Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Tales of the Viennese Jews:
12, Salomon Mayer von Rothschild
and the railways in Vienna

Salomon Mayer von Rothschild (1774-1855) … his statue in the Nordbahnof station was the first sight to greet immigrants arriving in Vienna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

The Tales from the Vienna Woods is a waltz by the composer Johann Strauss II (1825-1899), written just over a century and a half ago, in 1868. Although Strauss was baptised in the Roman Catholic Church, he was born into a prominent Jewish family. Because the Nazis had a particular penchant for Strauss’s music, they tried to conceal and even deny the Jewish identity of the Strauss family.

However, the stories of Vienna’s Jews cannot be hidden, and many of those stories from Vienna are told in the exhibits in the Jewish Museum in its two locations, at the Palais Eskeles on Dorotheergasse and in the Misrachi-Haus in Judenplatz.

Rather than describe both museums in detail in one or two blog postings, I decided after my visit to Vienna last month to post occasional blog postings that re-tell some of these stories, celebrating a culture and a community whose stories should never be forgotten.

In my teens I was surprised to come across a Rothschild family in Dublin, at rugby matches in the Clontarf/Raheny area. The Rothschild family in Ireland came to Dublin from Altona in Germany in 1839. At first, they were involved in the cigar and tobacco business, and many of the early generations are buried in the Jewish cemetery in Ballybough.

The late Asher Benson, in his Jewish Dublin, says there is no known connection between this Rothschild family and the famous Rothschild banking family that has spread across Europe.

The Rothschild banking family traces its ancestry back to 1577 and to Izaak Elchanan Rothschild, who took his name from the German for the red shield that was a sign outside his family home for many generations. The name Rothschild means ‘Red Coat,’ as in an heraldic coat of arms. His grandchildren and descendants used this as their family name, and kept it even after they moved house in 1664.

A statue in the Jewish Museum in at the Palais Eskeles on Dorotheergasse in Vienna depicts Salomon Mayer von Rothschild (1774-1855), the German-born banker and founder of the Austrian branch of the Rothschild banking family.

Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812) of Frankfurt had built the family banking business in Germany. In recognition of the Rothschild family’s services to the Habsburg Empire, the Emperor Francis I posthumously made Mayer Amschel Rothschild a member of the Austrian nobility. This privilege was inherited by his sons, although Nathan Meyer Rothschild, ancestor of the English branch of the family, declined the honour.

Mayer Amschel Rothschild’s third child and second son, Salomon Mayer von Rothschild, was born in Frankfurt-am-Main on 9 September 1774 and was the ancestor of the Austrian branch of the banking family.

As the family business expanded across Europe, the eldest Rothschild son remained in Frankfurt, while each of the other four sons were sent to different European cities to establish a banking branch.

Salomon von Rothschild became a shareholder of the de Rothschild Frères bank in Paris when it was opened by his brother James Mayer de Rothschild in 1817. Salomon was sent to Austria in 1820 to engage in financing Austrian government projects and established SM von Rothschild in Vienna.

Salomon von Rothschild and his brothers were further honoured in 1822, when the Emperor gave them the hereditary title of freiherr or baron. In 1843, Salomon became the first Jew to ever be given honorary Austrian citizenship. He made connections with the Austrian aristocracy and political elite through Prince Klemens Metternich and Friedrich von Gentz.

The Viennese bank was highly successful under the direction of Salomon von Rothschild, and played an integral role in the development of the Austrian economy. The bank in Vienna financed the Nordbahn rail transport network, Austria’s first steam railway, and funded many government undertakings.

Salomon von Rothschild’s personal wealth was enormous. But by the time of the revolutions of 1848 in the Habsburg areas, anti-Rothschild sentiments increased. With the fall of Metternich, Salomon von Rothschild lost some of his political influence and his bank lost a considerable amount of money.

At the age of 74, he handed over the bank to his son Anselm Salomon von Rothschild (1803-1874), left Vienna and retired in Paris. He died there on 28 July 1855.

The marble statue of Salomon von Rothschild in the current exhibition in the Jewish Museum on Dorotheergasse is the work of the Austrian sculptor Johann Meixner (1819-1872) in 1869/1870. Meixner was one of the founding members of the Vienna Künstlerhaus in 1861, and this statue originally stood in the hall of Nordbahnof station in Vienna.

The Nordbahnof station was built in 1865, ten years after Salomon’s death. In the second half of the 19th century, this station became the means of transport for Viennese transport, and its terminus became their point of entry. When they arrived in Vienna, the first thing they saw on their arrival was this statue of Rothschild, with its optimistic promise of unending possibilities.

The statue was removed in 1938 at the time of the German-Austrian Anschluss and the Nazi seizure of power, and was given to the Historisches Museum. It was transferred to the Railway Museum, later incorporated in the Technical Museum, and is on loan to the current exhibition in the Jewish Museum.

The crown of a Torah scroll in the Jewish Museum on Dorotheergasse in Vienna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Reading Saint Luke’s Gospel
in Advent 2019: Luke 10

The Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 30-37) … a stained glass window in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

During the Season of Advent this year, I am joining many people in reading a chapter from Saint Luke’s Gospel each morning. In all, there are 24 chapters in Saint Luke’s Gospel, so this means being able to read through the full Gospel, reaching the last chapter on Christmas Eve [24 December 2019].

Why not join me as I read through Saint Luke’s Gospel each morning this Advent?

Luke 10 (NRSVA):

1 After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2 He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. 3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” 6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11 “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.” 12 I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.

13 ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14 But at the judgement it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 15 And you, Capernaum,

will you be exalted to heaven?
No, you will be brought down to Hades.

16 ‘Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.’

17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’ 18 He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19 See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’

21 At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 22 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’

23 Then turning to the disciples, Jesus said to them privately, ‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! 24 For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.’

