Sunday, 13 February 2022

‘Among the many changes of the world,
our hearts may surely there be fixed
where true joys are to be found’

‘They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases’ (Luke 6: 18) … a sign at a church in Glasnevin, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 13 February 2022,

The Third Sunday before Lent


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

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

Readings: Jeremiah 17: 5-10; Psalm 1; I Corinthians 15: 12-20; Luke 6: 17-26

There is a direct link to the readings HERE.

The shrine of Saint Valentine in the Carmelite Church in Whitefriar Street, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

Do you recall a time when the Sundays before Lent were known by the traditional names of Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima? This Sunday, the Third Sunday before Lent, was known in the Book of Common Prayer until recently as Septuagesima.

But counting the Sundays and weeks before Lent and even during Lent is meaningless to most people.

On the other hand, everyone knows that tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s Day.

Never mind that this saint is not named in the calendar of the Church of Ireland; never mind that historians doubt many of the details that are supposed to be part of his life story. If you looked into the flower shops and card shops in Limerick last week, or noticed the racks of cards and gifts in every shop in Askeaton and Rathkeale last week, you would imagine that Saint Valentine is one of the most popular saints in Ireland – almost popular enough to rival Saint Patrick himself.

Tomorrow, thousands of locks may be secured to bridges and fences across Europe, people will try to visit Juliet’s supposed balcony in Verona, and many people may want to visit the Carmelite Church in Whitefriar Street, Dublin, where Saint Valentine’s reliquary is traditionally taken from a special shrine in a side chapel and placed before the High Altar.

Saint Valentine is a widely believed to have been a third century Roman martyr. He is commemorated on 14 February, and since the High Middle Ages he has been associated with young love.

Yet, despite his popularity, we know nothing reliable about Saint Valentine, apart from his name and the tradition that he died a martyr’s death on 14 February on the Via Flaminia, north of Rome. Many of the stories about his life are mythical and unreliable.

Popular legend says Valentine was a Roman priest who was martyred during the reign of Claudius II, Claudius Gothicus. He was arrested and jailed when he was caught marrying Christian couples and helping persecuted Christians.

It is said Claudius took a liking to this prisoner. But when Valentinus tried to convert the Emperor, he was condemned to death. He was beaten with clubs and stones; when that failed to kill him, he was beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate.

Many of the legends about Saint Valentine can be traced only to 14th century England and to the writings of Geoffrey Chaucer and his circle, when 14 February was already linked with romantic love.

Because of these myths and legends, Saint Valentine was dropped from the Roman Calendar of Saints in 1969. Nevertheless, the ‘Martyr Valentinus who died on 14 February on the Via Flaminia close to the Milvian Bridge in Rome’ is still on the list of officially recognised saints.

The day is also celebrated as Saint Valentine’s Day with a commemoration in Common Worship in the Church of England and in other churches in the Anglican Communion.

The relics of Saint Valentine were given by Pope Gregory XVI as a gift to Father John Spratt, an Irish Carmelite Prior, after he preached a popular sermon in the Jesuit church in Rome, the Gesu, in 1836. Since then, they have been kept in a shrine in the Carmelite Church in Whitefriar Street, Dublin.

Although the story of Saint Valentine is inextricably linked with romantic young love, it is good to be reminded of love as we prepare for Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday [2 March 2022], and that our Lenten pilgrimage is a journey towards fully accepting the love of God offered to us through Christ on Good Friday and Easter Day.

Whitefriar Street Church, so closely linked with Saint Valentine, is an inner city church and one of two Carmelite churches in inner-city Dublin.

Great figures in the Carmelite tradition include Saint Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), Saint John of the Cross (1542-1591), Cardinal Charles Borromeo, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-1897), Edith Stein (Teresa Benedicta of the Cross), who died in Auschwitz in 1942, and Bishop Donal Lamont (1911-2003) of Umtali, an outspoken critic of apartheid in ‘Rhodesia’.

