Sunday, 7 April 2019

Following the pilgrims’
way on the Camino
from Porto to Saniago

The west façade of the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, facing onto the Praza do Obradoiro, features on three Spanish coins (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

A generous gift recently allowed me to have a late celebration of my birthday in Porto in Portugal, and to enjoy a few days in the Douro Valley and in northern Portugal.

As I strolled around the heart of old Porto and visited the Cathedral, I noticed a number of signs with pilgrim shells and small yellow arrows pointing to the pilgrim way or Camino to Santiago de Compostela. The Camino has become a popular spiritual quest in recent decades, and many of the pilgrims along the way have few if any church connections.

Until now, I had imagined there was only one pilgrim route along the Camino to Santiago. The most popular route, which is crowded in mid-summer, is the Camino Francés, a 780 km way that stretches from St Jean-Pied-du-Port near Biarritz in France to Santiago. But this route is fed by three major French routes and is joined along the way by routes that cross the Pyrenees or begin in Spain at Montserrat near Barcelona, and in Irun, Bilbao, Oviedo, Valencia, Toledo, Ferrol, A Coruña, Seville and Salamanca.

The Portuguese Way

A pilgrim marker, with a pilgrim shell and a bright arrow, on the streets near the cathedral in Porto (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Few people in Ireland seem to travel along the Camino Portugues, which begins in Porto and works its way through northern Portugal before crossing the border into Spain. Yet the Portuguese Way is the second most popular Camino in terms of numbers of pilgrims.

While the whole Camino Portugues has its starting point in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, most pilgrims from Portugal start their journey in Porto or from the Portuguese-Spanish border town of Tui. The route from Lisbon to Porto has fewer facilities and the waymarks are not that good, but the stretch from Porto to Santiago has frequent pilgrim hostels and bars on the road and is quite busy with pilgrims.

Pilgrims on the Camino arriving at the Silversmiths’ Doorway of the cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The entire Camino Portugues from Lisbon to Santiago is 616 km long, but the part that starts in Porto is only 240 km long.

The pilgrimage from Portugal to Santiago de Compostela dates from the Middle Ages and was used by Queen Isabel of Portugal in the early 14th century. The route follows closely the ancient Roman roads of Lusitania.

Summer is the most popular time to walk the Camino Portugues, but it is still less crowded than the Camino Francés and other routes. The busiest months are July and August, when it can get crowded, especially in the latest stages of the Camino, and the albergues – the hostels that have provided accommodation for pilgrims for centuries – can be full.

The richly sculpted Baroque Obradoiro façade of the cathedral was completed in the 18th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The Camino network is similar to a river system – small brooks join together to make streams, and the streams join together to make rivers. Walking the Camino is not difficult as most stages are fairly flat on good paths. Many people walk different sections in successive years. Some set out on the Camino for spiritual reasons, others find spiritual reasons along the Way as they meet other pilgrims, attend pilgrim masses in churches, monasteries and cathedrals.

Pilgrims who complete the Way receive a certificate known as the Compostela. To earn the Compostela at the Pilgrims’ Office in Santiago, a pilgrim must walk at least 100 km or cycle at least 200 km and state that the motivation was at least partially religious.

Finding a saint’s tomb

The Praza das Praterias with its stone fountain below the Silversmiths’ Doorway at the cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The history of the Camino de Santiago dates back to the early ninth century and the discovery of the tomb of Saint James in the year 814. Since then, Santiago de Compostela has been a destination for pilgrims from throughout Europe.

Legend says that the body of Saint James was carried by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain, where he was buried in what is now the city of Santiago de Compostela – the name Santiago is a local Galician form of the late Latin name Sancti Iacobi, Saint James.

The Way of Saint James became one of the most important pilgrimages in the Middle Ages, alongside those to Rome and Jerusalem. With the Muslim occupation of Jerusalem and later during the Crusades, the Camino became a safe and popular alternative to pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and one of the pilgrim routes on which a plenary indulgence could be earned.

