Thursday, December 31, 2009

Pope John Paul II joins Matt Talbot as "Venerable"

The late Pope John Paul II, who as a boy had written a paper about Matt Talbot and had supported the cause of the Venerable Matt Talbot as the patron of alcoholics, has now himself been declared "Venerable." (JB)

" Pope Benedict XVI has signed a decree recognizing the late Pope John Paul II's life of “heroic virtue.” With his signature, Benedict XVI throws the door wide open to the beatification of the much-loved Polish Pontiff and gives him the title "Venerable."

On Saturday morning, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints led by Archbishop Angelo Amato met with Pope Benedict XVI to celebrate their 40th anniversary as a dicastery of the Holy See and to present decrees for papal approval. Pope John Paul II's name was among the Congregation's nominations for those possessing “heroic virtue.”

The next step towards canonization of John Paul II is a second decree to be signed by the Pope that attributes a miracle to him. It is thought that this miracle will be one that has already taken place but has not yet been officially recognized. The miracle involves a French nun who was cured of Parkinson´s disease through John Paul II's intercession.

Following the approval of his first miracle, Venerable Karol Woytilya would be eligible for beatification, and pending a second miracle, he could be declared a saint.

The Vatican has processed his case in record time. Since the Pontiff´s death, less than five years have passed. Five years is the normal amount of time that must go by before the Holy See can begin the investigation process. In this case, Pope Benedict made an exception just a little over a month after John Paul II's death in March of 2005."

Source: Vatican City, Dec 19, 2009 / 11:28 am (CNA)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Prayer for Facing Temptation

All of us face strong attachments, if not actual addictions. Matt Talbot prayed constantly and struggled mightily each day, especially during those early months of sobriety.

In those moments of temptation, among other things, we can say prayers of our own creation or recite those written by others, such as the following one. For those written by others, it may be helpful to actually write those out that have personal appeal and keep them with us for those moments of temptation that will repeatedly occur. (JB)

Gracious God,

I so easily fall prey to patterns of behavior that separate me from you and others.

I want to do the right thing, the good thing, the loving thing, but temptation stalks the rim of my life like a prowling animal.

Before I know it, I’ve fallen into its grasp and begun the downward spiral into what is less than full life.

Help me, Lord, to see when temptation is trying to cleverly captivate me.

Give me the strength and fortitude to make choices for health and spiritual wholeness.

Keep me faithful in my love for you and faithful to the wonder of being given the gift of life.

I ask this for the sake of your love.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Praying to Mary (and Matt Talbot) for Sobriety?

Comprehensive articles and biographies of Matt Talbot have noted that he had a special devotion for Mary, Mother of God.

A legitimate question, especially among non-Catholics, regarding Mary is posed below (and might be extended to praying to saints and the Venerable Matt Talbot for recovery from alcoholism). (JB)

"Glad You Asked"

Claretian Teaching Ministry

Fr. John Hampsch, C.M.F.

November 28, 2009

"If Jesus is the only mediator between God and humanity, isn't attention to Mary superfluous or even distracting from a focus on Christ?"

You are correct in stating that the Bible names Jesus as the only mediator between God and humans (l Tim. 2:5; Acts 4:12; Heb. 7:25). However, in each of these citations, as the context shows, it refers to him as redemptive mediator (Savior or Redeemer). Mary’s mediatorship is non-redemptive; it is only petitionary (impetrative) mediatorship, just as your own mediatorship would be if you prayed to God for me at my request. No Scripture passage states that Jesus is the only intercessor or prayer mediator – although he is the greatest one (Heb. 7:25, 9:24; Rom. 8:34; Is. 53:12; 1 Jn. 2:1), and the one through whom all prayer must ultimately pass to reach the Father (Jn. 14:6).

Vatican II states (Lumen Gentium, art. 62) that no creature, even Mary, can be put on the level of Jesus, the only Redeemer. However, just as Jesus’ singular eternal priesthood is shared by both his ministers and the laity in various ways (I Pet. 2:5), and as his one goodness is radiated among creatures in various ways (l Tim. 4:4), so also his unique mediation does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold shared mediation, in petitionary form, within which Mary’s is preeminent.

It was this petitionary mediation that Paul requested of the Ephesians, asking them to pray “for all the saints [believers]” and he “prayed” for them to pray for himself (Eph. 6: 18-19; 1 Thess. 5:25), while he himself prayed for others (Eph. 3:16; Col. 1:3), as did Epaphras (Col. 4:12). Mary’s intercessory power with Jesus is of the same type as that of St. Paul and Epaphras, and the same as yours or mine, namely petitionary. But as the “highly favored one – full of grace” (Lk. 1:28), hers is far more powerful, as evidenced by her successful intercession for the embarrassed host at the Cana wedding, persuading Jesus to work his first miracle, even before his planned time (In. 2:4).

Mary in heaven is not deprived of that intercessory power that she exercised on earth, since heaven is a place not of deprivation but fulfillment, as implied in Hebrews 11 :40. Even in the Old Testament we find examples of deceased persons (Jeremiah and Onias) prayerfully interceding for the living (2 Mac. 15: 12-16). Those in heaven have more prayer power than they had on earth, for they are not faith-limited in heaven, since they see God directly (Job 19:26; 1 Cor. 13:12; 1 In. 3:2).

In response to your assertion that Marian devotion “distracts” from Christocentric devotion: Vatican II in the Constitution on the Church (art. 51) states, “Let the faithful be taught that our communion with those in heaven [by veneration] … in no way diminishes the worship of adoration given to God the Father, through Christ, in the Spirit; on the contrary, it greatly enriches it.” In the treatise on Mariology the same document states that Mary’s salutary influence “flows from the merits of Christ, rests on his mediation … and draws all its power from it. It does not hinder in any way the immediate union of the faitlhful with Christ, but on the contrary, fosters it … it neither takes away nor adds anything to the dignity and efficacy of Christ, the one Mediator” (art. 60 and 62, quoting a formulation of St. Ambrose).

