Friday, May 25, 2012

"On Reading Newspapers"

[In the blog about the life and writings of Fr. William Doyle, S.J., (, Patrick Kenny addresses how extensive frivolous habits draw us away from holiness and good works. Perhaps the passage below in red was an influence on Matt Talbot's decision not to read newspapers.]

“...When Venerable Matt Talbot died, his room contained many spiritual books and it was partly through these books that we have been able to get a glimpse into his spiritual life. One of the books in Matt Talbot’s room was a book entitled “On Reading” by Bishop Hedley. The following passage was underlined for emphasis by Matt Talbot:

Even when the newspaper is free from objection, it is easy to lose a good deal of time over it. It may be necessary and convenient to know what is going on in the world. But there can be no need of our absorbing all the rumours, all the guesses and gossip, all the petty incidents, all the innumerable paragraphs in which the solid news appears half-drowned…This is idle and it is absolutely bad for brain and character. There is a kind of attraction towards petty and desultory reading of this kind which is sure to leave its mark on the present generation…Immoderate newspaper reading leads, therefore, to much loss of time, and does no good, either to the mind or the heart...”

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


 [This homily is worth repeated reading.]
1st Sunday in Lent: Gospel—Mark 1:12-15
“Temptations: Opportunities to Love God”
Fr. Philip Heng, SJ
Church of St. Ignatius-Singapore
26th February 2012

As Jesus was tempted in the wilderness for forty days and as we too often experience temptations, I think it may be appropriate for us to reflect on the meaning of “temptations.” What are “temptations”? They could be understood as attractions that draw us away from God and from living in God’s ways. Temptations could also be seen as the “tests” of how much we love God. Temptations are not necessarily negative or bad for us. In fact, Archbishop Fulton Sheen says, “You are not tempted because you are evil; you are tempted because you are human.”

Moreover, it is not a sin to be tempted for “temptations” are merely what we could have done, but have not done. Temptations become sin only if we act on them. There is a story of storekeeper noticing a boy pacing up and down outside his store which had a great variety of juicy fruits. After sometime he went out to the boy and said, “What are you trying to do, young man; are you trying to steal my apples?” “No, sir,” said the boy, “I’m trying not to.”

And so, when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, it was not a sin. Jesus was tempted because He was not only fully divine, but also fully human. In the Bible, the “wilderness” or desert is a symbol of evil and darkness. This means that even as Jesus was being tempted and thus, tested by Satan to turn away from His Father’s Will, He nevertheless defeated Satan on his home ground.

There is a true story of Matthew Talbot who was born in 1856 into poverty in Dublin’s inner city. After only one year in school he left to begin work with a wine merchant to help support his family. Occasionally, some crates were damaged and the workers helped themselves to bottles of stout. One day Matt sampled a bottle. It was a new taste and was good, but he was only twelve years old. Soon he began to open more and more bottles.

The first thing he thought of when he woke up every day was alcohol. His mother knew he had taken to the drink and prayed a great deal for him. As Matt loved his parents, he always made sure to come home sober because he did not want to cause pain to his mother.

But one evening he came home drunk. His father found him another job in the hope that he would be less tempted to drink. However, Matt could not part with his addiction. Deep inside he wanted to cry and shout and beg for help, but he felt helpless. He kept drinking for sixteen years; he was then 28 years old; because of his drinking he had ran into debts and even once stole a fiddler to feed his addiction; he was penniless and the pubs would not give him any more credit.

One day, while he was waiting outside his pub in the hope that someone would invite him in for a drink, nobody did; even the closest of his drinking companions shunned him. Feeling disgusted, he went home to tell his mother that he would take a pledge to stop drinking for good. His mother who has been praying for his conversion all these years was sceptical. However, she brought Matt to a priest who helped him with his pledge. Matt took a pledge for three months, then six months, then for life.
These months of abstinence were months of great struggle, but Matt never looked back. He used his wages to pay back all his debts. He lived modestly. He prayed every chance he got. He attended Mass every morning and made devotions like the Stations of the Cross or devotions to the Blessed mother in the evenings. He fasted, performed acts of mortification, and financially supported many religious organizations. He read biographies of St. Teresa of Avila, St. Therese of Lisieux, and St. Catherine of Sienna.

