Monday 12 September 2022

'This is a Great Day for Ireland': Translation of the Relics of Blessed Thaddeus McCarthy

September 12, 1897 was a day of celebration in Ireland as it marked the translation of the relics of the Blessed Thaddeus (Tadhg) McCarthy from their Italian resting-place at Ivrea to the city of Cork. I have previously reprinted a newspaper account of the festivities and a poem written for the occasion here, but below is the text of a sermon given on the day by Father Michael Antoninus Keane O.P. (1851-1921), who had been Prior at Cork for a time in the 1890s. As Thom's Irish Who's Who tells us, however, 'his principal work has been that of Friar Preacher of Missions and sermons of occasion'. Father Keane certainly demonstrates his preaching ability on this occasion and delivers a stirring sermon which draws out all the lessons of the life of Blessed Thaddeus for the congregation:



"My enemies have spoken evils against me: when shall he die and his name perish? . . . All my enemies whispered together against me. . . . But Thou, O Lord, have mercy on me, and raise me up again. . . . By this I know that Thou hast a good will for me; because my enemy shall not rejoice over me. But Thou hast upheld me by reason of my innocence; and hast established me in Thy sight for ever " (Psalm xl). 

MY Lords, Very Reverend Brethren, dearest faithful in Christ - This is a great day for Ireland. Despite her long, dark thrall, oft has wave of sunshine passed over her, and resounding Hosannas expressed the nation's feeling. Stately processions have trod our streets; now for proud escort of popular hero; now for picturesque display of municipal splendour; at one time for impressive accompaniment of the demand for national right; at another for outpouring of faith and religious feeling. But we, who marched in this morning's sun, you who lined the way, all that gazed from hill, and casement, and house-top at the long stream of clergy that flowed between the living banks of our parochial societies, enjoyed an experience not given to Irishmen for nigh seven hundred years. In that long flow of time grace has indeed come in plenteous bestowal on many a soul of our race in this Christian land, and fructified unto eminent sanctification. As we tread the land that bore us, walk her vales, climb her hills, and wander through her forests green, there lie beneath our feet the mortal remains that once enshrined spirits of exalted saintliness. But not since the year 1226, when Pope Honorius III. proclaimed the celestial glory of Laurence O Toole, the great Archbishop of Dublin, has it been given to  Ireland to see borne through her streets with full circumstance of religious homage the bones of a beatified son of her bosom. Verily "many kings and prophets have desired to see what we see and they have not seen." Our fathers, their fathers, our faithful ancestors, yearned for the gladsome pride that is ours to-day to see a son of our old land crowned with the diadem of the Church's immortality; to be authorised to come into the House of God and lift heavenward eye and heart and voice, and in public worship supplicate one of the heroes of the ethereal kingdom, and call him by an Irish name. A great day, truly, for our motherland: praised be the Lord Who has given us to share its festive joy! 

What shall I speak, brethren, of him in whose honour we are assembled? I hold in my hand a picture of the blessed one. As I gaze upon it, noting it in full detail, mind and heart discern more than eye of body can see. The holy man stands dressed in pilgrim garb. He grasps in his hand, and leans upon, a pilgrim's staff. He is at the doorstep of a plain, massive building. That building is a hospice, where simple meal and night's rest were" given to the houseless poor. His pose is as of one who has knocked at its portals and now entreats admission within its walls. He seems to say: "See my wearied condition, pity me, shelter me." Behind the saint, not seen by him, there is an angel an angel bright and fair indeed; a being of everlasting youth. The heavenly spirit holds in his right hand a mitre, in his left hand a pastoral staff, the episcopal crozier. He seems to follow after the servant of God, on whom he looks with graceful admiration. Above the angel there comes streaming down from the sky a flood of golden rays, which direct themselves towards the holy pilgrim. That picture speaks; it tells a tale and points a moral. The blessed one's person, lowly and poor; the pilgrim's rough tunic, his robe; the pilgrim's staff and wallet, his whole possession; the view presented to his gaze, the humble shelter for poor wanderers. Thus he himself; his actual experience; his immediate prospect; all lowliness and poverty. On the other hand, behind him, hidden from his eyes, held in angel hands, are the jewelled mitre and gilded crozier, emblems of honour and power; while from the sky above comes the resplendent intimation of his acceptability before God, and the promise of unending glory to come. Humiliation and hardship, his actual present; ennoblement and bliss, the eternal future; a sowing in tears by one who is to reap in joy. 

