Friday, June 19, 2020

Remembering Venerable Matt Talbot



Venerable Matt Talbot has been and is being remembered and celebrated as “Saint of the Day,” “Feast Day of Matt Talbot,” “Remembrance Day” or  other similar heading on June 7, June 18 or June 19 depending on the source.
 
Rather than select one specific date, each of us may choose to be inspired and learn from Matt Talbot each and every day and to share his life with those who are addicted.

Monday, June 8, 2020

The Transformation of Venerable Matt Talbot

We sincerely appreciate this article written by K. V. Turley and published by the National Catholic Register. (We have changed the title above.)

The Mystery of Venerable Matt Talbot
Posted by K.V. Turley on Sunday Jun 7th, 2020
Matt Talbot walked the streets of Dublin as a mystic soul and an ambassador for Christ.

On June 7, 1925, an elderly poorly dressed man collapsed in Granby Lane, Dublin.

Subsequently, he was taken to Jervis Street Hospital where he was found to be dead. Although his identity was as yet unknown, a curious discovery was made: He was wearing heavy chains, some wrapped around his legs, others around his body. Mortuary staff puzzled over not just who he was but also the meaning of the chains. 

The man was eventually identified as Matt Talbot.
 
Born in 1856 into a large Catholic family living in semi-poverty in Dublin, Talbot left school, barely literate, aged just 11 years old, going to work full-time as an unskilled laborer. By his teenage years he was hopelessly addicted to alcohol. Although he had the reputation of being a hard worker, his work ethic was simply the means by which to finance his "hard-drinking."

It is perhaps fitting, therefore, that the next phase of his life began outside a pub. That summer’s day in 1884, he had no money. He hoped that one of his fellow drinkers would stand him a drink. As each acquaintance filed past him into the pub, no one offered to buy him anything. Something then occurred that was to change Matt Talbot forever. Humiliated by the indifference of his erstwhile friends, he turned and walked straight home. His mother was surprised to see him at that early hour, and even more surprised to see him sober. He proceeded to clean himself up before announcing he was going to a nearby seminary to ‘take the pledge’ – a promise to abstain from all alcohol. His mother was mystified by this – and fearful. She knew that pledges made to God were not something to be taken lightly. She counseled him against doing any such thing unless he was intent on persevering. He listened and left.

Talbot did take the pledge that day. He also went to Confession. These actions were to prove the hallmarks of a genuine conversion, one as sincere as it was needed. Nevertheless, the first step of conversion takes but a moment, the work of sanctification a lifetime: after years of drunkenness, still besetting him was a weakness of character and a working world centered on alcohol.

After his conversion, not much changed, outwardly at least: Talbot continued with his employment in the Dublin docks. He continued to work hard, now respected more than ever by his fellow workers and employers who noticed that he had started to give his wages to his mother rather than straight to a publican. Previously, when not working, he had spent his time in public houses, but now he turned his back on all that. He had been ‘born anew’, but like a newborn was vulnerable to the world he inhabited. With little to cling to, he turned inward, to the Spirit that seeks to dwell within each baptized soul. And, as he did so, he commenced upon an interior journey that few could have imagined possible.

From then on, along the Dublin streets there began to move a mystic soul. Each morning, at 5 a.m., Talbot knelt upon the stone pavement outside a city church waiting for the doors to open and for the first Mass to begin. After the Holy Sacrifice, he would pray for a time before going to one of the timber yards near the docks. There he labored all day just like the rest of his fellow workers; but there were periods in the day when lulls and breaks would occur. Whilst the other workers gossiped or smoked, Talbot chose to be alone, kneeling in prayer in a hidden part of a workshop until the call came to return to his labors.

Each evening, when work was finished, Talbot walked home with his fellow workers. They all knew their companion’s free time was spent praying in a city church before the Blessed Sacrament. Often he asked them to join him in making a visit to Our Blessed Lord. Some did. After a short while, however, they would leave, while Matt still knelt in the gathering twilight. Eventually, when at night he did return home, it was to yet more prayer – and mortification. His bed was a plank of wood, as was his pillow. Although respected by those among whom he lived and worked, and although he was not unfriendly, he had few visitors. Those who did encounter him felt he was not quite of this world. They were right; he was traveling ever inwards on a journey to freedom he could never have envisaged when trapped in a never-ending alcoholic stupor.

When his belongings were found after his death, what surprised many was the number of books he owned. Inquires soon revealed that he had slowly, but determinedly, taught himself to read and, as he did so, effectively begun a course of study that included the spiritual classics, the lives of saints, doctrinal books, and works of mystical and ascetical theology. When asked by a friend how he, a poor workman, could read the works of St. Augustine, John Henry Newman and others, his reply was as straightforward as it was telling. He said he asked the Holy Spirit to enlighten him. And so he grew in an intellectual understanding of his faith that, in turn, deepened the prayer and penance he undertook.

His life ran alongside momentous events in Irish history. It was a time of cultural renaissance and nationalist fervor, of a Great Strike in 1913 and of open revolution in 1916, of the Great War and a war for independence, yet throughout it all Talbot’s life remained largely unchanged. He knew all too well that kingdoms rise and kingdoms fall, but that he had set his face to serve a different Kingdom, one shown him in 1884 when he confessed all and cast himself into the hands of the Living God.

