16 November 2013

‘At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same’

Late evening lights on the beach at Greystones, Co Wicklow, this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

It has been a busy week, with no beginning, and many late evening commitments. I had worked through last weekend with the part-time MTh students, speaking on Benedictine Spirituality on Sunday morning. Later that evening, I preached at the Remembrance Day service in the Chapel of the King’s Hospital, Dublin.

As the week unfolded, there were a number of late evening commitments, including the commissioning of student readers in the chapel on Wednesday evening; Choral Evensong in Christ Church Cathedral on Thursday evening, marking the feast day of Dublin’s patron saint, Saint Laurence O’Toole; and the launch of Canon Horace McKinley’s new book in Whitechurch Parish on Friday night.

There were deadlines to meet for my monthly column in both the Church Review (Dublin and Glendalough) and the Diocesan Magazine (Cashel and Ossory), and a promised essay for the Lichfield Gazette. Thursday was particularly demanding, beginning to teach a new module on Anglicanism in the Mater Dei Institute of Education, and then taking part in a chapter meeting in Christ Church Cathedral.

I was glad of a lazy morning this morning, with a late breakfast, and time to read at leisure Archdeacon Gordon Linney’s ‘Thinking Anew’ column in The Irish Times. Reflecting on tomorrow’s Gospel reading (Luke 21: 5-19) he asks: “What makes a place holy?”

He concludes by quoting TS Eliot’s ‘Little Gidding’:

If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid.

For the past few years, I have found my walks on beaches have brought me to holy places where prayer is valid, at any time or any season. They are a reminder that despite the pains in my joints and the constant tingling under my feet because of sarcoidosis and the symptoms of Vitamin B-12 deficiency, God constantly loves me and takes care of me in the midst of a beautiful and wonderous creation.

Starting from south Dublin on this afternoon filled with sunlight that was unseasonal for the second half of November, two of us went out to Greystones for a walk on the beach.

Autumn trees in the Kilruddery Estate in Co Wicklow this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

On the way, we stopped briefly in the Kilruddery Estate to wonder at the beautiful late autumn colours on the tall trees – fading green, burnt yellow, early brown – and where the leaves had fallen, the blue skies and the bright silver sun could be seen though the half-bare branches.

Walking by the shoreline at Greystones this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

By the time we got to Greystones, the blues were still dominating the skies and the sea, with tiny hints of pink and purple to the south where the reflections of the setting sun were caught here and there. We strolled along the beach, enjoying the late afternoon lights and the sound of the waves gently beating against the sand.

We stopped to buy the Guardian and the Economist before retreating upstairs in the Happy Pear with our late lunch – or was it an early dinner?

Later I spent a little time browsing in the Village Bookshop on Church Road, before spending a book token – given many months ago as a thank you – on two books:

Edmund de Waal, The Hare with Amber Eyes: a Hidden Inheritance (London: Vintage, 2011) … winner of 2010 Costa Biography Award.

Seán Duffy, Brian Boru and the Battle of Clontarf (Dublin: Gil & Macmillan, 2013).

We returned to the beach for yet one more stroll along the sand in the moonlight. The moon, now almost full, was lighting up the clouds and casting long beams onto the gentle sea below.

If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid.

I was home in time to see the end of a disappointing rugby match between Ireland and Australia. Now it is time to share a bottle of Amarone della Valpolicella and to open those newspapers and books.

Trying to catch the moonlight on the sea and on the beach at Greystones this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

‘Greatly struck’ at a book launch in Whitechurch

Patrick Comerford and Horace McKinley at Whitechurch Parish Church recently

Patrick Comerford

Last night, I was at the launch of a new book by my colleague, the Revd Canon Horace McKinley, in the Old Schools, Whitechurch, where Horace has been Rector since 1976.

Horace’s new book, As I said … An Ordinary Priest Reflects, was launched last night by Archbishop Michael Jackson and Dr Harold Hislop.

I was Horace’s NSM curate for the first few years after my ordination, Harold is a former principal of Whitechurch National School, and Archbishop Jackson, did his placement as a student reader and ordinand in Whitechurch immediately before his ordination.

The book is published by Ashfield Press, and there was an impressive turnout last night of Whitechurch parishioners and clerical colleague with connections with Whitechurch Parish and with Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. Don Tidey, formerly of Quinnsworth was also there, recalling memories of his kidnapping and Horace’s role at the end of that appalling incident.

