Sunday, 5 February 2017

A stroll by the shore on Tarbert Island
in the estuary of the River Shannon

Standing on the shore at Tarbert Island on Sunday afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Although my new parish stretches right through west Co Limerick and north Co Kerry, and includes most of the south bank of the Shannon Estuary, after more than two weeks I have yet to go for a walk on a beach here.

However, after presiding and preaching at this morning’s celebrations of the Eucharist in Askeaton and Kilnaughtin, I went for a short walk along the shore and the coast in Tarbert, Co Kerry.

Tarbert sits in picturesque location on the southern shore of the Shannon estuary. Driving from Askeaton this morning, it is just 3 km inside Co Kerry from the Limerick side, and so Tarbert naturall sees itself as a north gateway to the Kingdom of Kerry and as a bridge between the south-west and the west of Ireland.The ferry at Tarbert also helps to make this place a hub to three major routes on the Wild Atlantic Way.

Tarbert has a rich natural heritage, and its coastline has two very fine bays – Tarbert Bay and Glencloosagh Bay.

Tarbert Bay, with its vast stretches of sheltered mudflats, offers an excellent feeding ground for the many species of birds that either live there or spend the winter there.

The bay is part of the River Shannon and River Fergus Estuaries Special Protection Area (SPA), the most important costal wetland site in Ireland that supports over 50,000 wintering wildfoul – making this site one of great ornithological interest.

Some of the interesting buildings and monuments around Tarbert include Kilnaughtin Church, where I was this morning, Lisloughtin Abbey, Tarbert Bridewell and Tarbert House, an early Georgian country house that is the home of the Leslie family.

Tarbert House dates from 1690 and was built by John Leslie. It remains the Leslie family home to this day, and is occasionally open to the public during the summer months. In the past, visitors to the house are said to have included Daniel O'Connell, Charlotte Bronte, Benjamin Franklin, Lord Kitchener, Winston Churchill, and Jonathan Swift. Last year, the house featured in the Channel 4 series Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners.

The name Tarbert comes from an Old Norse term meaning ‘draw-boat’ or a port for boats. From the town, we crossed a short isthmus to the nearby island of Tarbert, where a car ferry service runs from the island to the town of Killimer, near Kilrush in Co Clare, on the north side of the Shannon Estuary. This service, operated by Shannon Ferries, provides a link between the N69 in Kerry and the N68 in Clare.
Tarbert Lighthouse was built in 1831/1832 when Limerick’s trade with Europe was flourishing and Tarbert provided safe anchorage for vessels waiting to clear the Bowline Rock.

Before the coming of the railway, Tarbert also served as a landing place for passengers travelling from Dublin and Limerick to Tralee and Killarney. The Inland Steam Navigation Company built a stone pier here in 1837, and a new deep=water pier was built there in 1852-1858.

The island is also the location of a small electricity generating plant that opened in 1969. An explosion at the plant in 2003 that killed two workers and seriously injured another.

The plant was due to be de-commissioned in 2010, with the loss of 130 jobs, but was bought by the Spanish power company Endesa in January 2009 securing most of the jobs. The new owners plan to convert the plant to gas turbines and to secure the future of the plant for decades to come.

As the morning turned to afternoon, we stood on the shores of Tarbert Island looking across the Shannon Estuary to the shores of Co Clare, and back along the shores of Co Kerry and Co Limerick. We know there is much to see, explore and enjoy here as my new ventures here unfold.

The ferry at Tarbert runs throughout the day between the shores of Co Kerry and Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

New life comes to the streets
and synagogues of the Old
Jewish Quarter in Kraków

A stained-glass window in the Tempel Synagogue on Miodowa Street, the most recent synagogue in Kraków (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

My city break in Kraków before Christmas was a busy week, with visits to the concentration camps in Auschwitz and Birkenau, the Salt Mines in Wieliczka, the Jewish Quarter in Kazimierz, and the former ghetto whose story is retold in Schindler’s List.

Kraków is a beautiful mediaeval city in southern Poland, and a former capital of Poland. It was the European Capital of Culture in 2000, and the historic centre of the city is a Unesco World Heritage Site. It is a typical European mediaeval city, with streets running perpendicularly and parallel to one of the biggest and most beautiful market squares in Europe.

