Sunday, 13 October 2019

Sukkot remembers how
God’s ‘providence upheld
us in our wanderings’

‘In the mornings, when it is not raining, I sit here and watch the morning light move across the valley’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During the High Holy Days in the Jewish Calendar this year, I have been posting blog-postings each morning on the synagogues of Dublin.

The Festival of Sukkot this year begins at sundown this evening [Sunday 13 October 2019] and continues until sundown next Sunday [20 October]. The conclusion of Sukkot marks the beginning of the separate holidays of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

Sukkot (סוכות or סֻכּוֹת, sukkot or sukkos), the Festival of Tabernacles or Feast of Booths, is also known as the Festival of Ingathering (חג האסיף, Chag HaAsif) and in some translations the Festival of Shelters.

This Festival is mentioned in Exodus as agricultural in nature – ‘Festival of Ingathering at the year’s end’ (see Exodus 34: 22) – and it marks the end of the harvest time and of the agricultural year in the Land of Israel. A more elaborate religious significance in Leviticus describes the Exodus and the dependence of the People on the will of God (see Leviticus 23: 42-43).

This Biblical holiday celebrated on the 15th day of the month of Tishrei, usually between late September and late October. It is one of the three biblically mandated festivals when Jews were expected to undertake a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem, along with Passover and Shavuot.

In the times of the Temple in Jerusalem, Sukkot was also the time of a water-drawing ceremony, a joyous and upbeat celebration. It is celebrated today with its own customs and practices.

The holiday lasts seven days in Israel and eight in the diaspora. The first day (and the second day in the diaspora) is a Shabbat-like holiday when work is forbidden. This is followed by intermediate days called Chol Hamoed, when some work is allowed. The festival closes with another Shabbat-like holiday called Shemini Atzeret, and the second day is called Simchat Torah [22 October 2019] in the diaspora.

It is traditional in Jewish families and homes to mark this festival by building a sukkah or a temporary hut to dwell in during the holiday. The customs include buying a lulav and etrog and shake them daily throughout the festival.

A sukkah is a temporary dwelling in which farmers once lives during the harvest. Today, it is also a reminder of the type of the fragile dwellings in which the people lived during their 40 years wandering through the wilderness after fleeing slavery in Egypt.

A meditation on Sukkot in Service of the Heart, a prayer book I use regularly in my daily prayers and meditations, offers this Kiddush for welcoming Sukkot, composed by Rabbi Sidney Brichto (1936-2009), a Jewish authority on both the Old Testament and New Testament and translator of the People’s Bible:

‘The Festival of Sukkot teaches us to give thanks to God for the harvest of fruit and grain and to share these and all nature’s blessings with our fellow men.

‘Let us praise God with this symbol of joy and thank him for his providence which has upheld us in our wanderings and sustained us with nature’s bounty from year to year. May our worship lead us to live this day and all days in the spirit of this Festival of Sukkot with trust in God’s care, with thanksgiving for his goodness, and with determination that all men shall enjoy the blessings of the earth.’

Throughout the holiday, meals are eaten inside the sukkah and some people even sleep there as well.

On each day of the holiday it is mandatory to perform a waving ceremony with the Four Species or specified plants: citrus trees, palm trees, thick or leafy trees and willows.

Prayers during Sukkot include reading the Torah every day, the Mussaf or additional service after morning prayers, reciting Hallel, and adding special additions to the Amidah and Grace after Meals.

On each day of Sukkot, worshippers walk around the synagogue carrying the Four Species while saying special prayers known as Hoshanot. This ceremony commemorates the willow ceremony at the Temple in Jerusalem, in which willow branches were piled beside the altar with worshippers parading around the altar reciting prayers.

Another custom is to recite the ushpizin prayer to invite one of seven ‘exalted guests’ into the sukkah. These ushpizin or guests represent the seven shepherds of Israel: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David. According to tradition, each night a different guest enters the sukkah followed by the other six. Each of the ushpizin has a unique lesson that teaches the parallels of the spiritual focus of the day on which they visit.

