Saturday, February 26, 2011

Matt's your Man

by Fr. Tom Ryan P.P

The Clare Courier

03 October 2007

The Matt Talbot Novena got off to a great start in Shannon on Tuesday night last. The Novena is intended to be a spiritual help to people suffering from all forms of addictions and those who are asked to share their lives at home and at work with people who have addictions. On each Tuesday night for the next eight weeks, people will come together for one hour to pray and ask God’s help under the guidance and influence of Matt Talbot, a Dubliner who died in 1925 and who overcame his own addictions with the help of God, through prayer and the sacraments.

1884 is best remembered in Ireland as the year that Michael Cusack, “the man from Carron in Co. Clare” founded the G.A.A. in Hayes Hotel Thurles, Co. Tipperary, but it was also the year that a young Dublin man, Matt Talbot, at the age of 28 changed his life completely.

In September 1853, Charlie Talbot married Elizabeth Bagnall in Clontarf Church, Dublin. Both came from a working class background where poverty and excessive use of alcohol were the norm for many of Dublin’s population. These were the years immediately after the Great Famine when people struggled simply just to survive. Matthew was born on 2nd May 1856, the second of 12 children. Matt’s parents were good people who passed on a very solid faith to their children. Charlie was a good worker whose only weakness was that he drank too much and the consequences that this brought to a poor family.

Poorly educated, Matt began working at the age of 12 with a wine merchant, where he began sampling the drink he was bottling. One evening he came home drunk and his father made him change his employment hoping it would help. Matt moved to the Dublin Port and Docks Board, where he acted as a messenger but his addiction to alcohol was further fuelled by the whisky that was available to him in the bonded stores there. At 17 he started work with Pembertons as a builder’s labourer but by now Matt was a chronic alcoholic. At the age of 28, he found himself out of work for a week and, with no money, was unable to get any drink. He stood outside O’Meara’s pub hoping that his drinking friends would buy him drink but they didn’t.

Dejected and hurt, Matt made his way home. In 1884, at what today would be called “rock-bottom,” he went to Holy Cross College at Clonliffe where he took the pledge to abstain from all alcoholic drink, initially for a three month period. He also went to confession, Mass and Holy Communion that weekend, and this was to become part of his daily life until his death.

Matt’s decision to abstain for life from all alcoholic drink was the beginning of a long and challenging road. These changes in attitude in his life were not miraculous; they took time, effort and a lot of soul searching. In his late 20’s, he changed his attitude towards alcoholic drink, the practice of his faith and towards life in general. The practice of self-discipline was as hard for Matt as it is for all of us.

Matt’s life and story is not time bound. Matt was a man who had great faith rooted in prayer and the Eucharist who overcame addiction by using primarily the spiritual resources that are available to all who suffer addiction. There is no reason why the story of Matt Talbot cannot be repeated many times in our communities today. The two ingredients of free will and God’s help are still available to all.


Note: other articles and a book by Fr. Tom Ryan can be found by typing his name in the search box above.