Friday, August 31, 2012

Religious solutions to alcoholism

August 10th, 2012

"Many 12 Steppers usually scoff at “religious” solutions to addiction, and perhaps rightly so due to the low success rate (forgetting that AA has a very low success rate, too.) Maybe they also think that religious observance is pointless and is also an “easier, softer, way.” HA!

I think the main reason that religious solutions do not work is that they fail to directly address the root cause of the addiction: that within each alcoholic and addict there is something wrong with how the world and environment is perceived or related to and how to properly react or cope with that. Alcohol addressees that, although in a bad way.

In AA’s Big Book there is a line towards the end about how AA taught the writer how to “handle sobriety.” In AA meetings I have heard quite often how the Steps teach us how to alter or change they way we react to things. I believe that is the same thing as “handling sobriety.”

I don’t think all the Masses and Rosaries and Divine Mercy Chaplets in the world will work for anyone UNLESS they also believe in the healing power of Jesus and the sacraments AND also believe that prayer is a union with God. This also pretty much mandates Scripture reading. Pondering the Gospels, the NT Letters, the Psalms and the Wisdom Books (Psalms, Wisdom, Proverbs, Sirach, Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes) can help in changing how we react to things.

Scripture contains lessons for life and living. AA has their slogans, but the Bible has more
potent “sayings” in Wisdom, Proverbs, Sirach and the rest. Add in reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and you have another powerful tool in conversion (for that is what “handling sobriety” and “changing how you think” amounts to).

This post was inspired by a recent discussion on the Matt Talbot Way of Recovery."

Note: One link, among many, that might be informative on this topic can be found at The complete book can be found at

As noted in our banner at the top of this page, the placing of information on this site from external linked sources does not necessarily imply agreement with that information.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

For International Guests Visiting Dublin This Weekend...

Dublin recently had an influx of guests from around the world in June of this year for the International Eucharist Conference.

This weekend, Dublin will host an even larger group of international guests for events surrounding and including the University of Notre vs. Navy (US) college football game in the Emerald Isle Classic at Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
While not on the listed itinerary (, it is our hope that some will take this opportunity to visit the tomb of Venerable Matt Talbot. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Matt Talbot and the Single Life

Sunday Homily - January 29
Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time 2012

The Very Reverend Robert J. Kus
St. Mary Catholic Church
Wilmington, NC

Today as Catholic Christians gather to celebrate the Eucharist, we hear an intriguing discourse from the St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians. In this letter, he talks about two primary paths the Christian may journey in life: the married state or the single state. He concludes that, all things being equal, single people have less earthly distractions than do married people. Logically, then, single person may find it easier to give himself or herself more fully to the Lord.

The majority are called to the path of the coupled person, a path that includes married persons including many permanent deacons. Fewer people, however, travel the path of the single person as priests, Religious Brothers or Sisters, lay persons, or whatever.

While we often hear of exciting lives of priests and Religious Brothers and Sisters, we rarely hear about heroic men and women who live a single, lay life. Today I offer you a glimpse into the life of a simple Irishman who will likely be declared a saint one day.

Matthew Talbot was born on May 2, 1856 in a poor section of Dublin, Ireland, the second of twelve children. His mother was a homemaker, and his alcoholic father was a dockworker.

In those days, Ireland did not have a compulsory age for going to school, so young Matt left school at the age of twelve and began to work as a messenger boy. It was then that Matt began to drink alcohol. Like his father and all but one of his brothers, alcoholism would play a huge role in young Matt’s life.

After working three years as a messenger, Matthew got a job as a hodman, a man who fetched bricks and mortar for bricklayers. In no time Matthew came to be seen as the best hodman in all of Dublin.

Unfortunately for Matthew, his drinking became worse and worse. When he got drunk, he became very hot-tempered and got into fights frequently. He would spend all of his money on his alcohol use. In his desperation for a drink when he would find himself penniless, he would steal things and sell them for money. Or he would sell his boots for money.

His mother pleaded with him to stop drinking, but her pleas fell on deft ears. One day, however, at the age of twenty-eight, Matthew “hit bottom” as people say in Alcoholics Anonymous. On this day, when he was penniless, he loitered on a street corner waiting for his companions to come out from their workplace as they had just been paid. He hoped they would invite him for a drink, but instead they ignored him. Totally dejected, he went home and told his mother that he was going to “take the pledge.”