25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 26 He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ 27 He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ 28 And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’

29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ 30 Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ 37 He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ 41 But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’

An Orthodox icon of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, interpreting the parable according to the Patristic and Orthodox tradition (Click on image for full-screen viewing)

A prayer for today:

A prayer today (Human Rights Day) from the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG, United Society Partners in the Gospel:

Let us pray for people who have suffered various forms of human rights abuse, that the Lord should guide us to respect the rights of all people irrespective of their sex, race and religion.

Tomorrow: Luke 11.

Yesterday: Luke 9.

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Good Samaritan … a stained glass window in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Monday, 9 December 2019

Sad to hear of the plans to close
Saint John’s College, Nottingham

Saint John’s College, Nottingham … due to close next summer (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

It was sad to read in the Church Times at the weekend that Saint John’s College, Nottingham, is to close after 156 years.

While I was on the staff of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, I worked closely with Saint John’s and the college staff. The principal, Canon Christina Baxter, was an external examiner at CITI and a regular visitor, and I also worked closely with other staff members, including the Revd Dr Tim Hull, tutor in theology.

With other members of academic staff at CITI, I lectured on the three-year course for NSM ordinands leading to Certificate in Christian Studies awarded by Saint John’s in association with the Open University and the University of Chester. I also supervised post-graduate research leading to the MA in theology and art from Saint John’s College and the University of Nottingham.

I regularly visited theological colleges in England, to compare notes and network with academics who were teaching in the same fields as I was teaching in, including Church History, Liturgy and Patristics, and I was welcomed to Saint John’s in 2013.

A statement last week said the college council agreed last month [11 November 2019] ‘that the operation of the current configuration of St John’s is no longer financially viable in the long term,’ and that the process of closure would begin.

It now looks as though most of the 28 people working at Saint John’s, including tutors, are to transfer to new posts in institutions that continue the college’s distance-learning and youth-ministry work. But, inevitably, there will be job losses and redundancies by next summer.

Students have been reassured that their courses will continue until they have completed them.

The Principal of the Eastern Region Ministry Course, the Revd Dr Alex Jensen, a former lecturer at the Church of Ireland Theological College, suggested there is ‘great fear’ in the Theological Education Institutions (TEI) sector that other closures could follow. ‘Hardly any college or course is financially sustainable,’ he told the Church Times last week, wondering when ‘the next college or course falls by the wayside.’

The broader context for theological education was illustrated by figures seen by the Church Times, suggesting a target in the Church of England of a 50 per cent increase in ordained vocations is unlikely to be met by 2020.

The Church Times said there have been ‘signs of trouble’ at Saint John’s ‘for some time.’ The college had 60 students last year, compared with 108 in 2016-2017, and 223 in June 2016.

Saint John’s decided in 2014 to stop recruiting students, including ordinands, to study on campus. Plans were announced for ‘remodelling the college to meet the future training needs of the Church.’ It was renamed Saint John’s School of Mission in 2015, although it later returned to calling itself Saint John’s College.

Plans were made to place students with a church and to study for two days a fortnight at the campus. All recruitment was suspended for the academic year 2016-2017, and the last ordinands finished training in June 2017.

Healthier finances were secured in 2017 when land was sold for a new housing development. The college reported a surplus of £1.3 million in 2018, compared with a deficit of £612,853 the previous year. The Revd Dr David Hilborn, who welcomed me to Saint John’s six years ago, resigned as principal at the end of last year, and is now Principal of Moorlands College, Christchurch, an evangelical college in Dorset.

As far back as 1997, the college was facing financial pressures and falling student recruitment. But a ‘mixed-mode’ delivery of ordination training was introduced, and two years later the Midlands Institute for Children Youth and Mission (MCYM) was opened on site, in partnership with Youth for Christ, offering two undergraduate degrees. This became the college’s main source of income.

However, the MCYM announced in October it was moving to Leicester to merge with the Institute for Children Youth and Mission. That move includes moving a collection of 10,000 books, while discussions are taking place way with the Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham, and Saint Mellitus College, East Midlands, to ensure the Saint John’s library has ‘a new home in Nottingham.’

The last remaining building owned by Saint John’s will be sold, and the three parts of the legacy – MCYM, distance-learning, and the library – will be given funds to help to secure their future in new homes.

The Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham, is to take over the Extension Studies department, offering distance-learning courses and degrees validated by the University of Durham. The majority of staff, including tutors, are expected to transfer to Leicester or Birmingham.

In the gardens at Saint John’s College, Nottingham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint John’s was originally founded as the London School of Divinity, an evangelical college, in 1863. Former principals include Donald Coggan, later Archbishop of Canterbury, and the evangelist and theologian Michael Green. Another Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, trained at Saint John’s, as did Bishop Christopher Cocksworth of Coventry, Bishop Vivienne Faull of Bristol, Archbishop Janani Luwum of Uganda, and the recently retired Bishop Harold Miller of Down and Dromore.

The college was founded by the Revd Alfred Peache and his sister, Kezia, after they inherited their father’s fortune. The college was established to provide an evangelical theological education to ordinands who could not go to university. Canon Thomas Boultbee was the first principal and Lord Shaftesbury became the first president of the college council.

The first premises near Kilburn High Road Station were known as Saint John’s Hall, and Saint John’s became an informal name for the college, perhaps because Boultbee was a graduate of Saint John’s College, Cambridge.

The college moved to Highbury in 1866 and remained there for almost 80 years, with close links to Arsenal FC and their grounds at Highbury. During World War II, the faculty, staff and students were evacuated to Wadhurst School in Sussex in 1942 when the Highbury buildings were damaged by air-raids.

The future Archbishop of Canterbury, Donald Coggan, became principal in 1944, and for the 10 years he was principal, the college was based at Harrow School and then at Ford Manor in Lingfield, Surrey.

Under Dr Coggan’s successor, Canon Hugh Jordan, discussions began on moving away from London. Canon Jordan believed the future of the college was outside London but near a university. A site was available in Nottingham, where the university’s theological department was growing in reputation. His successor as principal, Canon Michael Green, oversaw the move from London to Bramcote in Nottingham in 1970.

