Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Serenity Prayer

[As we conclude 2011 and begin 2012, we might pray the “long-form” of the “Serenity Prayer,” not only daily but frequently throughout each day as millions do. (An internet search on "Serenity Prayer Interpretation" will provide a wealth of information.)]

"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can, and
Wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life and
Supremely happy with Him forever in the next."

Attributed to Rev. Reinhold Niebuhr

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

New “Matt Talbot Way of Recovery Support Network” Online

According to Paul at Sober Catholic (, a new Matt Talbot Way of Recovery Yahoo Group Online has now been established. Directions for joining are available at his link. The following description about this group is available at


Catholic? Are you suffering from an addiction, or trying to maintain your recovery? Then you've come to the right place! Welcome to the Matt Talbot Way of Recovery, a Yahoo Group where you can find other Catholics who are alcoholics or addicts. Our purpose is to transfer our love for our addictive substance or behavior onto Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The only requirement for membership is a desire to grow in the Catholic Faith and to stay sober, clean and chaste! Share with other members in your emails or direct postings here your struggles with sobriety, chastity, drugs and other addictions. Whether it is something directly related to your addiction and struggle to stay free, or maybe a life problem that in the past was your excuse to practice your addiction, email the Group or post here your thoughts, feelings and concerns.

In the process we will also learn about Venerable Matt Talbot, an Irishman who gave up drinking and who by all accounts basically lived the Twelve Steps, even though they had not been even conceived and written down yet. He lived a sober life, without a Twelve Step Movement to support him, by living out the Catholic sacraments.

We are NOT affiliated with ANY recovery movement. Doesn't matter what other recovery program you've used (or still use, or even if you've ever used one), all Catholics faithful to the Church or who desire to be faithful but are finding it difficult are welcome. No criticism of other member's recovery programs (or lack of) will be permitted. Charitable, sensitive opinions offered are acceptable. Bring your experience in recovery to the forums and in messages, but be tolerant of different approaches. As long as they work, its cool.

This place is NOT a substitute for therapy or medical help. All advice and suggestions are based on one's personal experience, and may not be suitable for all. If you have mental or medical complications due to your addiction, please see qualified personnel.”

Disclaimer: The placing of information on our Venerable Matt Talbot Resource Center site from external linked sources does not necessarily imply agreement with that information or content.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Brief introductory video about Venerable Matt Talbot

This 1:27 minute video about the "man who overcame alcohol to become a devout Catholic” was posted by Real Catholic TV on June 23, 2011 at Saint of the Day : Venerable Matt Talbot 06-18 - YouTube

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Programme about the Life of Matt Talbot on 1st December, 2011 on TG4

“A programme about the life of Matt Talbot will be broadcast on Thursday 1st December at 10.00pm on TG4 as part of the Scéalta Átha Cliath series. (

Scéalta Átha Cliath
chronicles Dublin’s rich and diverse history in an eight-part profile and celebration of some of the capital city’s most famous personages or venues. From Molly Malone and Bang Bang to Matt Talbot and Orson Welles’ teenage stage début as well as the strange goings on at the Hellfire Club, this really is Dublin’s history uncovered.” (

Update: A review of this film was posted on 3/1/2012.

Photographs and relics related to Matt Talbot's life

Pilgrimage to the Tomb of Matt Talbot

“On Saturday 27th November, as the Matt Talbot Novena concludes, some parishioners from St. Senan's Parish, Shannon, Co. Clare made a pilgrimage of Matt Talbot in Sean McDermott Street, Dublin.
Fr. Brian Lawless, the vice postulator for the cause of Venerable Matt Talbot, celebrated Mass for the pilgrims at the tomb. He also spoke about the life of Matt and shared the relics with those who had come on pilgrimage...Our thanks to Pat Grue for the photographs.”

[Triple-click each photograph to enlarge]



Matt Talbot and the History of A.A. in Dublin

Alcoholics Anonymous in Dublin celebrates its 65th anniversary this month.

While Matt Talbot died ten years before the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith in Akron, Ohio, USA, in 1935 and 21 years before the first AA meeting was held in Dublin on November 18, 1946, Matt's journey of continuous sobriety was based on the resources that were available in Dublin during the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Certainly not to detract from his religious practices and individual approach to recovery (see, former Vice-Postulator of the Cause of Matt Talbot, Fr. Morgan Costello, has noted in his publication,"Matt Talbot: Hope for Addicts" (1987; 2001), that elements of A.A.’s twelve-steps can be identified in Matt’s recovery.

Three articles related to the history of Alcoholics Anonymous in Dublin can be found at:

Monday, November 21, 2011

St. Francis of Assisi: Another Patron Saint of Alcoholics?