Bas relief sculptures on the 12th century Porta das Praterias or Silversmiths’ Doorway of the cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The flow of people along the Camino brought about a growth in the number of hostels and hospitals, churches, monasteries and abbeys along the pilgrim route.

The scallop shell has long been the symbol of the Camino de Santiago. Two legends seek to explain the origin of scallop as the symbol of Saint James, who was martyred in Jerusalem in 44 AD.

According to Spanish legends, he had spent time preaching the gospel in Spain, but returned to Jerusalem after seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary on the bank of the Ebro River. One version of the legends says that after his death, his disciples shipped his body to the Iberian Peninsula to be buried in what is now Santiago. Off the coast of Spain, a heavy storm hit the ship, and the body was lost to the ocean. After some time, however, it washed ashore undamaged, covered in scallops.

The silver reliquary in the crypt is said to hold the relics of Saint James and two of his disciples (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

A second version of the legend says that after Saint James died his body was transported by a ship piloted by an angel, back to the Iberian Peninsula to be buried in Santiago. As the ship approached land, a wedding was taking place on the shore. The young groom was on horseback, and on seeing the ship approaching, his horse took fright and horse and rider plunged into the sea. Through miraculous intervention, both horse and rider emerged from the water alive, covered in seashells.

Along the Camino, the shell is seen frequently on posts and signs to guide pilgrims, and the shell is commonly worn by pilgrims too. Most pilgrims receive a shell at the beginning of the journey and either sew it onto their clothes, wear it around their necks or keep it in their backpacks.

Baroque cathedral

The High Altar in the cathedral … visitors and pilgrims climb behind the altar to embrace the silver mantle of the 13th century statue of Saint James (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The first place to visit when I arrived in Santiago was the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the reputed burial place of Saint James the Great. This is one of the only three churches in the world said to be built over the tomb of one of the 12 Apostles, alongside Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome and the Cathedral of Saint Thomas in Chennai, India.

The cathedral is a Romanesque structure, with later Gothic and Baroque additions. The early church was reduced to ashes in 997 by Al-Mansur ibn Abi Aamir (938-1002), commander of the army of the Caliph of Córdoba.

The ‘Botafumeiro’, the large thurible above the crossing, is the largest censer in the world (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Work on building the present cathedral began in 1075 during the reign of Alfonso VI of Castile. The new cathedral was modelled on the Church of Saint Sernin in Toulouse, one the great Romanesque buildings in France. Work was interrupted several times and the cathedral was not consecrated until 1211.

The pilgrimage to Santiago began to decline in popularity in the 14th century because of wars, the Black Death and natural catastrophes. The decline continued with the Reformation and the political wars in 16th and 17th century Europe. Meanwhile, however, the cathedral was expanded and embellished in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.

The north transept of the cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Each of the façades along with their adjoining squares constitute a magnificent urban square. The Pratarías or Silversmiths’ façade was built by the Master Esteban in 1103. The Pórtico da Gloria or Doorway of Glory, an early work of Romanesque sculpture, was completed by Master Mateo in 1188.The Baroque façade of the Praza do Obradoiro was completed by Fernando de Casas Novoa in 1740. The Acibecharía façade, also in the baroque style, is by Ferro Caaveiro and Fernández Sarela and was later modified by Ventura Rodríguez.

Parts of the substructure of the ninth-century church can be seen inside the cathedral in the crypt below the High Altar. This became the final destination of pilgrims and is said to hold the relics of Saint James and two of his companions, Saint Theodorus and Saint Athanasius.

Reviving a pilgrimage

A true pilgrim must walk at least 100 km on the Camino or cycle at least 200 km … a shopfront display in Santiago (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Over time, the burial place of Saint James was almost forgotten. Because of regular Dutch and English incursions, his relics were transferred in 1589 from their place under the High Altar to a safer place, and they were only rediscovered in January 1879.

