Sunday, November 25, 2018

Holy Man of Dublin

Holy Man of Dublin
By James J. Murphy
ALEMBIC, pages 27-36
May 1941

Some men build on sand and fail miserably; others patiently seek out sturdy rocks on which to establish lasting monu­ments. Matt Talbot, the model Irish layman, was of the latter type. He had tasted of the food of the world, nay had gorged himself with it, only to find it wanting. Then, in despair and utter humility, he turned to God for sustenance.

There was nothing extraordinary in Matt’s birth. He was born in 1856 and enjoyed all the advantages that typical God­ fearing Irish parents bring. He lived  in Dublin and, with the eleven other children in the family, was educated, worked, and died there. Love of the rosary was daily fostered as the family
group gathered for evening prayer. There are no legends or novel tales about his boyhood. When only twelve, he left the Christian Brothers’ school and secured a position as a messenger for a wine company. Here we trace his fall.

Still only a lad, Matt began to drink. With the same thoroughness that later marked his conversion he attempted to satisfy his insatiable and destructive craving. He received ad­vances on his salary to purchase more and more of the new center of his existence. He pawned his clothes. He borrowed money. Finally he came to depend on the charity of friends who were moved by his pitiful state. When unbridled, man’s desires wreak havoc. Matt Talbot proved no exception. Bitter, scorned, and dejected, he was a veritable slave by his twenty-eighth birth­day. An outcast of society, his future was an infinite sea of blackness. But the ways of grace are strange.

Whether an unconquerable conscience moved him, or the beseechings of his pious mother, or simply disgust with himself can only be speculated. At any rate, in this period of his life he began the great transformation. Seemingly on the spur of the moment he declared that he would take the pledge. A spark
of determination was ignited in him and, with the fervent en­couragement of his prayerful mother, he abstained from drink for three months, then for a year, and finally for the rest of his days.

Let us not imagine that this was a simple procedure. Old and enticing habits are not as easily discarded or changed as a suit or a tie. A definite, slow, painful process must be followed. Victory and peace of soul are found many times in retreat, in withdrawing from the forces that would destroy and 

The humble man of Dublin sought this avenue of escape.
He resolved to avoid his old sinful haunts. He secured another
position whereby he could more easily carry out his difficult
task. He mapped out certain routes which took him away from
the taverns and saloons. Most important, he turned to prayer,
and thus we see him more and more devoting himself to the
things of God as the old passions viciously made final bids for
his scarred and battle-worn soul. Through it all Matt remained

Daily Mass, countless acts of charity, repeated visits to church, sympathy and good cheer for his fellow workers were all in the order of the day. The time outside of his working hours was spent in deep meditation and spiritual reading. He read chiefly the Bible, Cardinal Newman’s works and the Medi­tations of Saint Francis de Sales. Over and above these edifying acts the returning prodigal sought stricter means of chastisement. Matt felt that just as he had gone to the extreme in his vice he should now use all means that would draw him closer to his Master. The strict fasts and bodily disciplines, emblematic of the lives of saints, were zealously carried out by him. The few hours that he did sleep he slept on a board with chains wrapped around his legs and arms. In almsgiving he was most conscien­tious, sometimes keeping a mere fraction of his pay for himself. And with all of his austere practices he logically retained his true Irish cheerfulness for he was at peace with God and himself.

The years slipped by and Matt grew spiritually stronger and stronger. So it is that we find him ready and willing for death. The culmination of his unflinching struggle occurred on June 7, 1925, outside of Saint Saviour’s Church which is
conducted by the Dominicans. As he was waiting for the church to be opened he was suddenly overtaken by a heart attack and passed away, piously gazing upon a crucifix held by a Dominican father. In his passing he was calm and unafraid, for in his life he felt and knew the mercy of God.

No greater summation or praise of Matt Talbot could be given than that expressed by Mr. F. J. Sheed: “There is no looking at Matt Talbot without feeling that he is a perfect example of the Irish people at prayer: not one sort of Irishman but the Irishman as such— the Irishman stripped down to his
Catholicism.” To the Irish especially he is a lovable character for, as one of their countrymen, he typifies their distinctive faith and perseverance. To the world in general he offers a stirring example of a solid character sanely balancing the material and the spiritual. His great contribution to mankind was a good life simply lived and calmly ended. In the midst of chaos,
over-indulgence, and greed, we could well use more Matt Talbots.