Your phrase, “praying to Mary,” shows a misunderstanding common to both Catholics and non-Catholics, regarding Mary’s role in our devotion. The Catholic Church does not teach us to pray to Mary or to any saint; if the phrase “pray to” is used in the strictest theological sense, it can be said that we pray only to God. But we do “prayerfully address” Mary, asking her to pray for us and with us to God, as in the Hail Mary: “pray for us sinners … ”

Thus, Mary’s mediation is not a “relay” system; she does not relay our needs to God as if they go through her to him. Rather, our prayers to God “parallel” her prayers to God for us, like two arrows going simultaneously Godward, in tandem. Mary doesn’t stand “between” us and God to forward our prayers to him, but exercises her mediatorship by joining us in a fellowship of prayer, as mandated by Jesus: “If two of you agree to ask anything … ” (Mt. 18:19).


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Matt Talbot Medallion

Various Matt Talbot medals, medallions, tokens, prayer cards, and prayer beads are commercially available. One such medallion available at Matt Talbot Retreats can be viewed on their homepage and is available at
and the medallion for those who attend a retreat is described at:

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Hope Does Not Disappoint*

Sustained by God's love, we can move mountains.

The Word Among Us

November 2009

Let’s face it. Life can be difficult at times.

It wouldn’t take much for us to come up with a list of woes that plague the world: War, famine, drug abuse, violence, and sexual abuse are just the first items that come to mind. In one way or another, we all feel the effects of these woes. Even if our lives are trouble free, just dwelling on global tragedies like grinding poverty, human trafficking, or ethnic wars can make us anxious. And then there are the times when we face painful difficulties in our own lives or those of our loved ones: a broken marriage, a wayward child, or an incurable illness.

Yet in the midst of all these difficulties, God wants us to know that he is with us. He wants to tell us that he suffers with us and that he wants to help us by affirming his love for us. In fact, we could make the case that God’s love is most present to us as we work through the difficulties and sufferings we all face.

This truth is spelled out most clearly in St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Reflecting on his own experience, even as he sketches out God’s overall plan of salvation, Paul wrote: “Affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).

In these few verses, Paul reveals how God’s love helped him grow in holiness during his own times of trial. Paul discovered the liberating truth that God’s love is the one constant, guiding us through the storms of life, all the while making us like Jesus. Let’s take a closer look at these verses, examining three distinct ways that God’s love comes to us as we deal with suffering and affliction.

Love’s Three Effects. Before we look at these specific verses, it’s helpful to see that Paul himself prefaces them with uplifting, inspiring truths: We are justified by faith, we have peace with God, we are surrounded by his grace, and we even have the promise of eternal life with him (Romans 5:1-2). So it is critical for us to know that God’s love is at work in us even before we face any afflictions.

This is why Paul is able to say that we can endure any affliction that comes our way. It’s true that the trials of life can present serious challenges to our faith. They can lead us to question whether God is just or kind. We may even ask whether God is punishing us for some unknown sin. But because we are already in Christ, these trials also have the potential to help us push on with our faith. They can become opportunities to reassert our trust in the Lord regardless of what we are experiencing. As we take on this perspective, we find God’s love strengthening us, encouraging us to persevere, and even giving us supernatural strength to continue.

Paul says next that endurance through trial can have a positive effect on our character. When we persevere through our afflictions, we give the Lord the opportunity to shape our character. We grow in virtues such as kindness, compassion, loyalty, honesty, and obedience. What’s more, the character that is formed by our perseverance is not just any good character. It’s the very character of Christ. We begin to think and to love as Jesus did. Just as Jesus stayed close to his Father despite his many trials and difficulties, we too can stay close to him. And just as Jesus “learned obedience” through his suffering, we too can grow in godly virtue as we face our own sufferings with endurance and faith (Hebrews 5:8).

Finally, Paul tells us that there is a relationship between godly character and the virtue of hope. We all learn far more about ourselves—our strengths and our weaknesses—during times of stress than we do when life is going well. So when we see our character being transformed and built up in the midst of trial, we also see hope for our lives. We see that we are passing the test and that Jesus has not abandoned us. We grow in confidence. We see light at the end of the tunnel. We know that God is working in us, that we will make it through this trial, and that we will be better off for having gone through it.

All of this comes to us—amazingly, miraculously, and simply—because God has poured his love into us. It comes to us because he never stops pouring out his love.

Ever-Increasing Hope. Let’s be clear: Paul is not just speaking about a step-by-step psychological process in which one virtue leads naturally to another. And neither is he speaking only about the value of noble determination—although it does play a part. More than these, he is speaking about the power of God’s love, which helps us hold our ground and even grow closer to Jesus as we face life’s trials.

So what is this “hope” that doesn’t disappoint? At its core, it’s faith that Jesus is in charge of the whole universe. It’s faith that God has a good and loving plan for our lives. It’s faith that Jesus will come again to bring us into his kingdom. It’s faith that we will be with him in heaven. “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). We put our faith and our hope in Jesus because we believe that he is faithful and loving. We believe that he will never abandon us.

Paul is not saying that the only way to grow in hope is through affliction and suffering. But he is telling us how to deal with the afflictions that come our way. He is giving us a strategy to help us see our way through difficult times—a strategy that both helps us endure with faith and that gives us the extra benefit of building us up in Christ. As we learn to rely on God’s love, which is constantly flowing to us, we can find the strength we need to persevere. It is his love that will sustain us, and it is his love that will shape us. It is his love, and only his love, that will move us to place our hope in Jesus and in his plan for our lives.

God’s Love Poured into Our Hearts. “Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). Everything we have looked at so far depends on this one sentence. Without this outpouring of divine love, Paul’s line of reasoning cannot stand. He is not saying that affliction has the power in and of itself to transform us into the character of Christ. It’s the experience of God’s love that enables us to endure, to form a godly character, and to learn to live in real, lasting hope.

