Friday, 18 December 2020

Praying in Advent with
Lichfield Cathedral:
20, Friday 18 December 2020

‘An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream’ (Matthew 1: 20) … the Holy Trinity and angels in the Herkenrode windows in the Lady Chapel in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Throughout Advent and Christmas this year, I am using the Prayer Diary of the Anglican Mission Agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) for my morning reflections each day, and the Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar produced at Lichfield Cathedral for my prayers and reflections each evening.

Advent is the Church’s mindful antidote to some of the diversion and consumerism of a modern Christmas. It prepares us to encounter Christ again in his joy and humility.

In ‘The Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar 2020,’ the Dean and community at Lichfield Cathedral are inviting us to light our Advent candle each day as we read the Bible and join in prayer.

This calendar is for everyone who uses the Cathedral website, for all the Cathedral community, and for people you want to send it to and invite to share in the daily devotional exercise.

This is a simple prayer and bible-reading exercise to help us to mark the Advent Season as a time of preparation for the coming of Christ.

It is designed to take us on a journey, looking back to John the Baptist and Mary the Mother of Jesus; looking out into the world today, into our own hearts and experience; outwards again to Jesus Christ as he encounters us in life today and in his promise to be with us always.

You can download the calendar HERE.

The community at Lichfield Cathedral offers a number of suggestions on how to use this calendar:

● Set aside 5-15 minutes every day.

● Buy or use a special candle to light each day as you read and pray through the suggestions on the calendar.

● Try to ‘eat simply’ – one day each week try going without so many calories or too much rich food, just have enough.

● Try to donate to a charity working with the homeless or the people of Bethlehem.

● Try to pray through what you see and notice going on around you in people, the media and nature.

This last week of Advent is special: at Evensong (Evening Prayer), a special antiphon is sung or said before and after the canticle of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Magnificat. Each begins with an ‘O’ and relates to some facet of Christ’s nature and ancestry.

17 December: ‘O Sapientia’, Wisdom
18 December: ‘O Adonai’, Lord of Israel
19 December: ‘O Radix Jesse’, Root of Jesse (Jesse was the father of King David)
20 December: ‘O Clavis David’, Key of David
21 December: ‘O Oriens’, Morning Star rising in the East
22 December: ‘O Rex Gentium’, King of all nations
23 December: ‘O Immanuel’ Immanuel – ‘God is with us’

As the week draws us to Christmas, so the note of longing love intensifies.

Friday 18 December 2020 (‘O Adonai’):

Read Matthew 1: 18-25 (NRSVA):

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ 22 All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

23 ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel’,

which means, ‘God is with us.’ 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Reflection:

Reflect on Saint Joseph’s role – the one who stands by and tries to make sense of his bewilderment. Pray for our willingness to accept and search for God’s will.

Continued tomorrow

Yesterday’s evening reflection

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

‘If you need to cry, cry
for your brother walking
the street beside you’

‘Kaddish Yatom, Mourner’s Kaddish’ … ‘Epitaph’ by Merrit Malloy is included in some Reform Jewish prayer books with ‘Meditations before Kaddish’

Patrick Comerford

I was writing earlier today (18 December 2020) about my memories of my eldest brother, Stephen Edward Comerford (1946-1970), who died 50 years ago today. Mourning the dead is an integral part of Jewish spirituality and prayer life, and most if not all Jews have learned by rote the Mourner’s Kaddish, a prayer that should be said in the presence of a minyan or quorum of adult Jews.

Reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish is one of Judaism’s greatest mitzvot, a true act of kindness. This beautiful prayer reflects on life, tradition and family. Traditionally, Kaddish is said daily for 11 months after the death of a parent, and again on the Yahrzeit or anniversary of the death of a family member.

The nucleus of the prayer is the phrase:

‘Magnified and sanctified be His great name be, in the world He created by His will. May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and in your days.’

The congregation responds: ‘May His great name be blessed for ever and all time.’

A person may say Kaddish not only for parents, but also for a child, brother, in-law and adoptive parents and children.