The relics were authenticated by Pope Leo XIII in 1884. The silver reliquary, made by José Losada in 1886, was placed in the crypt at the end of the 19th century.

A dome above the crossing contains the pulley mechanism to swing the Botafumeiro, the large thurible also made by José Losada in 1851. This is the largest censer in the world, 80 kg in weight and 1.6 metres in height. On important days it is filled with 40 kg of charcoal and incense. Eight red-robed tiraboleiros pull the ropes and bring it into a swinging motion almost to the roof of the transept, reaching speeds of 80 kmh and sending out thick clouds of incense.

The Camino began to recover its popularity at the end of the 19th century, but the real resurgence of interest in the Camino came in the late 20th century. In 1985, there were 690 recorded pilgrims. Last year, the number had grown to 327,378. Today, many people follow the routes of the Camino as a spiritual path or as a retreat for their spiritual growth. But it is also popular with hiking and cycling enthusiasts and organised tour groups.

A university city

The Fonseca College is the cradle of the University of Santiago de Compostela, one of the world’s oldest universities (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Santiago is also a university city, and the University of Santiago de Compostela is one of the world’s oldest universities in continuous operation.

The university traces its roots back to 1495, when López Gómez de Mazoa, a solicitor, founded a school for the poor known as the ‘Grammatic Academy.’ Pope Julius II recognised the institution in a Papal Bull issued in 1504, and the university was consolidated by Alonso III de Fonseca, who became Archbishop of Santiago de Compostela in 1507.

The Fonseca College remained at the centre of university life until the late 18th century. The Irish writer and military adventurer Philip O’Sullivan Beare was educated at Santiago de Compostela.

A statue of Archbishop Alonso III de Fonseca in the front court of the Fonseca College (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Other colleges in the university included the San Patricio College, or the Irish College (1605-1767), where the early rectors included Eugene MacCarthy, Thomas White, a Jesuit from Clonmel, Co Tipperary, and Richard Conway, a Jesuit from New Ross, Co Wexford.

The mediaeval façade of the College of Saint Jerome, founded as a college for poor students and artists (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Sinnot from Waterford, who was professor of rhetoric in Santiago, was arrested in 1611, charged before the Inquisition with being a warlock, and put on trial for necromancy. He was convicted and exiled from Santiago for two years.

Today Santiago has a population of 96,000. The old town retains its character, with many narrow winding streets lined with historic buildings, and since 1985 it has been listed as a Unesco World Heritage site.

The pilgrims shell and staff on a sign in an old street in the mediaeval city (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

This feature is published in April 2019 in the ‘Diocesan Magazine’ (Cashel, Ferns and Ossory) and the ‘Church Review’ (Dublin and Glendalough)

Santiago is a Unesco World Heritage site, and the old town retains its historic character (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Looking forward in
Lent to the joys and
hopes of the Easter life

‘There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him’ … dinner in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 7 April (Lent 5):

11.30 a.m., Morning Prayer, Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert).

Readings: Isaiah 43: 16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3: 4b-14; John 12: 1-8.

‘… forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize’ (Philippians 3: 13-14) … Greek athletes in a frieze (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

We are coming close to the end of Lent. At one time, this Sunday was known as Passion Sunday. Next Sunday [14 April 2019], the Sixth Sunday in Lent, is Palm Sunday, and so our readings this morning prepare us to move closer to Palm Sunday and the Passion stories of Holy Week.

In our epistle reading (Philippians 3: 4b-14), Saint Paul is writing to the church in Philippi, a church in Macedonia, near Thessaloniki. In this letter, he tells his readers how he wants to know Christ in his suffering and in his resurrection. He is making progress not on his own, but through God’s grace. He has left his past behind him, and eagerly seeks what lies ahead. Like the winner in a race of Greek athletes was called up to receive his prize, Saint Paul now seeks God’s call to share in the life of the Resurrection.

The timing for our Gospel reading (John 12: 1-8) is the day before Palm Sunday, and the setting is in Bethany, on the Mount of Olives, 3 km east of Jerusalem. It was there, in the previous chapter, Christ raised Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary, from the dead (see John 11: 1-44).

