Thursday, December 11, 2014

Two Models of Change

"We should contribute"
The Catholic Messenger 
November 6, 2014  

"The saints in Christian history are models for almost any kind of human behavior. Some, like the great Augustine and the modern Irishman, Venerable Matt Talbot, are also models of change. They showed that early wildness does not define a life. The worst cad and drunk can become someone worth imitating for virtue.

At last month’s synod on marriage and family in Rome, some of the bishops spoke of such change as a “gradualism” recognized by the Catholic Church. Some other bishops at the synod worried that such talk is dangerous. People could misunderstand it as tolerance of poor judgment and a careless attitude toward virtue in youth.

St. Augustine is famous for praying, “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.” This was during his early dissolute years. He finally reached that goal, but not until after fathering a child and leaving the mother. He had been drawn to Christianity even as a young man, and he knew how to pray. Even in his wandering he was listening for the movement of God in his life. But Augustine’s move from reckless playboy to Christian hero — with the title Doctor of the Church — was made gradually, at his own personal pace.

Matt Talbot’s story is similar. He lived from 1856 to 1925 as a laborer in Dublin. In his early teen years he began drinking any liquor he could get, borrowing money for drinks, even stealing when the money ran out. After 16 years of this he made a pledge of sobriety, kept it, and became known for quiet kindness and charity to fellow workers. When he dropped dead on a Dublin street at the age of 69, he was found with a small chain wrapped around his body. It turned out that he had worn this for years as a practice of penance and self-control.

There are people who seem to move through life on a steady ladder of growth in virtue. For most of us, the story is different. We rise and fall, stumble, slip, rise and fall. And keep hoping, keep growing in our own ragged way, like Augustine and Matt Talbot...”


A woman who spent over two decades as a self-described ‘low bottom’ drug and alcohol addict and is now in recovery and practicing her religious faith again has recently stated that “I know now what I didn’t know before, that life doesn’t have to stay the same.  For years I didn’t know I had a choice to live any other way. Now I know that I have a daily choice.”

One of the many spiritual books that Matt Talbot read in sobriety was Confessions by St. Augustine.