In those days, a “pledge” was a promise made to give up alcohol for a specific period of time. This was fifty years before the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous, and the people at that time did not realize that for true recovery, an alcoholic must give up alcohol forever.

Anyway, Matthew went to Confession and made a pledge not to drink for three months. The next day, he went to Mass and received Communion for the first time in many years.

From that time on, his life changed dramatically. He paid back all of his debts with the money he made as a hodman and later as a laborer for timber merchants. He went to daily Mass and loved doing religious devotions in the evening such as Stations of the Cross or praying the Rosary. Matthew was fond of fasting and giving alms to many religious organizations and people in need. Matthew had a strong sense of social justice and put his faith into action by supporting his fellow workers. He was friendly to everyone he met.

Matthew also had great compassion for those who suffered from alcoholism. He once told his mother, “Never look down on a man who cannot give up the drink, for it is easier to get out of hell.” He also gave up his pipe and tobacco which, he said, was much harder to abandon than alcohol.

Matthew, in his sobriety, loved to do spiritual reading and had special devotion to St. Teresa of Avila, St. Therese of Lisieux (the “Little Flower”), and St. Catherine of Siena. He also joined the Third Order of St. Francis.

Matthew lived soberly for the next forty-one years. On his way to Mass on Trinity Sunday, 1923, Matthew died in the streets of Dublin. His life would have gone unnoticed except for the fact that when his body was taken to the hospital, the staff found penitential chains and cords around his knees and arms and waist. Pope Paul VI proclaimed him “Venerable” in 1975.

The life of Matt Talbot shows a couple of the special gifts of the single path. First, this path provides a certain freedom not available to the married person or the person raising children. Because single people are free to focus themselves on their own journey exclusively, they are often able to devote their selves to a spiritual exercise regime more completely. That is what we see in the life of Matthew.

Second, because single people don’t usually have to give their money to spouses and children, they are able to use their money to those in need in ways that coupled people are often not able to do. That is what allowed Matthew to be so generous to so many though he was never rich.

As we continue our life journey this week, it would be a good idea to focus on our own life path, whether it is coupled or single. What are the special gifts we have as a result of the path we have been called to?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The inspiration of two lives

Knock 2012 – Homily
Notes for a sermon preached by Fr Bernard J. McGuckian S.J. at Knock Shrine on the occasion of the joint Pioneer/Matt Talbot Pilgrimage on Sunday, July 15th, at

After God and the Blessed Virgin Mary the inspiration for our pilgrimage today comes from two men, one a priest, the other a layman. Both of them died in the early days of the new Irish State; Fr. James Aloysius Cullen and the Venerable Matt Talbot. Fr Cullen, the Founder of the Pioneer Association, died in Dublin on December 6th, 1921, just as the newspapers were reporting the fateful signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in London some hours earlier. Venerable Matt Talbot also died in Dublin, some four years later in Granby Lane, on Trinity Sunday, June 6th, 1925 just as the Angelus Bell was ringing out in the nearby Dominican Church where he was planning to attend the mid-day Mass.

The early lives of these two men could not have been more different. James Cullen was a pious, studious, country boy from childhood in Co Wexford. He was such a good student that he had completed his studies with distinction while still too young for priestly Ordination and required a dispensation. Matt Talbot’s early life was spent in the squalor of Dublin’s inner city where he had so little schooling that his name hardly made it to the roll book. The most that was said of him in the records was that he was a “mitcher”. As the whole world now knows, he was barely into his teens when he had developed a deplorable habit of excessive drinking.

Fr Cullen was well known throughout Ireland for his priestly zeal for over half a century before he died. Matt’s situation was different. His name was virtually unknown outside his family and beyond the circle of his workmates. It only came into prominence on the day he died. A notice in the Irish Independent on the day after his death read. “Unknown man dies in the street”. It was because each of these men took the Gospel of Christ so seriously that we still remember them.

Like the Apostles we heard about in the Gospel, Fr Cullen, from the day of his ordination in 1864 “set out to preach repentance, cast out devils and anoint many sick people with oil and cure them”. Matt did not set out to preach repentance or cast out devils. He had enough to do to change his own life and drive the demons from his own heart. But in the providence of God this is what he has been doing from his place in heaven since the day he died. The example of his conversion from excessive drinking has inspired a change of heart in thousands of others all over the world. Jesus once said that “some demons can only be cast out by prayer and fasting”. From what we can gather few people have spent so much of their lives in such fervent prayer and rigorous fasting as Matt Talbot. After a careful examination of the known facts of his life competent Church authorities concluded that this working man from the inner city of Dublin lived out the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity and the essential human virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance to a heroic degree. This is why he is called Venerable.

