PITTSBURGH, PA

Venerable lessons in sober, prayerful living

Friday, January 24, 2020 - Updated: 1:00 pm

By JOHN FRANKO Staff Writer

Venerable Matthew Talbot was 28 when he realized that his drinking was leading him on a path to destruction. By embracing a life with spiritual depth, he turned his life around and became an inspiration for those dealing with addictions.

“He was a drunk, but he dealt with it,” said Passionist Father Donald Ware.

He spoke about the patron of alcoholics during a “Praying With the Venerable Matt Talbot” presentation Jan. 9 at St. Paul of the Cross Monastery on Pittsburgh’s South Side. The evening was part of the RECONNECT program.

In embracing spiritual depth, Talbot was able to identify the faults in his character, much like people involved in Alcoholics Anonymous do today. “They’re not afraid to look at the negative stuff,” he said.

Talbot, Father Ware noted, was able to look at the dark side of his life without letting it conquer him. By admitting that he was powerless, he entered the first step of the 12 Steps of AA.

Father Ware pointed out that as Talbot lived his sobriety, he began to take evening walks to fill the time that he once spent at bars. On one occasion, he lost his nerve and entered a bar, only to storm out when he wasn’t served immediately. Talbot found solace by entering a nearby church and asking God to help him. That was the second step.

Talbot began to pray more, attend Mass and receive the Eucharist daily. “He began to make God important in his life,” Father Ware said. That was the third step.

Living a simple life, much like a monk, Father Ware said, Talbot worked in a lumber yard and became concerned with issues of fairness. He focused on prayer, devotion and charitable works. Like members of AA today, Father Ware said, he realized that he had to develop a spiritual life if he wanted to remain sober.

Talbot learned to read and write, the priest noted, and he spent hours each evening reading spiritual works. He also developed a strong devotion to Mary. By the time he died in 1925 at age 69, Talbot had become an icon of Ireland’s temperance movement. Many recovery facilities around the world are named for him.

The monastery audience included some three dozen people who are involved in AA programs. It is important for them to witness how Talbot’s journey paralleled theirs, Father Ware said.

“They’re concerned about their spiritual growth and they want to help each other with that,” he said.

He asked those in attendance to identify some of the spiritual readings that have helped them on their journey. They included the Bible and works by Father Henri Nouwen; author Matthew Kelly; Dag Hammarskjold, the second secretary general of the United Nations; and Rabbi Abraham Twerski, who founded Gateway Rehabilitation and is renowned for specializing in substance abuse.

Father Ware, who has been involved with addiction programs for many years, spoke of the importance of focusing on fellowship and on service to others without expecting anything in return.

“People don’t get sober just to help themselves,” he said. “They get sober to help others.”

Several Passionist priests at the monastery are active in Fifth Step meetings. (The fifth step is “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”)

All people are addicted to something, Father Ware said. While some are hooked on alcohol or narcotics, others are addicted to pornography, shopping or phones.

The event was the latest in the monastery’s effort to “reconnect” with Catholics on the South Side and surrounding areas. 

Joe Farris, an internationally-known speaker who is part of the team coordinating the efforts, described the monastery as a “safe place to encounter God.” He spoke of the many organizations — such as the Legion of Mary — that are coming together at the monastery to share their story.

“We want to empower lay ministers to be effective in their parishes,” Farris said.

Billy Hartung is a retreatant at St. Paul of the Cross Passionist Retreat Center who has become involved with the monastery’s work. The stillness and peace he has found there provides an opportunity to address the unknown and grow in relationship with the Lord.

“You’re moved to just be,” Hartung said. 

The next RECONNECT program is set for Tuesday, Feb. 4, at 7 p.m. when Shanon Keating, a missionary with Vagabond Missions, will present “Praying With Mary.” She will share how Mary has been instrumental in her prayer life and ministry. All are welcome.

St. Paul of the Cross Monastery is at 148 Monastery Ave. in Pittsburgh. Information can be found by visiting www.stpaulofthecrossmonastery.com, on Facebook (St. Paul of the Cross Monastery) or by calling 412-381-1188.


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