Fourth Sunday of Easter

SUNDAY – Fourth Sunday of Easter

It is a shame we have no sung Latin in our Market Rasen masses. It is so easy, so beautiful to sing the Agnus Dei and Sanctus if nothing else. But why not the Kyrie, Credo, and Pater Noster as well?

Today’s Psalm:

“We are his people, the sheep of his flock.”

MONDAY

I asked the Defence Secretary if NATO, not the EU, was the real guarantor of peace in the last seventy years.

“I feel into a trance as I was praying and had a vision of something like a sheet being let down from Heaven.” (Acts 11:1-18)

How valuable are dreams? Into what depths they take us, but so often depressing. Why?

TUESDAY

I ask the Foreign Secretary about his praise of the new Libyan “Government of National Accord”. I reminded him that their rule only extends to one naval base.

I love this passage from the Acts of the Apostles:

“It was at Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians.” (Acts 1:19-26)

Something new and big is happening.

I reminded the Chancellor that he is ill-placed to forecast the result of Brexit as he can’t get his own borrowing figures right for the following year.

WEDNESDAY

We have a debate on genocide after a debate at the Italian Embassy on Brexit. I call on the government to recognise facts, stop sheltering behind the courts, and declare ISIS as a genocidal organisation against Christians, Shia, and Yazidis.

“The word of God continued to spread and to gain followers.” (Acts 12:29)

In my speech I end by quoting the Prophet Nahum whose grave I have visited:

“The gates of your land are wide open to your foes.”

THURSDAY

The Entrance Antiphon today: “O God, when you went forth before your people, marching with them and living among them, the earth trembled, heavens poured down rain, alleluia.”

FRIDAY

The Entrance Antiphon: “You have redeemed us Lord, by your blood, from every tribe and tongue and people and victor, and have made us into a kingdom, priests for our God. Alleluia.”

SATURDAY – St George

We have the House of Commons sailing match on a cold day. Fun I suppose, certainly a challenge to steer the mermaid around the course with freezing water pouring over you.

Psalm 97: “All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.”

Third Sunday of Easter

SUNDAY – Third Sunday of Easter

We go to Mass in Market Rasen. The strange book of the Apocalypse. Is it mad raving or the word of God?

“In my vision, I John heard the sound of an immense number of angels, gathered round the throne and the animals and the elders, there were ten thousand times ten thousand of them.”

Yes, it’s that: a vision.

MONDAY – St Stanislaus

I ask a direct question of the Home Secretary. Are we searching all lorries at Calais? I receive obfuscation.

While we are away the papers are full of the Panama Papers scandal. I support the PM. “Shocking” that a British Prime Minister gives up his shareholdings before he becomes PM and pays his tax in full. We have a statement on the pro-EU leaflets. I am relaxed: most of them will end up straight away in the bin,

“The members of the Sanhedrin all looked intently at Stephen, and his face appeared to them like the face of an angel.” (Acts 6:8-15)

TUESDAY

I ask about the steel industry and whether we could put tariffs on Chinese steel more easily if we were outside the EU.

The Acts continues with Stephen’s brave taunt to his persecutors.

“You stubborn people. You are always resisting the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Can you name a single prophets your ancestors never persecuted?” (Acts 7:51-8:1)

WEDNESDAY

I ask the Education Secretary whether her forced academisation will not force small rural schools out of business.

“Saul then worked for the total destruction of the Church.” (Acts 8:1-8)

Strange how people change.

THURSDAY

The Collect of the Day: “Almighty ever-living God, let us feel your compassion more readily, during these days when by your gift we have known it more fully.”

FRIDAY

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and divinity, and wisdom and strength and honour.” (Rev 5:12)

SATURDAY

The Acts continues. Peter is more and more confident.

“Then he turned to the dead woman and said, ‘Tabitha, stand up.’ She opened her eyes, looked at Peter, and sat up.” (Acts 9:31-42)

Washington

DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY

We don’t get to Mass because we start the day with a long walk in the Shenandoah Mountains. Huge views from the top to east and west. It all takes so long that there is no time to visit the Manassas battlefields on the way back.

MONDAY

We go in a long line for entry into Congress. About 200 of us sit in a cinema and watch a patriotic film about American history and the Constitution. All the places are packed with Americans who actually care about their country. We have nothing like it in Britain. Then we taxi to Georgetown and walk back via the oldest and only pre-revolutionary house in DC.

TUESDAY

We spend the entire day in the superb National Gallery. Not very full, every room beautifully laid out and a free audio guide. So many amazing Italian paintings.

Wonderful gathering of the fishes with a reading from the Gospel that sets it alive, and a beautiful Virgin and Child.

WEDNESDAY

We walk from the Phillips collection near Dupont Circle up Massachusetts Avenue past the British Residence to the Anglican cathedral. An extraordinary concoction. Fourteenth-century gothic, vast, all built over the last 100 years or so, with amazing embellishments such as a pulpit carved with stones from Canterbury Cathedral.

THURSDAY

I go to the Catholic Basilica, all gilt and marble, not a patch on the restrained grandeur of the Anglican cathedral. But no doubt it comes alive at great services. Afterwards a crowded visit to the Air and Space Museum and a final patriotic visit to the National Archives before we fly out.

FRIDAY – St Jean Baptiste de la Salle

Tired out we drive up to Lincolnshire in the evening.

The Acts continue this heroic journey.

“In reply Peter and the apostles said obedience to God comes before obedience to men.” (Acts 5:27)

SATURDAY

A surgery and a quiet day walking and reading.

In the Acts today the Pharisee Gamaliel seems to have the right idea. Let fate take its course.

“If this enterprise, this movement of theirs is of human origin, it will break up of its own accord. But if it does in fact come from God, you will not only be unable to destroy them, but you might find yourself fighting against God.”

Easter Week in America

EASTER SUNDAY

All too soon our retreat is over. We are driving back to London. I have always struggled with a man Jesus walking Palestine who is God who created the billions of stars. But Marina put it well in the car: He is the vessel of God. The sun is shining as I walk to lauds and we sing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today”.

EASTER MONDAY

Always a delight to come back to the Cathedral after Easter and see it in bloom. I wait expectantly for this week’s Gospel readings.

“Filled with awe and great joy the women came away from the tomb and ran to tell the disciples.” (Matthew 28)

TUESDAY

The story continues:

“Mary stayed outside near the tomb weeping. She stooped to look inside, and saw two angels sitting in white where the body of Jesus had been.” (John 20:11-18)

WEDNESDAY

And the most eagerly awaited of all this week’s readings:

“Two of the disciples of Jesus were on their way to a village called Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:13-35)

I love the way our eyes are opened at the breaking of bread.

We fly out today to see our daughter in Washington and arrive exhausted on Tuesday morning.

THURSDAY

The good part of going to America is that you wake up early. Natalia, Nicky, and I walk around the Adams Morgan district, delightful because it is the only part of Washington that has every type in it. We walk to the Lincoln Memorial and round the tidal basin to the Jefferson Memorial – the blossoms still just in bloom, blowing away and a long line for the American history museum. The Americans are so patriotic compared to us.

FRIDAY

We drive out to Mount Vernon overlooking the Potomac to see Washington’s house and tomb. Washington’s family insisted he be buried here rather than in the Capitol. Indeed why shouldn’t a Virginian stay in Virginia?

