28 August 2022

Another stage comes
to an end in half a
century of journalism

A two-page illustrated feature on Padua in the February 2022 edition of the ‘Church Review’, the Dublin and Glendalough diocesan magazine

Patrick Comerford

Sometimes anniversaries can come and go with a note of forgetfulness rather than nostalgia. I was reminded the other day that it is 20 years this summer since I left The Irish Times in the summer of 2002, and it is 50 years since I joined the Wexford People as a staff journalist in the summer of 1972.

I must seem unkind in my forgetfulness at times when it comes to birthdays or anniversaries. But it’s a trait that probably provides an insight into why I cannot recall the exact dates when I joined the Wexford People 50 years ago and left The Irish Times 20 years ago.

I was reminded of these anniversaries, of starting at the Wexford People and leaving The Irish Times, when I read a few days ago that Paul O’Neill is retiring as the Editor of The Irish Times.

I had worked as a journalist for over 30 years, starting as freelance contributor to the Lichfield Mercury and the Tamworth Herald, followed by almost three years with the Wexford People and almost 28 years with The Irish Times, the last eight as Foreign Desk Editor.

The past 20 years have brought their own changes and challenges too. By then I had been ordained for two years. I worked for four years with the Church Mission Society, and combined that with four years of part-time academic life, lecturing in church history and social theology, before becoming a full-time academic, lecturing in liturgy and church history in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and becoming an adjunct assistant professor in Trinity College Dublin.

I continued in priestly ministry throughout those years, as an honorary curate in Whitechurch parish, Dublin, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral Dublin. I spent the last five years as the Priest-in-Charge of the Rathkeale Group of Parishes in west Limerick and north Kerry, and Canon Precentor of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, and Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe.

I had planned on retiring some time this summer, but a stroke in mid-March brought that forward, and I retired on 31 March. Of course, one retires from an appointment or employment. But a priest never ceases to be a priest, and a writer or journalist never ceases to write.

When the Revd Stephen Hilliard was leaving The Irish Times to enter full-time parish ministry, the then deputy editor, Ken Gray, joked that he was moving from being a ‘column of the Times’ to being a ‘pillar of the church.’

Later, when I asked Stephen to define the different challenges of journalism and parish ministry, I was told: ‘In many ways they’re the same. We’re supposed to be comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.’

In my 30 or more years as a full-time journalist and writer, I had tried to work at the point where faith meets the major concerns of the world. That work has made me a witness to the great conflicts and disasters of the last century.

I have seen the evil consequences of the Holocaust in museums, memorials and synagogues. I have met the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the children of Chernobyl. I have been in the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East.

I have witnessed the evils of apartheid and racism, seen military occupation, poverty, and the deprivations of famine in Africa and South Asia, and talked and prayed with the victims of torture and violence.

I have family experiences of the social terror left behind by the old regimes in East Europe. I have friends who were tortured and exiled by the colonels in Greece but who went on to make major contributions to the arts, diplomacy and politics.

Through those years I have been inspired by the courage of people who refuse to become victims and instead become fearless and articulate witnesses to the truths that good can overcome evil, that there is hope in the face of oppression, that faith is not a mere comfort but can inspire, motivate and provide vision for what can be – for what must be.

Like many academics, over the past 20 years I have contributed chapters and papers to books and journals. But, after leaving The Irish Times 20 years ago, I continued to write regularly in other formats too. My daily blog has been a daily exercise. But I continued to write occasionally for The Irish Times, and only last month I contributed a news feature to the Wexford People.

I have written too for the Lichfield Gazette and CityLife in Lichfield, returning to the place where I began working as a journalist. I also wrote for a number of Church publications, including the Church of Ireland Gazette and the Church Times.

But perhaps the one enduring and continuing exercise in journalism was a monthly column that I wrote first for the Diocesan Magazine in the Diocese of Cashel, Ferns and Ossory, and then for the Church Review in the Diocese of Dublin and Glendalough.

It was first commissioned about a quarter of a century ago by the Revd Nigel Waugh when he heard me speaking in Saint Iberius Church, Wexford, about the Church of Ireland during the 1798 Rising. The column made brief appearances in other diocesan magazines in Limerick and Meath and Kildare, and eventually came to an end in the Diocesan Magazine with a new editor some years ago. But I continued to write for the Church Review until this summer.

For years, I had an encouraging and tolerant editor who rejoiced in my thoughts on a broad range of topics, from travels in Greece and Italy to the cathedrals of England and the thoughts of Samuel Johnson and TS Eliot to the church in China, Egypt and Romania.

Perhaps my ideas were eccentric or even eclectic at times. I was seldom controversial, but I hope I was always thought-provoking and that I provided one diocese with a window onto the world. The response of readers was always generous, and some have shared with me how, because of my column, they decided to visit places as diverse as Lichfield Cathedral and Crete and the Greek islands.

The diocesan website continues to describe it as ‘a very popular and informative monthly column.’

But, sadly, the time has come to sign off on this column too. All good things have to come to an end.

Nadine Gordimer, in a lecture in London 20 year ago, argued that a writer’s highest calling is to bear witness to the evils of conflicts and injustice. But that is the calling of a priest too. I shall continue to write.

