Tuesday, 17 March 2020

My planned return to
Lichfield has not been
cancelled … just deferred

A half-open door at the chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield … the door has been closed on my planned ‘mini-retreat’ in Lichfield next week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The Corina-19 pandemic is eating into social life everywhere. I celebrated the Festal Eucharist for Saint Patrick’s Day this morning behind closed doors in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick, and posted the readings, sermon and propers on various social media platforms, including my blog and the parish Facebook page.

For the foreseeable future, parish services have been closed to the public, and anything that takes place in the four churches in this group of parishes is going to take place behind closed doors.

But that does not hinder my ministry and the ministry of this group of parish: postings on the parishes’ Facebook page within the past week had reached about 1,700 people by mid-afternoon today. If even half of these people came to church after this pandemic has passed, we would be rejoicing.

My plans to spend Orthodox Easter in Crete have been cancelled by the Greek government’s decision to close all hotels and tourist accommodation in Greece until at least the end of April.

I have enjoyed Orthodox Easter in Thessaloniki and Rethymnon in recent years, so even rebooking for another weekend is not going to bring the same promise.

My planned trip to Myanmar with USPG later this month was called off almost two few weeks ago, and a number of events have been cancelled in recent days, including the installation of the new Dean of Killaloe, the Very Revd Rod Smyth, when I had been invited to preach, today’s Saint Patrick’s Day parades, when I would have been on the reviewing platform in Askeaton, the ecumenical service this evening in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, when I was invited to preach by the Dublin Council of Churches.

Lichfield Cathedral and Minister Pool … I was planning a short, personal retreat in Lichfield next week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Disappointed, I had booked myself three days away in Lichfield at the end of next week, staying for two nights in the Hedgehog Vintage Inn at the corner of Stafford Road and Cross in Hand Lane.

I was looking forward to a ‘mini-retreat’ in Lichfield, following the daily pattern of liturgy in Lichfield Cathedral, finding time for private prayer in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, long walks along Beacon Street or along Cross in Hand Lane, and walks around Stowe Pool and Minister.

For almost half a century I have regarded the chapel at Saint John’s and Lichfield Cathedral as my spiritual home. An experience of the love and light and presence of God in my life in that chapel one summer afternoon when I was a 19-year-old, and Choral Evensong later that day in Lichfield Cathedral, would shape and mould my spiritual life and my expression of Anglicanism.

Going back to Lichfield – like going back to Wexford – is like going home for me.

However, an email from Ryanair late last night informed me that my return flights from Dublin to Birmingham next Thursday and Saturday are included in the flights they have grounded … and so this trip too has been called off.

The Hedgehog Vintage Inn … due to reopen on Friday 20 March (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I was looking forward to staying in the Hedgehog, which has been refurbished and is due to reopen this Friday (20 March). I had even thought of visiting the Moat House, the former Comberford family home on Lichfield Street in Tamworth, which is now open on Thursday and Friday evenings, and I had even entertained the idea of spending an hour or two in Comberford village.

Things are changing rapidly, and who knows the future of travel with Ryanair and Aer Lingus after this crisis has passed?

Who knows whether I can get to the USPG trustees’ meeting in London in May or the USPG conference in Swanwick in Derbyshire – with the promise of another visit to Lichfield – in July? Should I forget about planned city breaks in Warsaw and Bari?

The present uncertainty even puts into doubt a planned holiday in Thessaloniki and Halkidiki in late August and early September.

But my dilemmas are as nothing compared to those of people suffering, living in isolation and living in fear. When all this is over, I promise myself a few days back in Lichfield, and a few weeks in Crete. Meanwhile, I hope to continue trying to keep in touch with people through social media.

Meanwhile, my return visits to Lichfield and Crete have not been cancelled … I like to think they have just been deferred.

The Moat House, the former Comberford family home on Lichfield Street, Tamworth … my planned return visit has been deferred (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

10 lessons to learn
from Saint Patrick in
these troubled days

Saint Patrick … an icon received as a present in Crete and now in the Rectory in Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Tuesday 17 March 2020

Saint Patrick’s Day,

11 a.m.: The Festal Eucharist,

Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick.


Readings: Tobit 13: 1b-7; Psalm 145: 1-13; II Corinthians 4: 1-12; John 4: 31-38.

