PILGRIMAGE TO THE SHRINE OF VENERABLE MATT TALBOT
18 SEPTEMBER 2005
HOMILY GIVEN BY
ARCHBISHOP SEÁN BRADY
SEÁN McDERMOTT STREET, DUBLIN
Why be envious because I am generous?
Are you jealous?
Jesus told the wonderful story we have just heard to show us what the Kingdom of Heaven is really like. It is a kingdom where the king is good and generous beyond belief. A king so good and so generous in fact that people thought it was too good to be believed. And that is the message today. God is good. God is generous. If we could remember to repeat that over and over again to ourselves or out loud – God is good – as we breath in. God is generous – as we breath out. It would, in itself, be a wonderful prayer.
I hope you enjoyed the journey down to Dublin today. Wasn’t the countryside looking simply gorgeous? The hills of Armagh and Tyrone, their apple trees and their forty shades of green. The cornfields of Louth with their bales of straw and their church steeples. The plains of Meath with their herds of cattle and sheep and race horses – not to mention the beautiful River Boyne with its splendid new bridge and gentle waters flowing slowly, but surely, to the Irish Sea at Drogheda. It reminds us of the journey of life. And finally, there was Dublin, County and City with so much variety, so many different nationalities, so much beauty. All of this has been given to us by a good and generous God – a God who provides for all our needs. I suppose it was this deep conviction that God is good and generous beyond belief that moved our parents to teach us prayers like The Morning Offering.
As I go through life I become evermore grateful to my mother who taught me to say the Morning Offering:
O My God I offer you all my thoughts, words, actions and sufferings and works of this day in union with those of my Saviour, Jesus Christ.
We learn prayers like that so that we might direct the core of our life – our thoughts, our words, our actions, to God. If we do that, in other words, refocus our whole life on praising our good and generous God then we are likely to make good choices. We are more likely to make decisions that are in harmony with that fundamental desire to praise God. The result would be that our choices and decisions will bring us some measure of peace and strength and tranquillity, here on this earth. Surely that is something greatly desired.
I have just mentioned a wide variety of scenery to be seen in the countryside at this time. But just think of the huge variety of food and drink which is produced every day for our use to nourish us, to sustain us, to keep us healthy and well and alive. Just go into any supermarket and look at the shelves and see the wonderful variety of food and drink, made available by the work of farmers and those involved in the food and drinks industry. One more proof – if proof is needed – of a good and generous God. But, if we allow the core of our being, our thoughts, our words, our desires, to be turned away from God and become focused solely on the food and drink, they become focused firstly and mainly on the creature, on the created things instead of being focused on the Creator. Well then we have a problem on our hands. The ways of our good and generous God are not our ways God has a plan for all of us. God does not want any of us to become so obsessed with any created thing that it is in danger of becoming the God of our lives. God gives to each one, as he or she needs.
If the rivers become polluted, the fish die.
If the system become intoxicated – human life decays and dies.
Take the way the landowner behaved in the story. Just imagine paying the worker who did only one hour’s work as much as the man who did eight. Sure that is no way to run a business. Equal pay for equal work, otherwise you are going to get yourself into trouble with the Trade Unions, the Equality Commission and then where would you be. But that is not the way God sees things. God sees the need of every person. He realises that the man who worked one hour had to feed his wife and family, the same as the man who worked eight hours. Even though it may have been his fault that he only worked one hour – God overlooks that fault. God doesn’t consider what we deserve but rather what we need. That is important point here.
One of the things we need, at all times, is a proper approach to the use of food and drink and the sexual power, given to us by God to bring new life into the world. There is a right way and a wrong way of using His goods. There is a temperate way and an intemperate way. The temperate way is the better way. The intemperate way is the way that leads to disaster, but people don’t see it like that unfortunately. The temperate way is possible. There are some who exercise tremendous self-control and moderation in their lives. Let me give you an example.
Over the summer people from our diocese have come here to Dublin many times. They came here not just in their thousands – but probably over 100,000, to watch the footballers of Tyrone and Armagh. They saw something great a good – they saw some 40 players in all, plus managers, put on three great games. They were games which were full of excitement and intensity. Games, which gave great enjoyment to all who watched. Games, which were a source of pride to all the people of Tyrone and Armagh I would say.
These players did so with a lot of respect for themselves, respect for their own bodies, for their minds and respect for their opponents. They were inspired by great determination to succeed of course. They showed great concentration and commitment to the business in hand. They were willing to play by the rules in a fair and sporting manner. They had trained rigorously for months. Sacrificed their free time with family and friends; denied themselves food and drink for months; pushed themselves to amazing levels of fitness and strength. There you have an example of self-control of the virtue of temperance. And that is all done for the sake of a medal and a cup, which we cannot bring out of this life, which must be left behind at death.
