Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Easter 1916 - 100 years later (April 24, 2016)

Forty six years before my birth in Brooklyn, my father was born in 1912 Dublin, Ireland.  He was the youngest of seven in a Catholic family.  After he died in 1984, all those siblings outlived him – three of them in the New York area.  I would look in on his oldest brother, Andy, who was actually old enough to be my great-grandfather.  But, I’ve gotten ahead of myself….

In the 5th century A.D., a teen from Roman-Britain was kidnapped and enslaved in Ireland.  Though he later escaped, he was to return to the land of his captivity as a bishop. Saint Patrick’s influence was nothing short of phenomenal with dramatic declines in war and murder, as well as an end to the Irish slave trade. And when the Roman Empire collapsed, the monks of Ireland preserved the writings of Western Civilization.

Fast forward to the 16th century and we find that King Henry VIII has decided to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon, so as to marry Anne Boleyn. In reaction to the Pope’s refusal to annul Henry’s marriage to Catherine, Henry declared himself head of the church of England (Of the 5 women he attempted to marry after Catherine, he had two beheaded!).  Subsequently, there were times when it was illegal to be Catholic in England or her territories.  “Penal laws” are said to have been enforced more vigorously in Ireland than elsewhere in the realm.  

Center City Philadelphia’s Irish Memorial reminds us of "Ireland's Great Hunger of 1845 - 1850 when more than one million Irish were starved to death and another million forced to emigrate."  There is a strong belief that England conveniently and deliberately ignored what was happening:  

“Back in Famine time, the same potato crop disease occurred most heavily in Scotland, outside Ireland, yet there were relatively few casualties as the landowners and government ensured, for their own sakes as much as anything, that there was no mass death.  That was not the case in Ireland, where a very different mentality prevailed. The damned Irish were going to get what they deserved because of their attachment to Catholicism and Irish ways when they were refusing to toe the British line…. every possible effort by local organizations to feed the starving were [sic] thwarted and frustrated by a British government intent on teaching the Irish a lesson and forcing market forces on them” (Niall O’Dowd, Irish Central, 3/8/16).

So many of the descendants of those who managed to escape the famine now call America their home.  They had a profound impact on Catholicism in America, which had been rather small, until their arrival.   

I can now finally get back to Long Island of the mid to late 1980s.  A prolific reader, Uncle Andy would talk of family and Irish history in a fascinating and witty way.  While Uncle Joe was an Augustinian priest and Aunt Kitty was a Mercy nun, Uncle Andy’s tales could be highly critical of Catholicism and Irish nationalism, setting him at odds with all of his siblings.  So much of it seems to have been his reaction to events he personally witnessed in the Dublin of his late teens:

“‘Easter 1916’ by William Butler Yeats is one of the most famous poems written in English in modern times. It commemorates the doomed Irish rebellion that occurred at Easter a century ago….One of the Irish leaders was Patrick Pearse, who was obsessed with ideas of redemption through blood….Following the logic of his teaching, on Easter Monday 1916, Pearse joined other nationalists, both Catholic and secular, in a suicidal rising against British power” (Phillip Jenkins, Aletia, 3/28/16). 

While Ireland is now commemorating the 100th anniversary of the “Easter Rebellion,” many Irish Americans seem to have romanticized notions of what actually happened.  After Uncle Andy’s death, I came across Peter DeRosa’s “Rebels: The Irish Rising of 1916” and better appreciated that Uncle Andy gave me an eyewitness account of pivotal 20th Century events.  And while Ireland had undoubtedly suffered much, the suicidal undertakings of Pearse and others do not stand up to a Catholic “just war” analysis:
The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:
- the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
- all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
- there must be serious prospects of success;
- the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.
These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the ‘just war’ doctrine.
The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2309).

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