Sunday, 8 January 2012

Dunboyne Castle: a story that goes back 1,000 years

Dunboyne Castle, Co Meath ... stands on the site of an Anglo-Norman motte (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

When does Christmas end? When we celebrate Epiphany? When we celebrate Candlemas?

During the weekend, I visited some family friends in Dunshaughlin for dinner, and they kept their Christmas decorations up – including their Christmas Tree – for my visit. Now that was truly keeping the Christmas spirit alive.

On the way to Dunshaughlin, I stopped to see Dunboyne – both the village and Dunboyne Castle – for what may have been my fist visit there. Driving through flat, open, green Meath pastures, it is difficult to believe that this is only 19 km from the centre of Dublin City.

Dunboyne Castle, which still had its Christmas wreath on the main door, is a fine Georgian house, built as the seat of the branch of the Butler family that held the title of Lord Dunboyne. Generations of Dunboyne people worked at the castle which, at one time, was teeming with butlers, housemaids, gardeners, servants and coachmen – it was said it took 40 men a day to mow the lawns of its grounds.

Dunboyne Castle Hotel and Spa is a 145-room hotel and it is a romantic venue in a peaceful setting, with 21 acres of woodland and gardens, approached along a tree-lined avenue. But the imposing, three-storey, seven-bay house, dating from the mid-18th century, stands on the site of an earlier Anglo-Norman motte, that in turn may have been built on the site of an earlier, pre-Norman dún or fort.

The Christmas wreath was still on the front door of Dunboyne Castle, Co Meath, yesterday afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

The first Anglo-Norman family here was the le Petit family, whose members were Barons of Dunboyne by tenure. In the early 14th century, the le Petit heiress married Sir Thomas Butler, a younger brother of the 1st Earl of Ormond, and he was summoned to the Irish Parliament in 1324 as Baron of Dunboyne.

A new Barony of Dunboyne was created for this family in 1541, when the 11th feudal Baron Dunboyne, Edmund Butler, a grandson of the eighth Earl of Ormond, was made a peer by letters patent.

The present house dates from two different periods, the front being a later addition, added in 1768 James Butler, de jure 19th (9th) Lord Dunboyme, or his brother, Pierce Butler, de jure 20th (10th) Lord Dunboyne, and inspired perhaps by Charlemont House in Dublin, designed by Chambers.

The house has many interesting features from the late 18th century, including the stucco-plaster ceiling in the ballroom, which the nuns turned into their chapel. The master bedroom, which has been compared to the one in Woburn Abbey, home of the Dukes of Bedford, also has an ornate stucco ceiling, and there is fine plasterwork over the stairs. It has been suggested that the stuccowork in Dunboyne Castle is the work of the Francini brothers and or Robert West.

A relic from the past ... in the grounds of Dunboyne Castle, Co Meath, yesterday (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

The last of the Butlers to live at Dunboyne Castle was John Butler, Roman Catholic Bishop of Cork from 1763 to 1786 and de jure 22nd Lord Dunboyne. After succeeding to the Dunboyne title when his nephew died in 1785, he sought a dispensation from the Pope to resign and marry so that he could father an heir to his peerage. However, the Pope refused and Lord Dunboyne then caused a sensation when he conformed to the Church of Ireland in 1786 and year later married Maria Butler in 1787.

The former bishop moved into Dunboyne Castle in closing years of his life and it was here that his son and heir was born, although he did not survive. Before Lord Dunboyne’s death in 1800, Dunboyne Castle was leased to James Hamilton of Holmpatrick Parish, Skerries, who fathered 36 children.

After Lord Dunboyne’s death, a legal dispute over his property ensued. His estates were divided between the trustees of Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, and his family, and the house passed to Mary O’Brien Butler, wife of Nicholas Sadleir. The legacy is remembered in the name of Dunboyne House in Maynooth. However, Dunboyne Castle fell into disrepair although extensive repairs and renovations were carried out in the 1830s. The Sadleir family sold the castle and 121 acres of land to George Beamish for £7,250 in 1870.