In your mind’s eye, try to picture God’s love as a steady, heavy downpour of rain. It’s not a light drizzle. It’s not an occasional sprinkling. It’s a constant showering of love, ministered to us by the Holy Spirit. It’s an outpouring of divine grace that comes to us like “water upon the thirsty ground, and streams upon the dry land” to refresh us and give us hope and courage (Isaiah 44:3).

We may think we don’t deserve such love. We may think that God has only a small amount set aside for us. We may even think that he will love us only if we are able to get rid of our sins. But none of these thoughts makes sense when we look at this one sentence from St. Paul. If God is constantly pouring out love over the whole world, why would we ever think he would exclude us?

An Everlasting Love. Brothers and sisters, God wants to show us his love every day. It doesn’t matter if we are in the midst of some serious affliction or if everything is going well. He wants to pour out his love upon us. He wants to teach us how to persevere and endure the challenges of life. He wants his love to be the primary force that shapes our character. He wants his love to become a foundation for our lives so that we can live in hope and confidence, not in fear or resignation.

God has loved us from the very beginning of creation. He loved us through all of Israel’s ups and downs. He loved us enough to send Jesus to redeem us by the cross. He loved us enough to send the Holy Spirit to us at Pentecost. And he will continue to love us every day of our lives—until the end of time.


*Note: There is much in this article that we can reflect on with regards to our own lives as well as the life of Matt Talbot.

Friday, November 27, 2009

St. Columban and Matt Talbot

St. Columban was perhaps Matt Talbot's favorite Irish saint, and Matt financially supported the Missionary Society of St. Columban in China (JB)

St. Columban
November 25, 2009

Columban was the greatest of the Irish missionaries who worked on the European continent. As a young man he was greatly tormented by temptations of the flesh, and sought the advice of a religious woman who had lived a hermit’s life for years. He saw in her answer a call to leave the world. He went first to a monk on an island in Lough Erne, then to the great monastic seat of learning at Bangor.

After many years of seclusion and prayer, he traveled to Gaul with 12 companion missionaries. They won wide respect for the rigor of their discipline, their preaching, and their commitment to charity and religious life in a time characterized by clerical slackness and civil strife. Columban established several monasteries in Europe which became centers of religion and culture.

Like all saints, he met opposition. Ultimately he had to appeal to the pope against complaints of Frankish bishops, for vindication of his orthodoxy and approval of Irish customs. He reproved the king for his licentious life, insisting that he marry. Since this threatened the power of the queen mother, Columban was ordered deported back to Ireland. His ship ran aground in a storm, and he continued his work in Europe, ultimately arriving in Italy, where he found favor with the king of the Lombards. In his last years he established the famous monastery of Bobbio, where he died. His writings include a treatise on penance and against Arianism, sermons, poetry and his monastic rule.


Now that public sexual license is approaching the extreme, we need the Church's jolting memory of a young man as concerned about chastity as Columban. And now that the comfort-captured Western world stands in tragic contrast to starving millions, we need the challenge to austerity and discipline of a group of Irish monks. They were too strict, we say; they went too far. How far shall we go?


Writing to the pope about a doctrinal controversy in Lombardy, Columban said: “We Irish, living in the farthest parts of the earth, are followers of St. Peter and St. Paul and of the disciples who wrote down the sacred canon under the Holy Spirit. We accept nothing outside this evangelical and apostolic teaching.... I confess I am grieved by the bad repute of the chair of St. Peter in this country.... Though Rome is great and known afar, she is great and honored with us only because of this chair.... Look after the peace of the Church, stand between your sheep and the wolves.”

(This entry appears in the print edition of Saint of the Day.)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

All the Saints of Ireland

Pope Benedict XV beatified Oliver Plunkett in 1920 and during his papacy also (1914-22) the Feast of All the Saints of Ireland was instituted.

Only four canonised saints
Only four saints, St Malachy (1094-1148), St Lawrence O'Toole (1128-80) and St Oliver Plunkett (1625-81) and St Charles of Mount Argus (1821-93), have been officially canonised. All the other Irish saints, such as Saints Patrick, Brigid, and Colmcille, are saints, as it were, by acclamation of the local Church.

"Canonisation" as a process can be said to have begun when the name of a martyr was included in the dyptichs (or prayer lists) proclaimed by the deacon during Mass. This process would have been overseen by the local Church authority, especially the bishop. Later the names of holy people who were not martyrs, such as Saint Hilarion and Saint Ephrem the Syrian in the East, and Saint Martin of Tours and Saint Hilary of Poitiers in the West, were included. But it was only in 1170 that Alexander III issued a decree arrogating to the Pope alone the right to declare a person a saint as regards the Church of the West. This was confirmed in 1200 by a bull of Pope Innocent III.

The scope of the feast
The scope of this feast, while it includes canonised saints, is wider. It also includes those who had a reputation for holiness and whose causes for canonisation have not yet been completed, such as Blessed Thaddeus MacCarthy (1455-92), the seventeen Irish martyrs of the 16th and 17th centuries, Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice (1762-1844), Blessed Columba Marmion (1858-1923) and the Servant of God [now Venerable] Matt Talbot (1856-1925) and people like Legion of Mary envoys Edel Quinn and Alfie Lamb, whose causes have already been introduced. But it also includes those whose lives of sanctity were known only to their families, friends or members of their parish diocese or religious community.

An exchange of spiritual goods
Like All Saints (1 Nov) and All Souls (2 Nov), this is a celebration of the communio sanctorum, that is, a sharing, not only of the "holy persons" (sancti and sanctae), but also of the "holy things" (sancta). As the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium on the Church of Vatican II taught:

"So it is that the union of the wayfarers with the brethern who sleep in the peace of Christ is in no way interrupted, but on the contrary, according to the constant faith of the Church, this union is reinforced by an exchange of spiritual goods" (LG 49).

