Homily delivered by Bishop William Crean at the Annual Pioneer (Pioneer Total Abstinence Association) Mass, St Colman’s Catherdal Cobh,
Fri 1st July 2016.
We are a mystery to ourselves. The journey of self-discovery is lifelong. Our origins by way of our parents, family and community are an enormous influence on our lives. We can seek to mask these influences from others if they are a source of shame for us but we cannot hide them from ourselves. If we do we can pay a very high price because they can “pop up” at any time in life to surprise, shock or jolt us.
Tonight we gather in faith to celebrate the Cloyne Diocese Pioneer Total Abstinence Association’s Annual Mass. It affords us the opportunity to reflect on and pray about the abuse of alcohol or clinical dependency/addiction in our society. Given the widespread nature of this abuse virtually every family is touched and damaged by the ravages wrought by these addictions. These experiences are not new for us. For more than a century and a half the Pioneer Movement has served so many individuals and families with a spiritual programme to combat alcohol abuse. I commend you to-night for that work of service which stretches patience and requires great perseverance.
Since the establishment of A.A. (Alcoholics Anonymous) in the 1930’s in the U.S. many thousands have found a path to sobriety. It is worth noting that the A.A. programme has a strong spiritual foundation whereby the alcoholic needs to acknowledge, as a first step, their powerlessness over alcohol. They do not call it a demon for nothing. For those who embrace the 12 step programme it has been of immense grace and blessing for them and their families as they acknowledge their need for a “Higher Power”. A further sign of its effectiveness is that the 12 step programme has been adapted by many other groups as a way out of other addictions.
The tragedy of our time is the myriad of ways in which young people are drawn into these addictions leaving them with huge battles to regain control and balance in their lives.
So while the era has changed and we live in changed and changing times the fundamental issue of addiction has not changed since the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association was established in the late 19th century.
What has changed is the availability of alcohol reinforced by the drinks industry that expends enormous amounts on promotion and advertising. The current European Football tournament is a case in point. The Irish fans won the hearts of the French people with their bonhomie while a significant proportion of the fans consumed dangerous levels of alcohol not to speak of its impact on a family budget and the example it gives. Across Irish society we know that we have major addiction problems.
The Government would do well to heed the view of David Lane, HSE Drugs and Alcohol Co-ordinator in Cork and Kerry as he called on the Government and Health Minister Simon Harris to quickly enact the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill as a priority.
“That legislation should have been introduced years ago. When you consider the damage that alcohol does, it is shameful that it has been ignored for so long” he said
Alcohol was a factor in half of all suicides in Ireland according to the Health Research Board, and one in four men aged 15 to 39 die prematurely due to alcohol.
Alcohol is also a factor in more than one third of deliberate self-harm cases which peak at weekends and public holidays.
Five hundred people die from alcohol-related cancers each year, and 900 new cases of alcohol-related cancers are diagnosed in Ireland annually.
Alcohol industry spokes-people have criticised measures in the bill that would restrict alcohol marketing and availability as potentially costing jobs and the exchequer funding.
However, the Irish Cancer Society claim that the State spends €3.7bn annually in alcohol-related costs in public health, public order, crime and work absenteeism (Evening Echo Wednesday, 29th June).
In the meantime the P.T.A.A continues to fly the flag for abstinence which for some is the only solution to manage their alcohol addiction. Two insights from recent practice are worth keeping in mind. Firstly, the spiritual motivation that flows from knowing the continuous outpouring of love from the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the spiritual wellspring for personal conversion and fidelity. The other insight is the need for a support group to help find a new pattern of living free of addiction. This is where the local branch of the Pioneers can be of practical assistance on the journey of recovery.
So often in life we are surprised by providence when a prophetic figure emerges from the most unlikely place. In this case it is the Ven. Matt Talbot – a humble saintly man who by grace and his own self-sacrifice has become the symbol of the Cross of addiction and one’s victory over its deathly consequence as the living embodiment of the Paschal Mystery. To-night we draw inspiration and hope from the wellspring of his cooperation with the graces given him to fight the demons that otherwise would have controlled his life.
Fear, anxiety and worry are very corrosive forces in life. To each Jesus offers a counter word of reassurance:
“Fear not, I have overcome the world.
The hairs on your head have been counted.
Can any of you, however much you worry add one single ambit to
your span of life.
I myself will pasture my sheep,
I myself will show them where to rest
I shall look for the lost one,
bring back the stray
bandage the wounded
and make the weak strong.” (Ezekiel 34:15)
Matt Talbot lived this trust in God’s grace and mercy. It is a model/example for all of us in living our life in Christ Jesus.
Tonight’s celebration of Mass is an expression of our on-going concern of the impact of chemical addiction in our families and in the wider community. The “craic” is glamorised as some harmless fun when in fact it is anything but. Overtime it can wreak havoc spiritually, psychologically and physically. So our prayer through the intercession of the Venerable Matt Talbot is heartfelt and urgent.
We pray tonight also that Matt Talbot will be raised to the ranks of the Blessed in the community of the Universal Church that his heroic sanctity and perseverance will serve as an inspiration to a new generation to use well the gifts the Creator God has given us.