top of page
  • cmcsullivan

I'm addicted to caffeine. According to the internet, my addiction is shared by roughly 90% of adults in the U.S. Such a statistic begs the question: What's the big deal? Caffeine is readily available. It improves focus and attention. Its delivery systems -- coffee, tea, chocolate -- are among life's pleasures. So you might well wonder why I have again begun a periodic weaning from the stuff, to be followed, if all goes according to plan, by several weeks or months of abstinence.

I ❤️Coffee

I treasure the morning coffee ritual. My husband, a serious coffee aficionado, grinds the beans, brews the grounds, heats the cups, pours the coffee. Just writing these words, I feel sad, thinking about missing out on this solemn daily ceremony, My husband loves me through our morning coffee.

In the spirit of sacrifice and self-control, I still undertake a coffee fast from time to time, often around Lent, which begins next Wednesday. This year my motivation is not simply to divest myself of pleasure. In fact, I have undertaken to discover things I genuinely enjoy as a spiritual practice. In this, my personal de-caffeination exercise is counter-intuitive.

So why do it?


I don't only drink morning coffee for the joy of the ritual. I drink it because I'm hooked. When I have broken earlier caffeine fasts, I might start with black tea. Just one cup of coffee, only on Saturday morning,. Okay, Saturday and Sunday. Then Friday and Thursday and Wednesday and Tuesday and Monday. First one cup, then one and a half, then two, two and a half. Caffeine isn't cocaine, you might say. What's the big deal?

The big deal is that I'm not free. From that first cup, I'm increasingly not free to stop. I'm not free to stick with tea or Saturdays or one cup. I'm addicted. I've given over some of my freedom to the chemical habituation that caffeine produces.

If I skip a day, I pay, as does everyone around me, as the headaches, irritability, and foggy thinking take over. I'm no longer in control of myself. Caffeine has taken over.

Unintended Consequences

Maybe for you it isn't caffeine. Maybe it's alcohol. Or internet pornography. Or shopping. Or scrolling social media. We can compare, rationalize. Mine isn't as bad as hers. But none of this is freedom.

My addictions to substances or behaviors -- and I have others -- cloud my self-awareness. I use these things, consciously and unconsciously, to mask what I don't want to see. They blunt my feelings, occupy my time, keep me company. They provide background noise that allows me to avoid a silence in which I might hear things that trouble me or that I don't know how to address.

Pushing back against our addictions isn't easy, in part because they are more symptom than disease. The disease is our dis-ease with the true nature of our human condition. Our pain is real, and so we seek, not irrationally, to cover it, hide from it, and avoid it with whatever means we can. These coping strategies may have been the best we could do to allow us to function within the confines of circumstances that we didn't know how to handle. They were the solution, until they became the problem.

Freedom is the goal

Growth in freedom requires the courage to become self-aware. It can be enough of a first step to recognize the things we do compulsively. What do I do because I don't know how to stop? What behaviors do I justify, even as I know they cause me unhappiness? The challenge, the invitation, is to notice these actions without immediately judging or trying to fix them.*

If we're going to find deep and lasting healing, it's essential that we allow ourselves time to consider what these behaviors are helping us to hide and hide from. Otherwise we will likely relapse or replace our current strategies with new ones, equally designed to cover up the underlying wounds and pain, doomed to become the next problem in need of a fix.

We can practice noticing our own behavior and learn to pause to discover what triggers that behavior. We can begin to experience our feelings instead of denying or covering them up. This process takes time, patience, and above all, an environment where grace and mercy can triumph over judgment. The help of a qualified therapist or spiritual director can be essential to the healing process.

For freedom Christ has set us free. - Galatians 5:1

Ultimately, the point is not whether it's virtuous or vicious to enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning. The question is, am I free from the compulsion to do so? Am I enjoying that coffee for its own sake, or am I using it to distract me from thoughts and feelings, to excuse me from taking new action in my own best interest, action that will allow me to live out my life's purpose? Am I drinking that coffee enslaved or free?

*Certain behaviors may require immediate intervention. Suicidal ideation, cutting, anorexia and bulimia, abuse of alcohol or drugs and other such coping strategies require the support of qualified medical professionals, therapists and/or support groups.

For immediate crisis support for you or someone you know, call 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)

or text 741741. For more information about mental health resources, visit

5 views0 comments
  • cmcsullivan

Several years ago I was hired to do a little blogging for Loyola Press. Occasionally I'll hear from a friend that one of my old posts is circulating. Like today. Here's a link: Praying with Mary

The content is also below. The first practice, praying with scripture, is firmly ecumenical. The other two practices are more situated in the Catholic tradition for the Catholic audience to whom the original post was addressed.

