Category Archives: Theology of the Body

Why does the Catholic Church teach homosexual acts are intrinsically evil?

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“Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.” -CCC 2357

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THE CATHOLIC CHURCH WANTS YOU TO HAVE AWESOME SEX!!!!  It’s true.  It does.  But, let’s define some terms.  You could say the Catholic Church holds sexual union as sacred.  So sacred it places it within and confines it to a sacrament.  In Catholic theology, sacraments are “efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us.”

This is easier if you have had some philosophy, literally the “love of wisdom”.  Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with reality, existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language.

Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational argument. In more casual speech, by extension, “philosophy” can refer to “the most basic beliefs, concepts, and attitudes of an individual or group”.

The Church, from the beginning, has understood the world has an implied rational order due to the nature of creation itself.  The Church “holds these truths to be self-evident”, so to speak, when reflected upon.  Truth cannot contradict truth.

But, humans being sinful beings, can and do and have always and will always pervert the rational truth distilled from philosophy and revelation to fit their own agendas, to fit their own definitions of their “truths”.

The Church does not believe there are many “truths”.  Rather, it holds there is only One Truth, Jesus Christ, and it strives, under the guidance and protection of the Holy Spirit, to come to an ever more full understanding of that Truth.

In Catholicism, a “mystery” is not something unknowable, it is something infinitely knowable.  We are only limited by our own humanity as to why God had pre-ordained such things, and things as such.

We may NOT make ourselves gods, and make our own “truths”.  We do, therefore, have free will, as God’s gift, and, frankly, also the inherent challenge and responsibility to use or to abuse the created world as we do, even contrary to the Creator’s will.  We have the freedom to cure terrible diseases, to feed the starving, to free slaves, but also to commit genocide, to enslave, to exploit, to oppress, to make war, to annihilate.  We also have the freedom to use our sexual gifts, our ability to participate in the creation of beautiful life, and the freedom to abuse them towards selfish and unproductive ends.

There is no genuine love of the Creator nor anything else without free will.  The realization of the gift of free will means, as with any freedom or authority we may possess, that there is also the intrinsic freedom to abuse our free will, to choose wrongly, to act against the intentions and the will of the Creator.  This is a heavy responsibility.  We must choose wisely.  Our choices have consequences here, in this life, and in eternity.

The Natural Law

Very simply put, the natural law is that moral behavior which can be determined through reason by its architecture, form, function, and effects.  The end NEVER justifies the means.  The Catholic Church understands human beings to consist of body and mind, the physical and the non-physical (soul), and that the two are inextricably linked. Humans are capable, but only proper moral formation inclines them to judge rightly, of discerning the difference between good and evil because they have a conscience, and the divinely mandated obligation to do so.

The Divine Law

Gen. 19:8-9,13, Jude 7, Ezek. 16:49-50, Lev. 18:22, 20:13, 1 Cor 6:9-10, Romans 1:27, provoking the wrath of the Almighty.  Prov 1:7.

Love must be fruitful

The Catholic definition of “love” is very specific.  It MUST, NO exceptions, comport to the the natural moral law.  It MUST, same deal, comport to the Divine law.  It MUST be open to life.  It MUST be open to fecundity, and fruitfulness.  It MUST occur within the Sacrament of Marital Union.

  1. Because homosexual acts violate the natural law as implied by the sexual “complementarity”, or sexual differences, between male and female, both in biology, and in the total complementarity of a person’s personal identity in  their masculinity or femininity,
  2. Because they violate the Divine law,
  3. Because, by definition, they cannot be naturally fecund, ever, and are inherently closed to natural procreation,
  4. Because of the above, homosexual acts cannot, ever, be blessed in the Sacrament of Marriage,
  5. Because of all these, homosexual acts can never be approved.

This position is objectively determined as a consequence of faith in Jesus Christ.  It has nothing to do with “liking” or “disliking” anyone.   It has nothing to do with subjective preferences, conditions, opinions, or agendas.  Nothing.  It has been the Church’s consistent teaching.  Those who object are just waking up to the Church’s teaching in greater clarity, which cannot be a bad thing.  “Truth is not determined by a majority.” – BXVI

All are called to chastity in their particular state of life.  Homosexual persons must be accepted with respect, compassion, dignity, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives.