Kraków was left virtually untouched during World War II, and so many of its great monuments, including 120 or more churches, stand as monuments to European culture. I spent some time visiting the cathedral on the hill at Wawel and a number of churches throughout the city. Kraków’s skyline is dominated by churches spires and towers, and there are so many churches, chapels, convents and monasteries throughout the city that in the past Kraków was sometimes called the ‘Northern Rome’.

These churches, with their rich interiors and furnishings, their art and their treasures, bear witness to the splendour of Kraków. In Kraków alone, there are over 120 Roman Catholic places of worship, and over 40 churches in the historic area of the city centre. There might have been even more, but many churches were destroyed or dismantled in the 19th century. Over 60 of the surviving churches were built in the last century, and churches continue to be built in the city.

Old Jewish quarter

Souvenirs on sale in Kazimierz, the old Jewish Quarter in Kraków (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I was staying in the Old Jewish Quarter in Kazimierz, and just a short stroll from Oscar Schindler’s factory and the former Jewish ghetto away. The Kazimierz district is particularly noted for its many renaissance buildings and picturesque streets, but also has an outstanding collection of monuments of Jewish sacred architecture that is unmatched anywhere else in Poland.

A Jewish merchant and slave trader from Spain, Ibrahim Ibn Jaqub, travelled to Poland in 960 and wrote the first description of the country and of Kraków.

From the early 12th century, Kraków was an influential centre of Jewish spiritual life, including Orthodox, Chasidic and Reform communities that all flourished side-by-side.

Kazimierz was founded in the 14th century to the south-east of the city centre, on the banks of the River Vistula, and it soon became a wealthy, well-populated area.

The Old Synagogue now houses the Galicia Jewish Museum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Jewish community in Kraków had lived undisturbed alongside their ethnic Polish neighbours under the protective King Kazimierz III, the last king of the Piast dynasty. However, in the early 15th century, following the Synod of Constance, some dogmatic clergy challenged the official tolerance of Jews. Accusations of blood libel by a fanatic priest in Kraków led to riots against the Jews in 1407, even though the royal guard hastened to the rescue.

By 1750, Poland had a Jewish population of 750,000 which constituted around 70% of the Jewish population in the world, which was estimated at 1.2 million at the time.

Before the Nazi German invasion of Poland, Kraków had a Jewish community of 60,000-80,000 people in a city with a population of 237,000, and at the time there were at least 90 Jewish prayer houses.

Architectural legacy

The Old Synagogue built in 1407 is the oldest Jewish house of prayer in Poland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

During that week, I visited seven of the most prominent synagogues in Kazimierz: the Old Synagogue, the High Synagogue, Remu'h Synagogue, Wolf Popper Synagogue, the Tempel Synagogue, Kupa Synagogue and the Izaak Jakubowicz Synagogue.

The synagogues of Kraków represent virtually all the European architectural styles, including the Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassical, and the Modernist. Three of these synagogues are still active, some also serve as houses of prayer, and the district also has two Jewish cemeteries.

A monument on the plaza in front of the Old Synagogue commemorates local resistance to the Nazis (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Old Synagogue (Synagoga Stara), at the south end of Szeroka Street, was built in 1407, making it the oldest Jewish house of prayer in Poland. The present appearance of the building dates from remodelling between 1557 and 1570. The parapet and Gothic interior, with ribbed vaulting supported by slender columns, date from this period.

In accordance with Jewish traditional practices, the interior of the hall is almost bare. The east wall retains its ornamental aron hakodesh or sanctuary for the scrolls of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. The only item of furniture is the bimah or reading desk used for reading the Torah, with its surrounding decorative ironwork.

Today, the Old Synagogue houses the Galicia Jewish Museum. The museum exhibits include synagogue furnishings and objects, items used in Jewish rituals and festivals, display boards on the history of the Kazimierz District, and the story of the Holocaust. The numerous items related to religious ceremonies include candle holders, both Chanukah and menorot lamps, covers for the Torah, parochot Holy Ark covers, tallit prayer shawls, and kippahs or yarmulkes.

The collection of books and prints includes 2,500 volumes of Hebrew manuscripts. The paintings on the walls include oil paintings by Maurycy Gottlieb, Józef Mehoffer, Tadeusz Popiel, Jerzy Potrzebowski and Jonasz Stern.

A monument on the plaza in front of the Old Synagogue commemorates a group of local people who were murdered for their resistance to the Nazis.

