Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Ramadan Iftar at the Moroccan Embassy

Traditional Moroccan drummers at the Moroccan Embassy reception last night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

I was invited to the Moroccan Ambassador’s Residence in Dublin last night for Ramadan Iftar to mark the Moroccan National Day.

Iftar is the evening meal when Muslims break their fast during Ramadan. This is often done as a community, with people gathering to break their fast together. I have experienced this in the past in Pakistan, Egypt and Turkey, when Iftar is done right after Maghrib (sunset).

Traditionally, three dates are eaten to break the fast. Many Muslims believe that feeding someone iftar as a form of charity is very rewarding. The traditional prayer for breaking the fast at the time of Iftar is: “Oh God, it is for you that I observe fast and it is with your blessing that I break it.”

At a Moroccan iftar, dates, milk, juices, and sweets typically provide the sugar surge needed after a day of going without food. Harira, a hearty lentil and tomato soup, satisfies hunger and restores energy. Hard-boiled eggs, meat-filled or seafood-filled pastries (briouats), fried fish, and pancakes might also be served.

Large batches of sweets such as sellou and chebekiaare are traditionally prepared in advance for use throughout the month.

Eid Al Ârch or Fête du Trône (Throne Day) on 30 July is an annual celebration marking the accession to the Moroccan throne of Mohammed VI in 1999. The Moroccan royal family is descended from the Alaouite Dynasty, founded by Moulay Ali Cherif, who became Sultan of Tafilat in 1631.

Sidi Muhammad Ben Yusuf, who was Sultan of Morocco from 1927 to 1953, became a focal point of nationalist aspirations when Morocco gained independence from France and he then ruled as king from 1957 to 1961.

At last night’s reception, which began at sunset, there was plenty of traditional Moroccan iftar food. The guests included diplomats, judges, politicians, academics, charity and aid workers, and both members of the Muslim community and church leaders – a healthy and practical exercise in Christian-Muslim dialogue.

And before the evening ended, we were entertained by traditional Moroccan drummers.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Stepping back in time in Lismore and Cappoquin

The South Door of Saint Carthage’s Cathedral, Lismore, Co Waterford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

On the way back from Cork to Dublin yesterday afternoon, we drove out along the shore of the estuary and the harbour and on to Midleton and then north through Tallow to Lismore on the banks of the River Blackwater in West Waterford.

In Lismore, we had lunch in Foley’s on the Mall, a landmark Victorian pub that has become a gastropub, with a modern restaurant beside the “old-world” bar. It was first built around 1870 and has been in the ownership of the Foley family since 1880. Our choices were baked goat’s cheese and red onion tartlets, with mixed salad leaves and pesto, a crab and prawn bake, and house white wine.

Around the corner in the Mall, it was pleasant surprise to find a cathedral open on a Sunday afternoon. Lismore is tiny when you compare it with an average English cathedral city, and the cathedral is slightly off the beaten track. But there was a constant flow of tourists and visitors through the south porch to see this ecclesiastical gem which is open every day.

Saint Carthage’s Cathedral has been described on the Buildings of Ireland website as an “elaborate, monumental cathedral of national importance.”

The cathedral was founded in 635 by Saint Mochuda or Cartagh and was once at the centre of one of the great Irish monasteries, whose students included Saint Malachy, a 12th century Archbishop of Armagh.

The chancel and choir have been screened off and now serve as the parish church for Church of Ireland parish. The chancel ceiling was elaborately decorated during the 19th century and has been restored in its original colours.

The North Transept has been screened off and as Saint Columba’s Chapel it is reserved for private prayer and weekday Communions. The North Transept has a stained glass window by the pre-Raphaelite artist, Edward Burne Jones (1833-1898). It is only window of its kind in Ireland and shows Justice (a man with a sword and scales) and Humility (a woman holding a lamb).

The McGrath altar tomb in Lismore Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Walking around the cathedral, it is impossible not to feel the former grandeur and majesty of this once-great centre of learning and church life.

The altar tomb of John and Catherine McGrath in the north-west corner of the nave dates from 1548 and is a fine example of 16th century stone carving, with the 12 apostles around the sides, each with his name in Latin. The inside frame of the west door is a Gothic riot – something you never imagine looking at it from the outside.

Beside it, five inscribed grave slabs are set in the south-west wall behind fencing, date from the ninth to the eleventh centuries.

The south transept monuments include one to Archdeacon Henry Cotton, whose Fasti Ecclesiae Hibenriae makes him one of the founding figures of Church of Ireland historical studies.

Lismore Castle, towering over the banks of the Blackwater (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

From the cathedral, we walked down Deanery Hill to the entrance to Lady Louisa’s Walk and the fountain in the castle walls, and then stood on the bridge over the River Blakckwater, admiring the broad stretch of river west towards Tallow and east towards Cappoquin, with the massive Gothic pile of Lismore Castle towering above us.

We walked back up Saint Carthage’s Well to the main castle entrance. Robert Boyle, 14th son of the Earl of Cork and the father of chemistry who has given his name to Boyle’s Law, was born in the castle and baptised in the cathedral. Today, the castle is one of the many homes of the Duke of Devonshire.

We returned to the town for another stroll through the Square and the Main Street, reading the poetry on posters in the shop windows, before heading on east to Cappoquin.

Little has changed on the streets of Cappoquin since my childhood (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Little has changed in Cappoquin since I was a child in the 1950s ... the rowing club and the boathouse are still there, so too are the clock in the tower of Saint Anne’s, the Toby Jug, Barron’s Bakery, the name over Uniacke’s, the arches of Kelleher’s SuperValu which I knew in my childhood as Russell’s, and the petrol pumps on the footpath outside Lehane’s Garage.

The Lonergan brothers’ shop has closed (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Sargent’s Garage, one of the first car dealerships in Co Waterford, and the Blakckwater Inn are closed, and so too is Lonergan’s, where the tailor brothers, the late Thomas and Noel Lonergan, once worked together in their shop window on the Main Street.

We enjoyed a brief stroll through the grounds of Cappoquin House, the home of Sir Charles Keane, whose father, Major Sir Richard Keane, died two years ago just a month short of his 102nd birthday.

A window on the past at Moonwee (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

From Cappoquin, we drove north towards Mount Melleray, stopping briefly at the Cats, and taking a look at the field across the road, where “The Stage” was the venue for summer dances and music in the 1950s and even in the early 1960s.

We then drove down the bohereen to Moonwee, for another sentimental visit to what had been my grandmother’s farm. It was three years since I was last there .

A step back in time ...looking down from the stairs to what had been my childhood bedroom (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

This time Cindy and Steve O’Shea and their daughters were on hand to welcome us, and to show us how they have worked on restoring the old Hallinan homestead. It was step back in time to step up the stairs to what had once been my bedroom. In my mind’s eye I could see everything in the house as it was when I was a boy of eight or ten.

Back on the road over the Knockmealdown Mountains, we stopped to look at Bay Lough. As a child I was told this was a bottomless lake and the home of a witch known as ‘Petticoat Loose,’ who was condemned to empty the lake with a thimble.

We drove on past the monument where Samuel Grubb is said to have been buried standing upright on the side of Sugarloaf Hill in 1921, and on the Vee Road, in a gap in the mountains. Below us, the Golden Vale of Co Tipperary was spread like a carpet of green and gold as far as our eyes could see.

