Friday, September 11, 2015

"If you can't see it, you can't fix it"

Margaret O’Connor Kielkopf, Ph.D., a sociologist, Lay Cistercian of Gethsemani Abbey, and author of Finding God in Everyday Life, posted the following reflection on her blog for September 7, 2014 at

A few days ago I ran across an article on Matt Talbot, the Irish ascetic – and alcoholic – patron of those struggling with alcohol and addictions in general. Matt was on his way to Mass on Trinity Sunday, in June 1925, when he collapsed on a Dublin street and died of heart failure. At the hospital they saw the penitential cords and chains on his body when they removed his clothes and set out to learn more about him.

Slowly the story unfolded. Matt Talbot had started drinking when he got his first job in a wine bottling store at age twelve. By thirteen he was a confirmed alcoholic. For the next fifteen years he spent most of his wages on drink and when his wages were gone and he couldn’t borrow any more, he pawned his clothes and boots. Once he stole a fiddle from a street entertainer and sold it to buy drink. 

Matt Talbot hit his personal rock-bottom one night in 1884. He was desperate for a drink and waited outside a pub hoping somebody would treat him. When several friends passed by and ignored him, he went home disgusted and announced to his mother that he was going to quit drinking. That night he found a priest and “took the pledge” for three months – then again for six – then for life.

Matt Talbot spent the next forty one years sober, living an almost monastic life in a room where he slept on a plank bed and rose for Mass at 5:00 am each day, before his work as an unskilled laborer. His life was one of prayer and penance. He ate very little and although he was poor himself, gave generously to neighbors and fellow workers. In 1890 he became a Third Order Franciscan.

In 1975 Pope Paul VI declared Matt Talbot to be “Venerable,” which is one of the first steps to canonization. Today, a number of treatment and recovery centers are named for him and he is revered as their patron. This is what Matt Talbot had to say about the struggle with addiction: “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.”

It seems to me that addiction is sweeping over us today like a giant tidal wave – but if it isn’t drugs or alcohol, we fail to see it. You might be thinking, “So what?” Well, if you don’t see it, you can’t try to get back on track. The first step in AA is to acknowledge there’s a problem. It’s the same for any addiction – food, sex, the internet, etc. And that’s the point – if you can’t see it, you can’t fix it. 

It reminds me of how important it is to stop and assess what we’re doing with our lives so nothing gets too far off balance. The daily “examination of conscience” the sisters taught us in grade school is still a pretty good idea. If something in your life doesn’t “feel right” it probably isn’t.