Sunday, 5 March 2017

Encounters in Rome with the diplomat,
the duchess and the Homeless Jesus

A week close to the Vatican allowed walks through Saint Peter’s Square a few times each day (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Some of the Dublin and Glendalough diocesan clergy recently visited Rome. But I knew I was about to move to the Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe and missed out on that visit. It was strange then that before my move to the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes, I decided to have my own short but intense pilgrimage to Rome, visiting churches, going for long walks, and taking some time off to reflect.

This must have been my tenth visit to Italy, but it was over ten years since I had been to Rome, and this was, perhaps, only my fourth or fifth visit to the ‘Eternal City.’ I was staying at the Hotel Franklin in the Prati district, just a few steps from the Vatican, so that I strolled through Saint Peter’s Square a few times each day, morning an evening.

William Maziere Brady ‘Crossed the Tiber’ and was buried in Rome (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

‘Crossing the Tiber’ is a phrase used since the 19th century to describe the action of Anglicans, particularly Anglo-Catholic, who joined the Roman Catholic Church. The church historian William Maziere Brady (1825-1894) was one of the best-known Irish-born Anglo-Catholics to ‘Cross the Tiber.’

Brady was a son of Sir Nicholas Brady, Lord Mayor of Dublin, and was a curate in Co Kildare, Co Limerick, and Co Dublin, and a rector in Co Cork, before he went to Rome to carry out research in the Vatican archives.

There he joined the Roman Catholic Church and later became a private chamberlain to both Pope Pius IX and Pope Leo XIII. When he died in Rome two days after Saint Patrick’s Day, on 19 March 1894, he was buried in the Campo Verano, and his grave is marked with a white marble Irish cross.

‘The Homeless Jesus’ in Rome

Santa Maria in Trastevere … a favourite church in Rome (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

In a very different way, Crossing the Tiber was a regular exercise on this visit to Rome, moving from the Vatican side of the river to the classical and historic centres of the Italian capital, and back again for meals in Trastevere, with its maze of narrow cobbled backstreets, alleys and squares, visiting churches linked with the Community of San Egidio, or sitting in cafés and simply watching people passing by.

But there was no escape in Rome that week from reminders of the housing and homeless crisis in Dublin. People from every age group can be seen begging on almost every street corner, and not just in the areas seen as tourist traps. Homeless couples and individuals walk the streets, and clusters of homeless people gather on the steps of many churches.

The ‘Homeless Jesus’ project by the Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz provided an interesting link between Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, and the homeless crises in both Dublin and Rome.

One of the most photographed features at Christ Church Cathedral is his large bronze statue of the ‘Homeless Jesus.’ Timothy Schmalz has been creating large-scale sculptures for almost three decades, and describes many of his works as visual translations of the Bible. He quotes Saint Gregory the Great, who said that ‘art is for the illiterate,’ an effective way of educating the general population.

The original sculpture of the ‘Homeless Jesus’ showing Christ as a homeless person and sleeping on a park bench was installed in Toronto in early 2013. Since then, similar casts have been installed at churches and cathedrals throughout Canada and the US.

His first sculpture outside North America was installed at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, in 2015. Christ is shown lying on a park bench, his body almost entirely covered by a thin blanket, his face shrouded. The only indication that this is the Crucified Christ is his feet poking out under the blanket, bearing the marks of his Crucifixion.

Sculpture as Prayer

‘I was ill and you visited me’ … a sculpture by Timothy Schmalz on the steps of Santo Spirito Hospital near the Vatican (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The artist decided to depict Christ like this after seeing a homeless person sleeping on a bench one Christmas. ‘That is Jesus. That is how we should perceive the least among us in our heart,’ he has written. At the start of Holy Week last year, a bronze sculpture of the ‘Homeless Jesus’ was also placed in a courtyard in the Vatican, at the entrance to the Office of Papal Charities.

In Rome, I visited two similar statues by Timothy Schmalz at the entrance to Santo Spirito Hospital on the banks of the River Tiber, close to the main entrance to the Vatican.

The Church of Santo Spirito in Sassia was first built by King Ine of Wessex, who died in Rome in 728 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The hospital attached to the Church of Santo Spirito in Sassia is the oldest in Rome and was founded by Pope Innocent III (1198-1216). In his dream, the Pope saw an angel who showed him the bodies of Rome’s unwanted babies dredged up from the River Tiber in fishing nets. As a result, the Pope decided to build a hospital for paupers.