Our sacred hero's lot was cast in rough and evil times. Evil times are almost all times, for the primal disarrangement of the Divine plan by human sin made the world an evil place. But evil time and rough was that in which the brief life of Blessed Thaddeus was passed. The passion which in all the ages has led men to offend God for sake of gain, in those days prompted to almost incessant conflict of man with man. The ploughshare was exchanged for the sword. Yearning to wrest from one another much-prized worldly possessions, men thought of war, spoke of war, dreamed of war, lived in war. New elements of division, interests and feelings, introduced into our island by the partial occupation of the English invader, served, along with ancient tribal differences, to establish strong lines of demarcation, and set up a multitude of contending parties. Warmth of hostile feeling, maintaining contentions among families and septs, could scarce fail to exercise influence on ecclesiastical concerns. Princes and chieftains, eager for domination, sought to have members of their clans appointed to episcopal sees within their respective domains. Noble and wealthy looked with jealous eye at the elevation to episcopal dignity of the scion of rival Celtic houses, while Celtic tribes beheld with indignation the rilling of a vacant see by one of Norman name and blood. Nor were those feelings kept in the heart. Strong and loud protestation was uttered, angry retort made, and in an age when eloquent tongue, as means of urging a claim or assailing an enemy, was held in small esteem, the inflamed heart quickly prompted men to unsheath the sword and rush to fiery combat. Over much of the district extending west and northward of Cork city the historic sept of the McCarthys had long held royal sway, and against that ancient princely house were Norman hatred and jealousy mainly exercised. A McCarthy stood forth in place of signal honour amongst all the nobility of the land. High in Church and State from the earliest times, it is the proud boast of a McCarthy that the nobles of this great empire whose heraldic glory is most impressive are but of yesterday when compared with his ancient kingly stock. 

 It was, therefore, with eyes of wrathful jealousy the fierce clans of Munster beheld the appointment to the bishopric of Ross, in the year 1482, of young Thaddeus, in whose veins the blood of the royal McCarthys flowed. Only twenty-seven summer suns had shone upon the noble ecclesiastic, but signal virtue and eminent philosophical and theological science had won the approval of the Church authority, and prompted the unusual action of consigning to one so young the grave pastoral charge. He was consecrated in the Eternal City on the 3rd day of May. It was the Feast of the Finding of the Holy Cross. Providence mayhap ordained that the day should intimate to the thoughtful young prelate promise of tribulation in the career which then opened before him. Straightway he found himself involved in a sea of trouble. On his return to Ireland there stood before him a rival claimant to the see of Ross. His predecessor had an assistant bishop. The assistant, desirous of cloister life, resigned his position, but, judging at a later date that religious life was not his destined lot, he resumed his place as auxiliary administrator of the diocese. The factious spirit in the breasts of the tribal chiefs eagerly seized on the occasion for harassing, and, if possible, getting rid of, a prelate belonging to the hated McCarthy sept. It is recorded that the then Earl of Desmond had on his solemn oath declared that a McCarthy should never grasp the crozier of a Munster diocese. The machinery of intrigue was put in motion. Falsehood ever familiar instrument in the hands of unscrupulous envy was planned, formulated, and dispatched to Rome. Slanderous accusations against the holy prelate were spoken in the ears of the supreme head of the Church. The difficulty of communication between Rome and distant countries in that age rendered it no easy task for the rulers of the Church to discriminate between truth and error, or for a man traduced by evil tongues to correct the malevolent misrepresentations. Envious lying triumphed for a space over the just man; he was censured by the sovereign pontiff. Immediately he went to Rome to plead for right in his own person before the chief pastor. After lengthened inquiry had been made, authoritative announcement came to the ears of Thaddeus that the sovereign ecclesiastical power had appointed him to the more important indeed, the most important position, in a sense, in the Irish Church at that period the diocese of united Cork and Cloyne. Rome's definite pronouncement terminated the dispute. 

