Archive for March, 2014

A Bitterly Cold Day in the Workhouse and Thoughts on John Byrne

March 28, 2014

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Some weeks ago we attended the Prayer and Fellowship event at the Faith Mission Centre in Durrow, but before travelling home we spent an interesting time in the Donaghmore Famine Workhouse Museum, County Laois. Renovations are still being carried out here but I have to say that I found it a most comprehensive and fascinating guided tour, giving an insight into how life must have been for those who were unfortunate enough to have to live there at the time. It was so icy in that gloomy place, to the point that I could imagine very vividly indeed what it must have been like to be confined within its cold grey walls all those years ago. In the mid 19th century, Ireland, like the rest of the British Isles, was dotted all over with these workhouses which supposedly were a superior alternative to starvation on the outside.
In reality terrible hardship and disease awaited those who entered the workhouse. Standing in the infirmary, I looked for a moment at the bars on the windows and suddenly shivered when I thought about how whole families were brought so low. To be ill at all within a workhouse would almost certainly have meant death in those days.
The tour also took in a wide variety of antique agricultural implements from the time when the building was used as a co-operative from the 1920’s – a different era but still there were many hardships for people.
While we were given the tour and commentary about the building in its workhouse era, we had to climb some wooden steps to get to another level where I saw what I thought was a young boy lying on the floor. For a moment I stopped in shock but then realised that this was just a model, showing how the inmates would have gone to sleep on the hard floor at night, on a sack filled with oaten straw. Somehow I suspect that they got little sleep under those overcrowded, cold and uncomfortable conditions.
The Lord never intended that families be segregated like this and that children, especially, should live under such inhumane conditions. If life here offered no dignity, death offered even less. There were many deaths in this particular workhouse – and a communal grave into which bodies were emptied from a cart without ceremony. This great pit is still in evidence today; the person who gave us the tour told us that this grave was to be properly marked, in respect for those who had been buried here.
According to records, one poor soul (John Byrne) who was ‘retarded,’ soiled himself and was subsequently ‘washed’ in a nearby cold river as a punishment, with the result that he ended his days in the infirmary, having caught pneumonia. I can only imagine how he must have felt in those icy cold waters on a February day all those years ago.
In all, three eras are represented within the confines of the great grey buildings: the workhouse era of poverty and famine; the age of the co-operative society, and also the era when it was occupied by British soldiers (the ‘Black and Tans’) during Ireland’s war of independence. Graffiti is still in evidence on the walls from the time it was occupied by the latter.
As I followed our guide (we were his only customers that cold day) I thought about how much misery those cold grey walls had been witness to – and how many injustices had been perpetrated within this terrible place and the heartbreaking stories of the many souls who had lived here. I especially thought again about young John Byrne and how he had suffered so cruelly.
Even in this modern age life can be cruel – very often children and elderly people are the victims of neglect and abuse and other vulnerable sections of our own communities can be open to abuse too. In recent times I have encountered a lack of compassion for those who really need it; many people in this world are self-seeking and self-centred, caring little for the deep troubles of others.
Somehow the lovely hymn “Sing we the King Who is Coming to Reign” came to mind when all these thoughts were going through my mind.
As this world with all its turmoil draws to a conclusion, the people of God should not be surprised to find more and more opposition and hostility towards them especially. Society may have advanced in technological terms but the current state of the world we live in could be described in these words:
“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection….” (see: 2Timothy 3v1-5)
Jesus said: “And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.” (Matthew 10v22)
And praise God injustice and cruelty shall be no more for…“Wrong shall be ended when Jesus is King!”
Sing we the King who is coming to reign;
Glory to Jesus the Lamb that was slain;
Life and salvation His empire shall bring,
Joy to the nations, when Jesus is King.

Chorus
Come, let us sing praise to our King,
Jesus, our King, Jesus, our King;
This is our song, who to Jesus belong
Glory to Jesus, to Jesus our King.

Souls shall be saved from the burden of sin,
Doubts shall not darkness the witness within,
Hell hath no terror, and death hath no sting,
Love is victorious when Jesus is King.

All men shall dwell in His marvellous light,
Races long severed His love shall unite,
Justice and truth from His sceptre shall spring,
Wrong shall be ended, when Jesus is King.

Kingdom of Christ, for thy coming we pray;
Hasten, O Father, the dawn of the day,
When this new song Thy creation shall sing
Satan is vanquished, and Jesus is King!

C. Silvester Horne

Links to this hymn: http://cyberhymnal.org/htm/s/i/singking.htm

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Testimony of a Dying Catholic Girl

March 10, 2014

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“Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold…

but with the precious blood of Christ.”

(1Peter 1: 18-19)

 The following tract was recently sent to me by a friend and I have felt led to distribute it locally. It would appear to have been written in a much earlier era but is as relevant today as ever.  In reading it, I also thought on these words with regard to the issue of purgatory: “They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him: (For the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever:) Psalm 49v6-8

 “Mother,” said a dying girl, “It is hard to die and leave this life.”

