Life of Matt Talbot – Chapter VI – The Evening Prayer

cover of the ebook 'Life of Matt Talbot, by Sir Joseph Aloysius Glynn'We must now return to the hour, when having partaken of his evening meal at 6.30 p.m., he prepared for prayer. While his mother lived they were together after his sister had withdrawn. On a chair beside the table were placed all the books of devotion required for the evening the various prayer books containing the litanies recited each day, the manual containing novenas, and whatever spiritual books he was then reading. Kneeling at the table he began to pray, and continued until the various devotions were finished. He then either spoke to his mother on religious matters or read to her. If she were otherwise engaged he read in silence. It was a cheerful and happy room, as his devotion to his mother was very deep and tender. He joked and laughed when occasion demanded it, but their principal joy was to talk of their familiar Mends Jesus, Mary and Joseph and the Saints. Amongst the many saints whose lives he knew so well, he had a very great devotion, to the saints who had been sinners. He spoke of Saint Mary Magdalene, Saint Mary of Egypt, and of their lives of penance, with wonder and admiration, and loved to call attention to their great works of mortification, which for women seemed well-nigh incredible. In his simple way he spoke of them as “great girls,” and sometimes, when his sister was present, he would call her over to the table to admire the picture of one of the holy women whose life he might have been reading.

After his mother’s death he lived alone, and generally prayed in the dark. As the window was without a blind the people who lived on the opposite side of the street knew when he was praying or reading by seeing the lamp being extinguished before he began to pray or being placed fully lighted on the table while he read. He was, of course, quite unaware of the interest his movements excited in his neighbours.

Amongst his regular prayers were fifteen mysteries of the Rosary of Our Lady; the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin; the Dolour beads; the beads of the Immaculate Conception; the beads of the Holy Ghost; the beads of Saint Michael; the beads of the Sacred Heart; the chaplet for the Souls in Purgatory; the “principal Litanies; the prescribed novenas for each Church feast (these are marked in his notes in some of his books of devotion). Besides these, he recited in the Franciscan Church, after the meetings of the Third Order, of Saint Francis, which he joined on the 18th October 1891, taking the names of Joseph Francis, the round of the beads for each deceased member for whom prayers were asked at the meeting.

When reading aloud, he had a very pleasant, clear voice, and, at times, he would vary the reading by singing hymns. In connection with his reading it is important to remember that his education was very elementary, as he left school at the age of twelve years. One friend said to him that it was a pity he was not better educated, but Matt Talbot did not agree with this view and said that “God knew what was best.” This same friend writes: “As regards his spiritual life I think no person knew anything about it except the late Father James Walsh, S.J., and it is doubtful if he knew very much. He (Talbot) said to me on one occasion that he had prayed very hard for the gift of prayer, and that it had been given to him in great abundance. Although he, of course, said the ordinary prayers usual with Catholics, his prayer was usually mental prayer, which he seemed a great master of.” This view is borne out by the experience of a lady (Miss B.), who formed his acquaintance in his later years, and who owned the collie dog which has been referred to. She states: “On a Saturday evening in the early Spring of 1924 I called at his room in 18 Upper Rutland Street, about 3 p.m., with a few eggs. He received me with great courtesy and set a chair for me near his fire. When I sat down he sat down and we spoke of his health. After a very little time he changed the conversation to religious topics. He spoke of the Gospels, the Scriptures, of Our Lady in particular, as he had a great devotion to her; of various saints, but especially Saint Augustine, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Saint Francis Xavier, Saint Francis Borgia and Saint Alphonsus Rodriguez. He seemed to have a great knowledge, of and admiration for the Jesuit Saints. I was quite entranced with. his conversation, which was very beautiful; and did not realize how long I was with him until I saw his clock. I asked if the clock was right, and he said it was. It was then 6 o’clock and I had been listening to him for three hours, though I did not believe I was more than half an hour with him. As I apologized for my long stay, his face lit. up with pleasure, and he thanked me warmly for my visit. One thing he mentioned was that he had read in the life of a saint whose name I cannot recall, that he never got up from his knees in the church lest he should be distracted. Matt Talbot said that was why he did not stand up either. His little room was poor but clean and tidy. I noticed that the bed was very flat and was covered with a dark quilt which covered pillow and all. I often called at his room with a little present of eggs, which I asked him to beat up and eat. He always smiled and said he would. I was usually accompanied by an Irish terrier dog, which he insisted on allowing into the room, saying he was very fond of dogs. On such occasions we did. not speak of religious subjects, and I did not delay. He was very reticent until I got to know him, when he spoke quite freely.”

