Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Matt Talbot: Example of Sobriety

Mary D. Herald
Arlington Catholic Herald

Venerable Matt Talbot was an Irishman who was an alcoholic from an early age. He experienced a spiritual conversion, stopped drinking and remained free from alcohol until his death 41 years later. Matt’s example demonstrates to alcoholics that through the grace of God, a life of sobriety is possible. Although he lived and died before the development of Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.), the basic principles Matt Talbot lived by are the same principles embodied in the twelve steps of A.A. today.

Matt was born in Dublin in 1856, and at the age of 12 began working as a messenger for a wine merchant. He began drinking wine and when he came home drunk his father made him change jobs and work at the docks. There he switched to whiskey, and by the age of 17 he was intoxicated almost daily. Matt spent all his money on drink. Although he continued to attend Sunday Mass, he refrained from receiving Communion.

His mother prayed for him, and when he was 28, Matt hit bottom. He had been drunk for a week and was broke. When he tried to get money from his friends, they all turned away, some even crossing the street to avoid him. He suddenly took an honest look at what he had become. He then took a pledge to stay sober — first for three months, then for six months, and finally for life.

On the day of his first pledge, Matt went to confession and received holy Communion for the first time in years. He resolved to put God first in his life, and he relied on God’s grace to help him stay sober each day. Daily Mass, prayer and penance became a new way of life for Matt.

The first three steps of A.A. suggest that the alcoholic of today do just what Matt Talbot did: take an honest look at yourself, admit your problem, and start living your life on a spiritual basis. The A.A. motto "First Things First" means simply that if God is your top priority, other aspects of life will naturally fall into place.

The A.A. program suggests making amends to those who have been hurt by the alcoholic’s behavior, and Matt Talbot did this also. He changed his behavior toward his family, and became the support of his mother. He searched the streets of Dublin to find and repay a musician whose violin he had stolen when drinking.

Having had a spiritual conversion, Matt tried to be of service whenever possible. He contributed to charity, prayed for others, and became a responsible and respected member of society. He was not a loner, but belonged to several groups and sought the counsel of others. He avoided controversy and generally tried to live according to spiritual principles. This is the A.A. way of life today.

Matt Talbot died on June 7, 1925. In 1975 Pope Paul Vl declared that Matt Talbot had practiced all the Christian virtues in a heroic degree. The Church gave him the title of Venerable, the first step toward sainthood and a declaration that Matt Talbot is a Christian worthy of veneration and imitation.

By honoring this humble Irish working man, our Church proclaims hope for all addicted people. She invites us all to imitate his practice of love, humility and service.