Saturday, January 24, 2009

A "Crisis" Novena

One of Matt Talbot's regular spiritual practices was saying novenas.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis, including addiction, this link may be of interest: Crisis Novena

Even if you are not currently experiencing a crisis or have never said a novena, you may still find value in reading the content for each of the 9 days of this novena.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Prayer to Matt Talbot on behalf of marginalized people

Whereas prayers to Matt Talbot are almost entirely focused on him as the patron for alcoholics and other addicts, this prayer was posted on a parish website that also views Matt among social justice saints and saintly people (JB)

Matthew Talbot, you were born into poverty, among a marginalized people, and you went right to the edge as an alcoholic.

By the same grace that rescued you from alienation and despair, we ask your intercession today on behalf of all who are marginalized in this world.

See how the strong prey upon the weak and the violence and despair and alienation and oppression which afflicts so many.

We pray that your example of solidarity with the poor will be an inspiration for many to follow your holy example. Amen


Saturday, January 17, 2009

"An Ordinary Person as Hero"

Homily for the Annual Mass of Thanksgiving for the Staff and Volunteers of the Matt Talbot Homeless Services

and for the launch of One Man’s Serenity: The Venerable Matthew Talbot,
St Mary’s Cathedral Crypt

By Most Rev. Anthony Fisher OP
Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney


Ours is an age of addictions: to substances such as alcohol and other drugs or junk food, to gambling, pornography and the internet, to night-clubs, entertainments and experiences, to work and professional advancement, to sex, money, power. In some ways, you might say, these are the ancient enemies, even if the e-technologies and the e-drugs provide new faces for them and a new drawing and holding power. When the first Christians sought to express what was distinctive about their faith and life, they focused especially on their new-found freedom from sex, money and power - the possessions that like demons take can possession of our souls. Some early Christians took the dramatic step of consecrating themselves to the so-called ‘evangelical counsels' of poverty, chastity and obedience. But even those Christians who were not called to such drastic renunciation were nonetheless expected to live free of such controlling forces. Nothing must get in the way of our true humanity and our freedom to give ourselves to the kingdom of God. Not even good things like family, friendship, conviviality, intimacy, food and drink, security, comfort…

The world has always needed examples of such ascetical renunciation, of people who can say No, not just to bad things (which we all should do), but even to some good things, because they know they are not good for them or that they must offer prophetic witness to the world around them. We probably need examples of radical poverty, chastity and obedience more than ever in our consumerist, sex-crazed, individualist age, and sadly there are too few priests and consecrated religious giving such witness today. Which casts the duty back on the laity.

Matthew Talbot, whom we celebrate tonight, demonstrates that ordinary people can do such extraordinary things. He illustrates that people can renounce even very desirable things such as alcohol, even if they suffer an almost-overwhelming physiological, or psychological, or social, or moral, or spiritual magnetism to such things. People can, by God’s grace and their own self-acceptance, say No. And in the meantime our community must never lose hope for them, must always care for them.

People need such heroes. Not heroes in the sense of comic book or movie superheroes with superhuman powers. Not sports stars or pop stars, all art and pizzazz but often little moral substance. No, ordinary people who against extraordinary odds do the right thing. Like saying no to an addiction or compulsion. Like helping those who are trying and maybe failing. Or like housing those fleeing demons of other kinds, such as domestic violence.

As a boy I knew that my grandfather had, while a senior public servant here in Sydney, often spent his lunchtimes or other spare time working as a volunteer at the old Matt Talbot hostel hostel. My parents, too, have devoted much of their supposed retirement to the works of the St Vincent de Paul Society. Both generations, like Matt Talbot's immediately before them, have by their example spoken to me about human possibilities under grace, of the great things that are possible even for ordinary people. Matt Talbot's life and inspiration, and the movements, institutions and individuals that honour him, point us forward to recovery and hope for those who will accept their weakness and need. Such people stand like beacons in our world, as the consecrated virgins of the first millennium or the habited religious of the second. Beacons of the abiding truth that we can give some things up in order to achieve some greater things.

