One of the saddest and yet most human stories in the Bible is that of the Rich Young Man (Mt 19: 16-22). It is the story of a good-living, aspiring disciple who asked the Lord what he must do to receive eternal life. The answer: “Keep the Commandments”, to which the man honestly replied, “I have kept them from my youth.” Then said the Lord, “Go sell what you have and give to the poor…….. and then come follow Me”. The young man’s face fell when he heard this and he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
Many, many centuries later, another young man, Edmund Rice, asked the Lord the same question in prayer and he heard the same answer. Edmund, however, did obey and sold what he had and he gave to the poor. He became for the modern world the inverted parallel of the rich young man.
Conditions in 18th century Ireland were very distressful. It is difficult for us in this day and age to imagine just how distressful they were. Laws to govern the country were actually made in England as the Irish parliament had no teeth. It was convoked by the King of England and none of its recommendations could be passed without his approval. Yet the British Parliament made laws to be enforced in Ireland. The laws and sanctions it passed regarding trade made sure that Irish industry was discouraged. The flourishing wool trade was all but destroyed so that it posed no threat to the English wool trade. Likewise the export of salted meat was totally discouraged. Back-breaking tariffs were imposed on Irish ships which successfully undermined the industry.