Friday, November 13, 2015

Venerable Matt Talbot: A Sign of Hope For Addicts

Matt Talbot Dublin Diocesan Committee

There is an old Christian tradition that God sends each person into this world with a special message to deliver, with a special song to sing for others, with a special act of love to bestow. No one else can speak that message, or sing that song, or offer that act of love and according to this tradition, the message may be spoken, the song sung, the act of love delivered only to a few, or to all the people in a small town, or to all the people in a large city, or even to all the people in the world. It all depends on God’s unique plan for each of us and this truth is no where more evident for us than in the life of Matt Talbot.

Matt did not speak with great eloquence but his message has touched the hearts of millions, he was no nightingale but his song of hope has soothed many a tortured soul and his acts of love continues to resonate in our world today, unaware of the impact his life would make God’s unique plan for Matt was gradually unveiled and the stage on which it was set was Dublin’s inner city during a time of great social and political unrest.

Jesus said: “I bless you Father Lord of heaven and earth for hiding these things from the learned and clever and revealing them to mere children.” Matt 11:25

Matt Talbot was not learned or clever he was one of Dublin’s poor he lived in a tenement, wore second hand clothes, died in a laneway and was buried in a pauper’s grave. Poorly educated he did not start school until he was 11 years old and with less than a year of formal education, the two words written in the remarks Column of the roll book in O’Connell’s sums up Matt’s time in school, a mitcher. Coming from such a deprived background and with an alcoholic father and a family history of neglect and poverty, Matt found himself sucked into the culture of addiction and to the only choice of drug available to the poor of his day, alcohol. Matt like so many others embraced alcohol as a means of escape from the misery and poverty of daily life. 

Today we live in an age of addictions more sophisticated perhaps than those of Matt’s day, addictions to substances such as alcohol and other drugs soft or hard, prescription or illegal, addictions to gambling, pornography and the internet, addictions to work, professional advancement, sex, money and power. In a sense you might say they are the ancient enemies, even if the e-technologies and the e-drugs provide new faces for them and a new attraction and power that like demons, can take procession of our souls.

Matt Talbot gradually came to this awareness and from the time of his conversion from alcoholism to sobriety, as a young man of twenty eight, he spent the rest of his life living to a heroic extent the Christian virtues thro’ prayer, spiritual reading, work and love of neighbour. Matt sets before us a radical example which demonstrates that ordinary people can do extraordinary things. His life is a witness to the fact that people can by God’s grace and their own self acceptance say no to that which leads to addiction or addictive behaviors and that in the meantime our communities must never lose hope and must continue to care for them.

Maybe it is because of this that so many have come to love and admire Matt Talbot. Matt’s friend Paddy Laird always found it extraordinary that there were only seven people at Matt’s funeral, but upon making public his life story hundreds of thousands have come to see him as a hero and a beacon of hope.

People need heroes, not in the sense of comic book or movie superheroes with superhuman powers, not pop stars or celebrities all art and pizzazz but with little or no moral substance. No what we need are ordinary people who against extraordinary odds do the right thing, like saying no to addiction or compulsion.

Matt Talbot understood this and he would say to others, “If I can do it so can you with the grace of God”. But Matt also understood the human condition he once said to his sister Susan, “never think harshly of a person because of the drink it’s easier to get out of hell than to give up the drink, for me it was only possible with the help of God and our blessed Mother”.

Matt’s example has inspired many institutions, movements and individuals around the world giving hope of recovery to those who are willing to accept their weakness and need. Such people stand as beacons in our world to the truth that we can overcome addiction rise above our weakness and achieve great things even sainthood.

Jesus said, “Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest shoulder my yoke and learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart and you will find rest for your souls” Matt 11:28-30. Matt Talbot’s life as a labourer who was overburdened by addiction and guilt gradually grew in awareness through the gift of grace and the Holy Spirit that a life of meekness and humility of heart will lead to rest for our souls, and towards a better world where all self destructive drive will come to an end, where people will live in harmony of body, mind and spirit, in harmony too with each other, with creation and with God.

By following the example of Matt Talbot you tell the world that there is more to life than “sex, and drugs and rock n roll,” that there is hope for every broken heart and that by God’s love his kingdom comes into our hearts, our homes and our world.

At this time when so many of our communities are affected by the scourge of alcohol and substance misuse, God has chosen Matt to be set before us as a model of temperance and a source of strength and support to all who suffer from addiction or addictive behaviors.

Matt Talbot ascetic and urban spiritual mystic, who overcame addiction by the Grace of God, his higher power, whose faith was nourished by his extraordinary love of the Eucharist and his sublime devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“You must therefore be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” Christ told his followers. When Matt found sobriety through prayer and spiritual guidance, his desire for drink was replaced by a desire for Christian perfection.

This is why God chose Matt as a sign of hope for addicts.