Saint Patrick depicted in a window in Saint Patrick’s Church, Waterford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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

Preaching on Saint Patrick’s Day is always a challenge, because of many of us think we know the story of Saint Patrick, while others think this just a day of national festivity, where anything goes, as long as it’s dressed up in green.

Personally, I was saddened last week when the organisers, the Dublin Council of Churches, decided to cancel the ecumenical service for Saint Patrick’s Day in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. I had been invited to preach and I felt it was a such a privilege to preach on my name day, on Saint Patrick’s Day, about Saint Patrick, in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.

Little did I realise when that was cancelled, how much more was going to be cancelled, and how quickly we were going to slide into the present escalating crisis about the Covid-19 pandemic.

But even before today’s parades and programmes were cancelled and the pubs were closed, one official guide to celebrating the day listed concerts, parades, venues, music, comedy … you name it – but did not mention one church service celebrating Saint Patrick himself, his mission and his witness.

An additional difficulty in preparing to preach on this day is posed this year because the Gospel reading for Saint Patrick’s Day (John 4: 31-38), which is the same each year, is also portion of the Gospel reading last Sunday, the Third Sunday in Lent (Lent III, 15 March 2020, John 4: 5-42).

So what do we have to say today about Saint Patrick that is truly relevant to the great challenges we are facing in Ireland today?

To be brief, I have just ten short points to make about Saint Patrick that I think are relevant in a special way this year:

1, Saint Patrick banishes fear from the land, not in his own name, but in the name of God: in those days that fear was embodied in snakes, today it may be Covid-19. Sometimes living with fear is greater than living with the threat. Let us pray, like Saint Patrick, that we can banish all fears from our lives, that we may deal with present threats with faith, and that we can find the inner resources to remain calm.

2, Saint Patrick connects us with our nearest neighbours. He is born on the neighbouring island, probably in what is now central or north-west England. Whatever happens in the wake of ‘Brexit,’ like Saint Patrick we must never allow prejudice or political difference to distance us from our neighbours: it makes sense that our nearest neighbours must be our closest and best friends.

3, Saint Patrick is an international figure. I am not referring to parades in New York or lighting up the Sydney Opera House in green. But he travels freely between Ireland, England, and continental Europe. The present Covid-19 crisis shows us that islands are never really cut off from anywhere else. We need to continue to respond with compassion and action to the needs of our neighbours across Europe in the present crisis.

4, Saint Patrick is a figure that reminds us to speak out for people who are refugees, migrants, or the victims of people-trafficking. Some of the prejudicial responses I hear in Ireland would have sent Patrick back to where he was from … and where would we be today?

5, Saint Patrick had an open, engaging reaction to the women in his life, so open that it scandalised his opponents and critics. It is an image that inspired a stained-glass windows in our neighbours’ church, Saint Patrick’s Roman Catholic parish church in Askeaton. Bishop Barbara Harris, the first woman bishop in the Anglican Communion, died a few days ago. May the voices of women and men in the Church be heard with equality and generosity in the Church today.

6, Saint Patrick is a figure of unity in the Church in Ireland. He was not the first missionary in Ireland, not even the first bishop. But his specific mission was to unite the Church of the day in Ireland. As the efforts to bring about full, visible unity in the church lose steam these days, let us work to explore new ways of expressing the unity that Body of Christ must live with.

7, Saint Patrick is seen, long after his own lifespan, as bringing the Church in Ireland together symbolically through the See of Armagh. The new Archbishop of Armagh, Bishop John McDowell, was the bishop who visited this group of parishes when the bishops of the Church of Ireland were visiting these dioceses late last year. He asked particularly to see the work with Travellers in Rathkeale, but I also worked closely with him in the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel). Let us pray this day that as Archbishop of Armagh he may be a worthy successor to Saint Patrick.

8, Saint Patrick constantly points us to the Christian faith. As we don the shamrock today, let us remember Saint Patrick’s faith, and own it as our own.

9, Saint Patrick’s mission is marked by love, shown in his concern for the outcast, the outsider, the slave, the trafficked, the marginalised. As we don the shamrock today, let us make Saint Patrick’s example a model for our own values.