The name Lazarus is a form of the name Eleazar. As the freed slaves moved through the wilderness in the Exodus story, the priest Eleazar was responsible for carrying the oil for the Temple menorah or lampstand, the sweet incense, the daily grain offering and the anointing oil (see Numbers 4: 16).

So, as Saint John’s Gospel carefully sets the location and the timing of this story, we can expect a story this morning with a connection to death and resurrection, and with some association with anointing.

The plotting against Jesus has intensified. Meanwhile, many people are making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. The religious authorities, aware that Jesus is ‘performing many signs’ (11: 47), now want to arrest him.

Jesus now returns to Bethany, where the family of Lazarus invite him to dinner. In this account, Martha serves the meal, and Lazarus is at the table with them. In Saint Luke’s account, Martha serves while Mary sits at the feet of Jesus (see Luke 10: 38-42).

After dinner, Mary takes ‘a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard’ to anoint the feet of Jesus. Nard came from the roots of the spike or nard plant grown in the Himalayas. If the guests were reclining on couches, Jesus’ feet would be accessible for anointing, but a respectable Jewish woman would hardly appear in public with her hair unbound.

The reaction of Judas points forward to the impending arrest of Jesus (see John 18:1-11). The cost of this nard, 300 denarii, was almost a year’s wages for a labourer. I wonder whether there is a link between 300 denarii and the 30 pieces of silver Judas receives in Saint Matthew’s Gospel (see Matthew 26: 15)?

Anointing was the last step before burial, but it was not for executed criminals.

Has Mary bought the perfume to have it ready for Christ’s burial?

Does she realise that using it now is not a waste of the perfume?

Martha and Mary have offered their home in Bethany as a place of welcome, peace and refuge for Jesus. His life is under threat, but still he has time, and they have time, for a meal together.

They had a hint of the Easter story already in this home when Jesus raised their brother Lazarus from the dead. Now we have a sign of Jesus’ impending death, when Mary anoints his feet with costly perfume.

But Judas fails to see the full picture, to understand the full scenario that is beginning to unfold. Judas has a point, I suppose, from our point of view. There is so much need in the world, so much need around us, there is so much that is demanding the best of our intentions.

But, so often, the best of my intentions remains just that, and I never do anything about them. How often do we hear people say, ‘Charity begins at home,’ as a way of putting down people who genuinely want to do something about the injustices around us, even the injustices in the wider world?

Yet, so often, we suspect, that in their case charity does not even begin at home … it never even gets to the starting blocks.

For Mary, in this morning’s Gospel reading, charity begins in her own home. But we get a hint that it is not going to end there. It has only started.

Judas is told the poor are always going to be with him … perhaps because charity does not even begin in his own home, never mind reaching out beyond that.

Mary’s action is loving and uninhibited, Mary’s gift is costly and beyond measure.

Love like that begins at home, and it goes on giving beyond the home, beyond horizons we never imagine.

Later that week, the disciples must have been reminded of Mary’s actions when Jesus insisted on washing their feet in a similar act of love and humility, once again at dinner.

How would I feel if Jesus knelt in front of me and washed my feet?

Would I worry whether I have smelly socks, whether he notices my bunions, chilblains and in-grown toenails? Would I be so self-obsessed and concerned about what he thinks of me that I would never stop to think of what I think of him and what he thinks of others?

Or would I, like Mary, smell the sweet fragrance that fills a house that is filled with love?

Someone recently described prayer as ‘a time of living in the fragrance and the scent of God. It is gentle, light and lasts long. It comes off us; if we live in love, we spread love, and others know that something deep in us gives a fragrance to all of our life.’

Mary of Bethany is extravagant and generous and is not inhibited by the attitude of others around her. How much did she understand about Jesus’ impending death when none of the disciples saw it coming?