In the Middle Ages, unwanted infants were passed into the hospital through a revolving, barrel-like door, the rota. When Martin Luther visited the hospital in 1511, he was shocked by what he saw. But he exaggerated the reports he heard and claimed the unwanted babies were the Pope’s own children.

It was the sort of exaggeration and misinterpretation that would shape Luther’s preconceptions in the run-up to the events in 1517 that sparked the Reformation.

After the sack of Rome in 1527, the church was rebuilt in 1538-1544 and the hospital survives to this day, continuing to care for the poor and the homeless.

Timothy Schmalz believes ‘Christian sculpture acts for many as a gateway into the Gospels and the viewer’s own spirituality.’ The artist says: ‘I describe my sculptures as being visual prayers.’

‘I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink’ … a second sculpture by Timothy Schmalz (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

One of his statues outside Santo Spirito Hospital depicts Christ as an impoverished patient lying on a makeshift bed on the steps of the hospital. The words beneath him read: ‘Ero malato e mi avete visitato. I was ill and you visited me’ (Matthew 25: 36).

A year ago, in March 2016, he donated a second bronze statue on the same steps, showing ‘Christ the Beggar’ sitting nearby, with the words: ‘Ha avuto fame e mi avete dato da mangiare, ho avuto sete e mi avete dato da bere. I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink’ (Matthew 25: 35).

The bowl and cup in front of ‘Christ the Beggar’ could be a chalice and paten. True Communion with Christ is giving food and drink to those who hunger and thirst.

Churches and synagogues

The Great Synagogue serves one of the oldest Jewish communities in Europe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

During that week in Rome, I visited the Coliseum and the Forum, the Trevi Fountain and the Piazza Navona, the Ghetto and the Great Synagogue, which serves one of the oldest Jewish communities in Europe.

Saint John Lateran is the cathedral of the Pope as Bishop of Rome (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

I also visited some of my favourite churches, including Santa Maria in Trastevere, which is closely linked with the Community of San Egidio; the neighbouring church of Santa Maria della Scala, also in Trastevere; the Chiesa Nuova or Church of Santa Maria in Vallicella, which is associated with Saint Philip Neri; Saint John Lateran, the church where the Pope has his cathedra as Bishop of Rome; Saint Mary Major, also a Papal basilica; the Pantheon; and San Clemente, linked with the Irish Dominicans.

In the mediaeval cloisters of Saint John Lateran (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Saint Mary Major is one of the designated Papal basilicas in Rome (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

But I also did some of the normal ‘tourist things’ too during that week too.

Babington’s English Tea Rooms is a traditional English tea shop beside the Spanish Steps, the 135-step staircase built in the 1720s and leading up to the Trinità dei Monti church.

The Spanish Steps … the 135 steps lead from the Spanish Embassy to the Trinità dei Monti church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The diplomat and the duchess

Babington’s Tea Rooms … a reminder of an Irish diplomat and an American duchess (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Visiting Babington’s Tea Rooms led me to the story of yet another Irish man who made his career in Rome. William James Babington Macaulay (1892-1964) was the Irish Ambassador to the Vatican from 1933 to 1940.

Some sources say Macaulay was born in Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin, but his obituary in the New York Times and other newspapers in the US in 1964 say he was born in Co Limerick. He was educated privately, attended the Sorbonne in Paris, and was in the Royal Naval Reserve during World War I. He was a member of the British Civil Service in Inland Revenue, but after the Irish Free State was formed in 1922 he joined the Irish diplomatic service.

He worked in the Irish Legation in Washington from 1925 until 1930, when he became the first Irish Consul General in New York. He moved to Rome in 1933.

In 1937, Macaulay married Duchess Genevieve (Garvan) Brady, a wealthy American widow. Her first husband, Nicholas Frederic Brady (1878-1930), was not related to Sir Nicholas Brady, whose son ‘Crossed the Tiber.’ Instead, he was a New York businessman and philanthropist who held several papal honours, including being a papal duke.

Nicholas Brady’s business interests included brand names such as Edison, Westinghouse, Union Carbide and Chrysler. He married Genevieve Garvan, and the couple had no children. A devout Roman Catholic, she was a Dame of the Order of Malta, a Dame of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, and held many other Papal honours.

