The chalice symbolizes holy Communion and the blood Jesus shed on the cross. Thus it connotes suffering, redemption and holiness (see especially Mt 20:22-23 and 26:27) – fitting for the name of the Calix Society. The stained glass image shown is from St. Patrick Church in Elkhorn. SUSAN SZALEWSKI/STAFF

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Calix offers cup of salvation to recovering addicts

“Calix,” a word that comes from Latin, means chalice. But for people recovering from addictions, and for others who have suffered their consequences, it means so much more.

For Vern, a recovering alcoholic, Calix brings to mind an uplifting, reassuring, void-filling sense of God’s peace and forgiveness. Kathy, who was married to an alcoholic, says that calix is the cup that holds “the wine of salvation … of recovery, wellness and wholeness before God.”

The calix Kathy and Vern know is not only the eucharistic chalice but the Calix Society, an international organization with an Omaha chapter that helps those recovering from addictions resist temptation and grow spiritually.

Calix’s approach is Catholic – offering Mass and the sacraments and promoting personal prayer and holiness – but is open also to non-Catholics who want to deepen their spirituality.
“Substituting the cup that stupefies with the one that sanctifies” is the Calix motto.

The Omaha area chapter meets on the last Saturday of each month at New Cassel Retirement Center in Omaha, where participants attend Mass, listen to speakers and enjoy fellowship.
At Calix people aren’t questioned about their addictions and are not pressured in any way, organizers said. Anonymity is ensured.

IN NEED OF GOD’S HELP

Kathy and Vern, who belong to Omaha parishes and have been part of Calix for decades, asked not to be fully identified for this article.

They stress that Calix is not a 12-step program like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Rather, it’s geared for those who’ve completed 12-step programs and want to continue their recovery, leaning on God for support.

Recovering addicts learn to turn their lives over to the care of the Lord, surrendering to his will, said Benedictine Father Eugene McReynolds of Mount Michael Abbey near Elkhorn. “That’s where our Catholic faith triumphs.”

Prayer, meditation and “the beauty of the sacraments” have an effect, giving those who struggle the grace needed to live one day at a time.
“We never cease needing God’s help,” said Father McReynolds, Calix’s chaplain.

Vern, 89, has been going to Calix meetings since 1965, shortly after he began his sobriety. And he still needs the support, he said.

Kathy has been going since 1969, after she was forced to separate from her alcoholic husband and raise their three young children without him.

“I haven’t missed very many meetings over the past 50 years,” she said.

HIGHER POWER

Leaving her husband “was one of the most difficult choices I’ve ever made,” said the now 79-year-old grandmother, great-grandmother and retired counselor. But she didn’t want to harm her children, who were 3, 2 and 1 at the time.

She joined a 12-step program for support. Father James Schwertley, a longtime Calix chaplain, encouraged her to try Calix, too.

“I had to have a higher power to help me through some of those struggles,” Kathy said.

She wasn’t angry with her husband, she said. “He had a terrible disease and made choices he didn’t like.”

“I was disappointed and sad. But I also know I had a responsibility to the children.”
Kathy said she learned her separated husband later tried AA but he wasn’t able to overcome his addiction. He has since died but was able to reconcile with his grown children before his death, she said.

At Calix, Kathy said, she found a network that was supportive of families and offered companionship and a “spiritual cohesiveness.”

‘A NEED IN EVERY PERSON’

Vern followed his late wife’s example and turned to AA, which helped both of them become sober.

But they each needed something more, Vern said.

When people become sober, they often feel proud and happy, he said. But “after a time they start feeling that there’s more, that they need more.”

“Calix can offer a place to come, be welcomed,” with no pressure, “just to associate with people with the same needs and to draw closer to God.”

“I think there’s a need in every person to have a relationship with God,” Vern said. Calix aims to help those who are overcoming addictions attain a stronger Christian life.

“In any addiction, you hurt yourself and you hurt others,” he said. “You need peace of mind and self-forgiveness.”

VARIETY OF BACKGROUNDS

The Omaha Calix meetings typically offer Mass, a social hour, dinner and a speaker on spirituality, health or other topics.

The meetings draw anywhere from 50 to 90 people, who come from a variety of age groups and backgrounds. Most are recovering alcoholics and most are Catholic, Father McReynolds said.

Some are fresh into recovery, while others, like Vern, have been recovering for years.

Vern became sober 54 years ago, when he was in his mid-30s. His journey into addiction had begun early. He said he developed a taste for beer when he was still in grade school.

He had lied about his age and started working at a neighborhood grocery store, where the owner sometimes brought out beer for the employees after work.

“And I enjoyed it,” Vern said.

His drinking picked up in high school. A summer job at the stockyards turned into a full-time job after graduation. And having a couple drinks after work was just “part of life.”

“I enjoyed drinking,” Vern said. “I enjoyed the laughs and so forth. Until I went too far.”

“I didn’t recognize there was a problem for years,” he said. “There was dancing and partying and all the social activities that went with it.”

But there came a point “when you have to have it,” he said. Depression followed, but he continued to drink and “hated every bit of it.”

‘DAY BY DAY’

His wife started going to AA about six months before he did. Vern gives her credit for her example, support and prayers for his recovery.

“Without a doubt it was her love and prayers that pulled me through,” he said. They were married 67 years.

“We had a few rough years there,” he said, “but we had some magnificent years.”

During his long recovery, Calix has lifted him up and fortified him, Vern said.

Father McReynolds said that addiction is a disease that requires continuous care.

“You never outgrow the need for recovery,” he said. Daily spiritual practices help, he said, “turning your will and life over to God day by day.” For some that may include daily Mass.

The sacraments, he said, are essential. At Calix, “we revisit the power of our Catholic faith.”