“Yes, my dear, and I would gladly give my life for yours, but you have seen the priest, and you have confessed and received absolution and you need not fear.”

“Tis true,” said the dying girl, “I confessed all the sins I could think of, and the priest gave me absolution. But with all that, I shall soon be in purgatory, and you know, dear mother, that you are so very poor that you cannot have masses said for my soul.”

The unhappy mother felt the truth of her words and said: “Yes, my dear child, I am very poor but I’ll work day and night and earn money to get your soul out of purgatory. Do you think your mother could rest until she knew you were delivered from purgatorial pains?”

“Mother, I so often think of my cousin Catherine. She was so happy before she died and she never confessed to a priest nor received absolution, and she did not believe in purgatory, yet she believed she was going straight to heaven.”

“Catherine was a heretic, my child; she was not in the true church. It is better for you to be troubled than to die in error like she did.”

“I often think of the beautiful words she said when she was dying; they were like this Mother:

“When I walk through the valley of the Shadow of Death I will fear no evil for Thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.”

“Tell me, Mother, what did she mean? I have no rod or staff, and oh! I have nothing that comforts me, and I can only think of the flames that await me in purgatory.”

“My dear child, don’t think about it: disease is weakening your spirit. Leave all that to the priest. Try and rest, and don’t think of your cousin Catherine any more.”

“I will try for your sake dear Mother, not to think about it, but I can’t help thinking how much better it would be if we could go straight to heaven when we die, and not go to purgatory at all.”

“People like us do not go straight to heaven. We must follow the way the priest has taught us.”

“But, Mother that way is so difficult, and it frightens me to think that suppose I were there and they could not get me out.”

“Hush my dear child, for if the priest heard all you say, he would surely ask for so many masses that I could never get money enough to have them all said. But here comes your brother; he will talk to you while I go to my work.”

The brother had come some distance to see the dear sister he so much loved. He perceived there was no hope and sitting beside her, he said, “Sister, what were mother and you saying about Cousin Catherine?”

“I was saying how glad I would be if I was as happy as she was. She had not confessed to the priest or received absolution. She said that it was not necessary and that she had no fear.”

“Dear sister, it was because she loved God and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. She had no reason to fear. Jesus Himself spoke to her soul and comforted her by the assurance of His love and of forgiveness of her sins. What need had she of a priest to assure her of all this?”

“What, brother! Are you also a heretic?”

“Sister, do not alarm yourself. I do not deny the truth. I have read the Word of God for myself and I found it so full of love for poor sinners that it has become more precious to me than all the world.”

“Have you then a Bible? How did you procure it? Did you ask the priest for it? Does he know that you have it?”

“No, no! I assure you, I did not ask him for it. I met a Bible reader, and I thought I would like a Bible for myself and I asked for one, and the good man gave it to me and I read it and saw how sinners could be saved. I have found pardon and am happy.”

“Oh! My brother, why did you not come sooner to tell me this? But tell me, brother, quick, is there anything in the Bible about purgatory?”

I have searched from beginning to end of the Book and I could not find one single word about purgatory; the priest knows it is not there, and that is the reason he will not let us read it. I assure you, dear sister, there is but one thing that will make you as happy as Catherine.”

“What is it, brother?” I would give all the world to be sure that my sins are forgiven.”

“It is this,” said the brother as he drew from his pocket the Bible which had been the means of bringing salvation to his soul; and he read:

John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

And again he read 1Tim 1:15:

“This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”

And Chapter 2:5: “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.”

He also read: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin.”

“Those are beautiful words,” said the dying girl, but how can I know they are for me?”

“But sister, you do not believe I would deceive you?”

“Oh no, dear brother, you were always kind to me.”

“Then will you not have confidence in Jesus who died for you? Listen to what he says to all who, like you, are burdened with their sins and need pardon: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11v28)

“Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” (John 6v37)

“Could you think for one moment that Jesus would have suffered half the chastisement and leave us to suffer the other half? That is the teaching of the priest, but not the Word of God. To those who believe in Jesus, death has no terror. O, my sister, look to Jesus, the lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. When you leave this world, you will go straight to Him.”

The brother ceased speaking, but blessed and happy were the moments spent with the dying sister, who but a few minutes before was the victim of ignorance and superstition. But blessed be God, the Holy Spirit penetrated the soul of the dying girl and helped her to see by faith, Christ, the Lamb of God, who died to save her.

“Oh, brother now I understand it all, I too, am happy. Jesus has forgiven me my sins and given me peace and joy. Glory to His Name.”

And in that blessed assurance, after a few days of suffering, she left this world to be forever with the Lord in Heaven.

 Joyful News Publications

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