As I was reflecting on Jesus’ explanation of the Parable of the Dishonest Steward found in Luke 16:9-15, I recalled a tour I recently took of Kensington, an area of the city of Philadelphia that is suffering greatly from the opioid epidemic.
When we arrived in the area, I was stunned to see that at 10:00 in the morning, we were surrounded by dozens and dozens of people that were either already high or attempting to get high. People slouched over, passed out, stumbling as they walked down the street.
The sight was rather sobering and a sure reality check to anyone who doubts the gravity of the opioid epidemic in our country.
When we stopped at one of the recovery centers there, I was uplifted as I met a woman who had just achieved a year and a half of sobriety. By all appearances she was one of the happiest people I had ever met. She explained how she had lost so much to her addiction, yet felt such gratitude for the freedom and sobriety she now had.
I asked her how she could remain sober when there were so many substances within arms reach just outside the door of the recovery center, when she had to pass so many using those substances on her way to the recovery center each morning.
She replied, “I show up.”
She does her daily meditations, her readings, and ttends NA meetings. As a result, she stays sober. When she feels the temptation, these tools help her to name and acknowledge the feelings and know they will pass.
She is a woman who may appear to have little in all that has been lost in the addiction, but gained much through a few NA books, some new friends, and her faith. Her faithfulness to what she does have is leading her on the path to true freedom … true liberation from the disease that once plagued her life.
In a building nothing comes before the foundation. Thus, whoever has Christ in his heart in such a way as to place nothing ahead of him, nothing earthly or temporal, even of those things that are licit and permissible, has Christ as his foundation.Saint Augustine (City of God, XX, 16)
We are all addicted to something. Some are addicted to drugs. Others are addicted to gossip. Some are addicted to food. Others are addicted to shopping. Some struggle with anger while others struggle with gambling. Some are hooked on pornography while others are hooked on judgmental attitudes.
In my various ministries people come to me everyday with these things; people looking, hoping, and praying for freedom. As a fellow human being and a sinner, I’m no exception. I too look, hope, and pray every day for my own freedom to follow the narrow way of holiness that Christ calls us to. I believe the first step is to recognize, like the lady I met yesterday, that God has given us the tools we need to work our own program of recovery from the things we are addicted to and so achieve the freedom that comes from sobriety to attachments to anything other than Christ.
While we don’t overcome any vice overnight, we can build virtue each day. We can, like the lady I met, “show up” each morning, afternoon, and evening to use the tools God has given us to become a little more virtuous today than we were yesterday. If we do, as each day passes, our life can be filled with a little more good; a good that grows and gradually begins to replace and overpower the time and energy that we spend on the vices.
“Earthly life is a pilgrimage, and as such it is full of temptations. But our spiritual growth is worked out in temptation. By experiencing temptations, we know ourselves. By fighting them, we have the chance to become winners. By overcoming them, we are crowned victors.”Saint Augustine (Commentary on Psalm 80, 3)
God has given us many tools to become victors in our own program of recovery: the Sacraments, His Word, daily Mass, Liturgy of the Hours, adoration, beautiful spiritual places, the Rosary, the corporal works of mercy, our favorite spiritual authors, music, and meditation to name a few.
In Luke 16:9-15, God invites us to examine how are we remaining faithful to and using these gifts in our lives? Are we “showing up” like the lady I met yesterday and using the tools God has given us to work our own program of recovery?
There is another aspect of my visit with this lady that was equally inspiring. That is, she had a year and a half of experience and wisdom of using these tools to share with those starting on day 1. By showing up, she is not only working her own program but also afforded the opportunity to help others as they begin theirs.
So it is with each of us. We are all in recovery from something, invited to share our story to help a fellow brother or sister on their journey. To be “One Struggling Christian to Another” as Fr. Ted Tack expresses in his book “One Struggling Christian to Another: Augustine’s Christian Ideal for Today” (ISBN 9780814624159).
“In loving others, and caring for them, you are on a journey. Where is journey’s end if not the Lord our God, the One we should love with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind? We have not yet reached him, but our neighbor is here at our side. Look after this companion of your pilgrimage if you would reach the One whom you desire to be with forever.”Saint Augustine (On John’s Gospel 17, 9)
As Augustine would say, we are all on the journey together. Are we willing to be good stewards of the tools God has given us while also acknowledging our calling to use the wisdom and experience of our own journey to help one another on theirs?