Nicholas Brady was the second American to be named a Papal Chamberlain. In 1926, Pope Pius XI made him a Papal Duke ad personam, meaning the title was not hereditary, and Genevieve was also made a papal duchess in her own right.

In the courtyard of San Clemente, linked with the Irish Dominicans (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The papal duke and duchess lived at 910 Fifth Avenue, New York, but they also built a large mock Tudor Elizabethan mansion on Long Island estate. It was completed by 1920 and they named it ‘Inisfada’ – an Irish-language pun on ‘Long Island.’ But they also lived for part of the year at Casa del Sol, their villa on the Janiculum Hill, between Trastevere and the Vatican. There they entertained senior Vatican officials, including Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, later Pope Pius XII.

Nicholas Brady died in 1930, and his widow continued to divide her time between the Casa del Sol and Inisfada. In 1934, she met the Irish Ambassador to the Vatican, William James Babington Macaulay, in Rome. They were married three years later in 1937 in Manhattan, with Cardinal Francis Spellman officiating at the wedding.

Generous bequests

The Pantheon … an ancient church that was once a Roman temple (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

But Genevieve died in Rome in 1938. She left a large fortune to the American Jesuits and left her second husband $1 million outright along with the furnishings of their Roman villa. The Jesuits used Inisfada as a retreat house until it was sold and demolished in controversial circumstances in 2013.

When William James Babington Macaulay retired from the Irish diplomatic service, he became a US citizen in 1944. He lived in retirement in Essex, Connecticut, was an active yachtsman, and travelled widely. In 1958, he donated $60,000 to Eamon de Valera to establish a foundation to assist young Irish painters, writers, sculptors, dramatists and musicians.

William Babington Macaulay later returned to live in Italy and died in Florence in 1964; he was 71.

In the narrow cobbled streets and alleys in Trastevere (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford blogs at www.patrickcomerford.com . This feature was first published in the March 2017 editions of the ‘Church Review’ (Dublin and Glendalough) and the ‘Diocesan Magazine’ (Cashel, Ferns and Ossory).

The Coliseum at night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

‘The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason’

‘Driven by the Spirit into the Wilderness’ (1942), by Stanley Spencer (1891-1959)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 5 March 2017,

The First Sunday in Lent.


11.15 a.m., Holy Communion, Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin, Tarbert, Co Kerry.

Readings: Genesis 2: 15–17; 3: 1–7; Psalm 32; Romans 5: 12–19; Matthew 4: 1–11.

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

Unless they had pancakes last Tuesday, or resolved on Wednesday to give up smoking, yet again, I am sure many people did not notice that Wednesday last was Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.

But has Lent become wholly irrelevant in the prosperous and increasingly secular Ireland we live in?

Giving up smoking on Ash Wednesday is one of the few Lenten resolutions that survive in Irish society. But even as I was growing up, Lenten resolutions were broken and forgotten as quickly as New Year’s resolutions.

How many of us promise on New Year’s Eve to give up smoking, to drink less, to cut out sugar or to lose weight?

How many of us can remember our New Year’s resolutions for this year, never mind those for 2016?

Lent originally began as six weeks of preparation and instruction for the newly-converted Christians before their baptism, before joining the Church, on Easter Eve. Lent can still be a time of preparation and renewal for all of us today. And the temptations or distractions that take us away from that preparation and renewal are similar to those faced by Christ in our Gospel reading this morning.

In this reading, Christ is tempted three times with words from the scriptures, and three times he responds with words of wisdom from the scriptures:

● One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (verse 4; see Deuteronomy 8: 3).
● Do not put the Lord your God to the test (verse 7, see Deuteronomy 6: 16).
● Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him (verse 10, see Deuteronomy 6: 13).

As that Gospel passage was being read, did you notice the sequence of events as they are recalled by Saint Matthew? How, as the drama unfolds before us, we are moved in each sequence to a greater height each time?

We start with Christ standing on the ground, amid the stones and boulders of the wilderness. From there, he is taken to the pinnacles of the Temple, and is able to look across the city. And then he is brought to the mountain-top where he looks across the kingdoms of the world.

The movement is from the particular to the general. We are being challenged to move from the temptations that affect our own lives to temptations that have consequences for the lives of those around us, and then to temptations that have an impact on the world we live in. It is a dramatic movement from my own life to the spiritual lives of others, and then to the social, economic and political life of the world. It is a reminder that there is no such thing as personal sin unless there is also social sin.

