Monday, August 1, 2016

2016 PTAA and Matt Talbot Pilgrimage to Knock Homily

Bishop Denis Nulty gave the homily at the Annual PTAA and Matt Talbot Pilgrimage to Knock 17th July 2016, which can be read in its entirety at Only a portion of this homily is posted here. 

“…Today on pilgrimage I’m going to offer you a pairing that I think gives substance and life to our two pilgrimages, traveling as one today. I speak of Fr. James Cullen and Venerable Matt Talbot. Both men I have a deep affection for – the former in more recent years, since my appointment to Kildare & Leighlin Diocese, living now in Carlow and the latter, for close to twenty-eight years when I organized the very first Matt Talbot Mission in Mullingar.

James Cullen was born in New Ross in 1841. A comfortable background, allowing the family to send young James off to boarding school at Clongowes Wood College. That was in 1856, the year when Fr. Theobald Matthew of the great Temperance Crusade died. The Father Matthew Medal is still a very much revered possession amongst Pioneers. Returning to James Cullen, he was determined not to become a Jesuit, so he signed on for his native Ferns Diocese and studied for the priesthood in Carlow College.

The story goes that two years before his ordination, while home on holidays he had a chance encounter with a priest who certainly wasn’t a teetotaler, an encounter which set his mind firmly in the direction of temperance and in the founding of the PTAA. He was ordained in the Cathedral in Carlow. His early years of parish work brought him up front with the harsh reality of poverty and homelessness and identifying alcohol as the root cause then of both. His yearning towards the Jesuits never left him and he succumbed in 1881. The rest is history.

The second part of the pairing on this double pilgrimage day is Venerable Matt Talbot. I’m not sure what sparked my initial interest in this man to begin organizing missions around promoting his cause in Mullingar. It might stem from the account of his death, found bundled in a heap on Granby Lane – June 7th 1925. On that same date, thirty-eight years later I was born. The newspaper account of Matt’s death talked of the body being taken to Jervis Street hospital. Staff at the hospital would later discover three chains on his body – a heavier one around his waist; a lighter one around his arm and another below his knee. Matt, apparently was on his way to his third Mass that day and it was still early morning. An eight year-old attended that Mass accompanying a hard of hearing aunt, who liked to get up front, in case she missed what the priest was saying, remembered well the announcement at the end of Mass: ‘A poor old man has been found dead on Granby Lane, we’ll pray for him’. That eight year-old later became a priest Fr. Dominic Crilly. I spoke with him shortly before he died – he always believed too much was made of Matt’s excessive drinking; for forty years of his life he was a fervent Pioneer.

Some people, who know my interest in Venerable Matt Talbot wonder why he hasn’t been raised to the realm of the beatified or better still canonized. The miracle of a saint must be unexplainable; the miracle of overcoming addiction, like Matt Talbot once did, is even harder to prove or classify. You can be cured of a tumor; you can be cured of cancer but an addiction can linger.

And that’s why for me the Saints are those who attend AA meetings up and down the country and overcome addiction through the step programme of prayer and mutual support. They will never be canonized on this earth; but like Venerable Matt Talbot, their behavior will be richly rewarded in eternity..."