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.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Matt Talbot: Inspiration for Addicts

In connection with a visit by Noeleen Murphy to “The Rosary Centre: The Rosary Apostolate in Ireland” where she shared her inspiration to write a song in dedication to Matt Talbot, the author of this two-page article provides a brief biography about Matt “who became the weight bearer and inspiration for those crippled not only by alcohol addiction but addictions of all kinds.”
To read this, click
.com/PDFs/2010/AprMay2011.pdf. Scroll down to pages 18-19.

St. Monica and Ven. Matt Talbot

Some Catholic saints are associated with particular life situations. Although Venerable Matt Talbot is considered “the patron saint of alcoholics” by many Catholics and “patron saint” websites, he has not been recognized yet by the Roman Catholic Church as an official saint. The most common official saint mentioned is St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine (whose book, Confessions, is the basic source of information about his mother). Besides being the patron saint for alcoholics and alcoholism, she is listed commonly as a patron saint for wives, mothers, victims of verbal abuse, adultery, and difficult marriages, disappointing children, etc.

Today is the Roman Catholic Church Feast Day of St. Monica, although it was previously held on May 4 (and is still held on this date by some other churches).

In reading about St. Monica it is not always mentioned or clear as to why she is considered a patron saint of alcoholics. One exception, however, is suggestive from Butler’s Lives of the Saints, which is excerpted below:

Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume V: May.
The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
St. Monica
332-387 AD

...”THE CHURCH is doubly indebted, under God, to the saint of this day, namely, for the birth, and still more so for the conversion of the great St. Austin; who was more beholden to St. Monica for his spiritual life by grace, than for his corporal life by his birth and education. She was born in 332, in a pious family, and early instructed in the fear of God. She often professed her singular obligations to a virtuous, discreet, maid servant, whom her parents intrusted with the education of their children, and who instilled into them maxims of piety, restrained the least sallies of their passions, and by her prudence, words, and example, inspired them with an early sense and love of every duty. She was so strict in regard to her charge, that, besides making them observe great temperance in their meals, she would not allow them to drink even water at any other times, how great thirst soever they might pretend. She used to say: “You are now for drinking water, but when you come to be mistresses of the cellar, water will be despised, but the habit of drinking will stick by you.” Notwithstanding the prudent care of this tutoress, the young Monica contracted insensibly an inclination to wine: and when she was sent by her parents, who were strangers to it, to draw wine for the use of the family, in taking the liquor out with a cup, she would put her lips to it and sip a little. This she did at first, not out of any intemperate desire of liquor, but from mere youth and levity. However, by adding to this little every day a little more, she overcame the original reluctance she had to wine, and drank whole cups of it with pleasure, as it came in her way. This was a most dangerous intemperance, though it never proceeded to any considerable excess. (1) God watched over his servant to correct her of it, and made use of a servant maid as his instrument; who, having observed it in her young mistress by following her into the cellar, words arising one day between them, she reproached her with it, calling her a wine-bibber. This affected Monica in such a manner, that, entering seriously into herself, she acknowledged, condemned, and from that moment entirely corrected her fault. She after this received baptism, from which time she lived always in such a manner, that she was an odour of edification to all who knew her...”

...Note 1. It is a notorious mistake and misrepresentation, to call this fault the crime of drunkenness, though such a habit insensibly paves the way to the utmost excesses; and this danger of a saint ought to be a powerful warning to deter all persons, especially servants and young people, from a like custom of sipping, how insignificant and trifling soever the first steps towards it may appear. If Monica was awakened before she was brought to the brink of the precipice, this was the effect of a singular grace; and, where she repented, thousands perish, and regardless of every evil, present and future, become the murderers of their bodies, their reason, the fortunes of their family, and their immortal souls. This destroying evil arises from small beginnings neglected..”
Notes about other saints who are periodically listed as patrons of alcoholics will appear in future posts.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Not above or below anybody

31st Sunday 2008

Brendan Clifford

Addressing the people and his disciples Jesus said, ‘You, however, must not allow yourselves to be called Rabbi, since you have only one Master, and you are all brothers You must call no one on earth your father, since you have only one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor must you allow yourselves to be called teachers, for you have only one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.’

Mt 23: 8-12.

I have two questions for you. The first is this: who are the people you feel are more important than you are? You may think of public figures like the Pope or the President, or celebrities you read about in the papers or see on television. You may think of people closer to home: neighbours or relations.

