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.