January 5: On the need for more Irish canonisations

St Charles of Mount Argus

Today is the feast of St Charles of Mount Argus, a Dutch Passionist priest who spent about 30 years of his life in Dublin, dying here in 1893 at the age of 71. He greatly loved by the people of Dublin, primarily because of his humility and simplicity. He was not a great preacher, but he was extremely gentle in the confessional. Like many of those who excel in the virtue of humility, he received many graces from God, including many graces within his own spiritual life as well as the grace of healing. Each day hundreds of people would flock to the monastery at Mount Argus to receive his blessing and those with means from far away would often send carriages to collect him and bring him to someone who was sick or dying. There were many reports of wonderful healings and these reports continue to this day, now that his power of intercession is even greater in Heaven. For an eye witness account of the life and virtues of St Charles click here.

There is no mention that I can find of St Charles in the writings of Fr Doyle, but it is certain that Fr Doyle would have been aware of him. Fr Doyle was 20 when St Charles died, and his reputation for holiness was alive and well, so Fr Doyle must have been aware of St Charles and his holy life.

The feast of St Charles gives us a good excuse to consider the following important question which is relevant to Fr Doyle: Why are there so few recent Irish saints? St Charles is the only canonised saint of modern times (within the last 500 years at least) to have died in Ireland. And he wasn’t even Irish; he was Dutch! This points to an interesting thing about this so-called land of saints and scholars – we are pretty poor at having worthy candidates beatified and canonised. When one compares Ireland to other countries with strong Catholic heritage – Italy, Spain, Portugal, Poland, France, even parts of Germany, we perform very poorly when it comes to canonisations. Of course, it’s not a contest and the numbers themselves don’t really matter. Yet, at another level, the numbers are a kind of barometer that tell us something about the spiritual climate of a country. After all, a vibrant Catholic culture will foster holiness. This holiness will be recognised by others, who will then be motivated to promote these examples of holiness in an effective and professional manner. Other people will join in this process by praying for miracles. All of this needs institutional support from the religious orders, dioceses and parishes. Thus, a healthy, properly functioning Catholic culture will steadily produce canonised saints. The dearth of Irish saints since the Council of Trent points to something amiss about Irish Catholicism, especially when we consider the increased frequencies of beatifications and canonisations within the Church over the past 3 decades.

Let us look at the Irish situation. St Charles of course stands out, but while we have adopted him as our own, he was Dutch, and interestingly both of the miracles for his beatification and canonisation were worked in the Netherlands. St Oliver Plunkett is of course Irish through and through, but his situation was slightly different as he was a martyr which makes his canonisation a little easier. He died in London and his canonisation miracle occurred in Italy by the way. Blessed Edmund Rice also lived and died in Ireland, and his beatification miracle was worked for a man in Newry in Northern Ireland. Then of course there is Blessed Columba Marmion who was a Dubliner but who became renowned as the abbot of a Belgian monastery. He is not widely known in Ireland. His beatification miracle was worked in the United States. Then there are the 17 Irish martyrs who were beatified in 1992. Most unfortunately they are even less well known in Ireland than Columba Marmion. Most recently, John Sullivan SJ was beatified in May 2017, the first Irish beatification in almost 2 decades.

And that’s it. That’s the sum total of Ireland’s effectiveness to date in promoting Irish models of sanctity since the Council of Trent. And much of this success – the canonisation of St Oliver and the beatification of the 17 martyrs – are down to one priest who was postulator for both sets of causes. Of course, it’s not for the lack of good candidates. There were dozens of other martyrs from the penal times that deserve recognition, in addition to candidates like Venerable Matt Talbot, Mary Aitkenhead, Catherine McCauley, Nano Nagle, the three Legion of Mary candidates Edel Quinn, Alfie Lambe and Frank Duff and of course Fr Doyle himself. There are of course, many other worthy causes besides these that have yet to be considered. One thinks immediately of Fr James Cullen SJ, founder of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association (Fr Doyle was a friend of his who served on the Council of the Pioneers) and Archdeacon Cavanagh, the parish priest of Knock at the time of the apparitions there, as well as Fr Henry Young, a holy priest who served the poor in Dublin and Fr Matthew Theobald who did so much to encourage temperance in the 19th Century. There are other worthy causes for holy lay people that deserve consideration also. As an Irish poem says:

Why are saints so difficult to recognise, 

In these days, not like in olden times,

When we had a resident saint in each oak-grove,

A holy well in each townland, miracles galore?