When we talk about the wasted early years of Matt’s life we should remember that there were positive aspects to it that should not be overlooked. He always attended Mass on Sundays. He was devoted to the Blessed Virgin. No matter how inebriated he was he said his prayers at night. His sisters noticed that he never indulged in salacious talk and never said anything disrespectful about women. There is no evidence of failures in chastity in his life. This is important in any discussion of the cardinal virtue of temperance. Temperance is the virtue that helps us deal wisely, not just with intoxicating drink, but with all the pleasurable areas of life. We need fortitude or courage to deal effectively with life’s inevitable painful areas.

While some might find it strange that we need a virtue to help us deal wisely with the pleasurable areas of life we should remember that many people have more difficulty dealing wisely with pleasure than with pain. I have rarely heard of a family that broke up because a member was suffering from a painful illness. In fact, if anything, the very illness can help a family to come together in support of the suffering member. It is different if a family member is not sufficiently temperate to resist the pleasurable attraction of an illicit relationship. Deficiencies like this can have devastating consequences.

In the Christian tradition there are four main parts of temperance; modesty and becoming behaviour in our dealings with others; abstinence and restraint in the use of food; thirdly, sobriety and care in the use of drink but most important of all and often overlooked as a dimension of temperance, chastity in the area of sexuality. Modest behaviour, abstinence and sobriety have an importance role to play in protecting chastity. It is a mistake to think that “sins of intemperance “are simply those committed while under the influence of drink. Serious sins against the virtue of temperance can be committed when cold sober. Infidelity can have more drastic consequences than excessive drinking.

Matt Talbot provides us with an example of the fullness of temperance. After his dramatic conversion Matt handed his whole life over to God and allowed himself to be guided by the Holy Spirit and wise spiritual directors. For the rest of his life he was modest in his demands from others and in his overall live style (he gave whatever money he saved away). He ate very little, abstained totally from drink and opted for a celibate life. He dealt very respectfully with a young woman who suggested that they might get married. He told her that he would discuss the matter with Our Lady and then give her his answer. In this way he learned that marriage was not his calling. Mary Purcell, Matt’s biographer, noted that it was to this girl’s credit that she recognised the best man in Ireland when she saw him do his work as a builder’s labourer.

Because of the situation in Ireland at the turn of the 20th century the aspect of temperance that most needed urgent attention was insobriety. Dealing with this is still the primary concern of the Pioneer Association. In founding the Association, Fr Cullen was launching a campaign of “prayer and fasting” on behalf of those who were suffering the effects of addiction to alcohol. Matt Talbot joined Fr Cullen’s movement in 1890 when it was known as the Temperance League of the Sacred Heart. Some years later, Fr. Cullen who was always trying to improve his methods of working, gave the movement the title “Pioneer” which it has now enjoyed for the last 114 years and which is set to continue long into the future. At the Eucharistic Congress last month in Dublin the positive reaction of the many visitors from all over the world to both the Pioneer and the Matt Talbot Stands in the Royal Dublin Society was a source of great encouragement to all involved in this work.

In the Pioneer Association we can be justly proud that the sanctity of the life of more than one of our members has been recognised by the highest authority in the Church. Matt Talbot and Edel Quinn are both Venerable. Fr John Sullivan and Frank Duff are Servants of God. We pray that one day all four will be raised to the honours of the altar. The miracle which will bring this about in the case of each of them will be the occasion not the cause of their beatification. The real cause will be the indubitable holiness of their lives and the continuous prayers of those of us who are convinced of their holiness. In the case of Matt Talbot, the on-going miracle of so many transformed lives will sooner or later lead to his beatification. The beatification will come when the medical profession agrees that something spectacular and outside their experience has taken place. However, in my estimation, this will be something minor compared with the miracles that Matt continues to work and has been quietly working for years.

I leave you with one down to earth reflection found among his notes after his death. “When in company, watch your words; when in the family, watch your temper; when alone, watch your thoughts.”

