Sunday, September 28, 2014

Active Addiction - a Form of Gluttony

When we think or hear the word “glutton,” our first thought might be of a person who simply eats too much too often. But how many people today think, or in Matt Talbot’s early life thought, active alcoholism and other  addictions as a form of gluttony? 

As noted in the following article, Fr. Longenecker  comments on various forms of gluttony and that the original search for “comfort and sense of well being and happiness” is really found in a “strong relationship with God and a life of true goodness, truth and beauty.”

“There is a grotesque scene in the Monty Python film The Meaning of Life in which a hugely corpulent character named Mr Creosote eats a gigantic meal, vomits repeatedly and then, after eating a tiny after dinner mint, explodes. The comedy is completely outrageous, but you can’t miss the explicitly revolting depiction of gluttony.

Being heavy is not always caused by gluttony, nor does one need to be enormously obese to be guilty of gluttony. St Thomas Aquinas (who was himself overweight) defined five forms of gluttony: 1. eating food that is too luxurious, exotic, or costly;  2. eating food that is excessive in quantity; 3. eating food that is too daintily or elaborately prepared; 4. eating too soon or at an inappropriate time;  5. eating too eagerly. Gluttony includes any form of addiction. Drug abuse, caffeine or sugar addictions and alcoholism are forms of gluttony, but so is any inordinate attachment to food and drink. Similarly C.S.Lewis (who knew how to down a few pints of beer) points out than being overly fussy about food and drink can also be a form of gluttony. A person who insists on their steak being done “just so” then complains and rejects it is also placing too much selfish attention on food.

We think of gluttony as socially unattractive, but a sophisticated person dining daintily at a fine restaurant may very well be guilty of gluttony because they love their food and drink too much. Indeed, a connoisseur may be a very refined glutton.

Gluttony is a deadly sin not because it is unattractive but because there is a deeper problem. The glutton uses food for something other than its proper intention. Food is given for our nourishment, our enjoyment and for the fellowship of sharing with others. The glutton uses food simply to give himself pleasure or comfort. Think of a baby with a bottle. Not only does he gain nourishment, but he enjoys a feeling of comfort and relief from the warm drink. It’s okay for babies, but we’re supposed to outgrow the need for comfort food, and we shouldn’t need to rely on inebriation of alcohol or the false high of drugs to find the peace and happiness we long for.

To put it plainly, the glutton seeks in food, alcohol or drugs the comfort, and sense of well being and happiness that he should find in a strong relationship with God and a life of true goodness, truth and beauty. That is why the lively virtue that counters the deadly vice of gluttony is temperance.

The seventeenth century poet Thomas Traherne wrote, “Can a man be just unless he loves all things according to their worth?” Temperance is that virtue that empowers us to see the good in all things and to love them without being inordinately attached. Temperance in our consumption of food and drink also helps us to establish temperance in our relationship to other material things in life.

A person who is gluttonous is also likely to be greedy. The person who seeks comfort, peace and happiness in food and drink probably also clings to material things hoping to find security, peace and happiness. By exercising the virtue of temperance in the area of food and drink we will also find victory over our inordinate attachment to our money and possessions.

Temperance is the virtue that allows us to enjoy food and drink to the full, but avoids excess realizing that to abuse the gift is to destroy it. Temperance is therefore gratitude in action. By enjoying God’s gifts in the right proportion and in the right relationship to all things we are saying “Thanks” to God and living in the abundant life he promises.”

Note: To read a perspective on gluttony published during Matt Talbot’s lifetime, see Delany, J. (1909). Gluttony. In The Catholic Encyclopedia at

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Jim Larkin, Matt Talbot and the 1913 Dublin Lockout

In the September 2013 issue of Pioneer Magazine, official publication of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of the Sacred Heart (PTAA), of which Matt Talbot was a member, one article may be of particular interest at 
In the article titled, “Jim Larkin, Matt Talbot, and the 1913 Dublin Lockout,” Sean Ua Cearnaigh provides a brief overview of the historical lockout and Matt Talbot’s role in it. As the author notes, Matt “was not a scab as some critics who did not know him tried to convey” but one in solidarity. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Venerable Matt Talbot as a Beacon of Hope for Those Addicted

This thoughtful reflection was presented at the Venerable Matt Talbot Hope and Recovery Service held at the Shrine of Venerable Matt Talbot, Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Dublin, on 17th September 2014. This spiritual recovery evening was open to all seeking recovery from addiction.

