In all difficult times and circumstances, throughout the history of humanity and the Church, God has raised up saints in our midst to help us. They are our sisters and brothers in the body of Christ.
They lived lives and encountered hardships that are very similar to our own. When we call upon the saints, we give our prayers an extra boost of intercessory power, and our own faith is bolstered in the process.
These ordinary people were given extraordinary graces and virtues to combat the darkness and trials that surrounded them. Five such individuals come to the forefront as guides on our mission of love, mercy, and hope for those we know who are addicted. They are St. Faustina, Venerable Matt Talbot, St. Monica and St. Augustine, and St. Maximilian Kolbe.
Venerable Matt Talbot
Venerable Matt Talbot (1856–1925) is the patron saint of alcoholics. He was one of twelve children born into extreme poverty in the tenements of Dublin, Ireland. His father was a heavy drinker who could not provide for his family, and so he moved them from place to place. As a result, Matt attended formal school only from the ages of eleven to twelve and could not read or write.
When Matt was twelve, he got his first job as a delivery boy for a beer bottling company and also took his first drink. This unhealthy combination seemed to seal his fate. By the time he was sixteen, Matt was a confirmed alcoholic. He was spending all of his money on alcohol and not supporting his family, who remained desperately poor. Matt recalled that he reached his lowest point “when he and his brothers stole a fiddle from a blind street player and sold it for the price of a drink.”
While these hardly seem like the actions of a man on his way to sainthood, God had another plan! One fateful Saturday afternoon, after twelve years of hard drinking, Matt found himself without a job, without a drink, and without a friend to help him get one. As he walked home that day, he experienced a moment of immense grace. He suddenly saw with an intense clarity in his mind and heart that he had been wasting his life. At the age of twenty-eight, he saw himself for what he truly was—a fool who had nothing to show for his life.
By the time he reached his home, Matt had made the decision to quit drinking. That very day he walked to Dublin Seminary and made his confession to a priest, who helped him “take the pledge” to renounce alcohol for three months. He returned at six months and then made the pledge for life—but it was not easy! There were no twelve-step programs or counselors or support groups to help him. Nevertheless, Matt maintained sobriety through a recovery program that centered on daily Mass, devotion to the Eucharist, a love for Mary, and spiritual reading. (He learned to read so that he could read the Bible.)
Matt Talbot is often referred to as an “urban ascetic.” After his conversion, he lived a life of quiet devotion, holiness, and extreme generosity in spirit and material goods in the midst of the flourishing city life that swirled around him. He offered a pious contrast and example of austerity and charity for those he worked with and those in his neighborhood.
Although there is no cause for sainthood presently open for Matt Talbot’s mother, Elizabeth, perhaps there should be! In addition to her husband, all but one of her seven sons were alcoholics. She had no money and barely a roof over her head but managed to remain steadfast in her prayers for her family. She took in work and held out hope that her family could be cured of its problems. Thanks to Matt, she was able to live the last twelve years of her life in relative peace and stability when he moved in to care for her after his father, who never appeared to convert, passed away.
“Never be too hard on the man who can’t give up drink,” Matt Talbot is often quoted as saying. “It’s as hard to give up the drink as it is to raise the dead to life again. But both are possible and even easy for our Lord. We have only to depend on him.”. . . .
“Lord, you give us the example of Venerable Matt Talbot as a man who seemed completely lost and beyond your grace. In a single moment, you pierced his heart and changed his mind, leading him back to you. Jesus, I pray for this same conversion and transformation for _________ in your perfect will and timing and for your greater glory. Amen.”
Note: Matt Talbot was declared “Venerable” by Pope Paul VI in 1975.
This selection is an excerpt from Praying for Those with Addictions by Anne Costa (The Word Among Us Press, 2016). Available at wau.org/books