[St. Francis of Assisi is perhaps most typically thought of as the patron saint of animals, ecology, and peace. But according to the recovering alcoholic quoted in the article below by Fr. Joe, we might add "patron of alcoholics," not because St. Francis was an alcoholic but because of the peace prayer attributed to him (see "Note" below). This prayer is included in the chapter about the 11th step of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous in the book, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (page 99). According to the editor of this book, which was written by Bill Wilson, co-founder of A.A., Tom Powers is said to have commented that Bill W. considered St. Francis as the patron saint of Alcoholics Anonymous (

While Venerable Matt Talbot may not have been aware of this prayer, St. Francis of Assisi was an important model for Matt as he joined the
Third Order of St. Francis, known today as the Franciscan Secular Order, in 1890, six years into recovery.]

"St. Francis: Patron of Drunks"

Fr. Joe Tonos

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A while back, a woman came to me and said she wasn't Catholic but she had a devotion to St. Francis. Thinking that she, like many others, knew of St. Francis as the "patron saint of yard ornaments, "I was waiting to hear what she had to say. She then surprised me and said, "He's the patron saint of drunks!" I had not heard that before.
She then explained that in the twelve step program of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), St. Francis' "Peace Prayer" is offered as a prayer to those who are recovering. His prayer is used in the context of "self-searching" on the way to being a better person. His prayer is in the "Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions" book of AA. The woman was a recovering alcoholic.

Here's an excerpt from the book:

First let’s look at a really good prayer. We won’t have far to seek; the great men and women of all religions have left us a wonderful supply. Here let us consider one that is a classic.

Its author was a man who for several hundred years now as been rated as a saint. We won’t be biased or scared off by that fact, because although he was not an alcoholic he id, like us, go through the emotional wringer. And as he came out the other side of that painful experience, this prayer was his expression of what he could then see, feel, and wish to become:

“Lord, make me a channel of thy peace—that where there is hatred, I may bring love—that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness—that where there is discord, I may bring harmony—that where there is error, I may bring truth—that where there is doubt, I may bring faith—that where there is despair, I may bring hope—that where there are shadows, I may bring light—that where there is sadness, I may bring joy. Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted—to under­stand, than to be understood—to love, than to be loved. For it is by self-forgetting that one finds. It is by forgiving that one is forgiven. It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life. Amen.”
As beginners in meditation, we might now reread this prayer several times very slowly, savoring every word and trying to take in the deep meaning of each phrase and idea.

Click here for the direct reference.

The woman concluded her praise of the saint with this, and I paraphrase, "St. Francis was an irascible, ill-tempered man when he could be and he once wrote that, 'When I am at my worst, when I am at odds with everyone and everything, it is then I pause and give God thanks because he has shown me what I would be without his grace.' She then peaceably with a smile said, "He understands us alcoholics."

In response to this posted article, one person stated that "ÄA relies a lot on the St. Francis prayer to remove the alcoholic from his selfish, self-centered ways. Living the AA program is to live a life of service, a life devoted to helping all children of God."

Note: Two sources that dispute that St. Francis was the author of the Peace Prayer can be found at and

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Interceding for those who are addicted

by the Christian Brothers of the Midwest (USA)

“It has been said that all addiction is search for God, though addicts unfortunately search in the wrong places - whether in alcohol, drugs, gambling, food, pornography, or work, or in another person, through codependency, sex, or love. In order to recover from addiction, addicts must learn to search elsewhere for their Higher Power.

Many recovering alcoholics, however, have difficulties with prayer and traditional notions of God. For some, childhood experiences of religious communities and leaders have left them feeling alienated from organized religion. At the same time, they are learning Twelve-Step programs that in
order to ground themselves and find the spiritual center from which their recovery can grow, they need to cultivate their spirituality. Others, who may have strong religious beliefs, presently often feel alienated from God. Feeling guilt about the harm they caused themselves and others during
their active addiction, newly recovering addicts can all too easily shy away from contact with their Higher Power at a time when it is crucial to reopen those channels of communication. Let us pray today for all those fighting a demon in their lives...”

Source: Please go to Interced For Addicted or for the entire six page article, which includes a very brief biography and prayer to Venerable Matt Talbot.

Note: For other special intentions on this website, go to

Sunday, October 30, 2011

This Drug Addict is a Martyred Saint

This Addict is a Saint
by Jim Manney
The Blog of Ignatian Spirituality
September 22, 2011

A friend of mine recently sent me a unusual holy card. It honors St. Mark Ji Tianxiang, a Chinese layman who was murdered in 1900, along with dozens of other Catholics in his village, in the vicious persecution of Christians during the Boxer rebellion. That’s not the unusual thing. The Church has canonized many martyrs, including many Chinese martyrs. What’s unusual about St. Mark is that he was an opium addict who was barred from receiving the sacraments for the last 30 years of his life

Mark couldn’t receive communion because his addiction was regarded as gravely sinful and scandalous. He prayed for deliverance from his addiction, but deliverance never came. Nevertheless he remained a believing Catholic. At his trial he was given a chance to renounce his faith, but he refused. It is said that he sang the litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary as he was led to his execution.

