Saturday, February 26, 2011

Matt's your Man

by Fr. Tom Ryan P.P

The Clare Courier

03 October 2007

The Matt Talbot Novena got off to a great start in Shannon on Tuesday night last. The Novena is intended to be a spiritual help to people suffering from all forms of addictions and those who are asked to share their lives at home and at work with people who have addictions. On each Tuesday night for the next eight weeks, people will come together for one hour to pray and ask God’s help under the guidance and influence of Matt Talbot, a Dubliner who died in 1925 and who overcame his own addictions with the help of God, through prayer and the sacraments.

1884 is best remembered in Ireland as the year that Michael Cusack, “the man from Carron in Co. Clare” founded the G.A.A. in Hayes Hotel Thurles, Co. Tipperary, but it was also the year that a young Dublin man, Matt Talbot, at the age of 28 changed his life completely.

In September 1853, Charlie Talbot married Elizabeth Bagnall in Clontarf Church, Dublin. Both came from a working class background where poverty and excessive use of alcohol were the norm for many of Dublin’s population. These were the years immediately after the Great Famine when people struggled simply just to survive. Matthew was born on 2nd May 1856, the second of 12 children. Matt’s parents were good people who passed on a very solid faith to their children. Charlie was a good worker whose only weakness was that he drank too much and the consequences that this brought to a poor family.

Poorly educated, Matt began working at the age of 12 with a wine merchant, where he began sampling the drink he was bottling. One evening he came home drunk and his father made him change his employment hoping it would help. Matt moved to the Dublin Port and Docks Board, where he acted as a messenger but his addiction to alcohol was further fuelled by the whisky that was available to him in the bonded stores there. At 17 he started work with Pembertons as a builder’s labourer but by now Matt was a chronic alcoholic. At the age of 28, he found himself out of work for a week and, with no money, was unable to get any drink. He stood outside O’Meara’s pub hoping that his drinking friends would buy him drink but they didn’t.

Dejected and hurt, Matt made his way home. In 1884, at what today would be called “rock-bottom,” he went to Holy Cross College at Clonliffe where he took the pledge to abstain from all alcoholic drink, initially for a three month period. He also went to confession, Mass and Holy Communion that weekend, and this was to become part of his daily life until his death.

Matt’s decision to abstain for life from all alcoholic drink was the beginning of a long and challenging road. These changes in attitude in his life were not miraculous; they took time, effort and a lot of soul searching. In his late 20’s, he changed his attitude towards alcoholic drink, the practice of his faith and towards life in general. The practice of self-discipline was as hard for Matt as it is for all of us.

Matt’s life and story is not time bound. Matt was a man who had great faith rooted in prayer and the Eucharist who overcame addiction by using primarily the spiritual resources that are available to all who suffer addiction. There is no reason why the story of Matt Talbot cannot be repeated many times in our communities today. The two ingredients of free will and God’s help are still available to all.


Note: other articles and a book by Fr. Tom Ryan can be found by typing his name in the search box above.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The saints were not always perfect

7th Sunday – homily*

Fr. Greg

Posted Monday, February 21, 2011


"Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect."

The saints were not always perfect. You all know the stories of saints who were big-time sinners -like St. Mary Magdalene, St. Peter, and St Augustine. Here are two more who you might not know. The first is St Mary of Egypt who lived in the fifth century. During her teens and twenties, she didn't treat her body as a temple of the Holy Spirit, as we hear in today's second reading. She dressed immodestly and had many sexual encounters with men. One time, she even used a Church pilgrimage to Jerusalem as a way to hook up with men. It was on that pilgrimage, though, that she saw her sinful life for what it was. With the help of the blessed Mother, she gave her life to God and then lived the remaining years of her life in deep prayer and virtue.

The second is Venerable Matt Talbot who lived in Ireland in the early twentieth century. Matt was a real booze hound. He started drinking when he was 12 and would become the town drunk in his twenties. His alcoholism got so bad that he would sell the shirt off his back for a drink. He couldn't even quit drinking for a day, often. Finally, he made a three month pledge of sobriety that stuck for the last forty years of his life. Like St Mary of Egypt and all the saints, he lived heroic virtue on a regular basis.

