18 April 2019

‘I give you a new commandment,
that you love one another’

‘It is the sunless stricken Tree, Upon whose branches sore to see’ … bare trees in winter at the Rectory in Askeaton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Thursday 18 April 2019

Maundy Thursday in Holy Week

Castletown Church, Castletown, Co Limerick.

8 p.m., The Maundy Eucharist with Washing of Feet

Readings: Exodus 12: 1-4; Psalm 116: 1, 10-17; I Corinthians 11: 23-26; John 13: 1-17, 31b-35.

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

I said on Sunday (Palm Sunday, 7 April 2019) that during Holy Week this year, instead of preaching each day in Holy Week I hoped to read a poem to help our reflections during this Holy Week.

In our Gospel reading this evening (John 13: 21-32), we are at the Last Supper, and Jesus is washing his disciples’ feet. He shows them that at the heart of Christian life is not what others think of us but how we serve others, sacrificial love.

Tomorrow is Good Friday, he is to show finally what sacrificial love is with his death on the Cross.

My choice of a Lenten poem this evening is ‘Holy Cross’ by Sir Shane Leslie (1885-1971) of Castle Leslie, Co Monaghan.

Some years ago, I spent a few peaceful days at Castle Leslie, walking through the woods and by the lakes around Glaslough. This was once the family home the Irish writer and diplomat, Sir Shane Leslie, a first cousin of Sir Winston Churchill.

His full name was Sir John Randolph Leslie, and he was born on 24 September 1885 in London into an old land-owning family with an estate of almost 50,000 acres in Co Monaghan, Co Tyrone, Co Fermanagh and Co Donegal that included Castle Leslie in Co Monaghan, the village of Pettigo on the Tyrone-Donegal border, and Lough Derg, the well-known pilgrimage lake and island known as Saint Patrick’s Purgatory.

His family was descended from John Leslie, Bishop of the Isles, who moved from Scotland to Ireland in 1633 when he became Bishop of Raphoe, and who became Bishop of Clogher after the Caroline Restoration, in 1661. His mother, Leonie Jerome, was the sister of Winston Churchill’s mother, Jennie Jerome.

Shane Leslie’s early education began at home in Castle Leslie with a German governess, and he then went on to a prep school in Berkshire, to Eton and to King’s College, Cambridge. While he was still an undergraduate Cambridge in 1907, he became a Roman Catholic. Later he also became a supporter of Irish Home Rule and adopted the name Shane as an Anglicised Irish variant of his name John.

After graduating in 1907, he began to travel widely, visiting Russia, where he stayed with Leo Tolstoy at Yasnaya Polyana, and where he developed many of his social values. On his return, his cousin Winston Churchill took an interest in his political ambitions and introduced him to John Redmond, who persuaded Leslie to run as a Home Rule candidate in Derry City in 1910. But he lost the seat by 57 votes.

In 1912, he married Marjorie Ide, a daughter of Henry Clay Ide, the US ambassador to Spain and Governor-General of the Philippines.

At the outbreak of World War I, he enlisted in a British Ambulance Corps. When he became ill he was sent to a military hospital in Malta, where he finished his first major book of verse, The End of a Chapter (1916).

He spoke out against the execution of the leaders of the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916, and was sent back to Washington DC to work with the British Ambassador, Sir Cecil Spring Rice – whose family lived in this parish at Mount Trenchard, and who was the author of the hymn ‘I vow to thee my country.’ Shane Leslie’s role was to soften Irish-American hostility to Britain and to secure US intervention in the war. But he continued to look to Ireland for literary inspiration and edited a literary magazine, Ireland.

The 1918 election, when Redmond’s party lost massively to Sinn Féin, put an end to the political ambitions of a disappointed Shane Leslie. Feeling unwanted in Ireland, abandoned by the British, and no longer able to rely on an income from his landholdings, he dedicated himself to a literary life, becoming a member of the Irish Academy of Letters.

