Servant of God, Matt Talbot
sermon for the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, St John's Church,
June 11, 1995,
by Fr. Daniel Couture.
My Dear Brethren,
On this feast
of the Blessed Trinity, Holy Mother Church directs our thoughts
to the very life of God, his inner life, God in His Three Divine
Persons. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy
I would like to point out to you the most powerful work of the Blessed
Trinity. What works does God do outside Himself? Firstly, He creates.
Only an almighty God has the power to create, that is, to make something
out of nothing. "Dixit et facta sunt, mandavit et creata
sunt - He spoke and they were made, He commanded and they were created"
(Ps.CXLVIII,5). "All things were made by Him and without Him
was made nothing that was made" (John I,3).
is something greater than creation. This is the second work of
the Blessed Trinity. It is called, in the words of the Offertory,
a "re-creation": Deus qui humanae substantiae dignitatem
mirabiliter condidisti et mirabilius reformasti - O God, who in
a wonderful way didst create and enoble man's being and in a manner
still more marvellous didst renew it..." St Thomas Aquinas
teaches that "God's omnipotence is particularly shown in
sparing and having mercy because in this it is made manifest that
God has supreme power, (...) because by sparing and having mercy
upon men, He leads them on to the participation of an infinite good,
which is the ultimate effect of Divine power" (I, q.25, a.3,
ad 3). When God creates something, He gives this thing a particular
created nature. When God gives his sanctifying grace to a soul
which until then was in the state of mortal sin, He shares with
this soul His infinite divine being. That is "the ultimate
effect of divine power". It is called is our usual language:
Let us see
one such conversion which is a source of great encouragement for
all of us in our various battles to save our souls and the souls
of others. I want to speak of a man whose death occurred today,
on Trinity Sunday, 70 years ago. A name quite well known, but a
life sadly enough less known. He was a most ordinary working Dubliner.
You have guessed, it is Matt Talbot, an extraordinary man, whose
good deeds are not only admirable but also, for the most important
of them, also imitable. They give testimony as well in a beautiful
manner to the action of the Holy Ghost in a soul through the seven
was born on May 3rd, 1856 and baptised two days later, on the feast
of St Pius V. He was the second child of a family of twelve children,
three of which died in young age. The family had a very hard life
as they moved not less than 11 times in the course of 18 years.
The cause of this continual instability lies mainly in the father's
went to school. At the age of 11, he received a few lessons in
religion, writing, reading and arithmetic by a very young Christian
Brother who was not even 20 years old, one of the zealous souls
urged by the Archbishop of Dublin, to save the children who were
continually assailed by and urged to join the Protestant street
preachers. At 12, Matt left his teacher and began to work, unfortunately,
in a wine store. Workers induced him to drink and within a year
he had to change job and got employment in the Bonded Stores at
the Custom Dock House. The drinking continued. As a matter of
fact, it continued for a solid 16 years. During all that time,
all his money went to drink, every penny, every copper. He was
one of these poor souls, described by St Paul, "cujus Deus
venter est - whose God is their belly" (Phil.3,19). And
as one sin leads to another, in order to drink, he began to steal
with his friends. He stole once the fiddle of a poor blind man.
Later on he searched through Dublin for that man, in vain. He even
pawned his shirt and boots for drink.
Until the day
the saving grace of God was offered to him. He was then 28. Unemployed
on that particular day, he had been waiting outside a public house
for his "friends" to pass him on their way in and to give
him a few "bobs". He got nothing. They passed him and
gave him absolutely nothing. The shock of their scornful refusal
hurt him far more that the lack of the price of a pint. Like the
prodigal son, he felt the painful nature of that kind of "friendship".
Wounded, he wandered a few steps away at a little bridge, Newcomer
Bridge, and leaned over, gazing at the dark waters below. God,
the living water, was there, in the dark water. A strong grace
of God shone in his soul, showed him his life wasted in miserable
drink and filled him with shame and disgust. He would no longer
be the spineless good-for-nothing Matt Talbot. He would offend
God no more. Enough was enough. He would take the pledge and keep
it. All this lasted a few brief instants. Yet, this was one of
the Blessed Trinity's greatest miracles, one of these "ultimate
effects of Divine power".
to these beautiful words of Fr. Faber:
man goes forth from his house into the streets in a state of
mortal sin... In the streets he meets a funeral, or comes across
a priest by whose demeanor he perceives that he has got the
Blessed Sacrament with him. Thoughts crowd into his mind.
Faith is awake and on the watch. Grace disposes him for grace.
