As we journey through life, we walk with a God who promises resurrection and new life, even this side of the grave. We walk with a God of Second Chances who allows U-turns on the road of life. We all know that U-turns can be painful. Yet, as the literature of Alcoholics Anonymous reminds us, pain is the touchstone of all spiritual growth; it is the price of our admission to a new life. Although we instinctively run from pain, it is through our pain that God speaks. The challenge is to stay with our pain long enough to hear the voice of the God of Second Chances breaking through that pain and offering us new insight and new hope.
One very ordinary person whose life speaks powerfully of the God of Second Chances is Matt Talbot. Matt Talbot was born May 1856 in Dublin Ireland. He was one of twelve children. His father was a heavy drinker, and, as a result, the family grew up in poverty. Typical of his era, Matt spent just two years at school. There was no compulsory education, leaving Matt unable to read or write. He entered the workforce at age twelve, employed by E & J Burke, a firm which bottled beer. There, Matt began his drinking career and within two years came home drunk every day.
By the time he was in his twenties, Matt Talbot spent all his wages and spare time in O’Meara’s Tavern. As far as the neighbors in that area of Dublin were concerned, Matt was a habitual drunk. Today, with our understanding of the disease of addiction, there is little doubt that Matt was already a chronic alcoholic. He became a thief, once stealing a fiddle from a blind man. One Saturday, he came home with just one shilling from his wages to help his mother support the family. The rest he had spent drinking.
By the time he was twenty-eight, Matt was well on the path of self-destruction. An eye-opening moment forever changed his life. On a Saturday morning in 1884, he waited outside O’Meara’s without a penny in his pocket. His problem, he told himself, would be quickly solved. Because he had freely shared whatever money he had in the past with his drinking friends, Matt reasoned they would readily offer him money.
To Matt’s surprise, they did not. One by one his old friends passed by him. Some greeted him; others ignored him. Perhaps because he had scrounged money from them so often, they left him standing on the corner. Matt was stunned and shocked. Years later, he said he felt “cut to the heart.” In reality, this refusal by friends was a moment of grace. After some time thinking about his predicament, Matt realized that he was totally enslaved to alcohol. With God’s grace, he stopped drinking.
To fill in the time he used to spend in O’Meara’s Tavern, Matt started taking long walks, followed by a visit to a nearby Jesuit Church. Matt was not a religious person but gradually began to pray and to ask God to help him.
To find the strength to remain sober, Matt decided to attend Mass every morning before work and to receive Holy Communion. This was very unusual in the 1880’s when most lay people went to Mass just on Sunday and received Holy Communion only at Easter and Christmas. At the end of three months, Matt took the pledge to abstain from alcohol for six months, and he eventually took the pledge for life.
Matt Talbot began to direct all his efforts to deepening his union with God and developing a life of prayer. The strict ascetical life of the early Irish monks attracted him. Their love of prayer with an emphasis on penance, humility and manual labor dedicated to God appealed to him. Matt turned to a Jesuit priest, Father James Welshe, to help him. Matt soon began spending countless hours praying at home and, when not at home, in an obscure corner of a nearby church.
Matt Talbot died suddenly following a heart attack in Granby Lane on the way to Mass on Sunday, June 7, 1925. He was buried in a pauper’s grave a few days later. In 1975, the Church conferred on Matt Talbot the title “Venerable.” This honor makes him eligible for canonization as a saint.
In the pain and darkness of his addiction, Matt Talbot met the God of Second Chances who offered him a word of blessing and hope. Through the example of Matt Talbot, may we find the courage to name our pain and, in the process, meet the God of Second Chances offering us a word of blessing and hope.
Prayer to the Venerable Matt Talbot for Help Overcoming Addiction
God of mercy, we confidently come to you in the name of your son Jesus Christ who ministered to all who came to him in need. Through the powerful intercession of your servant, Matt Talbot, give strength to all your children who are bound by the chains of addiction. Enfold them in your love and bless them with the gift of true peace. Look with compassion, Lord, on all who have lost health, relationships, careers and freedom due to addiction. Give them the assurance of your unfailing mercy and strengthen them in the hard work of recovery. To friends and family who care for them, grant patient understanding and a love that perseveres. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Written by Rev. Mark S. Stelzer, SThD
Education Director, Guest House
Special Assistant to the President for Catholic Identity and Associate Professor of Humanities
College of Our Lady of the Elms, Chicopee, Massachusetts
Matt Talbot biographical information adapted from: http://www.ballinteer.dublindiocese.ie/matt-talbot-story.htm
Guest House is pleased to share an invitation to celebrate the legacy of Matt Talbot on a pilgrimage to Ireland in June-July 2019. You may be interested in the following article sharing the details, “Guest House Embarks on a Pilgrimage to Ireland.”