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(LifeSiteNews) — On June 7, 1925, an unknown Irish manual laborer named Matt Talbot collapsed and died on a public street while walking to Mass. Ninety-nine years later, his story is providing true hope to alcoholics and addicts, and with God’s grace, maybe to you as well.

Despite being a sober addict for a number of years, I had not myself heard of the story of Matt Talbot until he was mentioned to me recently.

Something of a local Catholic hero in Ireland, Talbot’s story, at least from my perspective, has yet to spread in a way that does it justice.

According to biographical accounts, the now-venerable Talbot joined his father and brothers (save for the oldest) in the family business of drinking at the ripe age of 12.

By 13, Talbot was considered a hopeless drunk, resorting to begging and even theft to satisfy his desire for drink.

Unfortunately for Talbot, like many of us who suffer from alcoholism or other substance-based addictions, what perhaps started as mere childhood folly lasted for 16 years.

At age 28, after over a dozen years of drunkenness, Talbot took “the pledge” formulated decades before by Irish Catholic priest and alcohol-abstinence advocate Father Theobold Matthew.

In many ways, this is where the story of Talbot ended. He was a hopeless drunk who managed to get sober. Not an overly common story, but also not unheard of.

But in fitting manner for the humble Talbot, it is through his death that he became known.

Never having married, Talbot lived alone for the majority of his life while he worked as a lumber laborer on the docks of Dublin.

While a generous man, Talbot himself was poor and, at least from a worldly perspective, never did attain much.

His Catholic faith flourished in sobriety, and under the direction of Fr. Michael Hickey, a professor of philosophy at a local seminary, he became more and more serious about religion and became a Third Order Franciscan.

He paid off his debts from his drinking days, he adopted an ascetic way of life modeled after sixth century Irish monks, he attended daily Mass, was charitable with his wages, and prayed fervently.

After the 1915 death of his mother, Talbot lived the remainder of his life in a small flat with next to no furniture and a plank bed on which he used a piece of wood as a pillow.

Arising at 5 a.m. each day, Talbot made a habit of going to Mass before work and was known among his fellows to do nothing but hit his knees and pray when he had a moment to spare.

Even Talbot’s death was one of humility. He was walking, he keeled over, and he died. Far from his days as a drunkard, there was no spectacle required.

But through God’s providence, Hickey had given Talbot a chain to wear around his neck under his clothing, symbolizing both his former enslavement to alcohol and his newfound desire to be a slave to Christ through dedication to Our Lady, the Mother of God.

When he died, nobody at the scene could identify him. But when he was taken to the hospital and his clothes were removed, his dedication to mortification of the flesh was apparent to all.

Three chains were found on his body: one around his waist, another around one of his legs and a third around one of his arms. The other arm and leg were wrapped in a cord.

After his uneventful burial, the news of this strange discovery spread, and it was not long before Talbot’s cause for canonization became a talking point.

In 1947, the Vatican launched the official process and he was granted the title of Servant of God by Rome.

While Talbot’s story is beautiful, on the surface it may not seem all that exceptional when we think of some of the heroic martyrs and saints the Church has been blessed with in its 2,000-year history.

But when I read Talbot’s story, as a former addict, I can’t help but think that Talbot’s dedication to mortification is a message worth promulgating to all.

While many may interpret his zeal for penance and prayer as a consequence of the guilt he felt for his sinful past or his pure love and gratitude toward Our Lord for his deliverance from addiction, I believe his mortification was more than that. In fact, I believe his mortification wasn’t just a consequence of his sobriety but was very likely integral in maintaining his sobriety.

In one of the few quotes I could find from Talbot, he is said to have told his sister, “Never be too hard on the man who can’t give up drink. 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.”

As someone who “kicked the habit” (one day at a time through God’s grace), I cannot stress just how important mortification has been for learning how to increase that dependence upon God that Talbot heralded as the antidote for his own affliction.

Whether Talbot was acutely aware or not, his dedication to mortification may very well have been one of the main reasons he was able to stay sober for the last 41 years of his life.

It is my experience that the alcoholic (or addict of another variety) has one primary goal: to avoid suffering.

Every action taken by a person in active addiction generally follows from one overarching premise: will this decrease the suffering I’m feeling right now, even if just temporarily? If so, I shall do it.

When addiction asks the addict to jump, it is not a question of “if,” it is a question of “how high?”

While we all feel stress, anxiety, sadness, grief, and anger, the majority opt for a non-fatal solution. Those who have the true answer, which is God, opt for that. Others opt for distractions of another kind that while often not the true answer, and in many instances are extremely harmful to soul and body, aren’t as obviously unwise as things like drugs, alcohol, or in the worst of cases, suicide.

For whatever reason, those of us who choose the above, fatal answers to life’s non-fatal problems, often forget how it all began, and slowly we begin to convince ourselves that its end only comes when our life ends.

At some point, what started as one mistake becomes the only thing of which we feel capable — and the idea of hope feels like an impossibility and even a concept that’s sole purpose is to mock our despair.

But Talbot provides, in my opinion, an unequivocal message of hope for not just the addict but for us all.

When Talbot dedicated his life to all but himself, he was freed.

When Talbot became willing to suffer, he found that not only was suffering tolerable through dependence upon God but that he was even willing to opt for suffering!

Talbot’s dedication to mortification is what helped him form an iron will; it wasn’t his iron will that helped him dedicate himself to mortification.

It was through this commitment to voluntary suffering that Talbot was able to put to rest his old self and reclaim what he had given away through his drunkenness.

Talbot was able to do what few men ever do: Talbot was able to truly change.

Not just change in a superficial way, Talbot was able to change on the most fundamental of levels — he was able to forgo himself, as a rule of his new life.

Talbot didn’t just change his behavior. He didn’t just avoid pubs, fellow drinkers, or bad influences. Talbot recognized the problem for what it was.

Talbot recognized that more than having a drinking problem, he had a Talbot problem.

Like all of us who have suffered from habitual sin, no matter where we go or what we do we have to bring ourselves along for the ride, and therein lies our problem.

It is only when, like Talbot, we truly decide that we are an instrument to an end, and not the end itself, that we can allow ourselves to fully abandon our wills in favor of God’s.

When I first read Talbot’s story, I was reminded of the words in the traditional novena to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, words that Talbot seemed to have fulfilled and God willing, so will we.

You know, O Mary, how often our souls have been the sanctuaries of thy Son who hates iniquity. Obtain for us then a deep hatred of sin and that purity of heart which will attach us to God alone so that our every thought, word and deed may tend to His greater glory.

Obtain for us also a spirit of prayer and self-denial that we may recover by penance what we have lost by sin and at length attain to that blessed abode where thee are the Queen of angels and of men.