Island of Saints and Scholars
The reading from the Book of Ecclesiasticus 44:1-15 echoes the theme of "the island of saints and scholars" which was so strong in Ireland in the first half of the twentieth century.

Let us praise illustrious men,
our ancestors in their successive generations.
The Lord has created an abundance of glory,
and displayed his greatness from earliest times.


Note: For a listing of and information about Irish saints, click

All Saints Day

November 1

This solemnity or feast of All Saints Day commemorates all those who have attained the beatific vision in heaven, while the next day, All Souls' Day, commemorates the departed faithful who have not yet been purified and reached heaven. Both feasts have taken on some of the characteristics of the Celtic winter feast of "Samhain", as reflected in the customs of Halloween.

Eastern origin
The feast of All Souls is probably of Eastern origin. In the early centuries Christians celebrated the anniversary of a martyr's death for Christ at the place of martyrdom. In the early fourth century, following the persecution of Diocletian, martyrs became so many that a separate day could not be assigned to each and the Church assigned a common day for all, celebrated in the East on the first Sunday after Pentecost: Homilies for the feast by St Ephrem the Syrian (373) and St John Chrysostom (407) are extant.

Development in Rome
In the West the Byzantine emperor Phocas (602-610) handed over to Pope Boniface IV (608-615) the Pantheon, originally built as a temple to all the Roman gods. On 13 May 610, Pope Boniface dedicated it as a church to St Mary and all the martyrs. But the anniversary was fixed for 1 November by Pope Gregory III (731-741) who consecrated a chapel to all the saints in St Peter's Basilica.

Ireland and England
The 9th century Irish Martyrology of Aengus (828-833) has a feast for All Saints on 1 November. The feast became known in England and Ireland as All Hallow's from which we get Halloween (the evening before All Hallows). It also took on some of the characteristics of the Celtic feast of Samhain. (See Féile na Samhna: an bhunchiall)

Who is included?
The scope of the feast includes all those officially recognised as saints, those whose cause for canonisation has not yet been completed, like Matt Talbot, the Irish Martyrs, Cardinal Newman and Pope John XXIII. But it also includes those whose holy lives were known only to their family, friends or religious communities. Chapter V of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium of Vatican II is entitled The Call to Holiness and insists that the "all Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love" (LG 40).


Saturday, October 31, 2009

Guardian Angels: A Special One

From the book, Tales from the Emerald Isle, by Henry Austin

When I was a young boy of five years of age, my mother took me by the hand for my first day at school. When we arrived at the school gates she kissed me, and told me that I had a guardian angel on one side of me, who would protect me from all harm. My innocent response was to ask her what was on the other side. “That’s the bad angel”,she replied. With my curiosity growing by the second, I then asked.“If one is bad ma, and the other is good, what are they doing going around with each other?”

“One is there to get you into trouble, and the other is there to get you out of it.” With these words indelibly printed in my mind I began my school years. But it would be many more years before I would appreciate the wisdom of her words.

At twelve years of age, and with the minimum amount of education, I finished school, and began life’s journey in earnest. At fourteen years of age I became a victim of larceny, when I had my youth stolen from me by Mr Booze. In the years that I spent incarcerated in alcohol’s unique penitentiary I often thought of my mother’s words, and longed for evidence of them, but none was forthcoming.

For some people Guardian Angels are a figment of the imagination. For others, it’s their inner voice, or that part of the mind that always knows the right thing to do, but doesn’t’ always do it. But I never had any doubt, although I did not have any proof. That would come later. But as I made my way through the quagmire of life I was conscious that someone was watching over me. Not alone that, but I felt it was someone very special. Over the years I had noticed that whatever trouble I found myself in was always resolved in my favour, and often against all the odds.

A theory has been put forward that Guardian Angels are in fact the souls of people of good character who have passed on, and have then been assigned by the creator to look after the most vulnerable of society. But it was quite obvious that they would need strong stomachs too. Because their commitment was such that they went everywhere with their charge.

I know that I brought mine into some very nasty situations and places. It was during one of these situations that I finally realised that I had an angel with golden wings looking after me. Many years ago, on one of my sea voyages, and while still in the custody of Mr Booze, I became a guest of the Venezuelan Government, and as a consequence, so did my Guardian Angel.

But instead of a hotel we were put up in the local prison. This was as a consequence of a street brawl in the oil boom town of Matansas. My shipmate Murphy and I drank enough of the local beer to float a ship. Then Murphy, an ex-boxer, decided to take on the local police force single handledly. The result was a foregone conclusion, and we were incarcerated in the local jail. But money can make life, even in the most difficult
circumstances, more tolerable.

With the money Murphy and I had in our possession we were able to bribe the guards, which enabled us to buy our own food. This was much more preferable than the regular prison diet. Which, because of the heat, was infiltrated by cock roaches. In fact if a cock roach did not walk off your plate during your meal, you could complain that you were not being treated equally with the other prisoners. But after the captain of our ship paid the fines we were set free.

But something very strange occurred during our short stay, the significance of which I only realised many years later. Several years after the incident in the prison, I found myself trodding the road of sobriety. And with each step I took, it became clear to me that the bad angel my mother had spoken about, was in fact none other than Mr Booze. But who was the good angel?

But I did not care, because whoever it was, had delivered me from a life of turmoil. Life was sweet once again. But the happiness I was now enjoying was to come to an abrupt end. One night, just over two years ago, I experienced the most excruciating stomach pain I had ever encountered. I went to bed in the hope that it might be gone come the morning. But this was not to be.

I was taken to the hospital for emergency surgery. My bowel had burst into my stomach. After three hours of surgery a cancerous growth was removed. But during my recovery in the intensive care unit I had another experience, similar to the one in the prison in Venezuela. From the beginning of what I refer to as my sober years, I had gradually embraced Christianity. But after my latest experience, I held it in a vice like grip.

