29th January – 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

The Sermon on the MountCarl Bloch, 1890Today we had the gospel of the Beatitudes. Here is the essence of my homily.

Most of us have wondered at what it was to know Jesus, the Jesus who walked the face of the earth 2000 years ago, to know Jesus as Mary and Joseph did, to know him as the Apostles who lived with him during the 3 years of his public ministry.

The best insight we can have of Jesus’ personality is provided by the Beatitudes we just heard. It was for this reason that our Bible professor in the seminary said that this gospel passage is the most important passage in the whole Bible.

Jesus was poor in spirit – aware of his deep human vulnerability and absolute need for God; he was gentle; he mourned – empathised with the plight and suffering of the people of his time; he hungered for holiness / righteousness [for right relations with God]; he was merciful; pure of heart – God’s will for first in everything; he was a peacemaker – the grand peacemaker who reconciled God and humanity by his sacrifice of the Cross; he was persecuted for the sake of right.

Today I want to talk about one of these qualities of Jesus: Happy are those who mourn, they shall be comforted. We are all called to share Jesus’ concern for the plight of others, to be Good Samaritans when we see somebody who has fallen down. We are not to pass by on the other side and pretend it is not our problem.

Specifically I want to speak about a cause of human suffering that has immense consequences for our Irish culture – namely, alcohol abuse. None of us have to look far beyond our own families to see the truth of this.

I’d like to look at some facts and figures to document this. In cost terms, alcohol related problems cost the nation some €3.7 billion each year at a cost of €3300 to each tax payer. The cost to the health care system alone is €1.2B, or 8.5% of its total budget. At any one time, some 2000 beds are taken up. How this €1.2B could be better spent – for example in reducing waiting times in Accident and Emergency.

One in 11 children experience parental alcohol abuse with varying negative effects on their lives. This pertains to over 100,000 children.

Alcohol related disorders are the third most common cause of admittance to Irish psychiatric hospitals. It is a factor in 41% of self-harm cases and a contributory factor to 97% of public order offenses. Almost half of homicides and sexual assaults on adults are alcohol related. Alcohol abuse  deaths are twice that of all other drugs – cocaine, heroin, LSD and the other latest designer drugs in fashion with college students, etc. A third of all road deaths and domestic abuse are alcohol related. Alcohol liver disease rates and deaths have trebled between 1995 and 2007. Alcohol abuse is the leading killer of men aged 15-59 worldwide. It ranks third overall behind heart disease and cancer.

The list could go on and on…

When we look at a given problem, there are usually many dimensions – medical, legal, political, economic, education, etc. But underlying all these perspectives is a spiritual dimension that is primary. When we see famines and wars and other causes of great human suffering, they are underpinned by a lack of love – love for God and neighbour, by not living up to our human dignity. It is no coincident that the very first step in the AA Programme – that wonderful self-help movement  by which alcoholics minister to each other – is to turn to God or one’s higher power for help.

The Pioneer Total Abstinence Association (PTAA) is a spiritual apostolate that fasts from the temperate enjoyment of alcohol. Members each morning and evening say a prayer offering up their abstinence as a spiritual intercession for those affected by alcohol abuse. Additionally they wear a pin. The Pioneer Prayer sums up the whole trust of the apostolate.

FOR THY GREATER GLORY AND CONSOLATION, O SACRED HEART OF JESUS: All of what we do is ultimately for the love of Jesus.

FOR THY SAKE TO GIVE GOOD EXAMPLE: We witness that it is possible to enjoy life and socialise without drink. This is a real issue for young people today where alcohol is hard wired into all social events.

TO PRACTICE SELF-DENIAL: Each Lent we practice self-denial to say YES to God and others while saying NO to our own desires. If we lack in self-discipline we can become like the proverbial dog who is wagged by his tail, our appetites can cause us to lose control of our lives.

TO MAKE REPARATION FOR SINS AGAINST TEMPERANCE: We seek to offer atonement for the sins of alcohol abuse in a way similar to Jesus who atoned for the sins of the world. Alcohol abuse can be a grave sin depending on how it affects our health and the well-being of others. Drunk driving is one such example – it is reckless disregard for the lives of others and offends against the Fifth Commandment. One third of all road fatalities are alcohol related.

AND FOR THE CONVERSION OF EXCESSIVE DRINKERS: We offer up our abstinence as a spiritual intercession for alcoholics, that they will receive the grace to recover from their addiction.

I WILL ABSTAIN FOR LIFE FROM ALL INTOXICATING DRINK. It is also possible to make a temporary pledge, like for 6 months, for Lent or Confirmation candidates who promise to abstain until they are 18.

If anybody would like to join, please enquire about the nearest centre to you.

Copied below is a sheet that goes into the spirituality of the PTAA in greater detail.

In summary: The PTAA is an apostolate to help spiritually those addicted to alcohol and all those other family members affected by it. It is one way we can imitate Jesus and live the Beatitudes in being concerned for the plight of others.