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"My thoughts are not your thoughts,"
saith the Lord. And, we may add, His works are not like the works of man. This
great truth has never been better exemplified than in the marvelous rapidity
with which the great temperance reformation grew in Canada, in spite of the
most formidable obstacles. To praise any man for such a work seems to me a kind
of blasphemy, when it is so visibly the work of the Lord. I had hardly finished
reading the letter of Ireland's Apostle of Temperance, when I fell on my knees
and said: "Thou knowest, O my God, that I am nothing but a sinner. There
is no light, no strength in Thy poor unprofitable servant. Therefore, come down
into my heart and soul, to direct me in that temperance reform which Thou hast
put into my mind to establish. Without Thee I can do nothing, but with Thee
I can do all things."
This was on a Saturday night, March 20, 1839. The next morning was the first Sabbath of Lent. I said to the people after the sermon:
"I have told you, many times, that I sincerely believe it is my mission from God to put an end to the unspeakable miseries and crimes engendered every day, here in our whole country, by the use of intoxicating drink. Alcohol is the great enemy of your souls and your bodies. It is the most implacable enemy of your wives, your husbands, and your children. It is the most formidable enemy of our dear country and our holy religion. I must destroy that enemy. But I cannot fight alone. I must form an army and raise a banner in your midst, around which all the soldiers of the Gospel will rally. Jesus Christ Himself will be our general. He will bless and sanctify us He will lead us to victory. The next three days will be consecrated by you and by me in preparing to raise that army. Let all those who wish to fill its ranks, come and pass these three days with me in prayer and meditation before our sacred altars. Let even those who do not want to be soldiers of Christ, or to fight the great and glorious battles which are to be fought, come through curiosity, to see a most marvelous spectacle. I invite every one of you, in the name of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, whom alcohol nails anew to the cross every day. I invite you in the name of the holy Virgin Mary, and of all the saints and angels of God, who are weeping in heaven for the crimes committed every day by the use of intoxicating drinks. I invite you in the names of the wives whom I see here in your midst, weeping because they have drunken husbands. I invite you to come in the names of the fathers whose hearts are broken by drunken children. I invite you to come in the name of so many children who are starving, naked, and made desolate by their drunken parents. I invite you to come in the name of your immortal souls, which are to be eternally damned if the giant destroyer, Alcohol, be not driven from our midst."
The next morning, at eight o'clock, my church was crammed by the people. My first address was at half-past eight o'clock, the second at 10:30 a.m., the third at 2.0 p.m., and the fourth at five. The intervals between the addresses were filled by beautiful hymns selected for the occasion. Many times during my discourse the sobs and the cries of the people were such that I had to stop speaking, to mix my sobs and my tears with those of my people. That first day seventy-five men, from among the most desperate drunkards, enrolled themselves under the banner of temperance. The second day I gave again four addresses, the effects of which were still more blessed in their result. Two hundred of my dear parishioners were enrolled in the grand army which was to fight against their implacable enemy. But it would require the hand of an angel to write the history of the third day, at the end of which, in the midst of tears, sobs, and cries of joy, three hundred more of that noble people swore, in the presence of their God, never to touch, taste, or handle the cursed drinks with which Satan inundates the earth with desolation, and fills hell with eternal cries of despair. During these three days more than two-thirds of my people had publicly taken the pledge of temperance, and had solemnly said in the presence of God, before their altars, "For the love of Jesus Christ, and by the grace of God, I promise that I will never take any intoxicating drink, except as a medicine. I also pledge myself to do all in my power, by my words and example, to persuade others to make the same sacrifice." The majority of my people, among whom we counted the most degraded drunkards, were changed and reformed, not by me, surely, but by the visible, direct work of the great and merciful God, who alone can change the heart of man.
As a great number of people from the surrounding parishes, and even from Quebec, had come to hear me the third day through curiosity, the news of that marvelous work spread very quickly throughout the whole country. The press, both French and English, were unanimous in their praises and felicitations. But when the Protestants of Quebec were blessing God for that reform, the French Canadians, at the example of their priests denounced me as a fool and heretic.