Later in the 19th century, the castle passed to the Mangan family and in the 1890s and 1900s was the home of Simon Mangan. The Mangan family, in turn, leased the castle to the Koenig family, German Roman Catholics with large wine and hotel interests. It was later leased to the Morrogh-Ryan family. During the 1916 Rising, Lord Fingal, who had been at the Fairyhouse races that weekend, stayed at Dunboyne Castle, rather than risk returning to his house in Dublin.

John Morrogh-Ryan was a famous polo player and he and his wife lived in the castle until after World War II. While the Morrogh-Ryan family was living at Dunboyne Castle, their guests included the late Lord Mountbatten.

The entrance to a secret garden ... in the grounds of Dunboyne Castle, Co Meath, yesterday afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

After World War II, the castle and lands were bought by a Mr Garvey, who sold them to the Watchman family. Dunboyne Castle was bought by the health board in 1950 and became the Convent of the Good Shepherd, where the Sisters of the Good Shepherd established a home for pregnant unmarried girls.

By the time the convent closed in the 1991, the building was suffering severe damage, and some of the building had to be dismantled. In 2006, the convent was sold and converted into the Dunboyne Castle Hotel and Spa.

Meanwhile, the Dunboyne line of the Butler family continues, despite the worst fears of the bishop-baron that his family was in danger of dying out. Patrick Theobald Tower Butler, the 28th (18th) Baron Dunboyne, who lived in London, was an assiduous and determined genealogist on behalf every branch of the Butler family. He died in 2004 and was succeeded by his son.

Another descendant of this branch of the family was the writer, campaigner and historian, the late Hubert Butler of Maiden Hall, Bennetsbridge, Co Kilkenny, his niece, the late Melosina Lennox-Conyngham, who was renowned writer and local historian, and the genealogist and local historian Turtle Bunbury.

A decade in which anarchy was loosed upon the world, a terrible beauty was born

Looking down the Liffey towards Liberty Hall … would the key players in the events 100 years ago recognise the Ireland of today? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

As we begin a new year, and look forward to the next 12 months, we should also be aware that we are facing into a decade of anniversaries, when we will be faced with the commemorations of events a centenary ago, recalling the tumultuous events between 1912 and 1922 that shaped not only Irish identity but also shaped the map of Europe.

It is the decade that was marked by the demise of Chinese imperial dynasties, World War I, the Armenian Genocide, the Gallipoli landings, the Battle of the Somme, the Russian Revolution, the Balfour Declaration, the defeat of Germany, the fall of the Hapsburgs, the creation of the Weimar Republic and the Soviet Union, the first non-stop transatlantic flight, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the winning of women’s voting rights, and the rise of Communism and Fascism.

But it was the decade too that brought us the modern zipper, stainless steel, and the pop-up toaster. It was a decade that saw the publication of Einstein’s theory of relativity, the first US feature film, the debut of Charlie Chaplin, the publication of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, DH Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers and Women in Love and TS Eliot’s The Waste Land.

For Irish people, this was the decade that saw the death of Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, who was born into a Dublin Church of Ireland family. It was a decade that saw the publication of James Joyce’s Dubliners, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Ulysses, and of Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. And it was a decade too that was marked by the sinking of the Titanic and the Lusitania.

‘The centre cannot hold’

The Rotunda in Dublin … a venue for many of the political meetings and heated debates on all sides in the decade between 1912 and 1922 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The world was so changed and transformed WB Yeats could open his poem The Second Coming with these lines about Europe in the aftermath of World War I:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.


Dublin Castle … the seat of Government until 1922 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Towards the end of that decade, the Church of Ireland was living with the consequences of a half century of disestablishment. But the Church was more concerned with social political upheaval on this island, and the way we were tearing ourselves apart as a people. Irish identity was changed violently over that ten-year period, so that the lines by Yeats about the leaders of the Easter Rising in 1916 could be applied to the whole island and the whole population:

All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.


