Sunday, September 21, 2008
Matt Talbot - a Saint in Waiting
by Fr. Tom Ryan P.P.
CLARE COURER, (Ireland)
Suffering has many human faces; young, old, rich, poor, town, country, tall small, married, single, separated; it does not discriminate.
A parent grieving the loss of their child, a young person rejected because they are ‘different’, a spouse separated due to compulsive drinking or some other addiction, a family with a drug addict, a person cut in their prime due to illness or disability. We all know the faces; we see them every day. Perhaps we see one when we look into the mirror.
Often it is hidden but the telltale signs of strain are there. Tragically, some take their own lives; others take pills, drugs or alcohol, try to escape but only adding to their portion of suffering humanity. It is vain to try and explain their situation by neat spiritual formulae. Suffering is too commonplace and pain too real.
Suffering may be mysterious, widespread and at times overpowering but no more so than the reality of the grace and courage of sufferers. The secular world, that we are all part of, speaks of the triumph of the human spirit in the face of tragedy, but would this be possible if the human spirit were not part of God’s spirit?
Matt Talbot, whose annual Novena begins in SS John & Paul Church on Tuesday September 30th at 7pm is an example of a fellow Irish man who in his own life knew suffering as a result of his addictive behaviour, but he also knew the other side of the coin when he experienced God’s love in his life.
Matt Talbot is just one example of many who, through their plight, caused in part by circumstances and in part by a personal vulnerability, still shine through and stay faithful to what they cherished and loved.
Despite all the reasons in the world for caving into death’s inevitability, Matt Talbot stayed focused on life’s hope and by so doing, shows us the truth of the cross’s triumph over suffering and death.
Suffering from addictions, or indeed sharing in the life of addictions, has many human faces. It often defies explanation, leaving us stuck for worlds and at times helpless. However, there is help available, be it medical or professional. There is also spiritual help available.
At this time of year our annual Novena in honour of Matt Talbot takes place in both Kilrush and Shannon. It’s the time of year when people gather for one hour each Tuesday from 7pm to 8pm to pray for all suffering or sharing in the life of addictions.
This is the 16th year of the Novena and attracts hundreds of people at both venues for each of the 9 nights. This year’s Novena begins on Tuesday September 30th in Shannon and continues each Tuesday during October and November.
Note: Although we do not have a label for "suffering," typing "suffering" in the "search blog" box will yield articles that include this word.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
By the time I was 12 years of age I was hooked on pornography.
I remember as a young boy, probably 6 or 7, playing in my grandparents back yard. I was making 'dirt bombs'. Dirt bombs or 'dirt ronnies' are when you grab fist fulls of hard dirt to throw at someone. The Harder the better. Me and my brother would spend hours out there mucking around throwing dirt ronnies and climbing Nan's TV tower. I remember very distinctly stumbling into my Pops shed and finding a center fold of a naked woman. I was completely captivated by it, it was beautiful and yet something in me knew I shouldn't be looking at it. Every time I'd come back to Nan & Pop's house I'd go back to that picture and stare at it.
About the age of 13 I had a good size stack of porn hidden under my bottom drawer. My best mate and I would steal them from newspaper shops and collect them. One day my Dad brought home this do-it-yourself carpet cleaning kit thing and so everything had to be lifted up off the floor to be cleaned (you know where this is going). Dad found my stash of porn under my bottom drawer which I had thought was an impenetrable hiding place. Dad came outside and said "nice collection of playboy's and penthouses you got there Matt, just don't let your mother find out." Now God bless my Dad, he's a good man and looking back I can see that he was trying to relate to me, trying to be nice. What he did though, was reaffirm the lie I'd been believing that real men look at porn and that there was nothing wrong with that.
At this time in my life I had a Granddad who hid porn in his shed, a Father who almost congratulated me for having my own stash, a grade 8 teacher who told us on a school camping trip that masturbation was "a good and healthy thing" and to top it off I had my best friends Mum who would take us to video stores and hire porn for us so me and my friend could go back to his house and watch them after dinner.