With the move from London, the London College of Divinity changed its name to Saint John’s. As Saint John’s, the college pioneered distance learning programmes in theology in the late 1970s, and made new theological thinking and research accessible to a wide audience through its A5-sized Grove Booklet series.

Later principals included Colin Buchanan, who became Bishop of Aston, Professor John Goldingay, Canon Christina Baxter, the first lay principal, Dr David Hilborn and Dr Sally Nash.

Former staff members include Dr George Bebabwi, an Egyptian scholar who was one of my lecturers at the summer school on ‘The Ascent to Holiness,’ organised by the Institute for Orthodox Studies at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, in 2008. I still recall how he barely managed to stick to his script as he delivered his paper on ‘Discernment’ with great style, compassion and humour.

Dr Bebabwi warned against what he described as ‘learning wisdom.’ He quoted from the Egyptian Desert Father, Abba Poemen, who said: ‘A man who teaches without doing what he teaches is like a spring which cleanses and gives drinks to everyone, but is not able to purify itself.’

In the chapel at Saint John’s College, Nottingham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Reading Saint Luke’s Gospel
in Advent 2019: Luke 9

The Transfiguration (Luke 9: 28-36) … an icon in the parish church in Piskopianó in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

During the Season of Advent this year, I am joining many people in reading a chapter from Saint Luke’s Gospel each morning. In all, there are 24 chapters in Saint Luke’s Gospel, so this means being able to read through the full Gospel, reaching the last chapter on Christmas Eve [24 December 2019].

Why not join me as I read through Saint Luke’s Gospel each morning this Advent?

Luke 9 (NRSVA):

1 Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. 3 He said to them, ‘Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money – not even an extra tunic. 4 Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. 5 Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.’ 6 They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere.

7 Now Herod the ruler heard about all that had taken place, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, 8 by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the ancient prophets had arisen. 9 Herod said, ‘John I beheaded; but who is this about whom I hear such things?’ And he tried to see him.

10 On their return the apostles told Jesus all they had done. He took them with him and withdrew privately to a city called Bethsaida. 11 When the crowds found out about it, they followed him; and he welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed to be cured.

12 The day was drawing to a close, and the twelve came to him and said, ‘Send the crowd away, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a deserted place.’ 13 But he said to them, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They said, ‘We have no more than five loaves and two fish – unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.’ 14 For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, ‘Make them sit down in groups of about fifty each.’ 15 They did so and made them all sit down. 16 And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. 17 And all ate and were filled. What was left over was gathered up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.

18 Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’ 19 They answered, ‘John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.’ 20 He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered, ‘The Messiah of God.’

21 He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone, 22 saying, ‘The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.’

23 Then he said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. 25 What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? 26 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27 But truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.’

28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’ – not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 Just then a man from the crowd shouted, ‘Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39 Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It throws him into convulsions until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. 40 I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.’ 41 Jesus answered, ‘You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.’ 42 While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43 And all were astounded at the greatness of God.

While everyone was amazed at all that he was doing, he said to his disciples, 44 ‘Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands.’ 45 But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was concealed from them, so that they could not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.

46 An argument arose among them as to which one of them was the greatest. 47 But Jesus, aware of their inner thoughts, took a little child and put it by his side, 48 and said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.’

49 John answered, ‘Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.’ 50 But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.’

51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set towards Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then they went on to another village.

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ 58 And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ 59 To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ 60 But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ 61 Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ 62 Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’

A prayer for today:

A prayer today (International Anti-Corruption Day) from the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG, United Society Partners in the Gospel:

Let us pray in penitence for how we have allowed corruption to affect equal distribution of natural resources and perpetuate poverty.

Tomorrow: Luke 10.

Yesterday: Luke 8.

‘Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest’ (Luke 9: 48) … a window in Saint Mary’s Church, Nenagh, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Sunday, 8 December 2019

How can we compare
Santa with the Prophets
and Saint John the Baptist?

Saint Nicholas in a stained-glass window in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick … how did Saint Nicholas become Santa Claus? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 8 December 2019,

The Second Sunday of Advent.


11.30 a.m., Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Morning Prayer 2

Readings: Isaiah 11: 1-10; Psalm 72: 1-7, 18-19; Romans 15: 4-13; Matthew 3: 1-12.

‘In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea’ (Matthew 3: 1) … a mosaic in Saint John’s Monastery, Tolleshunt Knights, shows Saint John the Baptist with his parents Saint Zechariah and Saint Elizabeth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

In this season of Advent, we are preparing for the coming of Christ, not just the Christ Child in the crib, but Christ the challenging king, Christ at his second coming.

This morning, as we light the second candle on the Advent Wreath, we think of the prophets and kings who prepared the way for the coming of Christ.

In the Old Testament reading, the Prophet Isaiah looks to the coming Messiah, ushering in a kingdom in which the wolf shall live with the lamb, the calf with the lion, ‘and a little child shall lead them’ – a Messianic image that has inspired poets, painters and hymn writers.

The psalm prays that the coming king may bring righteousness and justice, defend the poor, crush the oppressor, so the earth will be blessed with prosperity, justice and peace.
In our epistle reading, Saint Paul urges us to welcome one another, just as Christ has welcomed us in fulfilment of the promises to the Patriarchs and Prophets of old. He asks that God may fill us with joy, peace and hope.

In our Gospel reading (Matthew 3: 1-12), Saint John the Baptist is described in words from the Prophet Isaiah as ‘the voice … crying out in the wilderness’ (verse 3).

Saint John the Baptist is compared with the Old Testament prophets, particularly Isaiah and Elijah, and he emphasises the coming of the Kingdom of heaven (βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν, basileía tou ouranou, see verse 2). When God’s kingdom comes, his will indeed shall be done on earth as in heaven, and justice shall be firmly and truly established.

Advent is our time to prepare for the coming of those days.