Seventeen years just as a country gentleman, and then the sudden call to service. Just imagine how different the world’s history would have been if Washington had accepted the offer of some of his officers to become king. For all its policy faults I follow Churchill in his love of the good-naturedness of the Great Republic.

We drive on through Virginia to Monticello, Jefferson’s house. I am struck by how small it seems. There all the work appears to be done underground by slaves. How could the author of the Declaration of Independence believe in slavery? But he is a great man and it is a charming place. I love the multisided bookrest on his desk so he can reed 3 or 4 books at once.

SATURDAY

We stay in a kind of pop-up wooden house on a vineyard then drive to Charlottesville for a walk around Jefferson’s creation, the University of Virginia.

Holy Week

PALM SUNDAY

Amid all the pomp and great music of Palm Sunday in the Cathedral with the Cardinal one phrase stands forth and lodges in my mind. It seems to sum up my doubts and hopes.

“Joseph… came from Arimathea and he lived in the hope of seeing the Kingdom of God.” (Luke)

MONDAY

I ask the Prime Minister about his position on Turkey’s accession to the European Union. He is in favour. Do we want 79 million Turks having the right to come live here?

This week we continue with the readings from Isaiah 42:

“He does not break the crushed reed, nor quench the wavering flame.”

TUESDAY

Chairing Westminster Hall I join the tributes to those slain at Brussels that morning. We still do not have the courage to name and shame radical Islam which is not just a tiny criminal gang. There are hundreds of thousands who feed on violent excerpts from the Koran. Muslims in the West must be convinced to integrate and accept.

Isaiah 48:

“Islands, listen to me, pay attention, distant peoples. The Lord called me before I was before I was born. From my mother’s womb he pronounced my name. He made my mouth a sharp sound. And hid me in the shadow of his hand. He made me into a sharpened arrow, and concealed me in his quiver.”

Even writing this poetry is soothing and a relief from the violence of the world.

WEDNESDAY

I ask the Home Secretary if she will search all cars and lorries coming across the Channel – “our bulwark” – and check all passports against intelligence sources. She brushes me aside saying I have “misunderstood”. Yet the next day the Times reports that only half the lorries are being searched.

I travel to St Olave’s with Mary in the car for their Holy Week service – simple Anglican and nice – then rush back for a Vote Leave photo.

“For my part I make no resistance, neither did I turn away. I offered my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who tore at my beard. I did not cover my face against insult and spittle.” (Isaiah 50)

MAUNDY THURSDAY

We drive down to Downside with lunch on the way. It is lovely to look forward to this best of weekends which each year passes all too quietly. The same unchanging routine liturgy and my room at the top of Roberts House. And this day the Mass of the Lord’s Supper with the hymn at the end as we process up to the flower-strewn Lady Chapel. Ben attempts to walk across Salisbury Plain from Shrewton and Mary arrives back exhausted having picked him up from the rain.

“It was before the festival of the Passover and Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to pass from this world to the Father.” (John 13)

GOOD FRIDAY

A Cross Walk from wells to Downside across golden countryside in bright warm sunlight, no need to wear a Barbour. We walk for four hours, arriving happy and exhausted, fourteen stations and a fish-and-chip lunch. I can barely stand for the Passion and intercessions yet tea and silent prayer with Father Christopher revive the drooping spirit.

I get more into “Maranatha”. It is the last sentence of the Apocalypse – Come Jesus Christ, which Father Anselm tells us is bad Greek. The extra two words, Jesus Christ, make this silent prayer more about awaiting.

Father Anselm, Leo, and Boniface sing the Passion. Leo’s voice is full of tired dignity and resignation.

“Jesus said ‘Who are you looking for?’ They answered, ‘Jesus the Nazarene’. He said, ‘I am He.’”

Not surprising. He had echoed God’s words: I am He.

HOLY SATURDAY

Mr Walters does a workshop on the Year of Mercy. An interesting philosophical point which I put: God has affective not effective emotion. Being God he is not emotional so Jesus if God cannot feel emotion, but as Man can. Is that why God has to become man? We have a library tour and the librarian opens up an original edition of Thomas More.

After all this and a swim I am tired as always for the Vigil, especially as it finished at 1am. The clocks are going forward but revived by the Psalmist:

“As the deer yearns for the running stream, so my soul yearns for thee my God.”

Fifth Week in Lent

SUNDAY – Fifth Sunday in Lent

Isaiah 43:16-21

“Thus says the Lord: Who made a way through the sea, a path in the great waters, who put chariots and horse in the field.”

A quiet day in Lincs. Mass at Holy rood and a run around the block and Monti running around me, vanishing for 20 minutes. One moment he is there, and in a flash gone.

MONDAY

I took Monty to the office. He was fairly well behaved. A lovely spring day after a long meeting in the morning.

“I am trapped, Susanna said. If I agree, that means my death. If I resist, I cannot get away from you. But I prefer to fall innocent into your power than to sin in the eyes of the Lord.” (Daniel 13)

Life is full of impossible choices.

TUESDAY

Another long meeting in the morning. I go straight into the chamber and do a point of order on the Investigatory Powers Bill. Why should the Government be allowed to snoop on hostile MPs without consulting the Speaker?

Collect of the Day: Grant us, we pray O Lord, perseverance in obeying your call, that in our days the people dedicated to your service may grow in both merit and number.”

WEDNESDAY

I am sitting quietly through the Budget and suddenly hear that we are to have an elected mayor in Lincolnshire. I complain to both the Communities Secretary and the Chancellor but I fear it is a fait accompli.

“I can see four men walking about freely in the heart of the fire without coming to any harm.” (Daniel)

I always think of this incident when to do something seems without hope.

THURSDAY

I speak in the Budget debate and quote from the 1765 incidents in Boston and Rhode Island when a sugar tax caused a riot. If not a sugar why not a salt tax?

“I tell you most solemnly: before Abraham ever was, I am.” (John 8)

An extraordinary claim.

FRIDAY

A surgery in Market Rasen and a long discussion on devolution ideas. My speech interrupted by breaking news of IDS’s resignation. We never have had such excitement at one of our meetings.

I read Psalm 79 after Monty has raced across the Wolds:

“O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance. They have defiled your holy temple. They have reduced Jerusalem to rubble.”

SATURDAY

We drive back from the St Olave’s Spring Dance – a jolly occasion not spoilt by me locking the keys in the car.

Psalm 80:

“Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock, thou that dwellest between the Cherubim, shine forth.”

Fourth Week in Lent

MONDAY

I had a question on faith schools. Why does the government impose a fifty per cent cap on people from one faith entering a school? They are not concerned about 100% Catholic or Anglican schools. They are worried about 100% Muslim schools but they refuse to admit it.

Psalm 72:

Truly God is good to the upright, to those who are pure in heart
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had well nigh slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

TUESDAY

I go to the Cosmonauts Exhibition in the Science Museum. There was a strange spiritual movement in Russia at the end of the nineteenth century which proclaimed that man’s salvation could be found in space.

Today the strange poetic reading from Ezekiel 47:

“The angel brought me to the entrance of the Temple, where a stream came out from under the Temple threshold and flowed eastward…”

WEDNESDAY

Today I speak and vote against extension of Sunday trading. One of those exciting lively Commons debates on a moral issue and we win. I quote Lord Sachs on the atomisation of society. Seven-day, twenty-four-hour shopping has not made us any happier.

A beautiful reading from Isaiah today:

“…on every roadway they will graze, and each bare height shall be their pasture. They will never hunger or thirst, scorching wind and sun shall never plague them.”

THURSDAY

We have one of our twice-yearly Public Accounts Commission hearings and I for only the second time chair a Committee of the Whole House and take a division. An amusing experience.

“O Lord remember me out of the love you have for your people.”

FRIDAY

I speak on the deportation of foreign criminals. And my ten minute rule bill on reform of the House of Lords finally bites the dust. Later we have a dinner at the Hickman Hill Hotel in Gainsborough which I always enjoy and it reminds me of my selection there thirty years ago.

Today a passage from John 7. One of those amazing monologues.

“Yes you know me and you know where I come from. Yet I have not come of myself. No, there is one who sent me and I really come from him and you do not know him.”

I could say: and nor do I.

SATURDAY

I let Monty off into the vast Lincolnshire countryside and he vanishes for twenty minutes, bounding back for his piece of chicken. It’s lovely to see him run – he is made for running. I take him to his dog den. He walks round and round in circles with twenty other dogs and is as good as gold.

I do a surgery at Market Rasen and go to our village church to read Psalm 78.

“Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old. Which we have heard and known and our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, showing to the generation to come, the praises of the Lord.”

Third Sunday in Lent

SUNDAY – Third Sunday in Lent

We spend a quiet day in Lincolnshire and go to Mass at Market Rasen. I run around the block – i.e. a three mile run through and around Stainton le Vale.

“I have seen the miserable state of my people in Egypt. I have heard their appeal to be free of their slave drivers. Yes I am well aware of their sufferings. I mean to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians.” (Exodus 3:1-8, 13-15)

Thus early “migrants” were helped. Who helps them now? But I suppose God had an easier task. Their numbers were finite.

MONDAY

We drive back for a lunch at Speaker’s House for the President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies. She lectures us about migrants but how many are staying in Italy? She admits that because of the close business and family structure that there are few jobs. I ask the Secretary of State for Defence on a scale of 1 to 10 to rate and compare what is more important to our national security: NATO or the EU?

Late, I make the 5:30 Mass. Good old Naaman.

“Naaman was indignant. ‘Here was I thinking he would be sure to move his hand over the spot and cure the leprous part. Surely Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus are better than any water in Israel?’”

We all think that our waters are better than theirs, but are they?

We have an urgent question on Eurosceptic ministers not being able to access civil service briefs. I ask a question. I am amused by the Times sketch the next day. I am refered to as a “stately home”. My question was light-hearted. Say for the moment I am the fisheries minister – young, ambitious, good-looking…

TUESDAY

I ask the Foreign Secretary (who is not there) about Syria and the West’s responsibility for Iraq, Libya, and Syria and our obsession with overthrowing authoritarian leaders and thereby creating an opening for totalitarian movements.

“We have at this time no leader, no prophet, no prince, no oblation, no incense, no place where we can offer up the first fruits.” (Daniel 3)

WEDNESDAY

Archbishop Gallagher, the foreign minister of the Vatican, says our evening Mass and I host a reception for him in Speaker’s House. Perhaps it is the first ever visit to the House of Commons by the Pope’s foreign minister. At supper we debate the migrant dilemma. The good Catholic side of me tells me we should let more in, the prudent conservative side of me warns against.

“Jesus said to his disciples, do not imagine that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets: I have come not to abolish the, but complete them.” (Matthew 5:17-19)

THURSDAY

My Lenten fast starts to fray at the edges. I have kept off wine for the best part of a month. Now I am in a quandary. We go to see Leo di Caprio in The Revenant. I keep my eyes shut for most of the first half hour.

“Oh that today you would listen to his voice, harden not your hearts.” (Ps 77)

FRIDAY

I travel down to Downside for an oblates’ weekend after talking for forty-five minutes on illegal immigration in the Commons.

As I arrive immediately the atmosphere of the monastery seeps in. I sit in the choir for vespers and compline. Later, alone in the great abbey, the pillars rising into the dark like the columns of Moria. I gaze at the Basano painting and yet again for an instant, a few seconds of grace, I believe. This is God, and alone in the quiet I light a candle.

SATURDAY

Father Alexander at our oblates meeting asks us to read John 9 quietly to ourselves before he talks on it.

I read it several times in modern translation and in the King James Bible. How easy it is to miss its many meetings. All are blind, the disciples who ask the silly question. Is it his fault he is blind? The Pharisees who refuse to accept his cure, his parents who want to conform and therefore dodge his sight. Only the blind man grows in sight, and eventually recognises Jesus as God.

Late after Vigils I am alone in the abbey church. At nine, the lights go off. Although I am halfway down the great church, perhaps 100 yards away, my small candle I have lit in front of the statue of Christ burns and casts an extraordinarily bright glow in the pending gloom.

Light and sight grow in steps, not from reason but experience. I see the light, the ground shifts, and for a moment I believe.

Second Sunday in Lent

SUNDAY – Second Sunday in Lent

“Taking Abram outside, the Lord said ‘Look up to Heaven and count the stars if you can. Such will be your descendants.’” (Genesis 15)

It is the billions of stars and planets that causes me the greatest doubt about not the divinity of Christ but whether he was the whole show. Strange that in this ancient script, the very first book of the Bible, it is the sheer number of stars that invites comment and interest. I sometimes wonder if these people were so naïve as we imagine. Abram too would from his desert encampment look up at incomparable glory of thousands of stars, in a crystal clear air, unencumbered by fog or light pollution. They must have been his nightly friends, inspiring his vision, his outlook into the unfathomable.

And this weekend they have been arguing about Europe.

MONDAY – The Chair of St Peter

The Chair of St Peter sounds so grand, yet Peter must have been no more than a hunted insurgent.

“Never be a dictator over any group in your charge.” (1 Peter 5)

I take part in the Prime Minister’s statement on Europe. I ask about the Middle East and Syrian migrants. Peter, of course, was one.

TUESDAY

I ask the Foreign Secretary about Syria and Russia. A ceasefire is imminent.

I go to the funeral of one of my ladies in the Cathedral. Simple, a mixture of Latin and English for a fine person.

WEDNESDAY

An orthodox rabbi came to see me. We are setting up an all-party group. Faith schools are under threat as never before. Regulations designed to catch a few – very few – Jihadists are going to impact all schools. Schools should be entitled to teach their faith, however unpalatable to the prevailing ethos, as long as you teach respect for others. Religions are entitled to have a point of view.

Entrance Antiphon: “Let my steps be guided by your promise: may evil never rule me.”

THURSDAY

I speak in the Europe debate. Has the EU brought peace in Europe? People argue passionately for it. Yes, there is peace in Europe. Yes, the EU exists. That does not mean that the former is the result of the latter.

Today’s Psalm: “Happy the man who has placed his trust in the Lord.”

FRIDAY

If you are looking for a cure for insomnia, read my speech on Europe today – an hour long. Timing is relaxed on a Friday.

“There was a man who planted a vineyard…” (Matthew 21)

SATURDAY

The hunt came to Stainton le Vale and I walk through the quiet deep wooded valleys in its wake.

