Eighteenth Week & the Assumption


We drove to Tasch, below Zermatt, to start our walk; a long car journey of fifteen hours. We pick up Nicky and Theo, exhausted after doing the west way through the Black Forest. After a slow start, we walked from Zermatt to St Niclaus. All downhill, but still a six-hour walk and we arrived very tired at 9 pm. Dark, with the lights of the village twinkling below us and an immediate offer of a spaghetti carbonara to the exhausted travellers.


Nicky and Tamara walked the 900 metres up to Jungen. I took the cable lift. There is a small chapel up here and I prayed on my iPhone alone in the small alpine chapel, the door open behind me. Coming out there is an incomparable view like no other of the Mattertal valley below a deep cleft. At our level of sight, the huge mass of the Dom, the highest mountain entirely in Switzerland at 4,545 metres.

The others arrived breathless from the valley as I sat alone in the garden of the small restaurant and we made the long exhausting ascent to Augsbordpass at 28,94 metres through a stony valley with no water but still ploughing through a patch of hardened old snow.

And then a long descent to Guben, through quiet pastures and then steep climbs, drinking thirstily from mountain streams.

We arrive at Gruben (1,822m) again exhausted and wondering how we can do another twelve-hour walk the following day.


We decided to do a detour to the Hotel Weisshorn. Another fine day as we climb up and over the Meidpass (2,790m). This is a less tiring day. I am slow but so too is Tamara. And arriving at the hotel at 6:30 is a relief. I flop down with a cup of tea. I look for Mont Blanc in the distance but it is in a haze. We can see the Weisshorn mountain. The pass is the linguistic frontier of Switzerland: German to the east, French to the west.

Everyone has been very polite but from now on I feel happier, able to talk to the locals. In this wilderness you can hear nothing of the busy world and sitting on top of the lovely pass I can talk quietly to Tamara.


The Hotel Weisshorn built in 1882 is full of character: bowls for washing outside every room, creaking wooden floors, and small wooden rooms with windows opening out over a precipice. But the Hotel Schwarzhorn also is a world apart: the road leads nowhere. You feel this is a hotel out of the late nineteenth century.


A lovely walk before a very steep knee-crunching descent. I found a lovely stick coming down through the forest at Zermatt.

At Zermatt after supper I go to look at the church. To my amazement it is open. All dark inside, its doors wide open to the village street. It proclaims a wonderful truth, the openness of God. Why can’t the doors of all churches be left permanently open? I sit peacefully in the gloom for a moment, the interior lit gently by the lights of the village outside.


We cheat a little by taking the chair lift half way up the Sorebois at 2,847 metres. There were great thunderstorms in the night and as we descend from the pass light clouds and then heavy mist obscure the bright blue Lac de Moiry. An exhausting climb, utterly dreadful evening at the Cabane de Moiry (2,825m), an austere modern place above the glacier.

It has taken us the best part of a week to do what Theodore did in two days, running. My walk is very slow but at age 65 I have an excuse climbing up to my overnight stay over boulders at nearly 8,000 feet altitude.

This is a bleak Mordor type landscape – a vast expanse of void of glacier. Something out of the Ice Age.

As I write this I am in a very different landscape in the shade looking at a Tuscan lake, cypress trees and warm yellow stove, and red houses – a bit like Pitt Cottages, although a little warmer.

SATURDAY – Feast of the Assumption

I sleep badly, worried about waking up early as I always do. I feel ill at 6:30 in the morning and worried about the steep walk down over those slippery rocks. But it is fine.

We set off at 7.20 and get to the car park in good time at the bottom of the glacier for the bus at 9.16. As the bus glides down so easily to Grimnetz I remember it is the Assumption.

Luckily and beautifully we arrive in time for Mass. The priest is drummed and piped in and lovely to have Mary arrive half way through the Mass. At the elevation of the Host, the drums and pipes start again – amazing. The priest is retiring. He has a strong local accent and I only catch bits. He goes on a pilgrimage up a mountain and is taking an eraser with him to wipe away the past and the future. It is cold but we feel pleasantly tired and fulfilled after our six-day walk.

A long drive then up through the mist over the St Bernard Pass or rather through the tunnel and then down into a very different world on the Italian coast at Sestri Levante.

Seventeenth Week & St Ignatius


A quiet Sunday in Lincolnshire. The first reading is very confusing especially as I did not have a text to follow.

“A man from Baal-shalishah bringing Elisha the man of God bread from the first fruits…”

But of course it’s all a foretaste of the feeding of the five thousand.


Every day this week I have run to our local church to read a psalm – just one – and meditate on it. And every day my knowledge of the life of St Benedict has come on.

Psalm 47: Omnes Gentes Plaudite: Clap your hands together, all ye people


Psalm 48: Magnus Dominus: Great is the Lord and highly to be praised


Psalm 49: Audite hoc omnes: O hear this all ye people

Later on I reflected particularly on the lines “For he shall carry nothing away with him when he dieth, neither shall his power follow him.” Wonderful words. We would never say that of someone nowadays. “and neither shall his pomp follow him” but we are all a bit pompous, full of pomp, at the centre of our little universe, with all the people and planets revolving around us.


Psalm 50: Deus Deorum: The Mighty God, even the Lord, has spoken

FRIDAY – Feast of St Ignatius

I tried to go to Mass at Market Rasen today because it is the feast of St Ignatius – my favourite – but it was in Caistor so I bought some walking shoes and walked six miles to Tealby and back. At the church there, sitting alone, in these magnificent surroundings, I read.

Psalm 51: Miserere Mei Deus: Have mercy on me, O God, after thy great goodness according to the multitude of thy mercies, do away mine offences.

Again the language is amazing – “according to the multitude of thy mercies…”


So the holiday continues, a time to forget politics. A difficult feat given what’s happening at Calais. What a mad craze. A Christian should surely give the migrants a house and we would if it was just 5,000 – but let in 5,000 and 10,000 will come tomorrow or 20,000 in the next month.

Psalm 52: Quid gloriosus? Why boastest thou myself, thou tyrant that thou must do mischief?

Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time


I am reading about the American philosopher Charles Peirce (1839-1914) who invented “pragmatism”. I like to think that my contribution probably not original is assumism.

I am reading Leslie Levine, “I think therefore I am.”

I believe that all these proofs or disproofs of the existence of God are really just a play on words and are bunk. True it is hard to imagine how the ordered material world could create itself out of nothing. But it is even harder to imagine a sungle God-like intelligence making the million million life forms of the earth let alone the billions of stars and other planets, so one is left with assumism.

Religion makes me feel joyful, that is a fact. Everything else is assumed. It is a triumph of faith over reason except that I don’t even have certain faith. Other people have it: they believe. I search – perhaps the searching like the travelling is as joyful as the arriving.

And of course in this life we shall never arrive. I sadly will probably still be searching on my death bed.

Today’s psalm:

“Near restful waters he leads me to revive my drooping spirit.” (Ps 22)


Today I am 65, an OAP without as yet a state pension. A strange feeling. In the past virtually everyone at this age would be dead or sitting in a corner of the hut in extreme decrepitude, and in the next few weeks I intend to walk the Haute Route between Zermatt and Chamonix.

Today I ask about the point of bombing Syria. It occurs to me later that instead of the phrase “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” we say in regard to ISIL and Assad “my enemy’s enemy is my enemy”. Little changes.