The Golden Vale spread before us like a carpet of green and gold as far as the eye could see (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Sunday, 29 July 2012

A unique church doorway and a bishop’s forced departure

The sandstone Romanesque doorway in Saint Lachtain’s Church, Freshford, Co Kilkenny (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

On the way road from Dublin to Cork yesterday, we took a break at Freshford in Co Kilkenny, to see a unique church door, and to visit a house associated with one of the most difficult Reformation bishops in the Church of Ireland.

The village green in Freshford, Co Kilkenny (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

The village of Freshford was the site of a monastery founded in the early seventh century by Saintt Lachtain.

In 836, Viking raiders burnt Saint Lachtain’s Church. The church was rebuilt in 1100, and the present Saint Lachtain’s was built in 1731.

All that survives of the 12th century church is the sandstone Romanesque doorway in Saint Lachtain’s Church, the Church of Ireland parish church in Freshford. This is one of only two such portal designs remaining in Ireland. The other doorway is in Saint Brendan’s Cathedral in Clonfert, Co Galway.

The base of the Shee cross on the village green in Freshford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

The church is close to the village green, The Square, which is in the shape of a triangle. An interesting feature on the green is the soft sandstone base of the Freshford Cross.

When Lucas Shee of Uppercourt Manor died in 1622, his widow Ellen Butler erected a cross in his memory at the back entrance to Uppercourt Manor. When Sir William Morris came to live in Uppercourt in 1790, he had the cross moved and re-erected on the green in Freshford.

The inscription at the base of the cross once read: “The noble Ellen Butler, wife of Lucas Shee Esq., got this monument made. Pray, traveller, that the souls of both may have eternal rest.”

Uppercourt Manior … once home of Bishop John Bale, the Shee and Morris families, and the Mill Hill Fathers (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Uppercourt Manor is a short distance outside Freshford and stands on the site of the bishop’s palace built at Achadh Úr (Aghour) in 1225.

In 1553, the Reformation Bishop of Ossory, John Bale (1495-1563), came to Kilkenny and lived at Uppercourt Manor. Bale was such a quarrelsome controversialist that he became known as “bilious Bale.” His “morality” plays denounced the monastic system and its supporters in unrestrained language and coarse imagery, marked by their profane parody.

From the moment he arrived in Ireland, Bale was uncompromising in his theological views. When he was being ordained bishop in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, on 2 February 1553, he refused to be consecrated by the traditional rites used in the Church of Ireland., insisting that he was sworn to obey the laws of England.

Bale’s account of his time in Ossory, Vocacyon of John Bale to the Byshopperycke of Ossorie, shows how his zeal for the Reformation was never tempered by discretion. He quarrelled bitterly with the clergy and people of the diocese, and alienated his neighbours.

When Mary Tudor’s accession was proclaimed to great celebration in Kilkenny on 20 August, there was a Catholic procession through the streets. Bale managed to preach in Kilkenny that day on Romans 13 and on the duty of obedience and, remarkably, three of his 25 plays were performed at the Market Cross in Kilkenny on the day of Queen Mary’s coronation.

On Saint Bartholomew’s Day, he preached on the text: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel.” That evening, he dined with Robert Shee, the Mayor of Kilkenny.

By 31 August, the old services and rituals had been revived throughout the Diocese of Ossory. A week later, when Bale sent five of his workers into his fields in Freshford to make hay on Friday 8 September 1553, regarded as a holy day, they were attacked and killed, including three Englishmen and a 16-year-old girl, and the bishop’s horse was stolen.

The Mayor of Kilkenny, Robert Shee, came to Bale’s rescue, and gave him an armed escort from Uppercourt to Kilkenny. Within a week, though, Bale fled, never to return to Kilkenny. He died in Canterbury in November 1563 and was buried in Canterbury Cathedral.

The Shee family moved into Uppercourt Manor, and there for a century until the Cromwellian confiscations of 1653. The present house was built by Sir William Morris around 1790. Eventually, the Mill Hill Fathers bought the house in 1932 and turned into secondary school. The manor now stands on a stud farm owned by Dr Paul O’Byrne, who has restored the house.

Clomantagh Castle, near Freshford … seen through a ruined window of Clomantagh Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

On our way back onto the motorway, we stopped briefly to look at the ruined church and restored castle at Clomantagh.

Clomantagh Castle is part of a unique settlement of tower house, farmhouse and bawn. The tower house was built in the 1430s, and the adjoining farmhouse dates from the early 1800s. The castle has a “Sheela-na-gig” carved on one of the stones.

Although there are no gravestones in the church itself, there are about 40 stones standing in the graveyard around the church ruins, some dating from the 1760s.

On our way back from Cork to Dublin this afternoon, we travelled through Lismore and Cappoquin, visiting Lismore Cathedral, Lismore Castle, Cappoquin House, and my my grandmother’s former farmhouse near Mount Mellary, before driving on across the Knockmealdown Mountains, through “the Vee” and down into Golden Vale of Co Tipperary.

But they are visits to talk about on another day.

Gathering all in to the party

Feeding the 5,000 ... a modern Greek Orthodox icon

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 29 July 2012, the Eighth Sunday after Trinity

10 am, Saint John’s Church, Monkstown, Co Cork

Choral Eucharist 180th Anniversary Service, with Monkstown Chamber Choir

2 Samuel 11: 1-15; Psalm 14; Ephesians 3: 14-21; John 6: 1-21

May I speak to you in the name of + the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

We all love anniversaries and parties.

If, like me, you are a daily user of Google as a search engine on the internet, you have come to enjoy the humorous “Google Doodles” which cover a variety of anniversaries, no matter how obscure.

During July, these anniversary doodles have marked:

● Amelia Earhart’s 115th birthday
● Santos Dumont’s 139th birthday
● Gustav Klimt’s 150th birthday
● José María Velasco’s 172nd birthday

Who knows who Santos Dumont is?

Why celebrate a 172nd birthday? Or a 180th anniversary?

But birthdays, baptisms, weddings, anniversaries, graduations, retirements – we all enjoy a good party. Why, if we allow ourselves to admit the truth, we even enjoy the afters at funerals.

Parties affirm who we are, where we fit within the family, and mark the rhythm of life and the continuity of community.

It is not only the eating or the drinking. It is very difficult to sit beside someone at the same table after a funeral, or to stand beside someone at the bar at a wedding, and not to end up getting to know them and – as we say in Ireland – “their seed, breed and generation.”

Even though Saint Paul in our Epistle reading this morning alludes to the fact that there are different families, he reminds us that there is a unique way in which we, as Christians, are members of the same family, a particular family, the Church, the family of God.

Families share names, share stories, share memories, share identities, share anniversaries. And that is not all in the past. These celebrations allow us to express and share our hopes for the future too ... is that not what baptisms and weddings are about in every family – hope for the future, hope for life itself?

The feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle – apart from the Resurrection –recorded in all four Gospels (see also Matthew 14: 13-21; Mark 6: 32-44; Luke 9: 10-17), with only minor variations on the place and the circumstances.

The story of the multiplication of the loaves as Saint John alone tells it has a number of key details, such as a Passover context, that are there to remind us of our feeding at the Eucharist and of Messianic hope for the future.

Christ lifts up his eyes. Earlier in this Gospel, when the disciples came back to Christ at the well in Sychar, they found him talking with the Samaritan woman. He told them to “lift up their eyes” and to see the “harvest” of the seed he had been sowing.