Each of us could make a list. Almost without noticing it, we judge that other people are more important than that we are. It may be because they are better off, or better educated, more talented, more attractive or more popular. If we meet these people we may try hard to make a good impression on them and to be in their good books. We may not like to admit it but most of us are a little like Hyacinth Bucket, the Lady of the House in the television comedy ‘Keeping Up Appearances.’

We are not inferior to anyone
Jesus tells us there is a wiser way to live. ‘You must call no one on earth your father,’ he says, ‘since you have only one Father and he is in heaven.’ He is not telling us that we should not respect our parents and call them ‘mother’ and ‘father.’ He is telling us not to consider ourselves less that any other human being; we are not inferior to anyone.

Matt Talbot understood this. One day when there was a lull in his work in the timber yard Matt was in his usual secluded place between the stacks of timber. The manager of the company, Mr. Martin was showing a visitor around. He heard some movement among the timber stacks and called out, ‘Come out, whoever is there, and don’t be afraid.’ Matt walked out and said, ‘With all respects to you, sir, I never yet met a man I was afraid of.’ On another occasion a fellow worker spoke about his ‘master,’ meaning Mr. Martin. Matt said, ‘He is only my boss: I have only one master - in heaven.’

The great Indian leader, Mahatma Ghandi was deeply committed to non-violence and said, ‘I shall not fear anyone on earth. I only fear God. I shall bear ill-will towards no one. I shall not submit to injustice from anyone.’

We are not superior to anyone.
Here is the second question: Who are the people you consider to be less important than you are? This is an embarrassing question; we find it hard to admit that we could make a list of these people, and that we keep adding names to the list. If we take part in the Mass every day, we can easily think that we are better than the neighbours who do not go at all. If we help some one who is poor or sick, we can imagine we are more important than that person. Suppose a stranger comes to my door and I think he is a beggar; my attitude to him is likely to change if I discover he is the county manager.

These words of Jesus are good news for the entire world. How different the world would be if everybody believed it and acted accordingly. They are good news especially for those who are poorest and least respected. Imagine people in shanty towns in Latin America or the Philippines meditating on them. The well off world tells them that no one of importance lives in a shanty town. But Jesus words assure them that they are inferior to no one; they need call no one on earth their father.

It is a life long task for each of us to become sufficiently mature and self-possessed and humble to live by these words. At the beginning of each Mass we call to mind our sins: we know at that moment we are not superior to other people. Before Communion we offer each other a sign of peace: we know then that the other people are not superior to us; they are our sisters and brothers.

Lord Jesus, we thank you for letting us know that we need call no one on earth our father because we have only one Father. We pray that we may not allow ourselves to be called rabbi or teacher, because we are all your sisters and brothers.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Miniature Matt Talbot Sculpture

We do not typically post information about Matt Talbot items for purchase. We make an exception, however, for a miniature Matt Talbot sculpture pictured below. This sculpture has a bronze finish and will be approximately 10.5” tall and weighs 5 lbs. and is available through The Calix Society at
Information is also available from the sculpturer, Timothy Schmalz of Ontario, Canada at


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Monument to the Venerable Matt Talbot

Sculpturer Timothy Schmalz of Ontario, Canada created this monument to Matt Talbot. This original bronze 10 ft. sculpture can be viewed in greater detail at

Matt Talbot Monument in Dublin

These are just two of many online photographs of the Matt Talbot Monument, near Dublin’s Matt Talbot Bridge.The sculpture is by James Power, one of Ireland’s most respected sculptors.

