I apologise to anyone who may read Another Country for not updating it recently but I’m having difficulty in finding someone willing to type it up. Still, I carry on writing it for myself which is probably good enough!

This week BBC 4 is broadcasting a programme on Mindfulness from Downside Abbey. I happened to find recently what I wrote on 24 February 2005 in one of my diaries:

Downside. I arrived feeling stressed and depressed. All these attacks on MPs have got us down
Then I attended the liturgy in choir and went for a walk. I walked down “The Beautiful Valley” along a wooded stream by a green lane shaded with trees and when I looked at the stream I felt a calming and returning happiness.

Next day, Sunday afternoon, I walked in the opposite direction past the Parish Church down into another deep valley. I stood upon a wooden bridge above a rushing stream. It came to me that I should accept my job just as it is, come what may, enjoy it as best I can and not worry about the future.

By the stream I walked down a long green slope. I had in my hand Dom David Foster’s book published by Continuum, Deep calls unto Deep. I thought how impressively intellectual it was. Continuum have rejected my book The Monastery of the Mind.

This is what I really want to do, write a book which encourages prayer and meditation using the life of a Saint or perhaps an event that can be carried in the picket.

I know I can and want to do it, if I can find the time and will every day to give it a go.

I walked up to a gate and some thought rose up unannounced in my mind to anger me. I realised that if I am angry about something I just have to accept it and then I walked up the stream again and realised hoe much I love solitude. That is how I have to accept it as I am. Three streams, a hill, and a gate, some thoughts, a prayer and thanksgiving.

Eventually St Paul’s Publishing house did publish The Monastery of the Mind after every other religious publisher had rejected it.

I return often to the Monastery. The regular prayerful repetition of the psalms focuses the mind on the beauty of the present rather than any regret about the past or fear for the future.

In recent years Mindfulness has become very popular, but really it is Christian meditation without God. Indeed we have been practising Mindfulness for fifteen hundred years in our monasteries since St Benedict founded his first community.

I prefer to focus, not just on breathing, which is indeed an aid to concentration, but also on the word.

Saturday 2 September

I take the train down to a meeting of the Oblates at Downside. It’s good to be back in the Monastery. There is a seminar on the life of my friend, the charming and wonderful Dom Sebastian Moore and his impenetrable poetry. Well into his late 90s and with great courage he continued to produce a poem every day, which he typed up and handed to anyone he met. He was an enthusiast for Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. We go on to to discuss him in the afternoon, but as usual the lovely atmosphere seeps in. I read a simple life of St Benedict. With a picture on every page it looks like a children’s book but each short passage is profound. It is written by two Spanish nuns. In the evening after Matins which we do on Saturday night, there is a lovely tableau, as I stand behind the monks while they sing the Salve Regina. After everyone leaves I sit alone in the huge darkening abbey church as twilight lengthens. The candle I light is a soft glow, visible from the far end of the abbey by the Choir. There truly is power in this Now.

I always go to bed early and happy at Downside. The peace is persuasive.

Sunday 3 September

I am up early to sit in the choir for Lauds. Being able to sit in Choir and feel part of the proceedings has transformed the Downside experience for me. The sensation of listening to the Monks chanting the Psalms is timeless. As I sit in the choir at the end of Sunday Lauds, I am always sad to be leaving. The school is still on holiday, so I can sit in the front for the 10:00 am Mass for the first time. There is a fine choir. The singing of the Ave Verum Corpus is a true Mindfulness moment.

Third Week of Easter and the feasts of St Joseph the Worker, St Philip and St James the Apostles

St Thomas’ church, Market Rasen

SUNDAY 30th April – Third Sunday of Easter

Our church is closed for woodworm treatment so we use the Anglican church of St Thomas in Market Rasen for our 11.30am Mass. Our priest sings the Gloria, Kyrie, Sanctus, Angus Dei and Pater Noster in Latin. A beautiful sound in a beautiful place which may not have heard these words for a long time.