Now in this story, just as at Jacob’s Well, the disciples have failed to buy or produce enough bread for a meal. In this story, Christ responds not by sympathising but by demanding great generosity, so great that it would take six months’ wages to be so generous.

Barley loaves were the food of the poor, and so the boy’s offering symbolises the poverty of the people, while the disciples fail to offer from the riches of the kingdom.

Christ, who has told the woman at Sychar that she shall no longer thirst, is now going to tell the people he feeds, and the disciples too, that he is the bread of life, and that whoever comes to him will never be hungry, whoever believes in him will never be thirsty (see John 6: 35).

The ΙΧΘΥC symbol carved into marble and highlighted by later visitors in Ephesus

The feeding with the fish looks forward too to a later meal by the shores of Tiberias … that breakfast with the disciples when the Risen Christ feeds them with bread and fish. The fish is an early symbol of faith in the Risen Christ: Ichthus (ἰχθύς, ΙΧΘΥC) is the Greek word for fish, and can be read as an acrostic, a word formed from the first letters of words spelling out ἰησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ (Iēsous Khristos Theou Huios, Sōtēr), Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour.

Christ asks the disciples to make the people sit down – well, not so much to sit down as to recline. They are asked to recline on the grass as they would at a banquet or at a feast – just as Christ does with the disciples at the Last Supper.

And then, in a Eucharistic sequence, he takes the bread, blesses or gives thanks, breaks it and gives it. John here uses the word εὐχαριστήσας (eucharistisas, verse 11), from the verb εὐχαριστέω (eucharisteo), “to give thanks,” the very word from which we derive the word Eucharist in the liturgy.

John alone tells us that Christ later tells the disciples to gather up the fragments lest they perish. Gathering is an act of reverential economy towards the gifts of God; but gathering also anticipates Christ gathering all to himself (John 6: 39; see also John 17: 12).

Look at the amount that is left over in the outpouring of God’s generosity. There are 12 baskets – one for each tribe of Israel and one for each of the 12 disciples. God’s party, the Eucharist, is a looking forward to the new Israel, not the sort of earthly kingdom that the people now want but the Kingdom of God.

In the next chapter, when the crowds follow Christ to Capernaum, he tells them: “I am that bread of life” (John 7: 48). In this way, the Feeding of the Multitude connects with the feeding of the freed slaves in the wilderness and the coming of freedom, and with the heavenly banquet and the coming of the kingdom.

The earlier food miracle in this Gospel is the Wedding in Cana, when Christ turns the water into wine. Now we have a miracle with bread. The Eucharistic connection of bread and wine is so obvious.

Saint John’s account of the multiplication of the loaves has a number of key details that remind us of the Eucharist.

When Christ asks the disciples to gather up the fragments, he uses the word συνάγω (synago, to gather up) – the same as the word συναγωγή (synagogue) for the assembly of faith, and as the word σύναξις (synaxis) for the gathering or first part of the Liturgy.

Christ puts no questions of belief to the disciples or to the crowd when he feeds them on the mountainside. They did not believe in the Resurrection – it had yet to happen. But he feeds them, and he feeds them indiscriminately. The disciples wanted to send them away, but Christ wants to count them in. Christ invites more people to the banquet than we can fit into our churches.

When we invite people into the Church, we have so much to share – must more that the meagre amount people may think we have in our bags.

When this church was being built in the 1830s, the donors and fundraisers came from a variety of backgrounds – they included peers of the realm and magistrates, Tory and Whig MPs, supporters of Catholic Emancipation and the descendants of ascendancy archbishops, a failed poet and the cousin of a future Nobel playwright.

Saint John the Evangelist ... a window in Saint John’s Church, Monkstown (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Why they decided to name this church after Saint John the Evangelist, I am not sure. But we have here too a fine stained glass window of the saint, holding the Fourth Gospel in one hand and a poison chalice in the other.

This recalls the legend that Saint John was tested by the high priest of the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, who gave him a poison chalice to drink. Saint John blessed the chalice, the poison escaped in the form of a winged dragon, and Saint John then drank safely.

But there is another poison that can damage the church today – we can fail to love.

Saint Jerome tells us that Saint John continued preaching in Ephesus even when he was in his 90s. He was so enfeebled in his old age that the people had to carry him on a stretcher into the Church in Ephesus, on the hill above the Temple of Artemis. And when he was no longer able to preach, he would lean up on one elbow and say simply: “Little children, love one another.”

This continued on, even when the ageing John was on his deathbed. Then he would lie back down and his friends would carry him back out. Every week, the same happened, again and again. And every week it was the same short sermon, with the same message: “Little children, love one another.”

One day, the story goes, someone asked: “John, why is it that every week you say exactly the same thing, ‘little children, love one another’?” And he replied: “Because it is enough.”

There we have the basics of living as a Christian in a nutshell. All we need to know is “Little children, love one another.” If we want to know the rules, there it is: “Little children, love one another.”

In his old age, that is all Saint John preached in Ephesus, week after week.

And if we live by that, then all those Christ wants to feed, all those Christ wants to gather into his family, into the Church, into the Kingdom of God, will be fed and gathered and become one with us at his banquet in the kingdom.

That is why we build churches, that is why as a church we celebrate and have parties, why we celebrate anniversaries, why we are gathered in to share the Word and to share the Sacrament.

And so, in Saint Paul’s words in this morning’s epistle reading:

I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love (Ephesians 3: 16).

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

This sermon was preached at the Choral Eucharist in Saint John’s Church, Monkstown, Co Cork, on Sunday 29 July 2012.


Blessed are you, O Lord,
and blessed are those who observe and keep your law:
Help us to seek you with our whole heart,
to delight in your commandments
and to walk in the glorious liberty
given us by your Son, Jesus Christ.

Post Communion Prayer:

Strengthen for service, Lord,
the hands that holy things have taken;
may the ears which have heard your word
be deaf to clamour and dispute;
may the tongues which have sung your praise
be free from deceit;
may the eyes which have seen the tokens of your love
shine with the light of hope;
and may the bodies which have been fed with your body
be refreshed with the fullness of your life;
glory to you for ever.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Celebrating a church anniversary in Monkstown, Co Cork

The Church of Saint John the Evangelist in Monkstown, Co Cork

Patrick Comerford

I am in Cork this weekend, at the invitation of the Rector of the Carrigaline union of parishes, the Revd Elaine Murray, to preach tomorrow morning [Sunday 29 July 2012] in the Church of Saint John the Evangelist in Monkstown.

The church is celebrating its 180th anniversary this year, and the Festival Eucharist celebrates the building of this church in 1832 on land given by Daniel and Gerard Callaghan of Cork, who were the tenants of Thomas Pakenham (1774-1835), 2nd Earl of Longford, and John Vesey (1771-1855), 2nd Viscount de Vesci.

The two peers, who were the joint landlords of Monkstown Castle and the surrounding estate, also provided the income for the first vicar. The Earl of Longford was a brother-in-law of the Duke of Wellington, and together the Pakenham and Vesey family had inherited their interest in property in the Monkstown area through their shared descent from two heiresses, two granddaughters of Michael Boyle, Archbishop of Armagh.

But the church was built not through the generosity of these two aristocrats, but through the generosity of their tenants, the brothers Daniel Callaghan (1786-1849) and Gerard Callaghan of Cork. The Callaghan family had been the tenants of Monkstown Castle from the 1770s.

