Thursday, December 13, 2007

Saints serve several functions

By Mary Costello
February 5, 2003

Every year about this time, in order to pay a debt and fulfill a promise, I write about Matt Talbot. Our family has been involved in 12 Step work for nearly 25 years and we owe so much of what has gone right with our family to an Irishman we never met: Matt Talbot.

Matt Talbot was born in Dublin in 1856 and died on his way to Mass (his third of the day) in 1923. He was born into a poor, hardworking alcoholic family and he himself, by his own account, was a drunk by the time he was in his early teens.

God had a plan for Matt, as he does for all of us. Only Matt was smart enough to listen to God speaking to him. When he was 28, Matt was broke and standing outside the neighborhood pub, hoping someone would invite him in for a nip. No one did. Why in that moment did Matt hear God whispering to him, and why did he have the strength to make the changes in his life he knew he had to make? We’ll never know. But make them he did. He went home and told his mother he was going to “take the pledge.” Mrs. Talbot (who perhaps should be canonized herself) said, “Well, if you take it, Matt, keep it.”

And he did. Without AA, without a Big Book, without a sponsor, without a home group, Matt never took another drink. From that day until his death in 1925, Matt lived the austere and holy life of a saint. He attended Mass every day (changing jobs when the Mass schedule changed so as to not miss his daily appointment with the Lord) and three Masses on Sunday; he spent much of his free time kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament in the Jesuit church near his home. He taught himself to read so he could meet the Lord in the Holy Scriptures. Many days he fasted, other days he ate very little, sustaining his strength on a small crust of bread and cocoa or tea.

When he died, his neighbors and friends knew they had lost a holy man. People who knew of his victory over alcoholism soon started to pray to Matt for their loved ones still struggling with the addiction. And people got sober. The news spread throughout Dublin, then throughout Ireland and to the world. People sent names from near and far to be placed on Matt’s tomb, praying for a cure, praying for recovery. Matt was declared “Venerable” by Pope Pius VI in 1975. It is rumored that Pope John Paul II wants to canonize Matt but Matt does not cooperate by performing the necessary physical miracles.

Saints serve several functions for us, the “church militant,” doing battle each day with our faults and failures, our diverse addictions and our resentment and anger. They serve as intermediaries for us, bringing our worries and our struggles to the feet of the Lord; they plead for us at the Throne of the Almighty, especially when we are feeling so unworthy we cannot plead for ourselves. In addition, by reading and studying their lives, we realize that even the holiest of saints had their problems; they struggled, too.

By reading Matt’s life and learning about his love of the liturgy, his strict prayer regimen and his austere living habits, we might decide we want to incorporate a few of his habits into our daily lives. Maybe we will ever be as saintly as Matt, but we can be motivated to get up a little earlier now and again to attend daily Mass. Or spend a few more minutes in prayer over our lunch hour. The fact that Matt Talbot was himself an alcoholic who sobered up and became such a holy man that he is now being considered for canonization by the Catholic Church is a mind boggling shock to many people, especially those who are so broken by their disease they feel doomed. Matt’s canonization, and the ensuing publicity, would help even more people who are struggling with the disease of alcoholism. It would be a great gift to the alcoholic /addictions community throughout the world — it would give so many people hope.


Mary Costello (USA) is the author of A Little Book About Matt Talbot (2004), which is available from the "The Calix Society." (JB)