Entrance Antiphon:
“Cry out with joy to God, all the earth; O sing to the glory of His name. O render Him glorious praise. Alleluia”.

MONDAY 1st May – St Joseph the Worker

Psalm 134: Ecce Nunc
“Behold, bless ye the Lord all ye servants of the Lord which by night stand in the House of the Lord. Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and bless the Lord”.

In the afternoon I listen to some music and paint a little.

TUESDAY 2nd May – St Athanasius

I go to Mass at the Holy Rood. St Athanasius had a difficult life fighting Arianism. The passions stirred up by the dispute seem strange to us. Afterwards I canvas in Swallow.

Psalm 135: Laudate Nomen
“Praise ye the Lord, Praise ye the name of the Lord. Praise him, O ye servants of the Lord”.

WEDNESDAY 3rd May – St Philip & St James the Apostles

I canvas in Middle Rasen and in the evening we have our adoption meeting in the delightful Holton le Moor village hall. It all goes well and everyone is very friendly. I have never known such a benign political environment.

Psalm 136: Confitemini
“O give thanks unto the Lord for he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever. O give thanks unto the God of Gods, for his mercy endureth for ever. O give thanks to the Lord of Lords, for his mercy endureth for ever”.


It is local election day for the county council.

I canvas in Glentworth, a pretty village nestling alongside Lincoln cliff edge then we spend a late evening and early hours at the count. The results are good, as good as they have ever been. We win six out of the eight wards and win back Scotter, lost in a by-election.

Psalm 137: Super Flamines – whenever one reads the words, one’s heart lifts despite their sorrowful nature …
“By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down, yea, we wept
When we remembered Zion.
We hung our harps
Upon the willows in the midst of it.
For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song,
And those who plundered us requested mirth”.

FRIDAY 5th May

It feels like the day after General Election day, tired after a very late night.

Psalm 138: Confitebor Tibi
“I will praise thee with my whole heart; before the Gods I will sing praise unto thee”.


I walk around Covenham reservoir. It is nice seeing the dinghies but the concrete reservoir is bleak and huge ‘No swimming’ signs are up.

Psalm 139: Domine Probasti
“O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways”.

Second Week of Easter and the feasts of the Divine Mercy and of St George

ALTICHIERO da Zevio, St George Slays the Dragon (1378-84), Fresco, Oratorio di San Giorgio, Padua

SUNDAY 23rd April – Divine Mercy Sunday

Apparently, according to our Parish Priest, if you go to confession over the next fourteen days and to Mass every day, all your sins are wiped clean. Quite a tempting prospect but if there is a purgatory it all seems too easy to me.

“They went to the Temple everyday but met in their homes for the breaking of bread”
Acts 2:42-47.

MONDAY 24th April – St George (martyred 303 A.D.)

We squeeze into the fine Chapel of St George in Westminster Cathedral for Mass.

Who was St George, except that he was martyred in the Diocletianic Persecution? And why is he the patron saint of England, except for that Richard I adopted him as the epitome of Christian Chivalry? Who was he and what did he do …

Anyway, the Entrance Antiphon is nice:
“Rejoice, you saints, in the presence of the Lamb; a Kingdom has been prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Alleluia”.

TUESDAY 25th April – St Mark

I chair Westminster Hall, juggling how to get fifteen colleagues in the time available and ask a question in Justice Questions.

Apparently Mark, a disciple of Peter, tells his Gospel from Peter’s point of view, but what was this scene like:
“And so the lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up to heaven…”
Mark 16:15-20.

I often wonder, how was he taken up into heaven?

WEDNESDAY 26th April

Our APPG entertains the French Ambassador at lunch.

Macron and Le Pen are through to the final round. She says Macron is highly intelligent. We shall see. Intelligence without a parliamentary majority is not enough.

“But at night, the angel of the Lord opened the prison gates and said as he led them out ‘Go and stand in the Temple and tell the people all about this new life”
Acts 5:17-26.