10, Saint Patrick lived in hope, and offered hope. In these difficult days, as we don the shamrock, let us live in hope, for the present days, and in the hope of eternal life in Christ.

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

The reliquary made for relics of Saint Patrick, now in the Hunt Museum, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 4: 31-38 (NRSVA):

31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him [Jesus], ‘Rabbi, eat something.’ 32 But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ 33 So the disciples said to one another, ‘Surely no one has brought him something to eat?’ 34 Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35 Do you not say, “Four months more, then comes the harvest”? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.” 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour.’

Saint Patrick with mitre, crozier, Bible and shamrock on the side of the chapel in Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Co Kildare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Resources:

Liturgical Colour: White (please note that Green is not the Liturgical Colour for Saint Patrick’s Day).

Penitential Kyries:

O taste and see that the Lord is good;
happy are those who trust in him.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Lord ransoms the lives of his servants
and none who trust in him will be destroyed.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Come my children, listen to me:
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
in your providence you chose your servant Patrick
to be the apostle of the Irish people,
to bring those who were wandering in darkness and error
to the true light and knowledge of your Word:
Grant that walking in that light
we may come at last to the light of everlasting life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

Peace be to you, and peace to your house, and peace to all who are yours (I Samuel 25: 6).

Preface:

To this land you sent the glorious gospel
through the preaching of Patrick.
You caused it to grow and flourish in the life of your servant Patrick and in
the lives of men and women, filled with your Holy Spirit,
building up your Church to send forth the good news to other places:

Post Communion Prayer:

Hear us, most merciful God,
for that part of the Church
which through your servant Patrick you planted in our land;
that it may hold fast the faith entrusted to the saints
and in the end bear much fruit to eternal life:
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Blessing:

God, who in days of old gave to this land the benediction of his holy Church,
fill you with his grace to walk faithfully in the steps of the saints
and to bring forth fruit to his glory:

Saint Patrick alongside Saint Cuthbert, Saint Finbar and Saint Laurence O’Toole in the stained glass windows in the baptistery in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

Hymns:

459: For all the saints, who from their labours rest (CD 27)
611: Christ be beside me (CD 35)
322: I bind unto myself today (CD supplied)

Saint Patrick in a stained-glass window in Saint Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick (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.

A fading statue of Saint Patrick in the grounds of Saint Patrick’s Church, Waterford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

This sermon was prepared for Saint Patrick’s Day 2020, and was read in the closed church in response to the Covid-19 pandemic

Praying through Lent with
USPG (21): 17 March 2020

The memorial wall to victims of the Holocaust in the Ghetto in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today is Saint Patrick’s Day [17 March 2020]. Later this morning, I was hoping to preside and preach at the Saint Patrick’s Day Eucharist at 11 a.m. in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick, and I was invited to preach this evening in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, at an ecumenical service for Saint Patrick’s Day organised by the Dublin Council of Churches. However, both these services were cancelled last week due to Covid-19 or the Corona Virus pandemic.

But Lent continues, and during Lent this year, I am using the USPG Prayer Diary, Pray with the World Church, for my morning prayers and reflections. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and the end of the Holocaust, so I am illustrating my reflections each morning with images that emphasise this theme.

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 (15-21 March), the USPG Prayer Diary is focussing on the theme of ‘Standing with Indigenous Communities in The Philippines.’ This theme was introduced in the Prayer Diary on Sunday.

Tuesday 17 March 2020, Saint Patrick’s Day:

Pray for the Iglesia Filipina Independiente; that through ALP (‘Abundant Life’ programme) it will build bridges with indigenous people.

Readings: Tobit 13: 1b-7; Psalm 145: 1-13; II Corinthians 4: 1-12; John 4: 31-38.

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
in your providence you chose your servant Patrick
to be the apostle of the Irish people,
to bring those who were wandering in darkness and error
to the true light and knowledge of your Word:
Grant that walking in that light
we may come at last to the light of everlasting life;
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:

Hear us, most merciful God,
for that part of the Church
which through your servant Patrick you planted in our land;
that it may hold fast the faith entrusted to the saints
and in the end bear much fruit to eternal life:
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Continued tomorrow

Yesterday’s reflection

A fading statue of Saint Patrick in the grounds of Saint Patrick’s Church, Waterford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)