Nina Marie Corona gives a talk on addiction Feb. 16 in St. Aloysius Church, Jackson. Corona, a retreat director who is certified in alcohol and drug counseling, visited the parish for four evenings to present “We Thirst: Lessons in Mercy.” Carly York photos
Nina Marie Corona gives a talk on addiction Feb. 16 in St. Aloysius Church, Jackson. Corona, a retreat director who is certified in alcohol and drug counseling, visited the parish for four evenings to present “We Thirst: Lessons in Mercy.” Carly York photos

By Carly York | Correspondent

“Spiritus contra Spiritum” was the wisdom that Dr. Carl Jung gave to Bill Wilson, one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, in 1961.

“‘Spiritum’ in Latin is the word for alcohol, whereas ‘Spiritus’ is the Latin word for a high, godly spiritual experience. Therefore, ‘Spiritus contra Spiritum’ means that high spirit can fight low spirit,” retreat director Nina Marie Corona explained to about 50 people gathered Feb. 16 in St. Aloysius Church, Jackson.

Corona, a presenter with a certification in alcohol and drug counseling from Villanova University, Villanova, Pa., spoke on the last of her four-day mission on Christianity and substance use disorders titled, “We Thirst: Lessons in Mercy.”

Corona brought specific lessons to the parish on the evenings of Feb. 12, 13, 15 and 16. The talks addressed the four natures of addiction – biological, psychological, social and spiritual – as well as the corresponding virtues that Christians can practice: prudence, empathy, courage and the combined “theological virtues” of faith, hope and love.

Explaining that she felt her talks were well-received by those who attended, she said, “People are often hesitant to attend these talks because of the stigma and shame that accompanies the topic of addiction. But what I heard from this group, and of other groups where I have conducted this program, is that they leave with a sense that there is hope to combat addiction.”

Raising Awareness

Father John Bambrick, pastor, said he was pleased with the talks, including Corona’s use of prayer, meditation, quotes from saints, music and visual arts.”

“The series was presented to touch individual souls and support them in the journey forward in faith, hope and love in whatever form of addiction has touched them personally,” he said.

He added that one of the reasons he wanted the parish to host the series was because in the past year, the parish had hosted eight funerals for deaths specifically linked to opioid overdose, and several others related to drug or alcohol misuse.

“After a year of so many addiction-related deaths, I began to think and pray about what people of faith can do about addiction,” Father Bambrick said.

Deacon Uku Mannikus of St. Aloysius Parish, who attended all four nights, said he was moved by the talks.

“Addiction is a real problem in our community. I am happy this program is here to bring it to light and help bring more information to the people who have concerns,” he said.

Naomi Capasso, parish music director who attended two of the talks, said she was impressed to see the connection made in both evenings between the biological and spiritual natures of addiction.

“Pope Francis says that we need to be a bridge,” she said. “I think learning about this topic will help me be a bridge for people. There is so much stigma surrounding the topic of addiction that it keeps people from digging in and getting dirty to fix the problem.”

Confronting the Challenge

During the retreat, Corona reflected heavily on the words of St. Augustine from his autobiography, “Confessions,” quoting,  “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” 

She equated the craving of addictions – drugs, alcohol, sex, shopping, work, etc. – as a coping mechanism to the craving for God that exists in every human soul.  She also pointed out that addiction often brings people, families and communities to their lowest, weakest state. Quoting from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, she said, “My grace is sufficient for you; my power is made perfect in weakness.”

“We often receive the gift of faith when we are at the weakest points in our lives,” Corona said, before telling her own story of being given the gift of faith, as well as the stories of St. Augustine and Bill Wilson.

“Faith gives us the power to heal our core wound and find the image of God in all of us,” she said. “Ultimately, it is total surrender to God, through the gift of faith, that can combat and heal addiction.”

Father Bambrick said Corona turned the definition of “enabler” around by asking folks to be “enablers of recovery, enablers of hope and enablers of mercy” in the lives of those trying to recover and restore their lives.

“She invited attendees to be ‘codependent in recovery,’ meaning if you have a loved one who is addicted, then you need counseling, support groups and friends who can help you heal as well,” he said, adding that she urged attendees not to call those struggling with addiction “addicts.”

He said one of Corona’s powerful messages was the idea to separate the disease of addiction from the person.

“There is a person with dignity who has the disease of addiction. Addiction does not define who they are, it is a process they are trapped in or may be recovering from a chronic life-long disease,” he said.

Corona, who was born and raised in New Jersey, is studying for a doctorate in ministry in Fordham University, N.Y. She holds a master of arts degree in spirituality from Loyola University, Chicago, and is an adjunct instructor in Villanova University.

She also has firsthand knowledge of the overdose epidemic due to her daughter’s addiction after being exposed to pills in high school.

In sharing her family’s experience with opioid addiction, Corona, Father Bambrick said, “walked the walk” and could truly talk the talk.