Saints are exemplary people. The Church creates them so we can learn from them. So what can we learn from St. Mark Ji Tianxiang?

For starters, he shows that anybody can become a saint—even a man who was kicked out of the church for giving public scandal. By canonizing him, the Church also signals a different attitude toward addiction than the one St. Mark’s pastors had a century ago. Drug abuse is sinful, but addiction is also a disease of the mind and body. Addicts today are not excluded from the sacraments because they are addicts.

I also marvel at St. Mark’s confidence in the mercy of God. He probably shared the village’s opinion of him—that he was serious sinner who was behaving terribly. He must have felt despair in his futile struggles and perhaps some bitterness too. But he persevered in his faith. I suspect that in his brokenness he met the suffering Christ. In the end, he went to his death confidently, trusting that love would receive him. 
May we all imitate St. Mark.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Addiction-A Description of the Human Condition?

[Perhaps our perception of addiction (to only a substance or process) will be expanded by contemplating the content of this sermon.]

A Sermon on My Alcohol Addiction, the Tyranny of the Will, and Romans 7
by Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber
Sojourner Magazine Blog

Even I can’t help admitting that there is a bunch of stuff in the Bible that’s hard to relate to. A lot has changed in the last 2,000 to 4,000 years, and I have no form of reference for shepherds and agrarian life, and I don’t know what it’s like to have a king or a Caesar, and I don’t know a single fisherman, much less a centurion, and I guess I can’t speak for all of you but personally I’ve never felt I might need to sacrifice a goat for my sins. That’s the thing about our sacred text being so dang old — it can sometimes be difficult to relate to. Things have changed a bit over the millennia.

But one thing has not changed even a little bit is the human condition. Parts of the Bible can feel hard to relate to until you get to a thing like this reading from Romans 7, in which Paul says, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”

Finally. Something I can relate to. This I know about. I too do not understand my own actions. I too can’t manage to consistently do what I know is right. Paul’s simple description of the human condition is perhaps a most elegantly put definition of what we now call addiction.

It’s no secret that I am a recovering alcoholic. By the grace of God I have been clean and sober for more than 19 years. But, boy, do I remember that feeling of powerlessness that comes from not being able to control your drinking. I’d wake up each morning and have a little talk with myself: “OK Nadia, get it together. Today is going to be different. You just need a little will power.” Then, inevitably, later that day I’d say, “Well, just one drink would be OK,” or, “I’ll only drink wine and not vodka,” or, “I’ll drink a glass of water between drinks so that I won’t get drunk.” And sometimes it worked, but mostly it didn’t. In the end, my will was just never “strong enough” Like Paul, I did the thing I hated. But that’s addiction for you. It’s ugly. Yet on some level I feel like we recovering alcoholics and drug addicts have it easy. I mean, our addictions are so obvious. The emotional, spiritual, and physical wreckage caused by alcoholism and drug addiction has a certain conspicuousness to it.

But the truth is, we are not actually special. I mean, our whole culture is addicted. It’s not just drunks who wake up in the morning and say, “Today, it’s gonna be different.” Perhaps some of you have done some “self-talk” recently. Perhaps some of you have tried to garner up just a little more will power. “Today, I won’t eat compulsively,” or, “I’ll not yell at my kids,” or, “I’ll not spend money I don’t have on things I don’t need.” Today, unlike yesterday, I won’t consume pornography or flirt with my married co-worker or look up my ex-boyfriend on Facebook. Today, I will finally stand up for myself. Today, I will not play video games. Today, I will really look for a job. Today, I will not lie to myself. Today, I will start meditating and become a vegan and start training for a marathon and go back to college and go to the container store so I can organize my closet and be in control.

But we’re not. We’re not in control. That would be the point. We’re addicted to poison, and people, and praise, and possessions, and power. And sometimes I think the church and society fuel a very particular addiction to proving our worthiness.

We live in a worthiness driven culture. The pressure to be successful, hide your weaknesses, get ahead, make your own way in the world … to pull yourself up by your boot straps, win at all costs, and be as impressive as possible to the most people as possible is what drives our entire cultural and economic system. So naturally we think that we should be able to solve our problems through will power and a protestant work ethic. The human will, whether it be a strong will which thinks it can take care of its own problems, or a weak will which just dissolves in the face of addiction, is just about the worst place to look for salvation. The source of my problems simply cannot also be the solution to my problems. I need something or someone external to myself to save me from myself. There simply is no amount of self-talk that is going to save me. No amount of self-help, no amount of determination or gumption. There is God and God alone.

