About four years ago, before I got involved with Catholic in Recovery, I started to see some of the fault lines and divisions in the Church. It was at this moment that I began to shift my thinking from “the Twelve Steps need the Church” to “the Church needs the 12 Steps.”
I found Catholic in Recovery and got involved right away. Throughout the pandemic, those fault lines grew to the point where for many, the sense of belonging people experienced in the Church was replaced by a sense of distrust and skepticism. Many people shared that they were no longer at ease in their Catholic communities, and I personally saw a mass exodus of people from the faith. I have been grappling with this ever since.
At face value, it seems that there is more that divides rather than unites us in our faith. Parishes can develop their own conflicted subcultures, and Catholic media is often full of stories about infighting and accusations depending on their bias. We seem to live in a time of division and strife.
Thankfully, this was not my experience at all on a recent Catholic in Recovery retreat in Akron, OH. We broke bread, prayed, and were vulnerable with each other during our Catholic in Recovery meetings. Most people gave at least a 10-minute witness talk, exposing their own brokenness from their addictions as well as God’s healing power in their lives. It was obvious to all who attended over the weekend that there was far more that united us than separated us. We all shared in our common brokenness, the same brokenness that Christ performed miracles to heal us from—and still does!
Over the last two years, I have been reflecting deeply on what it means to be a “Kingdom people.” I have always been drawn to this concept of the Kingdom of God, especially when I consider the definition a professor gave me once that it’s “wherever you do God’s will.” It’s very easy to connect this to my 12-step recovery, especially to Step 11, the “maintenance” step.
When we enter a Catholic in Recovery meeting, our differences no longer matter. One of our meeting’s guidelines is that we should respect one another’s differences since our experiences and understandings are quite different. The disclaimer continues that “even religious differences ought to be respected.”
Some new to a group might have an initial hang-up with this statement. Yet, one of the greatest joys that I have seen in Catholic in Recovery is watching people who stick around for some time become fully transformed into people who are more loving and accepting of others. When we come and stay together, we begin to realize that our common brokenness is far more powerful than our differences in politics, theology, ideology, culture, race, or socioeconomic status.
The “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous captures this powerful phenomenon when it states, “We are people who normally would not mix. But there exists among us a fellowship, a friendliness, and an understanding which is indescribably wonderful.” I think this is why Pope Francis has been urging all of us to spend time with people on the margins.
The God of the universe understands all of this. Rather than demand that we raise ourselves up to Him, He lowered Himself and took on human form, was born into filth and poverty, and experienced fellowship, suffering, healing, and transformation throughout His human life. Why would the God of the universe do this if He wasn’t trying to prove a point? It’s not in ego-fueled, petty divisions that we find peace and joy but in our brokenness shared with others.
The CIR retreat filled me with hope. We all left with a common bond as we shared our experience, strength, and hope with each other. This unity in brokenness is a powerful force that can transform lives, create community, and lead us into deeper prayer and action. It’s a powerful force that can bring about the Kingdom of God.
I truly hope that these 12-step principles can be carried to the rest of the Church, which seems divided and filled with resentment at times. It’s my sincere hope that the healing that Catholic and Recovery provides to those in addiction will also bring healing to our Church.
Learn about upcoming Catholic in Recovery retreats to experience healing, faith, and hope alongside others.
Jonathan has been in recovery from drugs and alcohol since 2010. The Catholic faith has always been part of his recovery. He found freedom from his addiction in modeling Christ through service to others through 12-step groups, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, food pantries, youth ministry, and really any other outlet he could find. He is a strong believer in the power of Christian fellowship in recovery.