Talbot never married; held no position of note, was unknown outside his small circle of family and friends — only one blurred photograph has survived him — and, yet, this was a rare man: one who had taken the Gospel at its word and lived it.

By 1925, Talbot was 69. He had been in poor health for some time. Out of necessity, he tried to continue working as there was only limited relief for the poor and elderly, but his strength was failing. However, even then, he persisted in his prayer and penance. On June 7, 1925, whilst struggling down a Dublin alleyway on his way to Mass, he fell. A small crowd gathered around him. A Dominican priest was called from the nearby church, the one to which Talbot had been hurrying. The priest came and knelt over the fallen man. Realizing what had happened, the priest raised his hand in a last blessing for a final journey.

Talbot died on Trinity Sunday; he was buried on the feast of Corpus Christi.

In 1975, Pope Paul VI bestowed a new title upon this humble workman: Venerable. Now Talbot is a heavenly patron for all those with addictions, alcohol or otherwise.

Still to this day there is a large trunk in the safekeeping of the Archdiocese of Dublin. It contains the books owned by the now Venerable Matt Talbot. A veritable treasury of spiritual theology, one of the books contained therein is True Devotion to Mary by St. Louis de Montfort. In its pages, de Montfort reflects on the choice of being a slave to this world or of the Blessed Virgin. For those that choose the latter path, it recommends, after due recourse to a spiritual director and suitable enrolment, that a chain be worn to symbolize that that soul no longer belongs to the powers of darkness but is instead now a child of the light.


On that June day in 1925 when Matt Talbot fell upon a Dublin street, his chains were those denoting nothing less than a slave to Mary and an ambassador for Christ.



Sunday, June 7, 2020

95th Anniversary of Venerable Matt Talbot's Death

Today is the 95th anniversary of the death of Matt Talbot. Matt was on his way to Mass in St. Saviour’s on Trinity Sunday, June 7, 1925, when he collapsed and died on Granby Lane, Dublin.

Fifty years later, Pope Paul VI (now Saint Paul Vl)  gave him the title "Venerable." He is known as a patron of alcoholics and workers. 


Prayer for the Canonisation of Venerable Matt Talbot
 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 Most 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 Saviour, Jesus Christ.
 Father,
if it be your will that your beloved servant
should be glorified by your Church,
make known by your heavenly favours
the power he enjoys in your sight.
We ask this through the same
Jesus Christ Our Lord.
Amen.


Venerable Matt Talbot's Shrine is located in Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Dublin.















Saturday, February 22, 2020

Praying with Matt Talbot

We are very grateful to Father Don, CP, for writing and posting this homily on January 22, 2020 at https://www.stpaulofthecrossmonastery.com/homilies-reflections/praying-with-matt-talbot