Today’s reading is from Exodus 11:5 – “When Pharaoh, King of Egypt, was told that the Israelites had made their escape, he and their courtiers changed their minds…”


The last day of Parliament. I speak on the Finance Bill asking whether the Government has decided that a two-child policy is the norm, and then drinks in the garden of Downing Street. I don’t get to speak to the PM. I am immensely heartened by how well Jeremy Corbyn is doing in the Labour leadership. Perhaps there still is a place for principle in politics.

Exodus 15: “I will sing to the Lord, glorious his triumph.”

Another memory of the Easter Vigil and the glorious singing of this triumphal hymn.

WEDNESDAY – St Mary Magdalene

Mass at 10:00 am is in the restored chapel of St Mary in the Oratory, bright with its new colours. After, I talk to Pete about my parents meeting at Bletchley Park. I spent the weekend reading Martin Sinclair’s history of it. What a story of the devising of random chance numbers, making sense out of chaos.

A memory today of the glorious readings, all too few, of the first weeks of Easter and encounters with the risen Jesus:

“It was very early on the first day of the week and still dark when Mary Magdalene came to the tomb.” (John 20:1-2)


I go for a sail in the Solent in my little boat and by chance encounter the great hydrofoiling yachts of the Americas Cup. At first I have no idea what is going on – I am only irritated that I have to bypass the course and sail into the wind. Then the sight of these huge creatures of the wind, sailing faster than the wind at 30 or 40 miles per hour, is amazing.

Poor Naomi cannot do more than six knots.

“Look towards him and be radiant, let your faces not be abashed.”


I came into Mass late as the parable of the Sower was being read:

“When anyone hears the word of the Kingdom without understanding, the Evil One comes and carries off what was sown in his heart: this is the man who received the seed on the edge of the path.” (Matthew 13)


I walked along the edge of the Wolds with great views stretching away thirty miles and rested in Tealby Church and read Psalm 46:

“Our lord is refuge and our strength, our help in present need.”

With a welcome drink of water from the tap outside the church, I walked home after looking at the vault of George Tennyson d’Eyncourt, MP for thirty-five years. I am still three years behind.

Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time


“… and he instructed them to take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no haversack, no coppers for your purse.” (Mark 6:7-13)

MONDAY – St Henry

“There came to power in Egypt a new king, who knew nothing of Joseph.” (Exodus 1:8)


We vote five times on the budget and I get the tail end of the French fete nationale.

Collect: O God, who show the light of your truth to those who go astray…

WEDNESDAY – St Bonaventure, Priest

Two races: one at 7.30 am in the Serpentine, then meetings all morning, then the Parliamentary Boat Race. We lose. Yet last year we over-turned. Or our House of Commons boat did. I was unduly absent so we are making progress.

A wonderful feeling of tiredness after such a physical effort. I only make the closing seconds of Mass:

“Those who are wise will shine brightly.” (Antiphon)


We stay behind in London to meet some French deputies, then drive up and I walk home over the Wolds during the wild summer twilight – a wonderful experience.

“As for me in justice I will behold your face.”


A sad day. We go to Karly Lovett’s funeral in Gainsborough, very emotional. She was so young, only 24, gunned down by a man whose cause was irrelevant to her, by chance. Horrible.

“As for me, in justice I will behold your face.”


My Saturday Psalm 135:

“O Give thanks to the Lord for he is good. Great is his love without end.”

Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time


As I listen to the readings, I look out of the window in the small upper room chapel to the line of the Wolds in the distance.

“A prophet is only despised in his own country.” (Mark 6:1-6)


I went to the memorial service in the Abbey for Srebrenica victims.

“Your right hand is filled with saving justice.” (Entrance Antiphon)


We had our APPG for France and then for Italy annual general meetings. We are now fully established. Again everyone is an officer.

“The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord to send labourers to his harvest.” (Matthew 9:32-37)


I spent a most pleasant afternoon at the dentist – surely a contradiction in terms. Yet he is an amateur filmmaker and he showed me his latest shortie – a taxi driving around London. Soothing…

It makes a change from being locked in negotiation with the Government on EVEL (English Votes for English Laws) and Barnet consequentials. For me, the preservation of the Union is much more important than English nationalism.

“You shall bring me your youngest brother; this way your words will be proved true.” (Genesis 41:55)


I was in my small boat when a ferry suddenly turned right. I tacked, was held in stays, and stalled.

At that moment the leader of the house rang me on my mobile with a compromise suggestion for an amendment to his EVEL standing orders. I was easily convinced.

“Joseph said to his brothers come closer to me.” (Genesis 44:18-21)


I went to Margate to look at the new(ish) Turner Gallery. Having seen the film I was interested in visiting the town, something I had never done before.

In spite of one bit of brutalist architecture in a block of flats – apparently in the 1960s they wanted to flatten the whole town – there is still in the remaining Georgian homes a feeling of the old town.

Psalm 36: “The salvation of the just comes from God.”

SATURDAY – St Benedict, Abbot

I get up early to swim the 2,000-yard Bridge-to-Bridge in the Serpentine. It takes me 45 minutes and I come last. Afterwards, Latin sung mass in the Cathedral before driving to Lincolnshire for the village hog roast. A good day.

Something strikes me as important in the homily on St Benedict but I only stay for the Mass by chance. One is St Benedict lived in a time of disaffection, of old values and old empires with everything changing so that in that respect he is still relevant for us. I remember Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”. The second was Benedict was not just talking to monks in a monastic community, because we all live in a community – so the “Rule” is relevant to us too.

“There was a man of venerable life, Benedict, blessed by grace and by name, who leaving home and patrimony and desiring to please God alone, sought out the habit of holy living.” (Entrance Antiphon)

Peter and Paul


What two men could be more unlike? Where would Christianity be without either?

I bought a simple guide to Western philosophy. The attempts at a rational proof of God seem pointless to me. I am not even convinced by Aquinas’s first mover argument. It seems a play on words.

As we fly past Pluto on an amazing nine-year journey over many millions of miles, I cannot get my mind around the creator of Peter and Paul sitting down one day to create the million wonders of our solar system, let alone the billions of others. It seems to me an impossible task but then so do these wonders created out of mere chance. I think it easier to assume a creator without even attempting to rationalise the concept.

And to view the life of Peter and the writings of Paul as a ladder of thought, insight, perception into an enabling inner truth. Like Plato, we dwell in a dim cave, aware that we are all unique but composed of a million parts of a unity that comprises all others and things. We are even as mere individuals a billion-piece jigsaw puzzle which can only make us a bit in this jigsaw puzzle.

In the way it is designed the pieces can make somebody and something completely different. Maybe one billion of the pieces are the same but just one thousand are different and that is why we are all the same and we are all different.

My daughter has just spent a week’s silent retreat with Fr Lawrence Freeman. In silence, in silent Christian meditation, repeating the Maranatha prayer: “Lord, come.” We even after years of silent contemplation are no more aware of the composition of the billion different pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, just more aware that it is there. We are in the middle and somewhere out of sight, if not of mind, is a unifying truth.

“I have neither silver nor gold, but I will give you what I have: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk. Peter then took him by hand and helped him to stand up. Instantly, his feet and ankles became firm.” (Acts 3:1-10)


Perhaps today’s collect can be a help, not towards rational truth, but a path:

“O God, who through the grace of adoption chose us to be children of light, grant we pray that we may not be wrapped in the darkness of error but always be seen to stand in the bright light of truth.”