‘Sometimes I sing the psalms of Hallel. Sometimes I sip coffee’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

On her blog Velveteen Rabbi, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat shared this poem for Sukkot last year [29 September 2018]:

Small scenes from a sukkah

I got a new sukkah this year.
A simple white metal frame.
Three canvas walls with windows in them.
Cornstalks overhead, twined with autumnal garlands.

In the mornings, when it is not raining, I sit here
and watch the morning light move across the valley.
Sometimes I sing the psalms of Hallel.
Sometimes I sip coffee.

During the afternoon I listen to the wind rustle the cornstalks
and the tinsel garlands overhead.
Every now and then I listen to a small plane overhead,
or a flock of geese.

As afternoon gives way to evening,
the sky goes through its rapid costume change.
If I’m paying attention at the right moment
I can see it happen.

Once evening falls
the sukkah gleams
on my mirpesset,
a little house filled with light.

‘The sukkah gleams … a little house filled with light’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

When the quality of
mercy is not strained
in an in-between land

James Tissot (1836-1902), ‘The Healing of Ten Lepers’ (‘Guérison de dix lépreux’), 1886-1896, Brooklyn Museum

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 13 October 2019

The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XVII).


11.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer II, Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick.

The Readings: Jeremiah 29: 1, 4-7; Psalm 66: 1-11; II Timothy 2: 8-15; Luke 17: 11-19. There is a link to the readings HERE.

‘Be joyful in God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; sing the glory of his praise’ (Psalm 66: 1) … the River Deel at the Deel Boat Club near Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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

This morning’s Gospel reading provides many opportunities for many sermons on faith and healing, inclusion and exclusion, how Christ meets our every need, how we need conversion, on the connection between healing of the body and healing of the soul, perhaps even on the value of good manners and learning to say thank you.

Some parishes are going to hear about one Samaritan who returns and says thank you. Others may hear about nine other lepers who did exactly as they were told, went and showed themselves to the priests, received a clean bill of health and were restored to their rightful place in the community of faith.

But which is the greatest miracle for you: the healing of these 10 people? Or their restoration to their rightful places in the community of faith?

Perhaps it is worth noting that it is the 10 men, not Christ, who keep their distance on the outskirts of the village, because they are forced to behave this way, to be marginalised and to live on the margins.

Christ keeps his distance, as might be expected. Yet, from that distance, he sees. Many Bibles have verse 14 to say that ‘he saw them.’ But the Greek says simply, καὶ ἰδὼν, ‘and having seen,’ without any object, there is no ‘them.’

For Christ, we are not mere objects; and for Christ there is no ‘us’ and ‘them.’ He sees the future without the limits of the present.

This is a story about trusting in God’s plans for the future, rather than living in the past, living with the fears of the present, living without hope for the future … precisely the context for the urgings and exhortations to the exiles by the Prophet Jeremiah in the Old Testament reading (Jeremiah 29: 1, 4-7), precisely the hope the Apostle Paul has for Saint Timothy in the epistle reading (II Timothy 2: 8-15).

But we foil those plans, we quench those hopes, we continue to live in the past, when we continue to limit Christ’s saving powers with our own limitations, continue to look at him with our own limited vision.

Christ sees … sees it as it is in the present, and as it could be in the future.

Perhaps that is why Saint Luke has placed this story in a location that is an in-between place, the region between Galilee and Samaria. The place between Galilee and Samaria is neither one nor the other, neither this earthly existence nor what the future holds, but still on the way to Jerusalem.

Even the village here is not named.

We should not forget that not one but 10 were healed. Christ does good – even to those who will not be thankful.

And even then, we do not know why the other nine did not return to say thanks. It took an eight-day waiting process for a person with leprosy to be declared clean by the priests.

After those eight days, did they then go and give thanks to God in their local synagogues?

Did they first breathe sighs of relief and return to the families they loved but had been isolated from for so long?

Did they return to that unnamed village, and find that 10 days later Jesus had moved on … the next named place we find him in is Jericho (see Luke 19: 110, the Fourth Sunday before Advent, 3 November 2019)?

Surely Christ does good without expecting a thanks that comes straight from some Victorian book on good manners.

How often when we give a gift to someone do we want to control how they use it?

I give a Christmas or birthday gift, and then I am upset when they do not like it, when they trade it in for something else, or pass it on to someone else, or simply just never say thank you or acknowledge what I have done for them.

