Assisi by name because of Tradition Six, which states that AA ought never to endorse, finance, or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose. Naming a Catholic saint or using the name of Jesus in the literature of AA may alienate some addicts seeking help. Similarly, the serenity prayer’s author – Protestant Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, is not named either. Therefore the life of prayer written about in AA literature is designed to support one’s own desire to connect with a higher power as each individual understands that higher power. This is a wonderful example of the triumph of simplicity over complexity.
Prayer practices for addicts inspired by Catholic spirituality
Catholicism is full of different forms of ritual, theology, and prayer practices that can enhance anyone’s recovery process for people from all walks of life. Even the simple (and perhaps stereotypes) “Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit” act of making the cross is a very simple and practical tool to transcend the present moment and can be a powerful tool of transcendence (just like the simple practice of getting on one’s knees to pray. It’s doing anything physical that can move you out of your daily life into the holy life–a new life full of various forms of divine helpers.
One of the concepts from Catholic Theology that can resonate deeply with addicts is the acknowledgment that there is a Good as well as an Evil force at work in the world and in the spiritual realm and that our greatest enemy is the manifestation of this Evil force. The Catholic saint Saint Ignatius of Loyola is known for his accessible and practical spirituality, and he offers what’s often referred to as the Discernment of Spirits to notice these two forces at work in the human mind. Where St. Ignatius always begins, though, to acknowledge his need for help from Father god (or mother god, as he was, in fact, flexible with these titles for his higher power) and then ask for God’s help to begin prayer. Addicts will recognize this practice as a sort of taking the First Step in all things.
With God’s grace to guide his prayer time, St. Ignatius could then begin to examine the workings of his own mind. He found that there was an activating “good” spirit that led his thinking in the direction of life-giving powers of love, peace, and understanding–more freedom. On the other hand, there was a bad spirit that introduced evil temptation toward honor, riches, and glory but which always left him unsatisfied. The more Ignatius began to notice these forces operating in consciousness, the more he could make a conscious decision to walk in the “footsteps of our Lord,” as many Catholics might say.
There is also a tradition in Catholicism of praying for the sick or offering petitions at mass for the community to pray for, in which names of family members of parishioners are read, and the community blesses them for a speedy recovery. Adding addicts and alcoholics to the list of Prayers for the Sick is another beautiful way to weave Catholic faith practice and spirituality into an individual’s recovery from substance abuse, necessarily supported by a spiritual community.
Catholic Saints to pray to for healing from the disease of addiction
There is a Catholic tradition of praying to an intercessor–a saint who can appeal directly to the gracious Father God of the Trinity on behalf of the penitent. Yes, of course, we can count on God the Father’s constant love in our lives, but sometimes the Lord God does not feel as accessible to some in prayer as a saint might. A powerful intercessor for addicts is St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes. Another, of course, is the Immaculate Virgin Mary, upon whose intercession many pilgrims have claimed healing in physical health. Another spirit through whom one can petition is Matt Talbot, who is not yet a saint but is revered in the Catholic tradition for his piety and addiction deliverance.
For those who abuse harmful substances, dependence on a God of life that cannot heal “every cell of my body” just might not cut it. This is why in the tradition of Catholicism, there are saints that sit on the right hand of the throne of God who can increase the power of God’s love with such ardent charity that such prayer to these saints have been known to create miracles, especially when prayer in a meeting of fellow addicts or intentional support group. The realm of addiction, like the realm of the spirit, is roomy and broad, and Catholics believe that God so loved the world that he gave his beloved Son to experience our own lives and deliver us from the most common types of addictions to unhealthy foods or unhealthy eating, to alcohol addiction, etc.
Prayers inspired by Catholic language
Below are some examples of powerful prayers and daily prayers that can be applied to one’s recovery process–for difficult times as well as better times.
Dear Lord, please be with me. Grant me assurance of your unfailing mercy. In the name of your son Jesus Christ, Amen.
Dear God, come find me. Please break me from the chains of addiction that keep me in bondage to self-centered fear and suffering. I lay my sword at the foot of your throne of grace and profess to cease fighting anyone and anything so that I may be delivered into your open arms, which are the source of all healing. Amen.
God of life, please keep me in close conformity to your grace through every difficult situation I may face today. Help me to feel your unconditional love and share this love with others, especially every addicted person I encounter in whose heart I can recognize your son Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let the rich tradition of Catholicism enhance your recovery through increased exploration into the stories of the Saints, into the absorption of the language of liturgy and prayer, and in the practice of sharing faith in a community that recognizes the need for various forms of worship and spiritual practice. May God keep you and love you wherever you are on your journey. And like all things on the recovery journey and the spiritual path, please remember to take what you like and leave the rest. Except for the love of God, which–at least according to Catholics—you are going to receive no matter what and even if you don’t notice it happening.