I'll be honest, I have a hard time relating to a lot of Saints. Especially, the spiritual prodigies that seemed to have sprung forth from their mother's womb with rosary in hand.
But give me a guy like Venerable Matt Talbot. Now there's a guy I can relate to.
Because Matt was a drunk.
A drunk? Why do you relate to that?
I'll explain later...
Matt was born in Ireland to a very large and very poor family in the midst of the Irish Potato Famine. His dad was an alcoholic and his upbringing was rough. Matt and his siblings were forced at an early age to leave their schooling behind and find jobs in order to support the family and themselves.
At the ripe ol' age of 12 Matt got a job running booze for a local wine seller. I can imagine Matt reaching over into his inventory and grabbing a nip here and a nip there throughout his busy workday.
I know I would have. You know, just enough to take the edge off.
He was living during one of the worst times in human history and working full time at 12 years old. Who can blame him?
Soon enough, his drinking was off to the races. He was a full blown alcoholic by the age of 13. He lived for drinking. It was an all consuming affair for Matt. His friends would later say "he only wanted one thing-the drink; he wouldn't go with us to a dance or a party or a school function. But for a drink he'd do anything".
I can relate. Like Matt I found my self in the snares of alcoholism quite early in life. I like to think Matt and I would have been pretty good drinking buddies in our early drinking days. It sounds like he liked to drink like I did. One was too many, and a thousand was never enough.
Did I say one beer? Better make it twenty.
But much like mine, Matt's drinking career spiraled out of control. What was once rambunctious revelry soon turned dysfunctional and desperate. He began stealing and pawning items to support his habit.
Finally, at the age of 28 (same age I got sober) Matt decided he had had enough. He told his mother he was "taking the pledge". No more drinking for three months. So with the help of a Confessor and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, Matt kept his pledge for the next three months.
But he didn't stop there. He decided to continue. One sober day after another Matt died 40 years later having never picked up a drink again.
During those 40 years of sobriety Matt immersed himself in the spiritual life. He attended Daily Mass, became a Third Order Fransiscan, and practiced extensive mortification and asceticism. He taught himself to read so he could study the Bible and the lives of the Saints. He gave what little money he made as a laborer to the poor.
Despite being a kind and generous man, he was quiet and had few friends. He never married. He lived in a very small house in a downtrodden part of town. He slept on a small wooden bed with a small wood pillow.
At the age of 69, on his way to Mass, Matt Talbot collapsed and died. No one even recognized the Saintly man lying dead on the street. It was later discovered at the morgue that Matt wore heavy chains under his clothes: some wrapped around his legs, others around his body. The chains found on his body at death were not an extreme penitential regimen but a symbol of his devotion to Mary, that he wished to give himself to her totally as a slave.
Although he lived in relative obscurity during his life, after his death, Matt's story quickly filtered through the community and he gained quite a following, and it continues today. He is revered for his piety, charity, temperance, and mortification of the flesh.
Matt Talbot was declared Venerable by Pope Paul VI in 1975. He is the Patron Saint of Struggling and Recovering Addicts and Alcoholics.
We all have our crosses to bear, or heavy chains if you will. But, with God’s help, Matt’s story is proof, anything is possible. We can break the chains of slavery to our flesh and opt instead to anchor those chains to Christ (and his mother) as his servant.
There is no cross we cannot bear. There is nothing we can't overcome to become the Saints that God calls us to be.
Matt’s cross was alcoholism, just like me.
I’ve been sober for over five years now and I take comfort in Matt’s story.
If he can beat alcoholism with God’s help, so can I...
If he can stay sober for 40 years, so can I...
If he can become a Saint, so can...
Well, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves...
One day at a time, right?
Venerable Matt Talbot, pray for us!