Glorious early spring colours of browns and greens, lone horsemen on the horizon everything moving quietly in the flow of the countryside. Monty pulling on the lead, his attention on the moment – for him no past or future.

“O God, who grant us by glorious healing remedies while still on earth…” (Collect)

First Week of Lent

FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT

Benedict is ill and I say lots of Hail Marys. Do they do any good I wonder? Surely, if the telephone is connected, they must do so. But is there anyone at the other end? Worth the trouble?

The entrance antiphon today is appropriate: “When he calls on me, I will answer him.”

MONDAY

We are in Lincolnshire for the whole week for half term. What a delight. This is Monty’s training day. We pick him up at tea time a reformed character, but back home he has forgotten his training.

I read Psalm 82 in our village church in the King James Bible: “God standeth in the congregation of the mighty. He judgeth among Gods.”

TUESDAY

I have a day visiting businesses. It’s good to see a family business, surviving, growing, and manufacturing just as William Rose did one-hundred-and-fifty years ago, inventing a process to package tobacco.

WEDNESDAY

More training for Monty. He trails around after the other dogs, walking in a circle as good as gold.

Psalm 83: “Keep not thou silence, O God hold not thy peace, and be not still O God.”

THURSDAY

I am still persisting with no alcohol or chocolate. The only way is not to do it as a penance but because one feels better.

Psalm 84: “How amiable are the tabernacles, O Lord of Hosts.”

A particularly beautiful and poetic psalm.

FRIDAY

A day in Gainsborough. I visit a site where what I have advocated for years might happen: a marina. I buy and follow on to Eckhardt Tolle’s book. One must, I am reminded, be the silent watcher of our thoughts. Our mind, our thoughts are not us.

SATURDAY

More Monty training.

Psalm 85: “Lord, thou hast been favourable unto thy land, thou hast brought back the captivity of Jacob.”

Ash Wednesday

SUNDAY

The Mass in the abbey church is superb. A perfect blend of English and sung Latin and then all too soon my visit is over and I am back in the train, listening to people on their mobile phones.

MONDAY

The Public Accounts Commission which I chair, in conversation with the Minister, decides to do the same job for the new Public Service Ombudsman as for the National Audit Office. A tiny piece of parliamentary history.

Today Solomon brings the Ark of the Covenant containing Moses’s tablets into the Temple. What if they had survived? No doubt being subjected to scientific testing which might prove embarrassing – can you tell the age of a stone and the writing on it?

TUESDAY

A red letter day. I am invited to the first Catholic sung vespers in the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace in, I calculate, 458 years.

I sat in the choir stalls. Vincent Nichols looks superb in full golden cope and mitre. A cardinal leading the prayers, like a medieval picture.

I look up to the gallery and I imagine I can see Mary Tudor looking down. A glorious experience. Vespers commences with the traditional words: “O Lord open my lips…”

With these words, untold generations of monks have in the cold dark of the morning started their office with Matins.

ASH WEDNESDAY

I turn up at Mass at 1030 and the church is much fuller. I remember it is Ash Wednesday. Previously all attempts at fasting during Lent have failed because they have been a penance. But since going to Downside I have not drunk any wine. I feel better so I will keep going.

I return to the Cathedral at 5:30 to receive the ashes and to listen to Allegri’s Miserere, with the men’s choir behind the high altar and the boys’ choir high up in the gallery – in Heaven. Certainly heavenly voices proceeding down the gallery and the high altar end.

The reading from Joel 2:12-18 always draws one up: “Let your hearts be broken not your garments torn. Turn to the Lord your God again, for he is all good.”

THURSDAY – Our Lady of Lourdes

There is a statement from the Health Secretary on seven-day working and the doctors’ dispute. I ask why someone of my age should have a greater chance of dying.

FRIDAY

The engineer for the dog fence arrives in our Lincolnshire cottage. The idea is to try and prevent Monty escaping the garden and worrying the sheep.

I spend most of the day with the engineer and manage a quick visit to our local church to read Psalm 80.

SATURDAY

A quiet day in Lincolnshire. I read Psalm 81: “Sing for joy to God our strength, shout aloud to the God of Jacob.”

4th Week in Ordinary Time

SUNDAY

We go to Doddington Hall. A charming Elizabethan house on the edge of Lincoln with a medieval church – locked, despite it being Sunday.

The reading from 1 Corinthians today I read over the burial of my father’s ashes.

“Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous. Love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offence…”

How often in our marriages do we try and gain an advantage? How often do we take offence or are resentful?

MONDAY

“David then made his way up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, his head covered and his feet bare.” (2 Samuel 15:13-14)

I have stood too on the Mount of Olives and looked across the valley to Jerusalem. Who stands there cannot weep in his heart for this divided history. Even in my own lifetime war has raged across the city.

TUESDAY – The Presentation of the Lord

As chair of the All-Party Russia Group, I take twenty MPs to lunch with the Russian Ambassador in his residence. Later in the Mail on Sunday I am accused of gushing friendship. But there was no gushing of Putin, only of Russian culture and language. Who cannot gush praise on the language of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky?

This is the day when in the Cathedral the crib is at last taken away.

“Now, Master, you can let your servant depart in peace; just as you promised. Because my eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared for all the nations to see.” (Luke 2:22)

Is this the most charming and beautiful passage in the Gospels?

WEDNESDAY – St Blaise

I often seem to have a sore throat and I enjoy getting it blessed today.

I take part in a debate on funding of health authorities.

David seems to get in trouble with the Lord for holding a census. I’m not sure why this is so wrong.

If we make mistakes the consequences seem dire.

“The Lord sent a pestilence on Israel from the morning till the time appointed and plague ravaged the people.” (2 Samuel)

THURSDAY

I make an intervention in the debate on Europe: “My Hon Friend (Bill Cash) is so right to raise the debate above mere technicalities. He will remember that at his school (Stonyhurst) he was told that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. Is not the blood of all these parliamentarians who died in defence of this cause the seed of our liberties?”

FRIDAY

I journey down to Downside. It is oblates weekend. I arrive in time for midday prayer and Father Alexander kindly lets me sit in the choir for the rest of the weekend liturgy. I walk down to the beautiful valley, coming back for tea. The only time we talk in the refectory. Later, after compline, I am alone in the vast almost dark abbey. I light a candle and go up to the Bossano painting of the raising of Lazarus. As I look at the painting and think about life and death suddenly a sense of peace arrives. Something quite palpable tells me ‘Do not be afraid; I know of your coming and your passing. I am with you and will shelter you.’

One can reason for years but these all too busy moments of faith and understanding and intuition, rather than any logical process or proof, are more, much more, important.

SATURDAY

A wonderful Mass at 8.35 sung in Latin then an oblates’ day. Already little of the discourses remains with me a week after the event. But does it matter? There is a memory of the quiet psalms with just half a dozen monks and a determination to carry on with the slow painful walk of writing my encounter with the life of Benedict and my view that the revival of the monastic movement depends as much on lay people as full time religious. Just as in the fifth century we live in a violent time. Monasteries are an oasis. But in Benedict’s time, it was lay brothers who led the way.

