25 May 2017

Keeping our heads in the clouds, or
keeping our feet on the ground?

The dome inside the Daniel Pantanassa Church in the Ihlara Valley, Cappadocia, Turkey, with frescoes of the Ascension (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Thursday 25 May 2017,

The Ascension Day:

Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick,

8 p.m.:
The Holy Communion:

Readings: Acts 1: 1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1: 15-23; Luke 24: 44-53.

In the name of + the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Ascension Day is one of the 12 great feasts of the Church.

On this day, we celebrate the culmination of the Mystery of the Incarnation.

On this day, we celebrate that Christ, by ascending into his glory, completed the work of our redemption.

On this day, we celebrate the completion of the work of our salvation, the pledge of our glorification with Christ, and his entry into heaven with our human nature glorified.

On this day, Christ ascends in his glorified human body to sit at the right hand of the Father.

On this day, we are given the final visible sign of Christ’s two natures, divine and human.

On this day, we see the completion of Christ’s physical presence among his apostles and the consummation of the union of God and humanity.

On this day, we are shown that redeemed humanity now has a higher state than humanity had before the fall.

On this day, as Saint Matthew reminds us in his account of the Ascension, we receive our commission for mission, the command to go out, to make disciples, and to baptise.

But, on this day, are we like the disciples, left standing and staring and not knowing what to do?

Or, on this day, do we listen to the advice to head off, to expect the promise of the Father and the gift of the Holy Spirit?

As so often throughout the Gospels, it is easy to imagine in today’s readings from Saint Luke’s Gospel and from the Acts of the Apostles that the disciples have still not realised the sort of Messiah that Jesus is: they are still wondering whether they have arrived at the moment when Israel is going to be restored as a kingdom, to become a regional power once again.

The disciples kept their heads in the clouds, even though Christ has told them to go back to Jerusalem. They have their heads in the clouds, and while their feet are rooted to the ground, they are feet that should have been walking, walking back to Jerusalem, ready to step out bravely into the world in mission.

The two men in white who appear beside them are like the two angels at the empty tomb on Easter Morning. They remind the disciples to get on with doing what Christ has told them to do.

They are being sent back to Jerusalem – not to be passive, but to pray to God the Father and to wait for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In time, the Holy Spirit will empower them at Pentecost, and they will be Christ’s witnesses … not just in Judea and Samaria, but to the ends of the earth fulfilling that commission in Saint Matthew’s Gospel.

In an old tradition in England, beating the bounds ceremonies took place in parishes on Ascension Day. It was an effective way of passing from one generation to another the traditions and memories of the precise limits of a parish. The care of the poor was the legal responsibility of a parish, and the parish was responsible for relieving the needy, supporting apprentice children and caring for the destitute in the parish.

Knowledge of the limits of each parish had to be handed down also so that liability for contributing to the repair of the church, and rights to be buried in the churchyard were not disputed. Parish poor rates were raised to pay for these responsibilities, and so it was important to remember the bounds of the parish.

In the Church of England, parishioners carried a banner bearing the symbol of a lion at the head of the procession, and a second banner bearing the symbol of a dragon at the rear. This represents the victory of Christ over the devil.

But caring for the poor, the marginalised and the excluded should not be the limit of our understanding of Christian responsibility.

For many Christians, the meaning of the Day of Ascension is found in the sense of hope that the glorious and triumphant return of Christ is near, the sense of hope that inspired people on the streets this week in response to horrors unleashed in Manchester on Monday night – and I hope to say more on Sunday about what happened in Manchester.

The meanings we find in Ascension are reminders of the Kingdom of God within our hearts, and of the ever-present Spirit of God, watching over and protecting us as we seek to spread the light of Christ and his truth throughout the world.

The disciples who are left below are left not to ponder on what they have seen, but to prepare for Pentecost and to go out into the world as the lived Pentecost, as Christ’s hands and feet in the world.

Like the disciples in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we can be left looking and wondering, being without doing. But there is no choice for Christians between keeping our heads in the clouds and our feet on the ground. If we are people of the Ascension and we look forward to the coming of the Kingdom, then we cannot be bound by the limits of our parish and there can be no limits to our compassion for those on the boundaries.

And now may all praise, honour and glory be to God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge, the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This sermon was prepared for the Eucharist on Ascension Day, 25 May 2017.

Salvador Dali: The Ascension (1958)


Grant, we pray, Almighty God,
that as we believe your only-begotten Son
our Lord Jesus Christ
to have ascended into the heavens;
so we in heart and mind may also ascend
and with him continually dwell;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Introduction to the Peace:

Jesus said, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
I do not give to you as the world gives. John 14: 27, 28


Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who after he had risen from the dead
ascended into heaven,
where he is seated at your right hand to intercede for us
and to prepare a place for us in glory:

Post-Communion Prayer:

Grant, we pray, Almighty God,
that as we believe your only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ
to have ascended into the heavens;
so we in heart and mind may also ascend
and with him continually dwell;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.