TS Eliot’s play Murder in the Cathedral is based on the events leading to the murder in Canterbury Cathedral of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1170.

The dramatisation in this play of opposition to authority was prophetic at the time, for it was written as fascism was on the rise in Central Europe. The principal focus of the play is on Becket’s internal struggles. As he reflects on his inevitable martyrdom, his tempters arrive and question the archbishop about his plight, echoing in many ways Christ’s temptations in the wilderness.

The first tempter offers the beleaguered Becket the prospect of physical safety:

The easy man lives to eat the best dinners.
Take a friend’s advice. Leave well alone,
Or your goose may be cooked and eaten to the bone.


The second tempter offers him power, riches and fame in serving the king so that he can disarm the powerful and help the poor:

To set down the great, protect the poor,
Beneath the throne of God can man do more?


Then the third tempter suggests the archbishop should form an alliance with the barons and seize a chance to resist the king:

For us, Church favour would be an advantage,
Blessing of Pope powerful protection
In the fight for liberty. You, my Lord,
In being with us, would fight a good stroke
At once, for England and for Rome.


Finally, the fourth tempter urges Thomas to look to the glory of martyrdom:

You hold the keys of heaven and hell.
Power to bind and loose: bind, Thomas, bind,
King and bishop under your heel.


Becket responds to all his tempters and specifically addresses the immoral suggestions of the fourth tempter at the end of the first act:

Now is my way clear, now is the meaning plain:
Temptation shall not come in this kind again.
The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.


In his temptation in the wilderness, Christ is tempted to do the right things for the wrong reasons.

What would be wrong with Christ turning stones into bread if that is going to feed the hungry? With showing his miraculous powers, if this is going to point to the majesty of God? With taking command of the kingdoms of this world, if this provides the opportunity to usher in justice, mercy and peace?

Let us not deceive ourselves, these are real temptations. Christ is truly human and truly divine, and for those who are morally driven there is always a real temptation to do the right thing but to do it for the wrong reason.

We all know Ireland benefitted in recent years from wanting to be a modern nation, like your neighbours. But that ambition turned to greed, and we were surprised when greed turned to economic collapse. We found we had given in to the temptation to do what appeared to be the right thing for the wrong reason.

Too often when I am offered the opportunity to do the right thing, to make a difference in this society, in this world, I ask: ‘What’s in this for me?’

When I am asked to speak up for those who are marginalised or oppressed, this should be good enough reason in itself. But then I wonder how others are going to react – react not to the marginalised or oppressed, but to me.

How often do we use external sources to hide our own internalised prejudices?

How often have I seen what is the right thing to do, but have found an excuse that I pretend is not of my own making?

I hear people claim they are not racist, but speaking about migrants, immigrants and asylum seekers in language that would shock them if it was used about our own family members in England, America or Australia.

The victims of war in Syria or boat people in the Mediterranean are objects for our pity on the television news night after night. But why are they not being settled with compassion, in proportionate numbers in Ireland?

How often do I think of doing the right thing only if it is going to please my family members or my neighbours?

How often do I use the Bible to justify not extending civil rights to others? Democracy came to all of us at a great price paid by past generations, but how often we try to hold on to those rights as if they were personal, earned wealth.

How often we use obscure Bible texts to prop up political, racist, social and economic prejudices, forgetting that any text in the Bible, however clear or obscure it may be, depends, in Christ’s own words, on the two greatest commandments, to love God and to love one another?

We can give in so easily … we can convince ourselves that we are doing the right thing when we are doing it for the wrong reason. And when we allow ourselves to be silenced or immobilised, those we should have spoken up for to lose a voice, then we lose our own voices, and our own integrity.

A wrong decision taken once, thinking I am doing the right thing, but for the wrong reason, is not just about an action in the present moment. It forms habits and it shapes who I am, within time and eternity.

The Revd Martin Niemöller (1892-1984), a prominent German Lutheran pastor and an outspoken opponent of Hitler, once said:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me
.

In each temptation this morning, Christ is asked to be complicit in social sin for tempting, self-centred reasons. In each of these temptations, we see the subtle attraction of doing the right thing but using the wrong means. Whenever I am tempted to look after my own interests first, there are always consequences – potentially dire consequences – for those around me.

When he was threatened with death and murder during the apartheid era in South Africa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu declared: ‘I cannot help it. When I see injustice, I cannot keep quiet … But what is it that they can ultimately do? The most awful thing that they can do is to kill me, and death is not the worst thing that could happen to a Christian.’