The 12 steps, which (Fr.) Richard Rohr calls America’s single yet very important contribution to human spirituality works precisely because it isn’t a self-help program at all. That’s the point. Isn’t it interesting that one of the most truly transformative things to come out of America — The 12-steps of Alcoholics Anonymous — is based not on proving your worthiness, but on admitting your failure?

The genius is that the people who started AA recognized that addiction isn’t a drinking problem or a gambling problem or a food problem. It’s not a problem of the will, see, it’s a problem of the soul. It’s a putting-something-in-the-center-of-our-lives-other-than-God problem. And, as such, it can only have a spiritual solution. It took us a while to figure this out, but St. Paul knew it all along. Because as long as we hold out thinking that just a little more will power will do the trick, we remain hopeless. As Paul says, I can will what’s right, but I cannot do it.

So who will save us from this body of death, as Paul calls it? Well, the world gives us but one solution: our will. And as the saying goes — when the only tool I have is a hammer, all my problems look like nails. And I just pound away at everything. But the gospel changes all of that. The gospel of Jesus Christ tells us to lay down our silly little hammers and let God do for us what only God can do for us. Jesus doesn’t say, “the solution to your problem is to just try harder.” And our brothers and sisters in 12-step fellowships can tell us that the freedom we gain from our addictions comes only from admitting that we are a mess and that our will is not going to save us. We must, instead, believe that God and only God can restore us, and we must turn our will over to the care of God.

To be sure, the burden of the too strong or too weak will is heavy. It’s exhausting. It’s futile. And so we must hear Jesus say, “Lay it down. Lay down your addictions and fixations and compulsions and all the ways you suffer from the additions, fixations, and compulsions of others. Lay them here at the foot of the cross. Lay them atop the blood- and tear-soaked dirt at the foot of the place where God allowed human will to take its inevitable course. Lay your weighty burden on the holy ground where human ambition was allowed to play itself out to it’s logical conclusion. Here is where you can be free from the bondage of the self.”

Jesus says for the weary and heavy-laden to come to him. You can stop believing in your sin management programs and futile exercises in will power because he is simply stronger than all of it. We can all take comfort that it is not our wills, but the will of the God who named and claimed us which has the strength and power to transform us. Us — the addicted, the proud, the lazy, the failures, the washed-out and those on top of their game. Lay down your burdens and he shall give you sweet rest. For your worthiness lies not in the strength of your will, but in the unyielding determination of God’s Divine Love, which is simply too fierce to leave you unchanged.

Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran pastor living in Denver, Colorado.

Note: For those interested in additional reading related to addiction and sin, two books by J. Keith Miller might be of interest: Hunger for Healing (1991) and Sin: Overcoming the Ultimately Deadly Addiction (1987). In the former book Keith mentions a twelve-step group started around 1988 in Texas called “Sinners Anonymous.”

One man's journey in recovery

From time to time we post articles, interviews, and books about an individual’s journey in recovering from alcoholism. One book, for example, is that after concluding he did not care for the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, Philip Maynard studied the life and approach to recovery of Matt Talbot, which he personally followed and later wrote the “training manual,” To Slake a Thirst: The Matt Talbot Way to Sobriety (2000).

At the same time, it is important to note that although Matt Talbot began his recovery from alcoholism in 1884 (at age 28) and died ten years before the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous in the USA in 1935 and in Dublin in 1946, Fr. Morgan Costello, long-time former Vice-Postulator for the Cause of the Venerable Matt Talbot, has written that Matt’s approach to overcoming alcoholism did incorporate the twelve steps of AA along with Matt’s personal and Roman Catholic practices. [See Fr. Costelloe’s booklet, Matt Talbot: Hope for Addicts (2001 edition), Veritas Publications, Dublin or available through Matt Talbot Retreats at]

Although he does not mention Matt Talbot per se, the subject of the interview with John Garcia, found at, describes his recovery journey as moving from a 12 steps approach to a Roman Catholic based approach. In reading this interview it is essential to also read the many comments that articulate agreement and disagreement with Mr. Garcia’s views, especially regarding AA.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Matt Talbot Novena, October 2011



"This year’s Novena begins on Tuesday 4th October at 7pm in SS John & Paul Church and continues for the Tuesdays of October and November. Each week, we pray for all suffering or sharing in the life of addictions. Petitions are available at the Shrine or by completing the form at the bottom of the page" at

Additional information can be found at

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Martyred Saint Who Couldn't Stay Sober But Remained Steadfast in His Faith

Homily for September 25, 2011: 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
by Deacon Greg Kandra 
September 24, 2011

Here at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, it’s customary to remember and honor the martyrs of different cultures. This weekend, we’ll have a special mass commemorating a Filipino martyr, Lorenzo Ruiz. We also have special masses for the Korean Martyrs and the Chinese martyrs.