Love,
Matthew

Pornography

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“Whom/what shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or the sword?
As it is written:
“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”
Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us.  For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 8:35-39

Jn 15:5

Pornography is a BIG problem in modern society. Actually, no. Pornography is a HUGE problem in modern society. Did you know that 10-15% of all search engine requests and 20% of smart phone searches are for pornography? Studies show that 90% of boys and 60% of girls are exposed to pornography before they are 18 years old. In addition, 70% of young men and 20% of young women view pornography every week and pornographic sites have more monthly visitors than Twitter and Amazon combined.

We should first, as the Jesuits say, define our terms. The word “pornography” comes from the Greek words, “porne,”meaning a harlot, prostitute, or whore, and “graphos,” meaning a writing or depiction. If we put both words together we arrive at “A depiction or description of the activities of whores.”

With the theatre debut of “Fifty Shades of Grey” imminent, does the media we consume affect us?  Positively?  Negatively?  Violent video games?  Music?  Violence in fim?  Print?  The news?  Literature?  Do we have an adult responsibility to intentionally choose the media we expose ourselves towards?  Guided by a moral path?   Based in and on our values?  Imho, I believe the answer is “yes” to all of the above.  It is His grace ALONE which can save us, in the here and now.  I say that with conviction as a sinner, who has prayed for His grace and received, and I continue to struggle but also feel, in a very real way, His healing presence.  I do.  Mt 7:7.  Pray for me, please.

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from https://www.lifesitenews.com/blogs/not-convinced-that-porn-is-evil-then-quit-because-its-making-you-miserable

-by Jonathan Van Maren

PORNOGRAPHY Tue Feb 3, 2015 – 10:12 am EST

Not convinced that porn is wrong? Then quit because it’s making you miserable.

Pornography

I was very pleased to see that GQ Magazine has joined the growing number of secular publications that are beginning the painful process of examining our out-of-control cultural obsession with pornography, recently publishing an article entitled 10 Reasons You Should Quit Watching Porn.

While a number of prominent feminists (including Naomi Wolf) have openly condemned pornography, men have been slow to engage in the discussion, for obvious reasons. Recently, I decided I wanted to get a male perspective on the porn plague for my radio show—so I called up one of the foremost male scholars in the field, Dr. Robert Jensen, author of both “Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity” and “Pornography: The Production and Consumption of Inequality,” co-authored with Dr. Gail Dines.

Dr. Jensen, a self-described radical feminist, approaches the pornography discussion with a pragmatism that eschews much of the sound and fury that makes up the debate elsewhere. Men, he believes, often just really haven’t thought through what they’re doing when they consume porn.

“For me,” he told me, “the challenge to men—originally it was just the challenge to myself, and then I became part of the [anti-porn] movement—a broader challenge was, ‘Is that who we want to be? Is that consistent with our own moral principles and political principles?’ And even at a more basic level, does that kind of arrangement really make us happy? Do we feel fulfilled?

And that’s one of the ways we need to speak about this. Not just to talk about the sexual exploitation industries, in the way that they injure women—and they do injure women in all sorts of ways—but also the way they leave us men in very constrained, confined, and in the end incredible roles…The effect of these sexual exploitation industries and then violence more generally on women is pretty clear. But I think men also have to think about what it does to us as human beings.

A lot of this boils down to how pornography inevitably shapes the relationships men have with the women in their lives. Dr. Jensen is not convinced by male bravado in regards to porn use. When they obsess over pornography, men often watch the rest of their lives disintegrate.

I’ve spoken to a lot of men and women over the years, both in formal interview situations and just informally after talks or presentations. And what’s clear is that the repeated habitual use of pornography, especially the most cruel and degrading forms of pornography that present women as these degraded objects, that the habitual use of that kind of pornography by men has a direct effect on relationships.

So, I’ve heard from many men and women about how the male partner’s use of pornography will distort what had perhaps prior to that been a healthy, intimate and sexual relationship. These stories are piling up everywhere. I always say – it’s partly joke but it’s actually very accurate – that if you want to know about the effects of repeated pornography use on heterosexual relationships in this culture, there are two kinds of people you can ask. One is marriage therapists and the other is divorce lawyers, because these things are actually coming up as relationships disintegrate.

Dr. Robert Jensen sees pornography as a great threat to women’s rights, because the systematic dehumanization of women through pornography is leaking into the culture in dangerous ways.

