The other day I went to visit a friend of mine in Rasharkin (yes, I do have one). Like myself the poor man is an exile. Having been born in Armagh he now lives in Co Antrim while I, a Tyrone man born and bred, now find myself living in Co Derry.
I arrived up wearing one of my favourite items of clothing, my Tyrone football scarf. When my friend saw it he said something unprintable but which can be best translated as ‘take that thing off.’ We laughed about football, about Tyrone and Armagh and for a while we reflected on the whole question of identity.
Our personal identity is an important issue and reflects how we see ourselves in the world. Some people are Bob the builder, or Mary the teacher, or perhaps Mickey the MLA, but there is a lot more to identity than just what we do for a living.
Like so many people in Northern Ireland I am in a bit of an identity crisis. For a long time I had no bother identifying myself as an Irish republican who voted Sinn Fein in every election. This in no way conflicted with my identity as a Catholic or as a father.
However, over these past few years my identity has begun to change and while I was thinking of this I began to realize that I have gone through many phases in how I see myself throughout my life. I suppose like all things your notion of who you are changes a lot from when you were younger. Now that I have technically entered the age of senior citizenship I suppose that it is time that I began to be more settled in my self-image.
I am no longer an Irish republican; I can have no truck with any group that promotes abortion and the so called leaders of Catholic Ireland have almost made support for abortion a part of the national identity.
As I have grown older I have become more aware of what a Catholic identity really is. When we are young we are searching for an identity or when we go through a crisis in our lives we also go through a period of searching.
This often happens to people who divorce or whose spouse dies; once they were Mrs so and so and the next day they are alone. It often takes years for a person to rebuild their identity after a crisis like this.
All this begs the question, what is our proper identity?
This is not as easy to answer as it first appears. If I say ‘I am Turlough and I am the man who writes a wee column in the local papers,’ it does not tell you a lot about me. If another person says that ‘I am Mary and I am a teacher in the local school,’ that does not tell you a lot about them either.
If my whole identity is centred on being the man who writes an article for the local paper, what happens when the editor calls me and says that he does not want any more musings from me? Do I lose my identity completely?
The same can be said for Mary the teacher, particularly if she is one of those people who puts all her effort into being a teacher.
There are many layers to Turlough just as there are m any layers to each of us. But it’s what we are at the core of our being that shall always shine through in the end.
When the time came for me to choose between my Catholic faith and voting for a party that supported abortion I did not have to give it a second thought.
Likewise when I read in the paper about people having to steal food for their children, my gut turns. A friend from Dungannon sent me the following article from the Guardian newspaper along with this brief introduction:
“People who do not have God in their lives run rotten government policies; great article on a topic coming more and more to the fore:
The writer has noticed another trend: people who’ve had their benefits sanctioned have begun stealing televisions or other items sufficiently expensive to guarantee they’re sent down. That way, they get up to four months in a heated cell, with three meals a day. He says: ‘For them, it’s ten times better than spending a hungry winter in a cold flat.’”
My friend is a committed Catholic, interested in social justice and would like to see the country run in the best interest of all people, not just the select few. Like myself, he feels badly let down by our politicians.
“What would you do to keep your baby from starving? Perhaps the same as Lucy Hill. At the start of October, the 35-year-old mother from Kidderminster was broke. After missing an interview at the jobcentre, her disability benefits had been stopped – which left her, her partner and her toddler of 18 months without anything to live on. So she went to the local Spar and stole a chicken and some soap powder.
Two weeks later, Hill was up before the magistrate. Her police interview noted that she said “sorry to the shop … but had no money … and was in a desperate situation”. She was ordered to pay compensation, a fine, costs and a surcharge: a total of over £200 to be taken off someone who’d only committed a crime because she had no money. Her solicitor John Rogers remembers that the mother’s chief worry was that the social services might find out and take away her baby.
After running me through the details, Rogers sighs. Cases like this keep coming his way, he says: “They miss an appointment so their benefits are sanctioned [docked or stopped altogether], so they have no money, so they steal.” His local office now handles “at least half a dozen” such cases each month – up from almost nothing a year ago.”
What has happened to a society where the government deliberately imposes policies that are designed to make the rich richer and the poor poorer?
It has lost all vestiges of God fearing people; Christians. Let me explain.
Think back to the years before Jesus and ask yourself a few question:
Were there any hospitals? No. Any medicine there was were for the army and the very rich, the rest died where they fell.
“One of the earliest hospitals on record was founded in Ireland, 300 B. C., by Princess Macha. It was called "Broin Bearg" (house of sorrow), and was used by the Red Branch Knights and served as the royal residence in Ulster until its destruction in A.D. 332 ("Seanchus Mór", 123; cf. Sir W. Wilde, "Notes on Ancient Ireland", pt. III).