The Remu'h Synagogue is one of the few functioning synagogues in Kraków (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

On the west side of Szeroka Street, the Remu'h Synagogue is one of the few functioning synagogues in Kraków. This synagogue was built in the middle of an old row houses (kamienice). It was founded in 1553-1556 by a royal banker, Israel Isserls Auerbach, for his own son, the great philosopher and writer, Rabbi Moses Isserles. Rabbi Moses was also known as Remu'h, and before he had even reached adulthood he was known for his erudition and as a miracle worker. The Remu'h Cemetery behind the synagogue was also named after him.

Inside, there is a beautiful aron hakodesh and a bimah with surrounding decorative ironwork and decorated wooden doors.

Remembering the Righteous

A Chagall-style mural in the courtyard of the Wolf Popper Synagogue (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The monuments and plaques in the courtyard include one to the ‘Righteous of the Nations’ or gentiles who are honoured for risking their lives to help and to save Jews during the Holocaust. Behind the Remu'h Synagogue, the Remu'h Cemetery has both gravestones and sarcophogi with rich floral and animal decorations. Most of the graves and tombs were destroyed by the Nazis during World War II, but many have been restored in recent decades, and the fragments of others have been reassembled in a jigsaw style on the east wall as a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust.

Across the street from the Remu'h Synagogue, on the east side of Szeroka Street, the Synagogue of Wolf Popper is now an exhibition centre, hosting exhibitions and often hosting artists in residence.

The High Synagogue is one of the most picturesque synagogues in Kraków (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The High Synagogue or Synagoga Wysoka on Jozefa Street is the third oldest synagogue in Kraków. With its Gothic architecture and Renaissance decoration, it is one of the most picturesque synagogues in the city.

It was built in 1556-1563 in a Romanesque style, with a Renaissance portal. The ground floor was rented out to shopkeepers and now houses an important Jewish bookshop. The main synagogue was upstairs on the first floor, where part of the aron hakodesh survives in the east wall. Today, this floor is used to host exhibitions, and there I toured an exhibition documenting Jewish families in the area in the inter-war years, many of whom were transported forcibly to Auschwitz, Birkenau and other death camps and died in the Holocaust.

The Isaak Jakubowicz Synagogue houses the Chabad Lubavitch community (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Isaak’s Synagogue or the Isaak Jakubowicz Synagogue on Kupa Street was founded by Isaak Jakubowicz, a leading member of the Jewish community in the 17th century and was built in 1644. Inside, the synagogue has a barrel vaulted ceiling, a large nave and plaster work by Giovanni Batista Falconi. Today, this synagogue houses Kraków’s Chabad Lubavitch community and the Jewish Education Centre.

The Kupa Synagogue was used as a factory before it was restored (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

At the top of Kupa Street, the Kupa Synagogue, also known as the Hospital Synagogue, dates from 1643. It was founded by the Jewish district’s kehilla or local government as foundation for the local kahal. It was rebuilt in the 1830s.

The elaborately-decorated ceiling in the Kupa Synagogue (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

After World War II, the Kupa Synagogue provided refuge for Jewish people who were being repatriated from the Soviet Union, and it was later used as a factory. But in recent years this synagogue has been renovated, and the aron hakodesh, the walls and the ceilings have been restored.

The Tempel Synagogue on Miodowa Street, the most recent synagogue in Kraków, was built in 1860-1862 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Tempel Synagogue on Miodowa Street is the most recently-built synagogue in Kraków. It was built in 1860-1862, when Kraków was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and its Neo-Renaissance design, with Moorish influences, was inspired by the Leopoldstädter Tempel in Vienna. This synagogue is used by non-Orthodox Jews, and it has impressive stained-glass windows.

Destruction in the Holocaust

Empty chairs in the Ghetto … a memorial to the Holocaust (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Most of the synagogues in Kraków were ruined during World War II. The Nazis robbed them of all their ceremonial objects and decorations and used the buildings to store ammunition and military equipment.

Before 1939, Kraków had a Jewish population of up to 80,000. Of the more than 68,000 Jews in Kraków when the Germans invaded, only 15,000 workers and their families were allowed to remain; all other Jews were ordered out of the city.

The Kraków Ghetto was one of Jewish ghettoes created by the Nazis. The Ghetto, formally established on 3 March 1941, was liquidated between June 1942 and March 1943, with most of its inhabitants sent to their deaths at Bełżec, Płaszów and Auschwitz, 60 km away.

German-occupied Poland suffered the last and the most lethal phase of the Holocaust, with the murder of at least three million Polish Jews or 90 per cent of Poland’s Jewish population, more than in any other country.