Charles Stewart Parnell, founder of the Irish Parliamentary Party, influenced a later generation of nationalists (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

It was a decade that saw the reconstruction of Irish identity through the creation of myths that by-passed the facts, even as the main actors in those myths were still alive.

Language and identity

The Abbey Theatre contributed to the cultural expressions of Irish nationalism (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

It is forgotten that modern Irish nationalism had its incubation and gestation in the revival of the Irish language – a revival in which the main players included Dr Douglas Hyde, the son of a Church of Ireland rector, and Dr Eleanor Hull in hymns such as Be thou my vision (643).

Sean O’Casey, the playwright of the left, was born into the Church of Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford

The artistic expressions of the new nationalism were found in the Abbey Theatre, founded by Lady Gregory, WB Yeats and George Russell (AE), the poetry of Yeats and the plays of Sean O’Casey – all members of the Church of Ireland.

Since 1916, the leaders of the Easter Rising in Dublin have been transformed into either working class heroes or the personifications of what it is to be Green, Gaelic, Catholic and Irish. But the myths that have been created by those who have a blinkered vision of what it is to be Irish betray the truths of history.

The Garden of Remembrance treats the 1916 leaders as martyrs … but their backgrounds were diverse (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Who remembers today that Pádraig Pearse was born Patrick Henry Pearse, the son of a Birmingham Unitarian who had come to Dublin from England as part of the Victorian arts-and-crafts movement? There are other myths surrounding Pearse, including one that he was “President of the Provisional Government,” a post that may have been held instead by Thomas Clarke. There is no manuscript version of the 1916 Proclamation, but on all printed versions, the leaders’ names are not printed in alphabetical order, so that Pearse’s name is listed fourth, after Thomas Clarke, Sean Mac Diarmada and Thomas MacDonagh.

Ironically, Clarke was not born in Ireland but in an army barracks on the Isle of Wight in England, where his father was a soldier in the British army. Thomas MacDonagh had a middle class education in Rockwell College, Co Tipperary, and was a lecturer in English in UCD. In 1912, he married Muriel Gifford, a member of a well-known Church of Ireland family in Dublin. Éamonn Ceannt, an accountant, was born Edward Thomas Kent, the son of an officer in the Royal Irish Constabulary.

James Connolly was born in Scotland and married a member of the Church of Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

James Connolly was born in Edinburgh, and spoke with a Scottish accent all his life. After joining the British Army at the age of 14, he spent seven years with the army in Ireland. In 1890, he married Lillie Reynolds, a member of the Church of Ireland, who was born in Co Wicklow.

Joseph Mary Plunkett was the son of Count George Noble Plunkett, and his distant cousin, Sir Horace Curzon Plunkett, was a prominent lay member of the Church of Ireland and a Home Rule MP. The poet was born into a privileged family in Fitzwilliam Square, then an affluent suburb of Dublin, and was educated by the Jesuits at Belvedere and Stonyhurst, a public school in Lancashire. Hours before his execution, he married Grace Gifford, who, like her sister Muriel MacDonagh, had been born into a prosperous Dublin Church of Ireland family.

In other words, two of the seven signatories were not born in Ireland, one was the son of an Englishman, one had served in the British army, one was the son of an RIC officer, one was born in a British army barracks, one was a titled aristocrat, and at least three married women who were born into the Church of Ireland.

The General Post Office in Dublin … but the Easter Rising is not the only important anniversary to remember (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

These backgrounds were similar to those of many prominent figures on the Republican side in 1916. For example, Liam Mellows, later executed in 1922 at the height of the Civil War, was born William Joseph Mellows in an army barracks in Manchester, and his father was born in a British army barracks in India.

It should be remembered too in the coming years that while the 1916 Rising was being planned, Arthur Griffith’s Sinn Féin still favoured establishing a form of dual monarchy linking Ireland and Britain, similar to the dual monarchy in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and that Sinn Féin did not take part in the 1916 Rising.