We cannot pierce the veil which shadows the hours spent in the silence of his room alone with God, but from his books we may be able to, reconstruct the scene and follow his thoughts. Scattered through his books, were scraps of, paper which he had carried home from. the. timber yard. As has been stated, his duty in his later years was to select certain classes of timber required for, the furniture department, or for customers. The orders came on half sheets of notepaper, and these Talbot appears to have put into his pocket for his own use afterwards. Others of the notes are on bits of paper torn from a passbook, in fact the nearest scrap of paper was used to write down, the extracts from his spiritual books or from sermons heard in church. Some are written in ink, some with an ordinary black-lead pencil, some with indelible or coloured pencil. All do not refer to religious subjects but to some fact which he had heard or read, and which struck him at the time as worthy of note. Thus we find the distances from the Earth to the Sun and to the fixed stars evidently taken from a book on the various heavens given in the old astronomies, the one now quoted being from Christopher Glavitis. In connection with his reading he, once told D. M., a clerk in Messrs. Martin’s, that he was reading Cardinal Newman’s “Apologia.” D. M. remarked that a book like that was too high class for a man like him; that he (D. M.) had tried to and had to give it up as it was altogether above him. Matt Talbot replied that whenever he read a book he always prayed to God to give him light to understand it, or, at least, to understand the main points of the book; that he thought he got enough of light to understand most of what he read. Readers of the lives of the saints will remember that it is hot an uncommon experience to find very holy souls who were without education able to read and understand books of the most profound mystical theology, and possessing- an accuracy of thought and a, precision of expression which could only be the result of knowledge directly infused by the Holy Ghost. We need not, therefore, be surprised to find a man so gifted with the spirit of prayer as Matt Talbot was, reading with full understanding the books found in his little library.

These little scraps of paper reveal the very soul of the man and show his own beautiful character much better than the words of a biographer can do. They shall be allowed to tell their own tale:

From the note-book:

“Speak not evil of the rich man in the private chamber because even the birds of the air will carry thy voice and he that hath wings will tell what thou has said. Book Cle. & C. 19 V.”

“Cursed be the deceitful man, says God, who has a male in his flock yet sacrifices an infirm creature to me, because I am a great King says the Lord of Hosts and my name is terrible amongst the Nations. The Prophet Malachy the I. C. & 14V.”

“1. Draw me after Thee oh Heart of Jesus and I shall run in the odour of the ointments. 2. Grant me oh Jesus Thy Grace and Love and I shall be rich enough. 3. The Sparrow has found herself a house and the turtle dove a nest to deposit her young. Thy heart oh Jesus shall be my rest and repose. 4. May my eyes and my heart be always on the wound of Thy Blessed Heart oh Jesus. 5. Who shall separate us from the Heart of Jesus. 6. Heart of Jesus be Thou the object of all the affections of my heart. 7. Lord give me of that water flowing from Thy Heart and I shall never thirst. 8. Heart of Jesus support the weak, clothe me with Thy strength. , 9.” (An abrupt stop.)

Next follows the prayer for the beatification of the Little Flower, copied out in Matt Talbot’s writing. As it is well known it is not given.