By the law of averages, if, as philosophers maintain,

And common sense agrees, human nature doesn’t change,

And we are the mixture as before, there must be

Saints somewhere, if only we had eyes to see

We should celebrate those who have already been raised to the altars, and today is a great day of celebration for our own adopted St Charles of Mount Argus. But we should not forget those who have yet to be recognised formally, and the best way to do this is by actually promoting their cause and making them well known, and in particular by asking their help in prayer. If we do not ask for miracles, they will not be granted! And in fairness, we should also celebrate four recent positive moves in terms of Irish saints – Mary Aitkenhead was declared Venerable in 2015 as was Nano Nagle in 2013; the cause for canonisation of 7 Columban priests from Ireland or of Irish heritage was also opened. These priests were martyred in Korea in the middle of the last century. More on them here http://fatherdirector.blogspot.ie/2013/08/new-irish-martyrs-cause-just-opened.html This is all very positive news. And most significantly of all the beatification of John Sullivan in 2017. Yet, one has to ask – how many of those who practice their faith in Ireland know this news? How many even know of the heroic virtue of any of these people I have mentioned? The promotion of local heroes has always been a core part of the evangelising efforts of the Church. Why are such local heroes not mentioned more often in our churches? 

Of course, neither Fr Doyle nor Matt Talbot nor any of the others are in the least bit insulted or upset that they have not yet been beatified or canonised! But it is we, and our country, that lose out. Some people may mistakenly believe that having local saints is an irrelevancy or of low priority. With respect, I think they are gravely mistaken. If we truly believe in the Communion of Saints, then we want people to know about Irish saints and as a consequence to have recourse to their help in prayer. Local saints also give us a closer and more contemporary model to follow. The saints all reflect some particular aspect of God. While we should always strive to imitate Christ above all, it can be easier for some people to imitate a saint who was closer to them in time and culture and state of life. Pope Benedict wisely recognised this reality. Speaking on this very theme at the Chrism Mass for Holy Thursday in 2012, Pope Benedict said:

Dear friends, it is clear that configuration to Christ is the precondition and the basis for all renewal. But perhaps at times the figure of Jesus Christ seems too lofty and too great for us to dare to measure ourselves by him. The Lord knows this. So he has provided “translations” on a scale that is more accessible and closer to us. For this same reason, Saint Paul did not hesitate to say to his communities: Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. For his disciples, he was a “translation” of Christ’s manner of life that they could see and identify with. Ever since Paul’s time, history has furnished a constant flow of other such “translations” of Jesus’ way into historical figures.

So many people have rejected the Church out of disgust at what they perceive to be the sins of priests and religious. Well, let us then promote models of love and selflessness who encapsulate the beauty of our Faith! Surely we should show people what Catholics are meant to be – we are all called to be saints, so let us show people real men and women who lived in a time and place like our own and whose lives reflect the love of Christ for humanity. Finally, the recognition of local sanctity gives a morale boost to a local Church, and we all know how badly that is needed today!

In conclusion, let us thus remember the beautiful words of Pope Benedict in his letter to the Church in Ireland a number of years ago in which he also calls on us to remember our local saints:

As you take up the challenges of this hour, I ask you to remember “the rock from which you were hewn” (Is 51:1). Reflect upon the generous, often heroic, contributions made by past generations of Irish men and women to the Church and to humanity as a whole, and let this provide the impetus for honest self-examination and a committed programme of ecclesial and individual renewal. It is my prayer that, assisted by the intercession of her many saints and purified through penance, the Church in Ireland will overcome the present crisis and become once more a convincing witness to the truth and the goodness of Almighty God, made manifest in his Son Jesus Christ.

 

 

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Thoughts for November 14 (Feast of All Carmelite saints) from Fr Willie Doyle

 

You certainly put your finger on the weak spot in most priestly lives – the want of prayer. The connection between prayer and zeal never struck me so forcibly before, though holy David says so truly, “In my meditation a fire shall flame out.” Psalm 38. 4. As for personal holiness, you know my views on that, and how convinced I am that all work for God must in the main be barren without it.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle was a man of prayer who lived constantly in the presence of God. He had his own ways of cultivating an awareness of this presence with his numerous aspirations and spiritual practices throughout the day. But prayer is not only essential for priests; all need it, lay and clerical alike. In a busy world with many distractions, it can be tempting to push prayer aside and leave it until everything else is done. In practice, this is a recipe for neglecting prayer altogether. God wants generous souls and will give His grace to them. In fact, we can be sure of one thing – God will not be outdone in generosity. This is the lesson we learn from the life of Fr Doyle and indeed from all of the saints. How appropriate therefore to remember the importance of prayer today when the Church celebrates the feast of all the saints of the Carmelite order. The Carmelites, to whom Fr Doyle was especially devoted, prioritise the life of prayer. May they intercede for us, and help us follow their holy example.