“The wife of Lot looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt.” (Genesis 19:15-19)

Perhaps we stop and look back too often, or listen to these words today.

“Why are you so frightened, you men of little faith?” (Matthew 8:23-27)

WEDNESDAY – St Oliver Plunkett

My sister’s birthday – we always have supper on the terrace – and the feast of Saint Oliver Plunkett (1625-1681). I have often sat next to his remains in Downside Abbey. He always seems to be a most unlikely martyr. Martyred so late as a result of a manufactured political scandal. The last person to be executed for his faith in England, and he had spent many years working more or less (as arrangements demanded) openly in Ireland as Primate of All Ireland.

Does Hagar’s story help us believe that, out of seeming disaster, salvation can come?

“Then God opened Hagar’s eyes and she saw a well, so she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.” (Genesis 21:5,8-20)

We had our APPG for the Holy See. We are duly reconstituted for the new parliament. We only have a dozen members and they are all officers. A very brotherly setup – explained by the complete lack of power, money, authority, or anything else.


I always think of the Easter Vigil at Downside, the church black and candlelit, when I hear today’s reading:

“God put Abraham to the test. ‘Abraham, Abraham,’ he cried. ‘Here I am,’ he replied. ‘Take your only child Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him as a burnt offering.’” (Genesis 22:1-19)

I always think of my own children when I hear these words. None of us would offer our own children.

FRIDAY – St Thomas the Apostle

My reading:

“Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made and when I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.” (John 20:24-29)


As usual on a Saturday I went to our small village church to read a Psalm.

Psalm 134: “Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good.”

11th Week of Ordinary Time / St Alban


The poetry of Ezekiel 17:22-24:

“From the top of the cedar from the highest branch I will take a shoot and plant it myself on a very high mountain. I will plant it on the high mountain of Israel. It will sprout branches and bear fruit and become a noble cedar.”


I had a good day in the Commons proposing an amendment to give full fiscal autonomy to the Scots. They had a go at me for half an hour. To work hard in the chamber is good practice.

The psalm of today struck in my memory:

“The Lord has made known his salvation.” (Ps 97)

TUESDAY – St Richard of Chichester

A rare event: I put down an amendment two days in a row, this time on trying to ensure both sides spent equal amounts on the EU referendum.

“My soul gives praise to the Lord.” (Ps 145)


A busy day, an early meeting, my father-in-law’s eightieth birthday, and I sat outside the committee room where members are voting for select committee chairs for two hours.

“And since without your mortal frailty can do nothing, grant us always the help of your grace.” (Collect)


I fail in a bid to be the select committee chair. My vote is disappointing: it shows one should not take oneself too seriously – other people do not.

The Mass in the evening is for sick and retired priests. They really have given everything. Do we ever thank them?

“I only wish you were able to tolerate a little foolishness from me.” (2 Corinthians)


I visit an old peoples’ home. They are only twenty, thirty years older than me but affected with dementia. They seem so old, just sitting there. Our time passes so quickly. I talk to Harold, a 95 year old who remembers Liverpool in the 1930s. A trade unionists all his life, he seems quite forgiving of a Tory.

“O Lord, hear my voice for I have called to you. Be my help.” (Entrance Antiphon)


We are almost at Midsummer Day. Sulky, rainy, cloudy – the wold’s hills I walk bathed in a quiet mist. St Alban’s land – our first martyr.

“…to stop me from getting too proud, I was given a thorn in the flesh.” (2 Corinthians)

And can anyone for all his worrying add one single cubit to his span of life?

Sixth Week of Easter


As I write this the light is streaming into the cottage from the west on a summer’s evening.

We went to Mass, the Sunday before Ascension, before eating outside in the garden.

John 15 is a remarkable poem to love.

“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Remain in my love.”


We are back in London for a packed meeting of the 1922 Committee. I can barely get into the room. Everybody is enthusiastic, a joy to behold. Let’s hope it lasts, but events…

I prefer to be in Lincolnshire but it’s nice to be able to go to the sung evening mass in the Cathedral.

John 15 continues:

“When the Advocate comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father…”


We meet with all the new colleagues. I talk to only a few but they seem a cheerful bunch.

“Jesus said to his disciples, Now I am going to the one who sent me…” (John 16)

I suppose this is a long meditation designed to prepare one for the Ascension.

There is one line from a homily today on the feast day of Blessed Alvaro del Portillo: “When we die, we can only take away what we have given.” So true.

WEDNESDAY – Our Lady of Fatima

A double visit to doctors, travelling across London, but in between an interlude in Chelsea Physic Garden, an interesting and beautiful place, full of stories about plants, but too many people. I prefer to be amongst my own infinitely less exotic plants in Lincolnshire.

What are we to make of Our Lady of Fatima? What does it matter?

“I still have many things to say to you, but they would be too much for you now…” (John 16)

THURSDAY – St Mattias

I go to Mass, the vestments red, before a long drive past a blockedA1 northwards and to a public meeting in Welton.

“It was not you who chose me says the Lord, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit.” (Entrance Antiphon)

And John 15 continues:

“As the Father has loved me so I have loved you. Remain in my love.”


I ran the short distance to our little village church and read Psalm 45 in the Prayer Book: “My heart is indicting a good matter. I speak of the things which I have made touching the King; my tongue is the pen of a ready writer.”

I think of this, my contribution, which comes only and not very well at that from my pen. I do a happy surgery and shop in Gainsborough and meet a few people.


Today is the last day that Mary and I will have children of our own under the age of 18. Our youngest is 18 tomorrow, the 17th of May. It’s been 29 years and 5 months less two days of having children under the age of 18, so tomorrow another chapter starts.

“O chosen people, proclaim the mighty works of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Alleluia.” (Entrance Antiphon)

Fifth Week of Easter


We went to Glasgow Cathedral for a Presbyterian service – perhaps my first. Dignified, welcoming, the sermon brilliant and shall we say substantial.

“My children, our love is not to be just words or mere talk but something real and active, only by this can we be certain that we are children of the truth.”

MONDAY – The English Martyrs

Bank holiday Monday. A battle bus was arriving in Lincoln and I did some calm leafleting. Again I rewarded myself with Evensong in the Cathedral.

In this calm atmosphere, so moderate and English, the disputes of the past seem deeply buried indeed.

“These who are clothed in white robes are they who have survived the time of great distress.”


I walked about the Market Place in Gainsboroug, a walkabout is perhaps too strong a word – it was very quiet and then a pleasant stroll canvassing around Knaith Park, then a tea. It’s not the dynamic front line, but pleasant.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. You heard me say I am going away and I shall return.” (John 14)

Before, we went to the funeral mass of Father Philip Bailey. Many priests were there to celebrate this clever (a doctor of scripture) and humble and willing local parish priest for over thirty years. A kind, good man. Rest in peace.

Another beautiful little mass in Holy Rood with Father Jonathan.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” (John 15)

But people like Father Jonathan are also vinedressers.

More canvassing in Lea, then I ended this campaign at the highest point of Lincolnshire at Normanby le Wold, on a calm summer’s evening. The battle is over.

THURSDAY 7 MAY – Polling Day

I usually do some hoovering of the carpet on polling day, a soothing activity. We go out and attempt a little loud hailering, the first of the campaign, but we probably do more harm than good. A long night starts with the startling exit poll.