Gerard Callaghan was MP for Cork City and County as a Tory from 1826 to 1832. On the other hand, his brother Daniel Callaghan was an MP for Cork City and Cork County from 1830 to 1849, first as a Whig (1830-1849) and then as a member of the Irish Repeal Association, Daniel O’Connell’s effective political machine.

By the time the church was being built, the tenant of Monkstown Castle was Bernard Robert Shaw (1801-1880).

The church was designed by William Hill (1798-1844), a well-known architect whose public buildings in Cork, including the North Infirmary, the Corn Exchange, Saint Michael’s Church, Blackrock, and Kilmaloda House, Timoleague.

The building of Saint John’s was finished in 1832. The church is a cruciform shape, built of limestone in the Early English style with a tower and spire, 70 ft high at the east end. It contains a fine organ in its gallery. The stained glass of the west window includes the coats-of-arms of those who helped to cover the £950 building costs.

The East Window in Saint John’s is by Hardman of Birmingham who worked closely with AWN Pugin

The double lancet East Window, representing the Resurrection and the Ascension, is by Hardman of Birmingham who worked closely with AWN Pugin, dates from 1874 and is in memory of Amos Langton Newman.

Saint John the Evangelist ... a window in Saint John’s Church, Monkstown

Saint John the Evangelist is represented in a window in a one lancet window in the north-west transept in memory of Mary Augusta Brodrick. The window by Heaton, Butler and Bayne of London dates from 1885.

The inscription on the church bell reads:

“Monkstown Protestant Church, erected by voluntary contributions, collected in Ireland and England by Gerard Callaghan, Esq, MP for Cork, and the Rev AGH Hollingsworth. The first Protestant church erected since the Reformation.

“Lord Longford and Lord de Vesci gave the endowment, Gerard Callaghan, Esq, of Monkstown gave the glebe in perpetuity; AGH Hollingsworth, the first Protestant incumbent; William Hill of Cork, architect. The church completed March 1832. Robert Shaw and Wm. Andrews, churchwardens.”

The claim to be “the first Protestant church erected since the Reformation” seems extraordinary.

The first rector of the parish, the Revd Arthur George Harper Hollingsworth, came to Monkstown from Roscrea in 1831. After the church building project was completed he was instituted as Vicar of Monkstown on 13 August 1835. The glebe house or vicarage with its three acres of land was formerly the residence of Michael Westropp and leased forever from his grandson, Bernard Robert Shaw of Monkstown at £25 per annum. The income of the vicar at the time was £50 per annum, secured by Lord Longford and Lord de Vesci.

When his departure from Monkstown was announced in 1838, Hollingsworth was presented with a commemorative plate by his parishioners and, in an almost unprecedented gesture, the Catholic people of Monkstown presented him with a silver box.

Holingsworth moved to Suffolk and was later a published poet (although not a very good one), local historian and travel writer. After visiting Palestine, he called it a country “without a population, without resources, without commerce.”

But the other interesting literary connection is provided by Bernard Robert Shaw (1801-1880), the churchwarden who leased the lands for a glebe house. Shaw, who became a tenant of Monkstown Castle, was a second cousin of George Carr Shaw (1814-1885), father the Dublin-born playwright and Nobel Laureate, George Bernard Shaw.

Preaching in Monkstown, Co Cork

The East Window in Saint John’s Church, Monkstown, Co Cork

‘The Church of Ireland Notes’ in The Irish Times today [Saturday 28 July 2012, p. 2] include the following paragraph:

Tomorrow (Sunday) the Carragaline union of parishes will join in a united Choral Eucharist at 10 am in St John’s church, Monkstown in celebration of the 180th anniversary of the consecration of the church. The preacher will be Canon Patrick Comerford from the Church of Ireland Theological Institute.

Friday, 27 July 2012

A reminder of the values of democracy and fair play

Who allowed these horses’ hooves to trample on the highly-protected rings of the Olympic logo?

Patrick Comerford

The opening of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, the Games of the XXX Olympiad, has been spectacular television viewing this evening. London 2012 lasts until 12 August ... so I may just miss the chaos at Heathrow Airport and the traffic congestion of the next two weeks when I arrive on 13 August.

This evening’s creative, exuberant and imaginative pageant is less about the Olympics and Olympian values than it was about celebrating the best of being British – just as the recent jubilee celebrations in England were more about pride in being English than a resurgence in royalism.

It has been a celebration of diversity in a positive and inclusive way, balancing humour and sensitivity, history and childhood, culture and fun, comedy and music, Shakespeare and the Archers, Handel and Punk, James Bond ad Mr bean, science and art, industry and agriculture, embracing all irrespective of age, gender, ethnicity or ability. There were the armed forces and the CND logo. There was the Archbishop of Canterbury and there were Sikhs in turbans. It was much more than the Anglo-Saxon inheritance abused by the Mitt Romney campaign with racist innuendos earlier this week. And it also makes me wonder how the Cameron Government can now continue to move against the NHS?
But I was baffled to see a photograph on the official website of the Greek newspaper Kαθημερινη earlier this week of members of the Household Cavalry riding down along a reserved Olympic Lane at Parliament Square. This may have been about British pride ... but what had it to do with the Olympics Games?

Drivers are struggling with the 30 miles of Games Lanes reserved exclusively for the 82,000 Olympic athletes, officials, VIPs, sponsors and accredited journalists. The horses of the Household Cavalry were hardly rehearsing for the dressage or show jumping events, nor were those horses among the animals in last night’s opening event.

London 2012 is so tightly controlled it is a wonder that the organisers allowed the horses’ hooves to trample across the highly-protected rings of the Olympic logo. The five-ring Olympic symbol and the words “Olympic”, “Olympics”, and “Olympiad” are not just owned and controlled by the various Olympic committees, but they are protected by a web of laws and regulations that severely restrict the use of the brands in promotion and advertising and restrict who can refer to the brands and under what circumstances.

The 1981 Nairobi Treaty on the Protection of the Olympic Symbol identifies the five-colour Olympic rings as the symbol of the games, and requires nations that sign the treaty to invalidate any attempt to register that symbol and to take steps to enforce against illicit commercial use of the symbol, other than on behalf of the International Olympic Committee.

British legislation means that using certain phrases like “supporting the London Games,” “lighting the flame,” or even just “2012″ in promotions around London could run the risk of liability if they are used in a context that suggests an association or reference to the 2012 Olympics.

While the main goals are to protect the official Olympic brands and to ensure that “ambush marketers” do not undercut valuable sponsorships, the practical outcome can lead to bizarre results – with broadcasters, bloggers and and non-sponsoring advertisers often referring to the Olympics as “the games,” or some other label that often leaves the rest of us wondering at times what they are talking about.

One implication for the increasingly overlapping world of advertising, news and social networking, is for the way the games can be referred to on social networking sites, including blogs and Facebook.

Who is going to differentiate between inadvertent, inappropriate and unavoidable uses of the Olympic words, brands and marks?

Who decides what is fair comment or fair reporting, and what is an infringement?

Olympic Air is an official partner of the Hellenic Olympic Committee

What about a night at the Olympia Theatre in Dame Street in Dublin?

Or watching a movie starring Olympia Dukakis?

Or what about booking a flight with the Greek airline Olympic Air, an official partner of the Hellenic Olympic Committee?

Olympic Air was formed from the privatisation of Olympic Airlines in 2009, and has a story that goes back to Aristotle Onassis and his Olympic Airways. When Onassis was looking for a new logo for Olympic Airways, the International Olympic Committee blocked his proposed design and so a new, six-ring logo was produced in yellow, red, blue and white. The first five rings represented the five continents, and the sixth stood for Greece.