He later joined the Third Order of St. Francis on October 18, 1891 even though a young pious girl proposed to marry him. Physically, he suffered from kidney and heart ailments. Eventually, Matt died on June 7, 1925 while he was walking to Church; he was 69 years of age. To quote Matt he has this advice for us. He says, "There are three things I cannot escape: the eye of God, the voice of conscience, the sting of death. Therefore, when you are in the company of others, guard your tongue; when with your family, guard your temper and when alone guard your thoughts." Matthew Talbot was declared Venerable in 1973, which is a step on the way to canonization.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, in today’s Gospel, when Jesus proclaimed, “Repent and believe in the Good News,” of Salvation, Jesus does not mean it to be simplistic. On the contrary, Jesus who Himself was tempted by Satan and fought hard against it, knows very well that to overcome temptations, like Matt Talbot in our story, it demands heroic courage. This is more so for us when we have to confront habitual sins of addiction, infidelity, pride, sloth, selfishness and the like.

Lent is a season of joy and great blessings from God. To have temptations is to be human; to fight against our temptations is to live in integrity, and to finally be able to overcome our temptations and habitual sins is to experience the transforming grace of God, as Matt Talbot has shown us. 

We all know that the temptations of life are complex and never easy, even as we are given much grace from God to fight them. The Good News of Salvation is a promise of eternal life, not a promise of peace without the pain and the crosses that come with eternal life; Jesus Himself was not spared of the Cross. 

God wanted Matt Talbot to be happy in his life, but he had to learn it the hard and painful way of the cross. However, for Matt it was all worthwhile, as when he eventually was able to find and develop a personal relationship with Jesus. Jesus too wants us to experience these graces during this Lenten season; the joy and blessings of loving Jesus in our daily living and eventually even becoming a holy person like Matt Talbot.

There is one further complication that is worth pointing out here as we each endeavour to live a more Christ-like life during the season of Lent. One of the main obstacles of fighting the temptations of our lives is that we tend to worry too much. Fr Joseph Galdon, a Jesuit says, “Worries paralyse us, immobilise our human talents and make us only half the person we could become. Worry is fear or agitation about something in the future. We cannot enjoy the present because we are worried about what is going to happen tomorrow. The stupidity of worry is that most of the time what we are worried about never happens. Our worries also seem to multiply as our life gets more complicated. There are more worries in the hectic city life than in rural countryside.” 

My sisters and brothers in Christ, as I began this homily, I said that “temptations” are not because we are sinners, but because we are human; Jesus was Himself tempted. “Temptations” are tests of how much we love God. Matt Talbot whose life was potentially heading for depression and disaster due to his alcoholism was able to turn his life around because of his heroic determination to live in God’s love and ways.

Likewise, for us; regardless of the challenges that we are facing in life, regardless of the sadness, sorrow and suffering we may be going through, like Matt Talbot, a lot depends on our attitude in life and how much faith, trust and confidence we have in God who is always there for us. As God sent His angels to look after Jesus when he was tempted for forty days in the wilderness, so also will God constantly send us His Guardian angels to help us change our lives for the better during this Lenten season. Can we believe this? Will we take up the challenges to make this happen? I would like to conclude with a poem by Fr. Hedwig Louis,S.J.

My life is but a weaving,
between God and me;
I may not choose the colours,
He knows what they should be;
For He can view the pattern
from the upper side;
while I can see it only
on this, the under side.

Sometimes, He weaves sorrow,
which seems strange to me;
But, I still will trust His judgment,
and work on faithfully;
It is He who fills the shuttle,
He knows what is best;
So, I shall weave in earnest
and leave with Him the rest.

At last when life is ended,
with Him I shall abide,
Then, I may view the pattern
upon the upper side;
Then, I shall know the reason
why pain with joy entwined,
was woven in the fabric
of life that God designed.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Venerable Matt Talbot Included in New Anthology