By the end of the 1940s, the post-Holocaust Jewish population of Kraków had dwindled to about 5,900. A generation later, this number had fallen even more dramatically to about 600.

The annual Jewish Cultural Festival is growing in popularity (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Jewish population in Poland is about 50,000 today and is growing, with many Jews returning to Poland. In recent years, many of the synagogues and prayer-houses in Kraków have been restored, and these seven synagogues are all within walking distance.

Today, the seven main synagogues in Kazimierz form an outstanding collection of monuments of Jewish sacred architecture unmatched anywhere in Poland. They make up one of the largest complexes of this kind in Europe, second only to Prague, and the district has been on the list of Unesco world heritage sites since 1978.

Kazimierz is experiencing a boom in Jewish-themed restaurants (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Kazimierz is a well-visited area that is popular with tourists and it is experiencing a boom in Jewish-themed restaurants, bars, bookstores and souvenir shops.

The annual Jewish Cultural Festival is growing in popularity, and the area has attracted international attention ever since Steven Spielberg filmed Schindler’s List in Kazimierz in 1993 – although very little of the action historically took place there.

Patrick Comerford is priest-in-charge of Rathkeale (Limerick) and lectures in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This feature was published in February 2017 in the ‘Church Review’ (Dublin and Glendalough) and the ‘Diocesan Magazine’ (Cashel, Ferns and Ossory).

Kazimierz is a well-visited area that is popular with tourists (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Celebrating ordinary ways,
time after time, in ordinary life

In the movement of time, in ordinary time, we catch brief moments of eternity … the Tait Memorial Clock in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 5 February 2017,

The Fourth Sunday before Lent (the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time)

11.15 a.m.:
The Eucharist, Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin, Tarbert, Co Kerry.

Readings: Isaiah 58: 1-9a (9b-12); Psalm 112; I Corinthians 2: 1-12 (13-16); Matthew 5: 13-20.

You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste how can its saltiness be restored?’ (Matthew 5: 13) … bags of salt tablets outside the Ice House Hotel on the Quayside in Ballina, Co Mayo (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

The Christmas season came to an end on Thursday [2 February 2017] with the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, or Candlemas. In a few weeks’ time, the Church Year, the Liturgical Calendar, changes dramatically at Ash Wednesday [1 March 2017], when we begin the Season of Lent.

I hope we can mark Ash Wednesday in this group of parishes this year, and – as I settle into the parish and my teaching responsibilities in Dublin fade away – I hope too that we can find time together in the future to celebrate the great feast days, such as the Presentation or Candlemas.

Candlemas has been an important day in both the church and the social calendar. In a reworking of the canticle Nunc Dimittis, TS Eliot summarises the Biblical story in his poem ‘A Song for Simeon,’ when he writes about the new light seen by the Prophet Simeon at the Presentation of the Christ Child in the Temple in Jerusalem.

Even outside the Church, this day was celebrated for the gift of light returning to the world.

As we say so often at this time of the year, ‘You’d notice there’s a grand stretch in the evening.’ The sun is rising earlier, the evenings are getting longer once again. The children notice it on their way to and from school, we notice it on the roads and in the fields. We get back to ordinary habits and the ordinary ways of life.

In between Candlemas and Ash Wednesday, between the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of Lent, in the Church of Ireland, we are calling these the Sundays before Lent. But in the Church of England and in many other churches, these are as the Sundays in Ordinary Time.

So, while we count today [5 February 2017] as the Fourth Sunday before Lent, in the Church of England and other churches this is the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time. And in those churches this season of Ordinary Time returns again after Pentecost.

I find there is something that is not so much quaint as beautiful in calling this Ordinary Time.

What is wrong with being ordinary?

Being ordinary is a quality of the great poets. The mature style of Philip Larkin is said to have blossomed when he started to observe ‘ordinary people doing ordinary things.’ The turning point for John Betjeman was the moment he took account of the harder, unprotected world of ordinary excellence.

For TS Eliot, in his poem ‘Burnt Norton,’ it is in the movement of time, in ordinary time, that we catch brief moments of eternity.

As Saint Paul reminds us this morning, the revelation of God in Christ is the intersection between eternity and time (see I Corinthians 2: 1-5; see Isaiah 58: 8-9).