But who was the gift supposed to benefit: me as the giver, or you as the receiver? What was it a token of: my love for you, or my need for you to acknowledge how important I am to you?

A begrudging attitude to how others receive and use the gifts I give, or taking offence when I feel they have not thanked me enough, amount to a passive aggressive attitude on my part, a desire to control. If we give gifts only to be thanked, are we truly generous?

And if I only say thank you so I remain in someone else’s esteem, perhaps even to be rewarded again, to be kept on their invitation list, am I truly grateful?

Christ is not passively aggressive in this story. He is not seeking to control. He sends the 10 on their way … and they go. If he had expected them to return, he would not have been surprised that one returned; he would have waited around in that unnamed village until the other nine had time to make their humble ways back there to thank him.

Instead, it is more important what Christ frees them for, and where he frees them.

He frees them to regain their place in the community, in the social, economic and religious community that is their rightful place.

For the Samaritan, his ‘faith has made him well’: ἡπίστις σου σέσωκέν σε, or, more accurately, your faith has saved you, rescued you, restored you. The word σῴζω is all about being saved, rescued, restored, ransomed, and not just about regaining health and physical well-being.

That land between Samaria and Galilee is where we find Christ today. The in-between place, the nowhere land, the place where people need to be saved, rescued, restored, ransomed.

We all find ourselves in the in-between place, the nowhere land … to borrow a phrase from TS Eliot, wandering in the ‘Waste Land.’

Perhaps, just for one moment, it is possible to imagine that Christ has arrived in that particular in-between place for a reason. For the land between Samaria and Galilee is neither one place nor the other.

And that in-between place is a place where I might find myself unsure of who belongs and who does not, where I might be uncertain, untrusting, even frightened and afraid. It is a place where the usual rules may not apply, where I do not know my place, where I do not fit in, where I appear not as the person God see as the true me, but as others want to see me.

This is the place where Christ is travelling through in this Gospel story. It seems to me that I am often travelling in that place every day, today.

It is difficult travelling in this in-between land. When we realise we are there, then it may be easier to identify with the 10 Lepers, cast out into the in-between land, not knowing where to go, rather than with those who appear certain about where they are going.

When we get to where you are going, we should remember how we feel about the present unknown, whether it is fear – ‘I will show you fear in a handful of dust’ – whether it is trepidation, anticipation, or joy that is tinged with all of these, in this in-between time, this nowhere place.

Shakespeare reminds us, in the words of Portia in The Merchant of Venice,

The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
… (The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene 1)

These 10 lepers were cut off from all they knew and loved, all the certainties they once enjoyed or took for granted.

And when we move from an in-between place and nowhere land, we should not hold back from the call to join the task of cleansing, healing, restoration. We do it not for ‘Thank Yous’ and plaudits. It is not about you, it is not all about me.

Indeed, it is not this one man’s thanks that is important, but that his thanks is expressed in turning around, conversion, and praising God, bowing down before Christ as his Master and as the Lord God.

Martin Luther was once asked to describe the nature of true worship. His answer was the tenth leper turning back.

Christ invites us into that region between Samaria and Galilee, that space between wrong-doing and right-doing, between them and us – and bids us find our healing and salvation – and theirs. And in doing that we find ourselves engaged, quite naturally, in true worship. And in Christ we realise that there is no us and them – there is only us.

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

As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him … they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ (Luke 17: 12-13)

Luke 17: 11-19 (NRSVA):

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ 14 When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ 19 Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’

The ‘Leper’s Squint’ and the Arthur Memorial behind the organ in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Liturgical Colour: Green (Ordinary Time)

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
you have made us for yourself,
and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you:
Teach us to offer ourselves to your service,
that here we may have your peace,
and in the world to come may see you face to face;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Collect of the Word:

O God,
you have made heaven and earth
and all that is good:
help us to delight in simple things
and to rejoice always
in the riches of your bounty;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

‘Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David – that is my gospel’ (II Timothy 2: 8) … the icon cross in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Hymns:

59, New every morning is the love (CD 59);
596, Seek ye first the Kingdom of God (CD 34);
81, Lord, for the years (CD 5).