Today in Dublin we also commemorate the feast of St Laurence O’Toole, the former Archbishop of Dublin and patron of the archdiocese. St Laurence lived in the 12th century. He was a successful and effective archbishop precisely because of the prominence he gave to prayer – a former abbot of the monastery at Glendalough, he retained close monastic links, making a 40 day retreat there each year. 

Thoughts for November 6 (Feast of All the Saints of Ireland) from Fr Willie Doyle

The greatest thirst of Jesus on the Cross was his thirst for souls. He saw then the graces and inspirations He would give me to save souls for Him. In what way shall I correspond and console my Saviour?

The thought has been very much in my mind during this week that Jesus asks from me the sacrifice of all the pleasures of the world — such as summer vacation, plays, concerts, football-matches, cinematograph, etc,; that I am to seek my recreation and find my pleasure in Him alone. Life is indeed too short now for me to waste a moment in such things. May God give me a great disgust for all these things in which formerly I took such delight!

This morning I had a great struggle not to sleep. Then God rewarded me with much light and generous resolve. I was meditating on my desire to die a martyr’s death for Jesus, and then asked myself if I was really in earnest, why did I not begin to die to myself, to die to my own will, the inclinations and desires of my lower nature. I wish to die a martyr’s death — but am I willing to live a martyr’s life? To live a crucified life “seeking in all things my constant mortification”.

COMMENT: Jesus died for souls. He died for my soul, and would have done so were I the only person in existence. He also died for all of those who never heard of Him, and for those who, having being brought up in faith, have abandoned Him in favour of sensuality, pleasure, comfort, human respect…

Today is also the day on which the Church in Ireland commemorates the feast of All the Saints of Ireland. How many of them spent their entire lives to satisfy Jesus’ thirst for souls? We don’t really appreciate the saints enough in Ireland today, despite being called the land of saints and scholars. There are so many worthy causes for canonisation out there, both those that have been formally introduced and those that should be introduced. Yet, it remains an astonishing fact that only 1 Irish person (St Oliver Plunkett) has been canonised since the Council of Trent over 400 years ago. If we want to boost our statistics we can add in St Charles of Mount Argus who, although Dutch, lived in Ireland for many years. But even still, it must be admitted that we punch well below our weight when it comes to recognising and celebrating the sanctity within our own heritage. We will return to this topic on another occasion…

St Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland, came back to the land where he had been a slave to bring the Faith to the country that had enslaved him. Over the centuries, many Irish missionaries brought the faith all over the Europe, and indeed the world, with this one same desire to quench Christ’s thirst for souls. Fr Doyle himself offered to go to the Congo as a missionary. He spent many years travelling as a preacher and missionary in Ireland to satisfy that thirst. He shed his own blood on the field of battle to win souls and ease Jesus’ thirst. If he had survived, it was his intention to spend the rest of his life ministering to lepers in a leper colony.

Jesus still thirsts for souls today. What are we doing to help him?

 

Thoughts for October 30 from Fr Willie Doyle

Blessed Dominic Collins
Darling Mother Mary, in preparation for the glorious martyrdom which I feel assured thou art going to obtain for me, I, thy most unworthy child, solemnly commence my life of slow martyrdom by earnest hard work and constant self-denial. With my blood I promise thee to keep this resolution, do thou, sweet Mother, assist me and obtain for me the one favour I wish and long for: To die a Jesuit Martyr.

COMMENT: The desire to die a martyr was with Fr Doyle from his earliest days. Far from being something morbid, it is one of the ultimate expressions of love for God – the desire to offer everything, even our life, for the One who has given everything to us.

This desire was felt by many saints across the ages, through perhaps we personally may identify more closely with the character in the Flannery O’Connor story described in these words:

She could never be a saint but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick.

The Church in Ireland today celebrates the feast of Blessed Dominic Collins, one of the Irish martyrs and the only beatified Irish Jesuit. More information on Blessed Dominic is available here. He was only beatified in 1992, and there is no mention of him in any of Fr Doyle’s publicly available writings. However, it is almost certain that Fr Doyle, who was greatly interested in the lives of the saints and especially in martyrs, was aware of, and esteemed, his fellow Jesuit, especially since a book detailing the lives of the Irish martyrs was published by the Jesuit historian Fr Denis Murphy SJ during the years in which Fr Doyle was a Jesuit seminarian.