Someone once said to me, “We are all addicts”. I have worked for a long time with people in AA. I know some people in NA and OA, and even SA.
Addictions… Plentiful
In an article by Richard Rohr, a modern spiritual writer, he describes how we are all addicts. He describes two of our generalized addictions… One he names ‘stinking thinking’. Do we always have to be right? Are our opinions set in concrete? Are we addicted to our habitual way of thinking and doing?
Rohr also points out another general addiction… All societies are addicted to themselves, to what they consider valuable and worthwhile. We Americans like to buy new stuff, money back guarantee, to make our lives easier or happier. How much of that stuff ends up in our garage? Are we addicted to ‘consumption? 
Rohr believes that only a life lived with a spiritual depth can get us beyond these generalized addictions. A developing prayer life plugs us into something deeper and richer than our social environs, commercials and the internet. Rohr calls this ‘divine therapy’. (See R. Rohr, Daily Meditations, Sunday, December 8, 2019)
There are also individual addictions we can suffer from. Some become addicted to alcohol and pills, others to shopping, others to the internet and porn. Some millennials become addicted to their smart phones… a recent study found that millennials check their smart phones on an average of 87 times a day. So much information… so little meaning. Many suffer from FOMO – a new dis-ease – Fear Of Missing Out. Would that we would lift our minds and hearts to God 87 times a day. Would that we suffered from FOMG – Fear Of Missing God.
Are you aware of any addictions in your life? How long have you had them? How do you deal with them?
Many people deny their addictions.  ‘I can stop internet shopping any time I want to’. Can you? Try it for two weeks. ‘I can stop porn any time I want to’. Can you? Try stopping for two weeks.
Remember, you can’t heal what you do not acknowledge.
The first step in dealing with our addiction… own up to it. We need to honestly recognize our activity as an addiction. Shortly I will be describing the life of Matt Talbot. At age 28 he had a ‘moment of clarity’ when he recognized how important booze was to him… he couldn’t stop drinking. He was in bondage to booze.
As I tell Matt’s story I will at times compare his experiences with those of people in AA.  In AA, for example, this ‘moment of clarity’ leads to the First of the Twelve Steps. 
We admitted we were powerless over alcohol… that our lives had become unmanageable.’ 
That’s what Matt Talbot experienced.
What about us? Instead of alcohol we might put drugs, food, sex, shopping, porn, or the way that our society believes that ‘stuff’ will make us happy. 
Remember, you cannot heal what you do not acknowledge.
How can we rise above our addiction (s)? What happened to Matt Talbot that began to change his life? As we go thru the life of Matt Talbot notice both the physical and the spiritual parts of his dealing with his alcoholism. Matt dealt with his alcoholism toward the end of the 1800’s, well before the publishing of AA’s Big Book in the 1939, which introduced the world to AA.
Heroes and Saints
Before looking at the life of Matt Talbot I would like to look at the topic of heroes and saints. This might help us understand why we’re even considering Matt Talbot and Praying with Matt Talbot.
Heroes…  19th Century
In an interesting book entitled A Call to Heroism by Harvard History Professor Peter Gibbon, he notes that in the 19th century our country paid homage to many heroes who it looked up to: George Washington, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Abe Lincoln, Lewis and Clark.  Such heroes were larger than life. They inspired and challenged people. Heroes were distinguished by their achievements, by a certain largesse of soul. They participated in heroic events with courage and bravery.  Heroes enhanced life, they inspired and stretched our imagination. They showed nobleness and moral bravery, calling us to search for our better selves. They challenge us to “surmount adversity and fight despair.  Human beings become heroic when, against all odds, they persist; when despite their flaws, they achieve.”  (p. 183)
Heroes show us that we humans can overcome our frailties and flaws and follies, our ignorance and illnesses… that courage and patience can create something great.
As we examine the life of Matt Talbot, we see a hero who struggled with his alcoholism with courage and patience and certainly with God’s help.
Heroes show us that life is more than being a happy consumer, deluged in entertainment and in bondage to the constant need to consume more "stuff". Heroes challenge us to move beyond ‘my life is all about me’.
What happened to "heroes" in the 20th century?
With the wealth of information about past heroes now available, biography gave way to pathography. Biography used to celebrate talents and achievements, virtue and inspiring character traits. In the 20th century biographies of heroes began to highlight their quirks and their "dark sides." Heroes were debunked as their character defects and their foibles were intimately described.  The "clay feet" of heroes became all too visible. Today there is much cynicism and skepticism regarding so-called "heroes".  We live in a society that tends to look upon our leaders with skeptical eyes. We tend to be suspicious of anyone who might be considered as great or heroic.  
I find it interesting that Matt Talbot and many people in AA today own up to their addiction and their character defects. They witness to the action of God in their lives. Their lives are now spent in service to others. Prayer becomes important in Matt Talbot’s life and in the lives of AA people today.  AA’s Step 11 points to the importance of prayer in our life.
Step 11… Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out. (Big Book, P. 59)
Our modern society seldom if ever recognizes or encourages this.
As we present Matt Talbot’s life, we will see the heart of this Step 11 in his life as he developed his spiritual life. 
For us Catholics we look to our family of saints for examples of heroism. Saints are members of God's family who have passed from this life to the banquet of life in the presence of God.  They are still an important part of our faith journey thru this life. We believe that even now they care for us by interceding for us before God.  But the saints do more. They are examples and challenges.
The saints show us how God's grace can transform peoples' lives. Matt Talbot’s life shows us how God's grace can enter a person's life and transform that life. Saints help us to glimpse God's glory present among us. 
The saints also exemplify for us the human response to God's grace.  Matt Talbot shows us how to respond to God's gracious call and live as God’s people in our world.  Matt Talbot gives us encouragement and even guidance in facing the challenges of addiction in our own time and culture as we ponder the story of his life and how he met its challenges. 
Matt Talbot… A Modern Saint
Now we come to the main topic of our reflections… Praying with Matt Talbot.
First let me say that Matt Talbot is not a saint – yet. He is a Venerable… on the path to being declared a saint by our Church. Let’s look at the life of Matt Talbot… why he is a Venerable and why he is the patron of those addicted to alcohol. Indeed, his life can help us deal with all of our addictive behaviors. That’s why we want to ‘Pray with Matt Talbot’.
Matt Talbot was born in Dublin, Ireland, on May 2nd, 1856. His family was large… 11 siblings, 7 boys and 4 girls. All but one of the boys died young. Matt survived. His father was a heavy drinker. His family was poor. The family moved often. 
At age 10 Matt went to school. He left two years later, still unable to read and write. At age 12 he got a job at Porter and Stout Bottling Co. His drinking career began. By age 14 he was drinking whiskey. By age 16 he regularly came home from work drunk. 
As he developed his drinking career, every evening after work he trekked to his ‘watering hole’, O’Meara’s Pub. Drink was his only interest. When his wages were spent, he borrowed, pawned his clothes and did extra work at small jobs for more money to drink. Matt was an alcoholic.
