Monday, June 27, 2016

Reflecting on a Preferred Image of Venerable Matt Talbot

Perhaps this article will stimulate further reflection on a preferred image of Venerable Matt Talbot.

“Why Don’t You Ever See Saints Smile in Religious Art?”

True joy doesn't always wear a happy face


For several wandering years of my life, my ringtone was Billy Joel’s Only the Good Die Young. I’ll never forget the look on my fervent Catholic mother’s face one day, when a call came in. “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints” trampled the peaceful quiet, mocking the holy images adorning the walls of our house. I quickly silenced the phone and scoffed at the humble sadness that spread across my mother’s gentle countenance.

At the time, those lyrics were an adequate reflection of what kept me from practicing the faith. I lived my life under the impression that people who strive for sainthood are met with only pain and suffering while those who are more lax about the habitual presence of sin in their lives are able to truly enjoy themselves. Needless to say, I preferred the company of the latter.

This notion was further ingrained in my mind on the rare occasion that I did attend church and was surrounded by statues of saints bearing expressions that reminded me of the “before” picture in a Prozac ad. They appeared tired, hopeless, and somber at best. The faithful, I believed, were downright depressed, while I was in search of happiness.

Thankfully, the Holy Spirit eventually swooped in to crack open my misguided mind and reveal God’s deep yearning for my authentic joy even and perhaps especially now in this world. I drew hope from the prayer of St. Teresa of Avila in which she pleaded, “From somber, serious, sullen saints, save us, O Lord.”

Similarly, Pope Francis shed light on the joyful nature of Christian living with his insistence that, “No one has ever heard of a sad saint or a saint with a funeral face. Unheard of! It would be a contradiction.”

Once I truly came to believe that, as St. Augustine put it, “God is the happiest of beings who made us to share in his own happiness,” my curiosity about the dejected expressions on the faces of religious images was piqued. Why were artists portraying these men and women of God in such a downcast light? Shouldn’t representations of saints illustrate the joyfulness of Christ these holy individuals held in their hearts and graced the world with?

My answer came when I spent some time studying a painting of the Holy Family in the cry room at our church. In it, Jesus, at about five years old, is affectionately reclined against St. Joseph’s chest, both of them wearing warm, content smiles as Mary, with a playful grin of her own, tickles her son’s bare feet. Now that’s the joy most religious artwork should portray, I thought to myself. Then it hit me what most religious artwork depicts saints in the midst of: prayer.

While this particular image captured the glee of a happy family during a playful encounter, the more common action being carried out by the subjects of religious artwork is the uniting of their minds and hearts to God. Such a union, as we know, generally surpasses anything that evokes physical expressions of emotion, such as a laugh or smile.

Of course prayer can still be, and often is, a joy-filled experience, as graces and pure, unconditional love are poured upon us. Nevertheless, it is internal and deep, transcending the physiological reactions of the body that communicate happiness.

One particularly insightful priest I know described the typical facial expressions within religious artwork as “conveying stoic seriousness” in order to indicate inner peace as opposed to exterior passions.

A similar explanation is contained in an article explaining the solemn expressions of saints in religious icons: “True joy is something that comes from God and is therefore eternal. Fleeting pleasures are, by definition, temporary and do not bring true happiness. The smile is a reflection of fleeting happiness, because it too is temporary.”

This is by no means an indication that smiling is insignificant. In fact, Mother Teresa was a major advocate of the power of a smile, saying that such a gesture is the beginning of love. We are, after all, bodily creatures, endowed with the ability to express ourselves through facial and other such physical signals.

However, I’ve come to realize that we are challenged to look beyond facial expressions when we witness renditions of saints and religious figures who are not outwardly basking in boundless joy. We are invited to ponder the deepest levels of intellect and emotion to which these men and women opened themselves, the result of which ultimately generates a peace that surpasses a simple smile.

They’re not sad. They’re not hopeless. They’re lost – lost in the inexplicable, immortal love of their maker.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Memorial to Matt Talbot in the Dublin Pro-Cathedral

 Matthew Talbot, son of Charles and Elizabeth Talbot, was baptised in the Pro-Cathedral on 5 May, 1856.

In 2006 Timothy Schmalz, a Canadian sculptor, donated this memorial to the Pro-Cathedral on the 150th anniversary of Matt’s birth and baptism

According to the sculptor, “this bronze sculpture incorporates the traditional Irish symbol of a Celtic cross as the framework for the overall design. The sculpture clearly shows that Matt is chained to Mary and the Cross itself. These chains are broken at the lower part of the piece where the addictions are represented.” ( This 10 ft. sculpture can also be viewed in greater detail at


Thursday, June 16, 2016

Image and Video about Venerable Matt Talbot

This image of Matt Talbot appears at the beginning of a video posted at on 10 Sept 2015.