The veil falls from sin; and he turns from the hideous vision
with shame, with detestation, with humility. The eye of his
soul glances to his crucified Redeemer. Fear has led the way
for hope and hope has the heart to resolve, and faith tells
him that his resolution will be accepted and he loves - how
can he help loving Him who will accept so poor a resolution?
There is a pressure on his soul. It is less than the sting
of a bee, even if hurts at all. Yet it was the pressure of
the Creator, omnipotent, immense, all-holy and incomprehensible,
on his living soul. The unseen Hand was laid on him for a moment.
He has not passed half a dozen shop-fronts, and the work is
done. He is contrite. Hell is vanquished. All the Angels
of Heaven are in a stir of joy. His soul is beautiful. God
is yearning over it with love and ineffable desire..."
(The Blessed Sacrament, Book I, section III)
When he arrived
home, earlier than usual, Matt surprised his mother by being sober.
"You're home early, Matt, and you're sober!" He replied:
"Yes, mother, I am." After a light meal, he said to her
on his way out: "I am going to take the pledge". She
smiled and said: " Go, in God's name, but don't take it, unless
you are going to keep it!" He said: "I'll go, in God's
name." She added: "God give you strength to keep it!"
And God heard that motherly prayer. Ah! the prayers of a mother!
As another Monica, she had wept and shed abundant tears for many
a year. Had St Ambrose being there, surely he would have told her:
"The child of so many tears cannot perish!"
He went straight
to confession in Clonliffe and the next morning, he received Holy
Communion for the first time in many years. This is the work of
the first gift of the Holy Ghost, the fear of the Lord. When God
enters a soul, he breaks the chains of sin and leads it to true
He took the
pledge for a three months trial, then renewed it for one year and
finally took it for life. The first three months were, he admitted
later, the hardest of his whole life. The pangs of renewed craving,
the presence of his drinking companions in the following evenings
became almost intolerable. Not knowing what to do, he fled to a
far church, entered and cast himself at the feet of the Divine Saviour.
There and then began this lonely and terrible ordeal before the
Blessed Sacrament. Evening after evening, night after night, all
afternoon on Saturdays and all day on Sundays, he held tight to
his pew, battling his agonising craving, just as Augustine, with
unaccustomed prayers. Our Blessed Lord on the Cross seemed to cry
out to him in gasping sympathy: "I thirst!" Here, in
this battle finally victorious, you can see the gift of fortitude.
One day, though, he almost gave in. He could not stand it any longer;
he left the church and went to the nearest pub which was not familiar
to him. Thanks be to God, there was at that moment a little queue,
so he had to wait. His Guardian Angel poked him: "What are
you doing here? Get out quick!" He left and went back to
his kneeler. He was saved.
He always admitted
that he owed the grace of his conversion to Our Blessed Lady. "No
one knows the good Queen that She is to me!" The chains that
were found on his body on his death were primarily worn as a sign
of his total consecration to Our Lady. He had found this practice
in St Louis de Montfort's True Devotion to Mary. This deep
Marian devotion is the effect of the gift of piety in a soul. He
joined the Jesuit Sodality of the Immaculate Conception to help
him give the due honour to his good Queen.
For the following
40 years, he persevered in his resolutions, in the fulfilment of
his daily duty. History repeats itself, the Holy Ghost does not
change: his life recalls the traits of the early Irish Saints.
Through his persevering efforts, he resurrected his faint intellectual
acquisitions of one-year schooling and discovered the importance
of spiritual reading in the advancement of the soul. It is really
amazing to see the kind of books he actually read over these 40
years. From simple lives of Saints, to the writings of Father Faber,
of Cardinal Newman, and even the encyclicals of Leo XIII on social
issues! Such growth in knowledge of God and matters divine is accomplished
in a soul by the gift of understanding. This daily increasing faith,
especially in the Blessed Sacrament, through his daily Masses, visits,
spiritual Communions, led him to a very intimate union with God
and a profound life of prayer. That is the gift of Wisdom.
died on June 7th, 1925, on his way to Dominic Street church, to
his second Mass. It took almost 24 hours to identify him. Such
was his discretion and his humility. "He that shall humble
himself shall be exalted" (Matt. XXIII,12).
May this beautiful
example of true conversion, of perseverance in the state of grace
regardless of costs, of Eucharistic and Marian Love, of deep spiritual
life thanks to good spiritual reading, of fidelity to one's daily
duties, be a motive for everyone to trust in the mighty grace of
God and an encouragement never to give up the fight for the salvation
of our soul and the souls of others. May Our Blessed Lady, our
good Heavenly Queen, obtain for us these graces.
In the name
of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen