A Reader Struggles to Reconcile Alcoholics Anonymous with Her Catholic Faith

A Reader Struggles to Reconcile Alcoholics Anonymous with Her Catholic Faith October 20, 2015

She writes:

I am deeply disturbed that I have found more hope and healing through Alcoholics Anonymous than through Catholicism. Is that right?

AA helped me become a better Catholic and is continuing to help me be a better tool for God. But I am resentful. I am resentful that I have to find that healing outside of the Church.

Or that it’s somehow not real because it’s not a “Catholic” institution

I feel like I have to split the two up. I’m Catholic in church, and I’m an alcoholic in AA. These are two of the most important things of my life and I want them to come together!

God can use anything. Why not AA? I would take it as the gift it is and combine the healing you are finding there with the sacraments of confession (when you realize places where you need to get rid of your sins) and Eucharist (when you have something to give thanks for as you journey toward healing). There’s not a reason in the world God can’t use AA to give you all sorts of graces. It’s not in competition with the graces he gives you through the sacraments cuz there’s only one God who is Lord of all of life.

He’s with you wherever you go, both in and out of Mass. The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith (because it’s Jesus), but

“Christ plays in ten thousand places
lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces”.

Don’t feel like everything has to happen at Mass and don’t make the opposite mistake of thinking that if God blesses you outside Mass, then Mass doesn’t matter. The sacraments are the beating heart of reality because they are our sure encounters with Christ. But though he is *surely* there, he is not *only* there. Creation is his playground and he will pop out at you from all sorts of unexpected nooks and crannies to surprise and bless you.

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  • Jim Sheridan

    Oh, I’ve been through that same situation very intensely with myself. I was not part of AA, but another 12 step program. Relief came with obtaining the CD of presentations by Fr. Emmerich Vogt, who’s a Dominican priest in the Western Provence. His website is called THE TWELVE STEP REVIEW and there are many of his great talks there. Also, there are some free videos of his that you can watch on YouTUbe of him.

  • Jim Sheridan

    Also, the Archbishop of Indianapolis, Joseph Tobin has an awesome personal testimony of how he found sobriety in AA and how he continues to recover by helping others. https://youtu.be/1vvsfS-Rh-0

  • Jim Sheridan

    Finally, there’;s the Calix Society that was established in the 1940s as a Catholic organization to specifically help fellow catholics who were recovering from alcoholism. They faded out of exsistence sometime after the post-concilliar years, but happily have become re-established and they send out a quarterly newsletter http://www.calixsociety.org/ I will pray for your recovery! Just listen to the voice of peace in your heart. 12 step recovery isn’t for everybody, and God may have a better plan for you. But until that plan is revealed to you, always know that the doors to 12 step programs are opening and welcoming!

  • Dave G.

    Don’t feel like everything has to happen at Mass and don’t make the opposite mistake of thinking that if God blesses you outside Mass, then Mass doesn’t matter.

    I liked that. Well said. Well worth remembering.

  • Anna

    The Church doesn’t offer chemo either; healing is healing.

  • Kathleen S.

    Kathleen S.

  • Kathleen S.

    My husband is a Catholic convert and a recovering alcoholic in AA, as well as one of my sons. I attend Al Anon. From what I have read the beginnings of AA are very Catholic. Read about Sister Ignatia Gavin who shaped AA, and started a program for alcoholics in a hospital in Akron, Ohio. This program for alcoholics is still used today. She worked with Bob Smith, one of the founders of AA and because of her, alcoholism was recognized as a medical condition. Fr. Ed Dowling was another Catholic who influenced the founding of AA. Even though Bill W. was not a Catholic, he was a good friend of Dr. Dowling and received much spiritual direction from him. Please read the wonderful books about both these Catholics, which can be found at Fr. Emmerich’s website, The Twelve Step Review. Fr. Emmerich’s CD’s are a wonderful Catholic way to incoroprate AA ‘s 12 steps with a Catholic perspective.

  • bob

    I hope people know the men who designed the 12 steps were believers? They were also very careful and knew that if they were more overtly “religious” they would lose people. I know an Orthodox priest who attended a meeting when in seminary for the first time. He later said this was what the Desert Fathers were getting at. AA is a great thing.

  • Tweck

    I like the way you put this, Mark – that essentially Jesus is available all throughout society, and not limited to the Church itself. The help is out there and AA, as another commenter put it, was developed by believers and Catholics were involved.. Bill W. was a Christian, I know that. That said, I think your reader points to a broader perception in and of the Church itself – that it doesn’t always provide robust resources to help folks in a variety of ways. Like, reverts looking for community, people on the fringes who feel fringe-ified even in the Church… but then at the same time it’s up to us to reach out and make connections ourselves rather than think they’re going to be there waiting for us. Outside the sacraments, that is.

    I will say that prayer is a wonderful help when it comes to getting over addiction. I’ve struggled with alcohol in my life, and recently quit cigarettes, and have been praying my brains out day and night – the rosary has become a huge factor for me in reducing the overall difficulty associated with quitting. As has going out and looking to get involved in various other Church-related or Jesus-related events. In the broader community, I mean.

  • “There’s not a reason in the world God can’t use AA to give you all sorts of graces. It’s not in competition with the graces he gives you through the sacraments cuz there’s only one God who is Lord of all of life.” So much this.

    Much of the program, properly understood, meshes beautifully with a Catholic sacramental and spiritual life. A “fearless moral inventory,” for instance, would also largely overlap with making a thorough examination of conscience before a good confession…

  • tj.nelson

    AA is much more Catholic than you realize.

    Angel of AA
    Sr. Mary Ignatia, A Founder of AA

    I posted on a couple more Catholic connections here:

    http://abbey-roads.blogspot.com/2011/07/sr-ignatia.html

  • Greeny

    I would suggest that you consider that the 11th Step of AA’s Twelve Steps advises a regular habit of prayer and after over 30 years of sobriety I can attest to the statement that my pastor, the late Father William Costello, made many years ago: the Mass is the perfect prayer. How true, how true!
    So I consider myself being a Catholic in AA as someone who is doubly blessed.

  • etme

    I think it very Protestant (and this is by no means a criticism to what the lady reader wrote – that would be stupid – but just a note) – so I find it a very Protestant attitude, in which quite a few Catholics fall, to dismiss the “natural” dimension, in favor of a “faith only” one. Luther dismissing reason, for “faith only”.

    This is a problem that also plague the arts – hence the terrible products of “Christian movies” or “Christian music”. This idea that something is good only if it mentions Jesus.

    As if creation would not be good, and from God, and all talents and abilities created would not be good, even separate and distinct from faith – and as if their source would not be the same God.

    All human beings, simply by virtue of being human beings, have a share in the goodness of creation, of of naturally human abilities – which, btw, were created and come from the same God. They don’t have to be Christian to share in these, but share in them, qua human beings.

    This sort of approach points in the direction of what is called “fundamentalism”.

    It is interesting that the same criteria (of dismissing the general, separate, distinct goodness of things shared by all human beings) is not applied when choosing a car mechanic. Nobody would choose a bad car mechanic, who would ruin the car,, just because they are Christian; for some reason, they will look for one who can fix the car, and do it well – for someone who is good qua a car mechanic. There is an autonomous good to things created,

    Same for a surgeon. You want a good heart surgeon, not a pious bad one.

    Same for AA, in many ways.

    The Church is not meant to be AA, the AA is not meant to be the Church. Different functions.

    Again, this is not at all about or directed to the lady who inquired – I just understand her frustration, and I think it comes from some assumptions that are mistaken (and in which it is all too easy to fall). I can relate.