Onassis had to find a new logo after the International Olympic Committee protested about his designs

Onassis chose the Olympic name because of his passion for ancient Greece. Many of his companies carried the Olympic name such as Olympic Maritime, and he followed the same naming pattern for his ships, with names such as Olympic Legacy, Olympic Palm and Olympic Explorer.

In these days when financial priorities are over-riding political considerations, when Angela Merkel those who are clamouring for a “Grexit” forget that European democracy has its roots in classical Greece, it is a pity that many forget that the Olympics too have their roots in classical Greece.

The first Olympic track at Olympia in western Greece

I have run the Olympic tracks at two Olympic stadiums. But before you think I’m boasting or deluded, let me explain that I gently lapped two Olympic tracks – the original track in Olympia, which I visited ten years ago while I was on holiday in Zakynthos in 2002, and the Panathenaic Stadium when I was on one of my many working visits to Athens in 1990s.

In all the fuss over the next few weeks we should not forget that Greece is the home of the Olympics, having invented the games in 776 BC as a sports festival in ancient Olympia, and having hosted the first modern Games in Athens in 1896.

The stadium in Olympia is part of a larger archaeological site. The track is 212.54 metres long and 28.5 metres wide and surrounded by grassy banks on all sides. All the seats were made of mud and the stadium could hold 50,000 spectators.

The Panathenaic Stadium in Athens on a €100 Greek commemorative coin

The Panathinaiko or Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, also known as the Kallimarmaro (Καλλιμάρμαρο, the beautifully marbled), is one of the oldest stadiums in the world, and hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. It was rebuilt from the remains of the classical Greek Panathenaic stadium, and but was used originally not for the Olympic Games but for the athletic events in the Panathenaic Games.

The stadium was remade in marble by Lycurgus in 329 BC and is the only major stadium in the world built entirely of white marble. It was enlarged and renovated by Herod Atticus in 140 AD, and could seat 50,000 spectators. It was refurbished in 1870s, and again in 1895 for the 1896 Olympics.

The stadium is in central Athens, beside the National Gardens and the Zappeion, close to the Temple of Olympian Zeus, and Hadrian’s Gate, and a short walk from Syntagma Square and the Greek Parliament.

The Panathenaic Stadium in Athens was recently selected as the main motif for a high value Greek €100 collectors’ coin.

The home of the Greek Olympic Team in the Olympic Village ... they may feel at home, but are they planning on brining the Parthenon Marbles back to Athens?

The Panathenaic Stadium in Athens was used for some of the events at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, which marked the peak of an era of triumph and affluence in Greece that has vanished in the present economic crisis.

Eight years later, the Greek team that led all the nations into the London Olympic Stadium tonight, is the smallest in 20 years. The team of 103 athletes – 65 men and 38 women – have complained in recent weeks about the poor conditions in which they have trained, and many of them have had to cover their own expenses.

The team’s budget has been cut by over two thirds, and many Greek commentators have asked how prepared the athletes are and whether they can equal the four medals Greece won in Beijing in 2008.

“The crisis hit and the Greek state could not provide assistance. They told us we would get €30 million to help the athletes prepare, but gave us €8 million and then nothing,” says Spyros Capralos, president of the Hellenic Olympic Committee. The Greek Athletics Federation cannot cover its own needs and provided no assistance either. Private sponsors stepped in and partially covered the athletes’ needs.

In the past week, the Greek Olympic squad has lost two of its high-profile athletes. The world indoor high jump champion, Dimitris Chondrokoukis, was dropped yesterday [Thursday] after testing positive for banned anabolic steroid Stanozolol. He was one of Greece’s high hopes for a medal, and this was the second blow in two days for Greece,

The offending and offensive racist tweet

The Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou was expelled from Greek Olympic team on Wednesday for her comments on Twitter mocking African immigrants and expressing support for the far-right party Golden Dawn. The Hellenic Olympic Committee ruled her comments were “statements contrary to the values and ideas of the Olympic movement.”

Her Twitter account contains several retweets and postings of YouTube videos promoting the racist and extremist views of Golden Dawn. Commenting on the widely-reported appearance of Nile-virus-carrying mosquitoes in Athens, she tweeted: “With so many Africans in Greece, the West Nile mosquitoes will be getting home food!!!”

Several of her retweets were original tweets by Ilias Kasidiaris, one of the 18 Golden Dawn deputies in parliament. A few weeks ago, during the election campaign, he struck one left-wing woman deputy in the face and threw water over another during a TV talk show. Papachristou tweeted to Kassidiaris on his name day last week: “Many happy years, be always strong and true!!!”

Her tweets caused public outrage and anger. Democratic Left, one of the three parties in the coalition government, criticised her “racist humour” and called on the Hellenic Olympic Committee to expel her from the Olympics. “Let her make any miserable ‘jokes’ on social media while watching the games on TV. She definitely cannot represent Greece in London.”

Eventually, she posted on her Facebook page: “I would like to express my heartfelt apologies for the unfortunate and tasteless joke I published on my personal Twitter account. I am very sorry and ashamed for the negative responses I triggered, since I never wanted to offend anyone, or to encroach human rights.”

It was a post designed to save her place in the Greek Olympic squad. Her expulsion is a reminder not only of the Greek origins of the Olympics and the danger posed to sport by racism but also of the need to defend Greece’s democracy and Greece’s place in modern Europe. As I watched the Greek athletes appropriately leading all the national teams into the stadium tonight, I hoped these ideas were not lost on the nations that followed them into the stadium in alphabetical order.

Speaking to the Athens News last week, the Greek Olympic mission chief, Isidoros Kouvelos, spoke of the importance of the Games for Greek society. “The Greeks are also fighting their own battle. The athletes will try to outdo themselves, because these people, this country, needs to have a success and needs hope,” he said. “Sport can give people hope.”

In Dublin on a sunny Summer evening

Evening lights along the River Liffey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

The Irish actor Noel Purcell made Dublin Saunter his own song:

I’ve been North and I’ve been South
I’ve been East and West
I’ve been just a rolling stone
Yet there’s one place on this earth
I've always liked the best
Just a little town I call my own

For Dublin can be heaven
With coffee at eleven
And a stroll in Stephen’s Green.
There’s no need to hurry,
There’s no need to worry,
You’re a king and the lady’s a queen.

Grafton Street’s a wonderland,
There’s magic in the air,
There’s diamonds in the lady’s eyes,
And gold-dust in her hair.

And if you don’t believe me
Come and meet me there,
In Dublin on a sunny Summer morning.

The setting sun casts an evening glow along the River Liffey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Yesterday turned out to be a summer day in Dublin, and the summer feeling lasted well past 11 last night.

Instead of strolling in Saint Stephen’s Green, we strolled from Dame Street through Temple Bar in the warmth of the evening sun.

The sun brings out the best in people in Dublin, and the city centre was packed with both office workers who had stayed on to enjoy the evening and tourists enjoying the buskers, the music, the cobble streets, the mime artists and the open air cafés.

Flags and flowers in Temple Bar in the evening sunshine in Temple Bar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Tables were out on the streets, as if we never had a rainy day this July and were never going to have another one this month or next. The hanging baskets and flags bedecking the facades of the pubs and restaurants added to the colour and the decoration.