“Society has become less sexist,” he told me. “Women have more access to higher education, they can make more inroads into politics and government…but we’ve also lost ground. And I think this question of rape, pornography, and the trivializing of sexual violence is one of those reasons where we’ve lost ground, and I think in fact that’s part of the reason people have so much trouble talking about pornography. Now, I’ve always said that, and people say, ‘Well, the reason we don’t talk about porn is we have trouble talking about sex!’ And I always say, ‘Look around at this culture. People are talking about sex all the time!’”

The cultural discussion around pornography, Dr. Jensen points out, is actually a very good opportunity for feminists and religious conservatives to find common ground. Both groups, after all, oppose the dehumanization of women.

I think this is actually one of the issues where conversation between conservatives – you know, often people rooted in a particular religious perspective – there’s a real possibility for dialogue with a least one part of the feminist movement. Now, as you pointed out, other segments of the feminist movement are celebrating pornography and calling it liberation, and the dialogue there is more difficult. But I’m always eager to engage on all of these issues, and as someone who considers himself on the Left, and a radical feminist, but also goes to church, I find church space is very important for this because even when there are significant differences in theology between people within a Christian community in my case, there’s still the common ground for dialogue and that’s more important than ever.

Men, Dr. Jensen says, hate being talked down to—which is one of the reasons that men can speak out about pornography to other men in a powerful way.

When I talk to men about this, I don’t pretend that, you know, I’m somehow on high and mighty throne telling people how to behave. I grew up as a man in, post-WWII America, what I would call the Playboy World, and I struggled with this and to some degree still struggle, which is why I stay away from pornography of all kinds because I feel like it takes me into a place where I don’t like the person I am. Now that’s often a hard conversation for men who are trained to be tough and stoic and not reveal emotion, but those are the kind of conversations I think we have to have and I think we can have them. At least in my own life, I know I’ve been able to have them.

And these conversations, Dr. Jensen believes, are essential to moving the discussion forward. There is no one magic bullet, no one strategy to fighting the influence of pornography in our culture. But opening up dialogue with male consumers is one indispensable part of that strategy.

“One thing I’ve learned is that if you’re man, and you’re trying to disconnect from the pornographic world by yourself, if you want to go it alone, I can guarantee you you’ll fail,” he told me. “Because these are difficult questions and they’re very hard to negotiate on our own.”

So we have to find these kinds of spaces where men can talk to each other and the notion of porn as addiction is, I think, actually very complex. I’m not comfortable calling the use of pornography or the use of any media an addiction in terms that we typically use that for drugs and alcohol. But certainly there are patterns of habitual repeated use that people engaged in the activity can recognize is counterproductive, that it’s hurting themselves – yet they’re compelled to do it. Whether we call that compulsion addiction, or whatever we want to call it, men are more and more aware of this.

When I first started doing work on this, 25 years ago, I could be guaranteed that most men would be hostile. For what I’ve noticed and what Gail [Dines] and I talked about over the years is that because more and more men are troubled by exactly what you’re describing, the sense that what they’re doing is not only wrong in some political or moral sense, but it’s affecting the way they are able to be with their female partner, that these men are compelled now to think about this almost out of self-interest, because they can feel what it’s doing to them. I think that’s part of the solution to this problem, to make spaces more attractive to men to talk about this.

One of my friends in the anti-porn movement often notes that men are generally the problem when it comes to porn—but they also are, and must be, the solution. When men start fully realizing what pornography is doing to them—destroying their healthy relationships with female partners, friends, and family members, rewiring their brains in dangerous ways, twisting their view of sexuality, and physical fallout including erectile dysfunction – they recognize that using pornography just isn’t worth it. Pornography is fantasy, not real life – but it has the power to destroy so much real happiness.”

Brain on Porn:  JAMA Psychiatry
Brain on Porn2

Love,
Matthew

teen sexting & custodia occulorum, “custody of the eyes”

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“Christian, remember your dignity, and the price which was paid to purchase your salvation!” -cf Pope St Leo the GreatSermo 22 in nat. Dom., 3:PL 54,192C.

“Christian, recognize your dignity and, now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return to your former base condition by sinning. Remember Who is your head and of Whose body you are a member. Never forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of the Kingdom of God.” -CCC 1691, St. Leo the Great, Sermo 22 in nat. Dom., 3:PL 54,192C.