3rd Week in Ordinary Time

SUNDAY 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

St Francis de Sales – always a favourite of mine. I can picture him riding thousands of miles over the beloved Chablais mountains trying to evangelise them. A prophet of the view that all can seek a devout and above all a spiritual life – you do not have to be a monk or a hermit.

“Driven more by love than the desire to win.” – “Whoever wants to preach effectively must preach with love.”

MONDAY – The Conversion of St Paul

I took Monty to Warwick Square and experimented letting him off the lead. He never came back to the irritation of the gardener so there was no time for Mass.

In the afternoon I was the only MP who questioned whether we should take 3,000 Syrian refugee children, making the difficult argument than reason is more important than emotion.

“I was born at Tarsus in Cilicia. I even persecuted this way to the death. I was on that journey and nearly at Damascus when about midday a bright light from Heaven suddenly shone around me.” (Acts 22:3-16)

If Paul was alive today we would probably not let him in as a Syrian migrant.

TUESDAY – Sts Timothy and Titus

These saints were converted by St Paul.

I had a justice question on the order paper. I made the point that if the justice department can cut its budget by 25% and deliver much the same outcome why not other departments?

Isn’t this passage from 2 Timothy 1:1-8 lovely:

“…and always I remember you in my prayers; I remember your fears and long to see you again to complete my happiness. Then I am reminded of the sincere faith which you have; it came first to live in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice.”

WEDNESDAY

I miss most of the Crypt Mass at 6pm because I go along to the Young Pro-Lifers. Committee Room 16 is packed, an inspiring rally of young people. Maybe our work, we always lose, is not entirely in vain.

The Gospel which I read later on is from Mark 4:1-20:

“The people were all along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things in parables.”

THURSDAY – St Thomas Aquinas

After a training session with Monty, I go to evensong at the Cathedral. The choir sings Faure’s Cantique de Jean Racine. Its tones haunt me as I drive back.

“Who am I, O Lord, and what is my house?” (1 Samuel)

How wonderful that this greatest of Christian writers should suddenly, celebrating Mass, have a vision that he said made all his writings seem like straw, and there was no need to write anymore.

FRIDAY

Our village church is locked all this long weekend so I just read Universalis on my iPhone.

I do a surgery. Why are we taking the pension away from 60-year-old women so quickly?

In 2 Samuel today David sacrifices Uriah the Hittite to his own conscience.

SATURDAY

The Jehovah’s Witnesses call on our cottage and as usual I talk to them.

This week’s Watchtower is on the theme of Hebrews 13:18 –

“We trust we have an honest conscience, as we wish to conduct ourselves honestly in all things.”

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

SUNDAY Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

With more energy I make it to Westminster Cathedral.

More beautiful poetry from Isaiah 62:1-5, poet of poets:

“About Zion I will not be silent. About Jerusalem I will not grow weary, until her integrity shines out like the dawn and her salvation flames like a torch. The nations then will see your integrity, all the kings your glory.”

War and Peace is on TV, Tolstoy the mystic and spiritual leader sadly dumbed down. As I write this I am listening to choral vespers on Radio 3 in Latin, Psalms 128-132.

MONDAY

My first walk with Monty to Warwick Square. In the afternoon the House of Commons debates Donald Trump. I defend his right to come here if he wishes.

At Mass the story of Samuel continues:

“Is the pleasure of the Lord in holocausts and sacrifices or in obedience to the voice of the Lord? Yes obedience is better than sacrifice; submissiveness better than the fat of rams.”

I ask a question or make a point about Lt Cdr David Balme who spent three hours in the sinking U110 alone in the dark to recover the codes and an enigma machine and take them back to Bletchley Park, where my parents met during the war.

TUESDAY

“The Lord said to Samuel, How long will you go on mourning over Saul when I have rejected him as King of Israel?”

This reading gives us hope. Too many of us spend all our lives regretting who we are not or what we do not but all the sons of Jesse are rejected one by one. The youngest and least regarded, David, is chosen.

“There is still one left, the youngest. He is out looking after the sheep.”

WEDNESDAY

I lead off a 9:30 debate in Westminster Hall on new government regulations on Sunday schools and scout groups. Twenty colleagues turn up, many interventions, a really good motivating occasion.

Today’s reading is the famous one of David and Goliath. In the real world, Goliath, the Government, always wins.

THURSDAY – St Agnes, Martyr

Poor St Agnes: a martyr and a saint at the age of 12. I don’t even remember being 12, perhaps one vague memory of not getting into the school rugby team. Little else.

“In God I trust, I shall not fear.” (Psalm 55:2)

FRIDAY – St Vincent, St Publius

A quiet day in Lincolnshire, Monty the dominating influence but doing a surgery and trying to help people keeps me sane.

St Publius is remembered for nothing more than welcoming St Paul and his companions after their shipwreck on Malta. You see how much you can be remembered for doing so little.

SATURDAY

I read Psalm 80 in our village church which today is open:

“Give ear, o shepherd of Israel, that thou leadest Joseph like a flock, thou that dwellest between the cherubim, shine forth.”

We have dinner with the Bishop of Lincoln. The Church Commissioners have foolishly sold off his palace for 800,000 and put him into a much smaller house. How does it ever benefit the church to sell off property?

The Baptism of the Lord

SUNDAY – The Baptism of the Lord

I did go to Mass in the little church round the corner and that probably was a mistake. Difficult to stand but the readings are lovely.

“Let every valley be filled and every mountain and hill be laid low, let every cliff become a plain.” (Isaiah 4)

MONDAY

I am resting up at home after a small operation. The days go slowly. I read “Dreadnought”, a history of the origins of the First World War. I cannot even totter off to go to Mass round the corner or visit the House of Commons. If this is what retirement is like, no thank you!

Psalm 115: “A thanksgiving sacrifice I make to you, O Lord. How can I repay the Lord for his goodness to me?”

TUESDAY

Hannah seems desperate but persistence pays off.

“O Lord of hosts! If thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thy servant and hear me and not forget your servant and give her a man child I will give him to the Lord for the whole of his life.” (1 Samuel 1:9-20)

WEDNESDAY

Three times the Lord calls to Samuel. The first two, he thinks it is Eli calling out. Only on the third occasion does he listen. Why is everything in threes?

“Eli then understood that it was the Lord who was calling the boy and he said to Samuel, ‘Go and lie down and if someone calls say ‘Speak Lord, your servant is listening.’’” (1 Samuel 3:1-10, 19-30)

Are we listening?

THURSDAY

1 Samuel 4:1-11

The Philistines take heart, defeat is not inevitable.

“Alas who will save us from the power of this mighty God!”

FRIDAY

I was well enough to leave the house and go to the Commons. What a relief.

Samuel talks of what a king will do.

“He will make them plough his ploughland and harvest his harvest and make his harvest and make his weapons of war.” (1 Samuel 8:4-7)

Plus ca change.

SATURDAY

I watch the latest Star Wars movie. Shame that in real life there is no really obvious good and bad.

“Samuel took a phial of oil and poured it on his head, then kissed him saying, Has not the Lord anointed you?” (1 Samuel 9)

Epiphany

SUNDAY

A long drive south but first I look at Psalm 79. “O God the Father, come into thine inheritance.”

Epiphany is moved to this day from the Wednesday, a foolish dumbing down. Why not have solemnities mid-week? What harm to ask people to go to church?

