Bishop Denis Nulty, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin has said that re-imagining the pledge may be necessary so that young people can be reassured that as cool as they may think it is to drink, it’s also cool, in fact very cool not to imbibe. Bishop Nulty was speaking at Our Lady’s Shrine in Knock, Co Mayo, on the afternoon of Sunday 17 July, for the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of the Sacred Heart Annual Pilgrimage in conjunction with the Annual Matt Talbot Pilgrimage.
In his homily Bishop Denis Nulty said, “These are the days when great interest is taken of the early figures emanating from the Irish Census taken last April. CSO figures for 2014 suggest €6.5 billion was spent on alcohol in Ireland; alcohol accounts for 7.4% of our total spend on goods and services. The age when drink is taken regularly can be as young as thirteen and sometimes even in pre-Confirmation years. While we may in some dioceses have separated the pledge from the sacrament; perhaps this needs a fresh look at? Indeed, reimagining the pledge may be necessary so that young people can be reassured that as cool as they may think it is to drink, it’s also cool, in fact very cool not to imbibe”.
Bishop Nulty expressed his concerns about the growing number of young people who are taking performance-enhancing drugs in sport. He said, “A growing number of young people today are tempted to take sport enhancing drugs – they may not drink, but these drugs are doing irrefutable and irreparable damage to the development of their young bodies. It’s all about body perfect, but in doing so how much of the heart and the soul has been damaged? Our pledge must speak to these drugs as much as it speaks to the horrors of underage drinking”.
Addressing the pilgrims gathered from across Ireland, Bishop Nulty said, “the greatest beauty of all in Knock are the pilgrims, as we bring with us to Knock the worrying and fretting of Martha and here at the Shrine take time to sit like Mary at His feet, maybe its once again that quiet moment at the Gable End wall or in the Adoration Chapel here in the busy Basilica or in the Confessional Room as we go through the Jubilee Door of Mercy, but it’s our time and this is what we have come to Knock for”.
Bishop Nulty said that the PTAA and Matt Talbot Pilgrimages fit easily together, like a hand in glove as he thanked both groups for their witness by their lives of sobriety and moderation.
Bishop Nulty went on to say that he has a deep affection for both Father James Cullen, founder of the PTAA and Venerable Matt Talbot as he outlined the story of the lives of both men.
He said, “James Cullen was born in New Ross in 1841. A comfortable background, allowing the family to send young James off to boarding school at Clongowes Wood College. That was in 1856, the year when Father Theobald Matthew of the great Temperance Crusade died. The Father Matthew Medal is still a very much revered possession amongst Pioneers. Returning to James Cullen, he was determined not to become a Jesuit, so he signed on for his native Ferns Diocese and studied for the priesthood in Carlow College.
“The story goes that two years before his ordination, while home on holidays he had a chance encounter with a priest who certainly wasn’t a teetotaler, an encounter which set his mind firmly in the direction of temperance and in the founding of the PTAA. He was ordained in the Cathedral in Carlow. His early years of parish work brought him up front with the harsh reality of poverty and homelessness and identifying alcohol as the root cause then of both. His yearning towards the Jesuits never left him and he succumbed in 1881. The rest is history”.
Bishop Nulty said, “the Pioneers owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Jesuits for spiritually guiding the association from its inception and how wonderful to have Father Barney McGuckian with us this day. In the coming year the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association will become a lay association of the faithful. I don’t think we should fear this development, because the earliest collaborators with Father Cullen were four lay women, unheard of in his generation – a Mrs. Egan, Mrs. Bury, Mrs. Sullivan and a Ms. Power. In the early days the movement was seen very much as an all-female movement. The way to a man’s heart was through a woman, his wife, his mother, his sister. I was interested in the early commentary around the recent spate of horrendous violence in the inner city of Dublin, when it was said, the only ones who could get through to the perpetrators were the mothers or grandmothers”.
Moving on to talk about the life of Venerable Matt Talbot, Bishop Nulty said, “I’m not sure what sparked my initial interest in this man to begin organizing missions around promoting his cause in Mullingar. It might stem from the account of his death, found bundled in a heap on Granby Lane on 7 June 1925. On that same date, thirty-eight years later I was born. The newspaper account of Matt’s death talked of the body being taken to Jervis Street hospital. Staff at the hospital would later discover three chains on his body – a heavier one around his waist; a lighter one around his arm and another below his knee. Matt, apparently was on his way to his third Mass that day and it was still early morning. An eight year-old attended that Mass accompanying a hard of hearing aunt, who liked to get up front, in case she missed what the priest was saying, remembered well the announcement at the end of Mass: ‘A poor old man has been found dead on Granby Lane, we’ll pray for him’. That eight year-old later became a priest Father Dominic Crilly. I spoke with him shortly before he died – he always believed too much was made of Matt’s excessive drinking; for forty years of his life he was a fervent Pioneer”.
Bishop Nulty concluded hi homily by speaking to the cause of canonization of Matt Talbot. He said, “Some people, who know my interest in Venerable Matt Talbot wonder why hasn’t he been raised to the realm of the beatified or better still canonized. The miracle of a saint must be unexplainable; the miracle of overcoming addiction, like Matt Talbot once did, is even harder to prove or classify. You can be cured of a tumor; you can be cured of cancer but an addiction can linger. And that’s why for me the Saints are those who attend AA meetings up and down the country and overcome addiction through the step programme of prayer and mutual support. They will never be canonized on this earth; but like Venerable Matt Talbot, their behavior will be richly rewarded in eternity. The heart is at the center of the Pioneer Pin. The Sacred Heart beats for us all this day in Knock”.