Such people are beacons, also, of the fundamental religious truth that there is more to the human person and the world, more to life and all reality, than meets the eye. Our readings for this Sunday tell us that all that we see around us in this beautiful but broken world will one day come to an end. In the apocalyptic language of natural disaster and unnatural violence, the consummation of the world, the Dies Iræ, is predicted (Luke 21:5-19). In the meantime we are called to fortitude, forbearance, patience, especially in the face of external persecutions and internal weaknesses. That hard kind of endurance is a defining characteristic of the whole Christian life. And it is testified to in the lives of those like Matthew Talbot who deny themselves alcohol or some other comfort or intimacy or self-will for the sake of their own good or that of others. They point to another – a better – world, where all self-destructive or other-destructive drives will come to an end, where people will live in harmony of body, mind and spirit, in harmony too with each other, with creation and with God.

Our Gospel lesson tonight is clear enough: we all need to cultivate the habit and persevere in the act of unfailing watchfulness: standing ready, rejecting evil, vigilant through constant prayer and the practice of patience. Despite the dire predictions, this is not ultimately for the Christian a matter of living in fear and trembling – though a certain holy awe is always in order. Above all it is a matter of living with a quiet confidence: for Jesus teaches that we should look forward to his coming to us, or our coming to him.

Nor is this waiting a merely passive guard-duty: our watching and waiting, our praying and persevering, actually hastens the coming of God’s kingdom, in us and around us. That is why Paul counsels us to get to and do our bit, to get on with it (2 Thess 3:7-12). He is not just criticizing laziness and busy-bodiness, but also that kind of complacency or hopelessness that awaits Christ’s return in stupefying idleness or paralysing anxiety. No, he says, we apostles worked night and day for building up the kingdom of God and so should you.

The St Vincent de Paul Society – and the great work of all of you attached to the Matt Talbot Hostel in Woolloomooloo and your 37 homeless services and women’s refuges in NSW-ACT operating under the banner of Matt Talbot Homeless Services – could never be accused of just sitting back and waiting for things to happen. We thank God and you for your generous service. In following the inspiration of St Vincent de Paul, Blessed Frederick Ozanam and Venerable Matt Talbot you tell the world that there is more to life than “sex and drugs and rock’n’roll”; that there is hope for every broken heart; and that by God’s love and yours God’s kingdom comes – into our hearts, our homes, our world.

That is a sight ultimately more persuasive than earthquakes, plagues and any other ‘heavenly’ signs. We Christians live the future even in the here and now. We accept our responsibility with regard to our times and invest each moment with its full weight of eternity. We know the importance of our rôle in rousing our slumbering world which is in danger of losing its soul through addiction to consumerism, violence, ideology, self-indulgence. So it is we who are called to be the signs of the end-times, to work hard to change what we can and to entrust what we can’t to God: serenely to let God’s kingdom come, now on earth as it is in heaven.


Friday, January 16, 2009

Communion Reflection on Change

Saint Anthony Catholic Church Bulletin
05 March 2006
Kraainem, Belgium

If we wish to change the outer aspects of our lives, we must first change the inner attitudes of our minds. The miracle of inner change is possible. History and literature are full of examples: Paul on the road to Damascus, Charles Dickens' miser Scrooge, Matt Talbot the alcoholic. Something happened inside each of these, and they become new people.

Change requires the substituting of new habits for old ones. It calls for self-discipline. You have to command yourself and make yourself do what needs to be done.

The change of heart to which Lent calls us can be accomplished most of all through the power of prayer.

Lord, each spring you renew the face of the earth. May you also renew each of us, so that we may be able to celebrate Easter in newness of mind and heart.


Note: Even the mention of Matt Talbot in this brief reflection can enhance peoples' awareness of his existence and potential influence.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Sorrowful Mysteries of Addiction

One of Matt Talbot's many spiritual practices was his devotion to the rosary. Not only did he pray the rosary in church and in his room but even if there was a lull at work, Matt was seen by co-workers to retire to a quiet corner among the stacks of wood to recite his rosary on his knees. Along with chains, a heavy rosary was found around his neck at the time of his death.