Christ our exalted King
pour on you his abundant gifts
make you faithful and strong to do his will
that you may reign with him in glory:

A modern icon of the Ascension

Celebrating Ascension Day
and an interesting family link

Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge ... Philip Comerford and Mary Harvey were married here on 5 October 1907, and the wedding was conducted by Canon Harry Vere White (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today is Ascension Day, and at 8 p.m. this evening [25 May 2017] I am presiding and preaching at the Ascension Day Eucharist in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick.

A little earlier this evening, at 7.30 p.m., Saint Bartholomew’s Church in Ballsbridge, Dublin, is celebrating its 150th anniversary as a parish. Archbishop Michael Jackson of Dublin is presiding at the 150th anniversary service and Archbishop Richard Clarke of Armagh, a former curate, is the preacher. Clergy have been invited to robe in white stole and there will be a reception immediately afterwards in the Order of Malta hall next door to the church.

Saint Bartholomew’s is undergoing major restoration work, and the newly restored sanctuary decorations recently emerges from the coverings and scaffolding with some of the new lighting scheme.

The church features next month [June 2017] in my monthly column in the Church Review (Dublin and Glendalough) and the Diocesan Magazine (Cashel, Ferns and Ossory), when I write about the Wyatt family, a unique architectural dynasty with origins in Weeford, near Lichfield, and who made an interesting contribution to Irish architecture. Thomas Henry Wyatt (1807-1880) was the architect of Saint Bartholomew’s Church, which was consecrated by Archbishop Richard Chenevix Trench of Dublin on 23 December 1867.

Later this year, the parish is holding a fundraising dinner on Friday, 20 October 2017 to celebrate the church’s 150th anniversary. The dinner is taking place in the Clayton Hotel Ballsbridge, the choir will provide the entertainment, and Senator David Norris is the after-dinner speaker. Seating is limited to 120 people, and tickets cost €100 per person.

I am sorry to miss this evening’s anniversary celebrations, as I have often provided Sunday, mid-week and holiday cover in Saint Bartholomew’s over the years. But I was surprised in recent days to also uncover an interesting family connection with this beautiful church.

Saint Bartholomew’s is celebrating 150 years as a parish church this evening

The Revd Philip Comerford (1909-2006), who died in Saskatoon, Canada, over 10 years ago on 21 December 2006 at the age of 97 after a long and full life, spent 10 years working as a missionary in Paraguay, before spending a long and fruitful life in ordained ministry in Canada.

Philip’s father, also Philip Comerford, and grandfather Philip Comerford, are three generations in the one family who worked on the Irish railways. The grandfather:

Philip Comerford (1848-1902) was born ca 1848. He was a railway signalman and a railway porter. He married Margaret Mooney (born ca 1859), and they lived in Leixlip, Co Kildare (ca1880-1882) before returning to Dublin, where they lived at 31 Constitution Hill (1882), Ashtown (1884-1886), 104 Townsend Street (1888), 2 or 3 Grant’s Row (1890), and 37 Wentworth Place, now Hogan Place, off Erne Street (from 1894). Philip Comerford died in the Adelaide Hospital, Dublin, at the age of 53, on 17 February 1902. Philip and Margaret were the parents of at least seven children, including three sons and four daughters:

1, Philip Henry Comerford (1880-2006), who was born in Leixlip, Co Kildare, on 18 May 1880.
2, James Francis Comerford (1882- ), born at 31 Constitution Hill on 1 February 1882, aged 19 and a butler in 1901.
3, Patrick Joseph Comerford, born in Ashtown on 2 April 1884, a messenger, aged 16, in 1901, listed in the Census returns as Church of Ireland.
4, Mary Josephine, born in Ashtown, Co Dublin, 1886, baptised in Chapelizod Roman Catholic Church, 1886 (sponsors: John Faley and Louisa Layne), appears to have died in infancy.
5, Elizabeth (‘Tillie’), born 1888, baptised in Saint Andrew’s Roman Catholic Church, Westland Row, in 1888 (sponsor: Sarah Mooney), living in 1901, aged 12, at school, and listed in the census returns as a member of the Church of Ireland.
6, Mary Frances, born 15 September 1890, baptised in Saint Mark’s Church (Church of Ireland), 9 November 1890, and in Saint Andrew’s Roman Catholic Church, Westland Row, 1890 (sponsor, Margaret O’Leary). Aged 9 in 1901, and at school, she was listed in the census returns as a member of the Church of Ireland.
7, Kathleen, born in 1894, and baptised in Saint Andrew’s Roman Catholic Church, Westland Row, in 1888. She is not listed in the 1901 Census returns.

