I am a lifelong lover of history. I come by it genetically. My parents, Richard and Marilyn Moran, both read history, almost exclusively. My father, the Irishman, tended toward Roman and Italian history, while my mother, the Italian, tended toward British and Scottish history. In fact, her love of all things Scottish spilled over into other areas of family life. Throughout my childhood, I was never without a kilt skirt and matching argyle knee socks. Additionally, although my mother’s music preferences were Italian opera and music typical of the ballet, she had an affinity for the Scottish highland bagpipes, recordings of which were few and far between at that time. In 1976, to celebrate the American Bicentennial, she took all of us to see a performance of the Queen’s Royal Marines and the Black Watch Highland Pipeband--complete with the regimental dancers
Before my parents, there was my grandmother Rosalie Rice Moran. Rosalie did graduate from Lindbloom High School, unlike my grandmother Josephine who ended her education at the 8th grade. College for Rosalie meant reading just about every book in the local library. She devoured history book after history book and when she had read all the history books available, she started on the astronomy books. My father recalls having to make the trip to the library for her because she could not carry all of the books that she wanted to read. Every book would be consumed before the next trip. Rosalie was knowledgeable on just about any era of political and/or church history. She was the only devout Catholic ever to say, and I quote, "Martin Luther was right."
I suspect the history gene went back beyond Rosalie. The Irish are great storytellers and those stories come from deep within a subconscious store of historical knowledge, now written but originally part of a great oral tradition. And so I have read my share of history, but much to my frustration it is only a fraction of what I would have liked to have covered by now. Just when I was reaching a point in life where I thought I would have more time to catch up on my dusty library I also find that I cannot retain the information like I used to. The facts may be fuzzy but general principles have stayed with me. Principles tend to reside in the heart rather than the head. One principle that I cannot seem to forget is that every race, nationality or belief system has been persecuted at some time in the past. I also know that those same races, nationalities and religions have had blood on their hands. No one is innocent of murder and all have experienced years, decades or centuries of oppression. It is the story of man’s existence ever since God cautioned Cain that "…sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it."
My own ancestors left Ireland when they were on the verge of starvation at the time of the Great Famine. The potato blight itself was no man’s fault, but the response of the British overlords was no response at all. They cared little for the Irish and the fewer there were of them, the better. From the time the British first conquered the clans, they would have preferred to eliminate them. It was said that Oliver Cromwell had a Philistine policy toward the Irish. And this is where the conflict lies for me: Cromwell was also responsible for challenging the age old belief in the divine right of kings by deposing the Stuarts and setting one of the foundational stones for the Declaration of Independence. Cromwell the genius had a blind spot.
So, still alive but barely existing, my ancestors left their families behind and were herded into the hulls of "coffin ships" headed for America or Canada or Australia. The conditions they endured while on those ships were not much better than the conditions of the slave ships before them. Just as many of the slaves died during the voyage, many of the starving Irish did also. The history is heartbreaking.
Those who survived and established roots in America began to do well. They weren’t lazy and they certainly weren’t stupid. America has proven that no group of people is lazy or stupid. Given the opportunity, the Irish worked hard and became productive in spite of scorn and discrimination by the Protestant establishment. That didn’t bother the Irish. There was plenty of room in America to spread out and circumvent the system. Eventually, in cities like Boston and Chicago, they became the establishment and controlled the system. Most importantly, these working class folks began to send money home to Ireland and that money kept their families alive. And that brings me to Joseph.
The account of Joseph is told in Genesis, chapters 37 through 50 – the very last book of Genesis. Here was a young man who did nothing wrong, but was threatened with death and sold by his brothers to traders who then sold him as a slave in Egypt. He was put in charge of a household, accused of rape, thrown in jail, freed from prison after 13 years, and set over all the land of Egypt, second in command only to Pharaoh. The Scriptures tell us "And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed." (Gen. 39:23) It was as governor that Joseph used his authority for seven years to set aside one-fifth of the produce of the land in anticipation of a famine. When it did arrive, the famine extended far beyond Egypt and caused people from all over to flock to Egypt to buy food…including the sons of Jacob. Joseph recognized them, but they did not recognize him. So he used their blindness to test his brothers to see if they had changed, if Benjamin (Rachel’s only other son) had survived, and if Jacob was still alive. The brothers passed the test and Joseph was reunited with Jacob and Benjamin. The children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob took refuge in Egypt and were well fed and protected by the most powerful man in all the land.
However, the brothers’ felt less secure when Jacob died as recorded in Genesis 50:"When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.’ So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, ‘Your father gave this command before he died, "Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you." And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.’ Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, ‘Behold, we are your servants.’ But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them." (Gen. 50:15 – 21)
I have never been able to read through this without crying. Not even at this moment. I feel Joseph’s sadness at the words of his father and the mistrust of his brothers. I know I am obligated before the Lord to see His hand in the bad in order to appreciate the good. Whenever I hear people in this country demanding more than what they have already been blessed with because they are unwilling to forgive—always using the crimes of the past to justify the extortion of the present—I am reminded of Joseph’s amazing attitude of forgiveness. His relationship with God gave him the insight to know that while his brothers meant it for evil, God meant it for good.
While I have always been moved by the account of Joseph, I would never want anyone to misinterpret my view of injustice and suffering. Injustice should be opposed at every turn and once defeated those responsible for the misery should be brought to justice and punished accordingly. The children and grandchildren of those who have suffered should always be taught of those trying times in history much like the children of Israel were taught of their ancestors’ slavery in Egypt through the Passover celebration.
I want my Evangelical children to know the history of their Catholic forebears and what they suffered under the tyranny of Protestant Reformers with whom we have more in common doctrinally. We are Americans because of that tyranny, and that is the goodness of God in spite of their evil intentions.