However, this hospital was only for the select few.
“But that the Christians in the East had founded hospitals before Julian the Apostate came to the throne in AD 361, is evident from the letter which that emperor sent to Arsacius, high-priest of Galatia, directing him to establish a hospital in each city to be supported out of the public revenues. As he plainly declares, his motive was to rival the philanthropic work of the Christians who cared for the pagans as well as for their own.”
Note that the Christians were looking after everyone.
Has this any relevance today? Well, think about the way the health service is going; do you believe that in twenty years’ time we shall have a health service for everyone; what do you expect to happen?
Most people now accept that the health service as we know it, is dying and we are going to be faced with a two tier service where the rich get care and the poor………
Going back to the foundations of hospitals in the British Isles here is what the Catholic Encyclopaedia, from which I have quoted, has to say:
“In these countries the care of the sick, like other works of charity, was for a long time entrusted to the monastic orders. Each monastery, taking its pattern from those on the Continent, provided for the treatment both of its own inmates who fell ill and of infirm persons in the neighbourhood.”
You see, so many of the things we take for granted in the Western world are based on Christianity. Take for example the equality of all people. Do you think the Romans had any idea of all people being equal?
They had slaves, the poor, the afflicted and a whole underclass who were thought of as nothing. Only the elect were worthy of property, money or respect, everyone else was a tool to be used.
A purely Christian idea such as ‘all people being equal under the law,’ was totally alien to them.
In our new post Christian society such attitudes are fast returning. If you do not believe me then ask yourself why no one from the banks in the UK, Free State or Europe has done a day in jail; they all walked away with their big pensions. It appears that certain people are above the law.
Look at those parts of the world that are not Christian; what does human rights mean in China or in ISIS controlled areas.
In China the state comes before the person. The state is seen as a father whose job it is to provide for the children and the children have to do what is best for the family. Human rights are secondary to the right of the state.
What about the Muslim countries; could anyone seriously say that the concept of all people being equal under the law have any real significance there. What would the rulers of Egypt or Mr Assad of Syria say if you asked them about human rights?
In our headlong rush to throw God out of society we have forgotten to take a look and see where we are going. The roadmaps of the past and other parts of the world are there if we want to read them, but sadly our leaders are all working on the premise that Christ and his principles are unimportant.
In a world without God we revert to being animals. Greed, power, lust, killing and destruction become the norm; what was once frowned upon becomes acceptable and lauded.
You don’t believe me; think of the old days when bankers were respectable and were expected to be honest and cautious. Now young whiz kids are paid huge sums to be reckless and gamble with other people’s money.
Even when they lose money they are given a bonus!
Our doctors once took the Hippocratic Oath, which called on doctors to work for the good of the person. They can’t take it now; they can’t bear to read these words:
“Nor shall any man's entreaty prevail upon me to administer poison to anyone; neither will I counsel any man to do so. Moreover, I will get no sort of medicine to any pregnant woman, with a view to destroy the child.”
In a world where euthanasia and abortion are becoming the norm, would you trust a doctor?
Imagine telling your grandparents that there would come a time when being a doctor would involve killing the unborn and the old.
We won’t be surprised if our grandchildren tells us such a thing
Christian principles have been taken out of society and many are rejoicing. We believe we have become modern. I wonder what Britain will be like in a hundred years, do you think you would recognize it if you came back?
I am old fashioned. I think a woman should not have to steal to try to feed her child, especially in one of the richest countries in the world.
Having spent a lifetime reflecting on these things I have come to see that during my lifetime I have had many identities. But now that I am getting on I am beginning to settle down in how I see myself and how I see myself has a lot to do with my reaction to the present world.
I don’t want to be a ‘man of the world.’ I don’t want to be one of the smart people who laugh at God and mock his laws and think a woman who can’t feed her young should go to prison. Nor do I want to be one of those who think a doctor is only for the rich.
Then, what do I want to be?
It is not what I want to be that is important, it is what I am.
Like every human being on this earth, from the richest white kid to the poorest black one, I am a child of God.
This is my true identity and it is also the highest identity I can have. In this week when we celebrate All Saints and All Souls Day, being a child of God gives my life meaning and joy.
When we lose that image of ourselves we become a shadow of what a human being can be. We pursue an illusion: the illusion that we are in control and that we are answerable to no one. We have been given a lot in the West and from us a lot will be expected. What have we done with our treasure?
I wonder what God thinks of it all!
The views expressed are not necessarily those of
the editor but are the views of the writer.
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