Fr Billy Swan
Dear friends. I would like to share a few thoughts this week on addiction. I do so not only because it is topical and relevant to our society today but because it is found in the Gospel story this weekend of the man who wasn’t contented with his rich harvest but wanted an even greater return the following year – a year he would never see because of his premature death. Like many addictions, his was to ‘having more’. What he had was never enough.
Now when we talk about addictions, we might be tempted to think only of the big ones we hear about – addictions to alcohol, to smoking, drugs, gambling or pornography. If we do then we might be tempted to fool ourselves in thinking that addictions effect other people but not me. That I’m ok. The truth is that all of us are prone to any number of addictions at any time. Most of us are probably struggling with some addiction right now. It’s not a question of if we are, but more a question of ‘to what am I addicted?’ This is because the human spirit always seeks to attach itself to something greater than itself. And it is this attachment that will either destroy us or fill us with joy in this life and the next.
One man who came full circle on this journey of attachment and detachment was Matt Talbot. It is said that he was a hopeless alcoholic by the time he was 14. He was so addicted to drink that he would do anything and lose everything just to have another drink. He pawned his clothes and boots to get money for alcohol. On one occasion, he stole a fiddle from a street entertainer in Dublin and sold it to buy drink. His addiction to alcohol turned him into someone he hated to be. When he hit rock bottom, he turned to God in desperate prayer and pledged with his grace to detach himself from drink and to attach himself ever more faithfully to Him every day. In his efforts to turn his life around, Matt Talbot was successful but credited everything to God and his mercy.
We can learn so much from his story. The most important thing to learn is how his addiction, like our addictions and every addiction, is a spiritual problem that needs a spiritual cure. Before his conversion, Matt Talbot tried to satisfy his need for God with alcohol before he realised that there is no chemical solution to a spiritual problem. We are prone to addictions when God is not in first place and what comes first instead in our lives are things that can never replace him. Matt Talbot’s detachment from drink corresponded to his attachment to God.
To help him make this painful transition, we know he read the writings of St Frances de Sales who urges us not just to give up our addictions but to give up our love for them. And so for Matt Talbot, it wasn’t just a question of giving up the drink. It was just as much about giving up his love for it. Since his death on 7th June 1925, Matt Talbot has been an inspiration and sign of hope to people like us who struggle with addictions. He was declared Venerable by Pope Paul VI in 1975 and how wonderful it would be if one day he is declared a saint. He once wrote: ‘Never be too hard on the person 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.’
Today we pray for ourselves, that we may know our addictions and admit them. We pray that we become detached and free from whatever holds us back and kills our joy that comes from God. We pray that every day, we may attach ourselves in humble prayer to the God who made us and the God for whom we were made. We pray for all whose lives are being destroyed by addiction here and beyond. May this be the time when new hope is born and many souls turn back again to God. Matt Talbot, pray for us.