After a bad start, finish your life well

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I am turning 65 this month and a lovely question has come to me: “How do I want to finish this life?”

We all may have had some bad starts along the way but the Christian Gospel says we can make a great finish.

While praying about this for a few months I met a friend along the way. A lovely little saint named Venerable Matt Talbot (1856-1925). He was an Irish man and a chronic alcoholic who found sobriety for 41 years through devotion to the Eucharist, prayer, self-discipline and spiritual direction. He lived the 12 step program before it was discovered. He is a saint for the addict and the alcoholic, the down-and-outers and the rest of us who need a little hope to keep on the path home.

He was a simple man who, through great efforts, 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 parish to open for the early morning Mass. He found a deep relationship to Jesus through Mary as he made the consecration of Saint Louis de Montfort.

He was going to Trinity Sunday Mass when he died and would have been terribly embarrassed that others found out he was wearing a small chain to remind himself he was a servant of the great King and Queen of Heaven.

I love the story about how he spent seven years trying to find the blind fiddle player from whom he stole a fiddle to pay for some pints of beer. He couldn’t locate him so gave the amount of money that the fiddle cost to a priest to pray for the man’s soul. He was a simple man who started badly but finished a saint.

So here I am before God asking, “Lord, show me how to finish this life.”

Matt’s simple spiritual life resonates with me and was taken from the pattern of the Irish monks as summarized by Saint Columbanus: “Pray daily, fast daily, work daily, study daily.” I confess that this is the best description of the life I want to lead as I finish this life. I find in this simple saint such beauty and a call to run with him to the end. I recall Saint Paul’s words in Hebrews: “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 with perseverance run 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 Savior, Jesus Christ.

Matt we are coming, pray for us.

The writer is pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Magadan, Russia.


'After a bad start, finish your life well' have 2 comments

  1. January 2015 @ 1:02 am Suzy

    Fr. Mike Shields,
    Your article is very eloquent, my response will not be. I applaud you for using God’s word in one area, but the rest of what you wrote seems unbiblical. You have a remark as to a Queen of Heaven. God’s word does speak of Jesus being King of Kings (Rev. 19:16). Could you please show me in Scripture where Mary is queen? Also, you are referring to Matt Talbot as a saint. Is this because of his being dead or his devotion to the Eucharist, prayer, self-discipline and spiritual direction?
    Or is he a saint because he was wearing a small chain to remind himself he was a servant of the great King and Queen of Heaven? (Please give scripture verification).
    “He couldn’t locate him so gave the amount of money that the fiddle cost to a priest to pray for the man’s soul.” Why would the man have to pay a priest to pray for anyone or anything? The mention of the man praying to Mary to be closer with Jesus is way out there. It is our unconfessed sin that keeps us from God and which is storing up the wrath of God for the day of Judgment. Praying to anyone except God is also unbiblical! “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. (Matt. 6:9). At the end you go so far as asking a dead person to pray for us.
    (Rev.22:3)- we will be serving and worshiping God while in Heaven, not praying for people. Jesus, Messiah (God with us) is our mediator, not anyone else.

    Reply

    • January 2015 @ 9:50 pm Joel Davidson

      A Response from Fr. Michael Shields:

      Dear Suzy,
      Catholics and Protestants share the Bible (except for a few books in the Old Testament that were removed during the Protestant Reformation). These Sacred Scriptures come to us from the Holy Spirit and from the councils and wisdom of the Catholic Church.
      In other words the church was first, and then came the formation and canon of the Bible. That does not mean the church is over the Word of God — it means the church has a role given it by Jesus who said that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The church is charged with presenting a truthful understanding of the Gospel.
      Historically the Catholic Church gave the Bible to the world. This means that there is nothing in the Bible contrary to the Catholic faith and there is nothing in Catholic faith contrary to anything in the Bible.
      As a Catholic I believe everything the Bible teaches, but I might disagree with someone’s interpretation of these teachings. If forced to choose which interpretation to follow I would look to the Catholic Church.
      To claim that an idea is “unbiblical” assumes that everyone is in agreement on what is in fact “biblical.” That is not the case. There are 30,000 Protestant churches today that all claim to be “biblically based.”
      If it is so easy to determined whether an idea is biblical, why is there such disagreement among Protestant churches? We need an authority that can definitively and accurately pass down Sacred Scripture and its interpretation.
      The Catholic Church was founded by Christ and has existed for more than 2,000 years. I trust this church, which first circulated the letters of Saint Paul. I trust this church that ensured the Gospels were preached in the first churches. I trust this church that held historic counsels and determined what books and what Gospels truly represented the authentic revelation of Jesus Christ to the world.
      Jesus taught that when a conflict arises we should take it to the church because the church is the Body of Christ holding his message and proclaiming his authentic salvation to the world.
      In regards to the “Queen of Heaven,” she is found in the Bible. In Revelations (Ch. 12) we read of a woman clothed with the sun and moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of stars (a queen). She gives birth to a son who will rule all nations (Jesus). The devil tried to kill this son and the woman protected him.
      Now is this woman really the Blessed Virgin Mary — Queen of Heaven? Some say she represents Israel. But a closer reading reveals that the woman cares for the son. Jewish leaders tried to kill him. Some say the woman is the church, but nowhere do the Scriptures call Jesus the child of the church. Why? Because Jesus came before the church and established the church.
      As to the question about the role of the saints, they are mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments. Romans is especially interesting, where Saint Paul writes, “To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints.” And saints are ready to assist us. The letter to the Hebrews notes that we are “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,” cheering us on to finish our life well.
      A saint is an example of someone growing in holiness. We can imitate them. Saint Paul said this of himself: “Brothers and sisters join in imitating me and observe those who live according to the example you have for us.” (Phil.3;17). This is what we are doing when we look to the saints living in heaven. They are more alive in Christ and we want to imitate them to have the same powerful life of grace and faith.
      With regards to the question about whether we can ask others to pray for us, the Bible includes many examples of this. The saints are alive, but in heaven with Christ. Just as we can ask people on earth to pray for us, how much more can we ask the Virgin Mary and the saints in heaven to pray. This takes nothing away from God’s glory.
      In asking the Virgin Mary to pray for us we get to know Jesus better and follow him more deeply. God choose Mary from among all woman and she was highly favored and graced to give the Savior of the world to mankind. I think she might have something to say to us.
      This does not detract from Christ as our one, true mediator. Christ has, however, chosen to use his body (the church and her members) to mediate God’s grace to the world in and through him. Thus, the church is Christ in this world. Different members of the church mediate various graces in accordance with their respective gifts while the whole body functions to bring Christ to the world.
      I end with a statement from famous Swedish protestant charismatic pastor who entered the Catholic Church last year. He founded thousands of churches from the late 1980s in Europe and Eastern countries. Ulf Ekman explains the reasoning behind his conversion to Catholicism in an article in Charisma magazine:
      “I discovered how little I really knew about [Catholics], their spirituality and their beliefs. Unconsciously I carried many prejudices and bad attitudes and have been quick to judge them without really knowing what they actually believed. It has been good to discover and to repent from nonchalant and shallow opinions, based not on their own sources but on their opponents, and to discover a very rich heritage, a strong theological foundation and a deep love for Jesus Christ among them.”
      He added that, in the Catholic Church, he has “seen a great love for Jesus and a sound theology, founded on the Bible and classic dogma. We have experienced the richness of sacramental life. We have seen the logic in having a solid structure for priesthood, that keeps the faith of the church and passes it on from one generation to the next. We have met an ethical and moral strength and consistency that dare to face up to the general opinion, and a kindness towards the poor and the weak.”
      Thank you for your comments Suzy and if you want to know more about the chuch we have a great resource called the Catholic Catechism which is deeply biblical and easily read.

      — Blessings and prayers Fr. Michael

      Reply


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