Voices for the oppressed

Dr Kathleen Lynn took command of the rebel position in City Hall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Many of the women who took prominent roles in the Rising were members of the Church of Ireland: Countess Markievicz, the suffragette and a leader of the Irish Citizens’ Army, was born Constance Georgine Gore-Booth in Buckingham Gate, London, the daughter of Sir Henry Gore-Booth of Lissadell House, Co Sligo. She and her younger sister, Eva Gore-Booth, were childhood friends of Yeats, who frequently visited their home and described them in one poem as “two girls in silk kimonos, both beautiful, one a gazelle.”

Dr Kathleen Lynn, a founding member of the Irish Citizen’s Army too, took command of the rebel garrison in City Hall in Easter Week 1916. She remained a pious member of the Church of Ireland until her death in 1955.

Jim Larkin … “The great appear great because we are on our knees: Let us rise.” (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Alongside James Connolly, Jim Larkin Countess Markievicz and Kathleen Lynn, the founding members of the Irish Citizens’ Army in 1913, included Captain Jack White, a Presbyterian from Broughshane, Co Antrim, and the son of Sir George Stuart White.

Indeed, the first informal meeting to form the Irish Citizens’ Army was held in Trinity College Dublin in the rooms of the Revd Robert Malcolm Gwynn. He was a communicant at Saint Bartholomew’s until his death in 1962, and is buried in Whitechurch Churchyard in Co Dublin. One of his brothers, Brian Gwynn, was the father-in-law of the late Archbishop George Simms. Through their mother, the Gwynns were grandsons of William Smith O’Brien, the exiled 1848 revolutionary whose statue in O’Connell Street is close to the GPO and the statue of Jim Larkin.

Much of O’Connell Street, Dublin, was destroyed during the 1916 Rising (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In a letter of protest during the Dublin lockout, George Russell (AE) accused the employers of “refusing to consider any solution except that fixed by their pride” and he accused them of seeking “in cold anger to starve one-third of this city, to break the manhood of the men by the sight of the suffering of their wives and the hunger of their children.”

A year after the Dublin lockout, members of the Church of Ireland were among the most prominent organisers of the Howth gun-running. Erskine Childers, a cousin of the Bartons of Glendalough House, sailed into Howth on the Asgard and landed 2,500 guns. The organisers included his wife Molly Childers, Sir Roger Casement, Alice Stopford Green and Mary Spring Rice – all Church of Ireland parishioners, as were many of those waiting for them on the pier, including Countess Markievicz, Douglas Hyde and Darrell Figgis.

Written in or written out?
The War Memorial Park in Islandbridge, Dublin, recalls the Irish dead of two world wars (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The myths that have accumulated over the past century have written members of the Church of Ireland, their consciences and their role out of the shared history of this island.

In these coming years, we must remember that more Irish soldiers – Catholic and Protestant – died at the Gallipoli landings in 1915 or at the Somme in 1916 than died in the Easter Rising. Nor should we forget that more than 400,000 people on this island, including five bishops of the Church of Ireland, signed the Ulster Covenant, and in doing so were led by Sir Edward Carson, who was born in Harcourt Street, Dublin.

The Four Courts … burned in the clashes of the Civil War in 1922 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In 1922, after many Protestants were forced to leave their homes because of threats and some had been murdered in Co Cork, a delegation of southern members of the General Synod met Michael Collins and WT Cosgrave, and asked whether the government of the new Free State was “desirous of retaining” the Protestant community. The new government readily gave the assurances sought.

The Mansion House in Dublin, where the First Dáil held most of its meetings (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Over the next ten years, it is important that one single event should not dominate all the other centenaries and the memory of what has made the Ireland we know today. We should remember Ulster Covenant, the lockouts, Gallipoli, the Somme, the men who rallied to Redmond’s call, and the poetry of Tom Kettle. Nor should we forget the diversity of contributions made by members of the Church of Ireland in those ten years.

The Luas in Abbey Street … have we moved on in shaping a modern Irish identity? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This essay was first published in the January 2012 editions of the Church Review (Diocese of Dublin and Glendalough) and the Diocesan Magazine (Diocese of Cashel and Ossory).

