Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Venerable Matt Talbot's life included in college course

 
Perhaps this newspaper article will stimulate other professors and professionals to consider including Matt’s story of addiction and recovery in relevant courses and activities.
A photo of Rev. Mark Steizer in his office can be viewed at the source link.
 
 
 
"Priest at Elms College offers Irish-born Matt Talbot as example for those struggling with addiction"
By Cori Urban | Special to The Republican
September 09, 2014
Source: http://www.masslive.com/living/index.ssf/2014/09/priest_at_elms_college_offers_irish-born_matt_talbot_as_example_for_those_struggling_with_addiction.html

Matt Talbot was an alcoholic. Someday he might be declared a saint, an interest of one area priest in terms of helping others fight the disease of alcoholism.
 
Born in Ireland in 1856, he began drinking before he was a teenager in Dublin. By 28, he resolved to overcome the addiction, turning to God and his faith for strength. A devout Catholic, he lived a life of prayer with daily Mass, Scripture and spiritual reading, penance and hard work.
 
He died of heart failure on a Dublin street in 1925; penitential chains were found on his body. After his death, his reputation for holiness spread; he was revered by many Catholics for his piety, charity and mortification of the flesh.

In 1931, Archbishop Edward J. Byrne of Dublin opened an inquiry  into the claims of the holiness of Matt Talbot.
The Vatican began an official inquiry in 1947, and Talbot was noted as"A Servant of God." 

In 1975, Pope Paul VI declared him to be "Venerable," another step on the way to being officially declared a saint. A physical miracle attributed to him will be required for him to be declared, "Blessed,” and a second miracle to be declared a saint.The Rev. Brian Lawless, vice postulator for the cause of canonization of Venerable Matt Talbot, has made an appeal to Church hierarchy in Ireland to lobby Pope Francis for his canonization.

According to the Rev. Mark S. Stelzer, chaplain and associate professor of humanities at Elms College in Chicopee, one factor that might advance the cause of Talbot’s canonization is the special affection Pope Francis has shown for those living with addiction. “On his first trip as pope to Latin America, Francis made an unexpected stop at St. John of God Hospital in Brazil, which specializes in the treatment of addiction,” Stelzer said. Some Catholics involved in ministry to achieve or maintain sobriety have a special devotion to Matt Talbot.

Stelzer first learned of Talbot in conjunction with work he does regularly throughout the country on behalf of Guest House, a treatment center for Catholic clergy and religious recovering from addictions. That work includes retreats and seminars for those in treatment as well as ongoing educational programs for Church leadership and parish communities.

The priest hopes to offer persons struggling with addiction and those who love them the example of Talbot who himself knew the struggle of addiction and the joy of recovery. The message is one of hope, survival, forgiveness, beginning with ourselves.
 
Three years ago, Stelzer began offering parish missions during Lent based on Talbot’s story of addiction and recovery. He has offered such retreats in the Roman Cathoic Diocese of Springfield, and Archdiocese of Hartford.

Robin Roncari of Windsor Locks, Conn., invited Stelzer to lead a parish Lenten mission in March at St. Mary Church there. “His topic was, appropriately enough for Lent, on forgiveness,” she said. “What better material to use than addiction: forgiving ourselves and others. Matt Talbot was the springboard for the four-night mission.”

Talbot’s story encompasses most people's struggles, be it addiction to alcohol, drugs, food, whatever humans find difficult to overcome. “When you read a story like Matt Talbot's…you realize today's struggles are no different than those in the past,” Roncari said. “The message is one of hope, survival, forgiveness, beginning with ourselves. Matt Talbot was pulled up by strangers, people around him. He had to feel worthy enough in himself to accept the hands that led him to sobriety and a renewed life.”

Following parish missions or other presentations Stelzer offers on addiction and recovery, he regularly receives calls and e-mails from those in attendance seeking help for themselves or for a loved one. “After reminding the person contacting me of the importance of seeking professional help for underlying medical or psychiatric issues, my advice remains the same: Seek support in a Twelve Step program,” he said. “For most people, it is in such programs that the foundation of recovery is established. If the person contacting me seems receptive, I do encourage them to turn to Matt Talbot in their prayer.”

It has been estimated that one out of every four families is living with addiction. “Our congregations are comprised of countless people who themselves are struggling with addiction. Our congregations are also comprised of countless people trying to help a loved one find the way to recovery,” the priest said, noting that insofar as it resonates with the Christian story of light that emerges from darkness, the story of Matt Talbot speaks powerfully to both groups of people.

Persons active in their addiction or new to sobriety require time, patience and understanding to recover from the adverse physical and emotional effects of drinking or drugging. “Although never totally absent, appreciation of the spiritual dimension of recovery and support that people such as Matt Talbot might offer comes later,” Stelzer said.

His experience shows that family members and loved ones who first hear of Talbot are the ones who initially find the greatest strength and comfort in his example; it is not uncommon for family members and close friends of the addicted to be the ones who pray regularly to Talbot for intercession on behalf of a family member or friend. 

“Long before the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith in 1935, Matt Talbot realized the many ways in which addiction had robbed him of primary relationships in his life, including a relationship with God and other people,” he said. “Matt Talbot also realized that with prayer and meditation, life-long abstinence from alcohol and a restoration of those primary relationships was possible.”

Although Alcoholics Anonymous wisely makes a distinction between spirituality and religion, Matt Talbot demonstrated ways in which a spirituality based on a restoration of relationships could be conjoined with particular religious devotion, Stelzer said. For Talbot, that devotion consisted of hours spent in prayer before the Eucharist and daily attendance at Mass.“For this reason, devotion to Matt Talbot is particularly attractive to Catholics whose life is sustained by the Eucharist celebrated daily in our churches,” Stelzer said.
 
For the past 12 years, he has offered a course each semester at Elms College, entitled “Addiction and Recovery: A Spiritual Journey.” The elective course regularly attracts between 50 and 60 students each semester. “The popularity of the course is indicative of the pervasiveness of addiction in our society and the constant effort of Elms College to prepare nurses, social workers, teachers and law enforcement professionals capable of responding with compassion and necessary skills to serve the addicted and those who love them,” he said.
 
“When or if Matt Talbot is canonized is secondary to the inspiration he offers those living with addiction and their loved ones today,” Stelzer said.