The Venerable Matt Talbot - Reflection

Posted September 19, 2014 

“We have gathered here this evening for this service to seek spiritual strength that we need on our lives’ journey of recovery. We gather in this particular place, in this sacred space to draw strength from one who had already done the journey, who had initially been caught up in the cycle of addiction in which we often find ourselves caught in. We come to this Church, where the remains of Matt Talbot are kept.

Matt Talbot was born on 2nd 1856 May to Elizabeth and Charles Talbot on the North Strand, and baptised a few days later. Having attended school for only one year, Matt got his first job. At this time he began to drink and later admitted that from his early teens to his late twenties his only aim in life was heavy drinking.

But at the age of 28, an incident made him realize the abysmal point that he had reached: Matt was broke and so he lingered outside a pub with his brothers with the hope that one of the many friends whom he had helped in their moment of ‘need’ would invite him in. But even his supposed friends disowned him and passed him by, friends whom he had supported in their own moment of need. 

It was an incident which affected him deeply. It triggered in him a soul searching process as he stood on a nearby bridge, gazing at the canal, gazing at the water as it flowed over in the lock. There and then he took a decision; I will no longer share their company or engage in their hollow laughter, but I will arise from my misery. Matt stopped drinking and made an initial three month pledge to God not to drink, which he later took for life. Despite great temptation in the early stages he never took a drink again.

What helped him take this step? I think it was his own Feelings, feelings that had been numbed for many years; without the influence of drink his feelings came rushing in. They were not comfortable feelings, but since he could not resort to his old way of avoiding them since he had no money to buy drink, and none of his friends would oblige him, he had no alternative but to face his feelings.

Contrary to popular belief, addiction is not about persistently indulging in a substance or some soothing behaviour. Rather it is about feelings, or rather disconnecting, cutting off our feelings. We live in an addictive society that seeks to cut off any unpleasant feelings. And when we cut off our feelings leaves us vulnerable, for though we may get some relief from the pain, however we cannot realize the moment when more harm is being done. We need to learn how to Feel our emotions rather than fear them, and this is what Matt learnt to do. Running away from your difficult feelings, means running away from yourself. You cannot form and maintain a solid relationship with anyone else, until you learn how to have a healthy one with you, until you accept yourself without self-judgment.

He knew that he could not achieve this on his own; he needed a higher power in his life, a power that affirmed him, that accepted him without conditions, inviting him to reach his full potential. Recovering from addiction we know is no easy process and Matt himself found it very difficult. But he found the strength he needed in the sacred spaces that dotted the city landscape, in the many churches where he encountered the Divine Presence, the loving embrace. There he encountered Jesus and the deep love that Jesus had for him. You are my beloved; indeed here Matt felt accepted and loved. Whenever he felt weak and the urge knocking at his door, this is where he fled , away from the streets, away from the pubs, away from sight to be close to the Lord and bask in his love. One of his favourite devotions was the Sacred Heart, which is another way of saying sacred Love. His remaining forty-one 'dry' years, were lived heroically, attending daily Mass, praying constantly, helping the poor and living the ascetic life-style of Celtic spirituality. This life was his prayer to God and his defence against a reversion to alcoholism.

Matt Talbot has been given to us as a beacon of hope; he is one of us and so he is able to understand us. That is why within a short time of his death, Matt's reputation as a saintly man and especially as a protector of those suffering from all forms of addiction and their families was being established. He once said: ‘Never be too hard on the man who can’t give up drink. It’s as hard to give up the drink as it is to raise the dead to life again. But both are possible and even easy for Our Lord. We have only to depend on him.’

He was able to make the journey from addiction to wholeness, to holiness. For this is what holiness is about, living a wholesome life relying not on ourselves but with the help of a higher power. He has been entrusted to us so that we can follow in his steps. Matt died in Granby Lane on Trinity Sunday, 7th June 1925 on his way to Mass in Dominick Street. The chains found on his body at death were a symbol of his devotion to Mary, to whom he wished to devote himself as a slave.