The video features two stories. The first story is about how Matt Talbot Group 8 Retreats came into being. At 9:32 minutes into this 24 minute video, a presentation about Matt Talbot begins.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Finished Venerable Matt Talbot Painting (2016) by Terry Nelson

On 19 May 2016 Terry Nelson posted his latest portrait of Venerable Matt Talbot at
In describing this painting he stated, “I finished the Talbot painting - almost...”

On 7 June 2016, the 91st anniversary of the death of Venerable Matt Talbot, Terry posted the “finished work..” at The adjustments he made are posted below:

“This is the finished painting.  I made a few adjustments from the first published image.  The composition remains spare and uncluttered - a few religious mementos and scraps of paper, upon which it is said Matt would make spiritual notes - a small statue of Our Lady of Lourdes and holy cards of Therese and Catherine of Siena comprise the 'still life' of minutia on the mantel. Above these, a very small image of OL of Perpetual Help hanging by a string. Matt stands in front of the tall, narrow tenement mantel, upon which these poor possessions are displayed. Interrupted in his devotion, clutching a crucifix, he looks out at the viewer.  In this my third painting of Matt, I imagined him in the last year of his life. Those closest to him described him as an 'undersized, wiry man,' though strong and able-bodied, he worked as a laborer all his adult life. He died at the age of 69.”

Note: It is worthwhile to check both of Terry’s links for viewer reactions to the almost finished and finished painting.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Miracles for Canonization and the Example of Venerable Matt Talbot*

Why Miracles Should Remain a Requirement for Canonization  

COMMENTARY: Canonization and beatification aren't equivalent to induction into a hall of fame. The Church cannot risk raising up someone for veneration without definitive proof.

by Brian O’Neel
June 7, 2016

Recently, I got into a vigorous debate with a good friend who is also a good Catholic.

He longs for the eventual canonization of the Irish alcoholic Venerable Matt Talbot (d. 1925). He says the Holy Father should just go ahead and declare him a saint, although Talbot’s intercession hasn’t produced a miracle.

His argument is that, in the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis should show mercy to the ever-growing legion of those addicted by drugs or alcohol by canonizing the former drunk from Dublin. Doing this, he argues, would show addicts the Church understands that their affliction isn’t a weakness, but a true sickness, and she offers them both the temporal and spiritual compassion they need to beat their disease.

As a semi-professional hagiographer who has studied Talbot’s life, I agree he certainly deserves the title of “Venerable,” meaning he led “a life of heroic virtue.” That doesn’t ipso facto make him a saint, however.

I wanted to make the same argument to a nun with whom I recently spoke. Her order’s foundress is up for beatification. When I asked this sister why this “Servant of God” deserves our consideration as an example for us to emulate, she replied in an incredulous, almost-offended voice: “Why, she founded an order.”

No doubt, this spiritual mother was a very good and holy woman. Her body was even found incorrupt. But that doesn’t necessarily make her a saint.

To know whether someone is in heaven, we need a miracle. All any of us — you, I, the consultors for the Vatican’s saint-making office (the Congregation for the Causes of Saints) —  can see is the surface of a person. We don’t know what lies inside the hidden corners of a soul. Only God does.

To wit, one book on hell tells the story of a male religious who everyone agreed lived a remarkably holy life. Thus, when he died, his brothers naturally assumed he went to heaven. So imagine their surprise when his apparition appeared a short time later, telling them he was in everlasting fire. The reason? He died with an unconfessed mortal sin.

How many of us have committed a mortal sin and hesitated to confess it out of fear or shame?

But even if a Servant of God or Venerable died in a state of grace, is it not at all likely they are in purgatory and not before the Beatific Vision? The Fatima visionary Francisco Marto — Blessed Francisco, mind you — was counseled he would need to say many Rosaries to avoid purgatory. Our Lady told the children a deceased girl they knew would “be in purgatory until the end of the world.”

One might reasonably ask what anyone so young could have done to merit such a long time in purgatory. But if we know our Catholic faith, then we understand we spend time in purgatory not as a punishment, per se, but to cleanse the temporal effects of sin from our souls.

With someone such as Matt Talbot, is it not conceivable that he is in purgatory? After all, he started excessively drinking at age 12. He didn’t quit drinking until age 28. Let’s be conservative and say he was drunk every day for 15 years. (We know he usually was inebriated, because the day he gave up drinking his mother was surprised to see him sober.) That is 5,475 days of drunkenness. At least once, he stole to get money for drinking. Who knows what other damaging acts to the soul he committed. That is a huge number of mortal sins. (Note: As St. Thomas points out in the Summa, Q. 150, intoxication isn’t always a capital sin.) Yes, our God is perfectly merciful — but he is also perfectly just.