‘And a voice came from heaven ... I am well pleased.’

The Baptism of Christ ... a stained glass window in Christ Church Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 8 January 2012,

The First Sunday after the Epiphany,

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

11 a.m.: The Cathedral Eucharist (Choral Eucharist).

Genesis 1: 1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19: 1-7; Mark 1: 4-11.


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

I wonder this morning just how many of us have already broken our New Year’s Resolutions? It’s only a week since New Year’s Day. But what happened to all those good intentions: to walk a little each day? to eat more sensibly? to give up smoking? to be kinder in word and deed?

We all promise ourselves a new beginning, not just because I want others to think more of me, but because I think more of myself too.

Yes, I am worth it. Not because L’Oréal tells me “Because you’re worth it.” But because I am created in the image and likeness of God; because I am a new creation; because I reflect that new image and likeness, that new creation – at any time of the year, and not just in the seven or eight days after New Year’s Day.

The Birth of Christ brings the promise of the renewal of creation and the birth of a new creation. And Saint Mark’s Gospel is very blunt and direct about this. For Saint Mark, there is no account of the Birth in Bethlehem, the Visit of the Magi, the Flight into Egypt, or the Childhood in Nazareth. Instead, he begins his Gospel story, as we have heard this morning, with the Baptism of Christ in the River Jordan. For Saint Mark, this is not just the dramatic opening that any good storyteller would like. It is, truly, a new beginning, the story of a new creation.

For both the creation account in Genesis and the new creation in Saint Mark’s Gospel, we are told about the light that comes into the darkness, the waters being separated or parted, the Spirit of God hovering over those waters, and the voice of God says this is good.

L’Oréal’s original slogan was: “Because I’m worth it.” In the middle of the last decade, this was replaced by: “Because you’re worth it.” In 2009, this was changed again to: “Because we’re worth it” – following motivation analysis and work into consumer psychology. The shift to “we” was supposed to create stronger consumer involvement and more consumer satisfaction.

But God does not see us as mere consumers to be motivated to buy into what God produces and markets. God creates, not produces. And, in Christ, at the Incarnation, on that first Christmas, God takes on our image and likeness. Because we’re worth it, you’re worth it, I’m worth it.

The Genesis account of creation goes on to say that when God looked at all he created, he said it was good. But when God looked at humanity, he declared we are very good. In Christ, we realise how very good God thinks we are.

Coming into the cathedral in the procession of the crucifer, acolytes, choir and clergy, for the Eucharist Sunday after Sunday, there are constant reminders of this new creation in Christ – divine and human.

As we emerge from the chapter house, there is a stained glass window in the north ambulatory depicting the Baptism of Christ, just as in our Gospel reading.

Then, as we make our way down the side aisle, by the Baptistery, to the West Door, there is a monument most of us pass by without noticing. Squeezed between the West Door and the guide leaflets, arrayed in a variety of languages, it recalls Thomas Abbott, a young and promising lawyer who spent all his adult life, instead of pursuing a career in law, dedicating himself to the poor in inner city Dublin.

Then we move up, through all of us, to this end of the cathedral, for the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Sacrament. And I am reminded each Sunday that Christ is among us in so many ways:

● Christ is among us at his Incarnation and at his Baptism, as God in human flesh, with the promise of a new creation, brought to fulfilment in his life, passion, death, resurrection and ascension.

● Christ is among us in our Baptism, for we are baptised into Christ, and baptism makes us all members of the Body of Christ.

● Christ is among us in Word and Sacrament, really present to us as we receive him in the Word and receive him in the Eucharist.

● Christ is present among us as we go out into the world, past that Great West Door and that monument as we who share Christ’s body live his risen life; we who drink his cup bring life to others; we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world.

● Christ is present among us in that world, as we find him and as we serve him.

● And Christ is present among us when he comes among us again and asks us did we feed him did we clothe him, did we give him to drink, did we visit him.