Oh, dearest brethren, what precious blessing to live under supreme sacred authority! How good for us that we are not as "sheep without a shepherd," but have set over us by Power Divine, a ruler unto whom all must render submission. Be the multitude of the Church's members never so vast, one there is at whose binding God the Almighty binds; at whose loosing, the Almighty looses. One, the divinely established firmness of whose authority is our safeguard against the weakness and inconstancy of our wills, and the dissensions our contending passions would entail. One superb master of all Christendom, raised so high above all human judgment, human interest, human authority, and placed so near the very God Whose vicar he is, that unto him are given the very thunders of Heaven to hurl upon the wayward one that shall dare gainsay his supreme decision. Ah, what woe humiliating woe is the condition of them that are without the fold, and yet make the blind profession that they are of the Christian Communion! Communion of belief they have not. Communion of subordination to one authority they have not. It was said to them of old by the Divine Master: "There shall be one fold and one shepherd": that design of the Christian religion we Catholics alone realise. Back to Ireland came Thaddeus to take possession of his new charge. Ere long it was made clear to him that he had also to bear the burden of new troubles. Considerable wealth was attached to his exalted position. Generations of pious Catholics had created large endowments for the united diocese. For rapacious and combative Norman chiefs there was strong temptation to political jealousy and avarice in the acquisition of ample possessions by one of the old Irish septs. The famed Geraldines, yearning for lordly sway throughout Munster, abetted by chiefs whose name and blood are to this day found over the main portion of this extensive country, seized the ecclesiastical lands. As the working of the law of spiritual gravitation ordinarily provides, wrong begat wrong. Early venture in sin led to a course of sin. The usurpers having seized the Church lands brought so far their factious impiety as to close the doors of his Cathedral Church against the lawful pastor. It was might opposing right. It meant sorrow for the young bishop. At the uplifting of his ringer a thousand Muskerry swords would have flashed through all Muskerry's plains in his defence; but arm of flesh he would not employ against the wicked ones. He bowed before the storm in meek endurance of the personal irreverence. But as bishop he was the sworn custodian of ecclesiastical rights: he had been set up as sentinel to watch the safety of the Church's goods and the assertion of pastoral authority. While therefore "fulfilling justice" in the meekness that bore the personal affront he would fulfil all justice by vindicating in an orderly manner the Church's outraged claims. Down that river once again he sailed; he went forth once more from the beautiful harbour and travelled southward to speak his plaint and demand vindication of the Church's supreme head. At the feet of Pope Innocent VIII. he knelt. The aged pontiff laid his trembling hands on the youthful bishop's head, and imparted the benediction, which, like Jehova's mandate to Moses in days of old, has emboldened many a harassed one to encounter every threatening peril and stand for God and right against ten thousand foes. Into his hands Pope Innocent gave a brief on the 7th day of July, 1492, which condemned the wicked usurpers and menaced the Church s vigorous penalties if they surrendered not the sacred property they had seized. To the then lord deputy of Ireland the holy father wrote calling upon his aid on behalf of the ill-treated prelate. At the same time the venerable pontiff did signal honour to the several chiefs of the clan McCarthy by appointing them formally and by name protectors of their holy kinsman. Thaddeus rose from his place at the pontiff's feet. Into the venerable face he looked, as did we all to whom it has been given to gaze upon the vicar of Jesus Christ, with streaming tears of blended love and awe; then bade dutiful farewell. 

He donned pilgrim's garb; came forth from the gate of the Eternal City, and turned his steps towards home. The wide Campagna he traversed, and ere long found himself in fair and favoured Umbria. Oh, how his saintly instinct must have taught him to relish the balmy air of thrice blessed Umbria! Thrice blessed, did I say? A thousand times blessed for is it not Umbria on whose soft plains and stately hills the Most High did so pour down His blessing that more saints have sprung from her than from any region in all the wide world? And, dearest brethren, may I say to you may I at least think it, and speak my thought? Methinks as the youthful prince, bishop, saint, from this old land of ours walked those vales teeming with memories of God's glorious servants, they, enthroned in Heaven, kept watch upon him, and noted with loving interest his way, and his cause, and his strange story. When he had issued from the Roman Campagna and drew nigh to Viterbo, it were meet to think that Rose, the glorious saint of the old city, looking down from high Heaven upon her natal place she who in her brief mortal life loved to pray Heaven's interposition for the Church's tranquillity it were meet to think that she looked upon the persecuted prelate and wished him thenceforth victorious peace. I wonder did he move somewhat eastward from the direct route? Surely yes, for scarce could such as he resist the magnetic power which draws all fervid Christians who traverse Italy to gaze upon and mount the fair hill from whose side Assisi smiles upon the plain beneath. I behold with mind's eye Francis, the seraph, looking with admiring interest on the Irish pilgrim prelate, and bespeaking gifts from on high upon the man to whom his sons here in Cork were to pay dutiful homage. Farther north he came upon an Umbrian city, dear to me beyond all spots the sun and moon shine upon the city that gave to earth, gave to the Church, gave to Heaven one of the fairest adornments of God's mystic kingdom, and gave to the Dominican Order one of its proudest glories, Siena - Siena, admirable to the aesthetic appreciation of the lovers of art, delightful to the Christian soul. Something leads me to think that Catherine, already more than a hundred years enthroned in Heaven, but fond of hovering in thought above her beautiful town, may have seen the servant of God pass by, and noted that he came from Rome from the Pope with the sign upon him of Peter's approval, to sustain him in conflict for the Church's weal. And, oh, how did not she in whose heart love of the Church's rights was as red-hot passion - how did she not beam ethereal smile on the young ecclesiastic from our motherland who bore upon his person the document that was to tell each loyal man and woman in this city of Cork that he was to be recognised as the ruler of the Church of God in these parts? 