In our Gospel reading [Matthew 5: 13-20], Christ speaks of the eternal values and truths that the Law and the Prophets point to (verse 17), and points himself to the promise and the coming of the kingdom (verses 18, 19 and 20). Yet he does this while drawing on ordinary, everyday, domestic images: salt and its role in preserving and cooking food; lights and lamps that give light in our houses and homes; bushels and baskets; hillsides and homesteads.

Life and time can be very ordinary – time is ordinary – when things keep going on and on, round and round. But even as we wait for the kingdom, that life and that time, in their ordinary ways, are worth celebrating, time after time, in everyday ordinary life.

In ‘Burnt Norton,’ TS Eliot emphasises our need to focus on the present moment and to know that there is a universal order. By understanding the nature of time and the order of the universe, we are able to recognise God and to find redemption.

The present moment is the only time period that really matters, for the past cannot be changed and the future is unknown. We cannot escape from our own time, even if we waste this ordinary time. As we move on in life, we waste time more and more, as we settle, as we prosper, as we age. Slowly but surely, we slip away from the chores and routines that mark out and make up the rhythms of ordinary life.

I have noticed in Dublin over the years how, more and more, we hire someone else to clean our house because the time it would take us to do it is ‘worth’ more than this cost. We order in takeaway food rather than cooking for ourselves because it saves ‘valuable’ time. We have our dry cleaning delivered rather than doing our own ordinary errands on an ordinary Saturday morning.

And then, as we try to commodify time and to trade in time, this distortion of our values takes a grip and seeps into our lives. We start evaluating even important relationships in the same way. We miss a child’s ‘Nativity Play’ and think we can make up by buying a new Play Station game. We constantly miss dinner at home, and then think we can make up for a year’s worth of an empty chair at the table by splashing out on expensive Christmas presents.

Gifts and games can be bought. But ordinary time with those we love can never be bought, and still more they can never be bought back.

Time and money cannot be compared. Time cannot be traded on the exchanges or bought in the supermarket. Christ spends time – typified in the time on the side of the mountain during the Sermon on the Mount, which we are reading from these Sundays – Christ spends ordinary time with the disciples, teaching them in ordinary ways about who he is and what the cost of discipleship is, what the cost of following him is. In that ordinary time they spend with him, they come to realise who Christ truly is.

Christ teaches us, time and again, that time spent with friends and family resists commodification. Because ordinary time is an essential part of what makes up our relationships. I cannot buy time, and I cannot buy friendship and love. And the more time I spend with people, paradoxically, the more time they have for God (verse 16).

A close friend is not someone I meet solely at big functions, someone I exchange business cards and email addresses with, someone who occasionally clicks Like or Share on my Facebook postings. A close friend is someone I spend significant time with, both quality time and ordinary time.

Friendships are knit together not only by taking part in shared activities, but by sharing and reflecting on memories of those activities over the course of the years, in ordinary time.

No human time that has its meaning anchored in Christ’s birth, life, death and resurrection can possibly be commodified, reduced to a monetary value or bought and sold to further our selfish desires. The story of the betrayal of Christ by Judas for thirty silver coins testifies to this truth.

The Church calendar helps us to appreciate each moment of salvation history. Time in the church year or the church calendar is not freely exchangeable – it cannot be traded or bought or sold. So, we do not fast at Christmas, nor do we feast on Good Friday.

We cannot make up for ignoring Lent by observing our own private penitential season in the first week of Easter – no more than we can make up for having forgotten a wedding anniversary or a child’s birthday by giving a bigger or more expensive present the next day, the next week or the next year.

The Church fails to grasp the intersection between temporal reality and eternal truth when we miss the opportunity to hear the ordinary concerns of ordinary people in ordinary time.

As the Church, we must guard against losing our saltiness, against hiding our light, against living in the reality of the ordinary time into which Christ is born, that time the Kingdom of God is breaking into.

TS Eliot reminds us, ‘Only through time time is conquered.’ In the economy of salvation, time is imbued with mystery. The fundamental mystery of the universe, the depth of its meaning, is the very reality of God himself. The Kingdom of God is truly but only dimly present in our midst, but will be revealed in God’s own time.

So, may we enjoy being at what he calls ‘the still point of the turning world.’ May we enjoy ordinary time, celebrate ordinary time, enjoy the ordinary things of life. Ordinary time is not a commodity to be traded or exchanged. For we are truly blessed when, in the movement of time, ordinary time, we glimpse brief moments of eternity.

