All forms of addiction, regardless of which ways they affect us, have an evil influence, according to Father Francis Foley.
“Each prey on us like the Devil likes to do by trying to convince us that we’re ugly and that we’ll always fail,” the pastor of Saint Gabriel Parish in South Philadelphia explained. “Our faith, though, states that we have the greatest ally to fight back, and that’s our Creator.”
Through his time in helming the South Philadelphia parish, Father Foley has looked for his congregants to call on “heavenly helpers” for added guidance, with the Venerable Matt Talbot as one the believers have especially come to appreciate through a shrine in their Grays Ferry-based church.
Beginning on October 3, the site will begin hosting devotional prayers each Tuesday to call on the intercession of the figure not only for those who struggle with alcohol dependency like he did, but also for individuals seeking to defeat addiction in all of its forms.
“He’s such a role model for everyone who wants to change and place themselves on the right path again or for the first time,” Father Foley said of the man who, at age 28, worn down after years of seeking some sort of relief through liquor, pledged to stay sober for three months. “He was fond of holding that if he could put his life together after so much strife that anyone else could with the grace of God.”
That quarter-of-a-year vow by the Irish-born manual laborer became a four-decade-plus reality, as Talbot became a devout follower of the Gospel and called on the aforementioned abundance of grace to encourage others to seek strength in the Lord.
Saint Gabriel Parish documents his journey from a seemingly hopeless nobody to a relatable and revered beacon through a new prayer booklet and will call on its contents when holding the Tuesday gatherings.
The invocations, including the Prayer for the Addicted, all have a call for compassion at their heart and expand upon a connection that the parish has to Talbot. Its roots are in the work of Father Douglas McKay and his Our House Ministries, Inc. endeavors. That willingness to ask for God’s grace, Father Foley feels, needs to become more developed among everyone, given how active despair is in the world.
“There’s an exploding opioid addiction, but no matter the type of addictive struggle that someone is experiencing, when you couple that pain with escalating feelings of depression and isolation, something needs to intervene, and we as believers know what the ultimate source of solace is,” he said. “God’s grace will always have that title.”
The choice to convene on Tuesdays came from a parishioner, so Talbot Tuesdays will see Saint Gabriel Parish continuing to play its part in making the legacy of its namesake known. Given that 2023 marks the 48th anniversary of Talbot’s distinction as Venerable, Father Foley contends that the process to see the declaration of Talbot as Blessed and then Saint is a testament to his admirers’ faith.
“I had heard of him before coming here,” said Father Foley, who just marked two years of service in Grays Ferry. “I’ve come to feel he calls us to remember that the grace of God is there and that we can all be disciples in leading people to safety and security. That is why we will be meeting. There’s an added power through communal prayer.”
Having given Saint Gabriel an aesthetic boost through the Saint Mary’s Garden and set to revitalize its 40 Hours Devotion next month, too, Father Foley hopes that parishioners and visitors can come to appreciate, or appreciate even more, what God can do for the downtrodden, despite how far they think they have fallen.
“Matt Talbot is someone who we might say was on the periphery of society,” he said. “Does that mean his conversion, so to speak, meant less? I don’t think so. I’m more inclined to say that it’s that admission, when we’ve hit rock bottom, that we can’t go on alone that we see, regardless of who we are, that grace is our benefactor.”
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