“Let us sing to the Lord, for he has gloriously triumphed.” (Entrance Antiphon)


The day starts at midnight and goes on to 7 am, the declaration of the count, and then a drive back home in the light, always a strange feeling. Breakfast, a short sleep, and back to the local election court and a grateful tea and cakes with the children back home. How nice to have been here.

“I will thank you Lord among the peoples.” (Ps 56)


With the children we do the Tennyson walk, starting at Tetford, then around Sowerby where he lived at the rectory, the church sadly closed for repairs.

“Cry out with joy to the Lord, all the earth.” (Ps 99)

Fourth Week of Easter


A difficult day; tough questions at Queen Elizabeth High School and then attacks at the hustings, but in retrospect it’s all good for the soul, demanding and humbling.

The sheep story continues and drives home the message:

“They never follow a stranger, but run away from him.” (John 10)


I spend a calming day delivering leaflets in Lincoln and as a reward I take myself off to Lincoln Cathedral for Evensong. Always a soothing and beautiful experience; I am always amazed there are not more people listening to the glorious singing of the Psalms, antiphons, Magnificat, and Nunc Dimittis in this vast gothic amphitheatre.

“Let us rejoice and be glad, and give glory to God.”

WEDNESDAY – St Catherine of Siena

I tried to go to Mass but it was cancelled but useful news. I heard young Fr Jonathan who had gone off to join the Benedictines was returning to our parish to say Mass for the first time. I carried on with my gentle rural rides, talking to people.

I sat alone in the empty church for the non-mass, it was strangely calming and read the texts for Catherine of Siena.

“God is light and there is no darkness in him at all.” (John)


I was speaking at a school, the second of the day and had a turn. An intimation of mortality, I revived myself with a jacket potato in a railway carriage in Bardney.

Prayer over the offerings: May our prayers rise up to you, O Lord, together with the sacrificial offerings, so that purified by your graciousness, we may be conformed to the mysteries of your mighty love.


What a joy to go to a small weekday mass in a side chapel said by a new young priest. Jonathan comes from an Anglican family. One day aged 15 he walked into our church and has wanted to become a priest ever since.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still and trust in me.”


We went to a wedding in Aberfoyle, the daughter of an old friend and then to a party by a loch. The words of the Episcopalian service short, to the point, and masterful. St Paul’s exegesis on love is all that needs to be said on this sort of occasion and with commendable brevity in the homily; that was all that was said.

“In the midst of the church he opened his mouth and the Lord filled him with the spirit of wisdom and understanding.” (Entrance Antiphon)

Fourth Week of Lent: “God so loved the world”


I went to the evening mass in Westminster Cathedral and was struck with renewed force by what is arguably the most famous passage in the Bible, from John 3:14-21:

“Yes, God loved the world so much that He have His only son, so that everyone who believes may have eternal life.”

As I heard and read these words, with incomparable force, I believed then. Later the old doubts returned about one intelligence being able to create the whole universe.

But I can understand why people who read these words have been hit by immovable faith to dedicate their life to Jesus’ teaching.

This is Laetare Sunday – “Rejoice” Sunday – anyway, an opportunity to rejoice in these words.


I was discussing John 3 with a friend today. He reminded me of one of the episodes in the Gospels when the father of a sick child asks Jesus to help my unbelief. I looked it up; it is in Mark 9:24.

“And Jesus said to him, ‘If thou couldst believe all things are possible to him that believes’. And immediately the father of the young child crying out said with tears, ‘I believe. Help mine unbelief.’”

This should be my motto.

TUESDAY – St Patrick’s Day

I like these words from the first reading today:

“Everything will soon come to an end, so to pray better keep a calm and sober mind.” (1 Peter 4:7-11)

Everything will soon come to an end – why worry very much? We do but why when we know everything will soon come to an end. We ponder too little day by day on that end.


The main event today for us was not the budget but having forty colleagues around to hear the Chief Whip – a great deal of preparation needed but giving parties is always fun. I didn’t even have time to go to Mass. A Martha rather than a Mary day.

“The Lord is kind and full of compassion.” (Psalm 144)

THURSDAY – St Joseph

A strange man, for most of the Gospels he is either largely silent up to the Presentation, or absent altogether after. But he makes the single most important decision in history. He does not turn Mary away.

Behold, a faithful and prudent steward whom the Lord set over his household.


I spoke in the budget debate yet said much the same thing I had said in all the previous ones.

In the evening I went to the Stations of the Cross in the Cathedral. This service never fails to move, especially when the vast crowd is still at the death of Jesus.


I was most struck by the words of the priest. That Jeremiah and for that matter Jesus had resonance in their message precisely because they were powerless. That evil to flourish always needs power. That is not the power, the effect, the title that matters but the message.

“I for my part was like a trustful lamb being led to the slaughterhouse.” (Jeremiah 11:18)

Third Week of Lent: “You have the message of eternal life, O Lord”


We were given a lecture at Mass about how young people after a certain age don’t go to church. But it is no point telling that to the half of ten per cent who still do go.

We have to concentrate not on the practical but the spiritual message.

Today’s Psalm 18: “You have the message of eternal life O Lord. The law of the Lord is perfect. It revives the soul.”


I had a question on Marriage Tax Allowance. Apparently over four million people might be entitled. But the pounds and pence don’t matter: it’s the nod towards commitment.

Today is the story of Naaman the Leper. I like it because he cures himself unwillingly by such a simple thing – bathing three times in the Jordan.

“My father, if the prophet has asked you to do something difficult, would you not have done it?”

All the more reason then when he says “Bathe and you will become clean.” (2 Kings 5:1-15)


I spoke at the Royal College of Defence Studies to budding generals on our future in Europe.

The reading from Matthew 18 is about forgiveness:

You must forgive your brother, “not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times.”

European history sadly is riven with the opposite. Forgiveness – an easy exhortation, so difficult to carry it out.

We had a meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury in the afternoon. As the others rushed off to vote, I urged him to put pressure on Government to leave faith schools alone from the “British values” crusaders.


We had a debate on the Ukraine and Russia’s membership of the Council of Europe. What would expulsion achieve? Just another twist to a war without end. Seek compromoise.

The Pharisees didn’t compromise. Where did it get them? But…

“Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.” (Matthew 5:17)


I led a debate which I had procured through the Backbench Business Committee on the future of faith schools and British values. It was a relief to calm down afterwards at Mass. Why impose on schools a set of “values” composed on the back of a plain-packaged fag packet by officials when we have the glories of the Torah, the poetry of the Koran, the mysteries of the Bible to hand?

“Listen to my voice then, I will be your God.” (Jeremiah 7:23-28)


We went to a marvellous RAF-led service of remembrance for the Afghan War at Lincoln Cathedral. They do these things well. We will pass over what the Afghan campaign has really achieved.


I went to our local church. Psalm 47 is one I can remember.

Omnes gentes plaudit: “Clap your hands, all you people.”

A joyous psalm, at last.

Second Week of Lent: God is our hope and our strenth


We went to Mass in the small church at Osgodby. The reading from Genesis 22 reminded me of the Easter Vigil spent every year at Downside Abbey.

“God put Abraham to the test, ‘Abraham, Abraham,’ he called. ‘Here I am’ he replied. ‘Take your son,’ God said, ‘your only child Isaac whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you should offer him as a burnt offering.’”

I often wonder what Abraham thought and at his obedience. Now he would be considered a raving lunatic.