As Saint John the Baptist prepares the people for the coming of the Kingdom, he may be trying to shock the Pharisees and Sadducees out of their false sense of security, and into spiritual awareness by using strong language: ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’

If Saint John the Baptist is drawing up a list before the coming of Christ, there is no doubt that he knows who’s naughty and who’s nice.

With his long beard and his unusual clothing, his rare appearance, his cajoling and cautioning, could we compare Saint John with Saint Nicholas, with Santa Claus?

Now, I know Saint John is not handing out gifts, moving around with haste before the arrival of Christ – but is there a way in which Santa Claus also prepares us for the coming of Christ? A way he teaches us some truths about who Christ truly is?

The feast day of Saint Nicholas does not fall on Christmas Day, or even on Christmas Eve. His feast day was on Friday, on 6 December, even if he does not make an appearance in the Calendar of the Church of Ireland.

Saint Nicholas was such a favourite saint in mediaeval Ireland that many of our principal ports and towns have large churches named after him, including one in mediaeval Limerick, on Nicholas Street, close to Saint Mary’s Cathedral.

He is an important figure, not because of the roly-poly figure used by Coca-Cola and advertising.

Saint Nicholas, whose name means ‘Victory of the People,’ was born in Myra in Lycia, now known as Demre, near Antalya on the south coast of present-day Turkey. He had a reputation as a secret giver of gifts, such as putting coins in the shoes of poor children, so you can see his links with our Santa Claus today.

Saint Nicholas is the patron of sailors, seafarers, merchants, pawnbrokers, children and students, and the patron of many port cities. King’s College, Cambridge, known for the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve, was founded in 1441 as the King’s College of Our Lady and Saint Nicholas.

Legend says young Nicholas was sent to Alexandria as a student. On the voyage, it is said, he saved the life of a sailor who fell from the ship’s rigging. In one version, on their arrival back in Myra, Nicholas took the sailor to church. The previous Bishop of Myra had just died, and the freshly-returned, heroic Nicholas was elected his successor.

Another story tells how during a famine, a butcher lured three small children into his house, slaughtered and butchered them, and put their bodies in a pork barrel to sell as meat pies. Saint Nicholas, who heard of the horrific plans, brought the three boys back to life through his prayers.

The best-known story tells how a poor man had three daughters but could not afford proper dowries for them. They would either remain unmarried or become victims of the trade in women and people trafficking. Saint Nicholas secretly went to their house at night and threw three purses filled with gold, one for each daughter, through the window – or down the chimney.

There are stories too of Saint Nicholas and the defence of true doctrine. In the year 325, the Emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea, attended by more than 300 bishops, to debate the nature of the Holy Trinity.

It was one of the most intense theological debates in the early Church. Arius from Alexandria was teaching that Christ was the Son of God but was not equal to God the Father, not God incarnate. As Arius argued at length, Nicholas became agitated, crossed the room, and slapped Arius across the face.

The shocked bishops stripped Nicholas of his episcopal robes, chained him and jailed him. In the morning, the bishops found his chains on the floor and Nicholas dressed in his episcopal robes, quietly reading his Bible. Constantine ordered his release, and Nicholas was reinstated as the Bishop of Myra.

As the debate went on, the Council of Nicaea agreed with his views, deciding against Arius and agreeing on the Nicene Creed, which remains the symbol of our faith.

In 1863, the cartoonist Thomas Nast began a series of drawings in Harper’s Weekly, based on the descriptions in Washington Irving’s fiction and Clement Clarke Moore’s poem, ‘A Visit from Saint Nicholas’ or ‘The Night Before Christmas.’ His drawings gave us a rotund Santa with flowing beard, fur garments, and a clay pipe, and the saint’s name shifted to Santa Claus – a phonetic alteration from the German Sankt Niklaus and the Dutch Sinterklaas.

Coca Cola, advertising and Hollywood later made Santa a commercial success, and the North American Santa Claus has since travelled around the world.

But for me, Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas, remains the protector of children, the giver of gifts that make this a good world for children to live in. As the free-giver of gifts, without expecting anything in return, he is a reminder that God’s love is given freely and unconditionally at the Incarnation in his Son, Christ Jesus.

As the defender of the doctrine that Christ is God Incarnate, Saint Nicholas makes Christmas more than the birth of another prophet or someone who was important in history, and gives meaning to our celebrations of Christmas.

The stories of bringing the victims of murder back to life are reminders that Christmas is without meaning unless we connect it with Good Friday and Easter Day, that the significance of the Incarnation is found in our Redemption and the Resurrection.

If Santa gives good gifts at Christmas, then he prepares, he makes way, for the gift of love that God gives to us, all of us, freely, in the gift of Christ, the best of all gifts.

Enjoy preparing for Christmas.

Enjoy the anticipation and the excitement.

Enjoy the gifts – giving and receiving.

And prepare for the greatest gift of all.

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

How was Saint Nicholas transformed into the modern Santa Claus? … a scene in Little Catherine Street, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Matthew 3: 1-12 (NRSVA):

1 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,

‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight”.’

4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 ‘I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing-fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’

An icon of Saint Nicholas, celebrated on 6 December, in a church in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: Violet

Liturgical resources for Advent:

The liturgical provisions suggest that the Gloria may be omitted during Advent, and it is traditional in Anglicanism to omit the Gloria at the end of canticles and psalms during Advent.

Penitential Kyries:

Turn to us again, O God our Saviour,
and let your anger cease from us.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Show us your mercy, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation.

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Your salvation is near for those that fear you,
that glory may dwell in our land.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day:

Father in heaven,
who sent your Son to redeem the world
and will send him again to be our judge:
Give us grace so to imitate him
in the humility and purity of his first coming
that when he comes again,
we may be ready to greet him with joyful love and firm faith;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Advent Collect:

Almighty God,
Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness,
and to put on the armour of light,
now in the time of this mortal life,
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility;
that on the last day,
when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
to judge the living and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and ever.