The memorial to Thomas Abbott, a founder of the Mendicity Institute, beside the West Door of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

As you go out past that monument, think of how Thomas Abbott tried to bring the light he shared in the Gospel and the Eucharist out into the darkness of the world.

He could have followed the successful career paths that might have been opened up for him by his father, a city alderman, a friend of Arthur Guinness, a campaigner for repeal, and the proprietor of a leading insurance business.

He was a Trinity-educated barrister with offices in then-fashionable Saint Andrew Street, a life member of the Royal Dublin Society, a friend of bankers, brewers and leading politicians.

Instead, he gave all his adult life, from the age of 20, to serving Christ in the poor, the hungry and the marginalised of this city. As that monument tells us, he spent 17 years working every day for the relief the poor on the streets of Dublin. There was no state support for those on the streets to fall back on, no handouts, no welfare payments, no Simon Community, no Trust, no Protestant Aid or Society of Saint Vincent de Paul.

One account of the time tells how they “crowded around the doors of shops, assailing customers” – how many of us know what it is like to find someone with a hand out as we step away from an ATM or out of a shop door in the city centre.

There were few do-gooders at that time. Sermons from those pre-Victorian days, preached by good canons of this cathedral, suggested the poor should be sent back to where they came from, forced to work for what little they might be given, or forced even to wear special clothing.

In those dark days, almost 200 years ago, a few enlightened citizens founded the Mendicity Institution to provide free food, clothing, lodging, schooling for children and training. It worked in cramped and crowded slums between this cathedral and the river, where poverty drove men to drink, forced women into prostitution, abandoned children to exploitation, and thousands were forced to beg in the streets.

The Mendicity Institution was an early example too of charity challenging sectarianism and encouraging ecumenism. No-one would be discriminated against on the basis of their religion, and the institution gained widespread support across the church and political divides.

But the needs and demands broke Thomas Abbott. He died of fever at the age of 36, of a fever brought about, as that monument says, because of his “daily work of mercy.”

Today, the “Mendo” works from Island Street, providing meals for about 70 people each day. Over the years, the people it helps have changed, but the basic object remains the same: to make it unnecessary for men, women and children to beg in the streets of this city, no matter what their religion may be, no matter what their nationality is.

The patrons of the Mendicity are the two archbishops of Dublin, and the deans of Christ Church Cathedral and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. Every fortnight, a dedicated team, co-ordinated from this cathedral, helps to provide food, shelter and friendship, without asking any questions. Hundreds of people benefit on those Sunday afternoons from this part of the witness, the outreach and the mission of this cathedral.

In the Psalm sung by the choir this morning, we were reminded of the various ways in which the voice of the Lord is heard. The voice of the Lord is heard too when that group of people, who are here this morning, make the love of God known among those who are so often deprived not only of food and clothing and shelter, but deprived of the assurance of God’s love.

Some of the members of this small group, working on behalf of this cathedral in the “Mendo,” are here this morning. They include Barbara (Comerford), Doug (Hammond), Larry (O’Raw), Máire (Dewar), Marie (Hammond), Philomena (O’Raw), Rachel (Colvin) and Roger (Sterling). Working alongside Charles (Richards), they are working not for themselves, but on behalf of this whole cathedral community, to serve Christ in all they find on those Sunday afternoons.

The Psalmist reminds us too of our call to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness (Psalm 29: 2). The great missionary, Bishop Frank Weston, in a speech in 1923, reminded us that our spiritual life must be coupled with a true devotion to Christ in the poor and downtrodden:

“Christ is found in and amid matter – Spirit through matter – God in flesh, God in the Sacrament. But I say to you, and I say it with all the earnestness that I have … you have got to come out from before your Tabernacle and walk, with Christ mystically present in you, out into the streets of this country, and find the same Jesus in the people of your cities and your villages.

“You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slums. … go out into the highways and hedges where not even the Bishops will try to hinder you. Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.”

That is what Thomas Abbott was doing almost 200 years ago; that is what this group is doing. And that is what our common Baptism calls us to, what Christ in Word and Sacrament calls us to.

