Thursday, March 13, 2008

"A Plan of Action"

1st Sunday of Lent—March 12, 2000

“B” Readings: Gen. 9:8-15 • 1 Pet. 3:18-22 • Mark 1:12-15

Title: Lent and Self-Discipline

Robert P. Clark - Homiletic & Pastoral Review -
February 2000

Purpose: to show that we also are (1) strengthened by overcoming temptation; (2) strengthened by self-imposed hardships.

Last Wednesday, Catholics around the world were marked with the sign of the cross and blessed ashes. The age-old admonition “Remember man that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return,” rang out in our churches. As Almighty God set the rainbow as the sign of the old covenant in the first reading of Genesis from today’s Holy Mass—so he has once again set the cross of Christ before us at the start of these forty days of Lent. Following the scriptural example of Our Blessed Lord, we begin this holy season in a spirit of self-discipline. Extra prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the rule of the day. These time-tested spiritual practices allow us to open our hearts to God’s will and to overcome the temptation of Satan and of the world.

Every Catholic needs to have a special “plan of action” for these sacred forty days—individually tailored to those areas in our personal lives that have the most need of transformation. Parents and grandparents have a tremendous responsibility in this respect; not only by setting a good example, but also by encouraging and suggesting ways that their children and grandchildren can open themselves to the life of Christ by sacrifice and self-denial.

Matt Talbot was born in Dublin, Ireland on May 2, 1856. He was the second of twelve children. Matt’s parents Charles and Elizabeth were poor and his early home life lacked the stability which is often the cornerstone for good living later in life. Matt’s formal education amounted to little more than one year’s worth of school. By age twelve Matt Talbot had his first job at a wine bottling store—he was also a drunk. In his early teens he began a slippery slope of alcohol addiction which took its toll on his body and on his soul. He worked to make money to drink and he drank trying to find the meaning of life in a bottomless well of despair. After being abandoned and rejected even by his drinking “buddies,” Matt sobered up long enough to know that after sixteen years of alcoholism he would soon be dead if he didn’t sober up for good. He took the “pledge”—the solemn promise to never drink alcohol, the promise made so popular in Ireland by the noted Franciscan Father Mathew.

Matt Talbot made the pledge for three months, holding on day by day, and then he renewed it for several more months. He returned to the sacraments and went to Holy Communion. The first three months were the hardest. Matt turned to Christ for the support needed for an entirely new way of life. He went to Confession weekly and assisted at a 5:00 a.m. daily Mass before going to work. His Catholic Faith and devotional and sacramental life became the center of his existence. Within a year he made the pledge for life and for the next forty-one years remained sober.

Matt Talbot’s self-denial in regard to alcohol was to be key to a new way of life. All of this was taking place long before any twelve-step programs or support groups were available for those suffering from addiction. He developed a personal regime of prayer and fasting during the various liturgical seasons, encouraging a friend to fast by saying, “We do well to punish the body and not by studying the gut” (p. 364, Modern Saints, Book Two, Ann Ball, Tan Publishing, 1990). In various ways, using a board for a mattress, wearing penitential chains and giving almost all his salary to the needy, Matt was able to express his love for Christ by an intense self-denial. It was in this self-denial that he was free to find Christ.

Matt Talbot died on Trinity Sunday, June 7, 1925. He died alone on the street on his way to Holy Mass. Matt was fond of telling people, “How can anyone be lonely, with Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament?” (p. 364, Modern Saints II). Matt Talbot found Jesus Christ through self-denial and self-discipline. Christ was his constant companion in life and in death.

This same union should be our aim for these forty days of Lent. Begin now to master your will, bit by bit, for the glory of God. With a fresh spiritual focus, you will be able to use each of the forty days of Lent to grow spiritually according to the mind of Christ and the Church. Make your spiritual “pledge” today. Whatever holds you bound, allow Christ to free you in the self-denial of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

Suggested reading: Catechism of the Catholic Church, 538-540, 1434-1438, 2099-2100.