This collect is said after the Collect of the day until Christmas Eve

The Collect of the Word:

God of all peoples,
whose servant John came baptising and calling for repentance:
help us to hear his voice of judgment,
that we may also rejoice in the word of promise,
and be found pure and blameless in the glorious day when Christ
comes to rule the earth as Prince of Peace;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Introduction to the Peace:

In the tender mercy of our God,
the dayspring from on high shall break upon us,
to give light to those who dwell in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1: 78, 79)

Blessing:

Christ the sun of righteousness shine upon you,
gladden your hearts
and scatter the darkness from before you:

An icon of Saint Nicholas of Myra in the Collegiate Church of Saint Nicholas, Galway (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Hymns:

535, Judge eternal, throned in splendour (CD 31)
162, In the bleak mid-winter (CD 10)
134, Make way, make way, for Christ the King (CD 8)

Saint Nicholas defended doctrine that are central to the Incarnation and that make Christmas worth celebrating … the word homoousios (ὁμοούσιος) means ‘same substance,’ while the word homoiousios (ὁμοιούσιος) means ‘similar substance’; the Council of Nicaea affirmed the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are of the same substance, rather than of a similar substance

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

The Prophets and Santa
prepare us in Advent
for the best gift of all

An icon of Saint Nicholas, celebrated on 6 December, in a church in Crete … how did he become Santa Claus? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 8 December 2019,

The Second Sunday of Advent.


9.30 a.m., Castletown Church, The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2)

Readings: Isaiah 11: 1-10; Psalm 72: 1-7, 18-19; Romans 15: 4-13; Matthew 3: 1-12.

‘In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea’ (Matthew 3: 1) … a mosaic in Saint John’s Monastery, Tolleshunt Knights, shows Saint John the Baptist with his parents Saint Zechariah and Saint Elizabeth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

In this season of Advent, we are preparing for the coming of Christ, not just the Christ Child in the crib, but Christ the challenging king, Christ at his second coming.

This morning, as we light the second candle on the Advent Wreath, we think of the prophets and kings who prepared the way for the coming of Christ.

In the Old Testament reading, the Prophet Isaiah looks to the coming Messiah, ushering in a kingdom in which the wolf shall live with the lamb, the calf with the lion, ‘and a little child shall lead them’ – a Messianic image that has inspired poets, painters and hymn writers.

The psalm prays that the coming king may bring righteousness and justice, defend the poor, crush the oppressor, so the earth will be blessed with prosperity, justice and peace.
In our epistle reading, Saint Paul urges us to welcome one another, just as Christ has welcomed us in fulfilment of the promises to the Patriarchs and Prophets of old. He asks that God may fill us with joy, peace and hope.

In our Gospel reading (Matthew 3: 1-12), Saint John the Baptist is described in words from the Prophet Isaiah as ‘the voice … crying out in the wilderness’ (verse 3).

Saint John the Baptist is compared with the Old Testament prophets, particularly Isaiah and Elijah, and he emphasises the coming of the Kingdom of heaven (βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν, basileía tou ouranou, see verse 2). When God’s kingdom comes, his will indeed shall be done on earth as in heaven, and justice shall be firmly and truly established.

Advent is our time to prepare for the coming of those days.

As Saint John the Baptist prepares the people for the coming of the Kingdom, he may be trying to shock the Pharisees and Sadducees out of their false sense of security, and into spiritual awareness by using strong language: ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’

If Saint John the Baptist is drawing up a list before the coming of Christ, there is no doubt that he knows who’s naughty and who’s nice.

With his long beard and his unusual clothing, his rare appearance, his cajoling and cautioning, could we compare Saint John with Saint Nicholas, with Santa Claus?

Now, I know Saint John is not handing out gifts, moving around with haste before the arrival of Christ – but is there a way in which Santa Claus also prepares us for the coming of Christ? A way he teaches us some truths about who Christ truly is?

The feast day of Saint Nicholas does not fall on Christmas Day, or even on Christmas Eve. His feast day was on Friday, on 6 December, even if he does not make an appearance in the Calendar of the Church of Ireland.

Saint Nicholas was such a favourite saint in mediaeval Ireland that many of our principal ports and towns have large churches named after him, including one in mediaeval Limerick, on Nicholas Street, close to Saint Mary’s Cathedral.

He is an important figure, not because of the roly-poly figure used by Coca-Cola and advertising.

Saint Nicholas, whose name means ‘Victory of the People,’ was born in Myra in Lycia, now known as Demre, near Antalya on the south coast of present-day Turkey. He had a reputation as a secret giver of gifts, such as putting coins in the shoes of poor children, so you can see his links with our Santa Claus today.

Saint Nicholas is the patron of sailors, seafarers, merchants, pawnbrokers, children and students, and the patron of many port cities. King’s College, Cambridge, known for the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve, was founded in 1441 as the King’s College of Our Lady and Saint Nicholas.

Legend says young Nicholas was sent to Alexandria as a student. On the voyage, it is said, he saved the life of a sailor who fell from the ship’s rigging. In one version, on their arrival back in Myra, Nicholas took the sailor to church. The previous Bishop of Myra had just died, and the freshly-returned, heroic Nicholas was elected his successor.

Another story tells how during a famine, a butcher lured three small children into his house, slaughtered and butchered them, and put their bodies in a pork barrel to sell as meat pies. Saint Nicholas, who heard of the horrific plans, brought the three boys back to life through his prayers.

The best-known story tells how a poor man had three daughters but could not afford proper dowries for them. They would either remain unmarried or become victims of the trade in women and people trafficking. Saint Nicholas secretly went to their house at night and threw three purses filled with gold, one for each daughter, through the window – or down the chimney.

There are stories too of Saint Nicholas and the defence of true doctrine. In the year 325, the Emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea, attended by more than 300 bishops, to debate the nature of the Holy Trinity.

It was one of the most intense theological debates in the early Church. Arius from Alexandria was teaching that Christ was the Son of God but was not equal to God the Father, not God incarnate. As Arius argued at length, Nicholas became agitated, crossed the room, and slapped Arius across the face.