Last week, I learned something remarkable about one of the martyrs whose feast we celebrated this summer: St. Mark Ji Tianxiang. He was a Chinese layman who was executed in 1900, along with dozens of other Catholics in his village during a bloody persecution of Christians. St. Mark was steadfast in his faith, and refused to renounce it – and for that, he gave his life.

That is extraordinary enough. But so are the circumstances under which he died.

St. Mark, you see, was an addict. An opium addict. In the 19th century, the Church didn’t understand addiction as it does now – and his life was seen as gravely sinful and scandalous. As a result, for 30 years Mark Ji Tianxiang was denied communion. Yet his devotion never wavered. Witnesses say that he sang a litany to the Blessed Mother as he was led to his death.

It is tempting for us to think of saints as superhuman – and certainly, many of them, like St. Mark Ji Tianxiang, show phenomenal courage and commitment to the faith. But his story also reminds us: whether or not a saint is superhuman, he or she is also human.

Jesus understood that, and it’s one of the points in this Sunday’s gospel. He told the story of two sons – one obedient, one disobedient – and made clear that sometimes the person who appears to be the holiest, or who seems to say the right thing, isn’t necessarily the one doing God’s will.

“Tax collectors and prostitutes,” he said to the chief priests, “are entering the kingdom of God before you.”

This was a shocking thought at the time – but one that should be familiar to all of us today. The story of our church, after all, is a story of transformation, of change.

It is a story of salvation and redemption – of changing course, and beginning again.

It’s the story of people starting over.

It’s been said that the Church isn’t a museum for stained glass saints – but a hospital for sinners.

Well, we are all patients in that particular hospital. Some of us are in intensive care. But a lot of remarkable people have been here before us.

There was Peter the liar, and Thomas the doubter, and Paul the persecutor and the thief called Dismas, who was saved in the final moments of his life by Jesus on the cross. There was Mary of Egypt, a prostitute. There was Augustine the pagan, who had a mistress and a child. There was Dorothy Day, who had an abortion, and Matt Talbot, who was an alcoholic.

There was St. Mark Ji Tianxiang, addicted to opium.

And there’s you and me. No matter how we’ve sinned, or what choices we’ve made, God holds out this beautiful possibility: no matter what we have done, we can still be saints. Like the son in the parable, we can change our minds – and change direction. We can make that journey.

And we have good company for the trip. Not only the communion of saints, the great “cloud of witnesses” who are praying for us and with us, but also Jesus Christ. He knows our struggles. Because he took them on as his own.

“He emptied himself,” Paul wrote, “taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

He became one of us. And then he took it as far as his Father asked him, all the way to the cross. As Paul wrote elsewhere: he was a man like us in all things but sin. He “humbled himself” to be one of us – living, struggling, hungering, and dreaming among fishermen and tax collectors, prostitutes and thieves.

And so he walks with us still, as we fumble our way through life — falling, then getting up, with our knees scraped and our hearts broken, as we try in our own imperfect and clumsy way to become what God wants us to be: saints.

It’s worth remembering: in the parable that we heard, the son who ultimately does the father’s will – and, presumably, is finally saved – isn’t the son who said “Yes.” It’s the one who at first said “No.”

He changed his mind – and changed his heart.

And that made all the difference.

God gives us that chance again and again, the chance to take another road. He gave it to Paul and Augustine and Dorothy Day and Mark Ji Tianxang. And he gives it to us.

Many of the greatest saints were like us.

And we have it within us to be like them.

No matter how many times we may have said “No” to the will of God, by His grace we still have a chance to say “Yes.”

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Miracles do happen

by Triona Doherty

Reality, April 2011

In this informative article Doherty discusses what constitutes a miracle, why they are required for canonization, the making of saints, miraculous happenings, and the miracle of life.
Within the heading, “Irish Miracles,” Doherty quotes Fr. Brian Lawless, Vice-Postulator for the Cause of Matt Talbot, that “at the moment there are two or three possible miracles of a physical nature attributed to Matt Talbot but they are in the very early stages. On the other hand, there are many people who have attributed their recovery from alcoholism or drug addiction to Matt Talbot. If these ‘moral miracles were accepted by the church, I’m sure he would have been canonised years ago,’ Fr.
Lawless says.” [page 4 of this 5 page PDF link above]

Nothing else is mentioned in this article about these “early stage” possible miracles.

Letting go of the past

Venerable Matt Talbot could certainly be added to this list of those who reformed their lives (as well as recovering alcoholics/addicts today).


