I’d heard that there was some connection between 12-step programs and Ignatian Spirituality, but knew nothing more about it. As a result of your question, however, I’ve been “googling” like crazy…
In November 1940, at a time when he was struggling with depression, Bill W. was told that “some bum” was there to see him. The “bum” introduced himself: “I’m Father Ed Dowling from St. Louis,” he said. “A Jesuit friend and I have been struck by the similarity of the AA twelve steps and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.” Thus began a life-long friendship between the two men. His conversations with Dowling, together with a course of psychoanalysis, changed Bill W’s view of recovery from a religious conversion model to a psychological and spiritual approach. It was after this change in outlook that Bill W. wrote The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.
Dowling, in a letter to his Provincial Superior, opined that his contribution to AA lay in offering a, “very free use of the Ignatian Rules for the Discernment of Spirits for the second week of the Spiritual Exercise.” He often discussed the Spiritual Exercises with Bill W and they focused much of their attention on the “Two Standards” meditation which teaches, among other things, how humiliations for Christ’s sake can lead to humility and other blessings.
It was, perhaps, because of such discussions that Bill W. turned down an honorary doctorate from Yale. In his letter to the university he wrote:
“My own life story gathered for years around an implacable pursuit of money, fame, and power, anti-climaxed by my near sinking in a sea of alcohol. Though I survived that grim misadventure, I well understand that the dread neurotic germ of the power contagion has survived in me also. It is only dormant and it can again multiply and rend me — and AA, too. Tens of thousands of AA members are temperamentally like me. They know it, fortunately, and I know it. Hence our tradition of anonymity and hence my clear obligation to decline this honor with all the immediate satisfaction and benefit it could have yielded.”
It would be wrong to suggest Dowling gave without receiving back in full measure. He considered Bill W. and his wife Lois among the greatest gifts in his life. His ministry changed because of their friendship and the 12 Steps helped him to recover from compulsive over-eating.
Finally, Pat, I want to thank you for your friendship over the last 30-something years. You bring much joy into my life and I can never get enough of that laugh of yours. Thank you for agreeing to this blogalogue. I know that PFO-ers are grateful for all that you’ve shared.
P.S. You can read more about Bill W. & Ignatian Spirituality here.