Onward he came beneath the shadow of the Appenine Range. Long was the way; difficult was journeying then; weary he was and footsore. At length he beheld before him the mighty Alps. It will be arduous toil and painful he must have thought to climb their vast sides and pass their lofty peaks. His limbs are heavy with fatigue; his frame enfeebled; he drags his weary way. Pitiless rains have beat upon him; the sun's burning rays have played upon him; blinding dust has swept past him. We may conjecture that hunger came with other experiences to make up the cross he bore in holy patience; and this in a strange land, yet not strange, for to the servant of God all the earth is home our Father's house. "The earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof." This pious assurance was in Thaddeus mind, as weary and pained he pursued his toilsome way. The grass plains he trod the Great Creator had spread out; in the long-reaching vineyards each savoury fruit was His gracious formation; the mighty Alps that frowned upon him, rearing high in air their giant peaks their deep foundations God had laid, their massive sides built up, and to the saintly eye of the pilgrim they must not have seemed mere senseless things, but lordly sentinels keeping watch over the Great Master's wide domain. And when at noon the resplendent sun shed from his fiery bosom wealth of gladdening light and heat, or in soundless mid night he looked upon the gentle moon as she traced her silver path across the sky, did he not remember that each recurring day in the Divine office he was wont to call upon these heavenly luminaries to magnify the Most High, whose handiwork and obedient servants they were? So did all external things enter into his holy thought, and preach to him God's gracious power and love as he drew nigh to a city invested with historic interest, even before the Christian era, but now destined to be, till trumpet of doom shall sound, associated with the story of the servant of God. 

Not Blessed Thaddeus McCarthy has created the interest for Catholics in that Piedmontese town Ivrea; greater than he had long before trod its streets. In 431 a man who had been on Irish soil, not indeed walking the noble halls of the proud castles of McCarthy's princely house, but feeding swine on Antrim's hills, Patrick, the man of gladsome destiny for the Irish race, while wending his way to Rome to receive authorisation to preach Christianity in Ireland, made Ivrea his resting-place. It is told by some historians that it was there he received episcopal consecration. Did Thaddeus, entering its streets, become sensible of some mysterious suggestion that it was the place for an Irish bishop to rest his weary limbs? In Ivrea he did take his rest. He sought the asylum for needy travellers; he begged and received admission, and when he cast himself exhausted on the simple couch in that place of Christian shelter, his journeying came to an end. The sun went down upon him calmly sleeping after his lengthened pilgrimage. The lights went out; the solemn peace of night came and brooded over the place. God sent His herald angel to bring His faithful one's trials to an end, and bear him to his heavenly home. Alone was he when the visitation of death came. No physician to prescribe relief; no gentle nurse to soften hard experience and minister relieving draught; no faithful friend to sustain him. There may have been things no human historian has recorded. Golden-winged nurses perhaps were round about him, sent down from Heaven to minister to his enfeebled body, and then escort his soul to the eternal rest. Patrick, Fachnan, Colman, Finbarr, the Great Lord may have allowed them to come down from the sky that night to cheer and bless their faithful successor. Morning came; the prescribed round of inspection was made by those whose part it was; they found the lowly stranger in the calm sleep of death. But wherefore the cry of wonder which escaped them? Dead they perceived him; lowly of state as when he had begged charitable shelter the previous night; but brilliant light encompassed him, and a glory not of earth was round about him; the bed whereon he lay seemed enveloped in flames! The cry brought the curator of the hospice and all the attendants. Message was sent in haste to the bishop of Ivrea, announcing the startling fact. He who bore the strange tale found the bishop filled already with sensational interest produced by a dream of the night that had passed. In sleep there had flashed into his sight a saintly form clad in episcopal robes. Having shone before him for a brief space the mysterious form uprose from the earth and sailed through shining clouds to Heaven's gate. While exercised in mind over this prodigy the prelate was summoned to the hospice to see the wonder that was there. He saw the dead man illuminated by the supernatural light. They told the bishop of his coming the previous eve poorly clad, and carrying naught save his simple staff and pilgrim's wallet. The pilgrim s wallet they opened, when, lo! they found a pectoral cross, an episcopal ring, the Papal Bull which told of his appointment to the bishopric of Cork and Cloyne, and the sentence of condemnation issued against those who had usurped the temporalities of his see. A sense of awe came upon those assembled. Down upon their knees they fell, while the bishop approached and looked upon the face of the dead. It was the face that had gleamed resplendent upon him in the vision of the night, and then he knew he looked upon one of the saints of God. With reverent care they robed the body in episcopal dress. The chapter of the diocese was summoned. It was resolved to call the citizens that they might see the wondrous sight; but no need to do it. With no man's hand to swing them, out pealed the Cathedral bells. In thousands flocked the people, and a long procession escorted the remains of the illustrious dead to the stately Temple. From all the surrounding country and from the sloping sides of the Alps came in vast multitudes the faithful people, and with loud acclaim they praised the Lord in His hidden saint. 