Praying with Mary

The very essence of prayer is recognizing that God is with us. That is the meaning of one of the Lord’s names, one that we hear over and again in Advent, Emmanuel. The Lord is with Mary. The Lord is with us.

What does it take for us to pause amidst the busyness of this season of preparation—between the shopping and decorating, the family gatherings and holiday parties? Mary’s life is dramatically interrupted by the visitation of an angel and a miraculous conception. How do I hear the angelic messenger, that still, small voice of God (1 Kings 19:12) in my days? What does God wish to conceive in me? How does God want to use my flesh to incarnate the living Christ?

As we journey through this Advent and Christmas season, we can seek Mary’s intercession, looking to her example of how to welcome the overshadowing Spirit of God. As Mary said yes to the Spirit, I can trust in her to lead me to my own yes.

Here are some possible ways to practice praying with Mary this month.

Luke 1:26–56 chronicles Mary’s encounter with the angel, her visitation to her cousin Elizabeth, and her song, which we call the Magnificat. Read this passage slowly. It’s long, so you may want to read just a few verses each day or each week. As you read, notice whether there is a word or a phrase that speaks to you. Ponder it in your heart as you go about your day. Invite the Lord to speak to you through his Word.

If the Rosary is not already part of your life, consider incorporating it once a week, or maybe try praying a decade a day. As the Joyful Mysteries recall the events surrounding the birth of Jesus, they are perfect for praying through the seasons of Advent and Christmas. As you meditate on each mystery, invite the Spirit to use the experiences of Mary and Joseph and Jesus to shine light on how the Spirit is moving in your life here and now.

The Angelus is a traditional prayer by which we can connect and reconnect with our ever-present God throughout the day. The Angelus is a brief reflection on the incarnation, recalling Mary’s yes to God’s invitation to bring Christ into the world. Prayed at 6:00 a.m., noon (often accompanied by a prayer for peace), and 6:00 p.m., the Angelus is a pause in the rhythm of our days in which we can recall Emmanuel, God with us.

How might praying with Mary enhance your experience of Advent and Christmas?

Blessed Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception!

Never heard of it? Here's an explanation from the ever-engaging Fr. Mike at Ascension Press.

  • cmcsullivan
The intermediate coming [of Christ] is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within their own selves, and they are saved. - St. Bernard of Clairvaux

In some deep place within me, I am.

I am the truest, most complete version of who I was created to be. In moments, when I locate that solid center -- or it finds me -- I know who I am. I feel like myself. I am at home. I find myself riding the wave, coasting, flowing with clarity and purpose. I feel un-self-conscious. I simply am.

Who am I if not myself?

Coming home to ourselves ought to be the most natural thing in the world. Yet most of us feel like we live at a remove from our own centers. It makes sense. From our beginnings, we interact with a world broken by sin -- and we react. We're looking for three basic things: safety and security; affirmation and approval; and power and control. These are the things that help us to navigate an often hostile environment. Safety, approval, and control. These become the shields we wield to protect ourselves from the world.

An inside job

This might all be well and good if danger, judgment, and manipulation were only coming from outside of us. We could, I suppose, use these tools to ward off the forces and live in harmony with our inner selves. But it doesn't work that way. We ourselves, sinners all, are the source of these same forces. They flow out of us, and they circulate inside of us. I behave in ways that are self-destructive -- in my actions when I fail in self-care; in my judgmental thoughts; when I am identified with and consumed by my feelings. I am a danger to myself. I disapprove of me. I am out of control.

Who will save me from this body of death?

We have to learn to look beyond, beneath the surface of ourselves. We have forgotten who we are, if we ever consciously knew. We have taken as our true selves the self-protective façade we've constructed. That isn't me. My true self is a hidden treasure, but not un-discoverable. I can find it if I am willing to go into my own depths and explore. There I will find myself, and where I find myself, I will find Christ.

Where there is love, there is God

Self-discovery is not navel-gazing, and self-love is not the same as selfishness. What "saves" us (in the language of St. Bernard), is recognizing that where the true self dwells, God dwells too. The outer construct, a product of our sin and the sin of the world, separates us from God, and separate from God we are separate too from our authentic identities. Recognizing who I really am and coming to know God in Christ are not two different things. They are the same thing.

2 views0 comments
The Blog

Compassion. Encouragement. Challenge.

bottom of page