A Long-Ago Abandoned Concentration of Faith.
Julio Gonzalez, M.D., J.D.
This is the first of a Sunday series by thefederalistpages.com about the Christian faith. It is hoped that through it a greater appreciation for the indispensible role Christianity plays in supporting a just society will be developed and eventually, lead us back to a road of charity, love, and peace.
It was two years ago when I first heard a speech by Dr. Timothy O'Donnell on the nineteenth century plight of Irish Catholics. The lecture was delivered in support of the Institute for Catholic Culture, an organization designed to promote the understanding of the Catholic faith and its evangelization. In it, Dr. O'Donnell, President of Christendom College, told a story of an Irish man to whom a priest had attended in his final days of his life. The events took place in the early twentieth century, and the man, in a state of terminal weakness, lied on his gurney, awaiting his passage to the Kingdom of God. As the priest began attending to him, he noticed the man's left leg draped over the side of the cot. He attempted to lift the man's leg onto the cot, but found that he resisted him.
"No, no, father," the man uttered despite his weakness, and told the priest of how he had purposely placed his left leg over the side of the bed so that it would not receive the comfort he afforded the rest of his body. The priest, of course, was befuddled, and it was then that he learned of the man's life-long oath, a promise he was in the final stages of fulfilling.
You see, as a youngster, the man lived at the time of the potato famine. Those were times of utter devastation, interminable suffering, and overwhelming disease. It was around 1845, and Irish Catholics had just come off a period of unspeakable oppression at the hands of British Protestants. Among other unjust restrictions, Irish Catholics were not allowed to purchase land, or lease it. They could not vote or enter a profession. They were prohibited from holding public office. They weren't even allowed to gather for mass. The conditions were so bad that it was not uncommon for Irishmen to create wagons designed as makeshift altars so they could be dragged onto the sea, just beyond the Protestant landowner's property line, from which they could hold mass with the parishoners gathered in the cold North Atlantic water. Others would take on the responsibility of dressing up as priests and standing near where the masses were held so that when the British officials came near, they would chase down the decoy instead of destroying the actual flock, often resulting in the bait's death.
The English, anti-Catholic penal laws were lifted in 1829, but not in time to prevent the interminable sickness that was to strike the Irish just sixteen years later, when a fungus destroyed the island's potato crops; the only food sufficiently cheap and plentiful food to sustain the Irish Catholics who at this time were relegated to serving as peasants and hired hands. Adding to the insult was the fact that there was really no food shortage in England, or even in Ireland proper, as the exportation of rabbit, peas, and honey continued at robust levels during the Great Hunger while that of livestock and butter even increased.
Yet the Irish population was decimated, so much so that it was not uncommon for the frailest to make their ways into prefabricated holes to die so that they would not burden others with the task of burying them.
It was there that our old man lived when he was young, continuously tempted with the lure of warm soup, or even a ration of bread.
All he had to do was renounce his Catholic faith.
One day, in a moment of weakness, the young man did falter and made his way to the nearby Anglican Church, resolved to get a bite to eat. He actually went so far as to open the door and take one step inside with his left foot before coming to his senses and abandoning the idea. He quickly became so disgusted with himself that he promised never to give his treasonous left leg comfort.
The old man's personal saga is indeed poignant, but so are the questions it invites. What happened to the fervent faith this man had? Where is this strength of conviction shown not only by him, but by millions of other Irish who refused to escape their torture for fear of renouncing their love for Christ?
To these questions, Dr. O'Donnell adds more testimony through the letters of Comte De Monte Lombaires, a French noble who traveled to Ireland in 1829. He wrote:
In a separate letter, the Count continues:
Of course, this level of dedication by a whole nation did not survive. What tyranny and oppression could not extricate from the Irish, wealth, modernism, and liberalism did. Thus Ireland, the nation responsible for saving Christianity during the Middle Ages, now stands in a state of moral turpitude.
But Ireland is not alone in its debacle. Indeed, all of western society has waivered and similarly stammers under the torments of strengthened demons and a generalized moral apathy. Part of the reason for our fall is that we have forgotten what it is like to have a country united in faith, to live in a community committed to the divinity of Christ and to the service of the Lord. We exalt those who died in battle or triumphed in discovery, but we forget those who died in prayer and love, chasing only the aspiration of promoting God's peace on earth.
With all the misery, the violence, and the chaos that surrounds us, it is time we resume honoring and remembering those men and women who chose Christ over all else, who chose love over hate, and who spread His word and grace despite the insurmountable threats that confronted them.
Some say our present condition stands without remedy, but as we shall see, ours pales in comparison to those confronted by other Christians at other times. Whether we think our nation beyond salvation or not, one thing holds true, it is for this battle in the name of righteousness and virtue that we Christians have been placed here on this earth. And it is likely we are the last hope for improvement of the condition of man.
Thus, we will next visit those who best knew the man who for our salvation died. We will continue by visiting the apostles themselves.
Dr. Julio Gonzalez is an orthopaedic surgeon and lawyer living in Venice, Florida. He served in the Florida House of Representatives. He is the author of numerous books including The Federalist Pages, The Case for Free Market Healthcare, and Coronalessons. He is available for appearances and book signings, and can be reached through www.thefederalistpages.com.