Monday, April 30, 2012

Matt Talbot: An Answer to Alcoholism

[Mary Purcell, referred to in this 1977 newspaper column, is a renown biographer of saints, including Matt Talbot. (See Mary Purcell]

Answer to Alcoholism
By Gine Vianncy

In the lives of saints, the gruesome is so often all that is noted. Hagiography becomes a shudder, and a "Thank God it is not me." A life close to our own times, by a sympathetic, perceptive and intelligent biographer, is a challenge to be taken up, and an obligation to those pursuing their own sanctification.

To the cursory reader of outlines, Matt Talbot was a reformed alcoholic who wore chains. An oddity. Something of an embarrassment among non-Catholics and one of those second-class characters hardly worthy of the portals of St Peter's.

All saints are of their times: selected by God to speak His mind on a particular generation, with a lesson for all generations to come. Matt Talbot is so often remembered as a drunk, rather than as one who succumbed, then surmounted, and left the glorious recipe for others to follow.

Alcohol, in its abuse and its forced social infliction in this generation, needs an answer. He gives it. Prayer, especially prayer to Our Lady, gave him strength, determination and the will to persevere.

The astonishing achievements outside that publicised fail are the mark of this man: the almost illiterate poring early, touched by Holy Spirit, through the Bible. It reminds one of Margaret Clitherow, also unable to read or write, with her knowledge of theology, and firm grasp on mystery. 

Mary Purcell is a tireless researcher, with a love of true spirituality. She received the gold cross Pro Ecciesia et Pontifice from Pope John XXIII "for services to Catholic literature and education."

She loves Matt Talbot, seeing in him the traits and marks of those other heroes of whom she has written; St Ignatius, St Vincent de Paul, and others, So here a man lives — rugged, austere, gentle, devoted, with all the extravagance of such a nature,

The destines of such men vary. but the formation and training do not. This is a homely and moving story of the Dublin workman convert, who never really made up the time lost before that change, but spent his life applied to it.

His courtesy and delicacy with neighbours arc the acts of the thoroughly reformed and spiritualised. His love of, and devotion to, the Sacrament of Penance, are for our times. Fidelity to the Mass, and Communion, drag hack the addicts of innovation, to the skeleton God gave.

Matt was different from the hard-drinking labourers, yet they did not resent hint. His charter for sanctity led and changed and saved them. Strict with himself; he had ineffable kindness toward others. Too many are alive still for his story to be discredited. To know it is to know God in action.