By age 28 he was well on his way to destruction. One Saturday morning in 1884 Matt waited outside of O’Meara’s without a penny to his name. He had been unemployed that week. When he had money, he would share it generously with his drinking friends. Now he thought his ‘friends’ would help him out. Surprise… they passed him by, one by one… basically ignoring him. He was just a drunk.
Matt was stunned and hurt and angry. But it was a ‘moment of grace’. People today in AA call it ‘a moment of clarity’. Matt thought about his predicament and realized he was totally enslaved to booze. He was powerless.  He decided to ‘take the Pledge’ for three months… no booze for three months – period.  He went home and told his mother, ‘Ma, I’m going to take the Pledge’. He was 28 years old. (The Pledge was a promise common in Ireland to avoid drinking – no drink - for a certain period of time.)
The next three months were sheer hell for Matt. He stopped drinking ‘cold turkey’, as folks in AA describe it today. The withdrawal symptoms from his addiction - hallucination, depression and nausea - were extremely painful for Matt, but he stuck to it. Here began the physical part of Matt’s recovery. It was tough. In his day and age there was no detox or rehab centers. 
To fill in the time he’d spend at O’Meara’s, Matt went for a walk every evening after work. He was tempted to stop into the old watering hole… Once he stopped into another bar… but was not served immediately as the barman was busy serving regulars. Matt stormed out and went into a Jesuit Church. Here begins the spiritual part of Matt’s recovery.
Dropping into a Church during his evening walks became a habit. Gradually he began to pray, to ask God for help. This would be considered Step Two of AA’s Twelve Steps:
Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
This was something new for Matt… he was not a man of prayer. He had been raised Catholic but had not practiced. To find the strength to remain sober he decided to attend Mass every morning before work and to receive Communion. Daily Communion was not common practice in those days. Catholics went to Mass on Sunday only and waited til Easter and Christmas to receive Communion.
Matt broke the mold. His life began to change. His spiritual life began to grow. This would be comparable to Step Three of AA:
Made a decision to turn our lives and our wills over to the care of God as we understood Him.
Matt Talbot never married. After he took the Pledge he lived in a number of tenement flats. Matt’s mother died. Matt decided to live as an Irish monk lived in the 6th century… A simple life. His flat was like a Monastery room in the 6th century… Modest and spartan.  His meals were simple and small. He slept only 5 hours a night. He rose at 5 AM to go to Mass. 
Matt worked in the lumber yard of T & C Martin where he was employed as a laborer. He was a hard worker. Matt became concerned about the rights of workers in an age when workers’ rights were not a major concern.
Matt joined several religious associations, from the Third Order of St. Francis to the Workingman’s Sodality. He attended a meeting almost every evening. These organizations centered around prayer devotions and doing charitable works. AA also stresses service, especially to other alcoholics.
Matt learned to read and write. He came home every evening between 9 and 10 PM and would begin his spiritual reading for several hours until he went to bed. Matt developed the habit of reading Sacred Scripture. His reading was guided for most of his life by Dr. Michael Hickey, Professor of Philosophy in Clonliffe College. Under Dr. Hickey's guidance Talbot's reading became wider. He laboriously read the Bible and the lives of saints, The Confessions of St. Augustine, the writings of St. Francis de Sales and others. When he found a part difficult to understand, he asked Professor Hickey or a priest he knew to help him understand. He had a lively devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. He loved St. Therese of Lisieux and her simple way of doing ordinary things extraordinarily well for the love of God. Matt was immersed in God.
Matt was known as a happy man, quiet and with a good sense of humor. He was generous and would help fellow workers who needed some money to buy clothes or shoes for their kids. He never insisted on getting his money back.
At age 67 Matt had his first serious illness. He was under a Doctor’s care for the next two years. At age 69 Matt died of a serious heart attack on the way to Mass on Sunday, June 7, 1925. 
As word of Matt Talbot spread he rapidly became an icon for Ireland's temperance movement, the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association. His story soon became known to the large Irish emigrant communities. Many addiction clinics, youth hostels and statues have been named after him throughout the world from Nebraska to Warsaw to Sydney.
Let’s look at the various aspects of Matt’s spiritual life. Here we can talk about ‘Praying with Matt Talbot’. What are the spiritual parts of Matt’s life?
  • Matt began to spend time in prayer… stopping in a Church every evening and asking God for help. He realized he could not resist alcohol under his own power. 
  • He began to attend daily Mass and Communion… he ‘practiced his religion’. This was a beautiful way to develop his spiritual life.  He uses what is at hand to deepen his journey with his God.
  • Matt led an austere life. His life was no longer about taking care of Matt first. His life was not about ‘stuff’. 
  • He began to read SS and the lives of the saints to feed his spiritual life. He was challenged by the lives of the saints… The saints show us that we humans can overcome our frailties and flaws and follies, our ignorance and illnesses… with the help of God’s grace our courage and patience can create something great.
  • Matt joined spiritual organizations which he attended most evenings a week. Here he was embedded with spiritual people – people not perfect, but certainly trying to lead good and faithful lives. 
  • These spiritual organizations centered around devotional prayer and doing works of charity… reaching out to be of service to others in need.
Summary of the spiritual life of Matt Talbot…
  • Time for prayer everyday
  • Practice your religion if you have one
  • Keep your life as simple as possible
  • Feed your spiritual life with Sacred Scripture and the lives of the saints or the lives of other good people… 
  • Find a mentor to help you… (in AA this could be a sponsor)
  • Don’t do it alone… plug into others who are spiritual people… (in AA this could be other folks in the AA Program who exhibit a spiritual life and who lead lives of service)
Addictions are part of our society’s sickness and darkness. 70,000 opioid ODs in 2018 is a chilling statistic.
I have tried to address two general addictions we all encounter, then specific addictions prevalent today. How might we deal with addictions? 
I briefly described Richard Rohr’s ‘divine therapy’ approach to generalized addictions. Then I turned to specific addictions. I briefly dealt with heroes and saints as people who can help us. I believe we need heroes and saints today to whom we can look for encouragement and some answers.
Matt Talbot is a wonderful example of a life of a heroic and saintly individual who struggled with his alcoholism. When we look at his life and how he dealt with his alcoholism we see a number of the principles of today’s AA Program which helps so many alcoholics today. 
Their 12 Steps have been successfully applied to other addictions which burden our society. I believe Matt Talbot’s spirituality parallels in a number of ways the spirituality of the AA Program. Then we examined elements of Matt Talbot’s spirituality which can help those in bondage to addictions today…  a ‘divine therapy’ in the words of Richard Rohr, a modern spiritual writer and teacher.
Read the final paragraph of the Big Book of AA, P. 164
“Abandon yourself to God as you understand God. Admit your faults to Him and to your fellows. Clear away the wreckage of your past. Give freely of what you find and join us. We shall be with you in the Fellowship of the Spirit, and you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny.”
May God bless you and keep you – until then.
Father Don, CP