Standing on the Millennium Bridge between Temple Bar and the Italian Quarter, the sun was setting behind the Four Courts to the west, casting a shimmering light on the river as it flowed under the Ha’penny Bridge, O’Connell Bridge and past Liberty Hall and the Custom House out to Dublin Bay to the east.

Three of us had dinner in the Taverna on the corner of Ormond Quay and Bloom Lane in the Italian Quarter, and shared a bottle of wine from Mick Wallace’s own vineyard in Piemonte. The conversation solved the political and economic problems of Ireland and the world, and we recalled family memories from Achill Island to Cambridge, from Greece to East Asia and Africa, and debated the competing claims for living in Manhattan or Bloomsbury.

The Ha’penny Bridge last night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

We adjourned further along Bloom Lane to Enoteca Delle Langhe, another Wallace house, for another glass of wine, before strolling back over the Ha’penny Bridge and through Temple Bar again.

It was after 11 when we stood in the yellow lights of College Green waiting for the 49 bus home.

The former Parliament buildings in the evening lights of College Green (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

CITI seminar attracts leading theologians

The current edition of the Church of Ireland Gazette [Friday 27 July 2012] carries the following half-page report and photograph on page 5:

Pictured at the theological seminar in CITI are (left to right): the Revd Dr Richard Clutterbuck, Edgehill Theological College; the Revd Dr Heather Morris, Edgehill Theological College; Dr Katie Heffelfinger, CITI; the Revd Patrick McGlinchey, CITI; the Revd Dr Michael Thompson; Prof Sean Freyne; the Revd Prof Robert Moberly; Prof Judith Lieu; the Revd Dr Maurice Elliott, CITI; and Canon Patrick Comerford, CITI.

CITI seminar attracts leading theologians

Leading Irish and British theologians from Dublin, Belfast, Cambridge and Durham – from the Anglican, Methodist and Roman Catholic traditions – were among the speakers at a recent seminar in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute (CITI), Dublin.

The seminar has become an annual occasion at CITI, and this year, for the first time, staff and students from Edgehill Theological College, Belfast, joined the two-day event, which included lectures and discussion groups on the theme of “Biblical History and the Life of Faith.”

The guest lecturers included Prof Sean Freyne, Emeritus Professor of Theology, Trinity College Dublin; the Revd Dr Michael Thompson, Vice Principal and Lecturer in New Testament Studies, Ridley Hall, Cambridge; Dr Judith Lieu, Lady Margaret’s Professor of Divinity, University of Cambridge; and the Revd Professor Robert Moberly, Department of Theology and Religion, Durham University.

The seminar focussed on drawing insights from systematic theology and pastoral ministry into relationship with biblical history and the life of faith. Breakout sessions were led by staff members from CITI and Edgehill College.

Dr Thompson presided and Dr Moberly preached at the closing Eucharist, which incorporated prayers written by the breakout groups.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Evening reflections in glimmering wet sands of Loughshinny

The houses along the beach in Loughshinny were reflected in the glimmering wet sands these evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

Loughshinny is one of the better kept secrets of Fingal.

Approaching it from the Skerries-Rush road and the junction at the long-closed Yacht pub, you might think initially that this is yet another, unremarkable example of suburban ribbon development in north Co Dublin.

But at the end of the long straight road, there is a surprise waiting for you.

With its hidden harbour and thatched cottages this could be a village on Achill Island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

With its hidden harbour, its hidden beach, its hidden cliffs, its narrow twisting streets and its white-washed thatched cottages, this could be another village on Achill Island.

Although it was late evening and still raining lightly, it was impossible not to get out and walk on the soft sandy beach of the little bay.

The tide was out, and a few adults and a small child were playing on the shoreline as the adults took it in turns to go out on a jet ski.

The cliffs on the south side of the bay reflected in the sands of the beach at Loughshinny (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

To the south of the bay, the angular folds of the layered limestone and shale cliffs, rising to a height of 20 metres, were jutting out into the Irish Sea. Above the cliffs on the headland of Drumanagh are the remains, of the largest promontory fort in Ireland. Some say the headland was a Roman outpost but local tradition says this was the childhood home of Emer, whose courtship with Cuchulainn is told in The Tain, and this is where Cuchulainn jumped over the ramparts with the aid of his javelin. The Martello Tower on the headland dates from 1803 and the Napoleonic wars.

On the north side of the bay, a few fishing boats were tied up against the small pier. Turning around on the shoreline, the houses behind the beach were reflected in glimmering wet sands. If Loughshinny was a coastal village in Greece or France, these houses would be tavernas, cafés and restaurants, and a perfect location for a rendezvous on a summer evening.

A stroll along the pier at the harbour in Skerries this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

We had come to Loughshinny because earlier this summer evening it began raining when we arrived in Skerries. We had thought of a walk on the beach, but we only managed to walk from the car park on Red Island to “Storm in a Teacup” where we sheltered in the imitation beach huts as we each had an espresso swirl – ice creams with espresso thrown over and decked with cinnamon and crushed chocolate – before taking a stroll in the raindrops along the pier.

They’re getting ready for the August Bank Holiday sale in Portrane (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

An hour before, I was sipping a chilled white wine in the garden of the Lynders house at The Quay in Portrane in 25C sunshine, looking out at the beach.

The big red-and-white marquee is already up, and a team of volunteers are sorting out the stalls and the items for the big sale of work in aid of Hand-to-Heart on the August bank holiday weekend.

This is a major fundraising effort to support projects in Romania and Albania. And I’ve been called in again to help with the bookstall in the marquee. Even if the summer sun fails to shine in abundance, it’s worth coming along.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Over-generous and abundant outpouring of bounteous love

The Chapter House at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

The sunshine returned today, even if it came back without summer temperatures. There is a clear blue sky over South Dublin this evening, and it was a beautiful morning in Christ Church Cathedral, with both a baptism and a special setting for the Cathedral Eucharist.

The cathedral choir is on holiday, but it was so appropriate that we had four voices, brought together as the Dublinia Consort, to sing William Byrd’s Mass for Four Voices.

The complete Mass, written by William Byrd (1540-1623) around 1592, is partly modelled on John Taverner’s Mean Mass, a highly regarded early Tudor setting. It has five movements, and this morning we heard four: the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus and Benedictus and Agnus Dei.

It is one of the three masses written by Byrd – the other two are for three and five voices. Although composed by Byrd for Roman Catholic liturgical use, this Mass was also performed in Queen Elizabeth I’s private chapel.

The hymns this morning were John Wesley’s ‘Christ, whose glory fills the skies’ (Processional); Timothy Dudley-Smith’s ‘When Jesus taught by Galilee’ (Baptism Hymn); John Henry Newman’s ‘Firmly I believe and truly,’ sung to the tune ‘Shipston’ by Ralph Vaughan Williams (Offertory); James Edmeston’s ‘Lead us heavenly Father, lead us’ (Communion Hymn); and George Herbert’s ‘Let all the world, in every corner sing (Post-Communion Hymn).

Carol Casey, a diocesan lay minister, preached, the Revd Garth Bunting was the celebrant, and I acted as deacon, reading the Gospel and assisting at the baptism of Kate (Katherine Anne Berman) Carswell.

To hear Byrd and Vaughan Williams and to sing one of George Herbert’s poems was heavenly this morning. But to take part in the baptism of a small child is more encouraging and delightful than the return of any summer sunshine ... it is a reminder of God’s over-generous and abundant outpouring of bounteous love, available to all and for all without discrimination.