As I lay in my hospital bed I felt so grateful to be still in the land of the living. Many thoughts flashed through my mind. Visions of my lost youth, as I became more and more submerged in a sea of alcohol. I thought of the many strange and unexplained happenings that had occurred in my life, and my mother’s words now had a sense of realism attached to them.

I became curious about the phenomenon of Guardian Angels, and deep inside I longed to know who mine was. When my surgical wounds had healed sufficiently, and to expedite my recovery, I began walking the mountain roads and woodlands of County Wicklow. I had always believed that nature was the work of the creator, and the exquisite beauty of County Wicklow re-enforced this view.

I also believed that for a brief moment each day heaven and earth became so close, that the feeling is almost palpable. With all of these thoughts pervading my mind I set about proving my theory. If I was correct, I might even find out who had been watching over me for all those years. One day in late Autumn I made my way to the picturesque village of Eniskerry. After I had re-enforced myself with a mug of coffee, I began my walk toward Djous woods.

I timed it so that I would arrive in the woods at around dusk. As I walked I allowed my mind to wander back to the golden days of my boyhood years, before I was captured by Mr Booze. This always had the effect of removing the physicality from my journey. As I walked I noticed the breeze was beginning to freshen. After walking for about forty minutes, and with darkness descending, I was in touching distance of my destination.

I noticed a man walking a couple of hundred yards ahead of me. How I did not see him earlier, I don’t know. When he got to the entrance to the woods he turned around and looked at me. But in the semi darkness I could not clearly see his facial features. Unusually though, he seemed to be dressed in a style from a bygone age. By the time I arrived at the entrance he was at the far end of the car park, at the entrance to the woods.

He once again turned and faced me, only this time he raised his hand and waved at me. Suddenly the breath of heaven parted the top branches of the trees, and allowed the early moon to light up his face. I was seriously taken aback. I hurriedly ran towards him, but by the time I got to where he had been standing, he had disappeared into the eerie darkness of the woods. Shocked, I sat down on a bench to collect my thoughts. But I had no doubt whatsoever about what I had just seen.

It was the face of the man I had seen in the prison many years earlier, and who had shown me kindness. It was also the face of the individual who stood in the corner of the intensive care unit after my surgery, and who had kept his eyes fixed on me during the worst moments of my recovery. But even more importantly, it was the face on the cover of an old mass card that I had recently discovered in my departed father’s possessions. That man’s name was Matt Talbot.

Copyright 2009 Henry Austin


Thursday, October 8, 2009

"The Church is a 'School for Sinner'"

On the YAHOO! ANSWERS website, the question was asked, "St. Augustine said that the Church is a 'school for sinners.' What did he mean by that? Give examples please."

Below is an answerer's response, including references to St. Francis and Matt Talbot.

"This quote of St. Augustine's is intended to show that the Church is a place where people can go to change their life from sin and toward holiness. The Church has the power and authority to guide and help a person become holier. A common misconception of Catholic and other Christian churches is that the people in them should be perfect. This is not the case. St. Augustine recognized that when Jesus said he came to help the sinner and sick, not the righteous or healthy, this meant that the Christian way of life helps people become holier, but that this process can take a lifetime.

In this way, the Church is like a school, where God provides life lessons that enable a person to make choices to do God's will and to learn from their mistakes. As a sinner, say a person has the habit of stealing. Through prayer and the sacraments, like Reconciliation, the person can draw on grace and change their habits. The vice can be changed, through God's grace acting in the person, to virtue. Merely by accepting Jesus as Lord does not mean their bad habits go away. Rather, continued participation in the Church gives people the chance to open themselves to God's grace, which will then show in their changed lives and attitudes. The Church helps us "put on the new man" which is Christ (as St. Paul notes).

God provided the Church as a way to carry on His work in His name, and with His authority. The sinner participates in the Church, which has the power and tools, such as the sacraments, which bestow God's grace on the sinner. In the Church, the sinner has assurance that he or she is receiving grace to help them grow and mature in holiness. Outside the church, a person "may" receive grace, but there is not an assurance. Only through the Church does God assure that there is guidance without error.

The lives of the saints are excellent examples of this schooling process. For each saint, like us, there were crosses (weaknesses) to bear. Some were physical and some were spiritual. By turning to God in his Church, each saint confronted himself/herself and overcame their vices, sins, and weaknesses. God's grace did the work in the person, and the Church provided the opportunities to administer the grace and provide the knowledge a person needs to know God and open his or her life to Him.

Saint Francis for example, was young and sometimes vain man. His conversion transformed him over time to become humble and to serve the poor and needy.

Other people, like Matt Talbot of Ireland, changed from vices like alcoholism to become en example of holiness. Matt Talbot is not a saint yet, but is up for canonization.

As St. Augustine noted, The Church acts as a school for sinners, giving them assured channels of grace, the knowledge of God and themselves, to become holy and better people."

Monday, September 28, 2009

Matt Talbot as a Spiritual Companion

Author of 18 books, Bert Ghezzi has just published Voices of the Saints: A 365-Day Journey with our Spiritual Companions, which includes Matt Talbot.

If you are an Amazon customer, go to, then "Click to Look Inside" and type in "Matt Talbot" to read his entry, pp 704-705. A listing of saints included in this book can be found in the "Index" link.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Catholic Asceticism and the Twelve Steps

Although Matt Talbot is not mentioned in this article, the word "ascetic" is frequently used in describing Matt, and he may have been exposed to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius since his spiritual advisor was a Jesuit. And as noted by Fr. Morgan Costello, former Vice-Postulator of the Cause of Matt Talbot and author of Matt Talbot: Hope for Addicts (2001), Matt's conversion and recovery from alcoholism incorporated the twelve steps half a century before the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous.
The non-alcoholic author of the following article was a close friend and spiritual advisor to Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. (JB)

Catholic Asceticism and the Twelve Steps

Reverend Edward Dowling, S.J.
The Queen's Work, St. Louis, Missouri
Brooklyn, 1953

I think that if our positions were reversed, you would feel as I do -- grateful to be the focus of good will. I think that is true of anybody who speaks at an A.A. gathering, or about A.A.

