This Sunday, February 1, 2015 homily is by Fr.Timothy Gallagher, OMV, who has an extensive ministry of retreats, spiritual direction, and teaching about the spiritual life as well as author of multiple Ignatian titles.  



On June 7, 1925, in the streets of Dublin, a man named Matt Talbot suffered a heart attack and died. They took him to a hospital, but no one knew who he was. When they learned his story, they began to realize that there was something special about this man. He worked in a timber yard and was known as a good worker, pleasant, of quiet disposition, and ready to help others in need. He never had more than a first grade education. He left few writings, full of errors in spelling and grammar. Matt had been an alcoholic for fifteen years until the age of twenty-eight, when he turned to God for help. From that time, he never touched a drop of alcohol.

He lived a life of prayer and the sacraments, seeking God’s help as he struggled to overcome his addiction. And remarkably, this man who had so little education, began to read. He read slowly and with labor, trying to understand, his finger moving across the words. He read the Bible—we still have that Bible today, with the verses he especially like underlined. He read the lives of the saints: the Confessions of St. Augustine, the life of St. Catherine of Siena, and many others, and once told a Jesuit that “[The lives of the saints] are wonderful.” He read the writings of St. Alphonsus Liguori, St. Francis de Sales, and St. Louis de Monfort. One day, in the timber yard, at lunch break a fellow worker saw him reading a book by John Henry Newman and said, “Isn’t that difficult?” Matt simply answered that the Lord helped him.

Matt’s slow, labored reading, over many years, transformed him. His fellow workers saw him grow in serenity and were drawn increasingly to him. As one biographer says, “By degrees, his mind became peopled with thoughts of God and holy things.” Six years after his death, his cause of canonization was introduced, and we know him today as the Venerable Matt Talbot. What if our minds, yours and mine, were “peopled with thoughts of God and holy things”? What if we let Jesus teach us, as he did with such authority in the synagogue? What if, like Venerable Matt Talbot, we did this throughout our lives? What if we did this every day of our lives?

For twenty years, until his death a few years ago, I often spoke with a Jesuit at Boston College, Fr. Ed O’Flaherty. He was a man of learning, goodness, and faith, to whom I will always be grateful. In one conversation, he told me that the great figures of spirituality—the saints, Francis of Assisi and the others, always saw themselves as just beginning: just beginning to know God, just beginning to understand the faith, just beginning to live a true life of prayer. When I heard that, I said to myself: That’s the way I want to live. It is a beautiful way to live: aware that you and I know so little about our faith and there is so much more to learn; aware that our relationship with God is still at the beginning and that so much more lies ahead, aware that we are still beginning in our life of prayer. What if we found a way, every day, to listen to Jesus, so that our minds and hearts would be “peopled with thoughts of God and holy things”?

I recently read the letter of a priest to a mother of six children. She had sought his spiritual advice. He asked her to try, if possible, to read one page each day from a book about our faith. What if we did that? What if we read one page each day? What if we listened to fifteen minutes of Catholic television each day? To fifteen minutes of Catholic radio during the commute to work? To ten minutes of a Catholic podcast each day? Then something beautiful will come into our lives: our lives will be peopled with God and holy things, and the joy these give.