Mary does not sell the perfume, as Judas wants her to. Instead, she keeps it and she brings it to the grave early on Easter morning with the intention of anointing the body of the dead Jesus.

Can people smell the fragrance of Christ from us?

Are we prepared to let charity begin at home, but not end there?

And then, in the joy of the Easter Resurrection, are we ready to allow that generous charity, that generous love, to be shared with the whole world?

Like Saint Paul, who has left his past behind him and eagerly seeks what lies ahead, like the winner waiting to be called up to receive his prize, we can answer God’s call to share in the life of the Resurrection.

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

‘There they gave a dinner for him’ (John 12: 2) … a table ready for dinner in the evening sunset by the sea at Platanias, near Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 12: 1-8 (NRSVA):

1 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ 6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7 Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’

‘There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him’ … at dinner in Corfu (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: Violet

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God,
you sent your Son to reconcile us to yourself and to one another.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus,
you heal the wounds of sin and division.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
through you we put to death the sins of the body – and live.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect:

Most merciful God,
who by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ
delivered and saved the world:
Grant that by faith in him who suffered on the cross,
we may triumph in the power of his victory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Lenten Collect:

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

Introduction to the Peace:

Now in union with Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near through the shedding of Christ’s blood; for he is our peace. (Ephesians 2: 17)

Blessing:

Christ draw you to himself
and grant that you find in his cross a sure ground for faith,
a firm support for hope,
and the assurance of sins forgiven:

Saint Paul is writing to the church in Philippi, then a major town in Macedonia in northern Greece (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Hymns:

517, Brother, sister, let me serve you (CD 30)
218, And can it be that I should gain (CD 14)
587, Just as I am, without one plea (CD 33)

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 Risen Christ with Mary of Bethany (left) and Mary Magdalene (right) … a stained glass window in Saint Nicholas’s Church, Adare, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Generous love begins
begins at home, but
it does not end there

‘There they gave a dinner for him’ (John 12: 2) … a table ready for dinner in the evening sunset by the sea at Platanias, near Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 7 April (Lent 5):

9.30 a.m., Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton.

Readings: Isaiah 43: 16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3: 4b-14; John 12: 1-8.

‘… forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize’ (Philippians 3: 13-14) … Greek athletes in a frieze (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

We are coming close to the end of Lent. At one time, this Sunday was known as Passion Sunday. Next Sunday [14 April 2019], the Sixth Sunday in Lent, is Palm Sunday, and so our readings this morning prepare us to move closer to Palm Sunday and the Passion stories of Holy Week.

In our epistle reading (Philippians 3: 4b-14), Saint Paul is writing to the church in Philippi, a church in Macedonia, near Thessaloniki. In this letter, he tells his readers how he wants to know Christ in his suffering and in his resurrection. He is making progress not on his own, but through God’s grace. He has left his past behind him, and eagerly seeks what lies ahead. Like the winner in a race of Greek athletes was called up to receive his prize, Saint Paul now seeks God’s call to share in the life of the Resurrection.

The timing for our Gospel reading (John 12: 1-8) is the day before Palm Sunday, and the setting is in Bethany, on the Mount of Olives, 3 km east of Jerusalem. It was there, in the previous chapter, Christ raised Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary, from the dead (see John 11: 1-44).

The name Lazarus is a form of the name Eleazar. As the freed slaves moved through the wilderness in the Exodus story, the priest Eleazar was responsible for carrying the oil for the Temple menorah or lampstand, the sweet incense, the daily grain offering and the anointing oil (see Numbers 4: 16).

So, as Saint John’s Gospel carefully sets the location and the timing of this story, we can expect a story this morning with a connection to death and resurrection, and with some association with anointing.

The plotting against Jesus has intensified. Meanwhile, many people are making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. The religious authorities, aware that Jesus is ‘performing many signs’ (11: 47), now want to arrest him.

Jesus now returns to Bethany, where the family of Lazarus invite him to dinner. In this account, Martha serves the meal, and Lazarus is at the table with them. In Saint Luke’s account, Martha serves while Mary sits at the feet of Jesus (see Luke 10: 38-42).

