Saturday, 1 June 2019

‘May we find our way to
a life that is richer in love
and nobler in deeds’

‘Auschwitz and Hiroshima are among the dread and tragic symbols of our age’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I am continuing to use resources in Service of the Heart for my late evening and night prayers. This is the Jewish prayer book I first acquired over 45 years ago, while I was living in Wexford, and which I thought I had lost in the moves between Dublin and Askeaton, until I found it once again on a book shelf in the rectory in the last few months.

This Service of the Heart was published in London half a century ago by the Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues in 1967. Two of the principal contributors to this book were Rabbi John Rayner and Rabbi Chaim Stern, who wrote or rewrote many of the prayers included here.

In recent evenings, I came across, one again, this prayer and reflection written by Chaim Stern:

Auschwitz and Hiroshima are among the dread and tragic symbols of our age. With far-seeing instruments the mind of man uncovers one by one the innermost secrets of matter and energy: but we have not learned to understand the hidden places of our hearts. With the tools of intellect and imagination, we build mighty machines for our journey into outer space: but the wisdom to live in peace here on earth eludes us.

Absorbed in the study of Creation, and eager to exploit it, we often forget its Creator. When we shut our ears, we complain that he does not speak. When we go astray, we pretend that there is no path.

And yet, O Lord, the truth is not hidden from us. We know that even as Yours is the power that sustains and orders Creation, so is Yours the righteousness that has established the moral law.

The grandeur of your Creation tells us of Your might, and the quiet prompting of Your voice within us makes us feel that You deem us worthy of Your tender care. Together may they inspire us to revere your teachings, which You have revealed to our fathers and to us.

May we find our way to a life that is richer in love and nobler in deeds, a life in which the fruits our science, the products of our creative minds, may be used in accordance with Your will: to build and to plant, to clothe and to feed, to comfort and to heal.

May our study of Your Law imbue us with the desire to do Your will. And let the sense of Your presence give meaning to our lives, so that Your promise may be fulfilled:

‘I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion; I will betroth you to me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord.’

The quotation at the end of this prayer is from Hosea 2: 21 ff, but while the prayer was new, Chaim Stern based in on the themes of the Yotzer and Ahavah Rabbah.

The prayer known as the Yotzer or ‘Creator’ is the first of two benedictions that precede the Shema in the morning, and it corresponds to the Ma’ariv Aravim in the evening:

Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who forms light and creates darkness, who makes peace and creates all things ... Blessed are you, Lord, who forms light.

This prayer incorporates Isaiah 45: 7 – although it was amended by the Rabbis to read ‘Creator of all things’ instead of ‘Creator of evil’ – and Psalm 104: 24. The original Yotzer was short. In Gaonic times, when the Talmud was being redacted or edited in Babylon, it received several interpolations of a mystical and angelological, including a Kedushah or doxology built around Isaiah 6: 3.

The prayer known as Ahavah Rabbah is also known as Birkat Torah or ‘the Benediction concerning the Torah.’ This is the second of two benedictions that precede the Shema in the morning, corresponding to the Ahavat Olam in the evening.

‘May we find our way to a life that is richer in love and nobler in deeds, a life in which the fruits our science, the products of our creative minds, may be used in accordance with Your will: to build and to plant, to clothe and to feed, to comfort and to heal.’

Three books for
a pilgrim’s journey

Three books bought in Limerick earlier this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

I was in Mount Saint Alphonsus, the Redemptorist church in Limerick, earlier this week [27 May 2019] for the launch of a new book by Gladys Ganiel on the life, witness and ministry of Father Gerry Reynolds (1935-2015).

The new book, Unity Pilgrim: The Life of Fr Gerry Reynolds CSsR (Dundalk, 2019), is published by Redemptorist Communications (€13.95). It was launched last month in Belfast by the Revd Ken Newell, Minister Emeritus at Fitzroy Presbyterian Church and a former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, and in Limerick. In Limerick, the book was launched by Ed Petersen, who worked with Gerry for many years in Clonard Monastery’s peace and reconciliation mission.

Gerry was from Mungret, on the edges of Limerick, and went to school in Saint Munchin’s College and Saint Clement’s College. Later, he was the Rector of Mount St Alphonsus in 1975-1978.

The author of this new book, Dr Gladys Ganiel, is a Research Fellow in the Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at the Queen’s University Belfast.

When Gerry first arrived in Belfast in 1983, the city was starkly divided by conflict and violence. Clonard Monastery is on the interface between the Catholic Falls Road and the Protestant Shankill Road.

His instinct to reach out to those who were suffering, on both sides of the community, became a lifelong devotion to the cause of peace and Christian unity.

This book tells about Gerry’s friendships of the Cornerstone Community and the Clonard-Fitzroy Fellowship, how he became involved in secret talks with republican and loyalist paramilitary groups, and how he set up of the ‘Unity Pilgrims.’

Gerry played a crucial role in the Northern Ireland peace process. He believed the Church could be ‘God’s peace process in human history’, and that dialogue and friendship would open hearts to the mutual understanding and trust that are the foundations of true peace.

His role in peace-making is not as well-known as that of his Redemptorist colleague, Father Alec Reid, who was the pivotal broker in the secret Hume-Adams talks. But Gerry assisted Alec behind the scenes and also developed a public ecumenical ministry. Gerry’s diaries reveal how the two Redemptorist priests were sustained during this time by prayer.

Gladys Ganiel says, ‘Faith is what made Reynolds who he was; without his confidence in the absolute goodness of God and his faith-filled friendships, he would not have made such a difference for peace.’

He became a member of the ecumenical Cornerstone Community, which had a house by the peace wall. With its leader, the Revd Sam Burch, a Methodist minister, he visited more than 50 grieving families on both sides of the wall. With the Revd Ken Newell, he developed the Clonard-Fitzroy Fellowship, which received the international Pax Christi Award in 1999.

He also formed the Unity Pilgrims, an initiative in which Catholics associated with Clonard worship with Protestant congregations on Sunday mornings. His last major project was ‘In Joyful Hope,’ in which Christians of all traditions attend each other’s Eucharistic celebrations.

Gerry was also a journalist in Dublin in the 1960s and 1970s on the Redemptorist Record, which later changed its name to Reality, and as the editor of Intercom, the influential priests’ journal.

Gerry believed we were cousins. We met for lunch in Rathgar when he was staying in Marianella, the Redemptorist house, and I was lecturing nearby at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute.

Although I am still not sure how we were related, he spoke of mutual cousins and Millstreet connections, including the Murphy, Crowley, Mahony and Riordan or O’Riordan families, and Clayton Love. I have never tried to untangle this side of the family tree, but the ecumenical generosity that marked his life was came alive in the way he invited me to share with him at the funeral of a mutual cousin, Rose (Walsh) O’Reilly, in 2005.

He truly was an ecumenical pilgrim, the ‘Unity Pilgrim’ that gives this book its title.

It was good to meet members of Gerry’s family on Monday evening, as well as many Redemptorist friends, including Brendan McConvery, Gerard Moloney and Seamus Enright.

On the day of the book launch, I bought two other books in Limerick: Jung, A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2001), by Anthony Stevens, and Limerick in 50 Buildings (Stroud: Amberley, 2019). Both should help me in my journeys as a pilgrim in very different ways. But more about them on another day, perhaps.