The shocked bishops stripped Nicholas of his episcopal robes, chained him and jailed him. In the morning, the bishops found his chains on the floor and Nicholas dressed in his episcopal robes, quietly reading his Bible. Constantine ordered his release, and Nicholas was reinstated as the Bishop of Myra.

As the debate went on, the Council of Nicaea agreed with his views, deciding against Arius and agreeing on the Nicene Creed, which remains the symbol of our faith.

In 1863, the cartoonist Thomas Nast began a series of drawings in Harper’s Weekly, based on the descriptions in Washington Irving’s fiction and Clement Clarke Moore’s poem, ‘A Visit from Saint Nicholas’ or ‘The Night Before Christmas.’ His drawings gave us a rotund Santa with flowing beard, fur garments, and a clay pipe, and the saint’s name shifted to Santa Claus – a phonetic alteration from the German Sankt Niklaus and the Dutch Sinterklaas.

Coca Cola, advertising and Hollywood later made Santa a commercial success, and the North American Santa Claus has since travelled around the world.

But for me, Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas, remains the protector of children, the giver of gifts that make this a good world for children to live in. As the free-giver of gifts, without expecting anything in return, he is a reminder that God’s love is given freely and unconditionally at the Incarnation in his Son, Christ Jesus.

As the defender of the doctrine that Christ is God Incarnate, Saint Nicholas makes Christmas more than the birth of another prophet or someone who was important in history, and gives meaning to our celebrations of Christmas.

The stories of bringing the victims of murder back to life are reminders that Christmas is without meaning unless we connect it with Good Friday and Easter Day, that the significance of the Incarnation is found in our Redemption and the Resurrection.

If Santa gives good gifts at Christmas, then he prepares, he makes way, for the gift of love that God gives to us, all of us, freely, in the gift of Christ, the best of all gifts.

Enjoy preparing for Christmas.

Enjoy the anticipation and the excitement.

Enjoy the gifts – giving and receiving.

And prepare for the greatest gift of all.

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

How was Saint Nicholas transformed into the modern Santa Claus? … a scene in Little Catherine Street, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Matthew 3: 1-12 (NRSVA):

1 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,

‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight”.’

4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 ‘I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing-fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’

Saint Nicholas with children … a stained-glass window in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Liturgical Colour: Violet

Liturgical resources for Advent:

The liturgical provisions suggest that the Gloria may be omitted during Advent, and it is traditional in Anglicanism to omit the Gloria at the end of canticles and psalms during Advent.

Penitential Kyries:

Turn to us again, O God our Saviour,
and let your anger cease from us.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Show us your mercy, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation.

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Your salvation is near for those that fear you,
that glory may dwell in our land.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day:

Father in heaven,
who sent your Son to redeem the world
and will send him again to be our judge:
Give us grace so to imitate him
in the humility and purity of his first coming
that when he comes again,
we may be ready to greet him with joyful love and firm faith;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Advent Collect:

Almighty God,
Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness,
and to put on the armour of light,
now in the time of this mortal life,
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility;
that on the last day,
when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
to judge the living and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and ever.

This collect is said after the Collect of the day until Christmas Eve

The Collect of the Word:

God of all peoples,
whose servant John came baptising and calling for repentance:
help us to hear his voice of judgment,
that we may also rejoice in the word of promise,
and be found pure and blameless in the glorious day when Christ
comes to rule the earth as Prince of Peace;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Introduction to the Peace:

In the tender mercy of our God,
the dayspring from on high shall break upon us,
to give light to those who dwell in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1: 78, 79)

Preface:

Salvation is your gift
through the coming of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ,
and by him you will make all things new
when he returns in glory to judge the world:

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord,
here you have nourished us with the food of life.
Through our sharing in this holy sacrament
teach us to judge wisely earthly things
and to yearn for things heavenly.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Blessing:

Christ the sun of righteousness shine upon you,
gladden your hearts
and scatter the darkness from before you:

An icon of Saint Nicholas of Myra in the Collegiate Church of Saint Nicholas, Galway (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Hymns:

535, Judge eternal, throned in splendour (CD 31)
162, In the bleak mid-winter (CD 10)
134, Make way, make way, for Christ the King (CD 8)

Saint Nicholas defended doctrine that are central to the Incarnation and that make Christmas worth celebrating … the word homoousios (ὁμοούσιος) means ‘same substance,’ while the word homoiousios (ὁμοιούσιος) means ‘similar substance’; the Council of Nicaea affirmed the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are of the same substance, rather than of a similar substance

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

Reading Saint Luke’s Gospel
in Advent 2019: Luke 8

‘A sower went out to sow his seed’ (Luke 8: 5) … The East Window in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During the Season of Advent this year, I am joining many people in reading a chapter from Saint Luke’s Gospel each morning. In all, there are 24 chapters in Saint Luke’s Gospel, so this means being able to read through the full Gospel, reaching the last chapter on Christmas Eve [24 December 2019].

Why not join me as I read through Saint Luke’s Gospel each morning this Advent?

Luke 8 (NRSVA):

1 Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

4 When a great crowd gathered and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: 5 ‘A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. 6 Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. 7 Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. 8 Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.’ As he said this, he called out, ‘Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’

9 Then his disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10 He said, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but to others I speak in parables, so that

“looking they may not perceive,
and listening they may not understand.”

11 ‘Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones on the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe only for a while and in a time of testing fall away. 14 As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.

16 ‘No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. 17 For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light. 18 Then pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.’

19 Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. 20 And he was told, ‘Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.’ 21 But he said to them, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.’

22 One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side of the lake.’ So they put out, 23 and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A gale swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger. 24 They went to him and woke him up, shouting, ‘Master, Master, we are perishing!’ And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. 25 He said to them, ‘Where is your faith?’ They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?’

26 Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me’ – 29 for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30 Jesus then asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He said, ‘Legion’; for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.