And for reasons we’ll discuss, we need a definitive sign from God before we go declaring his justice satisfied.

It wasn’t always so. For several hundred years, local bishops or communities were allowed to proclaim someone a saint or blessed. This led to “Blessed Charlemagne,” who had eight to 10 known wives and concubines, and of his 20 children, nine were illegitimate. He also had 4,500 Saxons massacred in a single day and said any survivors who refused to receive baptism would likewise die. The Swedes once revered as a saint a man who was killed while drunk.

This is why the Holy See began reserving the canonization process to itself, permanently doing so in 1170 under Alexander III. Since then, popes such as Sixtus V, Urban VIII, Benedict XIV and St. John Paul II have revised the saint-making procedure. But always, miracles have been required.

So why require a miracle as part of the process? As professor Heidi Schlumpf wrote on the process: “Miracles confirm ‘the Church’s judgment regarding the virtue or martyrdom of the Servant of God.’”

God can make this confirmation at any moment. Considering the average length of a beatification (118 years from death to ceremony) and canonization process (an average 49 additional years), Mother Teresa of Calcutta and John Paul II were approved for sainthood amazingly quick.

If God wanted to demonstrate that Talbot or, say, Jesuit Father Walter Ciszek, a Servant of God, was in heaven at this moment, what would stop him from doing so?

Ultimately, the desire to scrap the miracle “litmus test” is an impatience to see our “saint” raised to the altars. There may be purely altruistic reasons behind this, but the spirit is still the same. But if we get rid of the miracle requirement, then why have a process at all?

Why, indeed. Canonization and beatification aren’t equivalent to induction into a hall of fame. As Jesuit Father J.R. MacMahon wrote: “When the Pope utters the solemn words defining the new saint, he is relying, not merely on human industry or prudence or wisdom, but on the special assistance of the Holy Ghost, and [pay attention here] his definition is infallible.”

Therefore, the Church cannot risk raising up someone for such veneration without definitive proof. The faithful aren’t even supposed to directly pray to a Servant of God or Venerable for their intercession. Instead, we’re supposed to ask God for those prayers. To see that, all one has to do is look at the back of a prayer card for any person who hasn’t yet received beatification. Then compare it to one from a person who has been beatified or canonized. Notice the difference?

Let us be patient. Let us wait on God to do the work that will show forth his glory as he wills it, and not as we do. And let us pray for the souls of those we consider saints but who may actually be in purgatory.

*NOTE:  We created a different title for posting purposes.

Since this article's content is likely to elicited varied reactions, we recommend reading the comment section at its publication link. The content may also stimulate additional articles as well as content for inclusion in presentations and homilies.


91th Anniversary of Venerable Matt Talbot's Death

                                          7 June 1925

Lord, as you did with Venerable Matt Talbot, help us to overcome all earthly attachments and self-destructive addictions.  Make us a new creation. Amen

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 
~ 2 Corinthians 5:17

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Life of the Venerable Matt Talbot

Although this article was published on the author's website ( in January 2016 simply to feature Matt Talbot, Will Ross noted in an exchange of emails with us that this article was actually written by him several years ago using older references but somewhat updated last year using “snippets” of more current online resources. In addition, Will noted that it was not written or intended to be a scholarly article with references.
Although we have received his permission to repost the entire lengthy article, we are just reposting part of its introduction. 

"The Life of the Servant of God, The Venerable Matt Talbot
by Will Ross 
January 21, 2016 

Throughout human history, God has given His Church – and through the Church, us – Saints. These men and women are our shining examples, our beacons of light and hope in a world of darkness and sin. We look to them, are inspired by them, learn from them and receive their prayerful assistance. The Saints are our brothers and sisters who are already in Heaven. In life they were not perfect by any means; they struggled with the same temptations as do all of us, and had to rely greatly on the grace of God in overcoming their own personal difficulties and human failings. Some reached the heights of sanctity very quickly in life, while others had a longer and more arduous path in attaining holiness. Interestingly, God always seems to provide just the right type of Saint to inspire the Faithful of a particular day and age.

Irish Spirituality is most often associated with the Celtic Monks, who lived lives of great holiness as a result of personal struggle and austerity; their mortification detached them from the love of self in all its forms, and allowed them to become truly focused on God.

And such is the case with Matthew Talbot. But unlike those earlier monks, Matt lived much more recently – dying only in 1925 – and he was not a member of any religious order. Rather, he lived a very simple and humble life in the midst of a bustling city, and in that life he discovered the Presence and the power of the Living God...