Praying with USPG and the music of
Vaughan Williams: Sunday 28 August 2022

‘Mary, Mother meek and mild, / Blessèd was she in her Child’ … the former High Altar and reredos in Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity. Later this morning, I hope to attend the Parish Eucharist in the Church of Saint Giles and Saint Mary in Stony Stratford.

But, before today gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose music is celebrated throughout this year’s Proms season. In my prayer diary for these weeks I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a hymn or another piece of music by Vaughan Williams, often drawing, admittedly, on previous postings on the composer;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

‘When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind (Luke 14: 13) … tables waiting for diners outside a restaurant in Rethymnon, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 14: 1, 7-14 (NRSVA):

1 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable. 8 ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’

12 He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’

Today’s reflection: ‘Virgin born, we bow before thee’

For my reflections and devotions each day these few weeks, I am reflecting on and invite you to listen to a piece of music or a hymn set to a tune by the great English composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).

This morning, I invite you to join me in listening to the hymn ‘Virgin born, we bow before thee’ by Bishop Reginald Heber (1783-1826).

This hymn is found in both the New English Hymnal (187) and the Irish Church Hymnal (No 185). It is addressed to Christ, but praises his mother, the Virgin Mary.

In the New English Hymnal, this hymn is set to the melody Mon dieu, prête moi l’orielle by Louis Bourgeois (ca 1510-1561) in the French Psalter of 1542 (Psalm 86), and harmonised for the English Hymnal in 1906 by Vaughan Williams. However, this tune is the only second choice of setting for this hymn in the Irish Church Hymnal.

The same tune was also used by Gustav Holst in 1920 as the basis for his setting of Psalm 86 for chorus, string orchestra and organ.

Louis Bourgeois was the choirmaster of Saint Peter’s Church, Geneva. Under the patronage of the Reformer John Calvin, he was the music editor of successive versions of the Geneva Psalter from 1542 to 1551.

The author of this morning’s hymn, Bishop Reginald Heber, also wrote ‘God that madest earth and heaven’ (‘Ar Hyd Y Nos’), which we listened to last Thursday [25 August 2022].

Heber wrote this hymn with the Third Sunday in Lent or Mothering Sunday in mind, with lines 2 and 5 of Stanza 1 (‘blessed was the womb that bore thee’) echoing the closing words of the Gospel reading originally appointed for that Sunday in The Book of Common Prayer: ‘Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked’ (Luke 11: 27).

Today, this hymn is often used on the Feast of the Presentation (2 February), the Feast of the Annunciation (25 March), and Christmas Day (25 December), as well as being suitable on Mothering Sunday.

Virgin-born, we bow before thee:
Blessèd was the womb that bore thee;
Mary, Mother meek and mild,
Blessèd was she in her Child.
Blessèd was the breast that fed thee;
Blessèd was the hand that led thee;
Blessèd was the parent’s eye
That watched thy slumbering infancy.

Blessèd she by all creation,
Who brought forth the world’s salvation,
And blessèd they, for ever blest,
Who love thee most and serve thee best.
Virgin-born, we bow before thee;
Blessèd was the womb that bore thee;
Mary, Mother meek and mild,
Blessèd was she in her Child.

The Virgin Mary and the Christ Child … a statue at the West Door of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Today’s Prayer, Sunday 28 August 2022 (Trinity XI):

The Collect:

O God, you declare your almighty power
most chiefly in showing mercy and pity:
mercifully grant to us such a measure of your grace,
that we, running the way of your commandments,
may receive your gracious promises,
and be made partakers of your heavenly treasure;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

Lord of all mercy,
we your faithful people have celebrated that one true sacrifice
which takes away our sins and brings pardon and peace:
by our communion
keep us firm on the foundation of the gospel
and preserve us from all sin;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The theme in the USPG prayer diary all this week is ‘A New Province.’

The Igreja Anglicana de Mocambique e Angola (IAMA) was officially created on 24 September 2021 at the conclusion of the provincial synod of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa.

The new province is made up of the second and third largest Portuguese-speaking countries in the world and joins provinces in Brazil and Portugal as the only Lusophone provinces in the Anglican Communion.

IAMA is ‘a province standing on its own feet, steeped in evangelism and focused on sharing the love of God’, according to the Most Revd Carlos Simao Matsinhe, Acting Presiding Bishop of the province. He adds, ‘I hope this province is driven by discipleship and evangelism. Part of our plan is to build a provincial theological college so that we can equip our clergy and lay people. Communities in Mozambique and Angola face issues such as climate change, political unrest and income inequality, and we hope our new province will be able to practically serve these communities’.

The Right Revd Vicente Msosa, Bishop of the Diocese of Niassa in the Igreja Anglicana de Mocambique e Angola, shares his prayer requests in the USPG Prayer Diary throughout this week.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

Giving God,
May we prioritise people over profit.
Lead us not to pursue worthless things,
but to truly value each other.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Bishop Vicente Msosa of Niassa speaking on the formation of the new Anglican Province of Mozambique and Angola at the USPG conference in High Leigh last month (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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