Here is an excellent video on the life of Blessed Dominic.

 

Fr Doyle ultimately had his wish – he did die a Jesuit martyr, albeit a martyr of charity, laying down his life to save another, as opposed to the more traditional definition of a martyr as one who dies in defence of the faith. May the example of Blessed Dominic, and of Fr Doyle, inspire us to a generous and selfless defence of truth and service of others. Let us also pray and work for a greater awareness of the many heroic examples of Irish Catholicism in a country that desperately needs positive Catholic role models. Pope Benedict’s Prayer for Ireland  is appropriate:

God of our fathers,
renew us in the faith which is our life and salvation,
the hope which promises forgiveness and interior renewal,
the charity which purifies and opens our hearts
to love you, and in you, each of our brothers and sisters.

Lord Jesus Christ,
may the Church in Ireland renew her age-old commitment
to the education of our young people in the way of truth and goodness, holiness and generous service to society.

Holy Spirit, comforter, advocate and guide,
inspire a new springtime of holiness and apostolic zeal
for the Church in Ireland.

May our sorrow and our tears,
our sincere effort to redress past wrongs,
and our firm purpose of amendment
bear an abundant harvest of grace
for the deepening of the faith
in our families, parishes, schools and communities,
for the spiritual progress of Irish society,
and the growth of charity, justice, joy and peace
within the whole human family.

To you, Triune God,
confident in the loving protection of Mary,
Queen of Ireland, our Mother,
and of Saint Patrick, Saint Brigid and all the saints,
do we entrust ourselves, our children,
and the needs of the Church in Ireland.

Amen.

But back to Flannery O’Connor’s character who could be a martyr but only if killed quickly. Let us leave the last words today to Fr Doyle who so often gets right to the heart of the matter:

I wish to die a martyr’s death — but am I willing to live a martyr’s life?

Thoughts for October 3 (Blessed Columba Marmion) from Fr Willie Doyle

Blessed Columba Marmion

I cannot deny that I love Jesus, love Him passionately, love Him with every fibre of my heart. He knows it, too, since He has asked me to do many things for Him, which have cost me more than I should like to say, yet which with His grace were sweet and easy in a sense. He knows that my longing, at least, even if the strength and courage are wanting, is to do and suffer much more for Him, and that were He tomorrow to ask for the sacrifice of every living friend, I would not refuse Him. Yet with all that, with the intense longing to make Him known and loved, I have never yet been able to speak of Him to others as I want to.

COMMENT: The intense love of Christ was a central aspect of the spirit of Fr Doyle. The centrality of Christ was also central to another Irishman whose feast we celebrate today.

Blessed Columba Marmion was born in Dublin and was a priest of the Dublin diocese, acting as a seminary professor, chaplain to the Redemptoristine Convent in Drumcondra and as a curate in the parish of Dundrum in the south of Dublin. However, he felt the call to the monastic life and entered the Benedictine monastery of Maredsous in Belgium, ending up as abbot. He was a renowned spiritual writer and spiritual director.  The love of Christ, and our divine adoption as children of God were central to his teaching and spirituality. He emphasised that Christ must be central to our spiritual life, and that holiness ultimately comes about through God’s grace acting in the soul. Our job is to dispose ourselves to receive that grace. His formula for growth in holiness, based on the writings of St Paul, is that we must die to sin, and then live for God – the more we remove the roots of sin from our soul, the greater the liberty God will have to work there.

As he wrote in his classic book Christ in His Mysteries:

It is, then, upon Christ that all our gaze ought to be concentrated.  Open the Gospel: you will there see that three times only does the Eternal Father cause His Voice to be heard by the world.  And what does this Divine Voice say to us?  Each time the Eternal Father tells us to contemplate His Son, to listen to Him, that He may be thereby glorified: “This is my beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.  Hear ye Him”. All that the Father asks of us is to contemplate Jesus, His Son, to listen to Him, so as to love and imitate Him, because Jesus, Being His Son, is equally God.

Like Fr Doyle, Blessed Columba suffered greatly in the First World War. He was concerned that his monks would be called up for the war effort, so he placed them in other monasteries, and travelled extensively during the war years to raise funds to support his monks in Belgium. During this period he was disguised as a cattle dealer – on one occasion he turned up in this disguise at Tyburn Convent in London where he was well known, but he was initially turned away because they didn’t recognise him in his disguise. He had no papers or passport during these dangerous travels. When trying to cross the border into England, he was challenged for not having a passport. He responded by saying: “I’m Irish, and the Irish need no passport, except to get into hell, and it’s not to hell that I’m going!” He was then allowed to enter England without the necessary papers!