This coming year 2015 is the 90th year of his death and it is good that we mark it in a special way. In keeping his memory we seek to draw the same strength that he himself received from the ultimate Good.

Matt Talbot was declared Venerable in 1973 which means the Church has decided that from a human point of view he has the qualifications of a Saint.

In looking at the life of Matt Talbot, we may easily focus on the later years when he had stopped drinking for some time and was leading a penitential life. Only alcoholic men and women who have stopped drinking can fully appreciate how difficult the earliest years of sobriety were for Matt. He had to take one day at a time. So do the rest of us."

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Mary Unties Knots of Alcoholism

Mary Unties Knots

Writing on the British Jesuits’ site Thinking Faith, Hedwig Lewis, SJ, gives more background on the devotion to Mary the Untier (or Undoer) of Knots, which Pope Francis has promoted for years.  You can also visit a website about the devotion.  The devotion is especially appropriate for “problems and struggles we face for which we do not see any solution:”
Knots of discord in our family, lack of understanding between parents and children, disrespect, violence, the knots of deep hurts between husband and wife, the absence of peace and joy at home. They are also the knots of anguish and despair of separated couples, the dissolution of the family, the knots of a drug addict son or daughter, sick or separated from home or God, knots of alcoholism, the practice of abortion, depression, unemployment, fear, solitude. . .
- See more at:
As readers of biographical articles and books about Matt Talbot are quite aware, Matt developed a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother from the time of signing the pledge to give up alcohol.

One particular devotion that Pope Francis has promoted for many years is to "Mary the Untier (or Undoer) of Knots" for a wide range of personal struggles such as “…knots of discord in our family, lack of understanding between parents and children, disrespect, violence, the knots of deep hurts between husband and wife, the absence of peace and joy at home. They are also the knots of anguish and despair of separated couples, the dissolution of the family, the knots of a drug addict son or daughter, sick or separated from home or God, knots of alcoholism, the practice of abortion, depression, unemployment, fear, solitude. . .”

For information about this particular devotion to Mary, it would be worthwhile to read the article at and visit the website at

Monday, September 15, 2014

Praying for those addicted during Mass

In this 2006 church bulletin article at,  Fr. A. Richard Carton discusses why a prayer for those who struggle with addictions is often heard during the Prayer of the Faithful at Mass.


This prayer is often heard during the Prayer of the Faithful at Mass. Some would say that every human being has an addiction of some form or another. There are others who maintain that we often exchange one set of addictions for another. Either way, it is when any addiction becomes overwhelming and controls the life of a human, that a path which could lead to destruction is set. For years I have been intrigued with programs which offer support to addicts. In seminary, we studied the Twelve Step Program of Alcoholics Anonymous chiefly because of its spiritual nature. I have often stated that the 12 step program is one for all who are serious about living a full life of faith whether chemical dependency is an addiction in our lives or not.

Recently, I went to a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. I had never been before. A close friend was celebrating a milestone in his life. Five years of sobriety. I wanted to be there to support him and also to understand a little more about the dynamic of what a meeting is about. Unfortunately, one can have many preconceived ideas of what individuals at an AA meeting look like and how they act. What I found were men and women who in their day to day environment would not stand out in any way that would indicate that they were alcoholics. There was none of the stuff that might sometimes be seen in movie versions of AA meetings. I was told before the meeting that a celebration meeting was different than other meetings in format. As I witnessed it, a celebration meeting affords the person celebrating an opportunity to ask two friends who are alcoholics to share a little about the one celebrating, but, more importantly, to share their own stories of struggle and addiction. As I listened and watched, I noted the men and women there often shaking their heads in agreement with the experiences of the speakers. There was a common bond of pain and struggle with those who had gathered. As I listened, I began to wonder about the others in the room. What was their story? What had happened to bring them to an addiction that they would battle for the rest of their lives?What is it within the human person that causes addiction to become part of our pattern of behavior? Many questions came to my mind as I continued to listen and learn.