Praying with Matt Talbot
"By Father Don, CP
January 22, 2020

Someone once said to me, “We are all addicts”. I have worked for a long time with people in AA. I know some people in NA and OA, and even SA.In an article by Richard Rohr, a modern spiritual writer, he describes how we are all addicts. He describes two of our generalized addictions… One he names ‘stinking thinking’. Do we always have to be right? Are our opinions set in concrete? Are we addicted to our habitual way of thinking and doing?
Rohr also points out another general addiction… All societies are addicted to themselves, to what they consider valuable and worthwhile. We Americans like to buy new stuff, money back guarantee, to make our lives easier or happier. How much of that stuff ends up in our garage? Are we addicted to ‘consumption? 

Rohr believes that only a life lived with a spiritual depth can get us beyond these generalized addictions. A developing prayer life plugs us into something deeper and richer than our social environs, commercials and the internet. Rohr calls this ‘divine therapy’. (See R. Rohr, Daily Meditations, Sunday, December 8, 2019)

There are also individual addictions we can suffer from. Some become addicted to alcohol and pills, others to shopping, others to the internet and porn. Some millennials become addicted to their smart phones… a recent study found that millennials check their smart phones on an average of 87 times a day. So much information… so little meaning. Many suffer from FOMO –a new dis-ease – Fear Of Missing Out. Would that we would lift our minds and hearts to God 87 times a day. Would that we suffered from FOMG – Fear Of Missing God.
  
Are you aware of any addictions in your life? How long have you had them? How do you deal with them?
Many people deny their addictions.  ‘I can stop internet shopping any time I want to’. Can you? Try it for two weeks. ‘I can stop porn any time I want to’. Can you? Try stopping for two weeks.
Remember, you can’t heal what you do not acknowledge.
The first step in dealing with our addiction… own up to it. We need to honestly recognize our activity as an addiction. Shortly I will be describing the life of Matt Talbot. At age 28 he had a ‘moment of clarity’ when he recognized how important booze was to him… he couldn’t stop drinking.He was in bondage to booze.
As I tell Matt’s story I will at times compare his experiences with those of people in AA.  In AA, for example, this ‘moment of clarity’ leads to the First of the Twelve Steps.

