The past few weeks I have had the opportunity to speak and share my book at Annunciation Parish, University of Saint Thomas, Saint Ed’s, Hazelden to the the patients and Professionals in Residence.And I was requested to write the reflection below for Palm Sunday.
Annetta M. Sanow Sutton, author, Catholic Alcoholic: A Witness to Addiction Redemption
Fifth Sunday of Lent
En masse. Mobs. There they were. Our Jewish brothers and sisters in mass, greeting, laying palms as Jesus entered Jerusalem. Luke’s gospel shares the joy of those masses. The awareness of this gentle, just Man who walked with the common people. A great and good Man: Stood for right; Encouraged common sense; Loved with intensity; Taught truth. The mobs, the mass of people in the crowd had no idea that in the next few days this same man would suffer such violence, physical and emotional pain more than we can imagine. Jesus was soon to be a receiver of the death penalty. Yes, the death penalty. An innocent Man; His only guilt: love and peace.
The readings from Luke’s gospel are our introduction to Holy Week, our journey with Christ as a community, a Church. Luke was reflecting on the stories he was told. He was not there. Neither were we. Yet we will present palms as they did in Jerusalem. The difference: We know what will happen to Jesus in the next few days. The Jerusalem people standing with palms did not.
The suffering this gentle, just Man will face makes us recoil with sadness. It was easy for the people to wave the palms during this time of celebration. The joy was expressed easily. However, when things turned bad and the violence began to enter Jesus’ world, the crowds drew away. Disowned. Disavowed. “Who is this man?” they were asked. “I don’t know him,” came the replies.
The same human struggles occur today. In our world, we see the crowds. The mobs. The masses. The same human emotions. Joy, grief, solace, fear, anger, judgments, the cries of the poor, the suffering, whether in Syria, New Town, the Vatican, or in our own community. We celebrate. We disown. We disavow.
The violence, which will befall this gentle Man, continues to manifest itself in our world as I am writing this. Why didn’t we learn when we heard the Greatest Story Ever Told? In the past several weeks our communities have witnessed the tragedies of several young women, one with an unborn child, killed. Do we take action? Do we turn away? How does the destruction of human life continue unabated in what we want to think of as a civilized society?
Yes, we see them everywhere. Large groups of people. Mobs. Masses. We hear their cries. We hear the joyful exuberance. We witness the grief. Angry screams. Prayerful meditation. We see, feel and hear it all.
And we hear the guns. The modern day death penalty.
Where is the common sense? Where is the discussion connecting to the values Jesus taught?
It is found at Saint Cecilia’s. We heard it from our new Pope. Yet, the “noise” tries to silence the truth.
I work at a treatment center where I meet the anguished face of Christ in the agony brought about by the disease of alcoholism. At the center, my co-workers and I witness on a daily basis the anguish in the alcoholic, the addicted, and their families. The foundation for recovery we provide is found in the spirituality of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. The co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill W., knew from personal experience the solution to the pain, the suffering, was a spiritual solution. The book titled, Alcoholics Anonymous, lovingly called the “Big Book,” written in 1939, has for over 75 years provided a new life for those suffering from the disease.
Ten years after Bill wrote the Big Book he wrote what is called the 12×12, a sharing of what was learned in those first 10 years of the AA program. Tucked inside the 12×12 is a beautiful prayer. For years I have encouraged patients to pray it as part of their recovery. It is a simple prayer. A powerful prayer. The prayer was given to Bill W. from Father Ed Dowling, a Jesuit, who told Bill he was pleased the 12 Steps were so similar to the Exercises of Saint Ignatius, the cornerstone of the Jesuit order. Though Bill W. was not Catholic, Father Ed provided Bill with spiritual nurturing. He told Bill of the man to whom the prayer is attributed, this suffering man who was called manic, insane, and knew rejection from family and others. Immediately, Bill felt a kinship with the writer because he knew that alcoholics also understood rejection and suffering. Bill placed the beloved prayer in the 12×12. Today, the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi continues to bring a sense of hope, mercy, reconciliation and truth to those beginning recovery and those living in recovery. An example of connecting to the values Jesus taught.
My father, a 32-year dedicated law enforcement officer never carried a gun. He always told us, his children, “I am a peace officer. Not a police officer.” Many of his colleagues questioned Dad’s stance and his sanity. Dad’s behavior spoke of peaceful resolution to difficult situations. He was our Francis of Assisi. Our role model of Jesus walking with the suffering and the addicted, calming the violence, although at times it surrounded him.
Thoughts to consider as we enter Holy Week:
Jesus was an officer of peace. A just Man. He never deserved death; He never carried a gun. He carried love and common sense. Do we?
The antidote to the violence, self-deception, and judgments are found in Francis’ prayer on p. 99 in the 12×12. It is also found in our hearts as we begin the holiest week of our faith by washing the feet of one another on Holy Thursday. As we walk together through the Holy Week, may we carry the words of Saint Francis in word and works!
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace!
That where there is hatred, I may bring love.
That where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness.
That where there is discord, I may bring harmony.
That where there is error, I may bring truth.
That where there is doubt, I may bring faith.
That where there is despair, I may bring hope.
That where there are shadows, I may bring light.
That where there is sadness, I may bring joy.
Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort, than to be comforted.
To understand, than to be understood.
To love, than to be loved.
For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.
It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life.
Bill W., Fr. Ed Dowling, Saint Francis of Assisi and my Dad — connected to the teachings and the heart of Jesus – provide examples of why reading and living the Gospel of Luke makes a difference.