32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’ So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

40 Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him. 41 Just then there came a man named Jairus, a leader of the synagogue. He fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him to come to his house, 42 for he had an only daughter, about twelve years old, who was dying.

As he went, the crowds pressed in on him. 43 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her. 44 She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her haemorrhage stopped. 45 Then Jesus asked, ‘Who touched me?’ When all denied it, Peter said, ‘Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.’ 46 But Jesus said, ‘Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.’ 47 When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. 48 He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.’

49 While he was still speaking, someone came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the teacher any longer.’ 50 When Jesus heard this, he replied, ‘Do not fear. Only believe, and she will be saved.’ 51 When he came to the house, he did not allow anyone to enter with him, except Peter, John, and James, and the child’s father and mother. 52 They were all weeping and wailing for her; but he said, ‘Do not weep; for she is not dead but sleeping.’ 53 And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. 54 But he took her by the hand and called out, ‘Child, get up!’ 55 Her spirit returned, and she got up at once. Then he directed them to give her something to eat. 56 Her parents were astounded; but he ordered them to tell no one what had happened.

A prayer for today:

A prayer today (Advent 2) from the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG, United Society Partners in the Gospel:

Merciful Lord,
you have taught us to bring life in totality to your people.
Grant us the wisdom and passion to work for the poor,
that they may encounter you
and have life in abundance,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Collect of the Day:

Father in heaven,
who sent your Son to redeem the world
and will send him again to be our judge:
Give us grace so to imitate him
in the humility and purity of his first coming
that when he comes again,
we may be ready to greet him with joyful love and firm faith;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Advent Collect:

Almighty God,
Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness,
and to put on the armour of light,
now in the time of this mortal life,
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility;
that on the last day,
when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
to judge the living and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and ever.

‘For a long time … he did not live in a house but in the tombs’ (Luke 8: 27) … Lycian rock tombs in Fethiye in south-west Turkey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Tomorrow: Luke 9.

Yesterday: Luke 7.

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Saturday, 7 December 2019

The meditative sculptures
by Bettina Seitz in the
gardens at Markree Castle

The sculptures by Bettina Seitz at Markree Castle are worth searching for (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Hidden away from many of the guests at weddings at Markree Castle in Co Sligo, the sculptures by Bettina Seitz are worth searching out in the gardens and courtyards at the home farm courtyard and walled garden at this charming wedding venue.

Bettina Seitz has worked from her studio in Sligo since 1993. Stylising the human form, her sculptures in bronze or stone composite often possess an ethereal and meditative quality.

Bettina Seitz was born in Germany in 1963. She has studied sculpture in Nürtingen, Germany, and Turin, Italy. She has also worked with the Sligo ceramicist Michael Kennedy, and is now based in Sligo.

Aspects of nature and emotion inform her investigation into shape and line, particularly those of the female body. She excels in the stylisation of the female form into flowing and voluptuous curves.

She works mainly in bronze and ceramic sculptures designed for private gardens and public spaces. She has exhibited her work regularly in Ireland and Europe and has worked on many private and public commissions, including portrait commissions.

She has exhibited in many countries, including Ireland, Britain, the US, Germany, France and Italy, and she has worked on many private and public commissions in Ireland and abroad.

Her work can be found in many private and public collections, including the Boyle Civic Collection, the McCann Fitzgerald Collection in Dublin, the Chinthurst Sculpture Garden in Surrey, and collections in Saudi Arabia, Britain, the US, Germany, France, Portugal, Spain, Italy and South Africa.

Her commissioned work in Co Sligo includes sculptures at Nazareth House Nursing Home, Sligo, and commission for the Homefarm at Markree Castle in 2002 and 2005.

She also designed the Volta Award for the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival in 2007.

Her sculptural practice is concerned with our connection to the other – from how we relate as human beings to each other, to how we relate to the ‘Other’ in the sense of our interconnection with everything and other dimensions.

In her work, Bettina Seitz explores the experience of being, that is aware of and must confront issues such as personhood, mortality and the dilemma or paradox of living in relationships with other humans, while being alone with oneself.

Using a wide range of techniques and materials, including resin, concrete, aluminium and bronze, she strives to evoke a sense of stillness and lightness in her sculpture installations of highly stylised, often life-size human forms.

Her work ‘Ghosts’ – a series of site responsive, life-size sculptures – reflects on our connection to the past and the disempowerment of women in Irish society and recent history.

Using various techniques, including casting over life models, modelling, reinforcing and assembling in Jesmonite acrylic resin, fabric and glass fibre, ‘Ghosts’ ran as a pilot project in December 2016 with temporary installations in public buildings, including The Model, Sligo Courthouse and Sligo Cathedral.

The sculptures by Bettina Seitz at the homefarm and courtyards in Markree Castle were commissioned in 2002 and 2005 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Reading Saint Luke’s Gospel
in Advent 2019: Luke 7

‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn’ (Luke 7: 32) … ‘Τα κάλαντα’ (‘Carols’), Νικηφόρος Λύτρας (Nikiphoros Lytras)

Patrick Comerford

During the Season of Advent this year, I am joining many people in reading a chapter from Saint Luke’s Gospel each morning. In all, there are 24 chapters in Saint Luke’s Gospel, so this means being able to read through the full Gospel, reaching the last chapter on Christmas Eve [24 December 2019].

Why not join me as I read through Saint Luke’s Gospel each morning this Advent?

Luke 7 (NRSVA):

1 After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. 3 When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4 When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, ‘He is worthy of having you do this for him, 5 for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.’ 6 And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, ‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; 7 therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, “Go”, and he goes, and to another, “Come”, and he comes, and to my slave, “Do this”, and the slave does it.’ 9 When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.’ 10 When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

11 Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. 12 As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. 13 When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ 14 Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, rise!’ 15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has risen among us!’ and ‘God has looked favourably on his people!’ 17 This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.

18 The disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples 19 and sent them to the Lord to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ 20 When the men had come to him, they said, ‘John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”’ 21 Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. 22 And he answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. 23 And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’

24 When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 25 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who put on fine clothing and live in luxury are in royal palaces. 26 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27 This is the one about whom it is written,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.”

