Category Archives: Addiction

Jul 9 – St Mark Ji Tianxiang (1834-1900), Husband, Father, Grandfather, Doctor, Martyr, Opium addict, Intercessor for addicts, patron against despair, patron of the opiate crisis


-Chinese martyrs of the Boxer Rebellion icon, please click on the image for greater detail.

“God doesn’t require us to succeed, He only requires that you try.”
― St Teresa of Calcutta

What do Catholic martyrs do?  They sing!!!


-by Meg Hunter-Kilmer

“St. Mark Ji Tianxiang couldn’t stay sober, but he could keep showing up.

St. Mark Ji Tianxiang was an opium addict. Not only had he been an opium addict. He was an opium addict at the time of his death.

For years, Ji was a respectable Christian, raised in a Christian family in 19th-century China. He was a leader in the Christian community, a well-off doctor who served the poor for free. But he became ill with a violent stomach ailment and treated himself with opium. It was a perfectly reasonable thing to do, but Ji soon became addicted to the drug, an addiction that was considered shameful and gravely scandalous.

As his circumstances deteriorated, Ji continued to fight his addiction. He went frequently to confession, refusing to embrace this affliction that had taken control of him. Unfortunately, the priest to whom he confessed (along with nearly everybody in the 19th century) didn’t understand addiction as a disease. Since Ji kept confessing the same sin, the priest thought, that was evidence that he had no firm purpose of amendment, no desire to do better.

Without resolve to repent, sincere remorse, and resolve to sin no more, confession is invalid, and absolution, required for receiving the Eucharist, is denied.

After a few years, Ji’s confessor told him to stop coming back until he could fulfill the requirements for confession. For some, this might have been an invitation to leave the Church in anger or shame, but for all his fallenness, Ji knew himself to be loved by the Father and by the Church. He knew that the Lord wanted his heart, even if he couldn’t manage to give over his life. He couldn’t stay sober, but he could keep showing up.

And show up he did, for 30 years. For 30 years, he was unable to receive the sacraments. And for 30 years he prayed that he would die a martyr. It seemed to Ji that the only way he could be saved was through a martyr’s crown.

In 1900, when the Boxer Rebels began to turn against foreigners and Christians, Ji got his chance. He was rounded up with dozens of other Christians, including his son, six grandchildren, and two daughters-in-law. Many of those imprisoned with him were likely disgusted by his presence there among them, this man who couldn’t go a day without a hit. Surely he would be the first to deny the Lord.

But while Ji was never able to beat his addiction, he was, in the end, flooded with the grace of final perseverance. No threat could shake him, no torture make him waver. He was determined to follow the Lord Who had never abandoned him.

As Ji and his family were dragged to prison to await their execution, his grandson looked fearfully at him. “Grandpa, where are we going?” he asked. “We’re going home,” came the answer.

Ji begged his captors to kill him last so that none of his family would have to die alone. He stood beside all nine of them as they were beheaded. In the end, he went to his death singing the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary. And though he had been away from the sacraments for decades, he is a canonized saint.

St. Mark Ji Tianxiang is a beautiful witness to the grace of God constantly at work in the most hidden ways, to God’s ability to make great saints of the most unlikely among us, and to the grace poured out on those who remain faithful when it seems even the Church herself is driving them away.

On July 9, the feast of St. Mark Ji Tianxiang, let’s ask his intercession for all addicts and for all those who are unable to receive the sacraments, that they may have the courage to be faithful to the Church and that they may always grow in their love for and trust in the Lord. St. Mark Ji Tianxiang, pray for us!”

Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Lord, have mercy on us. Christ have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us. Christ hear us
Christ, graciously hear us.

God the Father of heaven, Have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, Have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit, Have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, One God, Have mercy on us.

