Song: We’re Standing on the Shoulders
- Thomas Quan’s Questions
(a) What Has Happened To You, Edmund Rice?
What has turned your head, Edmund Rice?
You have broken your merchant mould,
ceasing to hone the edge of competition,
no longer lifting the latches of mansion doors, bowing to greet elegant, flowing robes, nor dining beneath sparkling chandeliers.
You often bow before the lamp in prayer.
You walk the cobblestones to seek the poor, favouring the company of urchins and petty thieves among the timber stacks on river wharves— whiff of pork barrels and tarred ropes.
You savour the yarns of weather-ruddied seamen, their sharp, salty tongues and shrewd eyes, grizzled smiles through black and broken teeth.
You trade with butchers, armed with whetted knives, and rasping bloodied hands, chopped and chapped.
And in the lanes the drunkards lie. How can
you stand the stench of matted hair and rags, prisoners’ caustic voices, their stolid stares?
But why, why?
To lift the querulous poor above their station, and educate the outcasts, hovel-bound?
How will you captivate their wandering minds with scrapes on dull slates and lifeless books, your nimble quill no longer totting profits, a hard-won fortune fretted away so soon?
And now you smile and sweep a worthless stable. Why this madness? Would you disgrace us all?
God only knows!
(b) Does the Spirit Burn Within You?
Why are you not careful, Edmund Rice?
the floor boards creak, the ceiling rafters strain, holding hope in pummelling wind. You lie awake, alone on straw above the stable, refashioned now to serve a cherished dream.
Yet through the frosty panes the stars are blazing.
Be careful, Edmund. If your heart ignites,
what turbulent fire, Spirit-fanned!
It will consume your dross and burn the waste of ignorance, stir dormant Slane embers.
Perhaps it is some passing madness, or else
what seems impossible to me blazes with the possibility of God!
(c) Are You a Prophet, Edmund Rice?
Why come down from the loft, Edmund Rice?
You loom from darkness, gloom of penal days, to open wide the creaking stable door, your arms extended to embrace the dawn.
Are you another prophet, Patrick-like,
entreating us to hear the heart of the poor,
to heal the wounded, walk beside the unwanted, enlighten the ignorant?
And are you willing to pay a prophet’s price
a joyful sacrifice: the loss of fortune,
friends; your daughter in another’s care,
casting aside all human prudence, your vision calling?
You are, for in this light I see you, Edmund,
self-possessed in Christ.
Walk from the stable. Have no fear.
The dawn of a resurrection day is here!
Notes: Thomas Quan bought Edmund’s lucrative business, and even gave voluntary help to educate the boys, but “…after a short time left the work, but continued to take an interest in it and helped with money.” (Normoyle)
This trilogy of poems is set in early 1802, Waterford, Ireland.
Reflection and Sharing
A Person of His Times
Edmund was deeply sensitive to the times he lived in. He listened with ears that were attuned to the nuances of God's voice in the world. He looked at the sufferings of those around him with the eyes of compassion. He responded with a heart that was fired with love. Lord, help us to hear your voice, to look with compassion and to respond with love.
A happily married man, Edmund knew the joys of intimate relationship. He was able to open his heart to share himself fully with others. He understood commitment. Lord, teach us that openness to others enhances privacy, that the joy of relationship is the joy of life itself and that a heart revealed is a heart enriched, enlivened and explored.
Friend of the Poor
The poor were befriended by Edmund. He spent both himself and his fortune on their behalf. Yet the poor, it seems, are indeed always with us. The depths of poverty in our modern world admonish all of us who live comfortable lives. Lord, may the poor be our consuming passion as they were Edmund's. May we treasure nothing above their service. May we be determined to leave nothing undone that can be done.
Friend of the Condemned
As the condemned walked to the gallows, Edmund walked with them. He was not afraid to brave the derision of the crowd and the contempt of his peers to stand with those about to be executed. He held their terror. Lord, you knew the agonies of condemnation and execution. May we refuse to condemn. May we stand by those who are denigrated and belittled in our society. May we value life and not be afraid to speak for the protection of life.
Friend to the Stranger
On the quayside, Edmund once bought a young black boy from a sea captain. He cared for him and saw that he was afforded opportunity to lead a life of dignity. Lord, may we welcome the stranger to our shores as Edmund did. May we allow them the opportunity to lead lives of dignity and contribute meaningfully to our society.
A Person of Faith
As a person of faith, Edmund centred his life on God and lived to serve him by serving his brothers and sisters. No difficulty could deflect him from his focus. No disappointment could dishearten him. No setback could dissuade him. Lord, may our faith in you burn brightly. May you truly be the centre of our lives. May you be the beginning and the end of all that we do. May you be our alpha and our omega.
Remembering in prayer: Our ancestors, our brothers and sisters, our world...
Song: There are people on our world