“What a profound silence covered all things.” (Wisdom 18)

MONDAY

The Christmas trees and lights are still up in the Cathedral.

The first reading is from the sublime John 1:

“Any not living a holy life and not loving his brother is no child of God’s.”

TUESDAY

I ask a question of the PM. Why not solve the problem of benefits for EU nationals by making our own system contributory? But actually why should a hard-working Pole be discriminated against in favour of a lazy English person.

John 1 carries on: “If you refuse to love, you must remain dead. To hate your brother is to be a murderer.”

So easy to say, so difficult to do…

WEDNESDAY – The Epiphany of the Lord

The 10:30 Mass was lovely but we were not allowed to have the readings for Epiphany even though the church was much fuller than usual. They are beautiful.

“Arise, Jerusalem, and look to the east, and see your children gathered from the rising to the setting of the sun.” (Baruch 5:5)

“Arise, shine out Jerusalem, for your light has come, the glory of the Lord is rising on you. … The nations come to your light and kings to your dawning brightness.” (Isaiah 60)

THURSDAY – Russian Christmas

Russian Christmas is always twelve days after Western Christmas. We always go to the Russian church in Chiswick, usually arriving right at the end in time for the taking of bread. Then we have a party in the evening.

“Galilee of the nations. 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 4:12)

FRIDAY

I had a small operation but under a general anaesthetic so felt tired and painful.

“My dear people let us love one another since love comes from God and everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.” (1 John)

SATURDAY

I would like to have gone to Mass but was laid up in bed. But the readings from 1 John continue:

“No one has ever seen God but as long as we love one another, God will live in us.”

New Year’s 2016

SUNDAY – THE HOLY FAMILY

We drive a long time up to Lincs, five and a half hours away, and our new puppy Monty immediately poos all over the kitchen.

I always find that part of the Rosary, the finding of the child Jesus in the Temple, underwhelming. But Father Christopher summed it up well. Every parents knows the agony of losing a child. The best part of the Gospel is: “His mother stored all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:41) In her heart: not her mind.

MONDAY – THE HOLY INNOCENTS

This is the week of the wild beagle, but we think half foxhound, Monty. He cannot be let off his lead. He will run for miles. I’m not sure he’s a holy innocent.

TUESDAY

We go to Brocklesby Park for a dinner party. A usual holiday day in Lincolnshire. A run in the morning to read a psalm in the church. An hour long walk in the afternoon, now pulled by Monty. This is the fifth day of Christmas, the Commemoration of St Thomas Becket.

“We can be sure that we know God only by keeping his commandments.”

WEDNESDAY

I read Psalm 76 – Natus in Judea.

“In Judah God is known,
his name is great in Israel.
His abode has been established in Salem,
his dwelling place in Zion.”

THURSDAY – New Year’s Eve

We are alone now in Lincolnshire. A quiet evening: one firework and one bottle of prosecco.

In the morning I read Psalm 77 – Voce mea ad Dominum, I will cry out to God with my voice, in the time of my trouble I sought the Lord, my sore ran in the night and ceased not… I call to remembrance my song in the night: I commune with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search.

FRIDAY – New Year’s Day, 1 January 2016

I always enjoy New Year’s Day in Lincolnshire. I watch the New Year’s Day concert from Vienna, and normally there is a golden oldie on telly – this year my second all-time favourite, the Sound of Music (second after It’s a Wonderful Life).

Today’s Psalm 66 is the Prayer for Parliament:

“O God, be gracious and bless us and let your face shed light upon us… and show us the light of your countenance.”

So much more beautiful in the King James Bible, which adds “yea” to “Let all the peoples praise you.”

SATURDAY

Sts Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen

A day spent not so quietly in Lincs dominated by the new dog, Monty, pulling me around the block.

I read Psalm 78 in our village church – “Hear my law, O my people”. Monty obeyed no law save intoxicating scent.

Christmas

SUNDAY – FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT

I love this reading from Micah 5:1-4. It is so dismissive about Bethlehem.

“But you, Bethlehem, Ephrathah. The least of the clans of Judah, out of you will be born for me the one who is to rule over Israel.”

A busy day: it is Natalia’s birthday party but first we go with Albert to the Prince of Wales Theatre to see the Book of Mormon. It is ridiculous, disrespectful, and of course no one would ever dare write such stuff about Muslims. But in the end the Mormons come out quite well out of it. At least they believe in something. The song “I Believe” is powerful. In the evening we all sit at a long table hired that morning after a drive to Rayners. It is fun to sit there with Natalia’s friends. Mary has worked herself to the bone preparing everything and everybody else, making the table look beautiful.

TUESDAY

I travel down to Gosport: a grey windy breezy day. Even so, nice to cross the harbour in the ferry. I transfer all my kit from poor decaying old Naomi to Greenfinch – my charts, lifebelts, bits of crockery, a couple of small wine bottles, the heavy life-raft and small outboard engine and the tank is done.

Both boats are in the yard, Naomi at the far end. Beyond here the boats are abandoned, decaying. At the end of this trying work, I sail in Greenfinch and have a whiskey outside. It is extraordinarily mild so I sit at a café eating a jacket potato and look at the deserted marina.

WEDNESDAY

The tiny changing room of the swimming club at the Serpentine is packed, everyone is getting ready for the Christmas Day swim. I worry that the handicap they have given me is too good: I don’t want to win under false pretences. We do a bit of shopping at Peter Jones. The tea is welcome.

In the morning I go to Mass. The two large trees are up but no lights yet.

“The father asked for a writing tablet and wrote ‘His name is John’. And they were all astonished. At that instant his power of speech returned and he spoke and praised God. All their neighbours were filled with awe.” (Luke 1:57-66)

THURSDAY – Christmas Eve

I like Christmas Eve daytime. It is basically my one day of shopping in the whole year. I go shopping with Natalia to John Sandoe books in the Kings Road where I buy most of my presents, not least for myself. This year: Robert Massie’s Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War. And then to Peter Jones to buy the remainder, and then lunch, more shopping with Mary, and then waiting for Midnight Mass, getting there by 10:30 to get a seat, two-thirds of the way back and then Matins starting at 11.15. We are in church for three hours, one of the best moments of the entire year. I love listening to the sung proclamation: “When all the world was at peace and Tiberias emperor in the X Olympiad…”

CHRISTMAS DAY

I was worried at the Serpentine race but in the end my handicap is not too generous. By half way I have overtaken the very slowest but I soon try and aim in the last ten yards to overtake more and just miss out on third place – so glory exudes me.

I love the opening of the stocking, although all our children are now over 18. I go to the last moments of the Mass in the chapel on Horseferry Road, just to pray at the shrine to the Blessed Virgin there which I love. And then a quiet lunch at Abingdon because Natalia visits Sophie we only open our presents at 11:00 after Downton Abbey and finally see out Christmas Day at just after Midnight.

FEAST OF ST STEPHEN

I enjoy going to the 10:30 Mass in the Cathedral on Boxing Day. The Christmas trees are up, flowers on display, but the great crowds of Midnight Mass gone and after the day of rejoicing, immediately after, we hear of the first martyr.