“Saint Veronica

“The Blessed (sic) told her banish all anxiety for her to 3 letters:

“The 1st – Purity of the affections by placing her whole heart in God alone, loving no creature but in Him; and for her 2nd – Never to murmur or be impatient at the sins or any behaviour of others but to bear them with interior peace and patience and humbly to pray for them and 3rd to set apart some time every day to meditate on the Passion of Christ.”

“Liberty of Spirit means that freedom from self-love that makes the soul prompt in doing God’s will in the least thing.”

“O Most Sweet Jesus mortify within me all that is bad – make it die. Put to death in me all that is vicious and unruly. Kill whatever dis-pleases Thee, mortify within me all that is my own. Give me true humility, true patience and true charity. Grant me the perfect control of my tongue, my” (ends here).

“What is Mystical Theology. (It) is the science that deals with God and divine things; the truths revealed by God and all that results from revelations. The word mystical means secret, hidden, obscure. Mystical Theology, therefore, is that part of the General Science of Theology which treats about the secret and hidden things. Union of the Soul with God, it is also used as in the present treatise. C. the 12 to denote. . . .”

“When Our Lord showed Sister Francesca of the Bleeding Sacrament, a Spanish Carmelitess, the loss of a soul and several times in a vision compelled her positively to study separate tortures of that place, upbraided her for weeping. Francesca why weepest thou? She fell prostrate at the Sacred Feet and said Lord for the damnation of that soul and the manner in which it has been damned. He vouchsafed to reply, Daughter it hath chosen to damn itself I have given it many helps of grace that it might be saved.”

These end the notebook, except for a note which was only started and conveys nothing to the reader.

The scraps of paper found by the writer amounted to thirty-six, and for convenience are numbered 1 to 36:

1. As to nobility of blood, true nobility is to be derived only from the blood of the Son of God.

2. Love is a Sweet Tyrant, sweet to the person beloved but a tyrant to the lover that is Jesus Christ that is God.

3. The heathen philosophers when (they) knew God had not glorified Him as God or given thanks but became vain in their thoughts and their foolish hearts were darkened wherefore God gave them up to the shameful affections and to the desire of their own heart to uncleanness.

(N.B. This note has been altered, as in the original it is slightly mixed up through misplacing some of the words).

4. He that oppresseth the poor upbraideth his maker, but he that hath pity on the poor honoureth him. Prov. 14 G. 31 V.

5. God says Saint Augustine can only be honoured by love.

6. How I long that Thou mayest be master of my heart my Lord Jesus.

7. O King of Penitents who pass for fools in the opinion of the world but very dear to you oh, Jesus Christ.

8. (This is not in Talbot’s handwriting but is in a woman’s hand. It is the prayer of the Angel of the Agony from the Dream of Gerontius by Cardinal Newman, beginning: “Jesus! by the shuddering dread which fell on Thee”)

On the back of this prayer, in the handwriting of Matt Talbot, is a note about “Saint Ignatius 846 and Photius; the Council of Constance 809, the death of Saint Ignatius 878, 4 score years old. 608 Saint Ulric the first Saint solemnly canonized by the Church 4th July 973.”

9. The exterior acts of religion are 3 Adoration, Sacrifice and Vows.

10. Three Substances were united in Christ – His Divinity, His Soul and Body.

11. Absolute miracle is from God alone, a miracle from an angel is an efficient miracle done by His own strength. Hume tells us that a miracle may be accurately defined a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity.

12. Should (you) ask me what is Grace, I answer you Grace as Divines (?) define it is a participation of the Divine nature that is God, Sanctity, Purity and Greatness by virtue of which a man. rises from the baseness and filth he received from Adam.

13. The prophet Amas C. 8 v. 9 & 10. The sun shall go down at midday and I will make the earth dark in the day of Light and I will turn your feasts into mourning and all songs into lamentations.

14. All flesh have sinned and all flesh must suffer. Saint Ambrose says without combat there is no victory and without victory, there is no Crown.

15. Our Lord appeared to Saint Gertrude pale, weary and bleeding and dirt stained and said open your heart my daughter for I want to go in and lie down. I am weary of these days of sin.

