Fr Billy Swan
Dear friends. Recently, I saw a scary headline on a newspaper that got me thinking: ‘COCAINE NATION’ was what it read. It followed the publication of a report into the epidemic of drug abuse in the Tallaght area of Dublin. The report warned that the problem of drug abuse and addiction is spiralling out of control. And it’s not just Dublin. It’s here in Wexford too. It’s everywhere and across the world. In the United States, in the year of the pandemic from April 2020 to April 2021, more than 100,000 people died from a drug overdose with over 70% of these people men between 24 and 54. For the drug lords, business is booming and we need to ask ourselves why. We also need to consider how we as a Church can make a faith response and not turn a blind eye to this evil in our midst. What is the hope we can offer to parents who worry about their children growing up in a drug culture? What hope can we offer to someone who find themselves a slave to addiction? Here I offer five ways that the gift of faith can help us discover new hope.
The first step is to acknowledge the problem, study the data and get a grasp of the situation unfolding. We also need to be communities who support the parents and families of young people who are most vulnerable to drugs and who worry for them. Then we begin with God’s personal love and concern for every human life. The Church’s faith is built on this message of hope – that every life matters; that each of us are known and loved by a loving Father. No drug can ever and will ever be a substitute for faith in this fundamental truth. We are made for an infinite love and no created thing or substance can satisfy that longing except the love of God himself. This gift is the rock of our identity and self-esteem.
The second source of hope is that every life has meaning. If God’s love created every human-being then God has a purpose and mission for all of us. People are getting sick because their lives lack meaning. With meaninglessness comes despair and the loss of hope – ripe conditions for people to turn to drugs to numb the pain. It is essential that the Church proclaims her message that everyone’s life has meaning for without the fundamental questions of life being addressed, we remain in a constant state of anxiety, drifting along in a state of confusion and insecurity. We are created for love, friendship and ultimately for God. Denial of this is a reduction of who we really are.
The third source of hope is dealing with the problem of pain and suffering. Pain and suffering will come to everyone. It’s not a question of if it comes but when and how. How do we cope? Christianity speaks to the human experience of suffering for it believes that God immersed himself in human suffering in order to redeem it and draw close to those who suffer too. Faith in Jesus Christ invites us to see suffering as a participation in his cross and as a mystery connected always to love. Such a perspective can give suffering meaning and the strength to cope without turning to tranquilizers that numb the physical, spiritual or mental pain we endure.
Fourth, our faith gives us the courage to say ‘NO’ in order to say ‘YES’ to our hopes, dreams and fulfilling our potential. When Ireland faced the problem of alcohol addiction in former times, the ‘TOTAL ABSTINENCE’ movement was founded. It was a way of teaching people to say a complete ‘No’ to what they could be addicted to. A similar initiative is needed today. How many addicted people tell their story of how their addiction started when they convinced themselves that ‘one wouldn’t do me any harm’.
Finally, and most importantly, in our struggle with addictions, we are not alone. We need a saviour and we have one. This is what Advent is about – seeing our need for Christ to come and be our saviour and save us from the plague of addiction. The readings on this Second Sunday of Advent speak of light, hope, mercy, integrity and salvation. These are not abstract concepts but speak of real hope – hope for communities, families and people enslaved by the scourge of drugs.
Friends, we keep being told that faith and Church are irrelevant to many today. I find this impossible to believe or accept. What could possibly be more relevant to a society becoming snared in drug abuse than the hope needed to be saved from it? May we all be prophets of this hope this Advent and Christmas.