Note: Fr. Fr Bernard J. McGuckian serves as Central Spiritual Director of the Pioneer Association and as a member of the DUBLIN DIOCESAN MATT TALBOT COMMITTEE.
Some of his articles about Matt Talbot are posted on our site. The homily title, The inspiration of two lives, is ours for posting purposes.

All are Invited

Homily :ORDINARY 21 (C), 2010
Fr. John L. Holleman
Lord, will only a few people be saved? – Luke 13: 23

At an evangelical conference, a man was late & arrived to find a huge auditorium packed to the brim until he spotted a chair way up front. He slowly edged his way up so as not to disturb the speaker, leaned over to the woman next to it & whispered, “Is this chair saved?” She whispered back, “No but we’re praying for it.”

The issue of exclusivity, about who’s saved & who’s not, who’s in & who’s out, is a fruitless & irrelevant question. Our Lord’s response was to say bluntly, forget the arithmetic & check your own behavior. God calls every human being to salvation & so the real issue is not numbers or trying to find out if we’ll be in the final count, but fidelity. How have we embraced God’s invitation & have we calculated the cost?

As the man replied when asked if he were saved, “I’m still trying to figure out how to be spent!” Spending is the Gospel issue, not saving. Claiming kinship or proper credentials earns a withering, “I do not know you!” The crucial question is, How did you spend yourself in service to others? Or was everything saved for your self? Mouthing “Lord, Lord” or claiming that you shared a few drinks is not going to cut it.

Here is a concrete example: Matt Talbot was an Irish alcoholic born north of Dublin in 1856 to very poor working-class people during very hard times. He went to school off & on & at the age of 12 took his first job & his first drink. It wasn’t long before he was coming home drunk. Matt’s father, himself a heavy drinker, beat him to no avail.

Matt later went to work at a brickyard & proved to be a good worker. Now in his late teens with his steady pay, he, like so many others, headed for one of Dublin’s 2,000 pubs. Alcoholism was a major problem in Ireland at that time, & one record from 1865 showed the police had arrested some 16,000 Dubliners for drunkenness, a third of them women.

No wonder alcohol was called a demon. Although the clergy preached temperance, it was uphill because the laborers were paid in the pubs & so the paycheck seldom left there. Matt Talbot was in the forefront wasting his pay on drink, money desperately needed at home. His addiction was such that sometimes he sold his boots or his shirt for a drink. To feed his habit, once he shamelessly stole a fiddle from a blind man who earned his living playing in the streets.

No one knew then that alcoholism was an illness, a terrible craving arising from a complex disease involving heredity, emotional factors, & the makeup of the brain. One Saturday night Matt & his hard-drinking friends went to the local pub. They were broke but expected their drinking buddies to treat them. They refused. Matt was so angry that he left in a huff & trudged home & told his mother that he was so mad he was going to take the pledge & stop drinking. His mother said, “Go in God’s name, but don’t take it unless you intend to keep it.”

Keep it he did. From that point on he never took another drink. Withdrawal, nausea, & all of the horrible aftermath followed but Matt held fast. There was no Alcoholics Anonymous in those days. Matt had to go it alone, but not quite. He had God & a devotion to Mary.

Up to this point Matt had been a nominal Catholic, but after his conversion he drew close to God. He started going to daily Mass & would kneel on the steps a half hour before the church opened. He gave money to the poor, & he followed ancient penitential practices, like sleeping on a plank instead of a mattress. Although barely literate, he did spiritual reading & found a wise spiritual director in Msgr. Michael Hickey. A reformed alcoholic & a quiet saint on the streets of Dublin, he had no time & less patience about who was saved or not. Just prayer & service were his concerns.

At the age of 69, on Trinity Sunday 1925, Matt fell on the street & died on his way to church. He only had a rosary & a prayer book on him, & when he was undressed at the hospital it was found that he was wearing chains, an old form of Irish monastic asceticism. People at the hospital were astounded & word soon got out. Stories of his holiness spread eventually right to the Vatican. He is now the Venerable Matt Talbot.

To the question, “will only a few people be saved?” Jesus said, “It’s a non question, for people will come from the east & the west, from the north & the south, From Cape Cod & Dublin, & will recline in the kingdom. We’ve been invited. How we respond, how our life is spent, not saved, is the only issue. End of discussion.” AMEN!