16. Sin is an excessive evil because it is an infinite evil.

17. Perfect happiness consists of the full activity of a perfect nature. The angels have it.

18. At present the human body is an animal body inasmuch as to preserve its life on this earth so it is (necessary) to nourish it with earthly food.

19. What do the letters I.H.S. mean. It means they are the first three letters of the name Jesus in the Greek language.

20. The word Canon signifies a rule or ordinance of prayer, human testimony to prove miracles (ends).

21. Jesus, says Origen, is the Sun of Justice arising with the Spring of Grace upon our hearts.

22. The Holy House 13 F. 3″ hi (sic) 29 F. 4″ length, 12 F. 8″ width.

23. The Heart of Jesus is with me. Stop cease. The inhabitants of Antioch it is related once arrested a violent, earthquake by writing on doors of their houses Jesus Christ is with us, Cease.

24. Sir Henry Wotton a great authority on the point, Ambassador at Venice, tells us that an Ambassador is one sent to foreign Courts to invent lies for his country’s good.

25. Blessed Mother obtain from Jesus a share of His Folly.

26. It is the will of God that man should have two lives, the one natural the other supernatural.

27. The sons of Man neither know what is the greatness of what is eternal nor the baseness of what is temporal. The time of life is but a career of death in which no man is permitted to make stay.

28. The Pope is subject to no human authority. This is his temporal power. Christ is not divided so neither is His Church divided . . . . after all the world can do God is still upon His Throne.

The obedience of Jesus Christ to the will of God was the recognition of the Sovereignty of God over the will of man.

29. The teaching of theologians that all venial sins with which a just man dies are remitted as to the guilt at the moment when the soul is separated from the body, by virtue of an Act of Love of God and the perfect contrition which it then excites over all its faults. In fact the soul at this moment knows its condition perfectly, and the sins of which it has been guilty before God, and all the stain of guilt has then disappeared but the pain remains to be endured in all its rigour and long duration.

30. To constitute a mortal sin three circumstances must be united (1) The matter must be grave and (2) the mind must have a full knowledge of the culpability of the act which it commits or of the omission which it permits or of the danger of the occasion of sin to which it exposes itself (3) the will must decide with ah entire consent and a criminal preference for the forbidden act, the culpable omission, or the dangerous occasion.

31. The Body and the Soul of Jesus Christ were united by the hypostatic Union, that is by the personal assumption of our manhood into God to the Person of the eternal Son two natures in one, person Jesus Christ.

The use of the will is to do good but the abuse of the will is to do evil.

32. One Our Father, one Hail Mary in honour of life ignominy of Jesus offer yourself to God with Joy and Peace. Man enjoys by the Union of a God to his nature an advantage which the Angels never possessed.

33. The Kingdom of Heaven was promised not to the sensible and the educated but to such as have the spirit of little children.

34. Oh Virgin I only ask three things the Grace of God, the Presence of God, the Benediction of God.

35. In Meditation, we labour to seek God by reasoning and by good acts, but in Contemplation we behold Him without labour already found. In Meditation, the mind labours, operating with its power, but in Contemplation it is God Himself who operates, and the soul merely receives the infused gifts.

36. What do I want to speak to you when I have Jesus to speak to me.

Amongst these little extracts and prayers was a very beautiful prayer, not in his own handwriting, for his spiritual director. It begins, “Oh, my God, bless, guide and enlighten him amongst Thy Ministers to whom Thou hast entrusted the, guidance of my Soul. . . .” which would go to show that there must have been some priest, to whom he confided his mode of life, but who pre-deceased him – this shall be referred to later on.