‘Be joyful in God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; sing the glory of his praise’ (Psalm 66: 1) … at the mouth of the river in Messonghi, Corfu (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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.

‘Get up and go on your way;
your faith has made you well’

As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him … they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ (Luke 17: 12-13)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 13 October 2019

The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XVII).


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

The Readings: Jeremiah 29: 1, 4-7; Psalm 66: 1-11; II Timothy 2: 8-15; Luke 17: 11-19. There is a link to the readings HERE.

‘Be joyful in God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; sing the glory of his praise’ (Psalm 66: 1) … the River Deel at the Deel Boat Club near Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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

This morning’s Gospel reading provides many opportunities for many sermons on faith and healing, inclusion and exclusion, how Christ meets our every need, how we need conversion, on the connection between healing of the body and healing of the soul, perhaps even on the value of good manners and learning to say thank you.

Some parishes are going to hear about one Samaritan who returns and says thank you. Others may hear about nine other lepers who did exactly as they were told, went and showed themselves to the priests, received a clean bill of health and were restored to their rightful place in the community of faith.

But which is the greatest miracle for you: the healing of these 10 people? Or their restoration to their rightful places in the community of faith?

Perhaps it is worth noting that it is the 10 men, not Christ, who keep their distance on the outskirts of the village, because they are forced to behave this way, to be marginalised and to live on the margins.

Christ keeps his distance, as might be expected. Yet, from that distance, he sees. Many Bibles have verse 14 to say that ‘he saw them.’ But the Greek says simply, καὶ ἰδὼν, ‘and having seen,’ without any object, there is no ‘them.’

For Christ, we are not mere objects; and for Christ there is no ‘us’ and ‘them.’ He sees the future without the limits of the present.

This is a story about trusting in God’s plans for the future, rather than living in the past, living with the fears of the present, living without hope for the future … precisely the context for the urgings and exhortations to the exiles by the Prophet Jeremiah in the Old Testament reading (Jeremiah 29: 1, 4-7), precisely the hope the Apostle Paul has for Saint Timothy in the epistle reading (II Timothy 2: 8-15).

But we foil those plans, we quench those hopes, we continue to live in the past, when we continue to limit Christ’s saving powers with our own limitations, continue to look at him with our own limited vision.

Christ sees … sees it as it is in the present, and as it could be in the future.

Perhaps that is why Saint Luke has placed this story in a location that is an in-between place, the region between Galilee and Samaria. The place between Galilee and Samaria is neither one nor the other, neither this earthly existence nor what the future holds, but still on the way to Jerusalem.

Even the village here is not named.

We should not forget that not one but 10 were healed. Christ does good – even to those who will not be thankful.

And even then, we do not know why the other nine did not return to say thanks. It took an eight-day waiting process for a person with leprosy to be declared clean by the priests.

After those eight days, did they then go and give thanks to God in their local synagogues?

Did they first breathe sighs of relief and return to the families they loved but had been isolated from for so long?

Did they return to that unnamed village, and find that 10 days later Jesus had moved on … the next named place we find him in is Jericho (see Luke 19: 110, the Fourth Sunday before Advent, 3 November 2019)?

Surely Christ does good without expecting a thanks that comes straight from some Victorian book on good manners.

How often when we give a gift to someone do we want to control how they use it?

I give a Christmas or birthday gift, and then I am upset when they do not like it, when they trade it in for something else, or pass it on to someone else, or simply just never say thank you or acknowledge what I have done for them.

But who was the gift supposed to benefit: me as the giver, or you as the receiver? What was it a token of: my love for you, or my need for you to acknowledge how important I am to you?

A begrudging attitude to how others receive and use the gifts I give, or taking offence when I feel they have not thanked me enough, amount to a passive aggressive attitude on my part, a desire to control. If we give gifts only to be thanked, are we truly generous?

And if I only say thank you so I remain in someone else’s esteem, perhaps even to be rewarded again, to be kept on their invitation list, am I truly grateful?

Christ is not passively aggressive in this story. He is not seeking to control. He sends the 10 on their way … and they go. If he had expected them to return, he would not have been surprised that one returned; he would have waited around in that unnamed village until the other nine had time to make their humble ways back there to thank him.

Instead, it is more important what Christ frees them for, and where he frees them.