Holy Mary, Pray for us.
Holy Mother of God, Pray for us.
Holy Virgin of Virgins, Pray for us.
Mother of Christ, Pray for us.
Mother of the Church, Pray for us.
Mother of Divine Grace, Pray for us.
Mother most pure, Pray for us.
Mother most chaste, Pray for us.
Mother inviolate, Pray for us.
Mother undefiled, Pray for us.
Mother most amiable, Pray for us.
Mother most admirable, Pray for us.
Mother of Good Counsel, Pray for us.
Mother of our Creator, Pray for us.
Mother of our Savior, Pray for us.
Mother of mercy, Pray for us.
Virgin most prudent, Pray for us.
Virgin most venerable, Pray for us.
Virgin most renowned, Pray for us.
Virgin most powerful, Pray for us.
Virgin most merciful, Pray for us.
Virgin most faithful, Pray for us.
Mirror of justice, Pray for us.
Seat of wisdom, Pray for us.
Cause of our joy, Pray for us.
Spiritual vessel, Pray for us.
Vessel of honor, Pray for us.
Singular vessel of devotion, Pray for us.
Mystical Rose, Pray for us.
Tower of David, Pray for us.
Tower of ivory, Pray for us.
House of gold, Pray for us.
Ark of the Covenant, Pray for us.
Gate of Heaven, Pray for us.
Morning star, Pray for us.
Health of the Sick, Pray for us.
Refuge of sinners, Pray for us.
Comforter of the afflicted, Pray for us.
Help of christians, Pray for us.
Queen of angels, Pray for us.
Queen of patriarchs, Pray for us.
Queen of prophets, Pray for us.
Queen of apostles, Pray for us.
Queen of martyrs, Pray for us.
Queen of confessors, Pray for us.
Queen of virgins, Pray for us.
Queen of all saints, Pray for us.
Queen conceived without original sin, Pray for us.
Queen assumed into Heaven, Pray for us.
Queen of the Holy Rosary, Pray for us.
Queen of families, Pray for us.
Queen of peace, Pray for us.

Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, Spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, Graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, Have mercy on us.

Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray- Grant, we beseech Thee, O Lord God, that we Thy servants may enjoy perpetual health of mind and body, and by the glorious intercession of the Blessed Mary, ever Virgin, be delivered from present sorrow and enjoy everlasting happiness. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen


-by Erik Durant, 2017, 3/4 scale, 42 in high


-by Brian Fraga, contributing editor to Our Sunday Visitor

“The opium pipe rests in the half-open hands of St. Mark Ji Tianxiang, who looks up to heaven, as if to plead, “Please, take this away from me.”

“He holds it out in a sort of way like, ‘I don’t want this thing,’” said Erik Durant, a Massachusetts-based artist who designed a striking sculpture of the 19th-century Chinese layman who died as a martyr in 1900.

Durant told Our Sunday Visitor that he created the sculpture a few years ago after a local parish priest reached out to him. Biographical details were scarce.

“Basically all I got was the timeframe when he lived, that he was a known opium user for over 30 years and that because of the drug usage, he never received Communion yet continued to regularly go to church,” Durant said.

Father David Deston, a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, saw in St. Mark Ji a symbol of hope for people struggling with drug addiction.

“His story is amazing, just absolutely amazing,” Father Deston said. “It’s one that I think should be out there more.”

St. Anne Church and Shrine

St. Anne Shrine at 818 Middle Street in Fall River, Massachusetts, houses the statue of St. Mark Ji Tianxiang. The main church was closed in May 2015 when a large piece of plaster fell off the wall during a Mass. The church ceased to be a diocesan parish when it closed Nov. 25, 2018. The St. Anne Preservation Society is raising funds to stabilize the building and restore the building as a shrine. The Diocese of Fall River and the St. Anne’s Preservation Society entered into an agreement on July 1, 2019, through which the shrine will be under the care and oversight of the society. The basement shrine reopened July 4. Masses will be celebrated a minimum of twice per year. The shrine is open Monday through Sunday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the recitation of the Rosary, Bible study and special programs.