During this period, he commented on his sufferings in a letter:

I have seldom suffered more in every way, than for some time past. I feel we have to take our part in the general expiation which is being offered to God’s justice and sanctity. My soul, my body, my senses, God Himself, all things seem combine to make me suffer. May His holy name be blessed.  

Very few Irish people who were not martyred have been beatified or canonised since the Council of Trent, despite many excellent candidates, of which both Columba Marmion and Fr Doyle surely stand in the first rank.

Let us continue to pray and work that more Irish examples of holiness may be recognised in order to act as positive examples for the much needed renewal of this country.

 

Thoughts for June 20 (the Irish martyrs) from Fr Willie Doyle

Blessed Margaret Ball, one of the Irish martyrs whose feast we remember today

Sunday and Monday last were days of wonderful grace for me, as if the Hunter of souls had run His quarry down and so surrounded it with the coils of His love that all escape was impossible. Alas! Does he not well know how that foolish hare will break loose and escape again so soon, spoiling all the plans of the patient Hunter. Still Jesus cannot pass close to the soul without leaving some lasting impression. I cannot but feel that the light he has given me must leave its mark behind, and that I cannot be quite the same again without an awful abuse of grace.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words in his diary 106 years ago today, on June 20 1912. 

Fr Doyle often spoke about the notion of abusing God’s grace. It is not something we hear much about today. In essence, he means that we shall have to give an account of all that God has given us. Everything we have is a gift of God. But God is entitled to a return on that gift; He expects us in some way to use the talents and graces that He has given us to good effect – to give glory to Him and to save souls. Yet, how often do we fail to wisely “invest” those talents that he has given to us… 

One of the most frightening lines in the Gospel is found in Chapter 11 of St Matthew’s Gospel. It is easy to overlook it and its significance for us. Speaking of the town of Capernaum, Jesus says:

If the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgement for Sodom than for you. 

In other words, those who never received the grace of faith, even though their sins are greater, will receive a lesser punishment than those who have had the faith revealed to them, but whose sins are smaller. These are stunning words that all who consider themselves to be “practising Catholics” need to carefully reflect on. We abuse the graces of God to our peril!

One of the great gifts that God has given us is the gift of faith. Here in Ireland, until very recently, the Catholic Faith was held in high esteem. Yet, largely due to internal corruption, many have now abandoned Christ and His Church, often without ever knowing much about it at all. 

Today in Ireland we celebrate the feast of the Irish martyrs – 17 men and women who lost their lives because of their faith in the late 1500′s and early 1600′s and who were beatified by Saint Pope John Paul II in 1992. Whatever crisis of aggressive secularism we now face in Ireland, we are at least not losing our lives for our faith. Yes, we may be belittled, we may have our sanity or our decency questioned. We may even lose out financially or in our careers due to a subtle discrimination against those of faith. In a sense, this is also a persecution, but a bloodless, psychological one. The Irish martyrs remind us of what our ancestors suffered to preserve the faith in Ireland. From this small land, many missionaries went out to evangelise the new world, especially in Africa, America and Australia. These 17, plus the hundreds of other unrecognised martyrs, and the other unknown multitudes who suffered in other ways, have played a significant role in the evangelisation of the English speaking world by preserving the faith for future generations. How well are we doing in preserving the faith for future generations? Have we abused this gift that God has given to us? 

During the homily for the beatification of these martyrs, St John Paul said: 

We admire them for their personal courage. We thank them for the example of their fidelity in difficult circumstances, a fidelity which is more than an example: it is a heritage of the Irish people and a responsibility to be lived up to in every age.

Today is a day on which Irish people could well reflect on whether we have fully lived up to the responsibility of following the fidelity of these martyrs.  

Today is a day of remembering these heroic men and women, and being thankful for their sacrifice. It is also a day on which those of us in Ireland might well examine our consciences, myself included. What is to happen with these 17 Irish martyrs? Is there any interest in having them canonised? Is there any attempt to promote devotion to them and learn from their examples? Do we pray through their intercession for miracles? Are we happy that they, and the hundreds of others who could be beatified, are largely forgotten?