One of the many sermons reproduced in the new book was preached in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in 2003 and begins:

“I was greatly struck in last week’s issue of the Church of Ireland Gazette by Rev Patrick Comerford’s article on the story of the Church in Iraq, the Christian minority in that ancient land.”

Impressive too was the discussion last night of the difference between call and vocation on the one hand and career and professionalism on the other hand when it comes to ordained ministry and other walks of life, including teaching and medicine.

Cork-born priest with international
reputation in Biblical scholarship

■ Fr Jerome Murphy-O’Connor: Jerusalem, where he taught in the École Biblique, was his intellectual and personal home

Patrick Comerford

The Irish Times carries the following obituary on the top of the ‘Obituaries’ page, page 14, this morning [Saturday 16 November 2013]:

Cork-born priest who became leading Biblical scholar


Born: April 10th, 1935
Died: November 11th, 2013

The Revd Dr Jerome Murphy-O’Connor OP, who has died in Jerusalem aged 78, was a Cork-born Dominican theologian who earned international esteem as a Biblical scholar and a travel writer. He was a leading authority on St Paul and professor of New Testament at the École Biblique in Jerusalem.

He was born James (Jim) Murphy-O’Connor, the eldest of four children of Kerry Murphy-O’Connor and Mary McCrohan. The family was well known for its contributions to Irish rugby. Three of his uncles and his brother were parish priests in Cork; his cousin, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, was Archbishop of Westminster (2000-2009), and at least two other members of the family had been bishops in the 19th century.

The young James Murphy-O’Connor was educated at the Christian Brothers’ College and Castleknock College, Dublin, where he decided to become a Dominican priest. He entered the Dominican novitiate in Cork in September 1953, relinquishing his baptismal name, James, in favour of Jerome, in honour of the translator of the Vulgate Bible and patron saint of biblical studies.

He studied philosophy in Cork for a year before studying at the Dominican house in Tallaght and at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. He was ordained a priest in 1960. His work on preaching in the life of Saint Paul developed into a thesis for which he was awarded a doctorate in theology (ThD) at Fribourg in 1962. He then studied in Rome, researched the Dead Sea Scrolls in Heidelberg and New Testament theology in Tübingen.

Professor in Jerusalem

In 1963, he went to the École Biblique in Jerusalem, an international centre founded by French Dominicans in 1890, becoming professor of New Testament there in 1972. Jerusalem remained his intellectual and personal home for the next four decades. His best-known book, The Holy Land, An Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700, was translated into several languages, ran to five editions and has become the standard guidebook to the region. Paul: His Story (2004), attained similar success and acclaim, while St Paul’s Ephesus: Texts and Archaeology (2008) also became a standard guide.

He regularly contributed to television panels and documentaries. He was a visiting professor at several American universities and at the Milltown Institute, Dublin, among other institutions.

Known to his friends as Jerry, he was described this week by a former colleague as “probably the most original Irish New Testament scholar of his generation”. He loved nothing more than uttering an iconoclastic remark and waiting for the reaction. A well-known story tells of an elderly nun at one of his Irish lectures asking whether the “brothers of Jesus” in the Gospel were his actual brothers. “Yes, sister,” he answered. “Any more questions?” A stormy debate ensued.

On one lecture, he spoke to a group of pilgrim priests in the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem of how Christ was faced with a quick walk from there to the top of the Mount of Olives and escape; that for him was the real “Temptation in the Garden”.

Lifelong rugby follower
He received honorary degrees in the US and Australia, but particularly treasured the doctorate of literature conferred in 2002 by the National University of Ireland in University College Cork. He maintained a lifelong interest in the fortunes of Irish rugby.

In 2000, he contributed to a special series in The Irish Times edited by Patsy McGarry. His feature later became a chapter in Christianity (2001), alongside contributions from Hans Küng, Desmond Tutu, Mary Robinson and other international figures. One of his last publications is a contribution to the Dublin-based Dominican journal Doctrine and Life.

He is survived by his brothers, Archdeacon Kerry Murphy O’Connor, parish priest of Turner’s Cross, Cork, and Brian Murphy O’Connor, and his sister, Mrs Sheila Daly.