Denied the Eucharist

St. Mark Ji Tianxiang struggled with opium addiction for almost half of his 66 years of life. A committed Catholic, he continually confessed to smoking opium, but the graces of the sacrament were not enough to deliver him from his addiction.

“He was definitely hooked. He was hooked on what was essentially a pure form of heroin for decades,” said Michael Rayes, a Catholic counselor in Phoenix.

St. Mark Ji’s confessor — without the benefit of modern science that has revealed drug addiction to be a disease that changes brain chemistry — eventually withheld absolution because he did not believe that St. Mark Ji had a firm purpose of amendment to stay away from the opium pipe.

For the last 30 years of his life, St. Mark Ji was denied the reception of the Eucharist, but he still grew in holiness.

“He never gave up, even when he couldn’t really have a full sacramental experience,” Rayes said. “I’m sure he made plenty of spiritual communions, and that must have hurt his heart.”

Believing that martyrdom was his only way to heaven, St. Mark Ji prayed for and received the martyr’s crown when he was killed during the anti-Christian persecutions of the Boxer Rebellion.

“Here, you have St. Mark Ji, who stops receiving the Eucharist, and yet he’s still a saint who was growing spiritually,” said Dr. Gregory Bottaro, executive director of the Catholic Psych Institute, a Catholic psychology practice based in Connecticut.

Bottaro told Our Sunday Visitor that St. Mark Ji’s complicated life challenges modern Catholics to think deeper and “outside the box” about the Communion of Saints, life, holiness, the sacraments and the Catholic faith itself.

“It’s stories like his that help to recalibrate our sense of humanity and our relationship with God,” Bottaro said.

Gripped by addiction

The short official biographies indicate that St. Mark Ji Tianxiang was born in 1834 in the apostolic vicariate of Southeastern Zhili, China. He was raised in a Christian family and grew up to become a physician and a respected member of his community.

As a doctor, St. Mark Ji served the poor for free. However, in his mid-30s, he became ill with a serious stomach ailment and treated himself with opium, which was a common pain medicine, but it was but highly addictive.

St. Mark Ji soon was gripped by opium addiction, which in 19th-century China was considered to be shameful and a grave scandal. Similar to how heroin addicts today often are reviled and called junkies, opium addicts then in China were scorned.

Black-and-white photos of Chinese opium addicts from the late 1800s show they were often gaunt, with hollowed-out eyes, sunken cheekbones and the outlines of their rib cages clearly visible through the skin.

“They’re all emaciated and almost skeletal looking,” said Durant, who studied 19th-century photographs of Chinese opium addicts to get an idea of how St. Mark Ji may have looked after 30 years of smoking opium.

“I basically came up with an amalgamation,” Durant said. “I used my knowledge of anatomy and had a model pose for a general gesture. I basically stripped the muscle off that person in order to come up with an image.”

St. Mark Ji prayed for deliverance, but the chains of addiction were never removed from him. Still, he fought it, frequently going to confession. But after a few years, the priest to whom St. Mark Ji confessed told him to stop coming back until he was serious about stopping his sin.

“One of the elements that struck me about his story was his support system did not understand his addiction, and essentially they rejected him,” said Rayes, who chose St. Mark Ji as the patron for his counseling practice, Intercessory Counseling & Wellness in Phoenix.

Today, priest-confessors have the benefit of modern science and psychology when it comes to understanding that drug addiction is a disease. In light of that understanding, Bottaro said the Church is “constantly developing” in its application of eternal truth.

“Obviously, truth doesn’t change, but the depth of understanding matures,” Bottaro said. “And here you have a perfect example where we didn’t have the sort of human understanding of science, from brain science studies and social psychology, of understanding the effect of drugs and understanding what’s happening in the brain.”

Being denied access to the sacraments and shunned by one’s community would arguably be enough to discourage most people from wanting to be involved with the Church. But St. Mark Ji remained a practicing Catholic, even if he could not beat his addiction.

“The Church, his confessors, didn’t understand the nature of addiction, and yet he persevered in his faith,” Rayes said. “So that, I think, is a really strong example for those today who are struggling with addiction, because you can feel so alone.”