So, the saints are not always perfect! Mary, the mother of God, is the only saint who was always perfect. If you're thinking, 'what about Jesus?', well, then, we have problems. Jesus is not a saint -He is God! He made all the saints. One kid in my last parish wanted to have Jesus as his Confirmation saint...oops… But, the saints are not always perfect. So, there is hope for us!

Now, we may not relate to the huge and dramatic sinners who became saints (some of us great sinners do). But, there is a famous quote about saints that could speak to us: "saints are sinners who never stop trying". Saints are sinners who never stop trying. That is us! We are sinners who never stop be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.

We need to have the correct wisdom in approaching this commandment of our Lord. If we approach "be perfect" with the wisdom of the world (which St Paul writes is foolishness to God), then it's just for's just vanity. The world is trying so hard to make itself perfect. We see this all around us in newspapers, magazines, movies, and TV. People want the perfect body, the perfect face, perfect hair, perfect this, perfect that. And, it's all for them. "The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain".

Our approach is with the wisdom of God which calls for us to become fools. We realize first and foremost that God is perfect and we can't be perfect like Him on our own. He is God! He is perfect! We can’t be perfect like Him unless He helps us. And, we only want to be perfect for His sake...not for our own. It's for His glory, not ours. This is foolishness to the world. We are fools for Christ's sake. An example of this in Matt Talbot’s life is the day he stopped by to pray in a church in Ireland. He was desperate for some Adoration as he had fallen in love with the Eucharist. This is true of all the saints. The Eucharist is how they became perfect! Well, Matt couldn't get into the church because the doors were locked. So, he knelt down on the sidewalk, and prayed in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament inside the church. He must have looked like a total fool to those passing by! He was a fool...for Christ's sake. He knew that he needed God to be perfect. And, God helped him to live a heroically virtuous life.

That is the other thing about our approach to "be perfect" - it's so much deeper than the world's approach. The world's perfection is superficial and shallow. The world swims in the shallow end of the pool; we swim in the deep end! We never stop trying to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect in regard to the virtues. We try to be merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful. We try to be loving and kind and generous as He is loving and kind and generous. The Father has given us the Son as the model to follow. If we imitate the Son's virtues, we will be like the Father.

One of the best examples of imitating the mercy of the Son is St Stephen. He was the first Christian martyr. As he was being martyred, he said virtually the same words that Christ said as he was being crucified: "do not hold this sin against them". We all have examples in our lives of how God is calling us to be perfect and holy as He is perfect and holy. Maybe your roommate hasn't spoken to you in weeks; say hello and start a conversation. Maybe there's bad blood with a family member back home. If you need to apologize to them, apologize. If you need to forgive them, forgive. Maybe it's saying hi to people on campus or on the streets. This is what we do as Christians. Jesus wants us to be unusual. Striving for perfection and holiness means doing things that aren't usually done. We won't find perfection until Heaven, but we never stop trying to be perfect in this life.

Finally, the commandment to be perfect is the culmination of the Sermon on the Mount to this point. We've been hearing the Sermon the last several Sundays, starting with the Beatitudes. Jesus has laid out how we will be happy in this life. Happiness is fulfilled in being living holiness. When we live perfection and holiness, we live happiness.

*Note: We appreciate homilists like Fr. Greg who include aspects of Matt Talbot’s life, both for those who know of him and those who do not.
We have added the title of this homily for posting purposes.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Matt Talbot included in a Station of the Cross

In the new St. Mary Magdalen Church in Media, Pennsylvania, the Stations of the Cross include an image of Matt Talbot in Station III.
As the site indicates, “The Stations of the Cross, each incorporating a saintly person, invite us to partner with Jesus and the saints as they assist us in ou rdaily lives. These paintings were inspired by our pastor, Father Ralph Chieffo, and painted by artist Robert McGovern specifically for our church.”

III - Jesus falls the first time
(Blessed Matt Talbot)

Contrary to the artist's label, Matt Talbot is presently “Venerable,” not “Blessed,” which requires a miracle attributed to his intercession.

To see all of the Stations of the Cross on their website, see "New Church's Stations of the Cross," and click "A slide show."

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Matt Talbot--Urban Ascetic

Urban Asceticism
February 17, 2009

The subject of urban asceticism is of particular interest for the modern man. Though many people with a spiritual mind and soul are seeking solitude and the inner life, the material and social fabrics of their lives do not permit them to lead out the ideal life of silence. This comes with the conviction that there must be some forms of silence and solitude in order to come closer to the inner life. But it is also understood that it is not merely through silence and solitude that one comes closer to the inner life, and the comprehension of man’s destiny, but also through living simply, ascetically, and humbly.