It got to the stage where I was masturbating and looking at pornography basically everyday (thanks to the internet), and the further and further I sunk in my addiction the more defensive I got towards the notion that porn was in anyway "bad" or "degrading". I'd tell myself that I just liked the beauty of womanhood more than guys that never looked at it. I told myself I wasn't hurting anyone. I said whatever I could to justify it.
In the year 2000 when I was 17 I had a life changing experience and became a Christian. This was the most profound and joy filled moment of my life. It also posed a problem. No matter how much I tried to justify my porn addiction the reality was and is that porn and Jesus don't go together, kind of like chewing gum and chips or toothpaste and orange juice. So I tried with all my might to stop. But like a alcoholic or a junkie I kept relapsing and going back to it like a dog goes back to lick up its vomit.
I knew that this wasn't the kind of man I wanted to become. What kind of man closes the curtains in his room and clicks around on the internet with his pants around his ankles all for the sake of tingly feelings in his groin. I knew this was a counterfeit of manhood and prayed constantly that I would be free. Over the course of the next few years I continued to struggle. Sometimes I'd go days, sometimes weeks, sometimes even months without looking at porn or masturbating. But those times of freedom were book ended by another hopeless fall.
Allow me to cut a very long story short.
One night while my beautiful pregnant wife was out I had had enough. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. Sick of trying so hard not to fall when it seemed only to make it worse. My first child was about to be born in 7 months and I KNEW this had to end. But how?
I saw a statue of Venerable Matt Talbot who is on his way to sainthood. In his life became addicted to alcohol at around the age of 12, he would even come home at times without a shirt or his only pair of boots because he had sold them for alcohol. This man and I were in a very similar situation for he too was sick of what his addiction was doing to him. I read how he went to a church and took a pledge for 3 months that not one drop would touch his lips, it was hard but he made it and then took the pledge for a year and finally for life. He fell in love with Jesus in the Eucharist. He considered himself a slave of Mary (don't be afraid of the language, I'll explain).
This statue I saw had a Celtic cross with a chain that ran around the border, in front of the cross was the Mother of Jesus who had the chains across her chest and in front of Our Lady was Matthew Talbot, on his knees, the chains around his wrists were broken and he was set free! From that day forward I to took a pledge for 3 months that I would not look at porn or masturbate, after the 3 months I took it for life.
I have prayed the rosary daily understanding that I could not overcome my addiction by will power. At the end of each rosary I hold up the beads in my hands and say "Mother Mary, I have taken up your chain, now take off myne!" What can I say? She has!! I am now experiencing a freedom from this I never knew possible. I figured that if I ever overcame porn than I'd still be severely tempted but would be strong enough to resist.
You want to know the reason I no longer look at pornography or masturbate anymore? I have NO DESIRE to. FREEDOM is POSSIBLE! I am not a man with any sort of super human self control but I am free.
We have to understand that women are beautiful, the most beautiful creatures on earth, it is good and holy for us men to be attracted to them! Even now as I drive down the road, if there is a billboard of a beautiful woman it turns my head! This is okay but we need to make a decision at that point. Do we praise God for her beauty or do we lust? The problem with Porn isn't that it shows too much, it's that it shows too little! Too little of the person! This is the problem! Women are beautiful, the naked body is BEAUTIFUL but divorcing the body from everything else is completely unhealthy in every respect. Looking back now I see that those women I looked at in the porn may as well have been dead for all I cared, because I was only after the body!
I know firsthand how addictive pornography can be, but I also know that true freedom and healing are possible.
Don't fall into the trap of saying that very foolish thing people say about porn, "Hey, everything is fine in moderation". No it's not. I can give you a few examples of things that are very much NOT okay in moderation: Racism, cocaine, suicide, prejudice. While alcohol is a blessing from God so long as we do not abuse it. Pornography is always wrong because someone is always being exploited. So while yes, pornography can become an "addiction" where it over runs your life. This does not mean that it is healthy in moderation.
This may be the statue that Matthew is referring to in his story.hiT& A
Thursday, September 18, 2008
"Where was God when I begged him not to let me take that next drink?"
How can a Christian cope with the guilt of actions committed "while under the influence"?