The second day of our revival I had sent messages to four of the neighbouring curates, respectfully requesting them to come and see what the Lord was doing, and help me to bless Him. But they refused. They answered my note with their contemptuous silence. One only, the Rev. Mr. Roy, curate of Charlesbourg, deigned to write me a few words, which I cope here:
Rev. Mr. Chiniquy, Curate of Beauport.
My dear Confrere:Please forgive me if I cannot forget the respect I owe to myself, enough to go and see your fooleries.
Charlesbourg, March 5th, 1839.
The indignation of the bishop knew
no bounds. A few days after, he ordered me to go to his palace and give an account
of what he called my "strange conduct." When alone with me he said:
"Is it possible, Mr. Chiniquy, that you have so soon forgotten my prohibition
not to establish that ridiculous temperance society in your parish? Had you
compromised yourself alone by that Protestant comedy for it is nothing but that
I would remain silent, in my pity for you. But you have compromised our holy
religion by introducing a society whose origin is clearly heretical. Last evening,
the venerable Grand Vicar Demars told me that you would sooner or later become
a Protestant, and that this was your first step. Do you not see that the Protestants
only praise you? Do you not blush to be praised only by heretics? Without suspecting
it, you are just entering a road which leads to your ruin. You have publicly
covered yourself with such ridicule that I fear your usefulness is at an end,
not only in Beauport, but in all my diocese. I do not conceal it from you: my
first thought, when an eye-witness told me yesterday what you had done, was
to interdict you. I have been prevented from taking that step only by the hope
that you will undo what you have done. I hope that you will yourself dissolve
that anti-Catholic association, and promise to put an end to those novelties,
which have too strong a smell of heresy to be tolerated by your bishop."
I answered: "My lord, your lordship has not forgotten that it was absolutely against my own will that I was appointed curate of Beauport; and God knows that you have only to say a word, and, without a murmur, I will give you my resignation, that you may put a better priest at the head of that people, which I consider, and which is really, today the noblest and the most sober people of Canada. But I will put a condition to the resignation of my position. It is, that I will be allowed to publish before the world that the Rev. Mr. Begin, my predecessor, has never been troubled by his bishop for having allowed his people, during twenty-three years, to swim in the mire of drunkenness; and that I have been disgraced by my bishop, and turned out from that same parish, for having been the instrument, by the mercy of God, in making them the most sober people in Canada."
The poor bishop felt, at once, that he could not stand on the ground he had taken with me. He was a few moments without knowing what to say. He saw also that his threats had no influence over me, and that I was not ready to undo what I had done. After a painful silence of a minute or two, he said: "Do you not see that the solemn promises you have extorted from those poor drunkards are rash and unwise; they will break them at the first opportunity? Their future state of degradation, after such an excitement, will be worse than the first."
I answered: "I would partake of your fears if that change were my work; but as it is the Lord's work, we have nothing to fear. The works of men are weak, and of short duration, but the works of God are solid and permanent. About the prophecy of the venerable Mr. Demars, that I have taken my first step towards Protestantism by turning a drunken into a sober people, I have only to say that if that prophecy be true, it would show that Protestantism is more apt than our holy religion to work for the glory of God and the good of the people. I hope that your lordship is not ready to accept that conclusion, and that you will not then trouble yourself with the premises. The venerable grand Vicar, with many other priests, would do better to come and see what the Lord is doing in Beauport, than to slander me and turn false prophets against its curate and people. My only answer to the remarks of your lordship, that the Protestants alone praise me, when the Roman Catholic priests and people condemn me, proves only one thing, viz., that Protestants, on this question, understand the Word of God, and have more respect for it than we Roman Catholics. It would prove also that they understand the interests of humanity better than we do, and that they have more generosity than we have, to sacrifice their selfish propensities to the good of all. I take the liberty of saying to your lordship, that in this, as in many other things, it is high time that we should open our eyes to our false position.