And so, at the beginning of Lent, we are reminded of how Christ, in resisting the temptations to do the right things for the wrong reasons, sets his face towards Calvary. This Lent, I invite you to join me on the journey, on the pilgrimage that leads to Good Friday, and that leads, of course, to the joys of Easter Day.

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

‘Christ in the Desert’ or ‘Christ in the Wilderness’ (Христос в пустыне), by Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi, oil on canvas, 180 cm × 210 cm, the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Collect:

Almighty God,
whose Son Jesus Christ fasted forty days in the wilderness,
and was tempted as we are, yet without sin:
Give us grace to discipline ourselves
in obedience to your Spirit;
and, as you know our weakness,
so may we know your power to save;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Lenten Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord God,
you renew us with the living bread from heaven.
Nourish our faith,
increase our hope,
strengthen our love,
and enable us to live by every word
that proceeds from out of your mouth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Matthew 4: 1-11

1 Τότε ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἀνήχθη εἰς τὴν ἔρημον ὑπὸ τοῦ πνεύματος, πειρασθῆναι ὑπὸ τοῦ διαβόλου. 2 καὶ νηστεύσας ἡμέρας τεσσεράκοντα καὶ νύκτας τεσσεράκοντα ὕστερον ἐπείνασεν. 3 Καὶ προσελθὼν ὁ πειράζων εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Εἰ υἱὸς εἶ τοῦ θεοῦ, εἰπὲ ἵνα οἱ λίθοι οὗτοι ἄρτοι γένωνται. 4 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν, Γέγραπται,

Οὐκ ἐπ' ἄρτῳ μόνῳ ζήσεται ὁ ἄνθρωπος,
ἀλλ' ἐπὶ παντὶ ῥήματι ἐκπορευομένῳ
διὰ στόματος θεοῦ.

5 Τότε παραλαμβάνει αὐτὸν ὁ διάβολος εἰς τὴν ἁγίαν πόλιν, καὶ ἔστησεν αὐτὸν ἐπὶ τὸ πτερύγιον τοῦ ἱεροῦ, 6 καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ, Εἰ υἱὸς εἶ τοῦ θεοῦ, βάλε σεαυτὸν κάτω: γέγραπται γὰρ ὅτι
Τοῖς ἀγγέλοις αὐτοῦ ἐντελεῖται περὶ σοῦ
καὶ ἐπὶ χειρῶν ἀροῦσίν σε,
μήποτε προσκόψῃς πρὸς λίθον τὸν πόδα σου.

7 ἔφη αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Πάλιν γέγραπται, Οὐκ ἐκπειράσεις κύριον τὸν θεόν σου.

8 Πάλιν παραλαμβάνει αὐτὸν ὁ διάβολος εἰς ὄρος ὑψηλὸν λίαν, καὶ δείκνυσιν αὐτῷ πάσας τὰς βασιλείας τοῦ κόσμου καὶ τὴν δόξαν αὐτῶν, 9 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ταῦτά σοι πάντα δώσω ἐὰν πεσὼν προσκυνήσῃς μοι. 10 τότε λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Υπαγε, Σατανᾶ: γέγραπται γάρ,
Κύριον τὸν θεόν σου προσκυνήσεις
καὶ αὐτῷ μόνῳ λατρεύσεις.

11 Τότε ἀφίησιν αὐτὸν ὁ διάβολος, καὶ ἰδοὺ ἄγγελοι προσῆλθον καὶ διηκόνουν αὐτῷ.

Translation (NRSV):

1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ 4 But he answered, ‘It is written,

“One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”.’
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
“He will command his angels concerning you,”
and “On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone”.’

7 Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test”.’

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; 9 and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ 10 Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
“Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him”.’

11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is priest-in-charge of the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This sermon was preached on Sunday 5 March 2017.

‘To set down the great, protect the poor,
Beneath the throne of God can man do more?’

‘Christ in the Desert’ or ‘Christ in the Wilderness’ (Христос в пустыне), by Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi, oil on canvas, 180 cm × 210 cm, the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 5 March 2017,

The First Sunday in Lent.


9.45 a.m., Holy Communion, Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick.

Readings: Genesis 2: 15–17; 3: 1–7; Psalm 32; Romans 5: 12–19; Matthew 4: 1–11.