Growing up in Ireland, I remember in religion class learning about a man who struggled with alcoholism. Matt Talbot (1856 - 1925) was born in the poverty of Dublin's inner city. He began drinking at twelve years of age and became a chronic alcoholic. Matt was an addict. After sixteen years, he decided to 'kick the habit'. A priest helped him, giving him a rehabilitation program, which incorporated the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. That was fifty years before AA was founded. After a horrendous struggle, he found sobriety through prayer and self-sacrifice. He remained sober for forty years until his death. His life story has been an inspiration for alcoholics and addicts throughout the world. Matt's program of recovery was built around devotion to the Eucharist, love of Mary, Mother of God, spiritual reading, self-discipline and manual work. But he never forgot his struggle with his addiction. "Never look down on a man who cannot give up the drink", he told his sister, "it is easier to get out of hell!" He is now being considered for Sainthood and has been declared Venerable by the Church.

I have no doubt that there are more who participate in that struggle than we will ever know. That is why our prayer is so important. An alcoholic once told me that when we pray for addicts during Mass, she knows that she is not alone and can feel the power of our prayer. Perhaps as we pray, we can ask the intercession of Matt Talbot for all who suffer with addictions. It is possible that one day he may be declared a Saint and Patron of those who suffer with addictions. I am most grateful for the example of my friend in his desire for sobriety. As he told me after the meeting, it is cooperating with God’s grace that makes the struggles bearable. For all who suffer from addictions – we pray to the Lord.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Venerable Matt Talbot's Life Included in College Course

Perhaps this newspaper article will stimulate other professors and professionals to consider including Matt’s story of addiction and recovery in relevant courses and activities.

"Priest at Elms College offers Irish-born Matt Talbot as example for those struggling with addiction"
By Cori Urban | Special to The Republican
September 09, 2014

Matt Talbot was an alcoholic. Someday he might be declared a saint, an interest of one area priest in terms of helping others fight the disease of alcoholism.
Born in Ireland in 1856, he began drinking before he was a teenager in Dublin. By 28, he resolved to overcome the addiction, turning to God and his faith for strength. A devout Catholic, he lived a life of prayer with daily Mass, Scripture and spiritual reading, penance and hard work.
He died of heart failure on a Dublin street in 1925; penitential chains were found on his body. After his death, his reputation for holiness spread; he was revered by many Catholics for his piety, charity and mortification of the flesh.

In 1931, Archbishop Edward J. Byrne of Dublin opened an inquiry  into the claims of the holiness of Matt Talbot.
The Vatican began an official inquiry in 1947, and Talbot was noted as"A Servant of God." 

In 1975, Pope Paul VI declared him to be "Venerable," another step on the way to being officially declared a saint. A physical miracle attributed to him will be required for him to be declared, "Blessed,” and a second miracle to be declared a saint.The Rev. Brian Lawless, vice postulator for the cause of canonization of Venerable Matt Talbot, has made an appeal to Church hierarchy in Ireland to lobby Pope Francis for his canonization.

According to the Rev. Mark S. Stelzer, chaplain and associate professor of humanities at Elms College in Chicopee, one factor that might advance the cause of Talbot’s canonization is the special affection Pope Francis has shown for those living with addiction. “On his first trip as pope to Latin America, Francis made an unexpected stop at St. John of God Hospital in Brazil, which specializes in the treatment of addiction,” Stelzer said. Some Catholics involved in ministry to achieve or maintain sobriety have a special devotion to Matt Talbot.

Stelzer first learned of Talbot in conjunction with work he does regularly throughout the country on behalf of Guest House, a treatment center for Catholic clergy and religious recovering from addictions. That work includes retreats and seminars for those in treatment as well as ongoing educational programs for Church leadership and parish communities.

The priest hopes to offer persons struggling with addiction and those who love them the example of Talbot who himself knew the struggle of addiction and the joy of recovery. The message is one of hope, survival, forgiveness, beginning with ourselves.

Three years ago, Stelzer began offering parish missions during Lent based on Talbot’s story of addiction and recovery. He has offered such retreats in the Roman Cathoic Diocese of Springfield, and Archdiocese of Hartford.

Robin Roncari of Windsor Locks, Conn., invited Stelzer to lead a parish Lenten mission in March at St. Mary Church there. “His topic was, appropriately enough for Lent, on forgiveness,” she said. “What better material to use than addiction: forgiving ourselves and others. Matt Talbot was the springboard for the four-night mission.”

