On the eve of the release of his new Pastoral Letter on drug use, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila shared a message of hope for those who struggle with the burden of addiction: The Lord desires abundant life for you.
During a special Nov. 9 Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Archbishop Aquila shared why he sought to write and publish “That They Might Have Life,” which comes 11 years after Colorado became the first state to legalize marijuana.
“[The Letter] focuses on addictions and particularly what has been our experience since the legalization of marijuana, for the legalization of mushrooms and the various studies that have been done that point to the fact that marijuana truly is a gateway drug,” the archbishop said in his homily. “It is not something that is just used, but rather it leads at times to other drugs, to other addictions, and can make people really struggle with addiction.“
He cited the opioid crisis and the rise in fentanyl-related overdoses, which continue to rise at alarming rates. The Pastoral Letter shares many statistics which outline how detrimental the legalization of marijuana has been society at large.
“It’s essential that we reflect upon that and the legalization of it, [but then also] how do we address and how do we help people come out of their addictions?” he said.
The readings for the day pointed to three basic truths which can inform and guide the Christian response to those who struggle with drug addiction. The gospel reading of the day, taken from John 2, shows how Jesus is trustworthy when he speaks of his body as the temple which will be torn down and raised up in three days, a reference to his crucifixion and resurrection.
“His word is true. We can see throughout sacred scripture that they all point to the promise of a messiah and that Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise, and that he is truly fulfilled that and he is truly trustworthy,” Archbishop Aquila said. “We have to look at that deep sense of trust.
“All of us at times have been broken, and all of us at times may struggle with trusting others, depending on our wounds,” he continued. “Certainly, the wounds of addiction are great. Often times, it is in trying to comfort those wounds that we become addicted, whether it be to alcohol, whether it be to drugs and the multiplicity of drugs that are out there, or to other things. We are really using them to get away from the pain and the suffering that we are experiencing. Something that we must do in our prayer life is renounce the lie that we may have taken on unconsciously, that God is not trustworthy.”
With this the archbishop implored all of us, but especially addicts, to remember this important truth: “Jesus Christ reveals that love for us and the Father’s love for us. And Jesus has never willed our wounds or our brokenness.”
Secondly, in St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he speaks of the body as a temple of God and how the spirit dwells within us — a fitting allusion to the dignity of our physical bodies, which can be ravaged by addiction. Jesus, too, had a physical human body that was ravaged, and at his resurrection, his body was transformed and glorified, but his wounds still remained. The wounds of Christ reveal the depth of his love for us, but they reveal another truth as well.
“They also reveal that we one day, as we proclaim in every mass on Sunday, believe in the resurrection of the body, and that our bodies, like the human body of Jesus and the human body of Mary, will be transformed and resurrected,” the archbishop said. “We will still have bodies and we are called to treat our bodies with dignity. Certainly, drugs and all of those addictions take away from the goodness and the dignity of the human body and of who we are before God.”
Lastly, in the reading taken from the book of the prophet Ezekiel, an image of a flowing river filled with living water represents the abundant life that Jesus desires for all of us — an abundant life that can only be found in him.
“It is abundant life that the Lord is desiring for us, and wherever this river flows, there will be abundant life,” Archbishop Aquila said. “For us who believe that certainly comes about in baptism, that new life that the Lord gives to us, but it also comes about in our ongoing conversion throughout life. The conversion of those who continue with addiction programs for the rest of their lives is one of constant deepening and freedom and of the peace that comes only by believing in that higher being and by putting our faith in Jesus Christ and by receiving him in the Eucharist. We are receiving that flowing water, that abundant life. We are receiving him who truly desires to heal us.”
It is through the living water he offers that the Lord can heal addiction. While the allures of drug use and addiction can be all-consuming, they pale in comparison to the abundant life the Lord desires for his people.
“In looking at addictions through the lens of the Church, we see God’s great desire and love for every human person and the healing of that person, Archbishop Aquila concluded. “Yes, people may struggle. They may fall at times. But the Lord is always there to pick them up when they return to him. That is the kind of life and the abundant life that the Lord desires for us.”