 We admitted we were powerless over alcohol… that our lives had become unmanageable.’ 
That’s what Matt Talbot experienced. What about us? Instead of alcohol we might put drugs, food, sex, shopping, porn, or the way that our society believes that ‘stuff’ will make us happy.
Remember, you cannot heal what you do not acknowledge.
How can we rise above our addiction (s)? What happened to Matt Talbot that began to change his life? As we go thru the life of Matt Talbot notice both the physical and the spiritual parts of his dealing with his alcoholism. Matt dealt with his alcoholism toward the end of the 1800’s, well before the publishing of AA’s Big Book in the 1939, which introduced the world to AA.
Heroes and Saints
Before looking at the life of Matt Talbot I would like to look at the topic of heroes and saints. This might help us understand why we’re even considering Matt Talbot and Praying with Matt Talbot.
Heroes…  19th Century
In an interesting book entitled A Call to Heroism by Harvard History Professor Peter Gibbon, he notes that in the 19th century our country paid homage to many heroes who it looked up to: George Washington, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Abe Lincoln, Lewis and Clark.  Such heroes were larger than life. They inspired and challenged people. Heroes were distinguished by their achievements, by a certain largesse of soul. They participated in heroic events with courage and bravery.  Heroes enhanced life, they inspired and stretched our imagination. They showed nobleness and moral bravery, calling us to search for our better selves. They challenge us to “surmount adversity and fight despair.  Human beings become heroic when, against all odds, they persist; when despite their flaws, they achieve.”  (p. 183)
Heroes show us that we humans can overcome our frailties and flaws and follies, our ignorance and illnesses… that courage and patience can create something great.
As we examine the life of Matt Talbot, we see a hero who struggled with his alcoholism with courage and patience and certainly with God’s help.
Heroes show us that life is more than being a happy consumer, deluged in entertainment and in bondage to the constant need to consume more "stuff". Heroes challenge us to move beyond ‘my life is all about me’.
What happened to "heroes" in the 20th century?
With the wealth of information about past heroes now available, biography gave way to pathography. Biography used to celebrate talents and achievements, virtue and inspiring character traits. In the 20th century biographies of heroes began to highlight their quirks and their "dark sides." Heroes were debunked as their character defects and their foibles were intimately described.  The "clay feet" of heroes became all too visible. Today there is much cynicism and skepticism regarding so-called "heroes".  We live in a society that tends to look upon our leaders with skeptical eyes. We tend to be suspicious of anyone who might be considered as great or heroic.  
I find it interesting that Matt Talbot and many people in AA today own up to their addiction and their character defects. They witness to the action of God in their lives. Their lives are now spent in service to others. Prayer becomes important in Matt Talbot’s life and in the lives of AA people today.  AA’s Step 11 points to the importance of prayer in our life.
Step 11… Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out. (Big Book, P. 59)
Our modern society seldom if ever recognizes or encourages this.
As we present Matt Talbot’s life, we will see the heart of this Step 11 in his life as he developed his spiritual life. 
For us Catholics we look to our family of saints for examples of heroism. Saints are members of God's family who have passed from this life to the banquet of life in the presence of God.  They are still an important part of our faith journey thru this life. We believe that even now they care for us by interceding for us before God.  But the saints do more. They are examples and challenges.
The saints show us how God's grace can transform peoples' lives. Matt Talbot’s life shows us how God's grace can enter a person's life and transform that life. Saints help us to glimpse God's glory present among us. 
The saints also exemplify for us the human response to God's grace.  Matt Talbot shows us how to respond to God's gracious call and live as God’s people in our world.  Matt Talbot gives us encouragement and even guidance in facing the challenges of addiction in our own time and culture as we ponder the story of his life and how he met its challenges. 
Matt Talbot… A Modern Saint
Now we come to the main topic of our reflections… Praying with Matt Talbot.
First let me say that Matt Talbot is not a saint – yet. He is a Venerable… on the path to being declared a saint by our Church. Let’s look at the life of Matt Talbot… why he is a Venerable and why he is the patron of those addicted to alcohol. Indeed, his life can help us deal with all of our addictive behaviors. That’s why we want to ‘Pray with Matt Talbot’.
Matt Talbot was born in Dublin, Ireland, on May 2nd, 1856. His family was large… 11 siblings, 7 boys and 4 girls. All but one of the boys died young. Matt survived. His father was a heavy drinker. His family was poor. The family moved often. 
At age 10 Matt went to school. He left two years later, still unable to read and write. At age 12 he got a job at Porter and Stout Bottling Co. His drinking career began. By age 14 he was drinking whiskey. By age 16 he regularly came home from work drunk. 
As he developed his drinking career, every evening after work he trekked to his ‘watering hole’, O’Meara’s Pub. Drink was his only interest. When his wages were spent, he borrowed, pawned his clothes and did extra work at small jobs for more money to drink. Matt was an alcoholic.
By age 28 he was well on his way to destruction. One Saturday morning in 1884 Matt waited outside of O’Meara’s without a penny to his name. He had been unemployed that week. When he had money, he would share it generously with his drinking friends. Now he thought his ‘friends’ would help him out. Surprise… they passed him by, one by one… basically ignoring him. He was just a drunk.
Matt was stunned and hurt and angry. But it was a ‘moment of grace’. People today in AA call it ‘a moment of clarity’. Matt thought about his predicament and realized he was totally enslaved to booze. He was powerless.  He decided to ‘take the Pledge’ for three months… no booze for three months – period.  He went home and told his mother, ‘Ma, I’m going to take the Pledge’. He was 28 years old. (The Pledge was a promise common in Ireland to avoid drinking – no drink - for a certain period of time.)
The next three months were sheer hell for Matt. He stopped drinking ‘cold turkey’, as folks in AA describe it today. The withdrawal symptoms from his addiction - hallucination, depression and nausea - were extremely painful for Matt, but he stuck to it. Here began the physical part of Matt’s recovery. It was tough. In his day and age there was no detox or rehab centers. 