“You must absolutely drive away all despondency or useless pining or regrets about the past. It does not please God and it only injures your spiritual life.”

Fr. Doyle

“COMMENT: Worrying about the past, and about our sins that we have already confessed, is one symptom of suffering from scruples. Fr Doyle had great concern for the scrupulous, so much so that he wrote a pamphlet on the “treatment” of scruples. The text can be found on the page on this site dedicated to his writings.

It is consoling to think of the many saints who reformed their lives and went on to great holiness: St Mary Magdalen who was caught in adultery; St Peter who denied Christ three times; St Paul who persecuted the Church; St Augustine who was addicted to lust; St Camillus who was an ill-tempered gambling addict and St Teresa of Avila who loved to gossip and waste time. Even a Satanic priest can convert, repent of his past life and reach heroic holiness, as the example of Blessed Bartolo Longo shows us. Dozens more can be added to the list. They did not allow their past to hold them back, but trusted in God’s infinite mercy.”

Note: Two references to Matt Talbot can be found on this site at:

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Matt Talbot, Spiritual Surrender, and Addiction

Professor Dyslin has written an interesting journal article on spiritual surrender in the treatment of addictions available at:

Dyslin, Christopher W. "Power of Powerlessness: The Role of Spiritual Surrender and Interpersonal Confession in the Treatment of Addictions, The". Journal of Psychology and Christianity, Spring 2008. Also available at

Whereas this entire article is well worth reading, Professor Dyslin has a section beginning on page 4 titled, “Conceptions of Spiritual Surrender in the Catholic Tradition of the Care of Souls,” that might be of particular interest. In it he reviews..."several historical approaches to spiritual surrender from the Catholic tradition that appear applicable to addictions treatment. The most ancient of these approaches to surrender is that of the fourth century bishop of Hippo and arguably an early Christian psychologist, St. Augustine. His ideas may have provided the psychological basis for later approaches to surrender that I will review in the writings of the 16th century Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross, the 18th century French Jesuit, Jean Pierre de Caussade, and the early 20th century Irish mystic, Matt Talbot.”

The excerpt from page 6 focuses on Matt Talbot:

The ascetic approach to recovery from addiction attributed to the early 20th century Irish mystic, the venerable Matt Talbot (d. 1925), focuses on giving up the addiction "for the love of Jesus" (Maynard, 2000). This approach preceded modern 12-step approaches, and also possesses an underlying focus on spiritual surrender. Although in his commentary on TaIbot’s approach to the problem of addiction, Maynard (2000) reacts to the traditional twelve-step focus on powerlessness, and proposes that it is the recognition of the addict's strong will and an alternate motivation for that will that ultimately leads to sobriety, there does appear to be a necessary element of surrender to God involved in the process. In the "Matt Talbot Way," the love of liquor is given back to God as a gift because there is a greater love for Jesus. The seven steps of this way are predominantly centered on the development of a disciplined prayer life including: a morning offering, Christ-centered prayer (e.g., "breath prayers" using a traditional brief prayer such as the "Jesus Prayer" or another brief, often repeated, prayer), dedication of prayers of the day, spiritual reading, other short prayers during the day (e.g., grace at meals, the Angelus, prayer to the crucified Christ), evening prayer, and Christian living (an intention toward and infusion of the theological and cardinal virtues of faith, hope, charity, wisdom, temperance, fortitude, and justice). It is difficult to imagine how this approach could be lived out without a foundation of spiritual surrender."

Note: Information regarding Maynard’s book can be found at the “Matt Talbot way” link below. We appreciate this article being available online.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Trusting God with an Addicted Child

Elizabeth Talbot prayed continuously for her son, Venerable Matt Talbot, (and other family members) that he (and they) be released from the bondage of alcohol. After 16 years of drinking and being excessively drunk, Matt finally informed his mother that he was going to “take the pledge” not to drink. She warned him not to do so unless he was serious about it. With the support of God, daily Mass, a spiritual director, Elizabeth’s prayers, devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and other life changes, Matt was able to stay sober for the remaining four decades of his life.

Although having an addicted son (or daughter) today is a very different time, place, and circumstances than what Elizabeth Talbot experienced, perhaps this article will speak to some mothers.

Trusting God with Our Son and His Addiction

Hattie Heaton

February 16, 2011


Everyone knows a handful of days can change who you think you are. Death removes someone you love from your life and changes the family dynamic. Marriages add new members, rearranging the family dynamic. And there are tragedies that can drop you to your knees in an instant, showing you that it can happen to you, too.

Days like these steal your innocence. They make you question what you thought you knew before. I know, because on July 25, 2010 my husband and I experienced the most difficult day of our lives.

