In this weeks blog, Fr. Paddy pays tribute to Sr. Consilio Fitzgerald who recently recieved an M.B.E. on the New Year’s Honours List.

Fr. Paddy Byrne has a weekly column in the Nationalist papers.

This column appeared in the edition published 12 January 2011.

Sr. Consilio recently received an M.B.E. on the New Year’s Honours List, regarding her heroic commitment to good people who live with serious addiction. In the early 1980s she established A Cuan Mhuire Community in Newry, similar to her well known Rehabilitation Centre in Athy. A humble and deeply spiritual, Sr Consilio remarked “a life recovering from addiction is a life worth living”.

Consillio’s life has befriended thousands of people who find themselves surrounded by the darkness and despair of being lost and imprisoned to addiction. Many of these people have had as a consequence huge losses in terms of their personal dignity, professional lives, marriages, families and friendships. Addiction to alcohol and harmful substances is a very true reality in all our communities. Ireland holds unfortunately one of the highest percentages of alcohol addiction in the world. Consillio’s philosophy includes not just treating the symptom of alcoholism but its underpinnings in relation to every individual’s personal story. Addiction not only affects the addict but also the entire family. It is a dark and deadly disease that truly can destroy lives.

Last year at the parish Annual Nine Week Novena in St. Andrews Parish Church, Bagenalstown, Frances Black courageously shared her personal story. Her life became enslaved to alcohol. Her darkness brought her to a place of misery and inner turmoil. As she spoke that night, hundreds of people in a packed congregation could relate to a family member or relative in a similar circumstance. I salute one young man whose life that night embraced a radical, positive new beginning. Perhaps with God’s grace, he made a promise that he would never take alcohol again. Eight months later he enjoys a whole new quality of life, emotionally, physically and spiritually, he enjoys a much more fulfilling and happy lifestyle. This young man is typical of the thousands of people who have been healed through the rehabilitation process directed by real life heroes such as Sr Consilio.

Recovery from addiction is about embracing powerlessness. Many parents, siblings and partners over Christmas and New Year have been greatly affected by alcohol abuse. A great therapist once said “we are only as sick as our best kept secret”. Recovery is always a possibility. In truth we are all in need of healing. Recovery from addiction is gradual, worthwhile and very necessary for thousands of people whose lives sink daily into a pit of darkness and despair. The unsung heroes of recovery place their trust in a higher power. A source of inspiration and tremendous peace. A reservoir of real healing that quenches the thirst of any…..ism.

In his book “The Wounded Healer”, Henri Nouwen embraces his vulnerable self and in doing so finds empathy and love in his rich life of service to people who are bruised and broken. In a hopeful and uplifting attitude he says “often our scars and wounds can be our greatest gift, it allows us to share the cross with one another”. For all who carry the cross of addiction the Serenity Prayer is most appropriate.

“God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can and the wisdom to know the difference”.