Homily for the Matt Talbot Novena – Kilrush and Shannon
An overweight man decided that it was time to shed a few pounds. He went on a new diet and took it seriously. He even changed his usual driving route on the way to the office precisely in order to avoid his favourite bakery. One morning however, he arrived at the office carrying a large, sugar-coated, calorie loaded cake.
For this he was roundly chided by his colleagues, but he only smiled and shrugged his shoulders and said, “What could I do? This is a very special cake. What happened is that, by force of habit, I accidently drove by the bakery this morning and there in the window were trays full of the most scrumptious goodies. Well, I felt like this was no accident that I happened to pass by this way, so I prayed, “Lord, if you really want me to have one of those delicious coffee cakes, letme find a parking space right in front of the bakery. And sure enough, on the 9th time round the block – there it was, a free parking space right in front of the bakery!
Human nature! Like wasps around a jamb pot on a warm September day we can attracted to what is not always good for us.
“I can resist everything except temptation” in the well known words of Oscar Wilde.
“There go I but for the grace of God” is another phrase often profitably quoted and reflected on in the same context.
Years ago if you wanted to get information on something you went to the dictionary. In recent years with the ubiquity of internet Wikipedia seemed to make the dictionary obsolete. In recent times Mr. Wikipedia is coming under a bit of pressure because of a new online free dictionary service called Wiktionary. Now you can’t say you didn’t learn something new from me here tonight. It may not necessarily be new religious knowledge, but at least it’s something. Wiktionary is the word of the evening.
There go I but for the grace of God
So putting the Wiktionary to the test we are told that the Etymology or word derivation of that phrase “There go I but for the grace of God” allegedly comes from a mid-sixteenth-century statement by John Bradford, “There but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford”, in reference to a group of prisoners being led to execution. It could also go back as far as St. Paul Wiktionary tells us: A paraphrase from the Bible, 1 Corinthians 15:8-10, which states, “Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me. For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am…”.
There go I but for the grace of God. Whether this phrase came from Bradford goes back to St. Paul or prior to that – it is a phrase full of wisdom and at the heart of what we reflect on here tonight in this Matt Talbot novena.
Temptation and the inclination to excess is part of the human condition and it is a distinct possibility for us all in so many areas and different people have different capacities and mechanisms of resistance.
We see examples of response to temptation in excess every day in the world we live in: alcohol, food, sex, drugs, sport, internet, gambling, hedonistic pleasures of many sorts. The list is long and complex and seems to grow each year as life seems to get more complex.
I remember a primary teacher in school who used to regularly throw out the phrase to us as young students – all things in moderation. Moderation, the sensible use of the many pleasures and delights of this world in their proper time and context is obviously the way to go.
The Via Media
The famous writer, poet, scholar and holy man Cardinal John Henry Newman wrote a work called the Via Media,the middle way and it has become part of the English language for many people. Avoidance of excess, the Via Media, the middle way is so obviously the way to go. However, because of our sinful human nature to do this is such a challenge, especially for someone with an inclination towards an addictive personality.
Lead us not into Temptation – Prayer of Jesus
So how does our Christian faith and example of the saints help us to cope with this and offer support and guidance?
In the prayer that Jesus himself taught us – we have that most meaningful of intercessions to the Father : “Lead us not into temptation.
Breandán Ó hEithir – Lig sin i gcathú!
The Virtue of Temperance
Parallel to the sensible secular concept of moderation – our faith puts before us a virtue called “temperance”. The virtue of Temperance is defined as moderation or voluntary self restraint. A virtue is a skill or set of habits that assists us in moral living. There are 2 types of virtues, theological and cardinal. The theological virtues are Faith, Hope and Love and the Cardinal Virtues are Prudence, Temperance, Justice and Fortitude. The virtue of temperance is not as fashionable as it used to be is one of these Cardinal Virtues.
Temperance Sunday during Lent…
All an effort to promote the virtue of temperance and moderation in all things, especially in activity that might give rise to addiction or dependence.
The PTAA for many years have been doing so much to promote temperance and moderation in so many ways. I love the Pioneer prayer:
The Heroic Offering
“For thy greater Glory and consolation, O most Sacred Heart of Jesus, for Thy sake, to give good example, to practice self-denial, to make reparation to Thee for the sins of intemperance and for the conversion of excessive drinkers, I will abstain for life from all intoxicating drinks, Amen”.
Locations like Hope House, Bushy Park, … Addiction Centres around the country. The work of AA and GA in so many locations around the country is to be commended highly also.
Example of Matt Talbot
The Example of Matt Talbot in whose honour and example we celebrate this Novena is a great role model for anyone struggling in the area.
A novena like this highlight the whole issue of excess and addiction and it gives us the opportunity to pray for all affected and pray also for ourselves that we too would not be led into temptation… in the words of the Our Father.
I will finish with a lovely story which in some ways it at the heart of our faith, that it is through our weakness and sufferings, trials and difficulties that the glory of God can be revealed in the human situation!
The Cracked Pot
A Water Bearer in India had two large pots, each hung on each end of a pole which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master’s house, the cracked pot arrived only half full. For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and one half pots of water in his master’s house.
The perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do. After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the Water Bearer one day by the stream. “I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you.” “Why?” asked the bearer. “What are you ashamed of?” “I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your master’s house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don’t get full value from your efforts,” the pot said.
The Water Bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, “As we return to the master’s house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path.” Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it some. But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again it apologize to the bearer for its failure. The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of your path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master’s table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house.”
Each of us has our own unique flaws. We’re all cracked pots. But if we will allow it, the Lord will use our flaws to grace His Father’s table. In God’s great economy, nothing goes to waste. So as we seek ways to minister together, and as God calls you to tasks He has appointed for you, don’t be afraid of your flaws. Acknowledge them, and allow Him to take advantage of them, and you, too, can be the cause of beauty in His pathway. Go out boldly, knowing that in our weakness we find His strength, and that “In Him every one of God’s promises is a Yes.”