I love it that as they stone him, Saint Stephen says ‘Lord Jesus receive my spirit!’ What calmness…

Third Week in Advent

SUNDAY

We go on Saturday evening to the carol service at the Ramblers’ Church in Walesby. Up the muddy path to the lonely church on the Wolds, lit only by candlelight with about two hundred people crammed inside. The rood screen blazing with candles as centuries ago all rood screens would have been.

MONDAY – St John of the Cross

A long day of meetings in the City – a nice change. During Mass I think of this mystical poet and his crises of faith and doubt or at least of happiness. I think of Tolstoy: “Those who say that doing good causes them to feel unhappy either do not believe in God or what they do is not really good.”

TUESDAY

Interesting that because the concept of the Immaculate Conception is so old, this is one of the Marian doctrines that Islam shares with the Catholic Church.

“I am the handmaid of the Lord, said Mary.” (Luke 1:26)

WEDNESDAY

We drove to St Olave’s School for their Christmas Eucharist and carols – a beautiful service delivered with great verve and aplomb by their chaplain in the round. The school choir in superb form. The priest tells us he loves everything about Christmas: shopping, carols, lights, presents, etc. I am not so sure. I would be continent if it was just like Easter: a beautiful Mass and being with the family.

Monty the dog enters into our life from Battersea Dogs Home.

THURSDAY

We drive up for a carol service at Holy Rood Market Rasen. The church ablaze with candles and very beautiful. I do a reading. All the gang there, I am blessed with such good people.

FRIDAY

A not-so-great day with Monty in Lincs. The home told us he is a beagle; I think he is more wolfhound.

SATURDAY

We have driven back to qualify for the Christmas Day Serpentine Race so I go to the Tate exhibition on Art and Empire. I find this great quote from Burke on his stature: “I wish to be a Member of Parliament, to have my share of doing good, and resisting evil.”

Second Week in Advent

SUNDAY – 2nd Week in Advent

I had started to read Tolstoy’s A Calendar of Wisdom. In the last years of his life he put tremendous effort in the project of collecting the thoughts of the greatest minds for each day. It is a marvellous book.

Unpublished throughout the period of the Soviet dominion it was only first translated into English in 1997. Every day is headed not by a thought but it emerges in the readings. Tuesday’s is on “misconceptions”. For instance, from Pascal:

“One of the evil properties of man is that he loves only himself and wants goodness only for himself. Woe to him who loves only himself.”

The reading from Baruch 5:1-9 today is poetry:

“Jerusalem, take off your dress of sorrow and distress, put on the beauty of the glory of God for ever, wrap the cloak of the integrity of God around you. Put the diadem of the glory of the eternal on your head.”

MONDAY – St Ambrose

I go to the Conservative Friends of Israel lunch. Much as I admire the sheer spirit of the Israelis. I notice that no one mentions the plight of the Palestinians as every week a new settlement appears in their midst. Yet the great heritage of the Jews cannot be gainsaid.

After a cold swim in the Serpentine I go to Mass and listen to this from Isaiah 35:1-10:

“Let the wilderness and the dry lands exult. Let the wasteland rejoice and bloom. Let it bring flowers like the jonquil. Let it rejoice and sing for joy. The glory of Lebanon is bestowed on it.”

TUESDAY – The Immaculate Conception

There is a debate on allowing EU access to criminal data. The Shadow Home Secretary says security must come first.

I said to him isn’t the first bastion of a nation’s security the civil liberties of its people.

The reading is the story of Adam. In my heart of hearts do I believe it? Not really. I doubt.

Today’s Psalm: “Sing a new song to the Lord, for he has worked wonders.”

WEDNESDAY

I bicycle though the park on a lovely bright blue winter’s day to the residence of the Russian Ambassador. It has a slightly sinister feel if you think what must have gone on here in Soviet times. Yet a pleasant enough conversation. I am now chair of the All-Party Russia Group in an attempt to seek better relations. They could not be worse.

Isaiah: “Lift your eyes and look. Who made these stars, if not he who drills them like an army calling each by name.”

At Father Pat’s service we sing ‘Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est’. As I walk over the Wolds in the dark on Thursday evening I look up and see a bright moonless winter’s night with a thousand stars in a sudden V-shaped break in the clouds. I sing ‘Ubi caritas et amor’ into the silent night.

That Wednesday evening we go to the Knights of Malta carol service. That’s the second, this time by candlelight.

THURSDAY

I char the Public Accounts Commission. I enjoy it as it is the only select committee I now chair and it only meets twice a year.

During the long car journey, over four hours, I read Tolstoy. It is a lot more inspiring and calming than the usual read of The Times. I love this quote from Ruskin: “One of the main obstacles for any positive change in our lives is that we are too busy with our current work or activity.”

Peter stopped fishing at a lake. Paul ceased being a priest. They all left their jobs because they thought it was necessary.

FRIDAY

I walk through Willingham Woods after doing a surgery. The light on this clear day just before 4 pm is one of those strange beautiful yellows illuminating the high trees. I remember no jokes during my speech at the supper club but I suppose it went well. I have no power and little influence at Westminster. There is only one thing left: to speak one’s mind.

SATURDAY

Our village church is locked on a grey rainy day so no Psalm to read.

I rely on Tolstoy – “Kindness defeats everything and can never be defeated.”

First Week of Advent

SUNDAY – First Sunday of Advent

“…on earth, nations in agony, bewildered by the clamour of the nations and its women.” (Luke 21:25)

And still men live in fear.

MONDAY – Saint Andrew

The chapel of St Andrew in Westminster Cathedral is particularly fine, mosaics of Constantinople opposite that of the burgh of St Andrews in Scotland, fine woodwork, and here I sit at the 10:30 Latin Mass. A beautiful experience.

“The Lord saw two brothers, Peter and Andrew, and he said to them: come after me and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:18-19)

TUESDAY

Our debate on bombing Syria is to be tomorrow and I make a stab at a free vote in the Leader of the House Questions. No answer, of course.

Collect: “Look with favour Lord on our petitions.”

Our reading from Isaiah is familiar. I read it out at the Midnight Mass in Westminster Cathedral on Christmas Eve last year.

“A shoot springs from the stock of Jesse… on him the spirit of the Lord rests, a spirit of wisdom and insight.”

WEDNESDAY

Our debate on Syria – nine hours long. I speak, only five minutes but long enough. I am full of doubts and say we should only act in self-defence. A minute before he sits down the Foreign Secretary replies directly to me.

Then we are at Mass – Father Pat asks for two minutes’ silence for those about to vote. A child cries at the back of the crypt chapel and overhead the sound of helicopter rotor blades.

THURSDAY – St Frances Xavier

An eight-hour meeting in the City on top of eight hours in the chamber yesterday. A change of gear and in the evening I read a lesson at St Mary’s Cadogan Street in the carol service for Aid to the Church in Need.

FRIDAY

After so many hours on Wednesday I don’t feel up to any kind of speech on private members bills so just make a couple of interventions.

“The deaf that day will hear the words of a book and after shadow and darkness the eyes of the blind will see.” (Isaiah 29)

Appropriate as today we debate the Pavement Parking Bill, blocked by the Government to allow blind people to walk on pavements without bumping into things.

SATURDAY

A busy morning getting Theo up racing in the Serpentine and the wonderful sung Latin Mass of Saturday morning in the Cathedral. Then off to see ninety-year-old Auntie Betty.

“On every lofty mountain, on every high hill, there will be streams of water courses.”

