Thanks for the welcome, Mc!!!
think when Christians looses touch with this they loose touch with everything. As Jesus warned us when He spoke to Niccodemus,
’Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." John 3:5
This living relationship is I believe what Jesus was speaking of here, the very heart of prayer, the very centre of our faith. Our hearts are tabernacles for the triune God. This is the great truth that St Paul speaks of in Colossians 3:4:
’When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory’
In his letter to the Galatians (2:20), Paul writes:
"...I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God’
In John's Gospel (15:1)
’Christ is the vine, and we are the branches.’
I also remember the brothers in school telling us that Jesus actually lived in the tabernacle in our Churches. I was amazed. On my way home from school I walked into the awesome surroundings of Clonard Monastery Church. In my opinion one of the holiest places in Ireland and the home of the peace process here. I remember how I genuflected with genuine awe as I looked at the altar, which housed Christ. I sat and talked a while, a habit that I kept up for many years until I lost my faith.
”My House shall be called a house of prayer for all Peoples." (Isaiah 56:7)
. I decided to become a priest when I was five. We used to collect for the African missions and when I saw a photo of a priest in white, the 'White Fathers' my heart was set on nothing else.
I was very popular at school, but I time came when I lost all my friends through a variety of circumstances. This caused me to be on my own praying a lot, walking on my own or in the many chapels that dot Belfast. There was no accident now in loosing my friends for it forced me to turn to God and Our Lady for company and as Paul tells us Romans 8:28
”And we have known that to those loving God all things do work together for good, to those who are called according to purpose”
I had a very deep devotion to Our Lady, as how could I not with such a good and a holy mother? My reasoning was simple, if my own mother could be so good and loving, what then could the Mother of God Himself be like?
Song of Solomon 6:9-10;”"Who is she who comes, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army in battle array?”
So that brings me up until I was 15 and went away to be a priest. Next I'll talk of the terrible 30 year war here that broke out in 1969 and how it effect both myself and my family and how I lost my faith and turned away from God.
I've talked about myself and my families Faith, but in order to understand the story I am about to tell you, I'll have to share a little of Ireland’s history.
Ireland is a tiny island that lies of the West Coast of Europe. At the time of the Roman Empire it was inhabited by a proud Celtic peoples and was one of the few countries in Europe not to be made part of the Roman Empire. Perhaps the Latin tag for Ireland 'Hibernia'...'winter explains a little why they never occupied us!
In the fifth century St Patrick and the first Catholic missionaries arrived on the island and the Irish took to the religion with zeal and speed. The Irish especially embraced monasticism and soon the island was dotted with little and not so little monasteries.
The downfall of the Roman Empire led to the downfall of civilization and the onslaught of the Dark Ages in Europe. But in the little island the Faith stayed strong. Irish missionaries spread the faith through the introduction of monasteries throughout Europe. Scholars travelled to Ireland from all over the known world to be educated bringing Ireland the proud title of 'Island of Saints and Scholars'.
Adrian IV the first and only English Pope disgracefully ceded Ireland to the English Normans who began a long history of invasion and conquest in 1170 the echoes of which peel down to our present day.
During the Protestant Reformation England became Protestant, while the Irish stayed loyal to the Faith. Intense persecution of Catholics was undertaken under the notorious Penal Laws. This led to the martyrdom of many thousands of Irish Martyrs, but the Catholics through it all said the mass in the hills in secrecy, at risk of death if discovered.
In almost every generation the Irish rose against their English overlords, but were always defeated by their much stronger power. In 1916, during the First World War the Irish rose in Rebellion yet again. Though the leaders were executed and the rising failed it led to the Irish War of Independence and the freeing of the lower 26 counties of Ireland. My granduncles fought in this war in the IRA, the Irish Republican Army.
The north eastern six counties remained under British Rule. British Protestant settlers who formed the majority of the population had forcibly settled this part of Ireland. The Catholic minority from 1922 onwards suffered discrimination, civil rights abuses, murder and imprisonment.
Now I bring you up to virtually modern times and the start of my own story. In 1969 word of the Civil Rights Protests by African Americans and their allies in the USA reached Ireland. The Catholic Irish in the North, suffering from similar bigotry launched a Civil Rights campaign of their own. The parades were attacked and the marches savagely beaten while the British police assisted, joined on or stood by and did nothing.
Adrian IV whose home name was Nicholas Breakspeare ceded Ireland to the English, under Henry II in 1154 may God forgive him for it. He did so in these terms:
’Thou hast signified to us, indeed, most beloved son in Christ, that thou dost desire to enter into the island of Ireland, in order to subject the people to the laws and to extirpate the vices that have there taken root, and that thou art willing to pay an annual pension to St. Peter of one penny from every house, and to preserve the rights of the churches in that land inviolate and entire. We, therefore, seconding with the favour it deserves thy pious and laudable desire, and granting a benignant assent to thy petition, are well pleased that, for the enlargement of the bounds of the church. for the restraint of vice, for the correction of morals and the introduction of virtues, for the advancement of the Christian religion, thou shouldst enter that island, and carry out there the things that look to the honour of God and to its own salvation. And may the people of that land receive thee with honour, and venerate thee as their master;’
However in fairness to the English Pope many scholars dispute the authenticity this Bull.
When the Loyalists attacked the Civil Rights protests here in 1969 they also launched a series of pogroms against Catholic areas in the north, aided by the almost exclusively Protestant/British police, the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The native Irish went into open rebellion and the British Army was called in as 'Peace Keepers'. The IRA the Irish Republican Army was reformed and a long guerrilla war of some thirty years began.
My own family as I've already mentioned had a long tradition of Irish Republicanism. My father had been vice President of the main Republican Party Sinn Fein and was editor of their newspaper the Republican News. He was also a businessman who owed a number of shops. The British introduced Internment of Catholics on the 9th August 1971. This meant that the British could put who ever they liked in prison without charge, jury or court for an indefinite period.
My father and elder brother were both interned while I was in the monastery. The British told my family that when I reached 18 they would come down to the monastery and intern me too. At 16 years old I was now the breadwinner for the family and wished to leave my studies for the priesthood and return home to help out. But my father from the Internment camp insisted I stay where I was. Like most Catholic parents of the period they were inordinately proud of a son who had a vocation.
It’s difficult for me to convey the atmosphere of the period. I witnessed a lot when I came home from holidays and on the media, so I'll describe what I saw and why my hatred for the British grew ever more deep.