He frees them to regain their place in the community, in the social, economic and religious community that is their rightful place.

For the Samaritan, his ‘faith has made him well’: ἡπίστις σου σέσωκέν σε, or, more accurately, your faith has saved you, rescued you, restored you. The word σῴζω is all about being saved, rescued, restored, ransomed, and not just about regaining health and physical well-being.

That land between Samaria and Galilee is where we find Christ today. The in-between place, the nowhere land, the place where people need to be saved, rescued, restored, ransomed.

We all find ourselves in the in-between place, the nowhere land … to borrow a phrase from TS Eliot, wandering in the ‘Waste Land.’

Perhaps, just for one moment, it is possible to imagine that Christ has arrived in that particular in-between place for a reason. For the land between Samaria and Galilee is neither one place nor the other.

And that in-between place is a place where I might find myself unsure of who belongs and who does not, where I might be uncertain, untrusting, even frightened and afraid. It is a place where the usual rules may not apply, where I do not know my place, where I do not fit in, where I appear not as the person God see as the true me, but as others want to see me.

This is the place where Christ is travelling through in this Gospel story. It seems to me that I am often travelling in that place every day, today.

It is difficult travelling in this in-between land. When we realise we are there, then it may be easier to identify with the 10 Lepers, cast out into the in-between land, not knowing where to go, rather than with those who appear certain about where they are going.

When we get to where you are going, we should remember how we feel about the present unknown, whether it is fear – ‘I will show you fear in a handful of dust’ – whether it is trepidation, anticipation, or joy that is tinged with all of these, in this in-between time, this nowhere place.

Shakespeare reminds us, in the words of Portia in The Merchant of Venice,

The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
… (The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene 1)

These 10 lepers were cut off from all they knew and loved, all the certainties they once enjoyed or took for granted.

And when we move from an in-between place and nowhere land, we should not hold back from the call to join the task of cleansing, healing, restoration. We do it not for ‘Thank Yous’ and plaudits. It is not about you, it is not all about me.

Indeed, it is not this one man’s thanks that is important, but that his thanks is expressed in turning around, conversion, and praising God, bowing down before Christ as his Master and as the Lord God.

Martin Luther was once asked to describe the nature of true worship. His answer was the tenth leper turning back.

Christ invites us into that region between Samaria and Galilee, that space between wrong-doing and right-doing, between them and us – and bids us find our healing and salvation – and theirs. And in doing that we find ourselves engaged, quite naturally, in true worship. And in Christ we realise that there is no us and them – there is only us.

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

James Tissot (1836-1902), ‘The Healing of Ten Lepers’ (‘Guérison de dix lépreux’), 1886-1896, Brooklyn Museum

Luke 17: 11-19 (NRSVA):

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ 14 When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ 19 Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’

The ‘Leper’s Squint’ and the Arthur Memorial behind the organ in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Liturgical Colour: Green (Ordinary Time)

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
you have made us for yourself,
and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you:
Teach us to offer ourselves to your service,
that here we may have your peace,
and in the world to come may see you face to face;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

God our guide,
you feed us with bread from heaven
as you fed your people Israel.
May we who have been inwardly nourished
be ready to follow you
all the days of our pilgrimage on earth,
until we come to your kingdom in heaven.
This we ask in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

‘Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David – that is my gospel’ (II Timothy 2: 8) … the icon cross in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Hymns:

59, New every morning is the love (CD 59);
596, Seek ye first the Kingdom of God (CD 34);
81, Lord, for the years (CD 5).

‘Be joyful in God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; sing the glory of his praise’ (Psalm 66: 1) … at the mouth of the river in Messonghi, Corfu (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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 mixed Evangelical and
High Anglican background
of John Henry Newman

Cardinal Newman’s bust in University Church, Dublin ... he is to be canonised a saint by Pope Francis in Rome today (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-1890) is being canonised a saint in Rome today [13 October 2019], nine years after his beatification on 19 September 2010by Pope Benedict XVI during his four-day visit to England.

The canonisation of John Henry Newman today is of interest both for Anglicans and for many people in Ireland, for Newman was one of the most influential figures in English Church life in the 19th century.

