Sunday, April 19, 2015

Matt Talbot: An Example for Finishing Your Life Well

The writer is pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Magadan, Russia.

"After a bad start, finish your life well."

Father Michael Shields
December 2014
I am turning 65 this month and a lovely question has come to me: “How do I want to finish this life?”

We all may have had some bad starts along the way but the Christian Gospel says we can make a great finish.

While praying about this for a few months I met a friend along the way. A lovely little saint named Venerable Matt Talbot (1856-1925). He was an Irish man and a chronic alcoholic who found sobriety for 41 years through devotion to the Eucharist, prayer, self-discipline and spiritual direction. He lived the 12 step program before it was discovered. He is a saint for the addict and the alcoholic, the down-and-outers and the rest of us who need a little hope to keep on the path home.

He was a simple man who, through great efforts, taught himself to read and write so he could read the Bible and the lives of the saints. He would often be found kneeling in front of the church door waiting for the parish to open for the early morning Mass. He found a deep relationship to Jesus through Mary as he made the consecration of Saint Louis de Montfort.

He was going to Trinity Sunday Mass when he died and would have been terribly embarrassed that others found out he was wearing a small chain to remind himself he was a servant of the great King and Queen of Heaven.

I love the story about how he spent seven years trying to find the blind fiddle player from whom he stole a fiddle to pay for some pints of beer. He couldn’t locate him so gave the amount of money that the fiddle cost to a priest to pray for the man’s soul. He was a simple man who started badly but finished a saint.

So here I am before God asking, “Lord, show me how to finish this life.”

Matt’s simple spiritual life resonates with me and was taken from the pattern of the Irish monks as summarized by Saint Columbanus: “Pray daily, fast daily, work daily, study daily.” I confess that this is the best description of the life I want to lead as I finish this life. I find in this simple saint such beauty and a call to run with him to the end. I recall Saint Paul’s words in Hebrews: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us with perseverance run the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1)

Lord, in your servant Matt Talbot you have given us a wonderful example of triumph over addiction, of devotion to duty and of lifelong reverence for the Holy Sacrament. May his life of prayer and penance give us courage to take up our crosses and follow in the footsteps of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Matt we are coming, pray for us.