Recent editions of Reform Jewish prayer books in the US, including Mishkan T’filah, have added poetry as optional readings before or after the traditional liturgy of Kaddish.

For my Friday reflections this evening, I have decided to reflect on one of these poems is ‘Epitaph’ by the popular poet Merrit Malloy, although she is not Jewish. I first blogged about this poem earlier this year (16 January 2020), and it became one of the most popular postings on my blog in 2020.

The poem is included in the Reform Jewish liturgy as an optional reading before the Kaddish, the prayer traditionally recited for the dead. But it is used regularly at many other funerals and memorial services, and has gained in popularity, perhaps because ‘Epitaph’ captures how we can best keep the essence of a loved dead person alive after our death, not just in memories but through purposeful acts of love.

Mallory’s ‘Epitaph’ was reposted on Facebook late last year (14 October 2019) by David Joyce, a musician who lives in Reseda, California. Since then, his posting has been shared almost 260,000 times by my counting this week.

‘Epitaph’ by Merrit Malloy

When I die give what’s left of me away
to children and old men that wait to die.
And if you need to cry,
cry for your brother walking the street beside you.
And when you need me, put your arms around anyone
and give them what you need to give me.

I want to leave you something,
something better than words or sounds.
Look for me in the people I’ve known or loved,
and if you cannot give me away,
at least let me live in your eyes and not your mind.

You can love me best by letting hands touch hands,
and by letting go of children that need to be free.
Love doesn’t die, people do.
So, when all that’s left of me is love,
give me away.

The Mourner’s Kaddish in English includes these prayers:

Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name throughout the world
which He has created according to His will.

May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days,
and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon;
and say, Amen.

May His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.

Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honoured,
adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He,
beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that
are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.

May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us
and for all Israel; and say, Amen.

He who creates peace in His celestial heights,
may He create peace for us and for all Israel;
and say, Amen.

Shabbat Shalom

Memories of my eldest
brother, Stephen Comerford,
who died 50 years ago

Stephen Edward Comerford, born on 22 August 1946, died 50 years ago on 18 December 1970

Patrick Comerford

Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the death of my eldest brother, Stephen Edward Comerford, who died in Durham, North Carolina, at the age of 24 on 18 December 1970.

Now that I am in my late 60s, five or six years is hardly an age gap between people of my generation. But they mark a major chasm when you are a child, and that gap was compounded by the fact that he was the eldest child in the family and I was the fourth.

Steve was born in Dublin on 22 August 1946. He was named after our father, who in turn was named after our grandfather, also named Stephen Edward Comerford (1867-1921). The name Stephen had come into the Bunclody branch of the family because our grandfather was born on 28 December, three days after Christmas Day and two days after Saint Stephen’s Day.

As small children, we were all separated, going to different members and friends of the extended family: Steve went to Millstreet, Co Cork, while I went to Cappoquin, Co Waterford. The accent he acquired in Millstreet brough him the nickname ‘Corky’ in primary school. By the time I was going to primary school, he was already at boarding school.

Brendan Culliton, who is now the President of the Wexford Historical Society, remembers being his friend throughout their shared years in primary school. ‘We were two of the ‘brainboxes’,’ he recalls. ‘In those days, we were two to a desk and I had the privilege of sharing a desk with Stephen for the whole of that year.’

He tells me, ‘Stephen was very well read and was a pleasure to sit beside. He was one of the quieter members of the class, but I can remember the interesting chats we had on every subject under the sun. Before Christmas that year, we had shared what present we hoped to get. I am sure my interests at the time didn’t move far from Meccano and Just William. Stephen told me he had asked for books on history. That struck me as a bit odd, but if that was what he wanted, then that was him.

‘After Christmas, he brought in two bound copies of Carty’s History of Ireland to show me. I remember the covers were green, and plain. Other classmates would have been dismissive of books like these as a ‘Christmas present’. What, after all, was wrong with Dan Dare or Billy Bunter? But what struck me most was that Stephen was thrilled to show off these treasures. He was genuinely happy and, to me that was the important thing.’