To fill in the time he’d spend at O’Meara’s, Matt went for a walk every evening after work. He was tempted to stop into the old watering hole… Once he stopped into another bar… but was not served immediately as the barman was busy serving regulars. Matt stormed out and went into a Jesuit Church. Here begins the spiritual part of Matt’s recovery.
Dropping into a Church during his evening walks became a habit. Gradually he began to pray, to ask God for help. This would be considered Step Two of AA’s Twelve Steps:
Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
This was something new for Matt… he was not a man of prayer. He had been raised Catholic but had not practiced. To find the strength to remain sober he decided to attend Mass every morning before work and to receive Communion. Daily Communion was not common practice in those days. Catholics went to Mass on Sunday only and waited til Easter and Christmas to receive Communion.
Matt broke the mold. His life began to change. His spiritual life began to grow. This would be comparable to Step Three of AA:
Made a decision to turn our lives and our wills over to the care of God as we understood Him.
Matt Talbot never married. After he took the Pledge he lived in a number of tenement flats. Matt’s mother died. Matt decided to live as an Irish monk lived in the 6th century… A simple life. His flat was like a Monastery room in the 6th century… Modest and spartan.  His meals were simple and small. He slept only 5 hours a night. He rose at 5 AM to go to Mass. 
Matt worked in the lumber yard of T & C Martin where he was employed as a laborer. He was a hard worker. Matt became concerned about the rights of workers in an age when workers’ rights were not a major concern.
Matt joined several religious associations, from the Third Order of St. Francis to the Workingman’s Sodality. He attended a meeting almost every evening. These organizations centered around prayer devotions and doing charitable works. AA also stresses service, especially to other alcoholics.
Matt learned to read and write. He came home every evening between 9 and 10 PM and would begin his spiritual reading for several hours until he went to bed. Matt developed the habit of reading Sacred Scripture. His reading was guided for most of his life by Dr. Michael Hickey, Professor of Philosophy in Clonliffe College. Under Dr. Hickey's guidance Talbot's reading became wider. He laboriously read the Bible and the lives of saints, The Confessions of St. Augustine, the writings of St. Francis de Sales and others. When he found a part difficult to understand, he asked Professor Hickey or a priest he knew to help him understand. He had a lively devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. He loved St. Therese of Lisieux and her simple way of doing ordinary things extraordinarily well for the love of God. Matt was immersed in God.
Matt was known as a happy man, quiet and with a good sense of humor. He was generous and would help fellow workers who needed some money to buy clothes or shoes for their kids. He never insisted on getting his money back.
At age 67 Matt had his first serious illness. He was under a Doctor’s care for the next two years. At age 69 Matt died of a serious heart attack on the way to Mass on Sunday, June 7, 1925. 
As word of Matt Talbot spread he rapidly became an icon for Ireland's temperance movement, the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association. His story soon became known to the large Irish emigrant communities. Many addiction clinics, youth hostels and statues have been named after him throughout the world from Nebraska to Warsaw to Sydney.
Let’s look at the various aspects of Matt’s spiritual life. Here we can talk about ‘Praying with Matt Talbot’. What are the spiritual parts of Matt’s life?
  • Matt began to spend time in prayer… stopping in a Church every evening and asking God for help. He realized he could not resist alcohol under his own power. 
  • He began to attend daily Mass and Communion… he ‘practiced his religion’. This was a beautiful way to develop his spiritual life.  He uses what is at hand to deepen his journey with his God.
  • Matt led an austere life. His life was no longer about taking care of Matt first. His life was not about ‘stuff’. 
  • He began to read SS and the lives of the saints to feed his spiritual life. He was challenged by the lives of the saints… The saints show us that we humans can overcome our frailties and flaws and follies, our ignorance and illnesses… with the help of God’s grace our courage and patience can create something great.
  • Matt joined spiritual organizations which he attended most evenings a week. Here he was embedded with spiritual people – people not perfect, but certainly trying to lead good and faithful lives. 
  • These spiritual organizations centered around devotional prayer and doing works of charity… reaching out to be of service to others in need.
Summary of the spiritual life of Matt Talbot…
  • Time for prayer everyday
  • Practice your religion if you have one
  • Keep your life as simple as possible
  • Feed your spiritual life with Sacred Scripture and the lives of the saints or the lives of other good people… 
  • Find a mentor to help you… (in AA this could be a sponsor)
  • Don’t do it alone… plug into others who are spiritual people… (in AA this could be other folks in the AA Program who exhibit a spiritual life and who lead lives of service)
Addictions are part of our society’s sickness and darkness. 70,000 opioid ODs in 2018 is a chilling statistic.
I have tried to address two general addictions we all encounter, then specific addictions prevalent today. How might we deal with addictions? 
I briefly described Richard Rohr’s ‘divine therapy’ approach to generalized addictions. Then I turned to specific addictions. I briefly dealt with heroes and saints as people who can help us. I believe we need heroes and saints today to whom we can look for encouragement and some answers.
Matt Talbot is a wonderful example of a life of a heroic and saintly individual who struggled with his alcoholism. When we look at his life and how he dealt with his alcoholism we see a number of the principles of today’s AA Program which helps so many alcoholics today. 
Their 12 Steps have been successfully applied to other addictions which burden our society. I believe Matt Talbot’s spirituality parallels in a number of ways the spirituality of the AA Program. Then we examined elements of Matt Talbot’s spirituality which can help those in bondage to addictions today…  a ‘divine therapy’ in the words of Richard Rohr, a modern spiritual writer and teacher.
Read the final paragraph of the Big Book of AA, P. 164
“Abandon yourself to God as you understand God. Admit your faults to Him and to your fellows. Clear away the wreckage of your past. Give freely of what you find and join us. We shall be with you in the Fellowship of the Spirit, and you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny.”
May God bless you and keep you – until then.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Role of the Eucharist in Matt Talbot’s Life.


