CATHOLIC DIGEST, Vol. 19(4): 29-33, February, 1955
A.A.’s ELEVENTH STEP
Calix can make it more practical and specific for Catholic alcoholics
By D. Joseph Michael
“Gert! Look at those guys out there. Kneeling. And they’ve got a statue on the table!” And when she looked , Gert, too, saw the group of five men kneeling around the table in a private dining room of a small cafe in downtown Minneapolis.
It was a Sunday morning in August, 1947. Strange sight for the two waitresses. Strange sight to anyone who might have walked in on this scene: five men kneeling in prayer around a table on which they had placed a statue of the blessed Mother. But there seemed nothing at all strange in it to the five who were so earnestly begging the Mother of God to assist them in their terrifying struggle against alcoholism.
In the words of the founder of the little group, the men were “very much determined to become saints because they had lived like devils and wanted no more of that life.” They were the nucleus of Calix, an organization formed for the spiritual development of alcoholics.
It might be asked why these men had not tried Alcoholics Anonymous. They had. In fact, they were all active members of that organization. But, to quote the founder of Calix again, “When a fellow gets into this thing – this business of laying off the liquor – one thing is certain: you just know that you can never take another drink. I knew that I would have to break away from everything that was evil – not just booze. And so as a Catholic, I felt sure that my salvation lay in Mass and Communion. And I’d have to learn more about my Catholic religion so that I could practice it better.”
It wasn’t a question of abandoning A.A. It was simply an attempt on the part of Catholics to carry out that 11th Step of the A.A. program as perfectly as possible. This step reads: “We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with almighty God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.” The Catholic would seek to improve that contact with God by using the practical means afforded him by the Church.
There is no conflict with A.A. In fact, assurance came from one of the co-founders of A.A., after his examination of the Calix constitution and by-laws, that there was complete harmony.
A specific definition of Calix is that it is a membership of men, who, recognizing common problems, and earnestly striving to improve their spiritual well-being, are joined together for these purposes:
1. To interest Catholic men with an alcoholic problem in the virtue of total abstinence. 2. To promote the spiritual development of the alcoholic. 3. To strive for the sanctification of the whole personality of each member. 4. To promote the group reception of Holy Communion by its members once a month. 5. To conduct a spiritual hour for all members and guests after the monthly Communion breakfast. 6. To conduct and promote attendance at an evening Holy Hour once each month. 7. To have a Mass offered once each month for the intention of the membership. 8. To provide a chalice, or other religious article, for use in the service of the Church, as a memorial to each qualified member on the occasion of his death.
How did Calix get its start? In the late summer of 1947, a small handful of Catholic men, all alcoholics, had a special interest in one of their number, and were casting about for means to help him win his oft-lost battle. One of the number, assisting as usual at the 6:15 Mass, felt that this particular fellow alcoholic could best carry out step 11 there, before the alter, and with the help of Him who was Mercy itself.
When this man (call him Bill) left Mass, he gathered about him that morning the five or six who were interested in “their friend with the problem.” For several weeks, as a group, the men made it to an earlier Mass, and prayed for their friend. Happily, success was won. Nov. 11 of that year, then called Armistice day, marked the beginning of an armistice between John Barleycorn and a weary, but now heartened fighter. And that armistice is still in effect.
But Bill, and indeed all his group, realized that the armistice would remain in effect only as long as the victor remained firm in the practice of his faith. He would have to abstain totally, and he would have to seek and use the grace of God. Bill dropped around to see his pastor to discuss the possibility of a society, within the framework of the Church, to expand the practice of close spiritual cooperation among men striving toward total abstinence.
The pastor’s support paved the way to episcopal approval of a society to be known as Calix. A constitution was drawn up and submitted to the archbishop. His Excellency added suggestions and emendations to the text before him, and at length approved the constitution and its by-laws.
In the meantime, Bill and his buddies decided to make it to Mass each Sunday, receive Holy Communion, have breakfast together, and then spend some time discussing what they could learn of the spiritual life from books and pamphlets. It was at one of these meetings in the private dining room of a cafe that Gert and her fellow waitress peeked through the sliding serving door and spotted the five grown men on their knees before a statue of Mary, refuge of sinners.