Talbot’s story encompasses most people's struggles, be it addiction to alcohol, drugs, food, whatever humans find difficult to overcome. “When you read a story like Matt Talbot's…you realize today's struggles are no different than those in the past,” Roncari said. “The message is one of hope, survival, forgiveness, beginning with ourselves. Matt Talbot was pulled up by strangers, people around him. He had to feel worthy enough in himself to accept the hands that led him to sobriety and a renewed life.”

Following parish missions or other presentations Stelzer offers on addiction and recovery, he regularly receives calls and e-mails from those in attendance seeking help for themselves or for a loved one. “After reminding the person contacting me of the importance of seeking professional help for underlying medical or psychiatric issues, my advice remains the same: Seek support in a Twelve Step program,” he said. “For most people, it is in such programs that the foundation of recovery is established. If the person contacting me seems receptive, I do encourage them to turn to Matt Talbot in their prayer.”

It has been estimated that one out of every four families is living with addiction. “Our congregations are comprised of countless people who themselves are struggling with addiction. Our congregations are also comprised of countless people trying to help a loved one find the way to recovery,” the priest said, noting that insofar as it resonates with the Christian story of light that emerges from darkness, the story of Matt Talbot speaks powerfully to both groups of people.

Persons active in their addiction or new to sobriety require time, patience and understanding to recover from the adverse physical and emotional effects of drinking or drugging. “Although never totally absent, appreciation of the spiritual dimension of recovery and support that people such as Matt Talbot might offer comes later,” Stelzer said.

His experience shows that family members and loved ones who first hear of Talbot are the ones who initially find the greatest strength and comfort in his example; it is not uncommon for family members and close friends of the addicted to be the ones who pray regularly to Talbot for intercession on behalf of a family member or friend. 

“Long before the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith in 1935, Matt Talbot realized the many ways in which addiction had robbed him of primary relationships in his life, including a relationship with God and other people,” he said. “Matt Talbot also realized that with prayer and meditation, life-long abstinence from alcohol and a restoration of those primary relationships was possible.”

Although Alcoholics Anonymous wisely makes a distinction between spirituality and religion, Matt Talbot demonstrated ways in which a spirituality based on a restoration of relationships could be conjoined with particular religious devotion, Stelzer said. For Talbot, that devotion consisted of hours spent in prayer before the Eucharist and daily attendance at Mass.“For this reason, devotion to Matt Talbot is particularly attractive to Catholics whose life is sustained by the Eucharist celebrated daily in our churches,” Stelzer said.
For the past 12 years, he has offered a course each semester at Elms College, entitled “Addiction and Recovery: A Spiritual Journey.” The elective course regularly attracts between 50 and 60 students each semester. “The popularity of the course is indicative of the pervasiveness of addiction in our society and the constant effort of Elms College to prepare nurses, social workers, teachers and law enforcement professionals capable of responding with compassion and necessary skills to serve the addicted and those who love them,” he said.
“When or if Matt Talbot is canonized is secondary to the inspiration he offers those living with addiction and their loved ones today,” Stelzer said.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Interview with Fr. Brian Lawless regarding Venerable Matt Talbot

As previously noted Fr. Brian Lawless, Vice-Postulator for the Cause for the Canonisation of Matt Talbot, was the featured speaker at the 2014 National Calix Society Convention in Philadelphia

During this visit Fr. Brian was interviewed by radio host, Ken Johnson, on August 6. This one hour program, available at
provides up-to-date information regarding Matt Talbot.

Friday, September 5, 2014

A new printing of the "Life of Matt Talbot" by Sir Joseph Glynn

Sir Joseph Glynn published the first biography of Matt Talbot in 1926 a year after Matt’s death. The demand was so great that an expanded edition of Life of Matt Talbot was published in 1928 with additional editions published in subsequent decades.

While original editions of this book are periodically available for purchase online, we have previously noted that a free copy of the full text (microform) is available at as well as a slightly less complete but perhaps more readable free copy at

For those who may prefer a paperback copy, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, an Amazon Company, has now made available a reprint of Glynn’s book at a modest cost at