I thought of the reading at Downside followed by peerless singing of the psalm:

“Preserve me God, I take refuge in you.”


The reading today is a familiar one from Luke 6:36-38.

“Do not judge and you will not be judged yourselves, do not condemn and you will not be condemned, grant pardon and you will be pardoned.”

But in my mind, remembering all the personal attacks made on people in the media, I turned around the words.

“Do not fear being judged by others, and you will not judge yourself. Do not fear being condemned by others and you will not condemn yourself. If others do not pardon you, pardon yourself.”


I went to a memorial meeting for Allan Williamson, Father of the House of Commons, who served for forty-six years. Peter Tapsell, the present father, spoke before me. He has been there for over fifty years. And his successor Gerald Kaufman was there. He has been an MP for forty-five years. 150 years of service between the three.

What a contribution they have made, none of the three ever made it beyond junior ministerial office. Allan Williamson like me as Minister of Consumer Affairs managed to ensure a mark on the beer glass. I tried to get the froth excluded and failed – a missed achievement but words and ideas are more important than power.

“You must therefore do what they tell you and listen to what they say, but do not be guided by what they do.” (Matthew 25:1-12)


As I was listening to the readings of today’s Mass, I was thinking or I heard the priest tell us: Don’t worry about what you do or achieve. Do God’s will or it is God’s will.

This of course has been always the anaesthesia of religion but it is comforting for all that it’s God’s will that matters for you, not your own.

“Should evil be returned for good, for they are digging a pit for me. Remember how I stood in your presence and plead on their behalf.” (Jeremiah 18)


Today is the reading from Luke 16 about the rich man and Lazarus and the sobering message that the rich man actually never did anything nasty to the poor man. Just ignored him as we ignore the poor at the door of our churches. However often we are told this story, we forget it. But as I walked home for two hours in the spring darkening, the welcoming lights of the cottage appearing through the mellowing Lincolnshire wold, my mind was on the present, empty of all save soothing tiredness and orangeing twilight.


After the Cathedral Council we all went off to Eucharist in the Cathedral. At the West End the new statue of Mary is there. Brooding, not a saccharine statue but more like a grim-faced or quizzical Russian icon. The words of the Anglican communion sometimes undistinguishable from the Catholic in unity.

“Here comes a man of dreams…” (Genesis 37)

Earlier, I had visited our little village church and reached Psalm 45: “My heart is indicting a good matter.”


I ran again to our church and reached Psalm 46 in the Prayer Book: “God is our hope and our strength.”

If only we could remember that for more than a few minutes after reading it.

As I read the story of the Prodigal Son today I am filled with profound emotion and tears well in my eyes. Here indeed is the truth, and the word of a true God.

“He was lost and now is found.”

First Week in Lent: ‘Love your enemies…’


There was an inspiring chap speaking on Songs of Praise. He was, I think, a former vicar who now had bad MS and couldn’t walk. But he was very courageous. He said he saw the love of God in the love of his wife. With all our moans and groans, here was a man afflicted with the most terrible disability – cheerful. And on the programme too was a most impressive actor who plays Martin Luther King in ‘Selma’. He just seemed extraordinarily articulate and full of hope.


“I tell you solemnly insofar as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine you did to me.” (Matthew 25:31)

We had a debate on gender-selective abortion. I was the last to be called. I had 30 seconds to speak. I just said it is morally repugnant to destroy a foetus just because of its sex, shouldn’t we made clear in law its prohibition.


“In your prayers do not babble as the pagans do.” (Matthew 6:7)

The priest at Mass today reminded us of the Communion Rite’s words: “At the Saviour’s command and formed by divine teaching, we dare to say…”

I had never really thought about these words before. But saying the first words of the Lord’s Prayer, we do it without thinking out.


“Go to Nineveh.” (Jonah 3)

What would ISIL make of him in Mosul if he arrived? Probably like the real Jonah he would have been scared of going at all.


I went in for a screening test for aortic aneurysm.

Marcus Aurelius tells us that we should think of one’s death every day of one’s life.

Is this a good idea? I think it is. It puts the days and life’s little setbacks into perspective. We are going to die, and all these other people more powerful than us are going to die too. We will all be levelled and then whatever people think and say about us will be meaningless.

Again today’s Gospel as a refrain sticks in the brain as a most beautiful counterpoint:

“Ask and it shall be given unto you, search and you will find; knock and the door shall be opened unto you.” (Matthew 7)



The answer to Marcus Aurelius is surely in today’s reading from Ezekiel 18:

“If the wicked man renounces all the sins he has committed, respects my laws, and is law-abiding and honest, he will certainly live.”


I like the day the hunt comes to our valley. I can walk in the deep hidden wood-lined valleys away from the public footpaths which normally I cannot access.

Here it is very quiet, a green carpet leads up the slopes, surrounded by birch and beech. I returned home after a couple of hours in the twilight to a cottage fire, the timeless clatter of hooves on the hunt returned.

This injunction from Matthew 5 today is so difficult to follow:

“I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, in this way you will be sons of your Father in Heaven.”

Ash Wednesday


“The man is leprous: he is unclean. The priest must declare him unclean. He is suffering from leprosy of the head.” (Leviticus 13)

When people call for assisted suicide are they not ridding themselves of the unwanted? Do not the unwanted feel unwanted, which is as bad?

“A leper came to Jesus and pleaded on his knees: ‘If you want’, he said, ‘you can cure me.’ Feeling sorry for him, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. ‘Of course I want to,’ he said. ‘Be cured.’” (Mark 1:40-45)


“The Lord asked Cain, why are you angry and downcast? If you are well disposed, ought you not to lift up your head? But if you are ill disposed is not sin at the door like a crouching beast, hungering for you, which you must master?” (Genesis 4)

This jealousy is in all of us. How shrewd a commentary on human nature is this early passage of Genesis.


The story of Noah is obviously people say a ridiculous legend but the essence of it is surely really that small groups of people must make an ark of the soul to keep their spirit alive.

A brilliant blue warm day in London. Market Rasen scouts came and had a tour and picnic lunch on the Terrace – an ark.

WEDNESDAY – Ash Wednesday

Another lovely day of blue sky. I showed an American friend around the House of Commons. Perhaps he was a little vague on Cromwell and Charles I, but he perked up at Magna Carta. Only the Salisbury facsimile, not the incredible experience of two weeks before of the four copies together.

As usual we had Allegri’s Miserere but with men’s voices as it is half term. When I hear the Gospel of Ash Wednesday I always wonder whether I should be writing this at all:

“When you pray, do not imitate the hypocrites… but when you pray, go to your private room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in that secret place.” (Matthew 6)


I had a dream. I was driving through a familiar countryside and a village well known to me seemed not empty as usual but full of people. They were all streaming in and out of the old church, usually so dark, sometimes locked. The light was unreal, a kind of bright mauve or sunrise pink, but there was a sense of joy.

As I sat in the 1030 Latin Mass, I heard these words:

“What gain then is for a man to have won the whole world and to have lost or ruined his very self.” (Luke 9)

Well this passage is some comfort. Maybe we could all progress further, but at what price?


