In last week’s post, I shared AA’s beginnings, noting how the cross of Jesus played a fundamental role leading to the founding of the Oxford Group and eventually to Bill W and Bob S grappling with their crosses, realizing that if they shared these, they’d become bearable. The next movement in the history of AA came when Bill W met Fr. Ed Dowling, S.J.
By 1940, Bill W. had founded an organization, published the book Alcoholics Anonymous that wasn’t selling and now, he was at a loss as what to do next. Just then Fr. Ed Dowling, S.J. from St. Louis came to visit him in the AA Club in New York City and told Bill he was struck with the similarities of the 12 steps of AA spirituality to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Rather than try to continue this story myself, I’ll let AA History do it:
“Thus began a 20-year friendship nourished by visits, phone calls, and letters. Both men spoke the language of the HEART, learned through suffering: Bill from alcoholism, Father Ed from arthritis that was turning his back to stone.
Bill turned to Father Ed as a spiritual sponsor, a friend. Father Ed, in a letter to his provincial, noted that he saw his own gift for AA as a “very free use of the Ignatian Rules for the Discernment of Spirits for the second week of the Spiritual Exercise.”
Thus Father Ed endorsed AA for American Catholics with his appendix in the Big Book and his Queen’s Work pamphlet of 1947. He was the first to see wider applications of the twelve steps to other addictions, and wrote about that in Grapevine (AA’s magazine) in the spring 1960 issue. Bill added a last line to that Grapevine article: “Father Ed, an early and wonderful friend of AA, died as this last message went to press. He was the greatest and most gentle soul to walk this planet. I was closer to him than to any other human being on earth.(http://www.barefootsworld.net/aafreddowling.html)
I was introduced to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius while in the Passionist Novitiate in 1963. Those exercises, while not constants in my life, keep popping up, almost like I can’t run away from then even if I wanted to. The connection is best described in the following quote taken from above: “Both men spoke the language of the HEART, learned through suffering…”
Next week the final installment on why I am a Partner—the monastery.