I spent the afternoon in the back garden reading in the sunshine and listening to the gentle, soothing sound of water spouting from a Lion’s Head Fountain, given lovingly as a present five years ago when I was made a canon of the cathedral ... a reminder of happy summer days in Crete, and another reminder of the over-generous and abundant outpouring of God’s bounteous love.

A reminder of happy summer days in Crete ... and a reminder of the over-generous and abundant outpouring of God’s bounteous love (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Saturday, 21 July 2012

The soothing sound of the rolling tide against the pebbles on the shore

Scales on La Scala ... the steps at the north end of the beach in Greystones, Co Wicklow, this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

School’s out, the Tour de France has reached its final stages, it’s time for Test Cricket and Pimms ... but it just does not feel like high summer.

Why, the temperature never even reached 20 this afternoon.

Hay fever tells me this is summer; the grey skies and low temperatures make me wonder. But none of that was going to stop me going to the beach for a walk along the shore.

On the way out to Greystones, the Wicklow Mountains stood out in sharp relief, as though a child had drawn a line round them in pencil or cut them out with a scissors.

In Greystones, we stopped for late lunch and coffee at Insomnia, and sat outside, enjoying life ambling by.

Just a few people braved the waters and the weather in Greystones this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Down on the beach, a handful of Spanish students were enjoying the afternoon – they must think the rain in Ireland is just plain awful. A happy dog, a small child, and three brave adults tried swimming, but no-one, apart from the dog, seemed to stay in the water for very long.

There was no blue in the sky, no blue in the water, and the only colour seemed to be in the wall paintings, and the green scale on the steps on the north end of the beach.

Gone fishing ... the only blue this afternoon seemed to be in the wall paintings (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2012)

But it was soothing to watch the waves crush softly against the pebbles and to listen to the gentle rolling sound of the water.

The walk was soothing too for the cough that my sarcoidosis has been inflicting on my chest for the last week or two.

Hopefully the promise of warmer sunshine next week comes true.

A promise of summer? Flowers in Greystones this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Sunday, 15 July 2012

An invitation to the banquet ... but which banquet?

‘They came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb’ (Mark 6: 29) … Father Irenaeus, a monk in the Monastery of Abu Maqqar (Saint Makarios) in Wadi al-Natroun, Egypt, shows the crypt of Saint John the Baptist below the northern wall of the church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 15 June 2012,

The Sixth Sunday after Trinity

Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Dublin

11 a.m.: Solemn Eucharist,

Sung by the Saint Bartholomew’s Consort

Victoria, Missa Ascendens Christus in altum
Tye, Omnes Gentes

II Samuel 6: 1-5, 12b-19 or Amos 7: 7-15; Psalm 24 or Psalm 85: 8-13; Ephesians 1: 3-14; Mark 6: 14-29.

Hymns: 205, 337, 378, 277, 206.

Proper 10 – Year B.

May I speak to you in the name of + the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Did you ever get mistaken for someone else?

Or, do you ever wonder whether the people you work with, or who are your neighbours, really know who you are?

I am thinking of two examples. Anthony Hope Hawkins, son of the Vicar of Saint Bride’s in Fleet Street, was walking home to his father’s vicarage in London one dusky evening when he came face to face with a man who looked like his mirror image.

He wondered what would happen if they swapped places, if this double went back to Saint Bride’s vicarage, while he headed off instead to the suburbs.

Would anyone notice?

It inspired him, under the penname of Anthony Hope, to write his best-selling novel, The Prisoner of Zenda.

The other example I think of is the way I so often hear people expressing a lack of personal confidence, but who are being complimented on some success or achievement, yet put themselves down with sayings such as: “If they only knew what I’m really like … if they only knew what I’m truly like …”

What are you truly like?

And would you honestly want to swap your life for someone else’s?

Would you take on all their woes, and angsts and burdens, along with their way of life?

It is a recurring theme for poets, writers and philosophers over the centuries, including John Donne, Izaak Walton, Shelley, Goethe and Dostoyevsky.

More recently, it was the dramatic theme in John Boorman’s movie The Tiger’s Tail (2006), in which Brendan Gleeson plays both the main character and his protagonist – is he his doppelgänger, a forerunner warning of doom, destruction and death? Or is he the lost twin brother who envies his achievements and lifestyle?

The doppelgänger was regarded as a harbinger of doom and death.

There is a way in which Saint John the Baptist, Saint John Prodromos or Saint John the Forerunner, is seen as the harbinger of the death of his own cousin, Christ.

As well as attracting similar followers and having similar messages, did these two cousins, in fact, look so like one another physically?

But Herod had known John the Baptist, he knew him as a righteous and a holy man, and he protected him. Why, he even liked to listen to John.

Do you think Herod was confused about the identities of Christ and of John the Baptist?

Or is Herod so truly deranged that he can believe someone he has executed, whose severed head he has seen, could come back to life in such a short period?

If Herod is that unstable and that mad, he is surely unsuitable for sitting on the throne.

Or is Herod’s reaction merely one of exasperation and exhaustion: “Oh no! Not that John, back again!”

If Herod is deranged or exasperated, then his courtiers are confused.

Some of them say Christ is Elijah – not just any old prophet, but the prophet that popular belief held would return at the great Passover, at the end of the days (see Malachi 4: 5).

Others say he is “a prophet, like one of the prophets of old” – the old order is passing away, a new order is being ushered in as part of God’s great plans for humanity and the whole of creation.

Even before John was making way for Christ, God himself has planned for Christ’s followers to become members of his family, to be adopted as his children.

“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” ... an icon of the Baptism of Christ at the Tomb of Saint John the Baptist in the Monastery of Abu Maqqar (Saint Makarios) in Wadi Al-Natroun in Egypt (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

As Saint Paul tells us this morning, the fulfilment of this is God’s will and God’s “pleasure” (verse 5) – words similar to that heard after John baptises Christ in the Jordan – when a voice from heaven says: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1: 11).

This plan, which will come to fruition when God’s eternal purposes are completed, is to unite all creation, all “heaven” and “earth,” in Christ.

In this way, we too are forerunners; we who know the wonder of God’s promises are the forerunners of those who will benefit from and be blessed by the completion of God’s eternal purposes, uniting all creation, all “heaven” and “earth.”

To be a disciple is to follow a risky calling – or at least it ought to be so.

In the previous passage, Christ has sent out the disciples to preach repentance, to cast out demons, to cure sick people. But they are beginning to realise that the authorities are rejecting Christ.

Now with Herod’s maniacal and capricious way of making decisions, discipleship has become an even more risk-filled commitment.

But Herod’s horrid banquet runs right into the next story in Saint Mark’s Gospel where Christ feeds the 5,000, a sacramental sign of the invitation to all to the heavenly banquet – more than we can imagine can be fed in any human undertaking.

The invitation to Herod’s banquet, for the privileged and the prejudiced, is laden with the smell of death.

The invitation to Christ’s banquet, for the marginalised and the rejected, is laden with the promise of life.

Herod feeds the prejudices of his own family and a closed group of courtiers.

Christ shows that, despite the initial prejudices of the disciples, all are welcome at his banquet.

Herod is in a lavish palace in his city, but is isolated and deserted.

Christ withdraws to an open but deserted place to be alone, but a great crowd follows him.

Herod fears the crowd beyond his palace gates.