Fr. William J. Bausch, author of more than 25 books and noted by his publisher as “The Pastor of Pastors,” has included Matt Talbot in his new book, An Anthology of Saints: Official, Unofficial, and Should-Be Saints, published by Twenty-Third Publications (February, 2012). Matt’s story can be read on pages 123-125 at
Note that Matt died at the age of 69, not 65 as stated in the text.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Called to Be Saints

by Rev. Louis Papes
Solemnity of All Saints
November 1, 2009

I was shocked, confused, bewildered
As I entered Heaven’s door.
Not by the beauty of it all.
Not the lights or its decor.
But it was the folks in Heaven
Who made me sputter and gasp–
The thieves, the liars, the sinners,
The alcoholics, the trash...
There stood the kid from seventh grade
Who swiped my money twice.
Next to him was my old neighbor
Who never said anything nice.
Herb, whom I always thought
Was rotting in hell
Was sitting on cloud nine
Looking incredibly well.
I nudged Jesus, “What’s the deal?
I would love to hear your take.
How did all these sinners get up here?
God must’ve made a mistake.
And why’s everyone so quiet,
So somber? Give me a clue.”
“Hush, Child,” said He. 
                                      “They’re all in shock.
No one thought they’d be seeing you.”
--Source Unknown
Cited in Parish Bulletin
St. Peter, Chicago

As a child, I was awed by the stories of George slaying the dragon, Patrick banishing snakes from Ireland, and Simeon the Stylite living atop a sixty-five foot pillar!

Yet, one of the main reasons for the stories in the Bible and in the tradition is to offer models or examples to live by. Unfortunately, they are often so fanciful that they may bemuse us, perhaps inspire us, but they hardly call us to faithful imitation. Sometimes the stories are fairly clear-cut examples like the story of Cain and Abel. Other times they are a bit more subtle like the Samaritan woman at the well or even our first pope, Peter.

We have a whole host of examples. But in so many cases the people depicted in these stories are so stilted, stiff and superior that we immediately discount them as beyond our reach. And that is so sad.

The expectations of sanctity (even that word is off-putting) make us either give up in utter frustration – I know of people who have actually left the Church over this--or we begin to fantasize ourselves into a Pharisaical sanctity! Quite frankly, we need to reappraise our attitude about sanctity. By looking at those hailed as saints of the tradition as well as at those people we ourselves have known, we can come to some resolve on what makes a saint.

This feast should lead us to try to sort out the expectations of our call to holiness. I propose that there are certain characteristics of true sanctity.

First, saints are those who acknowledge that they are sinners and are nevertheless loved unconditionally by an infinitely gracious God. Saints accept the reality of their humanity with all its shortcomings, faults and foibles as the beginning – the foundation – of sanctity. At the same time this awareness of their brokenness bolsters the realization of how much they are loved by God, who accepts them just as they are. This requires of each of us who aspire to sanctity to know ourselves and to embrace our frail human nature. As Thomas Merton has said “For me to be a saint means to be myself.”

Those whose humanity led them to rejoice in being unconditionally loved would be the likes of King David, Peter, Dorothy Day, Matt Talbot, Margaret of Cartona, and the Samaritan Woman at the Well.

Saints are also those who have come to have a joyful love of life and a love of others. Contrary to so many traditional images of saints as dour and forlorn, sanctity requires a joy-filled, passionate love of life – even, or perhaps especially, from martyrs. At the heart of this joy-filled passion is the Divine Covenant, which is nothing more than a “Divine Passion” for all of creation, but particularly for humanity. This Divine Passion flows in and through us into compassion – a love for others rooted in identifying with their joys and sorrows, their successes and failures.

Saints who had a joyful love of life and of others would be the likes of Teresa of Calcutta, Elizabeth of Hungary, Francis of Assisi, Frederick Ozanan, and Damien of Molaki..

And, finally, saints are those who are prayerful visionaries. Saints are comfortable in their relationship with God. They are easily on a first name basis, like Jesus who called God “Abba” – “Daddy.” Intimate dialog trumps formula prayer! This type of relationship makes the saint privy to the Reign of God. They are able to vision God’s Reign of Justice and Peace and how it will be realized through their efforts. Mary is the model of a prayerful visionary who offered us a manifesto for that vision in her Magnificat.

Saints who would be considered prayerful visionaries would be the likes of the biblical Sarah, John XXIII, Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, John the Evangelist, and Thomas Merton.
I offer these characteristics, these “virtues,” because I am convinced not only that our catalogue of saints fits this pattern, but most importantly, that every single one of us is capable of achieving those standards.

We can take the first steps today, a day which is appropriately our feast day! How hard is it to say “I’m a sinner"? Say it right now: I AM A SINNER! How hard is it to admit that “God’s love endures forever"? Say it right now: GOD’S LOVE ENDURES FORVER!

See how easy! We’re well on our way to being saints!