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

Unless they had pancakes last Tuesday, or resolved on Wednesday to give up smoking, yet again, I am sure many people did not notice that Wednesday last was Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.

But has Lent become wholly irrelevant in the prosperous and increasingly secular Ireland we live in?

Giving up smoking on Ash Wednesday is one of the few Lenten resolutions that survive in Irish society. But even as I was growing up, Lenten resolutions were broken and forgotten as quickly as New Year’s resolutions.

How many of us promise on New Year’s Eve to give up smoking, to drink less, to cut out sugar or to lose weight?

How many of us can remember our New Year’s resolutions for this year, never mind those for 2016?

Lent originally began as six weeks of preparation and instruction for the newly-converted Christians before their baptism, before joining the Church, on Easter Eve. Lent can still be a time of preparation and renewal for all of us today. And the temptations or distractions that take us away from that preparation and renewal are similar to those faced by Christ in our Gospel reading this morning.

In this reading, Christ is tempted three times with words from the scriptures, and three times he responds with words of wisdom from the scriptures:

● One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (verse 4; see Deuteronomy 8: 3).
● Do not put the Lord your God to the test (verse 7, see Deuteronomy 6: 16).
● Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him (verse 10, see Deuteronomy 6: 13).

As that Gospel passage was being read, did you notice the sequence of events as they are recalled by Saint Matthew? How, as the drama unfolds before us, we are moved in each sequence to a greater height each time?

We start with Christ standing on the ground, amid the stones and boulders of the wilderness. From there, he is taken to the pinnacles of the Temple, and is able to look across the city. And then he is brought to the mountain-top where he looks across the kingdoms of the world.

The movement is from the particular to the general. We are being challenged to move from the temptations that affect our own lives to temptations that have consequences for the lives of those around us, and then to temptations that have an impact on the world we live in. It is a dramatic movement from my own life to the spiritual lives of others, and then to the social, economic and political life of the world. It is a reminder that there is no such thing as personal sin unless there is also social sin.

TS Eliot’s play Murder in the Cathedral is based on the events leading to the murder in Canterbury Cathedral of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1170.

The dramatisation in this play of opposition to authority was prophetic at the time, for it was written as fascism was on the rise in Central Europe. The principal focus of the play is on Becket’s internal struggles. As he reflects on his inevitable martyrdom, his tempters arrive and question the archbishop about his plight, echoing in many ways Christ’s temptations in the wilderness.

The first tempter offers the beleaguered Becket the prospect of physical safety:

The easy man lives to eat the best dinners.
Take a friend’s advice. Leave well alone,
Or your goose may be cooked and eaten to the bone.


The second tempter offers him power, riches and fame in serving the king so that he can disarm the powerful and help the poor:

To set down the great, protect the poor,
Beneath the throne of God can man do more?


Then the third tempter suggests the archbishop should form an alliance with the barons and seize a chance to resist the king:

For us, Church favour would be an advantage,
Blessing of Pope powerful protection
In the fight for liberty. You, my Lord,
In being with us, would fight a good stroke
At once, for England and for Rome.


Finally, the fourth tempter urges Thomas to look to the glory of martyrdom:

You hold the keys of heaven and hell.
Power to bind and loose: bind, Thomas, bind,
King and bishop under your heel.


Becket responds to all his tempters and specifically addresses the immoral suggestions of the fourth tempter at the end of the first act:

Now is my way clear, now is the meaning plain:
Temptation shall not come in this kind again.
The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.


In his temptation in the wilderness, Christ is tempted to do the right things for the wrong reasons.

What would be wrong with Christ turning stones into bread if that is going to feed the hungry? With showing his miraculous powers, if this is going to point to the majesty of God? With taking command of the kingdoms of this world, if this provides the opportunity to usher in justice, mercy and peace?

Let us not deceive ourselves, these are real temptations. Christ is truly human and truly divine, and for those who are morally driven there is always a real temptation to do the right thing but to do it for the wrong reason.

We all know Ireland benefitted in recent years from wanting to be a modern nation, like your neighbours. But that ambition turned to greed, and we were surprised when greed turned to economic collapse. We found we had given in to the temptation to do what appeared to be the right thing for the wrong reason.

Too often when I am offered the opportunity to do the right thing, to make a difference in this society, in this world, I ask: ‘What’s in this for me?’

When I am asked to speak up for those who are marginalised or oppressed, this should be good enough reason in itself. But then I wonder how others are going to react – react not to the marginalised or oppressed, but to me.