Brendan Culliton was a year younger and stayed back a year. ‘So, when I went to Gormanston, Stephen was a year ahead of me. He was also in a different Clann / House, so our paths didn’t cross that often. However, when we did meet, a short greeting was never enough. I always recall there being real substance to the conversation.’

Stephen and I both went to Gormanston, but the five or six-year gap was so wide that by the time I arrived, although there were teachers who remembered him, no-one in my year had ever encountered him. We are also in different houses or clanns, and so any memories were few and rarely shared.

Yet, he was remembered for his achievements in math and sciences, his fluency in the Irish language, and for his interests in chess, swimming and, to a lesser degree, golf. He taught himself the harmonica. I remember his efforts to teach me to play chess – a pleasure that remains – but our academic and sporting interests seldom overlapped.

While I was at Gormanston, he was studying at University College Galway and at University College Dublin. When Brendan Culliton arrived in UCD, he recalls, they ‘encountered each other now and then around Earlsfort Terrace and, when we did, it was always cause for surprisingly lengthy conversations … There is no question that he was very intelligent and hugely talented. He was also genuine and sincere.’

By the time I left Gormanston in 1969, Stephen had completed his BSc and MSc. We spent some time together that summer, sometimes going for meals together in Rathmines. I remember how we sat up together to watch the first moon landing on the night of 20 July 1969.

But by then he was moving to the US and Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, where he was a PhD candidate. I cannot recall that we ever met again. I was training to be a chartered surveyor with Jones Lang Wootton and working on a BSc in estate management with the College of Estate Management, then part of the University of Reading.

He died on 18 December 1970, aged 24, and is buried in Maplewood Cemetery, Durham, North Carolina. The news of his death came in a chilling ’phone call in the middle of the night. His wrapped Christmas presents arrived in the post a few days later, but by then the Christmas tree and the decorations had come down, and the Christmas lights had gone off. It seems Christmas was cancelled that year.

The depths of a mother’s grief are unfathomable, I never fully understood or appreciated the ways my parents continued to suffer ever after, and at the time I never found ways to explain to friends and colleagues how I felt.

Brendan Culliton told me this week that when he heard of Stephen’s death 50 years ago, it ‘was sad news then. It’s still sad news today.’

The Annals of Irish Mathematics and Mathematicians includes his name in the Gallery of Irish Mathematicians. He would have been 75 at his next birthday on 22 August 2021.

May his memory be a blessing ז״ל

A Christmas-time photograph of Steve visiting Santa as a child

Praying in Advent with USPG:
20, Friday 18 December 2020

‘When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife’ (Matthew 1: 24) … the betrothal of Joseph and Mary, depicted by Harry Clarke in SS Peter and Paul Church, Athlone (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Throughout Advent and Christmas this year, I am using the Prayer Diary of the Anglican Mission Agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) for my morning reflections each day, and the Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar produced at Lichfield Cathedral for my prayers and reflections each evening.

I am one of the contributors to the current USPG Diary, Pray with the World Church, introducing the theme of peace and trust later next month.

Before the day gets busy, I am taking a little time this morning for my own personal prayer, reflection and Scripture reading.

The theme of the USPG Prayer Diary this week (13 to 19 December 2020) is ‘Reflections on Migration.’ This week’s theme is introduced in the diary by Richard Reddie, Director of Justice and Inclusion, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland.

Friday 18 December 2020 (International Migrants’ Day, ‘O Adonai’):

Let us pray for the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe, which is based in Brussels and advocates for migrants’ rights on behalf of Churches in Europe.

The Collect of the Day (Advent III):

O Lord Jesus Christ,
who at your first coming sent your messenger
to prepare your way before you:
Grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries
may likewise so prepare and make ready your way
by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,
that at your second coming to judge the world
we may be found an acceptable people in your sight;
for you are alive and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, world without end.

The Advent Collect:

Almighty God,
Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness
and to put on the armour of light
now in the time of this mortal life
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility;
that on the last day
when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
to judge the living and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Matthew 1: 18-25 (NRSVA):

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ 22 All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

23 ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel’,

which means, ‘God is with us.’ 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son and he named him Jesus.

Continued tomorrow

Yesterday’s morning reflection

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