"Instead of remaining at the lowest step of the ladder of one of the most Christian virtues, temperance, we must raise ourselves to the top, where Protestants are reaping so many precious fruits. Besides, would your lordship be kind enough to tell me why I am denounced and abused here, and by my fellow-priests and my bishop, for forming a temperance society in my parish, when Father Mathew, who wrote me lately to encourage and direct me in that work, is publicly praised by his bishops and blessed by the Pope for covering Ireland with temperance societies? Is your lordship ready to prove to me that Samson was a heretic in the camp of Israel when he fulfilled the promise made by his parents that he would never drink any wine, or beer; and John the Baptist, was not he a heretic and a Protestant as I am, when, to obey the voice of God, he did what I do today, with my dear people of Beauport?"
At that very moment, the sub-secretary entered to tell the bishop that a gentleman wanted to see him immediately on pressing business, and the bishop abruptly dismissed me, to my great comfort; and my impression was that he was as glad to get rid of me as I was to get rid of him.
With the exception of the Secretary, Mr. Cazeault, all the priests I met that day and the next month, either gave me the cold shoulder or overwhelmed me with their sarcasms. One of them who had friends in Beauport, was bold enough to try to go through the whole parish to turn me into ridicule by saying that I was half crazy, and the best thing the people could do was to drink moderately to my health when they went to town. But at the third house he met a woman, who, after listening to the bad advice he was giving to her husband, said to him: "I do not know if our pastor is a fool in making people sober, but I know you are a messenger of the devil, when you advise my husband to drink again. You know that he was one of the most desperate drunkards of Beauport. You personally know also what blows I have received from him when he was drunk; how poor and miserable we were; how many children had to run on the streets, half naked, and beg in order not to starve with me! Now that my husband has taken the pledge of temperance, we have every comfort; my dear children are well fed and clothed, and I find myself as in a little paradise. If you do not go out of this house at once, I will turn you out with my broomstick." And she would have fulfilled her promise, had not the priest had the good sense to disappear at the "double quick."
The next four months after the foundation of the society in Beauport, my position when with the other priests was very painful and humiliating. I consequently avoided their company as much as possible. And, as for my bishop, I took the resolution never to go and see him, except he should order me into his presence. But my merciful God indemnified me by the unspeakable joy I had in seeing the marvelous change wrought by Him among my dear people. Their fidelity in keeping the pledge was really wonderful, and soon became the object of admiration of the whole city of Quebec, and of the surrounding country. The change was sudden, so complete and so permanent, that the scoffing bishop and priests, with their friends, had, at last, to blush and be silent.
The public aspect of the parish was soon changed, the houses were repaired, the debts paid, the children well clad. But what spoke most eloquently about the marvelous reform was that the seven thriving saloons of Beauport were soon closed, and their owners forced to take other occupations. Peace, happiness, abundance, and industry, everywhere took the place of the riots, fighting, blasphemies and the squalid misery which prevailed before. The gratitude and respect of that noble people for their young curate knew no bounds; as my love and admiration for them cannot be told by human words.
However, though the great majority of that good people had taken the pledge, and kept it honourably, there was a small minority, composed of the few who never had been drunkards, who had not yet enrolled themselves under our blessed banners. Though they were glad of the reform, it was very difficult to persuade them to give up their social glass! I thought it was my duty to show them in a tangible way, what I had so often proved with my words only, that the drinking of the social glass of wine, or of beer, is an act of folly, if not a crime. I asked my kind and learned friend, Dr. Douglas, to analyze, before the people, the very wine and beer used by them, to show that it was nothing else but a disgusting and deadly poison. He granted my favour. During four days that noble philanthropist extracted the alcohol, which is not only in the most common, but in the most costly and renowned wines, beer, brandy and whisky. He gave that alcohol to several cats and dogs, which died in a few minutes in the presence of the whole people.
These learned and most interesting experiments, coupled with his eloquent and scientific remarks, made a most profound impression. It was the corner-stone of the holy edifice which our merciful God built with His own hands in Beauport. The few recalcitrants joined with the rest of their dear friends.