Monday, September 22, 2014

Venerable Matt Talbot as a Beacon of Hope for Those Addicted

This thoughtful reflection was presented at the Venerable Matt Talbot Hope and Recovery Service held at the Shrine of Venerable Matt Talbot, Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Dublin, on 17th September 2014. This spiritual recovery evening was open to all seeking recovery from addiction.

The Venerable Matt Talbot - Reflection

Posted September 19, 2014 

“We have gathered here this evening for this service to seek spiritual strength that we need on our lives’ journey of recovery. We gather in this particular place, in this sacred space to draw strength from one who had already done the journey, who had initially been caught up in the cycle of addiction in which we often find ourselves caught in. We come to this Church, where the remains of Matt Talbot are kept.

Matt Talbot was born on 2nd 1856 May to Elizabeth and Charles Talbot on the North Strand, and baptised a few days later. Having attended school for only one year, Matt got his first job. At this time he began to drink and later admitted that from his early teens to his late twenties his only aim in life was heavy drinking.

But at the age of 28, an incident made him realize the abysmal point that he had reached: Matt was broke and so he lingered outside a pub with his brothers with the hope that one of the many friends whom he had helped in their moment of ‘need’ would invite him in. But even his supposed friends disowned him and passed him by, friends whom he had supported in their own moment of need. 

It was an incident which affected him deeply. It triggered in him a soul searching process as he stood on a nearby bridge, gazing at the canal, gazing at the water as it flowed over in the lock. There and then he took a decision; I will no longer share their company or engage in their hollow laughter, but I will arise from my misery. Matt stopped drinking and made an initial three month pledge to God not to drink, which he later took for life. Despite great temptation in the early stages he never took a drink again.

What helped him take this step? I think it was his own Feelings, feelings that had been numbed for many years; without the influence of drink his feelings came rushing in. They were not comfortable feelings, but since he could not resort to his old way of avoiding them since he had no money to buy drink, and none of his friends would oblige him, he had no alternative but to face his feelings.

Contrary to popular belief, addiction is not about persistently indulging in a substance or some soothing behaviour. Rather it is about feelings, or rather disconnecting, cutting off our feelings. We live in an addictive society that seeks to cut off any unpleasant feelings. And when we cut off our feelings leaves us vulnerable, for though we may get some relief from the pain, however we cannot realize the moment when more harm is being done. We need to learn how to Feel our emotions rather than fear them, and this is what Matt learnt to do. Running away from your difficult feelings, means running away from yourself. You cannot form and maintain a solid relationship with anyone else, until you learn how to have a healthy one with you, until you accept yourself without self-judgment.

He knew that he could not achieve this on his own; he needed a higher power in his life, a power that affirmed him, that accepted him without conditions, inviting him to reach his full potential. Recovering from addiction we know is no easy process and Matt himself found it very difficult. But he found the strength he needed in the sacred spaces that dotted the city landscape, in the many churches where he encountered the Divine Presence, the loving embrace. There he encountered Jesus and the deep love that Jesus had for him. You are my beloved; indeed here Matt felt accepted and loved. Whenever he felt weak and the urge knocking at his door, this is where he fled , away from the streets, away from the pubs, away from sight to be close to the Lord and bask in his love. One of his favourite devotions was the Sacred Heart, which is another way of saying sacred Love. His remaining forty-one 'dry' years, were lived heroically, attending daily Mass, praying constantly, helping the poor and living the ascetic life-style of Celtic spirituality. This life was his prayer to God and his defence against a reversion to alcoholism.

Matt Talbot has been given to us as a beacon of hope; he is one of us and so he is able to understand us. That is why within a short time of his death, Matt's reputation as a saintly man and especially as a protector of those suffering from all forms of addiction and their families was being established. He once said: ‘Never be too hard on the man who can’t give up drink. It’s as hard to give up the drink as it is to raise the dead to life again. But both are possible and even easy for Our Lord. We have only to depend on him.’

He was able to make the journey from addiction to wholeness, to holiness. For this is what holiness is about, living a wholesome life relying not on ourselves but with the help of a higher power. He has been entrusted to us so that we can follow in his steps. Matt died in Granby Lane on Trinity Sunday, 7th June 1925 on his way to Mass in Dominick Street. The chains found on his body at death were a symbol of his devotion to Mary, to whom he wished to devote himself as a slave.

This coming year 2015 is the 90th year of his death and it is good that we mark it in a special way. In keeping his memory we seek to draw the same strength that he himself received from the ultimate Good.

Matt Talbot was declared Venerable in 1973 which means the Church has decided that from a human point of view he has the qualifications of a Saint.

In looking at the life of Matt Talbot, we may easily focus on the later years when he had stopped drinking for some time and was leading a penitential life. Only alcoholic men and women who have stopped drinking can fully appreciate how difficult the earliest years of sobriety were for Matt. He had to take one day at a time. So do the rest of us."