“He did what he thought was the right thing to do,” Father Deston added. “He struggled to live a good life. He attended Mass regularly. He never stopped believing in God’s mercy. I think his martyrdom just grew out of his own faith. It wasn’t a means to an end for him.”

Martyrdom

Between 1899 and 1901, toward the end of the Qing dynasty, the Boxer Rebellion broke out in China as Chinese nationalists cracked down against foreigners and Christians. During the two-year uprising, more than 32,000 Chinese Christians and 200 foreign missionaries were massacred.

In 1900, the Boxers arrested St. Mark Ji, rounding him up with dozens of other Christians, including his son, six grandchildren and two daughters-in-law. At trial, St. Mark Ji was given the opportunity to apostatize, but he refused.

He was led to his execution with the other members of his family on July 7, 1900. He begged his captors to kill him last so that none of his relatives would die alone. As he awaited his own death, he sang the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“When we have this story of St. Mark, it’s so out there that that’s it’s almost impossible to tidy it up and make it neat and pretty for a little prayer card,” Bottaro said. “His story is so central on the messiness of his life that you can’t avoid that aspect of it.”

Sainthood

Pope Pius XII beatified St. Mark Ji along with 120 other Chinese martyrs on Nov. 24, 1946. St. Pope John Paul II canonized him on Oct. 1, 2000. His feast day is July 9.

In more recent years, St. Mark Ji’s life story has resonated with many who have been affected by the national opioid crisis. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 130 people in the United States die each day after overdosing on opioids.

For many today who suffer from drug addiction, and people who see their loved ones struggling with the disease, St. Mark Ji has become a patron.

“People would leave notes by his statue. Occasionally, I would straighten them up and read them. Many of them were just heartbreaking, where people were talking about their own struggles or asking for prayers for their loved ones,” said Father Deston, who had the statue of St. Mark Ji placed in his former parish’s basement shrine.

Durant said a priest in Pittsburgh called him and asked for a copy of the sculpture. Employees from an addiction center in New Hampshire traveled to St. Anne Shrine in Fall River, Massachusetts, to see the statue.

“I think he’s a fascinating and important character,” Durant said.

“Drug addiction, then or now, is one of the issues of our time,” Durant said. “It’s so big, affecting so many people. It affects all ages, races, socioeconomic status. It affects all of us. It’s important, whether you’re Catholic or not.”

I am a member of Al-anon, attending weekly meetings for over a year now, when not pandemic bound.  The Catholic Church views substance abuse as a sin, even though a disease of the mind and body. There are many kinds of addictions. They are in conflict with the freedom of God’s children, the gift of life and the goodness of life, all created from and by the goodness of God Himself. Addicts today are not excluded from the sacraments because they are addicts. However, a sincere Act of Contrition, immediately, and the sacrament of reconciliation should be sought quickly, to remain as much in the state of grace as possible considering mortality.

“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” -1 Cor 12:7-10


-please click on the image for greater detail

St Mark Li Tianxiang is called the ‘trier’ because he never gave up trying to overcome his addiction and be able to receive the sacraments again.

Nonetheless, Mark always attended Mass and lived a truly committed and devout Catholic life. It is said that he helped the sick and dying free of charge or only ever accepted what his patients were able to give him for his service.

St Mark Li Tianxiang, pray for us!!! Intercede with God on our behalf for whatever obstacles prevent us from being good servants of the Lord, particularly those sins to which we are truly addicted (pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, sloth, substance abuse, timidity, tepidity, lukewarmness in Your service, fear, etc.) or cannot rid ourselves of through His most generous and powerful grace; such is our too, too strong attachment to our sins. Jesus, help us!!! Jesus, save us!!!

Love, & His healing,
Matthew

Jun 7, or 19th – Venerable Matt Talbot, OFS, (1856-1925), Intercessor for Addicts

Matt Talbot Icon [1600x1200]

“Non nobis, Domine!!!” -Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to Your Name give the GLORY!!!” -Ps 115:1

It is more rare to find someone who doubts the existence of Hell; Hell being so much easier to believe in. There are so many practical, real, and terrifying examples here on Earth. Matthew Talbot is an intercessor and exemplar for those who struggle with addiction: to drugs, alcohol, pornography, sex, pride, power, gossip/scandal, greed, vanity, envy, wrath, narcissism, doubt, willfulness, ego, cynicism, bad habits/sins, lust, gluttony, even god, in a dark way, where actually, god is ourselves, or far worse, but that’s pretty bad enough.

Jesus resurrects from the dead, from the corruption, darkness, and silence of the tomb; Himself and us, into endless light, freshness, and rejoicing. Seek Him, while He may be found. He invites you, passionately. He does.

Matthew Talbot, “the saint in overalls”, was born on May 2, 1856, the second of 12 siblings,  in Dublin, Ireland. He had three sisters and nine brothers, three  of whom died young. His father Charles was a dockworker and his  mother, Elizabeth, was a housewife. From his early teens until age 28 Matt’s only aim in life was to be liquor. But from that point forward, his only aim was God.

Compulsory school attendance was not in force, and Matt never attended any school regularly.  When Matthew was about 12  years old, he got his first job, at E & J Burke Wine Merchants, and started to drink alcohol. His father was a known alcoholic as well as all his brothers.  Charles tried to dissuade Matthew with severe  punishments but without success.

Matthew, a regular guy if ever there was one, then worked as a messenger boy and then transferred to another messenger job at the same place his father worked. After working there for three years, he became a bricklayer’s laborer. He was a hodman, which meant he fetched mortar and bricks for the bricklayers. He was considered “the best hodman in Dublin.”

As he grew into an adult, he continued to drink excessively,  He continued to work but spent all his wages on heavy drinking.  When he got drunk, he became very hot-tempered, got into fights, and swore. He became so desperate for more drinks that he would buy drinks on credit, sell his boots or possessions, or steal people’s possession so he could exchange it for more drinks. He refused to listen to his mother’s plea to stop drinking. He stole the violin from a blind fiddler and pawned it.  He eventually lost his own self-respect. One day when he was broke, he loitered around a street corner waiting for his “friends”, who  were leaving work after they were paid their wages. He had hoped  that they would invite him for a drink but they ignored him. Dejected, humiliated, and devastated,  he went home and publicly resolved to his mother, “I’m going  to take the pledge.” His mother smiled and responded, “Go, in God’s name, but don’t take it unless you are going to keep  it.” As Matthew was leaving, she continued, “May God give you strength to keep it.”

matttalbot

Matthew went straight to confession at Clonliffe College and took a pledge not to drink for three months. The next day he went back to Church and received communion for the first time in years.  From that moment on, in 1884 when he was 28 years old, he became  a new man. After he successfully fulfilled his pledge for three months, he made a life long pledge. He even made a pledge to give up his pipe and tobacco. He used to use about seven ounces of tobacco a week. He said to the late Sean T. O’Ceallaigh, former President of Ireland, that it cost him more to give up tobacco than to give up alcohol.

The newly converted Matthew never swore.  A member of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Matt made sure he never carried money with him to help himself avoid temptation.   He was good humored and amicable to everyone. He continued to work as a hodman and then as a laborer for T&C Martins Lumberyard.  He used his wages to pay back all his debts. He lived modestly and his home was very spartan.  He developed into a very pious individual who prayed every chance he got. He attended Mass every morning and made devotions like the Stations of the Cross or devotions to the Blessed Mother in the evenings. He fasted, performed acts of mortification, and financially  supported many religious organizations. He read biographies of St. Teresa of Avila, St. Therese of Lisieux, and St. Catherine of Siena. He later joined the Third Order of St. Francis on October  18, 1891 even though a young pious girl proposed to marry him.  Physically, he suffered from kidney and heart ailments. During the two times he was hospitalized, he spent much time in Eucharistic adoration in the hospital chapel. Eventually, Matthew died suddenly of heart failure on June 7, 1925 while walking to Mass. He was 69 years old.

prt.matttalbot_grande

On his body, he was found wearing the cilice.  While penitential practice has fallen out of fashion, even in Catholic circles, in our modern age, these practices are ancient.  Though not popular or fun, penance is the cure for sin.  It must always be reasonably moderated and consultation with a healthy spiritual director is always wise.