 

The anniversary of the death of Venerable Matt Talbot (Post 2 of 3 today)

Venerable Matt Talbot

 

I do not want, in fact I forbid you, to be imprudent in the matter of corporal penances. But, my dear child, if you let a whole fortnight go by without any self-inflicted pain, can you honestly look Jesus in the face and say, “I am like to Him”?

COMMENT: The idea of self-inflicted pain is not popular in contemporary spirituality. Oddly enough though, it seems wildly popular in modern secular culture with its fad for physical fitness and punishing bodies in the gym in order to make them ever more attractive… 

Physical mortification was the norm in Fr Doyle’s day – there was nothing unusual in it all. People were perhaps tougher then, without all of the modern comforts we have gotten used to. While Fr Doyle was quite severe on himself on occasion, he always urged caution on the part of others. However, despite his caution, he issues an interesting challenge today – do we really imitate the crucified Christ if we do not do penance ourselves, even in some small fashion? The self inflicted “pain” Fr Doyle speaks of need not be something very big or burdensome. Getting up a little earlier, going to bed on time, reducing time wasted on television, starting work on time, biting our tongue when we want to criticise someone… There are many ways that we can practice a measured asceticism that is discreet, balanced, humble and will improve both our spiritual and temporal lives, as well as the lives of those around us…

Today is the anniversary of the death of Venerable Matt Talbot – he died on this day in 1925. He was close to the Jesuits and attended the Jesuit Church in Gardiner Street almost every day for many years. Fr Doyle was based in Belvedere School (about 200m from this church) for about a year around 1909. It is probable that he lived in the community in Gardiner Street. It seems more than likely that Fr Doyle crossed paths with Matt Talbot at some stage. However, we have no record of such an event, so we can only speculate. Similarly, we have no record of Matt having read O’Rahilly’s biography of Fr Doyle. Yet, Matt – despite being an unschooled labourer – was a voracious reader of spiritual literature and especially of spiritual biographies. It would be most strange if he never read this wildly popular book about a heroic local Jesuit. We know that he used to give books away or lend them to others, so perhaps he had it and passed it on. We shall never know… 

Matt Talbot is a great model for lay people today. An alcoholic at an early age, he had a profound and unexpected conversion, and he suddenly “took the pledge” and gave up alcohol forever at the age of 28. This was against all expectation, and shows us that nobody is beyond help or hope. His example is important for a culture in which many people are addicted to one thing or another. If it is not alcohol or drugs, it may be food or sex or work or even the internet and social media. 

Matt is also a great model because he did his work well, and lived an ordinary life in the middle of the world. He was an ascetic and a mystic and an ordinary man who looked after others and defended the rights of workers and of the poor. He kept his feet on the ground. 

Matt became a Third Order Franciscan, regularly attending several Masses each day. As is well known, Matt dropped dead on the street while on the way to Mass. It was this sudden death that allowed his penitential chains to be found on his body. There is a tendency now to downplay the ascetical significance of these chains, with the suggestion that they were simple, light and non-penitential chains that signified his consecration to Mary as her slave. But in the popular imagining, the chains were most definitely penitential in nature. I remember being told, as a schoolboy in the 1980s, that the chains were so tightly wound around Matt that they were embedded in his flesh. Again, whether or not this is completely accurate is beside the point – many people believed that the chains were indeed embedded in Matt’s flesh. Matt is held in very high esteem all around the world, but especially in Dublin. His harsh penances did not repel people – on the contrary his asceticism is fundamentally part of his charm for many. His chains are important relics and an important part of his story and spirituality. And there was a lot more to Matt’s asceticism than chains. He lived in strict poverty, giving away most of his money. He fasted very strictly, and rose at 2am each night to pray for several hours before commencing his work as a labourer. He slept on a plank of wood and had a wooden pillow. Matt is not alone in this – many of the most popular saints lived deeply penitential lives, and it has not diminished their popularity one bit.

Matt’s example also teaches us a profound lesson in avoiding sin. After his conversion, he was determined not to fall back into alcoholism. He prayed hard, but he also took action – he organised his life in such a way that he would not face temptations. He kept himself busy and away from pubs and he even made it something of a rule never to carry money with him in case he was tempted to buy a drink. There is a suggestion that Matt cut the pockets out of his trousers so he would not be able to carry money around with him. Do we avoid temptations with the same determination and single-mindedness that Matt had? 

Matt’s heroic virtues have been formally recognised by the Church; now a miracle is required for his beatification. Ireland needs saints! We need beatifications and canonisations! Let us remember to pray through the intercession of Matt Talbot when we are in need of help.

Prayer for the beatification of Venerable 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 for the Most 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.