Daily communion and Eucharistic Adoration were key in Matt Talbot's life.

The Bread of Angels
By Fr. Joseph Esper

"In 1856 a boy named Matt was born to a poor family in Ireland, the second of 12 children. His father was a laborer with a fierce temper and a fondness for alcohol; his mother was a hardworking, saintly woman who tried to ensure her children grew up to become good Catholics. Matt never had much of an education; at the age of 12 he got his first job—working in a wine bottling store. Soon afterwards he came home drunk for the first time; the beating administered by his father had little effect, for Matt kept on coming home intoxicated every day. Before long he was a hardened alcoholic, but he was always kind and helpful toward his family and friends, and, in spite of his drinking, was capable of working hard. Matt held a series of jobs and was well-liked by everyone; he spent most of his paycheck buying drinks for himself and his buddies. He attended Mass each Sunday but didn’t receive Holy Communion or otherwise practice his faith. Through it all, his mother continued praying for his conversion.

One night, after being unable to get a drink because he was broke, and not finding anyone willing to buy a drink for him, Matt wandered the streets of Dublin, deciding it was time to give up alcohol. He was tormented by thirst and the agony of alcohol withdrawal; he went to a church, hoping to receive Communion, but the church was still locked. Matt collapsed, and as he lay there, he begged God for the grace to overcome his addiction. As worshippers arrived for the early Mass, they were disgusted to see a drunk lying on the doorstep of the church—but, unseen by them, a miracle of grace was taking place. God heard Matt’s prayer; at the age of 28, he was given the strength to turn away from alcohol for the rest of his life. Matt went home and told his mother he was going to take the pledge; she was happy but told him not to do so unless he really meant it. Matt did mean it, and he pledged to give up drinking for three months; those were the hardest twelve weeks of his life, but he persevered. After this success, he took the pledge for a full year, and when the year passed without him having a drop of alcohol, he took the pledge for the rest of his life—and he lived up to that promise.
For the rest of his life, Matt was a quiet, humble, friendly, hard-working Catholic, quick to share a smile, a laugh, and a helping hand. He not only swore off drinking, but also cursing and foul language; he became known for speaking his mind in a respectful way, for acts of charity, and for a quiet but profound commitment to his Catholic faith. The prayers of his mother helped him convert, but it was the Eucharist which made it possible for him to persevere in his new way of life. Each morning he attended 5am Mass before starting work at 6am; during his lunch hour he would visit a nearby church, and after work he frequently made a Holy Hour or went on short pilgrimages to nearby parishes. Because of his genuine conversion and his heroic virtues, the Church has given him the title Venerable Matt Talbot, and Ireland awaits and prays for his eventual beatification and canonization as a saint (Tonne, Vol. 10, #99; Ball, Modern Saints, II, p. 361). It was the Eucharist that helped Matt Talbot leave behind the way of death and instead travel the path of eternal life—and Jesus wants us to travel this path, too.
Every one of us has to choose between the values of this world, and those of the Kingdom of Heaven. We know the right choice—but that doesn’t mean it’s easy for us to follow through on it. In the Letter to the Ephesians (5:15-20), St. Paul had to warn his converts to watch carefully how they lived, to avoid religious ignorance, and not to get drunk on wine, but to be filled with the Holy Spirit. That seems like very basic, obvious advice—but even Christians can be tempted and led far astray from the truth. In the Book of Proverbs (9:1-6), we’re advised to “forsake foolishness [and] advance in the way of understanding,” but we’ll never be able to do this on our own; we need Christ’s help. That’s part of what Jesus meant (Jn 6:51-58) when He proclaimed that those who feed on Him have true life. Certainly, He was referring to eternal life in Heaven, but He also meant being spiritually alive while here on earth. Only if we allow Jesus to live within us here and now can we hope to live with Him eternally—and it’s the Eucharist that most fully allows this to happen
A Protestant minister named Keith, and his wife Renee, started attending Catholic Mass when they were away from home for a few months, though, of course, they couldn’t come forward for Holy Communion. Keith later wrote, “One Sunday during the Liturgy of the Eucharist while Communion was being distributed, I started to cry. I couldn’t explain it. At this time, I did not understand the teaching on the Real Presence [of Jesus], but my soul did. My soul was starving for the Bread of Angels” (W. Keith Moore, “Keeping Jesus at the Center,” Coming Home Network Newsletter, August 2009). Happily, Keith and Renee went on to become Catholic—a trend that’s become far more common than most people realize—and so their deepest spiritual hunger was satisfied.
Sometimes it takes an outsider like Keith to remind us as Catholics how privileged we truly are: we have the opportunity to receive the actual Body of Christ every time we attend Mass while in a state of grace, thereby being filled with the life, and the saving and transforming power, of Jesus Himself. When our time comes to be judged by God, and we’re reviewing each moment of our lives with Him, we will regret the times we missed Mass, the times we were distracted while receiving Holy Communion, and the times we failed to give sufficient thanks for this great gift; we will also rejoice over the times we received this Sacrament worthily, the times we truly opened our hearts to the Eucharistic Lord, and the times we allowed His presence to strengthen, nourish, and enrich us.
The Eucharist is more than we can comprehend, more than we can understand, and certainly much more than we can ever deserve—but Jesus yearns to give Himself to us in this manner, and nothing pleases Him more than having us come forward for Communion with genuine gratitude and love. Whether we’re a great sinner needing to be turned into a great saint, like Venerable Matt Talbot, or an average Catholic simply trying to make it through another week, each one of us needs the spiritual life Jesus offers in this Sacrament. He promises that if we eat His Body and drink His Blood, we will remain in Him and He in us—and His promise deserves all our faith, all our gratitude, and all our trust."

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Spiritual Resources for Addicts, Families, and Loved Ones


As we begin a new decade, let us consider spiritual resources for those who have an addiction as well as for their families and loved ones. The source for these beneficial resources is available at https://www.hbgdiocese.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Spiritual_Resources_-_Addiction.pdf

The contents include scripture passages, prayers for recovery,  Rosary meditations for help with addictions, Stations of the Cross for 12-step recovery, novena to the Holy Spirit for addictions and recovery, patron saints for addiction and related issues, and other helpful links and resources.