Christ rebukes the disciples for wanting to keep the crowds away.

Herod offers his daughter half his kingdom.

Christ offers us all, as God’s children, the fullness of the kingdom of God.

Herod’s daughter asks for John’s head on a platter.

On the mountainside, Christ feeds all, and although at the beginning all we can offer is five loaves and two fish, more than 5,000 are fed – and even then, 12 baskets are left over.

Saint Mark places these two stories, one after the other, so we can see the stark contrasts between two very different banquets.

During these tough times, people ought not to be ashamed if they and their families need food and shelter. Everybody has the right to food and housing.

Our lives are filled with choices.

Herod chooses loyalty to his inner circle and their greed.

Christ tells his disciples to make a choice in favour of those who need food and shelter.

Herod’s banquet leads to destruction and death.

Christ’s banquet is an invitation to building the kingdom and to new life.

But how many of us in our lives would rather be at Herod’s Banquet for the few in the palace that to be with Christ as he feeds the masses in the wilderness?

Who would you invite to the banquet?

And who do you think feels excluded from the banquet?

We may never get the chance to be like Herod when it comes to lavish banqueting and decadent partying.

But we have an opportunity to be party to inviting the many to the banquet that really matters.

Do you remember how as dusk was falling in the wilderness and the disciples saw the crowd were hungry? And they said to Jesus: “the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat” (Mark 6: 35-36).

Are we in danger of confusing Herod, the harbinger of doom and death, with Christ, who comes that we may have life and have it to the full?

Who feels turned away from the banquet by the Church today, abandoned and left to fend for themselves?

May all we think, say and do be to the praise honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.


Merciful God,
you have prepared for those who love you
such good things as pass our understanding:
Pour into our hearts such love toward you
that we, loving you above all things,
may obtain your promises,
which exceed all that we can desire;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

God of our pilgrimage,
you have led us to the living water.
Refresh and sustain us
as we go forward on our journey,
in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This sermon was preached at the Solemn Eucharist in Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Dublin, on Sunday 15 July 2012.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Go raibh míle maith agat to half a million readers

Over half a million readers ... but who and where? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

I have never been very fluent in the Irish language. But there are two sayings in Irish that show the profuse and generous spirit that is inbuilt into the language.

One is the traditional way of saying thank you: Go raibh míle maith agat. It translates not simply as Thank you, but “May you have a thousand good things.”

Another is the phrase for welcoming someone, whether stranger or friend: “Céad míle fáilte.” It means not just welcome, but “One hundred thousand welcomes.”

This blog has passed a milestone late this evening [14 July 2012], with over half a million visitors. A half million welcomes to each and every one of you, and five hundred thousand thank yous to each of you for visiting this blog, using its resources and making yourself at home.

I have been on blogger since 10 November 2007. But there were only 13 postings that year. By 2008, it was 183, 272 in 2009, 322 in 2010, and 449 in 2011.

Some of my postings have been reposted on other blogs and sites in Skerries, Lichfield and Greece, I have been invited to guest write for other blogs, and I have found myself part of new communities finding new ways of communicating.

Initially I resisted having a counter. I wanted to make my sermons, lecture notes and notes for Bible studies and tutorial groups accessible to students, and to give a wider circulation to the monthly columns I write in the Church Review (Dublin and Glendalough) and the Diocesan Magazine (Cashel and Ossory). But I also wanted to give a longer shelf life to occasional papers in journals such as the Journal of the Wexford Historical Society, Search, Koinonia and the Cambridge Review of International Affairs and occasional features in publications and newspapers, including The Irish Times, the Church of Ireland Gazette, Skerries News and the Athens News.

Eventually, as sarcoidosis began to take a cruel grip on my lungs and my breathing, I started to write too about my health and my beach walks, including beach walks in Skerries, country walks, my thoughts on architecture, especially the work of Pugin, return visits to Wexford, and also found myself writing about travel in Ireland and England, and to a variety of countries, especially Greece and Turkey. There were accounts too of my frequent return visits to Lichfield and my regular participation in summer schools with the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge.

I have never been terribly concerned about how many people have read any of these postings. If one student missed a lecture and found it here, or one person did not understand what I was trying to say in a sermon and came back here to read it, then it was worth posting it here.

I still resisted having a counter because I want to write to a very different set of priorities than popularity. This is a different style of writing and if I wanted to write for a mass circulation tabloid newspaper then circulation figures might have been interesting. But I feared a counter might change my style of writing. Now that I have got over that, I am very humbled that over half a million people would even consider what I am writing. That is more feedback than I ever got for a newspaper feature or a chapter in a book.

Half a million. But where are you from? And what do you read?

The statistics provided by Blogger show that the top readership figures are in the United States, followed by the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Russia, Greece, Australia, Canada, India and the Philippines.

Many of you find this blog through Facebook, and in recent weeks a large number of you were referred through the Athens News website.

And what are you reading?

The most popular reading has been three postings on the Transfiguration, which between them have attracted almost 20,000 visitors:

The Transfiguration: finding meaning in icons and Orthodox spirituality (7 April 2010) with almost 14,500 visitors;

Looking at the Transfiguration through icons (23 February 2011) with over 4,000 visitors; and

The Transfiguration: finding meaning in icons (9 April 2011), with almost 1,200 visitors.

The next single most-read posting is one on the thoughts of Julian of Norwich:

All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well (5 September 2008), with over 6,100 visitors.

About 8,000 people have visited two postings on the Raising of Lazarus:

The grave of Lazarus (3 April 2010), almost 5,200 visitors.

The Raising of Lazarus, John 11: 1-45 (30 March 2011), almost 2,800 visitors.

These were Easter themes one year after another, so I was not surprised that almost 1,200 people also visited Waiting at the tomb on Holy Saturday (1) (23 April 2011).

Liturgy, Icons, Orthodox spirituality and Celtic spirituality also proved interesting for thousands of readers.

One lecture alone, Liturgy 6: Baptism and Eucharist (1) from the early church to the Reformers (4 November 2010), has had almost 2,500 visitors.

The most popular lecture on Icons, The Cretan School of Icons and its contribution to Western art (27 June 2009) has had almost 3,000 visitors so far, An introduction to Orthodoxy  (25 November 2009) has had over 2,000 visitors, and a similar lecture, Orthodox Spirituality: an introduction, (15 March 2010) has had 1,200 visitors.

Two versions of a lecture on Celtic Spirituality have had about 2,000 visitors: Introducing Celtic Spirituality (7 February 2010), almost 1,600 visitors; and Introducing Celtic Spirituality (21 November 2011), with over 400 visitors.

This blog also seems to be providing you with resources for the seasons of the Church Calendar. I was overwhelmed with the number of readers for my postings on poetry last Advent, Lent and Easter. Indeed, anything I post on TS Eliot attracts a large number of readers. Spirituality for Advent: waiting for Christ in all his majesty (29 November 2010), has already had almost 1,400 visitors, and Who is Jesus? A Lenten Talk (23 March 2011), a Lenten talk in Skerries last year, has had over 1,000 visitors.

I am never quite sure of my writing abilities. Perhaps I should take heart from the number of people who have read Developing writing skills (18 September 2010), which has attracted over 2,200 visitors.

I shall keep writing. But please keep on providing feedback and criticism, both negative and positive.

And each time you visit this blog I hope you find “céad míle fáilte, one hundred thousand welcomes.”

Go raibh míle maith agat, may you have a thousand good things.