The Catholic Church and Alcoholism

Pope Francis, has given a very powerful message to the world in connection to the year of mercy which is just ending. He understands human fragility and he says that “we are all weak and wounded by all sorts of things.” Focusing on family life, he says there is no wife or husband who is not weak, that is why we all depend upon God’s mercy to be healed and forgiven. This forgiveness is basically medicine that heals our family wounds, and he goes to say strongly that “He who is doesn’t have mercy is not a friend of God and has lost his or her connection with God.” Biblically speaking if you have no connection with God it means you are dead, using the image of St John 15: 1-12, “ I am the vine and you are the branches.” Normally Alcoholics lose their connection with God once they hooked in the addiction. Alcoholics can restore their connection only through sobriety attained through the program which is viewed as a spiritual program. What is the position of Catholic in the presence of this huge problem that persecute families called “alcohol?”

Reflecting upon the challenges that face families today one cannot fail to notice the big threat that come from alcoholism. Today alcohol is found in many families as sometimes our families act as a bar, alcohol is found in our religious houses, parish houses, formation houses, in offices, in our car boots and even in our pockets. It is to say that alcohol is cunning, powerful and baffling. Alcoholism is a reality and has become normal to our life. But in truth alcoholism is an addiction better described as a sickness by the medical department and the alcoholic anonymous fellow men and women. While alcohol sounds a beautiful beverage to be consumed but experience teaches us that alcohol must be taken sensibly and without excess. Medical and recovering alcoholics have testified that ‘too much consumption of alcohol is harmful’ it leads into sickness and ultimately premature death.

Alcoholism becomes an addiction due to the fact that in final analysis it becomes a physical and psychological dependence on psychoactive substance which is alcohol. When it becomes an addiction, alcohol is able to alter one’s brain and behavior without the awareness of the person concerned. This is where alcohol becomes a suffering to many couples and families. It brings madness and creates dysfunctional families and societies around the world.

It is important for the church leaders (Bishops, Superior Generals, Provincials and Ministers) to understand that alcoholism is the most common of all the addictions because it coexists with families we serve; yet alcohol kills many family members silently. In fact, alcoholism is a human sickness which has no race, religion or a continent to be referred to like Ebola or malaria. Often than not, alcoholism is described as a disease of progressive nature characterized with denial. An alcoholic denies that he drinks too much; he denies that his or her life is in a mess and so forth. Salvation comes only once one accepts his sickness.

To most families very often when faced with an alcoholic member the question is always ‘what can we do’ to help him or her? What can the Church do to help addicted Christians today? The first thing is to get proper information about the alcoholism as a sickness. As a communicator I think that through advocacy and effective communication only can this demon called alcohol we have to live with can be efficiently caged. Without accurate information of this killer disease of alcoholism and the inherent dangers of alcohol will continue to violently rape and destroy our families which is the foundation of our Church and the society at large.

It is in this sense that alcohol has become the worst enemy of our families today, the Church and the world at large. Alcohol is causing suffering, pain, family stress, crime, marriage breakups (divorce), incest, rape in families and society, violence, fatal accidents, dysfunctional families, bad parenting and breeds immoral behavior in the society. Finally, alcoholism creates irresponsible and alcoholic citizens who will die prematurely.
All in all, the question is what can the Church do to save the deteriorating situation before it is too late. It is here that the notion of ‘smelling the sheep’ notion of Pope Francis must be put into reality.

The just ended synod on marriage and family was the proper place to look critically into this problem of alcoholism. My question is “Was this critical problem addressed at?” To talk about Love of married people, love within the families without focusing the vices that destroy families itself is somehow to miss an important area that concerns Family life. The church today must ask itself “What are the felt effects of alcoholism in our families and the Church of today?” Is the Church close enough to the families to be able to discuss, give advice and render help to the suffering members? Are the Bishops and priests well informed about this acute problem that eats up their Church members? I believe that the Church can be of great help to render help and treatment to the suffering family members today if it takes Alcoholic Anonymous program seriously.

Catholic Church can wisely adapt the (AA) Alcoholic Anonymous program in parishes as a pastoral tool of recovery to the addicted Christians. In Europe and America, the presence of AA is already there it is a matter of finding the healthy way of integrating it into our family healing ministry in a parish. I would like to believe that Jesus’ ministry is basically of healing as he put it rightly himself that “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, and that he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor and healing the broken hearted” (Luke 4:18-19). I believe that among the broken hearted are the suffering alcoholics.

It is my belief that if Catholic Church through religious congregations which has much knowledge about AA program will advocate the use of the 12 steps of the Alcoholic Anonymous as the recovery program for suffering family members. This program is a spiritual program that believes in higher power which is God in finally analysis but as you understand Him in your heart. Alcoholic Anonymous is described as a “fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength, and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to overcome their alcoholism.” Is this not the Christian duty according to the teaching of Jesus who said that “come to me all you who are burdened and I will give you a rest” (Mt 11:28).

Finally I am convinced that the Catholic Church needs to establish what I call ‘family healing ministry’ and apply it as a pastoral tool in the evangelization of the families today which is craving for healing.. Today than ever let us pray for the flourishing of the healing ministry in our Church as the focal point in the ministry of Jesus Christ using the serenity prayer: I wish you all the good things for the coming year 2017.

“Oh, Lord, grant me the Serenity to accept the Things I cannot Change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to Know the Difference, Amen.”

Wishing you all the blessings that comes with the NEW YEAR 2017, let us make our families a place of Evangelization and Healing (Luke 10: 1-9)

Written by Fr. Baptiste Regina Mapunda (Tunda la Kanisa), M.Afr.,
Missionaries of Africa, Kabanga Community, Kigoma Diocese
St. Mark’s Catholic Church Kabanga,
Kigoma Diocese,
Tanzania/East Africa.

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