CELTIC SPIRITUALITY AND THE INTERFACE
WITH EDMUND RICE

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The thing that strikes us about Edmund Rice was his ability to impart a sacred dimension to everything he did. In other words we might say Edmund Rice became a saint through the just and compassionate use of money. This is a very difficult thing to do no matter what period we are looking at!

It makes us wonder what sort of a vision did Edmund have which propelled him to this course of action? Current studies of Edmund Rice (e.g. Denis McLaughlin's study on Edmund Rice, The Price of Freedom draw this out very successfully by using a modern template of seeing ethical values penetrating every aspect of life.

However, what has fascinated me was the Celtic sense of the sacred interpenetrating every aspect of life. So I desired to research the whole area of Celtic Spirituality and determine if it was sufficiently strong in the people's memory in Edmund's day to help form him habits of attending to the sacred dimension of life and it's corollary hospitality tot he poor.  

Subsequently I was able to undertake three months research in Rome, England, Scotland and Ireland (mostly the latter) with a view to examining the nature of this interface. At the same time I endeavoured to study the archival material and all sources to locate the man in his times.

What follows is my attempt to document this research. Here is the synopsis.

THESIS OUTLINE

THE INTERFACE BETWEEN CELTIC SPIRITUALITY AND EDMUND RICE


Edmund Rice presented as a link between Celtic spirituality of the past and our need to rediscover a sense of the Sacred as a means of reverencing and critiquing our stewardship of creation today.

TESTING NEW WATERS

Previous scholarship aimed at depicting Edmund Rice has had a number of different motives but may be generalised to two:

While I am extremely grateful to draw on these sources for so much data on Edmund Rice I note that each author has his own focus and edits his sources to reflect that. The thing I find amazing is that in wishing to use a critical historical methodology they have forgotten their own Irish connection. The world they describe is that of a foreign British presence in Ireland and the oppression that has caused. There is no attempt to describe anything of the Irish way of being, particularly centred on the rural landscape and its sensitivity to the "thin" places and the feasts which the people were in the habit of celebrating.

It is a key principle of my writing here that an understanding of this "other world" lies at the heart of Irish Celtic spirituality: It is the reason why there has been such a painless embrace between Christianity and the religion of the open places which had gone before and symbolised by the juxtaposition of the sun and cross in the Celtic cross. I hope that by alluding to this developmental sense of the sacred that we can rightly show how Edmund Rice has made his contribution to Celtic spirituality and taken it into the modern age which is so business oriented.

The main purpose of this thesis is to review the life of Edmund Rice in such a way that he inspires us today to sense the Sacred in every aspect of life.

 

I aim to show

TWO IMAGES

Before embarking on my research in Ireland and elsewhere, I was reasonably familiar with different aspects of Celtic Spirituality, and also of Edmund Rice. I was confident that his wholehearted response to the challenge of

represented a highly developed sense that the sacred was to be found everywhere in life, even in the most unlikely quarters: among street fighting youth and in the financial institutions.

I suspected that he was formed in a unique way to appreciate this from his rural upbringing, which without clergy to nourish the people during those penal times, they cultivated what might be called a religion of the hearth in which they fiercely clung to the traditions they had inherited.

So this was the starting point for my research overseas in Rome, England Scotland and Ireland. The interface was there as a suggestion but it needed fleshing out. What might have been discouraging was that many of the scholars in Celtic or Irish spirituality are very reluctant to see it in the form of a continuum the way I was wanting to. Some even wanted to restrict talk of Celtic spirituality to the pre-Christian era. Others were reluctant to see it as surviving the Reformation era. Being a person of Australian background I was more flexible than that. I have observed that urban Aboriginal people can still claim and live their identity just as fiercely as their more remote traditional brothers and sisters. My speech "doth betray me" yet I had an incredible sense of belonging when in Ireland ten years ago. I was pleased to discover that my return reinforced that.

For over three months, therefore, I felt very privileged to sit at the feet of those who were more in touch with the tradition than I could ever be. My learning curve was very sharp indeed. Gradually more and more insights came to me regarding the possible interface between Edmund Rice and Celtic Spirituality.

In order to explore this more in reflection and writing, two images present themselves:

CELTIC SPIRITUALITY AND THE INTERFACE WITH EDMUND RICE

While I was confident I would be able to discover something about the nature of this interface which would link Edmund Rice with the ancient faith I have been so grateful for my time in Ireland as a means of seeking out what the nature of this interface might be. The doors which opened for me, the people who shared ideas with me and gave me books to read just led me to believe that there was synchronicity everywhere.

For me this interface is clearly tied up with the "tissue paper thinness" between God’s presence and our world. One observes it in

I suspected they clung to their heritage through what I term the religion of the hearth by forging a rosary link of all pervasive prayer, which was an amalgam of storytelling, mythmaking, mass rocks and hedge schools. In effect it became their own protestant Roman Catholic religion. I hasten to add that for Edmund Rice’s men this determination to have an education system that was Catholic and Irish was not sectarian. They acknowledged the right of Protestant children to attend their schools and not have their faith undermined. It will be interesting to compare this attitude with that of the bishops and clergy who campaigned so strongly against proselytism at that time.

THE TUATHA D DANNAN: A KEY CONCEPT IN UNDERSTANDING THE SACRED DIMENSION OF CREATION

As was mentioned above any attempt to discuss the role of Edmund Rice has been restricted to seeing him as a businessman in late 18th century commercial Ireland. As a result of personal tragedy in the sudden loss of his young life he was moved to open his considerable resources in helping the poor. A rich prayer and sacramental life nourished him in this. I feel there is much more to it than this. For me the big question has always been: what so moved him that he was able to take up the challenge of his woman friend-to find his monastery in the streets? Clearly it was a great grace. But as Aquinas says, grace builds on nature. I believe that Edmund Rice was graced to be particularly sensitive to the thinness between the everyday world and the workings of the Divine which he imbibed as a child and young man growing up in the rural atmosphere of Callan. The carrier, of course would have been the Irish language. The sense of the Tuatha D Dannan is the key to this and plays a major role in fully appreciating the major Irish feasts which have their links in the preChristian past. We need to explore these feasts in greater detail in order to fully understand how a person can be gripped with an awareness that what is seen is not all that is seen. There is a sacred dimension underpinning it all.

This is the sense that Edmund Rice brought with him to the commercial life of Waterford. It was in the background until he met his crisis. The opportunity which then opened up for him was to see this sacred dimension of life mirrored in all places even in the heart of commercial life and financial undertakings. Certainly his meditation on the scriptures which he had subscribed to at this time would have reinforced the fact that to see the poor is to see Christ.

To find his monastery in the streets was to find Christ there too in his education process. It will be interesting to see the lengths he was prepared to go to to ensure this was the case.

THE STRUCTURE OF THE ESSAY

This essay is not so much about picking out a particular aspect of life or history and bringing as much scholarship to bear on that as possible. It is much more about connection making-back into the past and into the future where we have to move. The quality and the power of this connection making and the use of the latest technology in presenting these findings will be the supreme test of scholarship I feel. Hence there needs to be developed these three areas:

THE PROGRESSION FROM THESIS TO BOOK Edmund Rice: Restoring the Circle to the Celtic Cross

Initially I was invited to present the findings as part of a Doctoral Thesis. However, However, the demands of such a disciplined study required a much more tightly framed topic and a methodology which did not lend itself to the treatment I desired to give it.

Hence it is now seeing the light of day as a highly illustrated book.

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