EHC.matttalbot_grande

Penance changes us, allows us to reflect on our errant ways, and is a temporal preventative against a permanent disposition.  Even as the athlete trains his body and undergoes physical discomfort for the sake of future performance, so the spiritual athlete does the same.  We are creatures of body, mind, and spirit, and so the thinking goes, our engagement in spiritual reform cannot be purely intellectual.  Physical discomforts, such as fasting or abstaining from certain foods, make us mindful.  As humans, we are all too likely, it is our nature, not to pay attention.  It is hard work.

Piety also has fallen out of fashion in our modern age.  Matt knelt outside the doors of his church for hours every morning.  Once inside, he would prostrate himself on the floor in the form of a cross before entering his pew. Every Sunday, he spent seven hours in Church without moving, “his arms crossed, his elbows not resting on anything, his body from the knees up as rigid and straight as the candles on the altar.”  He did this every Sunday for 40 years.  One of his favorite little prayers, which he sometimes kept written on his hand, was “O blessed Mother, obtain for me from Jesus that I may participate in His folly.”

Matt_Talbot
-statue in Dublin honoring Venerable Matt Talbot, near Matt Talbot Bridge

“Three things I cannot escape: the eye of God, the voice  of conscience, the stroke of death. In company, guard your tongue.  In your family, guard your temper. When alone guard your thoughts.”

“Never look down on a man, who cannot give up the drink”, he told his sister, “it is easier to get out of hell!”.

“It is constancy that God seeks.”
-Venerable Matt Talbot

Prayer for the intercession of Matt Talbot:

“May Matt Talbot’s triumph over addiction, bring hope to our community and strength to our hearts, may he intercede for …name… who struggles with his/her addiction, through Christ Our Lord. Amen.”

PRAYER FOR THE ADDICTED

God of mercy, we bless You in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who ministers to all who come to Him. Give Your strength to N., Your servant, bound by the chains of addiction. Enfold himlher in Your love and restore himlher to the freedom of God’s children. Lord, look with compassion on all those who have lost their health and freedom. Restore to them the assurance of Your unfailing mercy, and strengthen them in the work of recovery. To those who care for them, grant patient understanding and a love that perseveres. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Official Prayer for the Canonization of Blessed Matt Talbot

“Lord, in your servant, Matt Talbot you have given us a wonderful example of triumph over addiction, of devotion to duty, and of lifelong reverence of the Holy Sacrament. May his life of prayer and penance give us courage to take up our crosses and follow in the footsteps of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Father, if it be Your will that Your beloved servant should be glorified by Your Church, make known by Your heavenly favours the power he enjoys in Your sight. We ask this through the same Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.”

card__224_Matt_Talbot__1383-082510-A-back-web

3.-Tomb-of-the-Venerable-Matt-Talbot
-Matt’s current resting place, the coffin was moved in 1972 and the remains now rest in Our Lady of Lourdes Church,
Sean MacDermott St., Dublin.

exhumed_1
-exhumed

exhumed_2
-formal inspection of the remains as official part of the beatification/canonization process

talbot matt original stone
-Matt’s original marker. He was originally buried in a poorer part of Glasnevin Cemetery.

talbot matt in coffin
-inspection of Matt’s remains upon transfer

On 8 June 1925, the following news item appeared in the Irish Independent:

“Unknown Man’s Death:

An elderly man collapsed in Granby Lane [Dublin] yesterday, and being taken to Jervis Street Hospital he was found to be dead. He was wearing a tweed suit, but there was nothing to indicate who he was.

