As I was making my way out of Dublin’s Pro-Cathedral, I noticed a small shrine to a man named Matt Talbot. I didn’t pay much attention and moved on. Several weeks later, I attended Mass at my local parish near Castleknock. The Priest stood up to give the homily and began to speak about Matt Talbot. Low and behold it was Matt Talbot Sunday! I decided I better listen. I heard an inspiring story of a humble man who overcame addiction and turned to God completely.
Matt Talbot was born in 1856 in Dublin’s inner city. As his father drank heavily, the family was quite poor. He left school at age 12 and got a job at a local bottling company. By the age of 14, he was already drinking heavily and by 16, an alcoholic.
By age 26, he had stopped attending Mass. From his teen years to his late 20s, his only aim in life was drinking. At one point, he and his brother actually stole a fiddle from a street performer and sold it for the price of a drink.
One day in September 1884, he and his brothers were standing outside a pub, out of money and out of drink. Nobody would offer him anything either. He left the pub and while crossing a bridge, he stopped and came to the realization that he was wasting his life.
That day he went to Holy Cross college to take “the pledge”. While there, he attended confession and indeed vowed to no longer drink. The next morning, he returned to the sacraments. This was the beginning of a remarkable turnaround. He would attend daily Mass for the rest of his life.
The first three months were the hardest. One morning, he was at Mass but could not lift himself to receive communion. He heard a voice saying, “it’s no use”. In desperation, he made his way to the Pro Cathedral and prayed, “Jesus Mercy, Mary Help”. Help indeed came.
Over the coming years, he became focused on his spiritual life. Although he could barely read, he began to study Irish monasticism. He lived a very simple life. His bed was a plank and his pillow was made of wood, similar to the monks who would sleep on the floor with pillows of stone.
He never forgot his struggle though. He once said to his sister, “Never think harshly of a person because of the drink. It is easier to get out of hell then it is to give up the drink.” He then continued, “For me, it was only possible with the help of God and our Blessed Mother”.
Matt’s life had become one of prayer, penance, fasting and acts of charity. Over the years, he repaid all the debts he had incurred at the local pubs. He even searched for the fiddler to repay him for the stolen property. When he could not find him, he offered Masses for the soul of the poor fiddler.
In 1913, he discovered a book called True Devotion to Mary, by St. Louis de Montfort. The recommended chain intended to remind one of his bondage to Christ was not enough. Matt wore a chain that was uncomfortable enough to remind him of Christ’s suffering. When he died on June 7th, 1925 while walking to Mass, he was found wearing that chain.
On October 3rd, 1975, Matt Talbot was declared Venerable by Pope Paul VI. Matt is an example that ordinary people can do extraordinary things. He is a witness that we can say “no” to addictive behavior, change our life and return to God. In our world today, that is a message we desperately need.
As Matt would say to others, “if I can do it, so can you, with the grace of God”. And so, we can.
Learn more about Matt Talbot at: www.matttalbot.ie
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