How often do we use external sources to hide our own internalised prejudices?

How often have I seen what is the right thing to do, but have found an excuse that I pretend is not of my own making?

I hear people claim they are not racist, but speaking about migrants, immigrants and asylum seekers in language that would shock them if it was used about our own family members in England, America or Australia.

The victims of war in Syria or boat people in the Mediterranean are objects for our pity on the television news night after night. But why are they not being settled with compassion, in proportionate numbers in Ireland?

How often do I think of doing the right thing only if it is going to please my family members or my neighbours?

How often do I use the Bible to justify not extending civil rights to others? Democracy came to all of us at a great price paid by past generations, but how often we try to hold on to those rights as if they were personal, earned wealth.

How often we use obscure Bible texts to prop up political, racist, social and economic prejudices, forgetting that any text in the Bible, however clear or obscure it may be, depends, in Christ’s own words, on the two greatest commandments, to love God and to love one another?

We can give in so easily … we can convince ourselves that we are doing the right thing when we are doing it for the wrong reason. And when we allow ourselves to be silenced or immobilised, those we should have spoken up for to lose a voice, then we lose our own voices, and our own integrity.

A wrong decision taken once, thinking I am doing the right thing, but for the wrong reason, is not just about an action in the present moment. It forms habits and it shapes who I am, within time and eternity.

The Revd Martin Niemöller (1892-1984), a prominent German Lutheran pastor and an outspoken opponent of Hitler, once said:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me
.

In each temptation this morning, Christ is asked to be complicit in social sin for tempting, self-centred reasons. In each of these temptations, we see the subtle attraction of doing the right thing but using the wrong means. Whenever I am tempted to look after my own interests first, there are always consequences – potentially dire consequences – for those around me.

When he was threatened with death and murder during the apartheid era in South Africa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu declared: ‘I cannot help it. When I see injustice, I cannot keep quiet … But what is it that they can ultimately do? The most awful thing that they can do is to kill me, and death is not the worst thing that could happen to a Christian.’

And so, at the beginning of Lent, we are reminded of how Christ, in resisting the temptations to do the right things for the wrong reasons, sets his face towards Calvary. This Lent, I invite you to join me on the journey, on the pilgrimage that leads to Good Friday, and that leads, of course, to the joys of Easter Day.

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

‘Driven by the Spirit into the Wilderness’ (1942), by Stanley Spencer (1891-1959)

The Collect:

Almighty God,
whose Son Jesus Christ fasted forty days in the wilderness,
and was tempted as we are, yet without sin:
Give us grace to discipline ourselves
in obedience to your Spirit;
and, as you know our weakness,
so may we know your power to save;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Lenten Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord God,
you renew us with the living bread from heaven.
Nourish our faith,
increase our hope,
strengthen our love,
and enable us to live by every word
that proceeds from out of your mouth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Matthew 4: 1-11

1 Τότε ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἀνήχθη εἰς τὴν ἔρημον ὑπὸ τοῦ πνεύματος, πειρασθῆναι ὑπὸ τοῦ διαβόλου. 2 καὶ νηστεύσας ἡμέρας τεσσεράκοντα καὶ νύκτας τεσσεράκοντα ὕστερον ἐπείνασεν. 3 Καὶ προσελθὼν ὁ πειράζων εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Εἰ υἱὸς εἶ τοῦ θεοῦ, εἰπὲ ἵνα οἱ λίθοι οὗτοι ἄρτοι γένωνται. 4 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν, Γέγραπται,

Οὐκ ἐπ' ἄρτῳ μόνῳ ζήσεται ὁ ἄνθρωπος,
ἀλλ' ἐπὶ παντὶ ῥήματι ἐκπορευομένῳ
διὰ στόματος θεοῦ.

5 Τότε παραλαμβάνει αὐτὸν ὁ διάβολος εἰς τὴν ἁγίαν πόλιν, καὶ ἔστησεν αὐτὸν ἐπὶ τὸ πτερύγιον τοῦ ἱεροῦ, 6 καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ, Εἰ υἱὸς εἶ τοῦ θεοῦ, βάλε σεαυτὸν κάτω: γέγραπται γὰρ ὅτι
Τοῖς ἀγγέλοις αὐτοῦ ἐντελεῖται περὶ σοῦ
καὶ ἐπὶ χειρῶν ἀροῦσίν σε,
μήποτε προσκόψῃς πρὸς λίθον τὸν πόδα σου.