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

‘… let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven’ (Matthew 5: 16) … candles lighting up the chapter and choir stalls in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 5: 13-20

13 Ὑμεῖς ἐστε τὸ ἅλας τῆς γῆς: ἐὰν δὲ τὸ ἅλας μωρανθῇ, ἐν τίνι ἁλισθήσεται; εἰς οὐδὲν ἰσχύει ἔτι εἰ μὴ βληθὲν ἔξω καταπατεῖσθαι ὑπὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων.

14 Ὑμεῖς ἐστε τὸ φῶς τοῦ κόσμου. οὐ δύναται πόλις κρυβῆναι ἐπάνω ὄρους κειμένη: 15 οὐδὲ καίουσιν λύχνον καὶ τιθέασιν αὐτὸν ὑπὸ τὸν μόδιον ἀλλ' ἐπὶ τὴν λυχνίαν, καὶ λάμπει πᾶσιν τοῖς ἐντῇ οἰκίᾳ. 16 οὕτως λαμψάτω τὸ φῶς ὑμῶν ἔμπροσθεν τῶν ἀνθρώπων, ὅπως ἴδωσιν ὑμῶν τὰ καλὰ ἔργα καὶ δοξάσωσιν τὸν πατέρα ὑμῶν τὸν ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς.

17 Μὴ νομίσητε ὅτι ἦλθον καταλῦσαι τὸν νόμον ἢ τοὺς προφήτας: οὐκ ἦλθον καταλῦσαι ἀλλὰ πληρῶσαι. 18 ἀμὴν γὰρ λέγω ὑμῖν, ἕως ἂν παρέλθῃ ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ, ἰῶτα ἓν ἢ μία κεραία οὐ μὴ παρέλθῃ ἀπὸ τοῦ νόμου, ἕως ἂν πάντα γένηται. 19 ὃς ἐὰν οὖν λύσῃ μίαν τῶν ἐντολῶν τούτων τῶν ἐλαχίστων καὶ διδάξῃ οὕτως τοὺς ἀνθρώπους, ἐλάχιστος κληθήσεται ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν: ὃς δ' ἂν ποιήσῃ καὶ διδάξῃ, οὗτος μέγας κληθήσεται ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν. 20 λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν ὅτι ἐὰν μὴ περισσεύσῃ ὑμῶν ἡ δικαιοσύνη πλεῖον τῶν γραμματέων καὶ Φαρισαίων, οὐ μὴ εἰσέλθητε εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν.

NRSV translation:

13 [Jesus said] ‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

14 ‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

17 ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’

Collect:

O God,
you know us to be set
in the midst of so many and great dangers,
that by reason of the frailty of our nature
we cannot always stand upright:
Grant to us such strength and protection
as may support us in all dangers
and carry us through all temptations;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

God of tender care,
in this Eucharist we celebrate your love for us and for all people.
May we show your love in our lives
and know its fulfilment in your presence.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

(Revd Professor) Patrick Comerford is priest-in-charge, Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin (Limerick and Killaloe) and Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This sermon was preached at the Eucharist in Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin, Tralee, Co Kerry, on Sunday 5 February 2017.

We are blessed in ordinary time when
we glimpse brief moments of eternity

‘No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 5 February 2017,

The Fourth Sunday before Lent (the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time)

9.45 a.m.:
The Eucharist, Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick.

Readings: Isaiah 58: 1-9a (9b-12); Psalm 112; I Corinthians 2: 1-12 (13-16); Matthew 5: 13-20.

You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste how can its saltiness be restored?’ (Matthew 5: 13) … bags of salt tablets outside the Ice House Hotel on the Quayside in Ballina, Co Mayo (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

The Christmas season came to an end on Thursday [2 February 2017] with the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, or Candlemas. In a few weeks’ time, the Church Year, the Liturgical Calendar, changes dramatically at Ash Wednesday [1 March 2017], when we begin the Season of Lent.

I hope we can mark Ash Wednesday in this group of parishes this year, and – as I settle into the parish and my teaching responsibilities in Dublin fade away – I hope too that we can find time together in the future to celebrate the great feast days, such as the Presentation or Candlemas.

Candlemas has been an important day in both the church and the social calendar. In a reworking of the canticle Nunc Dimittis, TS Eliot summarises the Biblical story in his poem ‘A Song for Simeon,’ when he writes about the new light seen by the Prophet Simeon at the Presentation of the Christ Child in the Temple in Jerusalem.

Even outside the Church, this day was celebrated for the gift of light returning to the world.