Isaiah sets us a hard task:

“Is not this the sort of fast that please me?
It is the Lord who speaks
To break unjust fetters and undo the things of the yoke.
To let the oppressed go free and break every yoke.
To share your bread with the hungry
And shelter the homeless poor.” (Isaiah 58)


I felt depressed as I went for my morning run to the church (locked) and back at the way tabloids label people with guilt by association. I should have read today’s Gospel:

“The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples and said ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’ Jesus said to them in reply: It is not those who are well who need the doctor but the sick. I have not come to call the virtuous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5)

Afterwards I did my back in a long walk over the fields to Tealby and back, yet in tiredness my morale felt better. When you read words like that and the ‘rational’ doubts disappear and you know you are following the right path.

Fifth Week in Ordinary Time


Collect at Downside Abbey for Mass:

Keep your family safe, O Lord, with unfailing love. That, relying solely on the hope of heavenly grace, they may be defended always by your protection. We can ask for no more.

Sometimes I think I am like Job.

“Like the slave sighing for shade or the workman with no thought but his own wages, months of delusion I have assigned to me, nothing for my own but nights of grief. Lying in bed I wonder when it will be day and the night drags on. I am filled with restlessness until the dawn.” (Job 7:1-14)


Margaret Hodge was speaking of her work as chair of the Public Accounts Committee – a part of my life already receding into the past. Where did it lead? Well, it was satisfying in itself.

“May the Lord rejoice in his works.” (Ps 103)


When I wonder what I am achieving I am heartened tonight as in the launch of the Catholic Union Charitable Trust at Archbishop’s House, Southwark, I feel appreciated.

“When I see the Heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and the stars you had arranged. What is man that you should keep him in mind?” (Ps 8)

WEDNESDAY – Our Lady of Lourdes

The priest, his back to us in the Lady Chapel of the Oratory, his chasuble resplendent – what a beautiful sight.

When things seem to be going badly, say an alleluia and give praise. We are in his hands.


I took part in a debate on the destruction of artefacts in Syria and Iraq. I had research done, but I spoke more from the heart on what I had heard from Archbishop Warda of Erbil this week. 25,00 families, 125,500 people forced from their homes in the Nineveh plain. In our own time, the very places I had visited and called for a safe haven in a Westminster Hall debate in 2008 and seen the lack of interest by the Foreign Office minister.

Today’s collect:

“Keep your family safe, O Lord, with unfading care, that relying solely on the hope of heavenly grace, they may be defended always by your protection.”

Sadly they are not; they are abandoned.


I went to speak at St Olave’s School History Society on Margaret Thatcher’s premiership. A big crowd and there of their own free will apparently. The words flowed easily. I have lived this bit of history as a walk-on part.


Our local church was locked so I had to content myself with a long walk through the grey foggy afternoon and by seven it was absolutely pitch dark – no stars or moon, not even the outlines of the hills visible. Our only calls the Jehovahs Witnesses. They must feel like the wanderers in Luke 10:

“Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals…”

Fourth Week in Ordinary Time


I was watching or finishing set two of the Andy Murray match so I missed half the Mass. I don’t suppose it matters much. I missed my favourite psalm:

Oh that today you would listen to his voice,
Harden not your hearts as at Meribah
As on that day at Massah in the desert

(Psalm 94)

MONDAY – The Presentation of the Lord

There was the annual mass for religious at Westminster Cathedral, which I suppose I gatecrashed.

Luke’s reading is of course the beautiful peon of Simeon:

“Now Master you can let your servant go in peace, just as you promised, because my eyes have seen the salvation, which you have prepared for all the nations to see, a light to enlighten the Pagan and the glory of your people Israel.”

(Luke 2:22-40)


We had a debate on mitochondrial DNA. I wish I could have made some more elevated arguments to do with the human soul but they alluded me. To do the process you have to kill between two and ten embryos.

“With so many witnesses in a great cloud on every side of us, we too, then should throw off everything that hinders us.” (Hebrews 12)

Perhaps the embryos are in the great cloud of witnesses, now dead.


In Hebrews 12:4-7, 11-15, there is a difficult passage about suffering:

“Suffering is part of your training.”

But why should it be? Perhaps this is the answer:

“Of course, any punishment is most painful at the time, and far from pleasant; but later in those on whom it has been used, it bears fruit in peace and goodness.”

THURSDAY – Saint Agatha

The evening before, much as I like Wolf Hall on the BBC, I decided to go to the XV dinner. I thought I would miss stories of cardinals and Dukes of Norfolk in sixteenth century England but I found myself sitting next to the Duke of Norfolk and two places down from Cardinal Murphy O’Connor.

Much changes but dukes and cardinals are still there.

“O God, we ponder your love within your temple.” (Psalm 47)

FRIDAY – St Paul Miki and Companions, Martyrs

“Continue to love each other like brothers and remember always to welcome strangers, for by doing this some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13)

This is the point. Better be nice to people we meet casually in the street. They might be angels.


I was at Downside for the Oblates meeting. Father Alexander gave me this lovely prayer to cheer me up. It didn’t seem to calm the back pain, the middle of the night which before had been excruciating.

“May the Lord bless you and keep you, and shine the light of his face upon you, and give you peace.”

I think of it now when the press just wants to be malicious.

Third Week in Ordinary Time


“Go to Nineveh, the great city, and preach to them as I told you to.” (Jonah 3:1)

Strange that Nineveh is where the great cathedral has just been blown up by ISIL.


For some unaccountable reason a bad back started today. I always wonder at this phrase in today’s gospel:

“How can Satan cast out Satan?” (Mark 3:22-30)

But what does it mean?


We went in Strasbourg but just I asked the Backbench Business Committee for a debate on faith schools and British values.

How do “British values” trump the traditional British value – of Christianity?

“Since the law has no more than a reflection of these realities and no finished picture of them.” (Hebrews 10)


I went to a lovely Mass in the seminary at Strasbourg Cathedral. It is lovely in its timelessness of its chant.

“And the priests stand at their duties every day.” (Hebrews 10:11-18)


I had spoken at the Council of Europe on persecution of Christians. The usual arguments. I’m not sure we added anything new but I stressed the need for the technical legal term of “reasonable accommodation” for Christians to have space in Europe where there is no outright persecution but where Catholic midwives for instance need space to abide by their conscience or British Airways staff should be allowed to wear a cross.

Anyway, nothing new but quite a good day. For my sins no doubt however I woke in the middle of the night with a crashing pain in my back and my conscience or something or someone told me to “look after the poor and the dispossessed”. I doubt that I will do it very well. My right-wing convictions often tell me that showering public money on the poor creates as many problems as it solves.


My back was so bad at Mass that I could not get up and the communion had to be brought to me – a foretaste of the future but nice that people think of one.

“Only a little while now, a very little while and the one that is coming will have come, he will not delay.” (Hebrews 10:32)

SATURDAY – St John Bosco

The 10.30 sung Latin mass as beautiful as usual. Today in Hebrews 10 we are told that “only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for.”

Then I have a long way to go. If it is only a question of faith it is easy for some, hard for others.

“And he woke up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea ‘Quiet now, be calm!’ And the winds dropped and all was calm again. Then he said to them ‘Why are you so frightened? How is it that you have no faith?’” (Mark 4:35)

Strange, reading this I have faith that this really did happen and is true.

Second Week in Ordinary Time


The Tudors gave an unparalleled state to men of humble birth – Wolsey, Cromwell, Cecil, all from modest or very modest backgrounds. The parvenu Tudors created the grammar schools, which for centuries have given a step up for the most humble: sons of butchers and blacksmiths (Wolsey and Cromwell, respectively). We went to see the Secretary of State on the parlous state of grammar school funding. We got little out of her except a moan about the size of her budget, but she has shifted resources away from grammar schools, from giving a leg up to the most humble.