I am sensible, as you are, of God's closeness to human humility. I am sensible, also, of how close human humility can come to humiliation, and I know how close that can come to an alcoholic. I think that in addition to my confidence in the closeness of God to one suffering from alcoholism, I would like to invoke our Lord's promise that where two or three gather together in His Name, there He will be in their midst.

First of all, asceticism comes from the Greek word meaning the same as exercise, or better, to practice gymnastics. The concept of exercise is to loosen up the muscles to prepare them for vigorous activity. Applied to spiritual matters, it means to loosen up the faculties of the mind or soul, to prepare them for better activity. Physical exercise is gymnastics, setting-up exercises, preparing me to take steps. In the same way, asceticism is preliminary, a preparation for me to use the powers of my soul.

Christian asceticism is contained, of course, in the Gospel. All the teachings of Our Lord boil down to the cardinal ideas; one negative, the denial of self; the other positive, the imitation of and union with Christ.

One of the many different systematized forms of Christian exercises is the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. There are many others, and all are efforts to apply to one's life those two principal ideas of denial of self and an affirmation of Christ. "Spiritual Exercises" indicate, of course, that the thing to be exercised is the spirit. The word "exercise" indicates a releasing of the faculties or powers of the soul.

St. Ignatius starts with a presumption that our power of faculties are bound by sinful tendencies and addictions to the wrong things. The Spiritual Exercises, therefore, work on the soul in both a negative and positive way. The first section, the consideration of my sins and of their effects in hell, is the negative part. It aims by self-denial to release our wills from our binding addictions, to enable the will to desire and to choose rationally.

The second part of the Spiritual Exercises, start in with a consideration of the Incarnation and going through the Passion and Resurrection, is an effort to see how Christ would handle various situations.

A priest alcoholic, who has written with discernment on the Spiritual Exercises, first pointed out to me the similarity between them and the twelve steps of A.A. Bill, the founder of A.A. recognized that those twelve steps are pretty much the releasing of myself from the things that prevent my will's choosing God as I understand Him.

Twelve Steps and the Spiritual Exercises

The first seven or eight steps of A.A. are quite specific as to what should be done in order to release the will from addiction to evil. On the positive side, the twelve steps are very general. Bill once stated: "It is a firm principal with us that, so far as A.A. goes, each member has the absolute right to seek God as he will." On another occasion he declared that A.A. was not concerned about the particular way a man works out his dependence on God. That depends on him and on God, mostly on God. The alcoholic's business, as expressed in the eleventh step, is to find out what God wants and to ask for strength to carry that out.

Like the Spiritual Exercises, like Christian asceticism in general, the twelve steps are not speculative ideas. They are practical steps. May I suggest some of the parallels between the Spiritual Exercises and the twelve steps.

The Foundation

The first three of the twelve steps correspond roughly with the foundation of the Spiritual Exercises. In the foundation we see man as creature. It recognizes the dependence of man on God because of the rather abstract, relatively unknown fact, creation. A.A. bases dependence on a rather concrete specific type of experience, drunkenness. The Ignatian foundation indicates that everything else shall be chosen or rejected in the light of the purpose that grows out of this dependence, i.e., sharing Him for all eternity by doing His will on earth.

The A.A. third step directs that one's life and one's will be directed by the influence of God. In it the alcoholic determines to turn his life and his will over to the care of God as he understands Him. This emphasis on the will indicates that the alcoholic should direct himself by his will rather than by the feelings that have enmeshed him. The focal importance of the will is a characteristic of the Spiritual Exercises.

Moral Inventory - Confession

In the Spiritual Exercises, the next thing is the contemplation of sin; sin in the angels, in our first parents, in others, in myself, and sin in its effects. And of course, right along the line there you have the fourth step of A.A., a fearless, thorough moral inventory of one's sins. The parallelism is rather striking.

To a priest who asked Bill how long it took him to write those twelve steps he said that it took twenty minutes. If it were twenty weeks, you could suspect improvisation. Twenty minutes sounds reasonable under the theory of divine help.

After a moral inventory of one's life, all spiritual exercises, Catholic anyway, demand the confession of sins. It is specifically required in the Spiritual Exercises. In the A.A. fifth step, you have that general confession admitting my sins to myself, to God, and to another human being.

Reatus Culpae and Reatus Poenae

There are two liabilities when we commit a sin: one, reatus culpae, the guilt of the sin; the other reatus poenae, the obligation of restitution. The A.A. sixth and seventh steps cover the guilt of the sin, and the eighth and ninth steps the obligation of restitution.

I think the sixth step is the one which divides the men from the boys in A.A. It is love of the cross. The sixth step says that one is not almost, but entirely ready, not merely willing, but ready. The difference is between wanting and willing to have God remove all these defects of character. You have here, if you look into it, not the willingness of Simon Cyrene to suffer, but the great desire or love, similar to what Chesterton calls "Christ's love affair with the cross."

The seventh step implements that desire by humbly asking God to remove these defects. The alcoholic sees one defect go as a bottle of beer is taken away. And so, that continuing detachment which goes along in any ascetical life holds true in A.A. As one grows in A.A., the problems seem to get bigger, the strength bigger, and the dividends greater.

Then comes the reatus poenae, the obligation of restitution or penance. God's forgiveness is sought in the sixth and seventh steps. In the eight and ninth steps one makes restitution. In the eighth step the alcoholic makes a list of those people he has offended and whose bills he hasn't paid. In the ninth step he pays off these obligations, if he can do so without hurting people more.

