Once as a young altar boy, I caught a glimpse of heaven. It was late fall, and I had drawn the assignment of serving the 6 a.m. Mass before school.
On the altar, I knelt on the left side of the priest, facing the tabernacle. A few nuns sat in the first pew, and a handful of old folks dotted the church. In front of me, a set of tall stained-glass windows filled my view. Their deep colors awaited the sunrise to awaken their breathtaking beauty.
In the course of that Mass, I was drawn into a state of reverential bliss. The priest and congregation seemed to fade away until it was just God and me. A sense of overwhelming peace filled my entire being. Never before had I experienced such a profound presence of Jesus in my life.
Sowing Trouble. As the years passed, however, an intoxicating cloud obscured that heavenly light. Out of school and heady with freedom, opportunity, and a good salary, I began to drink. Cunning, baffling, and powerful, alcohol cut the brake lines to my conscience. Situations that used to trigger an "all-stop" response now signaled "full speed ahead." I did things I would come to regret.
But during that period, God brought a wonderful woman into my life, his most precious gift to me. We were married, and after three years, our first child arrived. Unfortunately, so did my alcoholism. Celebrations turned to confrontations, happy times to hard times, and trust to disgust.
We were on the brink of divorce when my wife said to me, "Bud, you are the most disgusting human being I’ve ever known." I looked down at our six-month-old baby and asked myself, "What kind of a father do I want him to see me as?" This, plus a family intervention, left me no option but Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
Called by Name. Half-heartedly at first, I embarked on the journey of the Twelve Steps. Slowly, I accepted God’s help and put my addiction in his hands. The fifth step was the hardest: admitting to God, to myself, and to another human being the exact nature of my wrongs. As a Catholic, I knew I needed Confession, but I felt too ashamed and afraid to face my Creator. Finally, my deep desire to be made clean overpowered my cowardice. Trembling, I sat down with our priest, surrendered to God, and felt the tender touch of the Good Shepherd cleanse my soul.
Freed of my heaviest burdens, I resumed the path to that peace I had tasted as a young altar boy. My best friend in AA, Paul, introduced me to various spiritual activities, and my faith grew. So did the happiness in our home.
In March 2001, during an AA retreat that Paul had arranged, I experienced the Holy Spirit flooding into me and offering me a sort of covenant: If I lived the best I could, with honesty, purity, unselfishness, and love, God would call me by name at the end of time. Overwhelmed by my Creator’s intense love for me, I responded, "Absolutely!" I committed myself to helping save the lives and souls of alcoholics, including myself.
Then followed four and a half years of renewed family life and other great blessings. And then one morning, as I sat sipping coffee, I had a premonition that I was being prepared for a monumental test. I was right.
The Next Right Thing. After so many years, my "minor indiscretions" caught up with me. My past misdeeds that I had once dismissed as merely improper turned out to be illegal. People I had angered in my long-ago drinking episodes emerged and took me to court.
My lawyer assured me I would likely get probation—I was totally unprepared for the prison sentence I got instead. But though my brain said "no," the feel of steel tightly clenching my wrists said "yes." As I was led out of the courtroom, my eyes locked onto my wife’s. She, too, was in shock.
Being torn like this from my family, my company, my AA friends, and my church brought crushing loads of shame and humiliation. I grieved for my wife and children, the innocent victims of my wrongdoing. Lord, please be merciful to them and provide for their needs.
Now more than ever, I had to be willing to trust God. It was no easy thing. Paul would often tell me, "Just do the next right thing." But what was that? I finally realized that it was to accept my incarceration as part of God’s divine plan and use it to serve him.
Here I Am, Lord! In my first prison cell, I had a bunk mate, a Bible, and a ton of time. As I read, the Holy Spirit kindled a fire in my soul and gave me insights that I shared with my roommate.
Benny, another inmate, asked me what book I was reading every day during our recreation hour. When I told him, he confided that he had always wanted to read the Bible but didn’t know how to read. By the time I was moved to another institution, Benny had become well acquainted with Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the Acts of the Apostles, as well as the basics of AA. He was grateful, and I was blessed.
In my present facility, it is easier to attend Mass and to get support through AA meetings and other programs. But here, too, frustration and despair can boil over into arguments, tirades of profanity, and fights. In this situation, sharing what God has given me with other inmates—carrying the message of sobriety and salvation in a compassionate and loving way—has become a way of life. I have many opportunities and the promise of a plentiful crop.
Every night at "lights out," I close my eyes in the semi-darkness and see those pre-dawn stained-glass windows of my youth. And again, the loving heart of Jesus grants me peace and gives me rest for another day.
*Bud E. is "a grateful recovering alcoholic."Click here for a longer version of his story.
"It's Been My Anchor"
"For nearly three years now," Bud E. wrote us, "The Word Among Us has been the chain connecting me to my anchor, the Catholic faith. It has kept me from the rocks of destruction in some pretty turbulent seas. We receive just a few copies at this correctional facility, but my parish priest bought me my own subscription. I am so grateful. In return, I tithe my prisoner’s monthly wages and any other financial gift I receive to The Word Among Us Partners."
Reaching out to—and sometimes with—prisoners like Bud is what The Word Among Us Partners is all about. Thanks to generous readers like you, Partners works with dedicated prison chaplains, supplying them with The Word Among Us and other good Catholic materials that reach some 49,000 inmates.
Through dedicated military chaplains, Partners also serves an increasing number of Catholic service men and women around the world, including troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
By making The Word Among Us available to Catholics in prison and in the military, we hope to encourage ongoing conversion, a deeper relationship with Christ, a life of prayer and Scripture reading, and more active participation in the sacraments.
Will you pray for our ministries and become a Partner? You can make a tax-deductible donation—of $100, $50, or whatever you can give—online at www.waupartners.com or by sending a check to:
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