The eldest son:

Philip Henry Comerford (1880-2006), the eldest son of Philip and Margaret (Mooney) Comerford, was born in Leixlip, Co Kildare, on 18 May 1880. He was a railway clerk and living at 37 Wentworth Place when on 5 October 1907, in Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, he married Mary Harvey of 11 Bath Avenue, daughter of John Harvey, engine fitter; she was born in Manchester.

The wedding was conducted by the Vicar of Saint Bartholomew’s, Canon Harry Vere White (1853-1941), later Archdeacon of Dublin (1917-1918), Dean of Christ Church Cathedral (1918-1921), and Bishop of Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe (1921-1933), and a former Irish organising secretary of the Anglican mission agency, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG, now USPG). The witnesses at the wedding were William Harvey and Sarah Harvey.

This Philip Henry Comerford was working with Irish Railways and the couple were living at 56 Temple Buildings when their son, also Philip Henry Comerford, later the Revd Philip Comerford (1909-2006), was born there on 23 August 1909. At the 1911 census, the family was living in Upper Dominick Street, Dublin. The father continued to work with CIE, and the younger Philip Comerford also worked as a joiner and draftsman with Irish Railways before leaving Ireland to work in as a missionary in Latin America.

From 1938 to 1948, Philip Comerford worked in the jungles of Paraguay with the South American Missionary Society. There he developed an interest in animals, particularly snakes, and he amassed a specimen collection that he kept for almost 50 years and was only too happy to introduce it to anyone who dared ask.

Philip returned to Ireland in 1948, and on 22 September 1952, in Saint Mary’s Church, Dublin, he married Maude Montgomery, of 22 Shamrock Street, off Blessington Street, Dublin. The wedding was conducted by the Revd Norman David Emerson, later Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (1962-1966).

In 1954, Philip and Maude became the parents of twins born in Dublin:

1, Valerie.
2, Henry Montgomery Comerford.

In 1961, Philip and Maude emigrated to Canada with their children and he entered Emmanuel College, Saskatoon.

After two years of training, Philip was ordained a deacon in the Anglican Church of Canada, and was ordained priest the following year.

Philip served in parishes in the Dioceses of Saskatchewan, Athabasca and Saskatoon. His longest appointment was in the parish of Radisson, Maymont and Borden where he served 11 years, and he lived a life that was full of adventure, purpose and conviction.

Philip died in Saskatoon, Canada, on 21 December 2006. He was predeceased by his wife Maude in 1997. He was survived by his son, the Ven Dr Henry Comerford, his wife Sara and their children, Aaron Comerford (fiancée Mandy Tempel) and Shannon; and his daughter, Valerie, her husband, Bob Pankratz and their daughters, Tiffany and Shenelle.

His funeral service took place in Saint John’s Anglican Cathedral, Saskatoon, on 28 December 2006, and he was buried the Radisson Cemetery later that afternoon.

Archdeacon Henry Comerford (right), with Aaron and Sara at their beehives ... Sun River Honey sells to food processors and honey packers in Canada and the US (Photograph: Brian Cross)

Archdeacon Henry Montgomery Comerford of Saskatoon, the Dublin-born son of the Revd Philip Comerford is an Anglican priest in Canada and an acclaimed artist who has worked in a challenging missionary context in Saskatchewan as Rector of Saint George’s Church, Saskatoon.

For many years, as the Revd Canon Henry Comerford, he was the Rector of Saint George’s, which was established as an Anglican mission in 1906 the same year the City of Saskatoon was created. Originally a small 18 by 24 ft, uninsulated, shack-like building on the far western edge of the city, Saint George’s has grown to become an inner-city faith centre with room for more than 200.

From its beginnings, Saint George’s was known for its outreach, mission support and community involvement. These characteristics continue to be the hallmarks of the present activities of Saint George’s Parish. In 2006, Saint George’s Church marked its centennial with a year-long series of events and celebrations, and the church’s history, A Century of Ministry, was published in early 2007.

Dr Comerford completed his DMin at Saint Stephen’s College (University of Alberta) in Edmonton, Alberta, in 1998, writing his dissertation on ‘Vessels of Evocation.’ In his doctoral dissertation, he set out to give “artistic expression to the contemporary evolution of Christian awareness, towards a post-orthodox Christianity.”

Drawing on the works of Paul Tillich, Carl Jung, Martin Buber, and others in his dissertation, he described recovering creative foundations of ministry, suggested a theology of ministry for creativity and healing, and considered the fundamental relationship between artistic process and theological development.

Recently, the Bishop of Saskatoon, the Right Revd David Malcolm Irving, appointed the former Rector of Saint George’s, then the Revd Canon Dr Henry Montgomery Comerford, as Executive Archdeacon of the Diocese of Saskatoon. He retired in 2016. Henry and his wife Sara continue to run a family business producing honey, Sun River Honey. They are the parents of two children:

1, Aaron Comerford.
2, Shannon.

Last updated: 9 August 2022.