"How can I resume my role as an active church member and face a congregation who knows what I was like when I was drinking?"
In the search for answers to these troubling questions, the recovering alcoholic receives a great deal of spiritual input, but has often had a difficult time finding specifically Christian literature to supplement the recovery program.
In response to that very real and urgent need, Rev. Carl Nelson has prepared this devotional resource for the recovering alcoholic Christian. Based on the Twelve Step program used by Alcoholics Anonymous, each daily and nightly devotion includes a Prayer, Meditation, Life Example (based on composites of recovering alcoholics whom the author has known), and a Scripture Study, making these devotions ideal for incorporation into any recovering alcoholic's daily recovery program -- and particularly useful to those who hunger for the presence of Christ in their daily struggles."
Monday, September 15, 2008
The first station begins at the bottom of your screen.
Friday, September 12, 2008
This is an example of what might be instituted in a parish for those who suffer pain from problems of alcoholism and other drugs. (JB)
Issue No 108
Feb 8th-Feb 22nd 2008
The spirit of Matt Talbot is being invoked at a new initiative called ‘Lent-a-Hand’ which takes place at St.Philip’s Church, Mountview starting on 11th February, the first Monday of Lent. It is described as a healing mass for all the pain suffered from problems of alcoholism and other drugs in the community in Dublin 15.
Fr. Diarmuid Connolly, retired Parish Priest of Castleknock describes as distressing the “hand-wringing that goes on in our society over drugs and alcohol related problems.” He believes that Matt Talbot, from a Dublin labourer background, provides an ideal inspirational figure for people who have encountered such problems. He says that Talbot overcame his own chronic addiction “using the Lord and Eucharist as his main source of strength.”
Matt Talbot was born into the poverty of Dublin's inner city in the middle of the nineteenth century. He lived with his mother in tenement Dublin and they moved eighteen times during his youth through a life of hardship and extreme poverty. He began drinking at twelve years of age, starting with beer before moving on to spirits and becoming a chronic alcoholic in just a few years.
In his enormous difficulties overcoming his problems, a priest helped him, giving him a rehabilitation programme which essentially incorporated the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, fifty years before AA was founded.
After a horrendous struggle, he found sobriety through prayer and self-sacrifice and remained sober for forty years until his death. His life story has already been an inspiration for alcoholics and addicts throughout the world and he has been considered by two Popes for canonisation in the Catholic Church. He died in 1925.
The mass in Mountview will take place on each Monday up to and including the 10th March.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Sometimes we treat ourselves very poorly. We may do something foolish and then kick ourselves to next week and back. And to some extent that is a justifiable treatment. But not continuously, and not even if one learns nothing from the experience. And certainly not if it is for the wrong purpose.
All things need to be done in the Light of Jesus Christ. God created each one of us, unique, without match in all the world. And at that moment He had a plan and a purpose for us--a goal to which we could rise. He loved us into existence and loves us to the end of our Earthly lives and beyond. We can choose to follow His plan or our own. Whichever way we choose, He will weave what we do into His plan. But one way we will find happiness and ourselves, and the other way we will find only self-will.
No other person can do what God has for us to do. I cannot be St. Teresa. I cannot be anything other than what I am. Thus, I am limited by what I am, and unlimited by what I can do through Christ. He wants each one of us to be a Saint--to be hope for someone who is in a very similar position. Most of us, in fact, are better encouragement than many saints, because we have lived lives that others can empathize with. I know that as my Carmelite group read Story of a Soul the comment kept coming up that "I couldn't be like that, look how holy she was at the age of four." True--you can't be like that, and the story of St. Therese is a little unearthly for most of us. We can't really empathize with that life. That is not to say that it isn't a profound inspiration and a profound blessing to all of us, but few of us spent our childhoods playing "Vow-of-Silence" Monks!