The high spirituality revealed by the extracts given above is further emphasized by the nature of the books which formed his usual reading. He had a large box filled with books ranging from the booklets issued by the Catholic Truth Society of Ireland and the Irish Messenger Office to. large and expensive books which he bought or which were presented to him. His memory was so good that he could give the dates of the births, deaths, and canonizations of almost all the great saints in the calendar. At the end of this chapter is given a fairly comprehensive list of his principal books. He had a very tender devotion to Our Lady, and his, love for her followed close, as does the love of all spiritual souls, on his devotion to Our Blessed Lord. That he could read with full understanding a work such as the Mystical City of God, compiled from the writings of Mary of Agreda, the Spanish Mystic, shows that he was himself deeply versed in the highest form of mystical prayer. This book he obtained with difficulty, having apparently to procure it; outside Ireland, possibly owing to the difficulty of importing books during the Great War, and he never parted, with it. Another book on Our Lady which he highly prized was “True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin,” by the Blessed Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort, from which he first got the idea of wearing chains.

During the ten years which elapsed between the death of his mother and his own death these evening hours are clothed, in silence. To be alone with Jesus he had gone aside from the crowd, and what passed between him and the Great Lover of his Soul was known only to themselves. We have got a glimpse of his prayer in the early morning when his mother watched him in an ecstasy pouring out his soul to God and God’s Mother. Once or twice he broke the silence: speaking to his sister, Mrs. Fylan, he complained of the lack of the love of God amongst men, and said, “Susan, if I could only tell you. of the great joy I had last night talking to God and the Blessed Virgin.” But such confidences were very rare, and should he think he had spoken too much of himself he would say at once that there was no credit due to him but to God, Who gave him such grace.

We shall conclude this chapter with a list of some of his books, though they do not, by any means, represent all that he read. He borrowed books from friends, and from the libraries of religious houses. These were returned, and therefore, their names are unknown. The attached list is given merely to show the class of books he had trained himself to read with appreciation and, understanding:

  • The Holy Bible and the New Testament
  • “The Sufferings of Our Lord Jesus Christ”, by Father Thomas of Jesus
  • “Imitation of the Sacred Heart”
  • “Our Divine Saviour”, by the Bishop of Newport
  • “The School of Christ”, by Pere Grou, S.J.
  • “Christ Among Men”, by L’Abbe Sertillange
  • “All for Jesus”, by Father Faber
  • “The Real Presence”, by Pere Eymard
  • “Eucharistic Retreats”, by Pere Eymard
  • “Manual for Interior Souls”, by Pere Grou
  • “Spiritual Conference”, by Father Faber
  • “Spiritual Instructions”, by Venerable Blosius
  • “Introduction to the Devout Life”, by Saint Francis de Sales
  • “The Science of the Soul”
  • “Meditations on the Hidden Life”
  • “The Precious Blood”, by Father Faber
  • “Loss and Gain”, by Saint John Henry Newman
  • “Arians of the 4th Century”, by Saint John Henry Newman
  • “Essays on Miracles”, by Saint John Henry Newman
  • “Leaves from Saint Augustine”, by Allies
  • “Life of Saint Augustine”, by Bishop Moriarty
  • “Life of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary”, by Jones
  • “Life of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary”, by Montalembert
  • “Lives of F. A. Talpa, etc.”
  • “Lives of Fabrizzio dell’ Aste”
  • “The Mystical City of God”, by Venerable Mary of Agreda
  • “True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin”, by Saint Louis Marie Grigniqn de Montfort
  • “Social Value of the Gospel”, by Carriquet
  • “Democratic Industry”, by Father Husslein, S.J.
  • “Butler’s Lives of the Saints”, 2 volumes
  • “Behold Thy Mother”, by Father Russell, S.J.
  • “Present Position of Catholics in England”, by Saint John Henry Newman
  • “Course of Religious Instruction”, by Father Schouppe, S.J.
  • “Preparation for Death”
  • “Old and New”, by Father N. J. Walsh, S.J.
  • “History of Devotion to the Blessed Virgin”
  • “The Devout Pilgrims of the Ever Blessed Virgin Mary”
  • “Purgatory according to Saint Catherine of Genoa”
  • “Life of Saint John of the Cross”