Poor old Charlie!
Sunday, 8th January 2017
St. Charles died on 5 January 1893, and we celebrate his feast on that day. During the days following his death, enormous crowds of people came to Mount Argus from all over Ireland. Fr. Eugene Nevin remembered that ‘for five days, “poor old Charlie” as he often called himself, had the honours of a lying in state fit for a King or an Emperor’. And it was said that more people came to his funeral than attended the funeral of the uncrowned King of Ireland, Charles Stewart Parnell, a few years before that in 1891. And it’s estimated that 200,000 attended Parnell’s funeral.
Only recently did I discover that Parnell was well aware of Fr. Charles. There was once a debate about him in the smoke-room of the House of Commons! Well, not a debate but an exchange of views. Parnell was there and some members of his own party. He asked Mr. Peter McDonald, member for Sligo, had he heard anything about Mr. X, one of Parnell’s ablest lieutenants who had been seriously ill. In fact, there was little hope for his recovery. Mr. McDonald replied “Oh yes Sir, he is much better and there are real hopes for his recovery. I am informed, Sir, that Fr.Charles from Mount Argus visited X last week and brought the relics of St. Paul of the Cross to the house with him, and I am told that since the relics were applied, X’s condition has greatly improved”. Parnell’s first reaction was a half suppressed smile but he quickly recovered himself and said, “I believe, yes, I believe if a man believes in that kind of thing, then when he is very low, that kind of thing will very likely do him good.” This exchange was witnessed by Michael McCarthy, an anti-clerical barrister, who wrote about it in 1902 in a book called “Priests and People in Ireland”. He concluded that “If Mr. Parnell had succeeded in obtaining political domination in Ireland under the Home Rule Bill, he probably would have given Fr. Charles free play with his relics.” McCarthy, despite his anti-clericalism, also admitted he himself wore a relic from Mount Argus for a while.
It was because St. Charles was so ordinary, so simple, so trusting, with a poor opinion of himself, that he could allow himself to be used by God; he allowed the Lord to shine through him; he didn’t get in the way. And he didn’t have the slightest doubt it was all God’s work. Really, we should design a great big stained glass window of Charles with God’s light shining through him!
St. Thomas Aquinas understood well the fears we all have that make us want to hide away but he said it’s sinful to be closed, to hide our light for whatever reason, to bury our talent. “God is in the human heart,” he said, “and God’s presence tends to spread from heart to heart as fire spreads over a field of stubble. We are most like God when we are busy setting fire to one another’s hearts.” As Charles did!