|The door to the prison cell |
of Saint Oliver Plunkett.
The son of Timaeus, sprawled in the mud: hungry, blind and alone. Possessing nothing but the knowledge that Jesus was passing by and utterly dependent on his mercy. Blessed are the poor. For they shall know God.
I just had my annual physical last week and I’m happy to report I am healthy and content. In fact, I’m off that darned blood pressure medication. I love my work as your father and brother and God has chosen me to be his priest. I have good friends and look forward to each new day. It’s a very good life.
But each element which brings me happiness is there but for the grace of God. Tomorrow it could be Parkinson’s, or an incipient dementia. A friend could get Cancer, or worse, leave the Church. A member of my family could be indicted or my nephew die in a horrible accident. I’m just one stroke away from becoming a whimpering old man with the mind of a smouldering cinder sitting in the corner of a nursing home. A pleasant thought with which to start the day.
But when that happens, I hope I remember Oliver Plunkett, the 17th century saintly Archbishop of Armagh in the north of Ireland, whose entire priestly ministry was devoted to preserving the faith in an Ireland enslaved by the anti-Catholic fervor of Oliver Cromwell.
A half a dozen years after his ordination as a Bishop the persecutions seemed to have eased and Saint Oliver was able to establish a new Catholic College and was said to have confirmed 48,000 Catholics in four years. Thus did he speak frequently of a new springtime in the Church in Ireland and in his own life as a priest.
And then it all changed. The college was closed and demolished, Plunkett was forced to go into hiding, traveling only in disguise and soon false rumors were spread that he was colluding with the French in a plot against the British King. For a while he lived as a fugitive, a man with a price on his head, but eventually, captured and imprisoned, he was tried and sentenced to death for “promoting the Roman faith.”
And so there he stood on the gallows, stripped, beaten and dragged through the jeering crowds, waiting to be hung, drawn and quartered. He had lost everything, save the conviction that Jesus was still passing by and the sense of his utter dependence upon God and his mercy.
Which is why Oliver Plunkett’s last words from the gallows were a confession of his sins: “…I am sorry from the bottom of my heart; and if I should or could live a thousand years, I have a firm resolution, and a strong purpose, by your grace, My God, never to offend you…by the merits of Christ…forgive me my sins…”
He was just like the man at the side of the road, lying in the mud, blind and alone. But blessed is he who remembers the lesson of the son of Timaeus, that no matter what happens, there is but one thing that matters: that Jesus, the Son of David is ever passing by and all we need do is beg him to look upon us in his mercy.