Here is the reflection from Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin at the Irish Bishops’ Drugs Initiative National Conference, held Saturday.
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Church of the Holy Child, Whitehall, 1st February 2014
The Irish Bishops’ Drugs initiative is a unique Church response to the challenge of substance abuse in Ireland. It is parish based and works on a local level with a wide network of volunteers. It aims at eliciting community action and it sees community as a focal point in changing attitudes but above all it sees community as the place where healing and integration of broken lives can be realised.
Many young people today are attracted into the world of drinking because they are told that it will help them to socialize. For some, alcohol and drug use sadly open for them a path which is the opposite of socialising: a path of isolation and marginalisation from society and community. The Irish Bishops’ Drugs initiative stresses that healing must come from community. Community must become the place where broken lives are welcomed back into a place of integration and healing.
The Bishops’ Drug initiative is not just about anti-alcohol moralising. It is a constructive project to foster responsible use of alcohol within the wider framework of a healthy and responsible life style. The initiative also focuses on the damage that substance abuse does to individuals and to society. The project is an educational project in the widest sense. Education is a celebration of human potential and human talent, of human goodness and truth and of the ability of every person to realise such potential and to overcome obstacles and failures they encounter on life’s journey.
Education means inserting human lives into a particular value system, one which Pope Francis stresses regularly in his homilies and talks. He has a strong horror of waste and of a throwaway society, in which our relationship with God’s gifts becomes alienated and we fail to understand how we should be using the gifts of creation according to God’s plan. A culture of moderation is also a culture of ecology and the environment. It is a culture which focuses on what is essential and good and lasting for us. It is a culture which rejects superficiality and emptiness, misuse and waste.
Addiction becomes always an inward-looking focus on self in which the person is alienated from an outward vision of that service and self-giving which are true dimensions of human life. So many of our contemporaries, who just like us are constantly seeking the ideals of the spirit become pressurised by the compromise of superficiality and fail to realise their true selves.
The negative effects of alcohol can be seen and recognised in many ways. We can produce statistics about spending on alcohol or the effects on personal and community health. We can quantify global financial costs to the economy. This week, we have had a report on the disastrous links between binge drinking and rape. We see every day, how binge-drinking leads to anti-social behaviour among young people. Violent crime has drug and alcohol abuse as a powerful accomplice. In the long run, however, the real costs of alcohol abuse and addiction are those which wreak immense damage to the heart and soul of concrete men and women. Young men and women become trapped in a false path which at first sight seems to offer happiness and spirit but which in the long run leads only to a path of destruction from which they may never return.
Despite all statistics of how ruinous that path can be, the Christian always recognises and proclaims that the path to hope can never and must never be abandoned. Substance abuse and addiction may lead people to become disconnected from self, from their love ones and from God. But the God revealed in Jesus Christ, the God of love, never disconnects himself from us. The God who is love never ceases to reach out to those who have fallen along the path. Holding out his powerful hand, he gives those who seem lost and abandoned power and strength to re-find themselves and their unique worth as children of God. The God revealed in Jesus Christ is the God of the resurrection: of the never-ending possibility of redemption and renewal, in a manner which exceeds all human expectation.
The Church must become the place where broken lives encounter the restoring of love of God through the life and witness of the Christian community. I congratulate all those associated with the Irish Bishops’ Drugs initiative. I encourage especially those young people who are part of this initiative to witness through the way they life to that message of moderation and simple and healthy life style, and to be ready to sustain their friends who fail on the path and to help them re-find the way of hope.