Several months ago a parish Substance Abuse Ministry (SAM) was sponsoring an
educational event for Confirmation candidates and their parents. The director of religious
education warned me that I would be asked why the church was sponsoring such an
event. My knee jerk reaction was to respond, “Because the United States Bishops told us
to do so.” My wiser and more mature self said, “What a wonderful opportunity to educate
my brothers and sisters about what SAM is all about. The question is very valid. Why
should we as a church be talking and teaching about an illness? Wouldn’t it be better to
have medical people addressing this subject?”
Addiction is described as a threefold illness: physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual. It
is the spiritual dimension of this disease that we as church need to address.
I like to describe spirituality simply as “connectedness”
. When we are spiritual we are
connected: with our self, with our family, and with our God.
. Under the influence of addictive substances or behaviors, the
addicted person (and his/her family) is alienated, isolated and alone. A drawing of an
unshaven, gaunt, bleary-eyed man slumped over inside an empty booze bottle is probably
the best portrayal of the spiritual devastation of addiction that I’ve ever seen. The man
had not himself, his family, nor his God.
I had the privilege of attending the annual meeting of the Florida Society of Addiction
Medicine (FSAM), in Orlando last weekend. Paul Bakule, MD is president of FSAM and
a member of the St. Helen SAM team in Vero Beach. Alfredo Hernandez, MD is a
member of the St. Juliana SAM team and is playing a vital role in SAM’s expansion into
the Hispanic community.
A highlight of the conference was a presentation on spirituality, addiction and recovery,
given by Chuck Gass, D. Min., Case Manager/Chaplain at the VA Hospital in
Gainesville, Florida. He hit the nail on the head when he spoke of the role and necessity
of spirituality in the recovery and healing process of addictive disease.
He said, “Spirituality is about rebuilding relationships. It includes a belief system that is
intricately interconnected with each person’s Higher Power (God) and other human
beings. Spirituality leads the addict from the alienation and isolation of “I” to the
recovery world of “WE”. Hence to a spiritual way of living, of being re-connected
When the U.S. Catholic Bishops issued “New Slavery, New Freedom: A Pastoral
Message on Substance Abuse”
, in November 1990 they were calling on us, the
Christian/Catholic community to reach out to our suffering brother and sisters who were
touched by addiction. They were well aware of our moral responsibility to minister to
those (people with addictive disease) who often speak of themselves as unlovable.
Dr. Gass added that “it’s not what I say (that’s important), but rather what I am.” He
described his work as a MINISTRY OF PRESENCE
That is why SAM exists. We are a MINISTRY OF PRESENCE
, to those who have
been touched by addiction. My brothers and sisters, if you feel alienated, isolated and
alone because of addiction in your life, SAM IS PRESENT FOR YOU!
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