The Positive Side

The eleventh and twelfth steps give a rather limited parallel to the positive asceticism of Christianity. The eleventh step bids one by prayer and meditation to study to improve his conscious grasp of God, asking Him only for two things, knowledge of His will and the power to carry it out. Now, that is a true and accurate description of the positive aspects of Christian asceticism as well as of the second, third, and forth weeks of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

Then, the twelfth step. Having had a spiritual exercise or awakening as a result of these steps, we carry this message to other alcoholics and practice these principles in all our other affairs. In our apostolic work we should be an instrument in God's hands. The A.A. steps before this twelfth step are to improve by instrumental contact with God this dependence of work for others on my growth toward Christ-like sanity and sanctity has significance to an alcoholic priest. Often such a one will say, "If I could only get a little work, I feel that I could stay sober." Gradually he finds out that if he approaches sobriety through work, the work isn't going to come and the sobriety may not come either. But, as soon as he says, "Once I become sober, work will come," the hope of success is much greater.

No Humility Without Humiliation

A.A. has helped me as a person and as a priest. A.A. has made my optimism greater. My hopelessness starts much later. Like anyone who has watched A.A. achieve its goals, I have seen dreams walk. You and I know that in the depths of humiliation we are in a natural area, and, rightly handled, especially is the inner spirit of that sixth step, I think we can almost expect the automatic fulfillment of God's promise to assist the humble. Where there is good will, there is almost an iron connection between humiliation and humility and God's help.

A.A. helps the priest in other matters than alcoholism, as the twelfth step indicates. I had a little exercise which will illustrate this point. It is a very small thing in itself, but I feel that it is a clear example of how A.A. work can help personally even a non-alcoholic priest.

Learning Not To Think About It

To obtain a greatly needed help which prayer alone didn't seem to bring, I thought of giving up smoking. I had failed to give it up, even though in retreat after retreat I had tried various plans to break off the habit. None of them seemed to work for long.

Then, thinking of A.A., I realized that I had seen men in that same boat who couldn't give up drinking. I realized that A.A. does not directly cause a man to quit drinking, but rather it causes him to quit thinking about drinking. Well, it seemed easier to give up thinking about smoking; but I didn't think I could do even that. I thought of A.A. novices saying, "I can't do it all my life. I can't do it all day. I can do it for maybe ten minutes." Inspired by the humble example of A.A. men, I said at that point to myself, "I won't try to quit smoking but I will, with God's help, postpone the thought of smoking for three minutes." That is a humiliating admission for a priest who tells others to give up much harder things.

From A.A. I learned to respect the little suffering of denying self the thought of a smoke and to pool that suffering with the sufferings of Christ, in the spirit of the sixth step. At that moment, like a breath of fresh air, came the thought of the widow and her mite and the importance which love can give to unimportant things. With humiliation came humility, and with humility came God's promised help. It is three or four years since I thought of myself smoking, and I have learned that you can't smoke if you don't think about smoking.

That is a little instance from among hundreds of the applications of A.A. principles. I have watched the most difficult personal situations which a priest faces yield to the A.A. twelve steps approach, even though no alcoholism was involved. Of course, Christ and His Passion came in encouragingly through the third and eleventh steps.

The remainder of this article (that addresses "Priest Membership in AA") can be found at

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Matt Talbot: A Hero of Faith

During the academic year, the Catholic Community at Connecticut College (USA) reflect on
"Living Faith: Mind, Body & Soul--Heroes of Faith." Fr. Larry LaPointe, Catholic Chaplain, incorporates this theme into his homilies and distributes a brief biography on a saint, martyr, or hero after the celebration of the liturgy each Saturday.

The "hero of faith" for November 15, 2009 was Matt Talbot. A list of other heroes can be found at, including Colman & the early Celtic Christians

Monday, August 31, 2009

A Prayer for Temperance

Jesus, You practiced temperance; You were the Model of self-restraint, Never over-indulging in the temporal. My body being the Temple of the Lord, I must treat it with ongoing respect. Self-abuse destroys the body; Be it alcohol, drugs, or excess food. Lord Jesus, bestow fortitude upon me For my soul to control my body, To practice the virtue of temperance. Jesus, You are the source of my vigour. Through You, all is possible!


Sunday, August 30, 2009

"Prayers for Addicted Persons and Their Loved Ones" Booklet

To request a free copy of the 2009 revised edition 29 page booklet published by The National Catholic Council on Alcoholism and Related Drug Problems, Inc.( and Guest House, send an email to

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Power of God and Recovery

10th Week Friday …The Surpassing Power of God

Thoughts and Homilies for the Day
Mount St. Alphonsus Redemptorist Pastoral Center

The first reading from St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians begins with these words: we hold this treasure (the glory of God) in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. (1Cor 4, 7)

Do you remember where you heard something similar before?
Right, in the first steps of the 12 Step program…

1. The first step is to admit that our lives are unmanageable… that we can do nothing by ourselves… that the power to change does not come from us.

2. The second step is to believe that only a greater power than ourselves can restore us.

3. And the third step is to turn our lives over to God as we understand Him

Why? Because as St Paul says: HE HAS THE SURPASSING POWER. He is the only one that can free us from our addictions and make us whole.

I think I told you before that the people in Matt Talbot who come here for their retreat always pray for the canonization of Matt Talbot, the Dublin alcoholic, who conquered his addiction and went on to become a real saint. But people in Matt Talbot can never make any headway with his cause because they say that Congregation of Saints in Rome seems to only accept physical miracles… and all they have to offer as miracles is their own sobriety.

And I really think that their sobriety is not so much a proof that Matt Talbot is a saint, and I believe he is, but it is a proof that God exists and that he is alive and well and (not taking nourishment) but rather giving nourishment. God’s power is working miracles all around us and these walking miracles are enough proof for me that He who made the universe is slowly but surely bringing it to fulfillment.

I would like to paraphrase the next few verses of the first reading where Paul emphasizes what he is talking about.

“We are afflicted in every way, but by the power of God, we are not held back.
We are perplexed, but by God’s power, we are not driven to despair.
We are persecuted, but by the power of God, we are not abandoned.
We are struck down, but by God’s power, we are not destroyed.
We always carry about in our body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus (the power of God) may be manifested in us.
We sacrifice ourselves for Jesus so as to give testimony of his life in us.

Paul begins today’s reading by talking about the “power of God” and after a few sentences, he is changes and is now talking about the “life of Jesus”. For Paul they are like two sides of the same coin. And so we pray: MAY THE POWER OF GOD AND THE LIFE OF JESUS LIVE IN US ALWAYS AND GIVE US THE COURAGE TO OVERCOME ALL OUR WEAKNESSES AND SINS. AMEN!

“We hold this treasure (the glory of God) in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.” (1Cor 4, 7)

Note: Perhaps due to a typo, actual posting date, or our error, the apparent correct biblical reference is 2 Corinthians 4:7 for June 12, 2009 rather than June 19, 2009 if the original title link is clicked.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

"A Pint of Plain" and Matt Talbot

Bill Barich recently published his book, A PINT OF PLAIN: Tradition, Change, and the Fate of the Irish Pub (2009, Walker & Company, 242 pp).

The New York Times Sunday Book Review published an excerpt of this book on March 10, 2009 which mentions Matt Talbot and the temperance movement during "Ireland's woeful battle with alcohol that worsened during the nineteenth century."

As to the book's title, the refrain of the following poem, "A pint of plain is your only man," has become a famous quotation, meaning a pint of stout will solve all your problems.

"The Workman's Friend"
by Flann O'Brien (1911-1966)

When things go wrong and will not come right,

Though you do the best you can,

When life looks black as the hour of night -

A pint of plain is your only man.

When money's tight and hard to get

And your horse has also ran,

When all you have is a heap of debt -

A pint of plain is your only man.

When health is bad and your heart feels strange,

And your face is pale and wan,

When doctors say you need a change,

A pint of plain is your only man.

When food is scarce and your larder bare

And no rashers grease your pan,

When hunger grows as your meals are rare -

A pint of plain is your only man.

In time of trouble and lousey strife,

You have still got a darlint plan

You still can turn to a brighter life -

A pint of plain is your only man.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Guide to Daily Prayer

By Friar Rex, Hermit
March 14, 2009

"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." (Step 11 of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous)

Not a few people have come to me over the years asking me about "prayer and meditation." Though I am and always will be only a beginner in the school of prayer, I share my experience, strength and hope in the power of prayer and meditation--both of which I consider a form of "Divine Therapy", to coin a phrase used by Fr. Thomas Keating--in hopes that my fellow pilgrims can indeed improve their conscious contact with God and come to know Christ Who presides over us all.

Below you will find a copy of the hand-out I give folks when they come to see me. Nothing you will read is original with me. Indeed, "there is nothing new under the sun." What I share I learned from others. If what you read proves helpful to you on your journey, take it with you and to God be all the glory. If you find some or all of it less than helpful, leave it.

Pax et Bonum,
~ Friar Rex


A Guide to Daily Prayer

Preparation for Prayer

The purpose of prayer is:

1. To improve my conscious contact with God.

2. To enhance my usefulness to others.

3. To develop humility, making it possible for me to receive God's grace and guidance.

As I understand God, God is..... (Take a few moments to contemplate your developing understanding of God as you remain clean & sober one day at a time.)


Prayer In The Morning

1. Today I ask God to . . .

a.) . . . direct my thinking and actions, to especially divorce my thoughts and actions from motives of:

- Selfishness

- Self-seeking

- Self-pity

- Resentment

- Fear

- Dishonesty

b.) . . . clear my thinking of wrong motives that I may better know and do God’s will.

2. I Think about the 24 hours ahead:

a.) What will I DO?

b.) Who will I BE?

3. I Ask God to clarify my vision of God’s will for me today. How can I best serve God and my fellows?

4. When I feel indecisive: I ask God to give me an inspiration, an intuitive thought, or some other way of making God’s will clear to me. I ask God to help me relax and take it easy, to trust, to stop struggling, to "let go and let God."

5. I ask God for:

a.) (Knowledge) Show me all throughout the day the next right thing to do.

b.) (Power) Give me whatever I need to take care of tasks and problems.

c.) (Freedom) Free me from self-will.

d.) (Love) Show me the way of patience, tolerance, kindness, and compassion.

e.) (Service) Allow me an opportunity to be useful and helpful to at least one other person.


Prayer Throughout The Day

I pray for knowledge of God's will and the power to carry it out.

1. I pause when agitated or doubtful and ask for the correct thought or action.

2. Many times during the day I humbly pray, "Thy will, not mine, be done."

3. I ask God what I can do for others, especially the person who still suffers from active addiction.


Prayer In The Evening

I identify and pray for the removal of character defects, internal obstacles which block God from acting in or through me.

1. I constructively review my day (without fear or favor).

a.) Was I:

- Resentful?

- Selfish?

- Dishonest?

- Afraid?

- _______?

- _______?

- _______?

b.) What motives were underneath my:

- Intentions?

- Thoughts?

- Acts?

- Efforts?

c.) Do I owe an apology?

d.) Have I kept something to myself that should be discussed with my sponsor or a trusted friend at once?

e.) Was I patient, tolerant, loving, kind, caring and compassionate toward all?

f.) What could I have done better?

g.) Was I thinking of myself most of the time?

h.) Or was I thinking of what I could do for others?

2. I ask God's forgiveness for those times when I failed to live according to God’s will.

3. I ask what corrective measures should be taken.

4. I thank God for blessings received.

5. I pray for the willingness to try again tomorrow!

Note: Matt Talbot practiced Step 11 decades before the creation of Alcoholics Anonymous. (JB)