As we say so often at this time of the year, ‘You’d notice there’s a grand stretch in the evening.’ The sun is rising earlier, the evenings are getting longer once again. The children notice it on their way to and from school, we notice it on the roads and in the fields. We get back to ordinary habits and the ordinary ways of life.

In between Candlemas and Ash Wednesday, between the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of Lent, in the Church of Ireland, we are calling these the Sundays before Lent. But in the Church of England and in many other churches, these are as the Sundays in Ordinary Time.

So, while we count today [5 February 2017] as the Fourth Sunday before Lent, in the Church of England and other churches this is the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time. And in those churches this season of Ordinary Time returns again after Pentecost.

I find there is something that is not so much quaint as beautiful in calling this Ordinary Time.

What is wrong with being ordinary?

Being ordinary is a quality of the great poets. The mature style of Philip Larkin is said to have blossomed when he started to observe ‘ordinary people doing ordinary things.’ The turning point for John Betjeman was the moment he took account of the harder, unprotected world of ordinary excellence.

For TS Eliot, in his poem ‘Burnt Norton,’ it is in the movement of time, in ordinary time, that we catch brief moments of eternity.

As Saint Paul reminds us this morning, the revelation of God in Christ is the intersection between eternity and time (see I Corinthians 2: 1-5; see Isaiah 58: 8-9).

In our Gospel reading [Matthew 5: 13-20], Christ speaks of the eternal values and truths that the Law and the Prophets point to (verse 17), and points himself to the promise and the coming of the kingdom (verses 18, 19 and 20). Yet he does this while drawing on ordinary, everyday, domestic images: salt and its role in preserving and cooking food; lights and lamps that give light in our houses and homes; bushels and baskets; hillsides and homesteads.

Life and time can be very ordinary – time is ordinary – when things keep going on and on, round and round. But even as we wait for the kingdom, that life and that time, in their ordinary ways, are worth celebrating, time after time, in everyday ordinary life.

In ‘Burnt Norton,’ TS Eliot emphasises our need to focus on the present moment and to know that there is a universal order. By understanding the nature of time and the order of the universe, we are able to recognise God and to find redemption.

The present moment is the only time period that really matters, for the past cannot be changed and the future is unknown. We cannot escape from our own time, even if we waste this ordinary time. As we move on in life, we waste time more and more, as we settle, as we prosper, as we age. Slowly but surely, we slip away from the chores and routines that mark out and make up the rhythms of ordinary life.

I have noticed in Dublin over the years how, more and more, we hire someone else to clean our house because the time it would take us to do it is ‘worth’ more than this cost. We order in takeaway food rather than cooking for ourselves because it saves ‘valuable’ time. We have our dry cleaning delivered rather than doing our own ordinary errands on an ordinary Saturday morning.

And then, as we try to commodify time and to trade in time, this distortion of our values takes a grip and seeps into our lives. We start evaluating even important relationships in the same way. We miss a child’s ‘Nativity Play’ and think we can make up by buying a new Play Station game. We constantly miss dinner at home, and then think we can make up for a year’s worth of an empty chair at the table by splashing out on expensive Christmas presents.

Gifts and games can be bought. But ordinary time with those we love can never be bought, and still more they can never be bought back.

Time and money cannot be compared. Time cannot be traded on the exchanges or bought in the supermarket. Christ spends time – typified in the time on the side of the mountain during the Sermon on the Mount, which we are reading from these Sundays – Christ spends ordinary time with the disciples, teaching them in ordinary ways about who he is and what the cost of discipleship is, what the cost of following him is. In that ordinary time they spend with him, they come to realise who Christ truly is.

Christ teaches us, time and again, that time spent with friends and family resists commodification. Because ordinary time is an essential part of what makes up our relationships. I cannot buy time, and I cannot buy friendship and love. And the more time I spend with people, paradoxically, the more time they have for God (verse 16).

A close friend is not someone I meet solely at big functions, someone I exchange business cards and email addresses with, someone who occasionally clicks Like or Share on my Facebook postings. A close friend is someone I spend significant time with, both quality time and ordinary time.

Friendships are knit together not only by taking part in shared activities, but by sharing and reflecting on memories of those activities over the course of the years, in ordinary time.

No human time that has its meaning anchored in Christ’s birth, life, death and resurrection can possibly be commodified, reduced to a monetary value or bought and sold to further our selfish desires. The story of the betrayal of Christ by Judas for thirty silver coins testifies to this truth.