There is something natural and inherently human about the life of silence and contemplation. It is something that is prevalent in almost every society, beginning with the ancients to this modern day. We find hermits, ascetics, and solitary mystics in Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Ancient India and China, as well as the traditions of early Pagans. The term asceticism itself is derived from the Greek word askesis, meaning exercise. It is here that we should start, with the origin of the term, and its meaning in late antiquity to its practitioners. Today the term “asceticism” conjures up many mixed images for the layman, and too often these images are of extreme self-torture, and are not at all associated with the heart of original asceticism, nor its true nature, practice, and goal. Yes, there are extreme forms of asceticism, and they can be found in early Christian Desert Fathers such as Baradatus and Marana and Cyra, as well as certain Sadhus in India and Buddhist’s in Thailand. Extreme asceticism is best described as voluntary torture of the body, that is the deprivation of food, sleep, comfort; exposing the body to severe weather conditions; tormenting oneself with lack of personal space and dignity. However, there are other forms of asceticism, which are far more different and are in fact much more natural then one would perceive. Often this form of extreme asceticism is chastised by all great religions as unneeded.

But we should not look at extreme asceticism with chastisement as well. Extreme asceticism serves a very vital purpose in the spiritual life. Often it is taken up by those who have worked for many years perfecting this type of spiritual existence, often suffering great health risks at the process, and almost always with some sort of spiritual mentor who is a trained and expert ascetic. The extreme ascetics perform such acts of self-denial as a testament to faith, as an extreme example to everyone, especially those who cannot understand the spiritual life through other means, of the greatness of faith – that something as simple as faith can allow a man to withstand the rigors of such hardships, that faith can allow a man to live without almost any food for decades, that it can allow a man to live well into his 90s living in the open air without any form of comfort. It is often these types of actions that have inspired the faithless, and that is why they had existed in the fourth and fifth centuries in such great numbers, because many people could not believe in Christianity simply by the word alone – they needed cold hard prove of miracles, and seeing a man like Simeon Stylites living atop a pillar, in the brutal Syrian heat, eating only once a week, praying continuously for over 45 years.

But let us get back to asceticism as “exercise.” Because that is exactly what it is, it is a spiritual struggle and a spiritual exercise. Like an athlete of the Olympic games, the athlete of Asceticism practices daily under a strict regimen. The athlete of Asceticism has a strict diet, a strict set of codes that one must live by, in order to attain the height of wisdom. Much like the athlete yearns for the Gold Medal, so the ascetic and solitary yearns for the medal of wisdom, peace, and joy. And much like the athlete of the sport, the ascetic athlete must struggle daily to reach for that height. However the athlete’s struggle for gold lasts only several years, or maybe even only a season, while the ascetic’s and the solitary’s lasts a lifetime.

This exercise, however, has always been associated with the stillness of empty spaces, especially the desert. It is common to understand that if we are to find peace and silence within, we must first venture to the place where there is silence without. However, this must not always be the case, and I believe that many examples exist of ascetics, of solitaries, hermits, who live within the urban environment, exercising asceticism daily; because one could live in the desert of silence and find no peace either.

Today, there are hundreds of hermits and ascetics living within urban environment. Perhaps the one that has garnered the most attention is the Catholic hermit living in Philadelphia, Richard Withers, who has been a canonized hermit in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia since 2001. Many of those who have led ascetic lives have actually lived them among many people, and the environment is not a major player. Even such extreme ascetics as Francis of Assisi and Simeon Stylites, spent much of their later lives around a whole group of followers. Urban asceticism is simply something that has not yet garnered too much notice, as they might be among us, but we would never know. It is much easier to notice a strange hermit living on the outskirts of town in a self-made cave, then it is to notice a man or woman of piety living a life of forced poverty and penance, silence, and humility among us. Matt Talbot was such a person, and yet no one had any idea of what he was doing daily. Perhaps that is the interesting role of the urban ascetic, is that it is even more humble, for his or her actions are not done in the wide open fields or on tops of columns for all to see and venerate, but it is done in the silence and privacy of walls, here there is nothing between them and God but silence.

Note: Another article by the same author on asceticism that mentions Matt Talbot can be found at: