Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Matt Talbot and self-punishment

Within Part 2 of a manuscript being readied for publication, historian Glenn Chesnut addresses the "The Problem of Pain and Suffering," focusing on:

 ”(1) Emmet Fox and New Thought: pain and suffering are caused by wrong thoughts. If we change the way we think, the pain and suffering will disappear. As can be seen, Fox preached many radical New Thought ideas, but he had been born in Ireland, was brought up as a Catholic, and had been trained by the Jesuits. God as Creative Intelligence and the power of Being Itself.

(2) Matt Talbot and self-punishment, the very different path taken by another Irish Catholic, a laboring man in Dublin. Wearing chains around his body, sleeping on a bare wooden plank, and so on. We must atone for our sin and guilt by deliberately inflicting pain and hardship on ourselves before God will forgive us. The self-torture game.

(3) In Ignatian spirituality: pain and suffering exist because life in this fallen world is a war. As a good soldier, you must continue to do your duty and fight for the good down to your last breath, even when surrounded on every side by death and horror. The central Ignatian teaching of the Two Standards (Las Dos Banderas), choosing which of these two battle flags you will follow in the war between the forces of Good and the forces of Evil. Choosing between the way of Pride and the way of Humility. St. Augustine and the two cities: the City of God vs. the Earthly City, surrender of my ego to God vs. trying to play God myself.”

The overall outline of this 247 page manuscript can be viewed at http://www.hindsfoot.org/inProgr.html and worth reading first.

The section that addresses Matt Talbot is found on pages 63-69 at  PDF file or as MS Word DOC file.

Monday, October 21, 2013

A biographer’s note on Matt Talbot's reading and comprehension abilities

The first  American book published about Matt Talbot (http://cnp.stparchive.com/Archive/CNP/CNP04041947p40.php) was Matt Talbot, Alcoholic: The Story of a Slave to Alcohol who Became a Comrade of Christ’s (1947) by Fr. Albert H. Dolan, O.Carm. (1892-1951).  This quotation is from that book:

“What I remember best of Matt Talbot’s story as I heard it first years ago is the astounding character of the books he possessed, books found in his room after his death. This man, with practically no schooling, read and digested some of the most advanced and profound treatises of mystical theology.  The lives of the saints reveal that very holy souls with no education read books, the understanding of which would require light directly infused by the Holy Ghost. Once Matt told a friend that he was reading Newman’s ‘Apologia.’ The friend replied that a book like that was over Matt’s head, that he himself had found it beyond him. Matt answered that whenever he read a book he always prayed to God to give him light to understand it and that he thought he received enough light to understand most of what he read.”

Matt Talbot also discussed what he read with spiritual directors (see http://www.matttalbot.ie/new-matt.htm). More information about Fr. Dolan can be found at Fr. Albert H. Dolan.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Wisdom from the saints on the spiritual battle

"Guard Your Tongue, Guard Your Temper, Guard Your Thoughts:
Wisdom from the saints on the spiritual battle"
The Word Among Us
October, 2013, 33 (9), 20
Occupy your mind with good thoughts, or the enemy will fill them with bad ones.
—St. Thomas More

Prayer is more powerful than all the devils. He who is attacked by the spirits of darkness needs only to apply himself vigorously to prayer, and he will beat them back with great success.
—St. Bernard of Clairvaux

When the enemy wants to challenge me, I conduct myself valiantly. Knowing that to fight a duel is an unworthy act, I turn my back on the adversary without ever looking him in the face. Then I run to my Jesus.
—St. Thérèse of Lisieux

The devil’s snare doesn’t catch you unless you’re already nibbling on the devil’s bait.
—St. Ambrose

In company guard your tongue. In your family guard your temper. When alone guard your thoughts.
—Venerable Matt Talbot

Always and everywhere, a person should aim to live as if God were visibly present… . Such alertness requires that we turn our minds fully and decisively to the Lord.
—St. Bonaventure

Should we fall into sin, let us at once humble ourselves sorrowfully in his presence, and then, with an act of unbounded confidence, let us throw ourselves into the ocean of his goodness, where every failing will be cancelled and anxiety turned into love.
—St. Paul of the Cross

In two ways the presence of God is an antidote against sin: first, because God sees us and second, because we see God.
—St. Ignatius of Loyola

A man is really clean of heart when he is searching for the things of heaven, never failing to keep God before his eyes.
—St. Francis of Assisi

The soul that is united with God is feared by the devil as though it were God himself.
—St. John of the Cross


Note: This page of quotes appeared among featured articles on the topic of the path of victory over spiritual battle. As you noted Venerable Matt Talbot’s quotation was both included among those of very well known saints as well as selected for the title of this page. This is especially significant since Matt is known to have written (and sent) only one letter during his lifetime whereas the other saints listed wrote extensively (with many publications still available today).

As far as Matt’s quote is concerned, the entire quotation is, "Three things I cannot escape: the eye of God, the voice of conscience, the stroke of death. In company, guard your tongue. In your family, guard your temper. When alone guard your thoughts."
Source: Saintly Men of Modern Times - Page 238 - Google Books Result and many other sources available online.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Asking for the gift of prayer

The following quotation is from homily notes for 28 July 2013, 17th Sunday, at http://www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie/2013/07/28-july-2013-17th-sunday-of-year-c/

“A certain man once asked a Carthusian monk how he should pray, and the reply was, 'Pray in, not up' – just four words. It is indeed true that most of the time we imagine the One we are addressing in prayer as being somewhere above or outside ourselves. But scripture tells us that we are temples of the Holy Spirit, and we should focus on God’s Spirit dwelling within us. Furthermore, the Spirit pleads for us with sighs too deep for words, and intercedes for us according to the will of God. May we never leave off praying, but rather ask God daily for the gift of prayer, as did Matt Talbot, who set for us such an example of a life wholly dedicated to prayer, by day and by night, at home or at work.”

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Matt Talbot and the 1913 Dublin Lockout

The source of the following article by Fr. Tom Ryan is from http://www.shannonparish.ie/category/fr-toms-courier-column.
Information about the 21st Annual Matt Talbot Novena is also available with a list of the speakers at

“For the Tuesdays of October and November 2013, we invite you to join us for our 21st annual Matt Talbot Novena, praying for all suffering or sharing in the life of addiction.

Addiction is defined as a craving or obsession not only for substances such as alcohol, tobacco and other drugs but also a psychological dependency on things such as gambling, food, pornography, video games, internet, work, exercise, self harming etc. Addictions lead to all sorts of problems at home, work, school and in the community which can in turn cause guilt, shame, anxiety and rejection.

Matt Talbot’s addiction was alcohol. Matt’s programme of recovery was built around devotion to the Eucharist, love of Mary Mother of God and prayer, but he never forgot his struggle with his addiction. The life and example of Matt Talbot is an inspiration and help to people to overcome and accept their problems and difficulties.

This year marks the centenary of the 1913 Dublin Lockout. In the early autumn of that year, the heartless lords of industry locked out some 20,000 poorly paid Dublin workers, most of them with large hungry families. The reason for all of this was the spirited refusal of the workers to sever their connection with Jim Larkin’s founded Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union. The average weekly wage was five shillings (less that 90 cent in today’s Euro), working in excess of 80 hours per week.

Matt Talbot, as a poorly paid worker himself, admired and respected Jim Larkin and he became a member of the ITGWU, a link only severed by his death. Matt spent most of his time during the Lockout praying in Gardiner Street Church.

The final days of 1913 witnessed a rapid decline in the workers’ fortunes. Food supplies had dwindled disastrously and funds for fresh supplies were non-existent. During January and early February 1914, the men gradually returned to their work. As broken as they were with little or no improvement in their wages, they had yet gained a political victory. The employers, despite their best efforts, had failed to break Jim Larkin’s Union. In the ensuing years, the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union went from strength to strength. Matt was a fully paid up member of the ITGWU for the rest of his life. In 1923, Matt became very ill and was unable to work. He received sick pay, fifteen shillings from the Union.

He died in Granby Lane, Dublin on 7th June 1925 on his way to Church. It was the feast of The Holy Trinity. Matt’s life and story is not time bound. Matt was not a colourful character; he had a very simple personality. He was a man who had great faith rooted in prayer and the Eucharist; he possessed a great sense of justice, especially for workers. Matt was a man who overcame addiction by using primarily the spiritual resources that are available to all who suffer addiction. His conquering of addiction was with free will and the help of God. These two ingredients, free will and God’s help, are still readily available to all of us on our own journey through life, in our battles with our own addictions.”

Also note these references:

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

“How your life is spent”

Fr. Jim Reinhart 

21st SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - Year C  - Luke 13:22-30



Long before the antidiscrimination laws, Mrs. Rosenberg was stranded one night at a fashionable resort on Cape Cod, one that did not admit Jews. The desk clerk looked at his book and said, “Sorry, no room. The hotel is full.”


The lady said, “But your sign says that you have vacancies.” The desk clerk stammered a bit and finally said, “Look, you know that we do not admit Jews. Please try the other side of town.” Mrs. Rosenberg stiffened. “I’ll have you know I have converted to your religion.”


The desk clerk replied, “Oh, yeah? Let me give you a little quiz. How was Jesus born?” “He was born to a virgin named Mary in a little town called Bethlehem,” she replied. “Very good,” the clerk said. “Tell me more.” “He was born in a manger.” “That’s right,” said the clerk. “And why was he born in a manger?” Mrs. Rosenberg said loudly, “Because some idiot behind a hotel desk wouldn’t give a Jewish lady a room for the night.  


There is the story of the evangelical conference. A man was late and 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; he leaned over to the woman next to it and whispered, “Is this chair saved?” She whispered back, “No, but we’re praying for it.”


So ends the issue about who's saved and who’s not, who's in and who’s out.   It’s a fruitless and irrelevant question-rightly ignored by Jesus. Since God calls every human being to salvation, the real issue is not numbers or trying to find out if I will be in the final count. But, how do we embrace God’s invitation and calculate the cost?


Matthew tells us, “as long as you did it for the least of my brothers, you did it for me” - OR NOT. The crucial question is how did you spend yourself in service to others?  Claiming you shared a few drinks is not going to cut it.


Someone who went beyond empty words and foolish numbers is an alcoholic by the name of Matt Talbot;  an Irishman was born in 1856 to very poor Irish working-class people.  At age 12 took his first job and his first drink.  It wasn’t long before the 12-year-old was coming home drunk.  Not unlike today’s drunken 14-year-olds getting off the train to go to teen night.


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


The laborers were paid in the pubs and so the paycheck seldom left there. Matt Talbot was in the forefront wasting his pay on drink.  His addiction was such that sometimes he sold his boots or his shirt for a drink.  To feed his habit, he once 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, and the makeup of the brain.  Way back in 1784  Dr. Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia wrote a pamphlet  suggesting that alcoholism was an illness rather than a moral failing, but  it took nearly 2 centuries, 1958, for the American Medical Association to finally get around to that opinion.


One Saturday night Matt and his hard drinking brothers went to the local pub they were broke but expected their drinking buddies to treat them.  They didn’t.   Matt was so angry that he left in a huff, trudged home and told his mother that he was so mad he was going to take the pledge and 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, and all the horrible aftermath followed but Matt held fast.   They didn’t have AA or Al-Anon or the 12 steps in those days.  No friends of a New York stockbroker and the Ohio surgeon who founded AA in 1935 were around. Matt had to go it alone. But not quite - He had God and a devotion to Mary.


Up to this point Matt had been a nominal Catholic (after all, alcohol was his God and the bar was his altar), but after his conversion, he drew close to God. He started going to daily mass.  He would kneel on the steps a half-hour before church opened.  He made the Stations of the Cross, prayed the rosary daily, and gave much of his money to the poor.  He followed ancient penitential practices, like sleeping on a plank instead of a mattress, and he found a wise spiritual director in a Msgr. Michael Hickey.  He did this for years. A reformed alcoholic on the streets of Dublin, he had no time and less patience about who is saved or not.  Prayer and service were his concerns.


Matt had a heart and kidney condition and at age 69, on Trinity Sunday, 1925, on his way to church he fell in the street and died. He was given the last rites, taken to the hospital, but having only a rosary and a prayer book on him no one knew who he was until his sister identified him. When his body 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 and soon word got out. People heard of the chains got interested in him and stories of his Holiness spread eventually to the Vatican.  He is now venerable Matt Talbot.


Lord, will only a few people be saved?” And Jesus said, “it’s a non-question, for people will come from the East and the West, from the North and the South, from Cape Cod and Dublin, and will recline at table in the kingdom. You’ve been invited. How you respond, how your life is spent, not saved, is the only issue. End of discussion.” End of homily.

Note:  The title of this post is ours.  The homilist is pastor of three small parishes in and near Campbellsville, KY, USA.