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-by Sam Guzman, “The Catholic Gentleman”, from http://www.catholicgentleman.net/2014/06/custody-of-the-eyes-what-it-is-and-how-to-practice-it/

“Oh! how many are lost by indulging their sight!  St. Alphonsus de Liguori

Mk 9:47-48, Lk 11:34-36

WHAT IS IT

At its most basic level, custody of the eyes simply means controlling what you allow yourself to see. It means guarding your sense of sight carefully, realizing that what you view will leave an indelible mark on your soul.

Many of the saints, in their zeal for purity, would never look anyone in the face. “To avoid the sight of dangerous objects, the saints were accustomed to keep their eyes almost continually fixed on the earth, and to abstain even from looking at innocent objects,” says St. Alphonsus de Liguori.

Now, staring at the floor at all times is a bit extreme for most of us, but it does demonstrate the seriousness with which the saints viewed the importance of purity. They teach us that is simply impossible to allow hundreds of immodest images into our minds, however innocently, and remain pure.

Of course, to the modern mind, this guarding of the eyes is rather quaint and even ridiculous. How prudish, many would think, to think that we should exercise any control over what we see. And yet, if we care about our souls, we have no other option.

HOW TO PRACTICE IT

The best place to begin practicing custody of the eyes is in the things which we can control, such as movies, magazines, or television shows. If your favorite TV show has a sex scene every 5 minutes, you need to cut it out of your life. It’s not worth the temptation. In short, don’t consume things that are occasions of sin. Carelessly putting yourself in spiritual danger in this way is a grave sin itself, so take it seriously.

It’s actually rather easy to edit what you consume. But what about the things we can’t control, such as the immodestly dressed person walking past you? This takes far more prayer-fueled discipline and practice. That said, here are some suggestions.

First, if you’re struggling with the way someone else is dressed, immediately look elsewhere, perhaps their face. I don’t care how beautiful anyone is, it is essentially impossible to lust after someone’s face. The face is the icon of each person’s humanity, and it is far easier to respect a person’s dignity when you’re looking at their face and not her body.

Second, it may just be appropriate to stare at the floor sometimes, especially if there’s no other way to avoid temptation. This doesn’t have to be the norm, but if the situation warrants it, it is foolish not to do so. (Ed. better to appear foolish, or daft, in the eyes of man, than guilty before the eyes of Jesus at our particular judgment.)

Third, avoid places you know are especially problematic for you. For most, the beach can be a problem. Dozens of people in tiny bikinis is just too much. If that’s the case for you, avoid the beach.

Finally, fast and pray. This should go without saying, and yet I am always amazed that people think they can control themselves without God’s help.  (Ed. Grace.  It’s ALL ABOUT GRACE!!!!  Jn 15:5)  It simply isn’t possible. (Ed.  PRAY!!!!  And it will be given to you!  I promise! Mt 7:7-8) We always need grace in the battle against concupiscence, and if we trust in ourselves and our own willpower, we will do nothing but fail.  (Ed.  We are powerless.  He is ALL-POWERFUL!!!)

CONCLUSION

Yes, temptation is everywhere, but we are not helpless victims. (Ed.  We have THE GREATEST ALLY in our battle with sin!!!  We do!!!  We do!!!  Praise Him, Church!!!  Praise Him!!!)  We must take the need for purity seriously, and that means guarding carefully what we allow ourselves to see. Through prayer, fasting, and practice, we can learn to take control of our eyes and avoid temptation. This isn’t quaint and archaic—it’s basic to spiritual survival.

Let us call upon our most pure Lady and her chaste husband St. Joseph, begging their intercession for our purity.”

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Male saints holding lilies symbolize their purity of life, St Joseph, Most Chaste Spouse, pray for us!!!!

“It is a common doctrine of the Saints that one of the principal means of leading a good and exemplary life is modesty and custody of the eyes. For, as there is nothing so adapted to preserve devotion in a soul, and to cause compunction and edification in others, as this modesty, so there is nothing which so much exposes a person to relaxation and scandals as its opposite.”—-St. Alphonsus Rodriguez

Love,
Matthew

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

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“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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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-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.”

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-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.

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-exhumed

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-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.

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-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.

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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