For those interested in praying a rosary today, James Hahn has provided us with "The Sorrowful Mysteries of Addiction." It can be found at

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Keeping New Year's Resolutions with the Help of Jesus

As we begin a new calendar year and perhaps have made resolutions, we include this article about making and keeping such resolutions from an Ignatian perspective. We do so since Matt Talbot was influenced in his conversion and recovery by such priests, as his friend, Fr. James Walsh, S.J., and because this article notes quitting addictive behavior and stresses the importance of reforming or changing our desires through the process of getting to know Jesus and falling in love with him, which Matt did. The source of this article is found at

Making and Keeping New Year's Resolutions:
A New Beginning, with a New Relationship with Jesus

Why should I make any New Year's Resolutions? I never keep them.

Almost all of us have had the experience of wanting to begin a new year resolving to improve, to do some things better than we have before. It is natural to have hope, to want to believe we aren't stuck in the ways we currently behave, and yet, all of us have the experience that we haven't done too well with our past resolutions. In fact, at this time of the year, the newspaper cartoons almost always point out the humorous side of our trying to make resolutions that don't seem to have a chance of succeeding.

Why do our resolutions so often fail?

So often our good intentions fail and fail quickly. There are many reasons, of course, and some of them relate to how realistic our resolving is, but sometimes, we resolve to end addictive behavior without really giving it a chance. Most of the time, most of our resolutions are our best attempts at just having stronger will power. Though there are outstanding examples of heroic virtue, and some people really do quit addictive behavior "cold turkey," there are far too many examples of failure.

One instinct deep in Ignatian Spirituality is the sense that, while it is good to develop stronger will power and self-control, real change in our lives actually happens most reliably when it comes from our deepest desires. Ignatius knew, from his own experience, just as we often discover in therapy, in spiritual direction, upon reflection on our own experience, that usually do what we want to do. We rarely do what we don't want to do. The secret to change is to reform our desires - discovering what our deepest desires are and trying to change or re-form them. This was no self-help process for Ignatius and many of the Saints. It was the process of getting to know Jesus and falling in love with him. Once we fall in love with someone, all our desiring changes.

Don't I already know Jesus? Don't I already have a relationship with him?

Often this sounds too simple to us. Don't I already know Jesus? Haven't I already fallen in love with him? Of course, hearing the invitation at the beginning of this new year to examine our relationships with Jesus, and let them be renewed this upcoming year, begins with the freedom to acknowledge that there is room for growth here. And, it starts with something of an attraction, a small desire, even a bit of curiosity that wonders, "What more can I discover? How might my heart be more captured by Jesus?"

Love always directs our hearts. But, there are other spirits, too. At times we discover the sad reality that falling out of love changes our hearts dramatically, too. Once we lose that affection, that attraction, that draw, then trouble begins. Whereas before we experienced a wonderful energy that wants to spend as much time as we can with someone we love, and wants to do anything we can for the one we love, now we experience a coolness, an emptiness, a distance, and unfortunately, at times, the other starts to annoy us. Sometimes we say, "it just happened," but upon reflection, we realize sadly that there was sin involved. We made some bad choices, some selfish choices. We stopped contributing to the relationship. What isn't growing is usually dying. And, of course, sin is contagious and we live in a culture that doesn't support self-less loving. There are the messages: What about me? What about my needs? We tend to keep score. There are bad spirits among us that seem determined to make loving difficult, that seem to prevent wounds from healing, that seem to promote division, highlight differences and ultimately lead to war. This whole pattern, which we have understood as "Original Sin" has described for us what we is overcome by Jesus' coming, and by his life, death, resurrection and gift of the Spirit. Jesus destroyed sin and death's power over us. Re-connecting with him this new year is re-connecting with his power to free our hearts to love again.

How do we get to know and fall in love with Jesus?