In the decades that followed, he published over 40 volumes, including poetry, novels, short stories, memoirs, biographies and essays, and a study, from a conspicuously Roman Catholic perspective, of the Oxford Movement (1933).

In a review of Ulysses in the Dublin Review in 1922, Leslie accused James Joyce’s ‘book must remain impossible to read, and in general undesirable to quote.’

But his time as the editor of the Dublin Review came to an end with the hierarchy’s disapproval of the sexually explicit scenes in his autobiographical novel, The Cantab (1926).

The wealth of the Leslie family had waned by the 1930s following the Wall Street crash of 1929. He transferred the Castle Leslie estate to his eldest son, John Norman Leslie, and he handed over Saint Patrick’s Purgatory on Lough Derg to the Roman Catholic Bishop of Clogher. But the Leslies continued to maintain their lifestyle, attendance at the London season and entertaining distinguished visitors at Glaslough, including Anthony Eden.

At the outbreak of World II in 1939, he joined the Home Guard. He spent the remainder of his life between Glaslough and London. With the death of his father in 1944, he succeeded to the family title as the third baronet.

His spent his old age in Hove, where he died on 14 August 1971 at the age of 85. He was buried at Castle Leslie.

‘It is the dead impitying Wood … Where none unmoved unweeping could’ … a still moment of reflections by the forests and lakes on the Castle Leslie estate (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Holy Cross, by Sir Shane Leslie

It is the bare and leafless Tree
Our sins once sowed on Calvary,
And mockers digged with trembling knee –
Holy Cross.

It is the dead impitying Wood,
That like a crimson pillar stood,
Where none unmoved unweeping could —
Holy Cross.

O fearful sight foretold to man,
The cloven spar, the sacred span,
Whence God’s atoning Blood once ran —
Holy Cross.

It is the Holy Gibbet Tree,
All stained with Love’s last agony
And marked with awful mystery —
Holy Cross.

What stains are these incarnadine,
What scars are these more red than wine
Of more than human Passion sign?
Holy Cross.

It is the sunless stricken Tree,
Upon whose branches sore to see
O mystery, died One of Three —
Holy Cross.

What storm swept o’er its boughs that day,
When God to God did sorely pray.
And human guilt ebbed slow away —
Holy Cross.

When earth shall smoke and sun shall flee,
Alone unmoved o’er sinking sea
Shall stand one all-redeeming Tree —
Holy Cross.

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

‘When earth shall smoke and sun shall flee, Alone unmoved o’er sinking sea’ … sunset on the Shannon Estuary, north of Askeaton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 13: 1-17, 31b-35 (NRSVA):

1 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ 7 Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ 8 Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ 9 Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ 10 Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ 11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’

12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord – and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’

Liturgical Colour: White

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God,
you sent your Son to reconcile us to yourself and to one another.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus,
you heal the wounds of sin and division.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
through you we put to death the sins of the body – and live.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day:

God our Father,
you have invited us to share in the supper
which your Son gave to his Church
to proclaim his death until he comes:
May he nourish us by his presence,
and unite us in his love;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

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. Amen.

Introduction to the Peace:

Now in union with Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near through the shedding of Christ’s blood; for he is our peace. (Ephesians 2: 17)


Through Jesus Christ our Saviour,
who, for the redemption of the world,
humbled himself to death on the cross;
that, being lifted up from the earth,
he might draw all people to himself:

Post Communion Prayer:

O God,
your Son Jesus Christ has left us this meal of bread and wine
in which we share his body and his blood.
May we who celebrate this sign of his great love
show in our lives the fruits of his redemption;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.


Christ draw you to himself
and grant that you find in his cross a sure ground for faith,
a firm support for hope,
and the assurance of sins forgiven:


431, Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendour (CD 26)
432, Love is his word, love is his way (CD 26)
515, ‘A new commandment I give unto you’ (CD 30)

‘Alone unmoved o’er sinking sea Shall stand one all-redeeming Tree’ … trees against a winter sunset at the Rectory in Askeaton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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.

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