After dinner, Mary takes ‘a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard’ to anoint the feet of Jesus. Nard came from the roots of the spike or nard plant grown in the Himalayas. If the guests were reclining on couches, Jesus’ feet would be accessible for anointing, but a respectable Jewish woman would hardly appear in public with her hair unbound.

The reaction of Judas points forward to the impending arrest of Jesus (see John 18:1-11). The cost of this nard, 300 denarii, was almost a year’s wages for a labourer. I wonder whether there is a link between 300 denarii and the 30 pieces of silver Judas receives in Saint Matthew’s Gospel (see Matthew 26: 15)?

Anointing was the last step before burial, but it was not for executed criminals.

Has Mary bought the perfume to have it ready for Christ’s burial?

Does she realise that using it now is not a waste of the perfume?

Martha and Mary have offered their home in Bethany as a place of welcome, peace and refuge for Jesus. His life is under threat, but still he has time, and they have time, for a meal together.

They had a hint of the Easter story already in this home when Jesus raised their brother Lazarus from the dead. Now we have a sign of Jesus’ impending death, when Mary anoints his feet with costly perfume.

But Judas fails to see the full picture, to understand the full scenario that is beginning to unfold. Judas has a point, I suppose, from our point of view. There is so much need in the world, so much need around us, there is so much that is demanding the best of our intentions.

But, so often, the best of my intentions remains just that, and I never do anything about them. How often do we hear people say, ‘Charity begins at home,’ as a way of putting down people who genuinely want to do something about the injustices around us, even the injustices in the wider world?

Yet, so often, we suspect, that in their case charity does not even begin at home … it never even gets to the starting blocks.

For Mary, in this morning’s Gospel reading, charity begins in her own home. But we get a hint that it is not going to end there. It has only started.

Judas is told the poor are always going to be with him … perhaps because charity does not even begin in his own home, never mind reaching out beyond that.

Mary’s action is loving and uninhibited, Mary’s gift is costly and beyond measure.

Love like that begins at home, and it goes on giving beyond the home, beyond horizons we never imagine.

Later that week, the disciples must have been reminded of Mary’s actions when Jesus insisted on washing their feet in a similar act of love and humility, once again at dinner.

How would I feel if Jesus knelt in front of me and washed my feet?

Would I worry whether I have smelly socks, whether he notices my bunions, chilblains and in-grown toenails? Would I be so self-obsessed and concerned about what he thinks of me that I would never stop to think of what I think of him and what he thinks of others?

Or would I, like Mary, smell the sweet fragrance that fills a house that is filled with love?

Someone recently described prayer as ‘a time of living in the fragrance and the scent of God. It is gentle, light and lasts long. It comes off us; if we live in love, we spread love, and others know that something deep in us gives a fragrance to all of our life.’

Mary of Bethany is extravagant and generous and is not inhibited by the attitude of others around her. How much did she understand about Jesus’ impending death when none of the disciples saw it coming?

Mary does not sell the perfume, as Judas wants her to. Instead, she keeps it and she brings it to the grave early on Easter morning with the intention of anointing the body of the dead Jesus.

Can people smell the fragrance of Christ from us?

Are we prepared to let charity begin at home, but not end there?

And then, in the joy of the Easter Resurrection, are we ready to allow that generous charity, that generous love, to be shared with the whole world?

Like Saint Paul, who has left his past behind him and eagerly seeks what lies ahead, like the winner waiting to be called up to receive his prize, we can answer God’s call to share in the life of the Resurrection.