Christ the King

SUNDAY – Christ the King

A usual quiet day in Lincolnshire. Mass, a ‘run around the block’, that is three miles keep turning left up the narrow country lanes and bridle ways up out of the deep valley and down again, Sunday lunch, invariably now just Mary and me. A sleep in front of the fire and then at 7 the long three and a half hour drive back.

Here we have Daniel, a likeable chap who calms lions and the book of the Apocalypse foretelling the end of the world. When I read the words of the Gospel for today, I think of the Passion being intoned quietly at that amazing Mass at Downside on Good Friday: “So you are a king then?” “Yes I am a king. I was born for this, I came into the world for this, to bear witness to the truth.”

The quiet, weary voice of the monk is very moving.

MONDAY

I ask a question of the Defence Secretary – is it wise to just wound a wild beast, without the ability to kill it?

TUESDAY – St Andrew Dung Lac & Companions

Daniel’s vision of the statue shows how all power breaks in the end – “Its feet part iron, part earthenware.”

WEDNESDAY

At our one-to-one prayer group after Mass at the Oratory, I am reminded that “politics is not fundamental.” We decide whether to build two or three runways at Heathrow yet the fundamentals remain the same. Also the Church cannot change fundamentally. It bases itself on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which was written two thousand years ago, once and for all, and is never going to change.

Once again in the crypt chapel we sing the Taize chant: “Bless the Lord my soul, and bless his holy name. Bless the Lord my soul, who leads me into life.”

THURSDAY

A two-and-a-half-hour statement from the Prime Minister on Syria. I ask if there are any credible ground troops to finish the job – not a rag bag army.

Later at Mass we read of Daniel being thrown into the lions’ den. I always wonder if on the side the lions were not given a hearty meal by the king but when Daniel’s accuser is thrown in their bones are ground to dust so perhaps they were hungry.

FRIDAY

A long drive up to Lincs but first Mass in the Holy Souls chapel – a beautiful exuberant memorial of death in mosaic, and the reading one of new life: the budding vine, the first sign of spring.

SATURDAY

The shooters are up early. A black Labrador shifting through our garden, sounds of shots penetrating the thick Norman walls of our village church as I read Psalm 72: God grant the King wisdom.

Leo the Great

SUNDAY – REMEMBRANCE SUNDAY

Father Robert does a lovely Requiem Mass sung in Latin facing the altar. The most beautiful and spiritual Mass I have attended in Holy Rood.

A red-letter weekend as four of the children are here in Lincolnshire.

MONDAY – Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

The Scotland Bill comes back for the last time and I once more speak in favour of full fiscal autonomy, to the extent that the Secretary of State describes me as a Scot Nat member.

The Lateran Basilica predates all these modern disputes by a long time. It was built by the Emperor Constantine in 324 on the Lateran Hill in Rome and its feast has been celebrated since the twelfth century.

Entrance antiphon: “I saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.”

I love today’s reading from Ezekiel 47 – it is on a watery theme:

“The angel brought me to the entrance of the Temple, where a stream came out from under the Temple threshold and flowed eastwards since the Temple faced east. This water, flowing into the sea makes its waters wholesome.”

TUESDAY – St Leo the Great

We travel to Rome for the All Party Holy See Group. Always nice to arrive there. I walk through the darkening streets to a Mass in yet another baroque church. I feel inadequate, that I should know these treasures but I don’t.

I am in this splendid ill-lit church with two nuns and three old ladies and two elderly priests.

My Universalis app didn’t work either – they seem to have another day’s reading in Italy. Whence the Universal Church?

WEDNESDAY – St Martin of Tours

A papal audience in the morning – an enjoyable spectacle in warm autumn sunshine and as a bonus I get to shake the Pope’s hand. But the highlight is the Mass in the English College – a delight to see the spirit of the young seminarians. Fairly impenetrable meetings with two cardinals.

The readings at today’s Mass seem tailor-designed for a bunch of visiting politicians.

“Listen… kings… power is a gift to you from the Lord. He himself will probe your acts and scrutinise your intentions. If you have not governed justly, he will fall on you angrily and terribly.”

THURSDAY

A Mass at the Tomb of St Peter – always inspirational to be literally at the centre of things. St Peter crucified out a hundred yards from here and then dumped into a shallow grave. Whou would imagine that this mighty basilica would stand here two thousand years later – his tomb rediscovered with the inscription “Petros eni”, Peter is here.

FRIDAY

I go to a meeting of Lincs county councillors on the way home.

Luke 17: “As it was in Noah’s day, so will it also be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating and drinking, marrying wives right up to the day…”

SATURDAY

“When peaceful silence lay over all…” (Wisdom)

A day in the country, of autumnal colours, a long walk. I was looking at the Thames first, now in November twilight, and I concentrated on the shifting grey waters, a shift in the mind took place, a shift to memories, plans, receipts of information, to a deeper consciousness of self, a separateness.

All Saints

SUNDAY – All Saints

I go to Mass in the Cathedral before driving to Paris.

“How happy are the poor in spirit: theirs is the Kingdom of God.”

MONDAY

My last Legal Affairs Committee at the Council of Europe. Today’s verse from the Book of Wisdom is lovely:

“In the eyes of the unwise, they did appear to die. Their young looked like a disaster, their leaving our annihilation, but they are at peace.”

TUESDAY

I find by chance a Mass at La Madeleine.

I pretty much understand Luke 14:11-25.

“Come along, everything is ready now. But all alike started to make excuses.”

In the event, a last group meeting of the European Conservatives.

WEDNESDAY – St Charles Borromeo

A lifetime spent fighting calumnies and laxity. He died exhausted at the age of 46.

THURSDAY

I take the answers for the Public Accounts Commission in the House of Commons. Always nice for a change to answer rather than question. Not that I have any more power in answering than in questioning.

FRIDAY

I am back in our church, reading now Psalm 69, “Save Me, O God”.

SATURDAY

And today Psalm 70, Haste thee O God and deliver me.

‘Deus in adjutorium meum intende’ is how we start vigils in the Monastery. Reading these words in a small village church brings back happy memories.

30th Week in Ordinary Time

SUNDAY – 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Entrance Antiphon:

“Let the hearts that seek the Lord rejoice. Turn to the Lord and his strength. Constantly seek his face.”

MONDAY

Collect:

“Almighty ever living God, increase our faith, hope, and charity. And make us love what you command.”

TUESDAY

“I think that what we suffer in this life can never be compared to glory, as yet unrevealed, which is waiting for us.”

Hardly a suffering but today I am summoned in by the Chief Whip to be sacked from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

WEDNESDAY

St Jude, the patron saint of lost and desperate causes. And ultimately we know nothing of him save his question at the Last Supper.

Antiphon: “These are the holy men whom the Lord chose in his own perfect love.”

THURSDAY

Romans 8:31-39

“With God on our side who can be against us?”

We drive up to Lincolnshire for a formal event.

FRIDAY

I go to our village church to read Psalm 68: “Let God Arise”.

Indeed the prose of the Book of Common Prayer arises as no other.

SATURDAY

We go to the thirtieth anniversary Mass of some friends at St Mary’s Shaftesbury. I wish we had done the same – a lovely idea.

Perhaps today’s Gospel from Luke is appropriate:

“When a man invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honour.”