Homily of Cardinal Justin Rigali
Mass for Participants in One-Day Conference on Addiction
"Let the Oppressed Go Free"
Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul
Friday, November 5, 2010
It is an honor to welcome you this afternoon to the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. I deeply appreciate the splendid opportunity presented to us today. I welcome in a particular way the psychologists, social workers, licensed professional counselors, physicians, nurses, addiction counselors, marriage and family therapists, teachers and school administrators who have taken part in the conference today. I am especially grateful for the participation and presence of those in recovery, and family members affected by addiction. I extend also a warm welcome to all members of the Christian faith, to our Jewish brothers and sisters, to members of the Islamic faith, and all people of faith and good will. I am happy to express my deep gratitude for the collaboration of Guest House Institute, Saint John Vianney Center and the Catholic Health Care Service of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in sponsorship of the conference proceedings today.
The struggle with addiction crosses every sector of society. No segment of the population is immune: Rich or poor, men or women, youth or elderly, blue collar or white collar, devout or secular. Regardless of educational experience or professional expertise, whether we live in the city or suburbs, from the board room to the waiting room, the pain of addiction confronts all of us.
Addiction can take many forms: alcohol addiction, dependency on illegal substances and even on prescription medications, gambling, tobacco, food, video games, spending, shopping and sexualizing. In particular, we are aware of the considerable extent to which Internet pornography has devastated married couples, young people and society at large.
Addiction is so often a response to the deep and long echo of pain. Our pain comes from our wounds. Our wounds are many: wounds of rejection, loss, traumatic conflict, family division, unemployment, heart-breaking transitions, chronic worries, disappointing regrets, repeated attempts to control the ongoing demands and difficulties of life. We may choose to neglect our wounds, but their pain remains, and can influence us to attach ourselves to substances and activities that falsely promise to make the pain go away. Addiction does not bring what it promises. It purports to fix or to numb, but, in fact, it only worsens the pain and deepens the wound. As addiction takes further hold on our life, we simply go through the motions, and sooner or later enter a tragic downward spiral. Addiction captures us in a slavery that engulfs us, our friends, neighbors and colleagues in a puzzling labyrinth of chaos that seemingly has no end.
God is familiar with every pain and hardship we can encounter. He called His people, Israel, out of slavery in Egypt (cf. Ex 3:7-8). He rescued them from exile (cf. Is 52:1-6). In the fullness of time (cf. Gal 4:4), the Son of God intervened in human history. He assumed our human nature. Jesus understands our wounds even when we do not. In the Gospel of Saint Matthew, as we heard proclaimed only a few moments ago, Jesus says to us: "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves” (Mt 11:28-29). Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh (cf. Jn 1:14), accepted the Cross to free us from sin and death and to reveal the Father’s love for us. The humble Sacred Heart of Jesus offers to heal our own wounded hearts.
The human heart is like a seed. The seed is very vulnerable. It can be scarred and bruised. Before it can ever bear fruit, the seed falls to the ground. It falls into a dark place where rocks and other obstacles weigh upon it. Recovery is the new search for our heart, for the seed of life. The seed goes through much – it descends into the darkness, it may seem lost or abandoned, but its life persists in its long journey. As the Lord proclaimed through Isaiah the prophet in the first reading: “I will never forget you” (Is 49:15). How true this is for those in recovery! Somewhere in the darkness, against all hope, the seed stirs and breaks open. It begins to grow. Even from the darkness, the seed reaches forth to the light it cannot yet find. The seed grows in strength, stretches forth its roots, breaks through, grows beyond the surface and becomes a tree. It bears fruit and feeds the world. It is on the tree of the Cross that the saving action of Jesus redeems the world. In His saving act, Jesus takes up and transforms even our wounds into sources of new life.
The light that guides the seed is like the light of faith. We are often tempted to compartmentalize faith, to make it fit into our preconceived notions. Faith is not a merely external, superficial overlay or a decorative, ceremonial circumstance. It is never arbitrary or simply private. We can never reduce faith in Jesus Christ to a mere means to an end. The human person is a profound irreducible mystery. We have a depth in our heart that can only be reached by faith in Christ. This faith does not bring automatic results. It brings much more because it is a divine gift. As faith unfolds we act in a new way, from a new depth of trust. From this trust, faith is understood, in the words of the Venerable Servant of God Pope John Paul II, as “a decision involving one’s whole existence” (Veritatis Splendor, 88). In the school of faith, we learn that painful past secrets are healed one day at a time, one hour at a time. The Sacraments, especially the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist, provide us with the strength for this journey. In the Eucharist we receive Christ Himself, and share in His grace-filled, sacrificial act of love on the Cross.
Nourished by the Eucharist, and with the support of Twelve Step spirituality, faith reminds us that there is a momentum that is deeper than the pain. As professionals, your calling is to reflect the radiance of Christ, the light of Jesus, into the labyrinth of confusion and hurt. Your good work assists our brothers and sisters in recovery in the search for life: meeting after meeting, appointment after appointment, group session after group session, even in the midst of relapses. No darkness can smother the seed that reaches out for air and light. The Church greatly values and deeply appreciates your heroic work in specialized service to those who seek recovery. Your many sacrifices, including years of study, training and practice, long hours of research and appointments, demonstrate the dedication, expertise and qualification that is so important in this crucial work. In so many instances your work hinges on showing people the indispensible role of forgiveness. Forgiveness is the breakthrough by which recovery becomes the road to holiness.
Three and a half years ago, Pope Benedict XVI made a visit to Brazil. During the visit, the Holy Father met with a community named Nossa Senhora da Glória, which is also known as Fazenda da Esperança, or, the Farm of Hope. The Fazenda da Esperança is a center in service to those who suffer from drug addiction and chemical dependency. At that time, the Pope expressed, in his own words, his appreciation of “those many other institutions throughout the world which work to rebuild and renew the lives of these brothers and sisters of ours present in our midst, whom God loves with a preferential love. I am thinking of groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous as well as the sobriety associations working generously in many communities so as to build up the lives of others” (Meeting with the Community at the Fazenda da Esperança, Guarantinguetá, May 12, 2007).
Today, we entrust the professional efforts of caregivers and the personal courage of our brothers and sisters in recovery to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the title of Our Lady of Hope. May she who knew the heart of the Savior so well lead us to this same inexhaustible source of grace and strength. Then, our work, our journey and our sacrifices will be joined to those of Jesus, and serve as the light that transforms the dark labyrinth of pain into the radiant path to holiness on which the oppressed are set free.