What was not reported was the unusual discovery when he was taken to hospital. He was wearing heavy chains: some wrapped around his legs, others on his body. Mortuary staff puzzled over not just who he was but, also, the meaning of the chains.

The newspaper report had appeared on a Monday morning. Later that night, police ushered a woman into the mortuary. She identified the body as that of her brother: Matt Talbot. A nursing nun present asked about the chains. The dead man’s sister replied simply that it was something he wore, and with that, they were placed in the coffin and the lid closed.

That was not the whole story though; the chains were part of the mystery of the man who had died. They were as symbolic as they were real. The man’s life having been a ‘crossing over’ from the servitude of vice to the freedom of those in chains for Christ.

Talbot was born in 1856 into a large Catholic family living in semi-poverty in Dublin. His schooling was slight. He was barely literate when he went to work full-time aged just 11 years old. For the rest of his life his occupation was as an unskilled labourer. He was exposed to harsh working conditions, at times harsh bosses and to a social environment that necessitated some form of release from this – this was found by many in the city’s public houses. Matt was no different, so much so that by his teenage years he was hopelessly addicted to alcohol.

Matt had the reputation of being a hard worker. Increasingly, however, that work ethic was simply the means to finance his ‘hard drinking’. As it grips, vice of whatever sort is hard to counter, especially when the will to oppose it diminishes, so it was with Matt Talbot – what had began as an escape soon became a prison of moral and spiritual degradation. And, the more time he spent there the more Matt needed alcohol to shield him from that reality. Those around watched and, shaking their heads, concluded that Talbot was a lost cause. But they were to be proved wrong and in a most unexpected way.

Fittingly, the second phase of Matt’s life began outside a pub. That day he had no money, and, therefore, hoped that some of his drinking fraternity would stand him a drink. As each acquaintance filed past, none offered to buy him anything. On that summer’s day in 1884, something occurred that was to change Matt Talbot forever. Humiliated by the indifference of his erstwhile friends, he turned and walked straight home. His mother was surprised to see him – at that early hour, and sober. He proceeded to clean himself up before announcing he was going to a nearby seminary to ‘take the pledge’ – a promise to abstain from all alcohol. His mother was mystified by this and fearful. She knew that pledges made to God were not something to be taken lightly. She counselled him against doing any such thing unless he was intent on persevering. He listened, and then left.

Matt did take the pledge that day. He also went to Confession. It was as dramatic as it was decisive. It had all the hallmarks of a genuine conversion, one as sincere as it was needed. Nevertheless, a conversion takes but a moment, the work of sanctity a lifetime: after years of drunkenness, still arraigned against Matt was a weakness of character and a world that revolved around alcohol. It looked as if the odds were stacked against him, but this was not solely a human undertaking. Into this ‘land of captivity’, from ‘across the Jordan’, there came invisible armies to fight alongside this now embattled soul, one embarked upon a war of liberation. This was not a new spiritual combat, but rather one that had commenced many years previously when this poor man’s parents brought a child to a parish church and asked for baptism in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

After his conversion, not much changed, outwardly at least: Matt continued with his employment in the docks. He continued to work hard, now respected more than ever by his fellow workers and employers who noticed that he had started to give his wages to his mother rather than straight to a publican. Nevertheless, work alone cannot satisfy the human heart. Previously, when not working his life had been many hours spent in public houses, but, now, he had turned his back on that. He had been ‘born anew’, but like a newborn was vulnerable to the world he inhabited. With no material substance to cling to he turned inward, to the Spirit that dwells within each baptised soul. And, as he did so, he commenced upon an adventure that few could have imagined possible.

From then on, along the Dublin streets, there moved a mystic soul. Each morning at 5AM, dressed in workman’s clothes a man knelt outside a city church waiting for the doors to open and the first Mass to begin. After the Holy Sacrifice, he would pray for a time before going to one of the timber yards near the docks. There, he laboured all day; but there were periods in the day when lulls and breaks would occur. Whilst his fellow workers gossiped or smoked, Matt chose to be alone, knelt in prayer in a hidden part of a workshop until the call came to return to his labors.