In my prayer diary each morning for some days now I have been reflecting on the writings of Saint Teresa of Avila, who speaks of love constantly in her writings.

She writes: ‘Whenever we think of Christ, we should recall the love that led him to bestow on us so many graces and favours, and also the great love God showed in giving us in Christ a pledge of his love; for love calls for love in return. Let us strive to keep this always before our eyes and to rouse ourselves to love Him.’

In keeping with the Carmelite contemplative tradition, Whitefriars Street Church provides an oasis of prayerful silence in the midst of the bustling city.

Saint Valentine’s shrine in Dublin is visited by thousands of couples throughout the year, especially on 14 February, when the reliquary is taken out from under the side-altar and is placed before the high altar in the church. There are special celebrations of the Eucharist, with a blessing of rings for couples who are about to be married.

Although the story of Saint Valentine is inextricably linked with romantic young love, it is good to be reminded of love as we prepare to journey through Lent, and that our Lenten pilgrimage is a journey towards fully accepting the love of God offered to us through Christ on Good Friday and on Easter Day.

In our readings this morning, the Prophet Jeremiah contrasts those who trust in mere mortals and those who trust in the Lord, and reminds us that God tests the mind and searches the heart, ‘to give to all according to the fruit of their doing’ (Jeremiah 17: 10).

I am constantly challenged by Christ’s emphasis on love.

The Gospel reading this morning (Luke 6: 17-26) is Saint Luke’s version of the ‘Sermon on the Mount.’ It offers a set of contrasts between the two sets of people, although those who first heard this must have been surprised by who fits into which category.

Some are blessed by being included in the Kingdom of God, others are warned of the consequences of their choices in life.

At times, in my own sinful life, in my good days and in my bad days, I can imagine myself in both categories. I need, in my deeply flawed life, to be reminded that it is not enough to talk about love, but I also need to make God’s love visible in my life and actions, each and every day.

As Saint Teresa of Avila writes: ‘Christ has no body now, but yours. No hands, no feet on earth, but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ looks compassion into the world. Yours are the feet with which Christ walks to do good. Yours are the hands with which Christ blesses the world.’

And the Collect of the Day challenges us to pray in these words:

Almighty God,
who alone can bring order
to the unruly wills and passions of sinful humanity:
Give your people grace
so to love what you command
and to desire what you promise;
that, among the many changes of the world,
our hearts may surely there be fixed
where true joys are to be found;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

May those you love be a blessing to you, and may you be a blessing to those who love you.

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

‘And all in the crowd were trying to touch him …’ (Luke 6: 19) … the crowd at the Battle of Cable Street depicted in street art in the East End of London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 6: 17-26 (NRSVA):

17 He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
‘Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 ‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
‘Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
22 ‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
24 ‘But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
25 ‘Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
‘Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
26 ‘Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.’

‘He came down with them and stood … with a great multitude of people from … the coast’ (Luke 6: 17) … a small beach near Georgioupouli in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: Green

The Collect:

Almighty God,
who alone can bring order
to the unruly wills and passions of sinful humanity:
Give your people grace
so to love what you command
and to desire what you promise;
that, among the many changes of the world,
our hearts may surely there be fixed
where true joys are to be found;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Collect of the Word:

Righteous God, you challenge the powers that rule this world
and you show favour to the oppressed:
instil in us a true sense of justice,
that we may discern the signs of your kingdom
and strive for right to prevail;
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Merciful Father,
you gave Jesus Christ to be for us the bread of life,
that those who come to him should never hunger.
Draw us to our Lord in faith and love,
that we may eat and drink with him at his table in the kingdom,
where he is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever.

‘They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream’ (Jeremiah 17: 8) … a scene in Curraghchase Forest Park, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

10, All my hope on God is founded (CD 1)
553, Jesu, lover of my soul (CD 32)
324, God, whose almighty word (CD 19)

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 (the Church of Ireland, 2004) is copyright © Representative Body of the Church of Ireland 2004.



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