A Steadfast Spirit: Grace of a strong will

At a recent healing Mass, Father Richard McAlear spoke at Our Lady of Perpetual Help with words about who Jesus is, what Jesus has done, what He alone can do. For those able to receive Christ in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, it was a night of instruction to no longer come to the Lord without something to ask or expect. His homily encouraged all to discern, to be precise, to believe He is here now to heal something not small or partial, but what we can boldly name and ask for with faith. Every reception potentially waits only for our preparedness, our discerned need, to ask and receive.


Desire is the center of both addiction and recovery. What is it we want? Sexual compulsion and obsession live in the ‘world’ of the human mind. Biology has revealed that in arousal, chemical communications erupt from regions of the body and flow to the mind to direct and reinforce behaviors and behavior choice which bestow reward.

If we were wounded in highly sensitive youth when sexual faculty and mind were forming simultaneously, behaviors can become tied to the reward of intoxication. As the hidden pattern develops and ‘plays out’ in one’s character and habits, freedom is assumed to be the electing of intoxication.

Eventually come the questions later, of whether having fallen into this controllable self-reward system of lust, one is happy, fulfilled, living a meaningful purposeful life.

Just realizing one is configured in a way that is not meaningful and purposeful is enormous, breaking through denial to see unfreedom, addiction or compulsion. One is already in recovery, if acknowledgement of imbalance is admitted. We are then lead swiftly by the Spirit through many new doors of healing, each one a blessing of Christ.

Yet what if, mysteriously, one can comply with many healing means, and still not find peace and freedom. What if, having said yes to every presented help, freedom seems “impossible”. Have you ever asked this question, after the recent storm of ‘insufficient will’, “What am I doing wrong?”

Summarizing their experience in interview and memoir, two ministers of the Church that came into frequent contact with souls struggling to be free, set up perhaps the biggest recovery question of all. The first is an exorcist in the Church who spoke the surprising [but also always provisional] conclusion that some souls cannot be exorcised. The other, a Christian clinical therapist, who worked with souls seeking transformation of same sex attraction acted out, commented that patients fell into one of three groups: those who recover completely, those who struggle continuously with temptation but who are able to resist, and those who do not recover.

The ‘scientist’ in each addict might quickly accept these findings and deposit himself into one of the three categories. Yet, two questions will still remain at any moment, even until the end of life , “Is there new desire for freedom?” and “Is there yet desire for transformation’s patience, freedom to arrive at the right yet-encountered unknown about my deepest condition that still cries for healing?”

Toward solving the mystery of addict unfreedom, comes finally the issue of will. God is not likely to do everything for us, for we would be mere puppets if He did. But neither can a human give himself the extraordinary power to rule over the interior kingdom of his being, let alone a universe seen and unseen, for he wouldn’t need God if he could. Addiction after all is a deeply entrenched habit, made from decades of repetition, arduous to change, including the desire to change itself.

Being a survivor of child sexual abuse and early life trauma, this writer has come to recognize, after 40+ years of affliction and 20 years of recovery, that all the prayers and practices and observances and participations and acceptances of external helps, will not deliver freedom if I don’t desire freedom. I have been instructed to see that what is at stake is true manhood, the grain of wheat that dies in order to never die again in Christ, to be what divinity has called me to be on this earth. Hint: not an addict nor hapless compulsive.

By mercy, I have discovered the brokenness of my will, a will that was destroyed in youth, by experiences of trauma and abuse, co-opted by sin, vice, addiction in the midst of my very impressionable development. But no longer blind to a crippled will, this too becomes part of showing to God a contrite heart. “I am broken and cannot repair myself.” “I was never ‘right’ to begin with.“ “I cannot will what is holy and noble.” “I only will what is unholy, unclean, what is habitual, familiar, comforting and reliable, wrong as it ever goes on being.” “My wounds of life and development in disorder created this inadequate will to virtue, this unrealizable vow of chastity.”

When Jesus saves the woman nearly stoned for adultery, he sends her forth with the command: “do not sin anymore”. This is an almost shocking instruction, as if the women must go off and figure out how she is not going to sin anymore by some muscle of her own volition. But by this instruction alone, the realities of seriousness and responsibility truly appear. God brings the sinner to understand the true goal: see the sin and do not want it.

Do we do the work of this? Do we change our will? Do we make ourselves recover? No, but... We can read, we learn, we talk to others, listen to others, approach His altar again and again; figure out what is still missing, and then we can pray with faith in the One Name of Jesus.

Our prayer is not for a strong or strong-enough will, or for self-mastery. Our prayer is for the grace of a strong will, the grace of self-mastery, a gift a creature cannot give himself, a gift that comes only from God. The Father has permitted the litany of unwanted, feared, agonizing temptations so as to lead us to see our truest weakness of heart, our hidden greed, and to ask for the antidote of grace. He comes to do in us what we ourselves cannot do. If we succeed then we know Christ it is who now lives in me and this futile “I” no longer lives, as Paul proclaimed.

There is the holy saying “grace is everything”. For addicts and sinners, “asking for grace is everything”. Do we know to ask, for this first tepid step of right desire? Blessed are we if we can ask with faith for what we are brave enough to see is our destitution.

Ask for this grace never asked for until perhaps today. Let us ask for the grace to want what God wants: purity of heart which will attach us to Him alone. The choice is simple: God or addiction. If we can’t from our hearts, desire the obvious blessing choice, then we ask for the grace of desire for right choice.

Heavenly Father, you know our weakness and frailty through and through, show us that our addiction, our life, our wounds have harmed our wills. Grant to us Father, the grace of a healthy will, a righteous will, a virtuous will, a holy will, a strong-enough will, to get there, to conquer, to topple the enemy of intoxication enslavement by the eclipsing power of practiced virtues. We beg with gratitude in Jesus name. Amen.