***

Each evening, when work was finished, Matt walked home with his fellow workers. They knew their companion’s free time was spent praying in some city church before the Blessed Sacrament. Often he asked them to join him in making a visit to Our Blessed Lord. Some did. After a short while, however, they would leave with Matt still knelt in the gathering twilight. Eventually, when at night he did return home it was to yet more prayer – and mortification. His bed was a plank of wood, a piece of that same material his pillow. Although respected by those he lived amongst and worked alongside, and not unfriendly, he had few visitors. Those who did encounter him felt he was not quite of this world; they were right; he was travelling ever inwards on a mystical journey to a freedom he could never have dreamt of when trapped in an alcoholic stupor.

When his belongings were found after his death, one of the surprises was the number of books he owned. Inquires soon revealed that he had slowly, but determinedly, taught himself to read and, as he did so, effectively began a course of study that included the spiritual classics, the lives of Saints, doctrinal books, and works of mystical and ascetical theology. When asked how he, a poor workman, could read the works of St. Augustine, Newman et al, his reply was as straightforward as it was telling. He said he asked the Holy Spirit to enlighten him. And so, he grew in an intellectual understanding of his faith, which in turn deepened the prayer and penance he undertook. Here was a 20th Century heir to the spiritual traditions of the ancient Irish monks, albeit one now living not on an island monastery but in the slums of Dublin, but, like those earlier contemplatives his life was work, study and prayer with eyes turned ever inward to the Holy Trinity.

Matt never married; held no position of note, was unknown outside his own small circle of family and friends – only one blurred photograph has survived him- and, yet, this was a rare man: one who had taken the Gospel at its word and lived it.

His lifetime ran alongside the then momentous events in Irish history. A time of cultural renaissance and nationalist fervour, of a Great Strike in 1913 and open revolution in 1916, of the Great War and a War for Independence, throughout it all his life remained largely unchanged. Matt knew all too well that kingdoms rise and kingdoms fall, but that he had set his face to serve a different Kingdom, one shown him in 1884 when he confessed all and cast himself into the hands of the Living God.

By 1925, Matt was 69. He had been in poor health for some time. Out of necessity he tried to continue working as there was only limited relief for the poor or elderly, but his strength was failing. Nevertheless, he persisted in his prayer and penance. On 7 June 1925, whilst struggling down a Dublin alleyway on his way to Mass, he fell. A small crowd gathered around him. A Dominican priest was called from the nearby church, the one where Matt had been hurrying. The priest came and knelt over the fallen man. Realising what had happened, he lifted his hand in a blessing for the final journey. Little did he realise the dead stranger lying in front of him had already been on that ‘journey’ for over 40 years.

Having lived in the intimacy of the Triune God, it was apt Matt died on Trinity Sunday. Having lived off the Eucharist daily for more than 40 years, it was equally fitting he was buried on the feast of Corpus Christi.

Decades later, a visiting Italian priest went privately to pray at the grave of the Dublin worker he had heard so much about. In 1975, and after the due process had been completed, that same cleric, now Pope Paul VI, bestowed a new title upon that Irish workman: Venerable Matt Talbot.

There is a large trunk in the safe keeping of the Archdiocese of Dublin. It contains the books owned by Venerable Matt Talbot. A veritable treasury of spiritual theology, one of the books contained therein is True Devotion to Mary by St. Louis de Montfort. In its pages it reflects on being a slave to this world or to the Blessed Virgin. For those that choose the latter path it recommends, after due recourse to a spiritual director and the suitable enrolment, that a chain be worn to symbolise that that soul no longer belongs to the powers of darkness but is now a child of the light. On that June day in 1925, when Matt Talbot fell upon a Dublin street, it was dressed as a slave to Mary and as an ambassador of Christ.”

Love,
Matthew