Four days prior, I didn’t have a name for what was wrong with my son. My husband and I had been baffled for years at his lack of maturity, initiative, his mood swings and irresponsibility. But as I drove out of the long drive and left my son at an alcohol and drug rehabilitation center, I had the answer that boggled my mind and shook my family to the core, making me re-examine everything in my life.

But it was an answered prayer. Finally, honestly, I had summoned the courage to pray that God would show us what was wrong with my son. I think on some level, I always suspected, but fear and lack of faith always kept me from going down that scary road. Our family was about to embark upon a journey that no one wanted to travel. I was bombarded with swirling emotions after leaving my son behind. I prayed, “Here I am Lord, what now?”

As I got to the end of the rehab driveway there was a big arch extending from one side of the drive to the other. It was painted with big white letters that said, “Let Go and Let God.” I had often heard that phrase in relation to AA, but I had never really dug into the guts of what that meant. Our journey would begin by learning how.

Our family was about to learn so many new things. We would be challenged to change our entire view on how to protect our son. We were advised to allow him to face the natural consequences of his actions, no matter what the consequence was. We were all so paralyzed with fear in the beginning. Thankfully, good friends and family surrounded us with prayer, food and the support we needed. For many weeks I slogged through each day, came home, laid in the fetal position on the sofa and begged God for the help that I wanted.

This was not the place I had ever expected to be. I had not hoped for, planned, dreamed or even imagined this for any of my children. We had discussed the dangers of drugs and alcohol. I took my children to Mass every Sunday. They attended Catholic schools. How could this have happened under my very nose?

But it did, and it is my cross. Slowly my prayer began to be, “Help me to learn how to carry this cross…give me the strength; show me the way.”

What I know now is that addiction is a family disease. The effects of one person’s addiction have a direct impact on every member of the family. I see now that, slowly over time, we began compensating for the addict, fixing things for the addict, making excuses for the addict, tip toeing around the addict, until the whole family (whether cognizant of it or not), was changing what they would have typically done in order to facilitate or enable the addict to continue his habit.

Letting go seemed counterintuitive, at first. If he had done this under our constant watch, what would happen if we let him go? But if I continued doing what I HAD been doing, I knew I would continue to get the same result. I realized it was time for courage, time to ask for God’s will no matter what.

Still, after learning of our son’s addiction we struggled with fear for his life and the need to protect him from judgment. The disease of addiction still has many negative connotations associated with it. Often it is thought of as a character flaw; it is socially stigmatized. But after a couple of weeks of carrying our secret, it became a burden too heavy to carry and the decision to confide in close family and friends was a tremendous relief.

We began to attend family counseling at the rehab facility. Learning the facts about the disease of addiction helped us release the anger towards our son, and place it where it belonged, on the disease. Early on the choice to experiment was his. It was a bad choice, one that would lead him to a place where the disease of addiction would take over. As parents we also made a lot of bad choices. But now we choose to make better ones.

Addiction is the number one public health threat today in the United States. If addiction hasn’t affected your family, look around. It is everywhere. While in rehab, my son reconnected with someone from high school, college and work, and even someone from his grandfather’s small hometown 100 miles away.

Loaded with new information, we started learning to live within our humbling new reality and looking with new eyes. How many times have I walked past someone that I suspected had a problem with drugs and alcohol and not looked them in the eyes? How many times had I failed to realize that these people were someone’s child, or to see Jesus in them?

My son is experiencing what Mother Teresa called spiritual poverty. He is “one of the least of these.” I look into my beautiful boy’s eyes and see someone lost, but I also see a glimpse of hope. I have learned to look a little deeper from now on.

God in his mercy is working on this family, teaching us to trust more, teaching us to see more. He is teaching us to look for his will in everything we do, and giving us peace, and strength, and joy. This life- changing event has brought us so much closer to each other and to God, stripping away so many unimportant aspects of our lives and is replacing them with “peace that passes all understanding.”

Is my life perfect? No. Has my son stayed in recovery without relapse? No. But I have learned that peace is not the absence of chaos. It is having a calm heart in the midst of it.

My son is on a journey, a journey that God has planned for him and that will teach him new lessons every day. If I get in the way, I might prevent him from learning something important.

But I am learning too. I must let go. When I simply trust, things are better. The sign at the rehab facility was only one lesson of many more, and each one brings me closer to God so that I am less afraid. I can face this journey knowing that God is in control, giving me strength for the day and a light for the way.

Today, I am able to “Let go and Let God.” Thanks be to God.

Note: We recommend another article by Hattie Heaton at

One source of help for parents is Al-Anon in Ireland at and in the USA at

Monday, September 5, 2011

Matt Talbot, Patron of Labourers

While there are many recognized saints who are listed with multiple and diverse patronages, like St. Monica and St. Joseph, there are some who are known principally for one or two patronages, such as St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe among addicts and prisoners. (While not a drug addict himself, St. Kolbe was killed by Nazis with an injection of carbolic acid in the extermination camp of Auschwitz in 1941.)

