By John Fitzgerald
Religion was a stricter business in past times that it is today, as Callan folk were reminded yet again in May 1944 when the Rev. Dr Doyle took over as parish priest in the town.
A Cuffsgrange man, Dr. Doyle was a strong believer in clerical and monetary competence. He was conscious of the need to balance the worship of God and the various religious activities of the district with a down-to-earth hands-on approach to financing the day to day running of the parish.
“Just because it’s difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven”, he advised his congregation in one sermon, “doesn’t mean the parish itself has to be poor or short of few bob. It’s perfectly in order to be rich so long as one contributes munificently to the upkeep of the church here in Callan and indeed to the living expenses of your clergy. God will reward those of you who give generously to his representatives on earth.”
He made frequent references to the war and the effects of rationing, and in a well-crafted if somewhat over the top sermon following the D-Day Landings of June 1944 he drew graphic parallels between the devastation wrought by the fire-power of the combatant nations and the unquenchable cosmic fires of Hell that awaited any man or woman in the parish that died in a state of mortal sin.
He cautioned: “And yet, for all their dreadful potency, the deadliest guns, bombs, tanks, rockets, planes and submarines of man aren’t a patch on what God, in his infinite wisdom, has prepared for any of you whose souls are blemished and stained with un-confessed sin.
“On God’s D-Day, there will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth when the sheep are separated from the goats before his golden throne. Pleadings will be useless. Will ye be sheep, and follow the Good Sheppard…or will ye be dirty auld goats?
“Excuses will not be listened to. There will be no clever and conniving solicitor standing there with you to argue mitigating circumstances or to beguile a gullible jury. Just yourself, standing alone and shaking like a leaf in a strong winter breeze… waiting for the Almighty to judge, and knowing that His decision will be final…that there can be no appeal to a higher authority.
“And then, oh try to imagine it…the trumpets sound…His verdict is given…you are to spend all eternity, and that’s a very, very long time, with the lad below.
“You may wail…you may weep…you may plead…all to no avail. His sentence cannot be revoked. The damned shall be herded by demons with long whips into boats to cross the great lake that flows with fire and brimstone…to be conveyed into the bowels of that place none of us ever wishes to see. That’ll be D-Day for ye and no mistake about it!”
Also on the subject of sin, Dr. Doyle issued a stiff warning against the practice of “swapping sins” that had been drawn to his attention by a concerned parishioner. He appealed to parents to give their offspring a hearty telling-off if the youngsters were engaging in that “detestable affront to God”.
He warned that committing a sin, venial or mortal, was bad enough, but making up sins that never happened and then confessing these to a priest was an offence so terrible that not even the Bishop himself could figure out what penalty God might impose for it. His Lordship was awaiting a response from the Cardinal in Dublin on the matter.
In the meantime, Dr. Doyle reminded worshippers at Sunday Mass that the making up of sins was a terrible sin altogether. He warned that while a priest might believe a false confession, God would not be fooled.
He remarked in cynical vein that while the rest of the country was coping with the rationing of food, fuel, and a long list of other commodities, there were “young reprobates, some right little pups” in Callan who were seeking to ration sin itself, sharing out sins outside the Holy Confessional and even, he had been informed, exchanging sins, or imaginary ones, for toffees, bulls eyes, and gob stoppers.
To be continued.