But take St. Augustine. Here is a saint I can empathize yet. And even in my mature years I find myself praying with him, "Lord make me chaste [I'd say Good] but not yet." Here is a man of passion of true human sympathies from the ground up--imperfect, headstrong, frustrating, in short someone we see when we look in the mirror. Some of us started life and are living lives as Therese (this concept boggles my mind--but I know it is true) the vast majority of us are more like Augustine. And being like Augustine in the modern world, we can offer more hope to those around us. They can see us rise from our merely human condition to become Human in God's eyes. It shows that such an ascent is possible for all. I think about Dorothy Day who, pregnant out-of-wedlock, had an abortion and went on to become one a great saintly person. Matt Talbot, who spent much of his early life curled up in a bottle, came by the strength (through God) to give it up and become another saintly person. Blessed Charles Foucauld was reputed to be something of a playboy, but he went on to be a Martyr. There are hundreds of examples of such people.
When we assume our identity in Christ, when we start to live that life of heroic virtue, our past life becomes a picture of hope for people in similar circumstances. When we rise above ourselves to assume the place God has for us in His plan, others can see that conquest of self is possible through Christ who strengthens us. Yes, lament your failures, your shortcomings, your own loses and stupidities, but embrace Him who loves you and share that sorrow. Become Who you are rather than remaining who you are. Assume your place in the body of Christ, with all your imperfections, flaws, and failures and let others know that there is hope for them. God has made you who and what you are for a specific mission. We will not see clearly the exact contours of that mission until we stand in His Presence. But trust Him and He will guide you in the paths that will make you what you must be--you can assume your identity in Christ.
Note: While the content of this article applies to all Christians, it should especially resonate with those in recovery.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Monday, September 8, 2008
by Monsignor Dennis Clark, Ph.D.
September 8th, 2008
Mi 5:1-4 or Rom 8:28-30 / Mt 1:1-16,18-23 or 1:18-23
The first of the eight beatitudes has a hidden wisdom waiting for us. The literal reading, of course, is, “Blessed are you poor, the reign of God is yours.” In a word, God is going to GIVE the poor the kingdom, for no reason except that God is generous.
The same beatitude, however, can be read on another level, “Blessed are you who KNOW you are poor….” Recognizing that deep down we are all poor, and that we own nothing at all, not even our own lives, comes slowly to many of us. Having a decent supply of this world’s goods can insulate us from the facts of our situation as creatures. We can take ourselves too seriously. And unless we’re brought up short by some tragedy, we can think that we’re quite self-sufficient and can dispense with bothering too much with God. An occasional bow in his direction will suffice — we think.
In fact, that’s a recipe for disaster, because it locks out God. It’s that sin of presumption which the old catechism warned us was unforgivable, because it says, “I don’t need God’s help,” which is the biggest lie of them all. In that circumstance, a wake-up call, even if it comes in the form of a tragedy, is a blessing, because it gets us back to reality. It gets the doors open and lets God in.
The stakes here are high, so some serious questions are in order:
Have you faced what it means to own nothing, not even your own life? Have you really accepted the fact that everything you have is strictly on loan, even your greatest talents? Has that recognition led you to a deep gratitude and a total reliance on God?
If so, you’re on your way, and the kingdom of God will be yours. If not, you’re in trouble and don’t even know it. But you will. So don’t wait for a painful wake-up call. Face the facts now, and give your life into God’s hands. In the end, he’s the only one who can save you, and that’s exactly what he wants to do.
We may not express our deep gratitude and total reliance on God in exactly the same way that Matt Talbot did or to the extent that he did, but our challenge is simply to do it, each and every day.
When we see or hear the word “poverty,” we probably immediately think of economic or financial poverty. Matt Talbot knew such poverty, growing up in a family in which both parents worked and frequently moved because they did not have sufficient money to pay their rent. (In later life he chose voluntary poverty, sharing his meager income with others in need.)
Some recovering addicts today have not experienced financial poverty during their "drinking careers." But probably all addicts in recovery, and especially Matt, can identify with the description of poverty below that previously existed in their lives.
Breakdown to a Breakthrough?
I think all of us have to confront ourselves as poor people in that way. And that's why many of our greatest moments of grace follow upon, sometimes, our greatest sins. We are hard-hearted and closed-minded for years, then comes the moment of vulnerability and mercy. We break down and break through.
Letting Go: A Spirituality of Subtraction (CD)