Today’s new saint came from an evangelical background in the Church of England, studied at Trinity College Oxford, and became a Fellow of Oriel College Oxford in 1822. He was ordained deacon in Christ Church, Oxford, in 1824, priest in 1825, and became Vicar of the University Church (Saint Mary’s) in Oxford in 1828.

Tom Tower and the Quad at Christ Church Oxford, where Newman was ordained (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In 1832, Newman went on a holiday in Italy with his friend Richard Hurrell Froude (1801-1836) of Oriel College and his father. He left them in Rome as he travelled on to Sicily, but there he became gravely ill with a fever. When he recovered, the weather delayed his return to England and he was forced to stay on board his ship for a further three weeks.

During those weeks, he wrote one of his best-known and best-loved poems, Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom. The poem shows his sense of complete uncertainty and disorientation, and reveals his sense of groping in the darkness, pleading with God to lead and guide him.

The University Church of Saint Mary, where Newman was Vicar during his days in Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

On the Sunday he returned to Oxford, 14 July 1833, Newman heard John Keble (1792-1866), Professor of Poetry at Oxford, preach his famous Assize sermon in Newman’s own church. Keble’s sermon was an attack on state interference in church affairs, prompted by government moves to reform the diocesan structures of the Church of Ireland, and is now seen as the beginning of the Oxford Movement.

Meanwhile, Newman was gaining a reputation as a poet and his edited collection, Lyra Apostolica, including Lead, kindly light, was published in 1836.

Alongside Edward Pusey and John Keble, Newman became one of the leading lights of the Tractarian or Oxford Movement, and was the principal author of the Tracts for the Times, writing 27 of the tracts. In a seminal exposition of Anglicanism in his Prophetical Office of the Church (1837), Newman maintained that the essential points of Anglicanism are its doctrine, its sacramental system and its legitimate claims to be the Catholic Church in England. However, he reached a turning point in 1841 with Tract 90, in which he tried to reconcile the 39 Articles with the decrees of the Council of Trent and the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

Newman was censured by the university and was silenced by the Bishop of Oxford. He resigned from Saint Mary’s in 1843, and after considerable hesitation became a Roman Catholic and was received into the Roman Catholic Church by Dominic Barbieri on 9 October 1845.

He defended this decision in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. Five years later, the Roman Catholic hierarchy was officially founded in England and Wales. Newman founded the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri in Birmingham, and remained at the Oratory in Birmingham for the rest of his life – apart from a few short years in Dublin.

Saint Chad’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, Birmingham … Newman regarded Pugin as “intolerant” and “a bigot” and despised his Gothic style of church architecture (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

At the time of Newman’s conversion, Roman Catholicism in England was going through a traumatic transition. Until the early 19th century, it was dominated by the old landed recusant families – the sort of families who would later figure in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisted. But it was changing with the increasing influx of poor Irish immigrants, and Birmingham became the heart of the Irish slums in the English Midlands.

Saint Chad’s Cathedral in Birmingham was designed by AWN Pugin, who also designed Saint Aidan’s Cathedral, Enniscorthy, and Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Killarney, around the same time. But Pugin had strong disagreements and debates with Newman, who regarded the great architect of the Gothic revival as ‘a man of genius’ but ‘intolerant’ and ‘a bigot.’

Newman House, Dublin, where Newman was Rector of the Catholic University of Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In 1854, Newman moved to Dublin, and for four years he was rector of the newly-founded but short-lived Catholic University of Ireland. His plans for a university were frustrated, yet his stay in Ireland saw him publish his The Idea of a University.

His college chapel survives as the University Church on Saint Stephen’s Green, beside Newman House, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the former site of Wesley College.

University Church, Dublin, built by Pollen for Newman (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The University Church was designed by John Hungerford Pollen, who was invited to Dublin by Newman as Professor of Fine Art. Newman rejected Pugin’s Gothic style, seeing in it echoes of the pagan forests of Northern Europe; but he also associated the classical style with his Anglican past and Greek and Roman paganism. And so, he favoured the Byzantine style for his university church.

Pollen’s design is the only successful Byzantine-style church in Ireland, and shows the influence of John Ruskin’s Stones of Venice.