Today’s reading from Hebrews 5:1-10:

Every high priest has been taken out of mankind, and is appointed to act for men in their relations with God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for their sons, and so he can sympathise with those who are ignorant or wayward, because he too lives in the limitations of weakness.


I spoke in the debate on Holocaust Memorial Day. There is latent evil in all of us, and given the right appalling circumstances, it can rise up in complete barbarity.

Today’s reading from Hebrews 6:10-20 –

When God made the promise to Abraham he swore by his own self, since it was impossible to swear by anyone greater. I will shower blessings on you and give you many descendants.


This week we are celebrating 750 years from the founding of Parliament by Simon de Montfort, so I took the opportunity of welcoming this on a point of order to the Speaker: that if we exist for another 750 it will not be said “you are a priest forever, a priest like Melchizidek of old.” (Ps 109)


I went to the British Museum exhibition on Germany and at the end was accosted by a stranger accusing Eurosceptics of wanting to plunge Europe back into war. I had to explain gently that we were not nationalists.


I was at Saxilby village hall to talk to people about their village plan and in the morning I had a meeting with the Russian Ambassador – a contrast in themes and types.

“Mercy and faithfulness have met
Justice and peace have embraced.”

Or have they?


I went to a town hall meeting at the village of Ingham. Climbing the hill in my car I pulled onto the main road and missed hitting a car on the blind side. Such are the chances of life. A four-year-old girl is reputed today to have been killed by a truck.

The Epiphany

SUNDAY The Epiphany (observed)

The sermon was brilliant. The Magi were probably astronomers. The story reveals that then, unlike today, science and religion were not opposite irreconcilables. The Magi looked to the mathematics of the movement of the stars to try and determine the religion of the universe. The movements proved that reason and logic lay at its heart. The universe is absolutely not a matter of chance, but of reason and law. But Who created the order, the rules? Where did they come from?


I was struck by the Gospel which repeats Isaiah, the Isaiah I had read at Midnight Mass on Christmas night.

“The people that lived in darkness has seen a great light. On those who dwell in the land and shadow of death, a light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:17)

This all is fulfilled.

TUESDAY (Proper Epiphany)

We shouldn’t’ve moved the feasts from their proper days to Sundays. Just for our convenience or because we didn’t want to go to Mass on a weekday. This is the Twelfth Night, a holy night. This is when we take down our Christmas decorations.

Actually, we don’t in our family, because we also celebrate Russian Christmas, but there we are.

Lord, accept the offerings of your church, not gold, frankincense, and myrrh, but the sacrifice and food they symbolise: Jesus Christ, who is Lord for ever and ever.

WEDNESDAY Russian Christmas

We all trooped off to the liturgy of Russian Christmas Day. What joy: for the first time, the sermon was in English as well as Russian. We could understand it.

Orthodox sermons make no flabby attempt to persuade: they accept faith, they first proclaim it. The words fall out as a breathless proclamation.


I always think this is one of the most difficult readings to actually carry out.

“Anyone who says ‘I love God’ and hates his brother is a liar. Since a man who does not love the brother that he can see cannot love God, whom he has never seen. So this is the commandment that he has given us: That anyone who loves God must also love his brother.” (John Chapter 4)

Sometimes, it’s easier to love God than a stranger in the street. I don’t know how holy people do it. They must have some faculty denied to the rest of us to separate their personal prejudices or dislikes from present reality, to love a person as one loves a beautiful flower one has never seen before it is a sort of depersonalisation. Yet acceptance of what is before you or perhaps the way is to see in all people however irritating they might be superficially, some beautiful inner light.


“We accept the testimony of human witnesses, then God’s testimony is greater.” (1 John 5)

But is it? Obviously it is theoretically, but do we believe it? No, because we cannot see it. So we pay lip service to this bold statement but in our heart of hearts we do not accept it, niggling doubts surface and are buried only to return.


John is happy that his star should wane and that of Jesus rise.

“He must grow greater, I must grow smaller.” (John 3:22)

We find it so difficult, it is against our human nature, to rejoice as another gets greater and we grow smaller. Why is that? Obvious on one level. Yet it makes us so unhappy. I think we have, like in the earlier reading this week about loving our brother, to do be positive ourselves, to look at ourselves from outside and to look at others equally, and difficult, impossible perhaps as it is to feel part of them as well as ourselves. I don’t think we can achieve this by some kind of rational thought process; it has to be an emotional or meditative experience, to create an otherworldliness which would take many years and great concentration, perhaps several lives of men, which of course is what Buddhists believe.

I often think they may have a point; that our soul may not be as locked in our physical being as we think.

We went to the White Knights Ball. They raise the best part of £100,000 for charity. This is certainly rooted in the present. But even in this sort of occasion, there is a kind of unity, of dress, of dancing, of having fun of being with others which humans crave.

The New Year

SUNDAY – The Holy Family

We went to Mass in the Holy Rood. Of course, the sermon was perfect. I wonder. They certainly had a hard time of it. Fleeing for your life from Herod, losing Jesus for days in the Temple, seeing your only son executed as a common criminal. And we sometimes think times are hard and we don’t have to live under permanent foreign occupation and carry on trade as a carpenter in a remote, impoverished village.

MONDAY – St Thomas Becket

We walked past the old Water Mill at Walesby, now crumbled into the ground. No doubt a scene out of a Constable picture and climbed to the highest point in the Wolds. A great misty plain stretching out into the distance. They fill this time after Christmas with the feast of martyrs – this one St Thomas Becket. I am reading about St Francis. Two very different saints cannot be contemplated. But both gave up their careers. But would Thomas be remembered if he hadn’t been murdered, probably not.

The collect for today is inspiring:

“O God, who gave to your bishop St Thomas the grace to lay aside all earthly fear and be faithful even unto death, grant we pray at his intercession that your people, disregarding worldly esteem, may resist what is wrong, uphold your rule, and serve you to their life’s end.”

Easy to read, difficult to do.


In Lincolnshire, you can still see a dark sky covered in thousands of stars. Before I go to bed I always step into the garden in the hope of seeing them.

Today’s entrance antiphon from Wisdom 18:14-15 sums the experience up:

“When a profound silence covered all things and night was in the middle of its course, your all powerful word, O Lord, bounded from Heaven’s royal throne.

WEDNESDAY – New Year’s Eve

I arrived for the end of Mass in the Cathedral so I missed the entrance antiphon. How glorious it is:

“A child is born for us. And a son is given to us. His sceptre of power rests upon his shoulder. And his name will be called messenger of great counsel.”

The Cathedral has a midnight service. I went off instead to see the fireworks – the worship of present incandescence rather than future.

THURSDAY – New Year’s Day, Solemnity of Mary

The sun was streaming in through the west window of the Cathedral for this beautiful service. At one of these strange moments during the sermon, I believed: it just made sense that God should incarnate Himself in this way.

“As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:16-21)

FRIDAY – Sts Basil & Gregory

I walked for three hours from Market Rasen station. By 3:30 as one looked west, the sky was a glorious yellow ochre.

The day before I had wandered around the Late Turner exhibition at the Tate. Turner’s late works are like this view of blending white sun filling a hazy yellow sky, all indistinct and pointing to something else.

The collect of today: “O God you were pleased to give light to your church by the example and teaching of the bishops Saints Basil and Gregory.”

SATURDAY – The Most Holy Name of Jesus

“Seeing Jesus coming towards John said ‘Look, there is the lamb of God’.” (John 1:29)

We went to see the film ‘Exodus’. I know it is corny to say so but I found the film inspiring, as everyone who reads the tale of Moses from Exodus finds it inspiring.

I think it is impossible when watching or reading this story not to be filled with a profound love and regard for the Jewish people and an understanding of their trials and mission.


SUNDAY (Fourth Week of Advent)

Now salvation history is revealed. In the story of the Incarnation, it becomes clearer. Is it really, then, just a fairy tale? A legend?


Mary’s peon of praise:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit exults in God my saviour.”

Travelling down from Lincolnshire, I arrive just in time for Communion. It is enough.


I love this scene from the Baptism of John:

“The father [Zachariah] asked for a writing tablet and wrote ‘His name is John’.” (Luke 1:57)

So firm is his opinion, and so final.


Too much shopping to do. How often do we go to the Mass of the 24th December. It is a pity. Zechariah says his might prayer, the power of speech restored:

“And he has raised up for us a power of salvation, in the house of his servant David, even as he proclaimed by the mouth of his holy prophets.”

THURSDAY – Christmas

Midnight Mass. I was nervous. They asked me to read the first reading of Mass in the Cathedral. I talk for a living, but reading a text to 2,000 people in the Cathedral and many more on radio. And this is for God. I don’t want to read too fast or too slow. At the rehearsal, the BBC man tells me I am reading a little too fast and too loud, my besetting faults.

It goes ok, and afterwards I promptly get a nose bleed, the blood dripping on the service sheet.

But what poetry from Isaiah 9:1-7: “The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow, a light has shone.”

And always reminiscent of Handel:

“For there is a child born for us: a son to govern us, and dominion is laid upon his shoulders. And this is the name they gave him: wonder counsellor, mighty god, eternal father, prince of peace.”

A glorious Mass. At the end one walks out into the London night, the service overcome with beauty, smell, incense, prayer, and music, and the word.

FRIDAY – St Stephen

I love this Mass. The tree and lights and flowers still up, but the Cathedral now quiet and nine-tenths empty. A beautiful reminder that the crib leads directly to the Cross.

“But Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, gazed into Heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at God’s right hand.” (Acts 6-8)

Later we drove up through a blizzard of snow into the Wolds, the car sliding, but mercifully arriving at our cottage.

SATURDAY – St John the Evangelist

Another beautiful Mass. Father Mark Vickers says it for us in the Holy Rood, and the Gospel is the defining moment. As John writes into the empty tomb “He saw and he believed.”

Third Week of Advent


As the third week of advent unrolls, so salvation history becomes clearer. So we read today in the Book of Numbers:

“A hero arises from their stock, he reigns over countless peoples.”


Jesus refers again to the mission of Himself and John to tax collectors and prostitutes. But what if he supped today with their equivalents? Would he be any more popular?


We went to a school carol service and Holy Communion. There is always something very nice about these occasions as a shared community.

We are back to the sublime poetry of Isaiah:

“I am the Lord unrivalled. There is no other God beside me. A God of integrity and a saviour.”


“Widen the space of your tents, stretch out your hangings, freely lengthen your ropes, make your pegs firm.” (Isaiah 54)

A camping analogy.


“These I will bring to my holy mountain.” (Isaiah 56)

Enough said.


I went to our local church and looked up Psalm 45: “You will plead my case.”

Useful advice if you are attacked.

Second Week of Advent

MONDAY – Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

To a rationalist this feast may seem strange. But one of the points of it is to think of the difference between true freedom and the freedom to do as you will. Mary had free choice. She accepted her calling. She could have refused. But acceptance gave her true freedom.

In the evening I went to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Christmas Advent service. I was almost alone among MPs as the others stayed behind for a “close” vote that tunred out to be a majority of 120. I cycled back and forth four times. I thought of Martha and Mary.

TUESDAY – St Juan Diego

We continue with the readings from Isaiah.

“Console my people, consoled them, says your God. Speak to the heart of Jerusalem. Prepare in the wilderness a way for the Lord.” (Isaiah 40)


I was talking to a scientist friend of mine. Whilst most biologists are atheists, half the physical and astrophysicists in America are believers. One of the reasons is the strange way the Universe is incredibly fine-tuned to crate life on earth. There is no obvious reason why it should be. You can invent various implausible scenarios to explain this for instance multiple universes, but an obvious explanation is the existence of a Creator.

Today’s reading is apposite:

“Lift your eyes and look. Who made these stars, if not he who drills them like an army, calling each one by name, so mighty is his power, so great his strength, that not one fails to answer.” (Isaiah 40-25-31)


“I, the Lord, your God, I am holding you by the right hand. I tell you do not be afraid.” (Isaiah 41:13-20)

FRIDAY – Our Lady of Guadalupe

“I, the Lord your God, teach you what is good for you.” (Isaiah 48:17-19)

First Week of Advent


We went to the Archbishop’s Advent Service at Lambeth Palace – there and back by Boris bike.

“All the nations will stream to it, peoples without number will come to it, and they will say come let us go up to the Mountain of the Lord.” (Isaiah)

I spoke to the Archbishop. He was off the next morning to see the Pope about modern slavery. He, like all of us, desperately want union.


St Philip’s School came round in the morning. Memories fifty years old of confirmation in the Oratory. In my little blue uniform, volunteering to answer the question of the Bishop, enthusiastic but probably wrong – a portent of things to come.

“A shoot springs from the stalk of Jesse, a scion thrusts from his roots.” (Isaiah 11)

WEDNESDAY – St Francis Xavier

Long, long meetings all day, a fleeting visit to Mass. The collect asks “O God, who through the preaching of Saint Francis Xavier, won many peoples to Yourself, grant the hearts of the faithful may burn with the same zeal for the faith.” Of course, they do not: my faith is one-hundredth that of Xavier. What extraordinary courage and energy to break your health entering into the unknown.


More long meetings and a visit to St Olave’s, founded 1571. An Anglican school with a strong sense of history and faith. What would it be like to go back to Southwark in 1571 – an extraordinary experience. The richness of visible life all around in the streets, shops, houses, and churches would be overwhelming compared to today’s anaemic experience.

“We have a strong city: to guard us he has set wall and rampart about us.” (Isaiah 26)


We went to see ‘Mr Turner’, the Mike Leigh film, a calming, beautiful, and inspiring experience. Every time I see a film like this or go to a gallery, I want to paint. I used to, a lot, but the energy is weak, the time scant. What a great spirit has a man like Turner. What dedication, and offered a vast amount for his pictures, he left them all to the nation. Yet what simplicity in the man.

“In a short time, a very short time, shall not Lebanon become fertile land and fertile land turn into forest.” (Isaiah 29)

SATURDAY – St Nicholas

I went to the beautiful sung 10.30 Latin Mass in the Cathedral. The light streaming in from the high windows behind the altar, blinding me, rendering the whole scene into a hazy beauty. A sort of spiritual Christmas. I was overcome with emotion at the words of Jesus: “Go rather to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” (Matthew 9)

This is what we should all do, go to the lost sheep.

“He will be gracious to you when he hears your cry; when he hears, he will answer.” (Isaiah 3)