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

‘There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him’ … at dinner in Corfu (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 12: 1-8 (NRSVA):

1 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ 6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7 Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’

‘There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him’ … dinner in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: Violet

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God,
you sent your Son to reconcile us to yourself and to one another.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus,
you heal the wounds of sin and division.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
through you we put to death the sins of the body – and live.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect:

Most merciful God,
who by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ
delivered and saved the world:
Grant that by faith in him who suffered on the cross,
we may triumph in the power of his victory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Lenten Collect:

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

Introduction to the Peace:

Now in union with Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near through the shedding of Christ’s blood; for he is our peace. (Ephesians 2: 17)

Preface:

Through Jesus Christ our Saviour,
who, for the redemption of the world,
humbled himself to death on the cross;
that, being lifted up from the earth,
he might draw all people to himself:

The Post-Communion Prayer:

God of hope,
in this Eucharist we have tasted
the promise of your heavenly banquet
and the richness of eternal life.
May we who bear witness to the death of your Son,
also proclaim the glory of his resurrection,
for he is Lord for ever and ever.

Blessing:

Christ draw you to himself
and grant that you find in his cross a sure ground for faith,
a firm support for hope,
and the assurance of sins forgiven:

Saint Paul is writing to the church in Philippi, then a major town in Macedonia in northern Greece (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Hymns:

517, Brother, sister, let me serve you (CD 30)
218, And can it be that I should gain (CD 14)
587, Just as I am, without one plea (CD 33)

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 Risen Christ with Mary of Bethany (left) and Mary Magdalene (right) … a stained glass window in Saint Nicholas’s Church, Adare, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Praying through Lent with
USPG (33): 7 April 2019

‘Jesus is Condemned to Death’ … Station I in the Stations of the Cross in the Chapel of Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Co Kildare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Fifth Sunday in Lent [7 April 2019], known in the past as Passion Sunday. Later this morning, I am presiding and preaching at the Parish Eucharist in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton (9.30 a.m.) and Morning Prayer in Castletown Church, Co Limerick (11.30 a.m.).

During Lent this year, I am using the USPG Prayer Diary, Pray with the World Church, for my morning prayers and reflections.

USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is the Anglican mission agency that partners churches and communities worldwide in God’s mission to enliven faith, strengthen relationships, unlock potential, and champion justice. It was founded in 1701.

This week [7-13 April], the USPG prayer diary focusses on the theme of ‘Hope.’ This theme is introduced this morning with an article based upon a report from the ‘Let My People Go’ programme, which is run by the Church of North India Synodical Board of Social Services (CNISBSS) to support marginalised Dalit and tribal people:

Tagori’s story: For a long time, Tagori and her husband Sumit struggled to make ends meet and look after their ten-year-old son. With no land of their own, Sumit struggled to find work as a day labourer, so some days there would be no income. They couldn’t afford decent food and clothing – and there seemed little prospect of being able to support their son’s education.

Unable to borrow from relatives or neighbours, Tagori met Nayami Pramanik, a Community Enabler with the Diocesan Board of Social Services (DBSS) for Barrackpore Diocese, who guided and encouraged her.

Tagori joined a DBSS self-help group and with their help, Tagori took out a small loan to start a fishing business.

Tagori hired a pond, some fish, fishing nets and fish food. Six months later Tagori was able to harvest fish and sell them at market. She repaid her loan and bought a bicycle and a television set for her family. Tagori’s fishing business is doing well. She told us: ‘I am now more confident and have decided to hire more ponds locally to continue growing my business.’

Sunday 7 April: The Fifth Sunday of Lent:

Marginalised God, despised and rejected by men,
you know the cries of the poor and the hurt of the weak.
In your mercy, save us from pity.
Rather, galvanise us to action that we may walk in
solidarity with those for whom we pray.

Readings: Isaiah 43: 16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3: 4b-14; John 12: 1-8.

The Collect:

Most merciful God,
who by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ
delivered and saved the world:
Grant that by faith in him who suffered on the cross,
we may triumph in the power of his victory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Lenten Collect:

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

The Post-Communion Prayer:

God of hope,
in this Eucharist we have tasted
the promise of your heavenly banquet
and the richness of eternal life.
May we who bear witness to the death of your Son,
also proclaim the glory of his resurrection,
for he is Lord for ever and ever.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow