Faith can help fight addiction, writes Colm Fitzpatrick
Alcohol continues to remain an important part of our Irish society, whether it be advertised on television, used during celebrations, or simply drank to relax, but many people are also prone to over-consumption.
In the hope of combating alcohol addiction, Matt Boylan, the National president of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of the Sacred Heart (PTAA) is trying to promote prayer, self-denial, and positive life-styles to those who are willing to listen.
Matt joined the organisation when he was just eight years old after the strong influence of his teachers and has remained steadfast in his convictions ever since.
“I was only going to national school at the time in my local, little parish in Glenavy, Cavan. At that time the teachers were excellent because they were very much for promoting the organisation,” Matt explains.
“From a very early age I wanted to join, and of course many didn’t join – they would have gone by the wayside. But quite a few at that time did hold on until maybe 18 and maybe further,” he says.
The organisation was founded by Wexford native Fr James Cullen SJ in the Church of St Francis Xavier in Dublin in 1898. He was always concerned with social issues and established the society in order to address the enormous damage that he saw excess alcohol was doing in the Ireland of his time. Many workers were heavy drinkers and alcohol usually drained the weekly earnings of the family.
From the beginning, members – who joined in their thousands – pledged three things: to abstain from alcohol for life; to say the Pioneer prayer twice a day; and to bear witness by wearing the pioneer pin at all times. The PTAA has always been underpinned by devotion to the Sacred Heart, and its emblem reflects this.
Although the society was founded over two centuries ago, Matt believes that the alcohol problems Fr Cullen perceived in his Ireland is just as visceral and serious now. “It’s a huge problem altogether. It is pitiful to see the situation indeed,” he says.
“I have no objection to people drinking or whatever, but certainly against the abuse. I have no objection anybody going to the pub and having a drink and going about their business but what I do have serious objection to is being carted home, and being drunk in front of the children,” he says, adding that it can create a very bad image.
The statistics also clearly reflect this reality, with 85% of Irish people believing that the current level of alcohol consumption in Ireland is too high. Indeed, the World Health Organisation (WHO) found that Ireland has the second highest rate of binge drinking in the world.
As result of this alcoholic dependency many people of all ages turn to the Pioneer Association to receive support and try to get their life back on track.
“Even in my own area in the last four or five years, I’ve had five people come along like that with a range of age in their 20s, 30s, 40s and they became senior members”, he says, explaining that they had come to a realisation that it was something they could do without, and they wanted to live more quiet, peaceful lives.
Alcohol addiction is not just an individual problem, as those around a sufferer, such as family and friends, also experience the negative impacts it can have. In Ireland specifically, an estimated 271,000 children under the age of 15 are living with parents who are regular risky drinkers, which as Matt says, can cause a lot of “strife”.
In order to counter these problems, the association has many parish centres which have monthly meetings to pray or to read short reflections as well as plan various activities throughout the year. These include the Lenten Pledge, Youth apostolate, and the Annual Pioneer Mass and enrolment ceremony.
Prayer is also an intricate component of the society and all Pioneer events include a short prayer. It is important for pioneers to set aside time to reflect and meditate, including spending time listening during prayer time.
“You have your little prayer that you say night and morning and you wear your emblem and that’s what guards you – you come out as best you can,” says Matt.
The youth are also an important priority for many centres and visitation programmes are often organised to local schools and clubs. Students are invited to take the pioneer pledge until 18 and to keep off illicit drugs for life. The local Pioneer centre follows up with those students who are interested in membership and they are then are able to partake in the association’s competitions held at different times throughout the calendar year.
Although not everybody will be ready to take the leap in joining the pioneer society immediately, Matt maintains that that if you are experiencing some form of addiction the first and best thing you can do is talk about it.
“Talk to people, that’s the problem with Irish people, they’re far too proud and bottle things up. The best thing they can do is talk to anybody”, he says, even a priest for example. “Certainly, have a talk about it and seek help. Don’t be afraid to seek help.”
For more information about the association, see: http://www.pioneerassociation.ie/