Saturday, August 27, 2011

St. Monica and Ven. Matt Talbot

Some Catholic saints are associated with particular life situations. Although Venerable Matt Talbot is considered “the patron saint of alcoholics” by many Catholics and “patron saint” websites, he has not been recognized yet by the Roman Catholic Church as an official saint. The most common official saint mentioned is St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine (whose book, Confessions, is the basic source of information about his mother). Besides being the patron saint for alcoholics and alcoholism, she is listed commonly as a patron saint for wives, mothers, victims of verbal abuse, adultery, and difficult marriages, disappointing children, etc.

Today is the Roman Catholic Church Feast Day of St. Monica, although it was previously held on May 4 (and is still held on this date by some other churches).

In reading about St. Monica it is not always mentioned or clear as to why she is considered a patron saint of alcoholics. One exception, however, is suggestive from Butler’s Lives of the Saints, which is excerpted below:

Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume V: May.
The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
St. Monica
332-387 AD

...”THE CHURCH is doubly indebted, under God, to the saint of this day, namely, for the birth, and still more so for the conversion of the great St. Austin; who was more beholden to St. Monica for his spiritual life by grace, than for his corporal life by his birth and education. She was born in 332, in a pious family, and early instructed in the fear of God. She often professed her singular obligations to a virtuous, discreet, maid servant, whom her parents intrusted with the education of their children, and who instilled into them maxims of piety, restrained the least sallies of their passions, and by her prudence, words, and example, inspired them with an early sense and love of every duty. She was so strict in regard to her charge, that, besides making them observe great temperance in their meals, she would not allow them to drink even water at any other times, how great thirst soever they might pretend. She used to say: “You are now for drinking water, but when you come to be mistresses of the cellar, water will be despised, but the habit of drinking will stick by you.” Notwithstanding the prudent care of this tutoress, the young Monica contracted insensibly an inclination to wine: and when she was sent by her parents, who were strangers to it, to draw wine for the use of the family, in taking the liquor out with a cup, she would put her lips to it and sip a little. This she did at first, not out of any intemperate desire of liquor, but from mere youth and levity. However, by adding to this little every day a little more, she overcame the original reluctance she had to wine, and drank whole cups of it with pleasure, as it came in her way. This was a most dangerous intemperance, though it never proceeded to any considerable excess. (1) God watched over his servant to correct her of it, and made use of a servant maid as his instrument; who, having observed it in her young mistress by following her into the cellar, words arising one day between them, she reproached her with it, calling her a wine-bibber. This affected Monica in such a manner, that, entering seriously into herself, she acknowledged, condemned, and from that moment entirely corrected her fault. She after this received baptism, from which time she lived always in such a manner, that she was an odour of edification to all who knew her...”

...Note 1. It is a notorious mistake and misrepresentation, to call this fault the crime of drunkenness, though such a habit insensibly paves the way to the utmost excesses; and this danger of a saint ought to be a powerful warning to deter all persons, especially servants and young people, from a like custom of sipping, how insignificant and trifling soever the first steps towards it may appear. If Monica was awakened before she was brought to the brink of the precipice, this was the effect of a singular grace; and, where she repented, thousands perish, and regardless of every evil, present and future, become the murderers of their bodies, their reason, the fortunes of their family, and their immortal souls. This destroying evil arises from small beginnings neglected..”
Notes about other saints who are periodically listed as patrons of alcoholics will appear in future posts.