And a good New Year’s resolution might be to start with praying for them. After all, who knows what God may do then with them, with those they help, with us.

At the very least, God will look down on this sign of his new creation, and say that it is good, and that we, them, all of us are his beloved children in whom he is well pleased: ‘And a voice came from heaven ... I am well pleased’ (Mark 1: 11).

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

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 the Cathedral on Sunday 8 January 2012.

Collect:

Eternal Father,
who at the baptism of Jesus
revealed him to be your Son,
anointing him with the Holy Spirit:
Grant to us, who are born of water and the Spirit,
that we may be faithful to our calling as your adopted children;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Post Communion Prayer:

Refreshed by these holy gifts, Lord God,
we seek your mercy:
that by listening faithfully to your only Son,
and being obedient to the prompting of the Spirit,
we may be your children in name and in truth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

‘Because you’re worth it’

Rathfarnham Parish Church, in the heart of Rathfarnham Village (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 8 January 2012,

The First Sunday after the Epiphany,

Rathfarnham Parish Church, Dublin.

8 a.m.: The Eucharist (Holy Communion 1).

Genesis 1: 1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19: 1-7; Mark 1: 4-11.


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

I know [the Revd] Ted [Woods] does not have a sermon or address at this early Communion service. But I thought I might share one or two of the ideas I have prepared for my sermon in Christ Church Cathedral later this morning.

Because I am going to ask this morning in the cathedral just how many of us have already broken our New Year’s Resolutions. It’s only a week since New Year’s Day. But what happened to all those good intentions: to walk a little each day? to eat more sensibly? to give up smoking? to be kinder in word and deed?

We all promise ourselves a new beginning, not just because I want others to think more of me, but because I think more of myself too.

Yes, I am worth it. Not because L’Oréal tells me “Because you’re worth it.” But because I am created in the image and likeness of God; because I am a new creation; because I reflect that new image and likeness, that new creation – at any time of the year, and not just in the seven or eight days after New Year’s Day.

The Birth of Christ brings the promise of the renewal of creation and the birth of a new creation. And Saint Mark’s Gospel is very blunt and direct about this. For Saint Mark, there is no account of the Birth in Bethlehem, the Visit of the Magi, the Flight into Egypt, or the Childhood in Nazareth.

Instead, he begins his Gospel story, as we heard it this morning, with the Baptism of Christ in the River Jordan. For Saint Mark, this is not just the dramatic opening that any good storyteller would like. It is, truly, a new beginning, the story of a new creation.

For both the creation account in Genesis and the new creation in Saint Mark’s Gospel, we are told about the light that comes into the darkness, the waters being separated or parted, the Spirit of God hovering over those waters, and the voice of God says this is good.

L’Oréal’s original slogan was: “Because I’m worth it.” In the middle of the last decade, this was replaced by: “Because you’re worth it.” In 2009, this was changed again to: “Because we’re worth it” – following motivation analysis and work into consumer psychology.

The shift to “we” was supposed to create stronger consumer involvement and more consumer satisfaction. But God does not see us as mere consumers to be motivated to buy into what God produces and markets. God creates, not produces.

And, in Christ, at the Incarnation, on that first Christmas, God takes on our image and likeness. Because we’re worth it, you’re worth it, I’m worth it.

The Genesis account of creation goes on to say that when God looked at all he created, he said it was good. But when God looked at humanity, he declared we are very good. In Christ, we realise how very good God thinks we are.

If all your New Year’s Resolutions have gone out the window in the past week, then why not resolve to simply accept that God accepts you, that you are made in God’s image and likeness, and that when God looks at you, new every morning, God sees God’s own image and likeness, that when God looks on each of us as a sign of his new creation, he sees that it is good, and that we, them, all of us are his beloved children in whom he is well pleased: ‘And a voice came from heaven ... I am well pleased’ (Mark 1: 11).

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

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This reflection was shared during the early morning Eucharist in Rathfarnham Parish Church, Dublin, on Sunday, 8 January, 2012