28 I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.’ 29 (And all the people who heard this, including the tax-collectors, acknowledged the justice of God, because they had been baptized with John’s baptism. 30 But by refusing to be baptized by him, the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves.)

31 ‘To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the market-place and calling to one another,

“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.”

33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, “He has a demon”; 34 the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” 35 Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children.’

36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37 And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38 She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him – that she is a sinner.’ 40 Jesus spoke up and said to him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ ‘Teacher,’ he replied, ‘speak.’ 41 ‘A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?’ 43 Simon answered, ‘I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You have judged rightly.’ 44 Then turning towards the woman, he said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.’ 48 Then he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ 50 And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’

A prayer for today:

A prayer today (Saint Ambrose) from the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG, United Society Partners in the Gospel:

Let us pray like Ambrose to have the courage to champion justice and not be afraid to rebuke those who seek to use power for their own selfish ends.

Tomorrow: Luke 8.

Yesterday: Luke 6.

‘’ (Luke 7: ) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Friday, 6 December 2019

How a six-minute wait at
Limerick Junction became
a five-hour journey by rail

In the bleak mid-winter at Limerick Junction … where even the seating on the platforms is fenced off on a dark, raid-soaked night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

On my regular journeys between Limerick and Dublin, I normally use Dublin Coach, known to most people in Limerick, Clare and Kerry as the ‘Green Bus.’

Route 300, the M7 Express, is efficient, comfortable, reliable, runs every half hour, is normally punctual and has good WiFi too.

The only intercity bus service that beats it, in recent experience, is the regular bus between Bratislava and Vienna, that runs every hour, and takes about 75 minutes, and the €5 one-way fare includes complimentary coffee and a newspaper.

But sometimes I feel guilty about using the bus. I know it would be more environmentally friendly and would help to reduce my carbon footprint. But good intentions do not always translate into action.

I had a series of church-related meetings in Limerick throughout the day. By late evening I was closer to the railway station than the bus stops at Arthur’s Quay, and decided to catch the train to Dublin.

But there was something inside me that was telling me not to. Of course, there were memories of bad experiences on the that route in the past. But I dismissed them, got a ticket, and found the doors for the 17:50 train to Dublin were closed against me just as I was about to board.

What could I do? I shrugged my shoulders, went for a double espresso, took out my laptop, and worked for the best part of an hour before going for next train at 18:50.

The signs said it was going from Platform 3. But it was leaving from Platform 4. Was this an indication of what to expect on the journey?

The timetable said the train would arrive at Limerick Junction at 19:18, with a connection train to Dublin at 19:24. This is a train from Cork and Mallow to Dublin. Limerick is the third city in the Republic of Ireland, yet there is no direct rail link with either Dublin the capital or Cork the second city. Why, even Limerick Junction is not in Co Limerick – it is actually in Co Tipperary, close to Tipperary Racecourse but 3 km outside Tipperary Town.

A six-minute wait may seem efficient. But I was soon reminded that why almost every time I opt for the train rather than a bus from Limerick to Dublin I regret my decision.

At Limerick Junction, we were told the train to Dublin was delayed. There was an incident on the line, that was never explained. We could expect a delay of an hour or an hour and a half.

On asking, I was told no replacement buses could be expected – it was too late in the day to arrange that.

Once again, I was stuck at Limerick Junction with no connecting train and no alternative bus. It seems this place is wet and freezing cold, not just in the depth of winter, but at the height of summer too.

There is no place to buy a cup of coffee, there is no shop, apart from some poorly stocked vending machines, and the one waiting room has less capacity than the average number of passengers on a train.

The perpetual repairs to the platforms mean most seating in the open spaces is fenced off. The choice is between spending 90 minutes in an over-crowded, dimly lit, sweaty waiting room, or standing in the chilly, wet winter weather, wedged between smokers and vapers.

Half an hour after being told the next train would be in half an hour, we were told to expect a train an hour later.

By the time I boarded the train to Dublin, there was no trolley service … no coffee? Nor were the phone chargers working in the carriage. Passengers left high and dry at Limerick Junction, who had been using their phones to make alternative arrangements and to contact family members were now left with uncharged phones.

I asked about this. The phone charging system can only be switched on from outside the train.

Could this be done at Portlaoise, the next station?

No, I was told. At that time of the evening the staff authorised to do this have gone home.

Gone home? Obviously they were not waiting for a train.

I took comfort in the fact that the WiFi system was available, and worked for a while on my laptop, with a little time to read Leonard Cohen’s posthumous collection of poems, The Flame, which I had brought with me.

One staff member, under pressure and feeling the tension, moved between the carriages, desperately asking whether anyone was travelling on to Dublin Airport. Their panic was imaginable.

It now seemed the train would arrive in Dublin at 10:30 or 10:40. Passengers were reminded to collect Irish Rail forms to claim a refund. But surely that was no compensation for people who travel on a Public Services card.

Of course, we had not paid for our tickets that evening. But we have paid for them through our taxes. What compensation was there for people who had made arrangements to be met but who could not recharge their phones and contact anyone late at night at the edges of Dublin’s city centre?

The staff at Heuston Station in Kingsbridge were hard-pressed, but more than helpful. Irish Rail called and paid for the taxi to Knocklyon. But a journey that should have started in Limerick at 17:50 ended in Knocklyon at 23:00. The 17:50 train from Limerick was supposed to have arrived in Dublin three hours earlier at 20:00.

The Green Bus takes less than 2½ hours to get from Arthur’s Quay to the Red Cow Luas stop. I’ll skip Limerick Junction the next time.

But if the Government is serious about cutting carbon emissions, there must be better ways of organising public transport, including more investment in Irish Rail, in rolling stock and in the facilities for passengers at stations.

‘The Flame’ by Leonard Cohen … comfort reading on the train between Limerick Junction and Dublin last night