There is another side to life in Ireland today. The intemperance side. We live in a society where increased alcohol consumption is having a very destructive effect on the health, social life and academic performance of third level students. Those are not my words. They are the words of the Chairperson of the National Working Group on Alcohol in Higher Education in the Republic. He did not comment on the moral life and the moral harm that was being done. We can readily conclude that the moral life also suffers and suffers serious damage too.
In April of this year the Department of Health and Children published a Report on a National lifestyle survey among students carried out three years ago. Three major concerns emerged:
Sexual health and
Alcohol related harm caused to students.
All of these issues impact on students’ well-being and welfare. They have the potential to undermine students’ academic performance. The key findings were:
First of all, as regards mental health, “in coping with the anxiety or depression – over half of all students said they would sort it out alone; one in three would try to ignore it; one in ten would take drugs or get drunk. Some would pray. One in twenty would do nothing”. All of these are poor coping strategies.
As regards sexual health, one in ten students engaged in unsafe sexual practices. What the Report finds, but does not comment on adversely is the fact that almost three-quarters of the students said they were sexually active.
As regards alcohol related harm, three out of four drinking occasions were binge drinking sessions for male students and three out of five were binge drinking occasions for female student. The result is, regular binge drinkers were twice as likely to have missed lectures, to have felt alcohol effects while in class and reported that their studies were harmed in comparison to other student drinkers. They were three times more likely to have had money problems, to be involved in fights and accidents. They were twice as likely to have been smokers or cannabis users. They were three times more likely to have drugs and got drunk to cope with the anxiety and depression. They were less likely to consider positive coping strategies to cope with the anxiety and depression. Regular binge drinkers spent fewer hours studying and more hours in paid employment.
The Report came up with ten recommendations but nowhere does the virtue of temperance feature among them. There is a lot of talk of structures and frameworks and organisations and programmes and, of course, they are very necessary. But we must bring religion and God into this because without the Lord, the task of remaining healthy and sober and sane finds its centre and meaning in the human person alone. But, if we bring religion into the equation, we find that there are two pillars – God – the good and generous, who created us and the human person – man or woman.
We are here on pilgrimage this weekend to the Shrine of Venerable Matt Talbot in Seán McDermott Street, Dublin. Matt Talbot worked and prayed and fasted for the gift of temperance. He had experienced, at first hand, in his own body, the havoc and the ravage wrought by his drinking alcohol to excess. He had felt the horrors of hangovers and saw its effects on his work and on his relationship with his friends and with his family. In fact, he saw that he was slowly but surely destroying himself.
Somehow or other, by the grace of a good and generous God, he got the strength to give it all up and to go sober. He began to see that our hunger and thirst for food and drink is something good – given to us by a good and generous God, to encourage us to eat and drink to keep ourselves alive and strong and well. But he saw also that it was something to be used in moderation.
The Gospel and the Readings we have just heard tell us the ways of God are not our ways. The thoughts of God are not what we think. We would think that the person who works a full day should get a whole day’s wage and the worker who works a half day should get a half day’s wage. But God does not think like that. The worker who worked only one hour is to get a full day’s wage because he has a wife and family to feed. He needs a full day’s wage even though he has not earned it.
God gives to each of us what we need if we ask it, not what we have earned or what we deserve. We all need temperance. We need it in our lives and in our families and in our country. We need it now. We need help. We need self-control in every aspect of our life – in the kind of language we use; in the way we use the goods of this earth. I know many of you spend time in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. I ask you to beg the Lord, who is good and generous, to give to our country and to our young people and to all of us, the gift of temperance – the gift of self-control. We must show and point up the benefits of a life of self-control and warn people about the dangers of intemperance.
People talk about the dangers of passive smoking but are apparently totally unconcerned about the effects of passive drinking. You may ask what do I mean by that. I am talking about the risk of driving with a drink-driver, of living with a drunk and violent spouse. I mean the many examples of battered wives and battered children and the deprivation that can come from too much money being spent on drink and not enough money left for food, clothes and other essentials. We must also show positively the way of moderation. It is the way of happiness. It is the way to lead a full life – fully alert and alive to the beauty all around us.
It is well known and generally accepted that we cannot become, or remain, self-controlled and temperate without self-knowledge and self-discipline. We must realise that we all have certain weaknesses and we must guard against them. We must launch a counter-attack against our evils by freely giving up the enjoyment of certain things, which are harmful in themselves. So we have the practice of fast and abstinence from alcoholic drink at special times of the year like Lent.
“Christ will be glorified in my body whether by my life or by my death
Christ will be glorified in my body – by my exercising control over my appetite. I give praise and glory to God”.
Venerable Matt Talbot is an outstanding example of prayer and fasting and mortification. We badly need a miracle so that he can be beatified and set before us as a model. Let us hope and pray for that miracle soon.