7 ἔφη αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Πάλιν γέγραπται, Οὐκ ἐκπειράσεις κύριον τὸν θεόν σου.

8 Πάλιν παραλαμβάνει αὐτὸν ὁ διάβολος εἰς ὄρος ὑψηλὸν λίαν, καὶ δείκνυσιν αὐτῷ πάσας τὰς βασιλείας τοῦ κόσμου καὶ τὴν δόξαν αὐτῶν, 9 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ταῦτά σοι πάντα δώσω ἐὰν πεσὼν προσκυνήσῃς μοι. 10 τότε λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Υπαγε, Σατανᾶ: γέγραπται γάρ,
Κύριον τὸν θεόν σου προσκυνήσεις
καὶ αὐτῷ μόνῳ λατρεύσεις.

11 Τότε ἀφίησιν αὐτὸν ὁ διάβολος, καὶ ἰδοὺ ἄγγελοι προσῆλθον καὶ διηκόνουν αὐτῷ.

Translation (NRSV):

1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ 4 But he answered, ‘It is written,

“One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”.’
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
“He will command his angels concerning you,”
and “On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone”.’

7 Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test”.’

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; 9 and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ 10 Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
“Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him”.’

11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is priest-in-charge of the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This sermon was prepared for Sunday 5 March 2017.

Praying in Lent 2017 with USPG,
(8) Sunday 5 March 2017

Military from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia have water cannons at the ready on border with Greece following clashes with migrants who are feeling increasingly desperate and impatient (Photograph: USPG/Max McClellan)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the First Sunday in Lent (5 March 2017). Later this morning I am presiding at the Eucharist and preaching in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick, and Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin, Tarbert, Co Kerry.

The Readings are: Genesis 2: 15–17; 3: 1–7; Psalm 32; Romans 5: 12–19; Matthew 4: 1–11. In my sermons, I intend to look at the Gospel story of the Temptation of Christ in the Wilderness.

The Lent 2017 edition of the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) follows the theme of the USPG Lent study course, ‘Living an Authentic Life.’

I am using this Prayer Diary for my prayers and reflections each morning this week and throughout Lent. Why not join me in these prayers and reflections, for just a few moments each morning?

In the articles and prayers in the prayer diary, USPG invites us to investigate what it means to be a disciple of Christ. The Lent study course, ‘Living an Authentic Life’ (available online or to order at www.uspg.org.uk/lent), explores the idea that discipleship and authenticity are connected.

This week, from today (5 March) until next Saturday (11 March), the USPG Lent Prayer Diary follows the topic ‘Introducing Discipleship.’

The topic is introduced in the Prayer Diary in an article by the Revd S Balasundram, a priest in Colombo, Sri Lanka, who is training with the USPG-funded Asian Theological Academy. He writes:

One of my hopes as a priest is to educate congregations in how a believer can become a disciple. I often say that a believer has not matured as a Christian until they have become a disciple.

Sadly, some Christians get stuck in the role of being only a believer – they accept Christ and believe, but we are also tasked by Jesus to be disciples.

When my congregations ask me what I mean, I explain there are many opportunities to participate in discipleship. We can challenge our government to give more support for education. We can urge our cities to become more environmentally friendly. We can make peaceful protests. We can write letters or articles. And so much more.

In one church, after I had preached, two women told me there had been a protest march against child abuse and they had participated. It was very moving to hear.

I am also one of the clergy in Sri Lanka who is not promoting prosperity theology. I don’t condemn the wealthy or rich, but I do challenge them, saying: ‘You are rich, you are blessed, but you also have a responsibility to share your blessings with others.’


Sunday, 5 March 2017,

The First Sunday in Lent:

Holy God, thank you for calling us to be disciples.
Help us in this season of Lent
daily to take up our cross and follow you
that our whole lives may be lived to your glory.


The Collect:

Almighty God,
whose Son Jesus Christ fasted forty days in the wilderness,
and was tempted as we are, yet without sin:
Give us grace to discipline ourselves
in obedience to your Spirit;
and, as you know our weakness,
so may we know your power to save;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Lenten Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord God,
you renew us with the living bread from heaven.
Nourish our faith,
increase our hope,
strengthen our love,
and enable us to live by every word
that proceeds from out of your mouth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Continued tomorrow

Yesterday’s reflection and prayer