The Cross gloom and pain while he lived; triumph on earth and in Heaven after death. Triumph on earth. Brethren, who that saw in Ivrea on that October evening in the year of 1492 a poor, wearied, footsore man knock at the hospitable door and beg a night's housing, would have dreamed that after more than four hundred years had rolled by those antique streets spanned by floral arches should fill with countless throng; that festal adornment should grace all public buildings; that immense waves of music should swell towards Heaven to give expression to the jubilant piety of prelates from many lands and vast multitudes of the people; that its Cathedral Church, draped in every beauteous colour, and aflame with a thousand lights, should be the scene of a grand, awe-inspiring celebration, all to honour the humble pilgrim whom the Church's authority had uplifted to the immortal glory of her beatified heroes? He had sown in tears; he reaps in joy. His enemies had spoken evil against him; but Thou, O Lord, didst have mercy upon him, and Thou didst raise him up again. Thou didst uphold him by reason of his innocence, and Thou hast established him in Thy sight for ever! Dearly beloved, it is well that, with sacred theory taught us in the Divine Word, we should have impressive illustration of the same in the history of God s brave servants. Momentary and light is our tribulation. Weighty and eternal the glory that accrues. The clouds shall pass, and soon; the wounds shall be healed; the burden be uplifted; the prison door flung open; our temporal bondage shall be changed into the liberty of the everlasting kingdom. Joy that men taste apart from the service of God is transient as the morning vapour; possessions of earth's dross shall come to naught; triumphant power, material aggrandisement, shall cease. But the good of God's grace, the glory of the Divine friendship, the peace of a sinless heart no incident of human life avails to affect them; they are enshrined in the soul; angels keep guard around them, and they endure for ever. I think of the great Flavian amphitheatre of pagan Rome. Gone are the piled-up thousands who thronged its mighty galleries; silent the echoes of their thundering plaudits. Caesar, who in imperial splendour sat high in state upon his burnished throne, is dead; the gilding of his coronet faded; his power and glory lost for ever. But the slave whom they set in the arena for furious beasts to feed upon who, with sign of the Cross upon him, went down before the onslaught of the hungry monsters he lives. Lives aye, reigns, "and of his kingdom there shall be no end." Reigns even on earth; the scattered bones which the palpitating lion and tiger crunched on the sands of the Colosseum are now in fair caskets enshrined, and on festal days, that shall recur to the day of doom, are borne through the vaulted aisles of gorgeous fanes and the decorated streets of earth's proudest cities. It was so with God's servants made victims of Rome's anti-Christian hate; it was so with our new patron, Blessed Thaddeus McCarthy; it is decreed to be so with us if we endure for the Lord's sake the trials that are; bear unflinching the burden of the law; adhere to right at all cost, and, in life and death, be true to God.

 Very Rev. Dr Keane, O.P., Sermons Preached on Various Occasions (London and Edinburgh, 1916), 70-80.

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