As my birthday approaches (and I am no longer young), the question as to how I want to finish this life takes on ever greater significance. While some of us may have had bad ‘starts’ in life the Gospel tells us that all of us can have ‘a great finish’.

So it was that while praying about this over the past few months I met a friend, the Venerable Matt Talbot (1856-1925). Matt was an Irishman who was a chronic alcoholic but at the age of 28 he found sobriety through devotion to the Eucharist, Prayer, Self-discipline and Spiritual direction he remained sober for the next 41 years.

Matt is the saint for the addict, the alcoholic, the ‘down and out’ and the rest of us who need a little hope to keep on the straight and narrow as we journey towards our eternal home.

In life Matt was a simple man who painfully taught himself to read and write so he could read the Bible and the lives of the saints. He would often be found kneeling in front of the church door waiting for the church to open for the early Mass. He found a deep relationship to Jesus through Mary as he made the consecration of St Louis De Montfort.  When he died on Trinity Sunday 1926 he was going to Mass and would have been terribly embarrassed that others would have found out that he was wearing a small chain to remind himself he was a servant of the great King and Queen of Heaven.

A particular story I love about Matt was how he spent seven years trying to find the blind fiddle player from whom he stole a fiddle to pay for his drinking habits. Unable to find the fiddler Matt gave the amount of money that the fiddle would have cost to a priest to pray for the man’s soul. In short Matt was a simple man who started life badly but finished it as a saint.

So it is that I now find myself before the Lord asking ‘Lord show me how to live out my remaining days in this life’. And it is here that Matt’s simple life as taken from the pattern of the Irish monks (‘Pray daily, Fast daily, Work daily, Study daily.) resonates with me. I confess that this is the best description of the life I want to lead as I finish my life on this earth here in the cold isolation of Magadan. In Matt I find a call to run with him to the end and St Paul’s words to the Hebrews comes to mind, ‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith’ (Hebrews 12;1)

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 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, Matt we are coming,  pray for us.

This article can be found in Mirror 0814.