U.S. CATHOLIC, Vol. 57: 29, July, 1992
Twelve Steps of Faith
By Father John Powell, SJ.
New York stockbroker Bill Wilson realized that he was a hopeless alcoholic. In the hospital on medication, his depression and rebellion were strong.
He had flirted with faith before, but now he was screaming, “I’ll do anything, anything at all! If there be a God, let Him show Himself.” God did come to Wilson. That was his conversion moment. He never doubted the existence of God and never drank alcohol again.
Later, Wilson teamed up with Dr. Bob Smith of Akron, Ohio, and together formulated the now famous Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.). This program succeeded with alcoholic men and women to such an amazing degree that it is now used in other groups: Gamblers Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Adult Children of Alcoholics, Troubled Couples Anonymous, and so forth.
It is clearly a “spiritual” movement that can serve us, no matter what our problems may be.
Briefly stated, the 12 steps begin with an admission of our powerlessness, acknowledgement that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity, and a decision to turn our wills and lives over to God.
Next comes a searching moral inventory, and the honest admission to God, to ourselves and to one other human being of the exact nature of our wrongs. Then, we ask God, by grace, to remove all our defects of character and our shortcomings.
Next comes a list of everyone we have harmed, and we are asked to make amends to all of them. The Tenth Step asks us to continue to take a personal inventory and admit whenever we are wrong. The final steps counsel us to seek through prayer and meditation the enlightenment of God’s will and the empowerment to do it, and to share our spiritual awakening with others, by word and by deed.
Even though I am not an alcoholic, I decided to try these 12 steps. I immediately came to understand how they demand fearless honesty and a persevering act of the will.
I remember once standing next to Sister Ignatia, supervisor of of the A.A. Ward at St. Vincent Charity Hospital in Cleveland, as an alcoholic man was being admitted. The poor fellow is not going to make it,” she said wistfully.
“Can you look at a person and tell whether they are going to make it?” I remember gasping. “Oh, no,” said Sister Ignatia, who had an active role in the founding of the A.A. Movement. “It is rather by listening to what he is saying.”
The poor man was in strong denial. “1 don’t have a problem,” he was mumbling. “1 can take it or leave it.”
“This movement is not for all who need it,’! Sister said, “but only for those who need it and want it.”
Since then, it has been my constant prayer: to be honest, to turn my life over to God, to continue an inventory of my life and my deeds, to make amends to those whom I have hurt, and to share my own awakening with others. The Twelve Step Program is much like everything else. It works if we work at it.