“Matt Talbot (May 2, 1856-7 June 1925) was an Irish ascetic who is revered by many Catholics for his life of self-sacrifice and mortification of the flesh.
Talbot was born the second eldest of twelve children to a poor family in the North Strand area of Dublin, Ireland. His battle with alcoholism from a young age became famous through the posthumous discoveries on his body. Having drunk excessively for 16 years, Talbot had successfully given it up and maintained sobriety for the following forty years of his life. He was known to his peers as a generous and, perhaps surprisingly given what was to follow, happy man who gave much of his wage to the poor as well as played an active part in the Irish Transport and General Workers Union in the city. He was, also, an extremely devout Catholic and was reportedly on the way to his third mass on the day he died. This in itself would have gone unnoticed were it not for the marks and chains discovered all over his body when he died on a Dublin street in 1925.
In a life reminiscent of the Early Christian monks in Ireland, who believed that a life of sacrifice, prayer and devotion would bring them closer to God, chains were found all over Talbot's body. A heavy chain had been clamped securely around his waist with more chains around an arm and another the knee of the devout mass-goer. Some attributed the chains to his repentance for his sins, an interpretation which evokes images of Rodrigo Mendoz's penance in the Roland Joffé movie, The Mission. Talbot's story quickly filtered through to the large Irish émigré communities and within Ireland he rapidly became an icon for Ireland's large temperance movement, the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association.
As word of Matt Talbot spread, countless addiction clinics, youth hostels, statues and much more have been named after him throughout the world from Nebraska to Warsaw to Sydney. One of Dublin's main bridges today is also named after him. Pope John Paul II, as a young man, wrote a paper on him. In 1931, Archbishop Byrne of Dublin opened the sworn inquiry into the alleged claims to holiness of the former dock worker. The Apostolic Process, the official sworn inquiry at the Vatican, began in 1947. On October 3 1975 Pope Paul VI declared him to be Venerable Matt Talbot, which is seen as a step on the road to his canonisation, a process which needs evidence of a physical miracle in order to be successful. Matt Talbot was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, until 1972 when his remains were removed to Our Lady of Lourdes church on Seán McDermott Street, Dublin 1. He remains a legendary figure in the folklore of modern Dublin.”


Matt Talbot Monument by Le Monte 1


Matt Talbot Monument Bronze Information Plaque

Who was Matt Talbot?

Venerable Matt Talbot

He was born on 2nd May 1856 in humble circumstance in Dublin’s inner city, the son of Charles and Elizabeth Talbot. In post-famine years Dublin and the rest of Ireland was in distressed state: an era of grinding poverty and appalling living conditions. Yet it was also a time when the Faith was strong and prayer and the practice of their religion were the channels of hope and optimism for the masses of people.

Hard-drinking was, however, a problem, a feature of Dublin life: all the attendant miseries of excess drinking, the hardship of broken families and unfulfilled hopes were only too evident in the city. From his early teens up to the age of twenty-eight Matt Talbot was a hard drinking man, never a day idle but enduring a source of distress to those who loved him. In 1884, however, Matt stopped drinking and made a three month pledge to God he would refrain from the habit. Despite great temptations in the early stages of his conversions he never took a drink again. The remaining forty-one years of his life were lived heroically by Matt in attending daily Mass, in constant prayer, in helping the poor and indeed in the ascetic life-style of Celtic spirituality.

The chains found on his body at death were not some extreme penitential regime but a symbol of his devotion to Mary, Mother of God that he wished to give himself to her totally as a slave. This life was his prayer to God and his defence against a reversion to alcoholism. He died on Trinity Sunday, 7th June 1925, in Granby Lane on his way to Mass in the Dominican Church nearby. Within a few short years of his death his reputation as a saintly man and especially as a patron protector of those suffering from all forms of addiction, and their families, was being established. He was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery and then in 1972 his remains were removed to a tomb in Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Sean McDermott Street, Dublin, in the area where Matt spent his life. Every day pilgrims come to pray at his tomb, many come in organised pilgrimages from overseas as well as Ireland.

Matt has a tremendous following in North America and there is particular devotion to him there. The pilgrims pray to Matt asking him in turn to pray for them and their loved ones and they also pray for him that he may soon be raised to the company of the Saints in Heaven.

Prayer for the Canonisation of Venerable Matt Talbot

Lord, in your servant, Matt Talbot

you have given us a wonderful example

of triumph over addiction, of devotion to duty,

and of lifelong reverence for the Most Holy Sacrament.

May his life of prayer and penance

give us courage to take up our crosses

and follow in the footsteps

of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.


if it be your will that your beloved servant

should be glorified by your Church,

make known by your heavenly favours

the power he enjoys in your sight.

We ask this through the same

Jesus Christ Our Lord.


Favours received through the intercession of the Venerable Matt Talbot should be notified as soon as possible to the Vice Postulator:

Very Reverend Brian Lawless, Adm

Parish of St. Agatha,

North William Street,

Dublin 1.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

In the hunt for miracles

Although his initial focus in this post is on Katherine of Aragon, Fr John Hogan, OCDS, opines on Irish Causes for sainthood, including Matt Talbot, and states that
“we should be pushing, knocking doors and dropping prayer cards all over the world in the hunt for miracles."