Getting to get to know Jesus in a new way, at a deeper level is just like getting to know anyone. We begin by spending more time with a person. We pay attention to them. We get to know their story more completely. Eventually, we become more and more curious and more and more fascinated by how the person acts, what motivates that person, how he or she thinks. Of course, the key here is not only to learn more about Jesus, but to come to really know him, to experience a relationship. It is easy to imagine that Jesus knows me. It is more difficult to imagine that I am in a relationship with Jesus, and we know each other and there is something special about this relationship. For example, some of us will get to know Jesus and become really fascinated by his mother and father and that will shape our sense of who he is and our relationship with him. Some of us will come to love the way he chooses and interacts with his disciples. Many of us will learn a great deal about Jesus from how he tells stories and reveals things about God and about the Kingdom of God. Still others of us will become engaged by how Jesus interacts with and heals sinners and sick people. Perhaps we will identify with this or that story which will characterize our particular relationship with him.

What about my resolutions?

While we are getting to get to know the Lord the things we may have been tempted to resolve begin to change. We may still need to lose weight and exercise more, but what will inevitably rise to the surface are patterns that are like his. Attraction so naturally leads to imitation. The more we fall in love with this wonderful Lord and his powerful way of loving and surrendering his life to the plan of the Father, that he be Servant for us, the more we will open our hearts to ask the Father to use us, to be servants, too. Then our desiring starts to be transformed. We will gradually and more deeply begin to ask for the graces we need - which is a more humble place to begin that making bold promises. We'll ask our Lord to purify our desiring. We ask to for the grace to be drawn into the pattern of Jesus' loving and forgiving. We ask for the desire to surrender more, to let go of our own needs more completely so that we can give ourselves to the needs of others first. We will begin to see the people closest to us with Jesus' eyes, with Jesus' heart. Our love for them won't depend upon how much they please us or even how much they reciprocate our love. That isn't the way Jesus loves us. Jesus loves us because we are sinners. Jesus loves us because we need forgiving and healing. Jesus loves us because we need loving.

Gradually, our resolutions get freer and more about self-donation. We say, "Lord, these are my desires and I am asking you for the grace to live them." Gradually, the other spirits lose their power, their attraction. As Jesus confronts and contradicts the values of our culture in us and around us, the sillier all that kind of desiring becomes. We don't change our way of consuming and change our way of seeing our role in the world or hear the cry of the poor day after day by strengthening our will power. Our life style and our choices really become transformed when we become people who know, beyond anything else, that we are loved unconditionally by our God. When we become lovers of Jesus, we will naturally love the way he loves. When we become followers of Jesus this will be a blessed new year, indeed. And those who are sinners among us, the poor around the world, and those who suffer the tragic effects of sin, division and war, will experience the difference.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The beginning of a new year

Our wish for you this first day and each day of 2009 is found in the FIRST READING for today (Numbers 6:22-27):

May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord let his face shine on you and be gracious to you.
May the Lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace.

Mary, Mother of God
Thursday, 1st January, 2009

For many of us, the beginning of a new year means making a list of resolutions. But did you know that God also has a New Year’s resolution? His resolution is to bless you! His resolution is to transform your life as you embrace his vision for you.

We spend so much of our Christian lives thinking about what we are supposed to do for God. But what about all the things that God intends to do for us? And what better example of the generosity and kindness of God can we have for this disposition than the Virgin Mary? Before she was even conceived, Mary was marked out by God to be the mother of his Son. From the moment of her conception, the Lord blessed her and kept her, preserving her from the stain of original sin. She did nothing to earn such a blessing. It was bestowed upon her by a loving, generous God.

What about you? Are you spending today thinking only of the ways you are going to change your life? Don’t limit yourself! Don’t limit God! He sees you as precious and unique. He rejoices over you and wants the best for you in all things. He is determined to stand up for you and intervene in your life. Perhaps today, as a new year begins, you can take some time to recall all the ways God has blessed you in the past and then tell him that you want to receive his gifts this year as well.

No matter what you face this year, trust that God can give you his peace. Believe that his face is always shining on you. Then when challenges arise, just turn your face to him, and you will know his strength and his presence. God has an amazing year in store for you! So be like Mary, and stay close to him. Let nothing block his flow of blessings!

Note: for more information about the "Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God," see