The interior of University Church, Dublin … Byzantine architecture inspired Newman’s vision and Pollen’s design for University Church, Dublin

Practical organisation was not among Newman’s gifts, and after four unhappy years in Dublin he returned to Birmingham. Little did he know that his efforts to establish a university in Ireland would eventually bear fruit in University College Dublin. The Literary and Historical Society (L&H), which he founded, remains one of the best-known university debating societies in Ireland.

Back in England, a controversy in 1863 and 1864 involving the Anglican social reformer, Charles Kingsley, led Newman to publish his Apologia pro Vita Sua, earning his place as one the greatest Catholic minds of his time. His other great works include The Dream of Gerontius (1865) and the Grammar of Assent (1870).

Newman was not uncritical of his new Church. His opposition to the Pope’s retention of temporal powers led to a breach in his friendship with Cardinal Manning (1801-1892), another former evangelical Anglican and subsequent Tractarian who had been Archdeacon of Chichester and then became Archbishop of Westminster in 1865 and a cardinal in 1875.

Yet Newman retained many Anglican friends throughout his life, including Richard Church, Dean of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, and a nephew of Sir Richard Church, the Cork-born liberator of Greece. He read Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers on the recommendation of Pollen. When Newman heard of Kinglsley’s death he acknowledged Kingsley’s role in prompting his Apologia, his defence of the Athanasian Creed, and how he had preached kindly about Newman in Chester Cathedral, and added: ‘I said Mass for his soul as soon as I heard of his death.’

A copy of the portrait of Newman as a cardinal, by Sir John Everett Milais, in University Church Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Although never a bishop, Newman was made a cardinal by Pope Leo XIII in 1879 at the suggestion of the Duke of Norfolk. When he died on 27 February 1891, he was buried in Rednall Hill, Birmingham, in the same grave as his lifelong friend, Ambrose St John, who lived with Newman as his companion for 32 years.

To thwart attempts to make a cult of his remains, Newman ordered that he should be buried in a rich compost so that his corpse would decompose rapidly. When his body was exhumed 11 years ago in an attempt to retrieve relics, nothing was found except the brass plate and handles of his coffin.

Newman’s coat-of-arms as a cardinal (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Was Newman a pious Anglo-Catholic who prefigured those who Anglican priests who moved to Rome in recent years?

Or was he essentially an Anglican who continued to resist Papal encroachments on the Church and on the conscience of the individual?

What has been called the ‘battle for Newman’s legacy’ took on a new intensity at the time of his beatification with John Cornwell’s book, Newman’s Unquiet Grave: the reluctant saint.

Pope Benedict claimed some years ago that Newman was a faithful supporter of the papal magesterium and pontifical dogmas on many issues, and was an opponent of Catholic dissent. However, John Cornwell portrayed Newman as a dissident when it came to papal authority, infallibility, the downgrading of the laity and the primacy of papal dogma over individual conscience.

‘I shall drink to the Pope if you please,’ Newman once wrote, ‘… still to conscience first and the Pope afterwards.’ He once wrote of the ageing Pope Pius IX: ‘He becomes a god, has no one to contradict him, does not know fact, and does cruel things without meaning it.’

Cornwell did not question whether Newman ought to be considered for sainthood. But he challenged the criteria on which the Vatican has found a miracle in the healing of Jack Sullivan, an elderly deacon and former court official in Massachusetts. It is ironic that Newman himself, in his own words, would have been a reluctant saint, for he once remarked that he had ‘no tendency to be one.’

Newman’s hymns include Praise to the Holiest in the height and Firmly I Believe, both from his poem The Dream of Gerontius, and both of which are in the Irish Church Hymnal of the Church of Ireland (hymns 108 and 320). A third, well-loved Newman hymn, Lead, kindly light (Hymn 653), shows how he was never a man for easy answers or the ready acceptance of imposed dogma and authority.

Writing in the Tablet yesterday [12 October 2019], Professor Roderick Strange of Saint Mary's University, Twickenham, quotes Newman writing in 1848: ‘God has created me to do him some definite service … if I am in sickness, my sickness may serve him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve him.’

Newman as a young don in Oxford … a copy of a well-known image in University Church Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This posting includes material first published in August 2010 in the ‘Church Review,’ the Dublin and Glendalough diocesan magazine,br />