May 9, 2018 // Perspective

Monks’ weekend retreat helps recovering alcoholics find God

Guest Commentary by Daniel Conway

Christian monks have been seeking God since the dawn of Christianity. They have removed themselves from the chaos and temptations of daily life “in the world” in order to pray, do good work and share their journeys with others who also seek God in community.

Of course, the monk quickly learns that “the world” comes with him or her. There is no absolute escape from the trials and temptations of life. There is only the transforming power of God’s amazing grace which is available to all God’s children wherever they are. Even so, there are special — holy — places where it seems much easier to seek and find “the God of our understanding,” and to discover — and then do — God’s will. Saint Meinrad Archabbey, a Benedictine monastery in southern Indiana, is one of these holy places.

For the past nine years, Saint Meinrad Archabbey has served as the host for a weekend retreat for recovering alcoholics. The overarching theme of the retreat is the 11th Step of Alcoholics Anonymous: “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out.”

What better place to examine prayerfully this important step in the recovery process? Could there be a better group of people to pray with and share their spiritual journeys than those who have freely given themselves to a life dedicated to the search for “conscious contact with God”?

Many believe that alcoholism is a multifaceted disease that affects the mind, body and emotions of those who suffer from this all-too-common form of physical addiction, mental obsession and emotional illness. There is no cure, experts say, but many women and men do recover if they can work the 12 steps of AA with honesty and humility. One day at a time.

Alcoholics Anonymous describes itself as “a spiritual program” that has no affiliation with any religious or secular group. AA’s spiritual program of recovery is open to “all God’s kids” regardless of religious, social or economic status. Thus, the 11th Step Retreat is open to all — including spouses, family members, friends and professionals who work with people in recovery.

In addition to the retreat conferences, the program includes opportunities for prayer with the monks, silent reflection and meditation, and fellowship with other retreatants at meal times and during social gatherings.

Pope Francis recently spoke about the value of this kind of retreat:

“In this age, when people are so busy that they do not have enough time to listen to God’s voice, monasteries and convents become like oases, where men and women of all ages, backgrounds, cultures and religions can discover the beauty of silence. At monasteries, people can rediscover themselves in harmony with creation, allowing God to restore a proper order in their lives” (Pope Francis, general audience, April 19, 2018).

The ninth annual 11th Step Retreat will be held at Saint Meinrad on July 13-15. Its particular theme is “The Joy of the Journey,” and guest speakers will include Dr. John M., author of “Being Sober and Becoming Happy,” and a video presentation by Franciscan Father Richard Rohr, author of “Breathing Under Water.”

Those thinking about attending should go to to register.

Daniel Conway is a member of the editorial committee of The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

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