Although (yet to be canonized) Venerable Matt Talbot is widely regarded solely as patron for alcoholics, he certainly qualifies as being considered a patron for labourers (laborers/workers), as those in the USA celebrate Labor Day today. Matt did manual labor his entire life, beginning at the age of 12.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Matt Talbot and the Character of Christian Conversion

While the excerpt below (pages 35-37) from a journal article may, at first glance, appear intimidating if we are unfamiliar with Thomistic theory, there may still be personal value in reading it for additional information about Matt Talbot’s life and conversion.

Please note that Matt Talbot is mentioned in other sections of this article. And there is certainly value in reading the whole article to put this excerpt into greater perspective.


Michael S. Sherwin, O.P.

University of Fribourg


The Thomist 73 (2009):29-52


The example of this poor Irish laborer is of interest to us because of an event that occurred one Saturday afternoon in early 1884 outside a pub in a poor section of Dublin.(21) Talbot, who had spent the week drinking, was awaiting the arrival of his coworkers. It was payday in Dublin, and although he hadn't worked he looked forward to receiving a few free drinks from his friends. As he slouched beside the door of the pub, Matt Talbot would not have been viewed as the embodiment of the classical ideal of virtue. Indeed, Aristotle would most certainly have classified Talbot among those who "from the hour of their birth . . . are marked off for subjection."(22) In other words, Aristotle would have classified Talbot among the natural slaves, who, like beasts of burden, are incapable of virtue because of the poverty of their natural gifts and of the environments in which they were raised. Aristotle held out little hope for one raised in bad habits from birth. As he states in the Ethics, "It makes no small difference whether we form habits of one kind or of another from our very youth; it makes a very great difference, or rather all the difference."(23) Talbot had certainly been raised in bad habits from his youth. The second of twelve children, all but one of whom drank to excess, Talbot in great part received his education running free in the streets of the poor neighborhoods by the docks of Dublin. His formal education consisted of two years at a school run by the Christian Brothers, during much of which he was absent doing chores at home. In spite of whatever positive influence he may have received from school and from the example of his devout mother, by the time he was fifteen, Talbot was an inveterate drunk who lived for alcohol. For the next thirteen years, until he was twenty-eight, his daily routine was to work hard all day, and to drink hard all night. He worked to drink. On payday he would give his entire earnings to the pub manager and drink freely for as long as his wages lasted.(24)

But on that Saturday afternoon in 1884, he had no wages, because he had spent the week drinking. That fact and the events surrounding it--not the least of which was that none of his coworkers would buy him a drink--led Talbot to change his life radically. That very day he stopped drinking, never to drink again. Moreover, from a life dedicated to the love of alcohol, he turned to a life dedicated to the love of God: to prayer, sacrifice, and the service of the poor. A turning point occurred that Saturday afternoon, a metanoia, a transformation. Earlier events may have prepared the way, but that afternoon was nonetheless a recognizable turning point.

Matt Talbot's life is an example of Christian conversion and points to the incomplete character of both Aristotle's conception of virtue and of the Scotistic tradition's theory of the sufficiency of the theological virtues. Talbot would agree with Aristotle that the habits we develop from youth make a very great difference, but do they make all the difference? The Christian experience of conversion points instead to the fact that in the grace of conversion other virtues are given--virtues of which Aristotle was unaware and the existence of which the Scotists deny. Even though one may still struggle with the remaining effects of one's acquired vices, in the grace of conversion we have the infused capacity to live a life directed to a higher goal. We now have the capacity to judge rightly and do those actions that lead us to union with God in heaven. In short, we receive the infused cardinal virtues. The example of Matt Talbot is instructive because it sheds light on the complexity of the divided self: the experience of one who not only has faith, hope, and charity, but also has a new phronesis (a new capacity to reason practically) and a new dynamis (a new power) in his will and passions, even though he still feels drawn to his addiction. Talbot, for example, began to make judgments and to act in ways that radically reoriented his life toward God, judgments and actions he seemed incapable of making before his conversion. Nevertheless, he still retained, especially in the beginning, a strong desire (and inclination) to continue drinking and to return to his former way of life. Talbot's experience seems to embody Aquinas's affirmation that although sanctifying grace infuses cardinal virtues within the convert, the convert may still struggle with the residual effects of his acquired vices.(25) In what follows, I shall first sketch Aquinas's teaching on the infused cardinal virtues; I shall then propose some of the implications of this teaching for our understanding of moral development and of cases such as Matt Talbot's.