With approval of the archbishop, Bill’s pastor turned over the facilities of the parish to Calix. Place was made in the organization schedule for attendance of the members of Calix at 7 a.m. Mass on the first Sunday of each month. One of the priests on the parish staff was appointed spiritual director.
At the monthly Mass, the members receive Holy Communion as individual members of the congregation, not as a group. After the Mass, they go to the parish dining room, where members of the parish sodality have a tasty breakfast awaiting them. The members kneel and recite aloud together the Prayer Before a Crucifx and then ask the blessing before a meal. After breakfast, the men help with the dishes, and return for a conference with the spiritual director. He explains the principles of the spiritual life by commenting on such works as Father Fabervs Growth in Holiness, Tanqueray’s Spiritual Life, or passages culled from St. Thomas.
The director does his best to see that the points under discussion are pertinently directed toward the problem drinker. Surprisingly, great interest is displayed in the matter presented. It then becomes the goal of the member to place what he has heard and studied into daily practice.
The period of spiritual guidance over, the group offers a prayer for the growth and success of Calix, and then settles down to a brief business meeting. The business meeting consists only of a roll call, minutes of previous meeting, treasurer’s report, business of the day, and “secret bag” collection. (A paper bag is passed about the group after breakfast and each puts in something or nothing, depending on his financial status at the moment.)
The members pledge themselves to assist at Holy Hour conducted on some evening during the month. At first, it was thought advisable to hold Holy Hour at a different parish throughout the city each month. This was to draw upon the wisdom and experience of various city priests who would conduct the Holy Hour. However, the difficulties of cross-city traveling soon made it apparent that a centrally located meeting place had to be found. Bill’s pastor enlisted the aid of the director of Catholic youth activities in the city and obtained the use of the Catholic Youth center’s chapel.
The growth of the group was steady; the need and value of its program was sensed by those who heard of it. It began to draw recruits from every walk of life: professional men, business men, laborers – all who share that age-old problem of a weakness and lack of tolerance for “the juice of the grape and the the drippings of the corn.” Without fanfare, it has attracted the attention of clergy and laity alike, and the original membership of five or six has grown to more than a hundred.
Branches of Calix have grown in other cities and towns as word is passed along that Step 11 is given a real shot in the arm for the Catholic by the program outlined and lived by Calix. And itself to be the back door to A.A. for many a Catholic who otherwise found excuses to avoid the philosophy and help of A.A.
The members of Calix do their best to carry into practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Their interest in mission work is part of their constitution. They have painted a Carmelite monastery (though it must be admitted that the Mother Superior had a moment of misgiving when she learned that a group of alcoholics was at the door, offering to paint the weathered exterior of the monastery); they have given blood as a group; they have formed retreat groups; they work hard at the usual A.A. program.
All this has added up to many a successful battle. More than that, it has provided a solid basis for continued spiritual growth. It has helped the men beyond the point of mere sobriety, in some cases a false thing best described as a “dry drunk.”
The name Calix (Latin for chalice) was given to the group by its first spiritual director. It derives its significance, not from the broader meaning of cup, but the restricted use of the word in the celebration of the Mass. The members of Calix are pledged to group themselves about the alter of Christ, to study His sacrifice for them, to study ways to atone for their offenses done to Him. They draw from the Chalice of Salvation their courage, their strength, their consolation, and their determination so to live that the chalice of Christ’s suffering need not have been drained in vain for them.
The chalice became the symbol of the group when the men decided to provide for each deceased member a memorial in the form of a chalice to be donated to the service of the Church in mission fields.
Already a dozen mission chapels have chalices inscribed with the name of a deceased member.
The men are convinced that just as total abstinence is the only known relief for the man who drinks abnormally, so also total conversion to Christ and to the following of Christ is the only answer for the Catholic. No use to give up liquor and cling to an adulterous union; no use to give up liquor and indulge in shady business practices; no use to give up liquor and follow lustful inclinations; no use to give up liquor and violate every principle of charity. In far more than one sense of the word, a sober re-evaluation of principles by which to live must be the starting point on the long, hard road to a full Christian life.