The Church calendar helps us to appreciate each moment of salvation history. Time in the church year or the church calendar is not freely exchangeable – it cannot be traded or bought or sold. So, we do not fast at Christmas, nor do we feast on Good Friday.

We cannot make up for ignoring Lent by observing our own private penitential season in the first week of Easter – no more than we can make up for having forgotten a wedding anniversary or a child’s birthday by giving a bigger or more expensive present the next day, the next week or the next year.

The Church fails to grasp the intersection between temporal reality and eternal truth when we miss the opportunity to hear the ordinary concerns of ordinary people in ordinary time.

As the Church, we must guard against losing our saltiness, against hiding our light, against living in the reality of the ordinary time into which Christ is born, that time the Kingdom of God is breaking into.

TS Eliot reminds us, ‘Only through time time is conquered.’ In the economy of salvation, time is imbued with mystery. The fundamental mystery of the universe, the depth of its meaning, is the very reality of God himself. The Kingdom of God is truly but only dimly present in our midst, but will be revealed in God’s own time.

So, may we enjoy being at what he calls ‘the still point of the turning world.’ May we enjoy ordinary time, celebrate ordinary time, enjoy the ordinary things of life. Ordinary time is not a commodity to be traded or exchanged. For we are truly blessed when, in the movement of time, ordinary time, we glimpse brief moments of eternity.

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

‘… let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven’ (Matthew 5: 16) … candles lighting up the chapter and choir stalls in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 5: 13-20

13 Ὑμεῖς ἐστε τὸ ἅλας τῆς γῆς: ἐὰν δὲ τὸ ἅλας μωρανθῇ, ἐν τίνι ἁλισθήσεται; εἰς οὐδὲν ἰσχύει ἔτι εἰ μὴ βληθὲν ἔξω καταπατεῖσθαι ὑπὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων.

14 Ὑμεῖς ἐστε τὸ φῶς τοῦ κόσμου. οὐ δύναται πόλις κρυβῆναι ἐπάνω ὄρους κειμένη: 15 οὐδὲ καίουσιν λύχνον καὶ τιθέασιν αὐτὸν ὑπὸ τὸν μόδιον ἀλλ' ἐπὶ τὴν λυχνίαν, καὶ λάμπει πᾶσιν τοῖς ἐντῇ οἰκίᾳ. 16 οὕτως λαμψάτω τὸ φῶς ὑμῶν ἔμπροσθεν τῶν ἀνθρώπων, ὅπως ἴδωσιν ὑμῶν τὰ καλὰ ἔργα καὶ δοξάσωσιν τὸν πατέρα ὑμῶν τὸν ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς.

17 Μὴ νομίσητε ὅτι ἦλθον καταλῦσαι τὸν νόμον ἢ τοὺς προφήτας: οὐκ ἦλθον καταλῦσαι ἀλλὰ πληρῶσαι. 18 ἀμὴν γὰρ λέγω ὑμῖν, ἕως ἂν παρέλθῃ ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ, ἰῶτα ἓν ἢ μία κεραία οὐ μὴ παρέλθῃ ἀπὸ τοῦ νόμου, ἕως ἂν πάντα γένηται. 19 ὃς ἐὰν οὖν λύσῃ μίαν τῶν ἐντολῶν τούτων τῶν ἐλαχίστων καὶ διδάξῃ οὕτως τοὺς ἀνθρώπους, ἐλάχιστος κληθήσεται ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν: ὃς δ' ἂν ποιήσῃ καὶ διδάξῃ, οὗτος μέγας κληθήσεται ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν. 20 λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν ὅτι ἐὰν μὴ περισσεύσῃ ὑμῶν ἡ δικαιοσύνη πλεῖον τῶν γραμματέων καὶ Φαρισαίων, οὐ μὴ εἰσέλθητε εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν.

NRSV translation:

13 [Jesus said] ‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

14 ‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

17 ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’

Collect:

O God,
you know us to be set
in the midst of so many and great dangers,
that by reason of the frailty of our nature
we cannot always stand upright:
Grant to us such strength and protection
as may support us in all dangers
and carry us through all temptations;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

God of tender care,
in this Eucharist we celebrate your love for us and for all people.
May we show your love in our lives
and know its fulfilment in your presence.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

(Revd Professor) Patrick Comerford is priest-in-charge, Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin (Limerick and Killaloe) and Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This sermon was preached at the Eucharist in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick, on Sunday 5 February 2017.