THURSDAY 27th April

I ask a last question about Brexit and wait for the quaint ceremony of prorogation. One or two colleagues are sitting on the green benches for the last time. There is always the feeling: will I be returning here?

Today’s Entrance Antiphon:
“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 28th April

Our last surgery of this Parliament. A busy one in the Guildhall at Gainsborough, then I visit the Heritage Centre. I buy a book about the impact on the town of the First World War. The Gainsborough News is filled with the deaths of the sons of the town. Five-hundred killed during the war from the small manufacturing and market town.

In the bookshop I bought a book about childhood in the 1950s, a happy time when we could play in the street and I could cycle as a seven year old on my little red bike all the way into the City.

I also buy a book by Richard Osborne on the Universe. When you read of the extraordinary discoveries even being made as you speak, I find it difficult to reconcile with my religious faith. The more we know, the more fantastic questions arise. There seems to be less not more universal laws, more vast galaxies and black holes, the universe expanding and the parts furthest away accelerating the quickest and the weird findings from quantum mechanics and the problem of gravity, and antimatter. There may be other dimensions in the universe or other universes.

All this seems so enormous that it is difficult to understand how the God of the Bible could create it all. It is enough to shake ones belief.

Maybe our God is the creator of concepts such as truth, or love, or justice but is not the creator of the physical universe which just is, or maybe the concept of many Gods is not so daft.

Yet Christianity and religion seem correct not just by powers of reason but by one’s own inner feelings, sensations and sense of joy. God seems at once very close and very unbelievable.

One thing is certain given the immensity of the universe and its extraordinary nature: it makes our efforts on earth and our obsessions with them, parliamentary differences and hatreds in politics and religion, seem so futile. Really as we look at the night sky we should just stare and wonder. Yet we go one killing and hating each other, to what end?

Another remarkable thing is that whereas since the 1920s we have been pushing radio waves into space and listening, we have as yet heard nothing in return. If there is intelligent life in the universe, it seems very remote or may not even exist at all. We may indeed be alone, which would explain the interest a god takes in us.

Psalm 132
“Lord, remember David and all his afflictions”.

SATURDAY 29th April – St Catherine of Sienna

We canvass in Scotter and eat a takeaway fish and chip supper sitting in the churchyard of Scotter church.

Every day I am here I read a psalm in our village church, the verse of the King James Bible resonating as no other English can. Today is the turn of 133, over the weeks I have gradually worked through the previous 132.

Psalm 133: Ecce Quam Bonum
“Behold how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity”.

Easter Sunday and the First Week of Easter

ANGELICO, Resurrection of Christ and Women at the Tomb (1440-42), Fresco, Convento di San Marco, Florence

SUNDAY 16th April – Easter Sunday

As Mass starts, Father Anselm leads the wonderful anthem:
“Salve, festa dies, toto venerabilis aevo, qua deus infernum vicit et astra tenet”.

It seems a suitable full-stop to the magnificent liturgy of these four days.

The only sadness is that the retreat is over for another year.

MONDAY 17th April – Easter Monday

I always love going to the Cathedral the day after Easter Sunday to see the Cathedral bedecked with lilies and the readings this week are the most important of the year. They are the witness to the Resurrection and Christianity without the Resurrection is nothing.

“Do not be afraid: go and tell my brothers that they must leave for Galilee; they will see me there”
Matthew 28:8-15.

TUESDAY 18th April – Easter Tuesday

All hell breaks loose with the PM’s announcement that there is to be a General Election on June 8th. So, we will spend the month of May in Lincolnshire. Obviously, I welcome a chance to increase our majority.

I take the opportunity in Foreign Office Questions to raise the slaughter of Shi’a civilians at Foah and Kefraya.

The wonderful Easter readings continue. All our faith is based on these few hundred words of the testimony of a handful of people. The whole thing looks sincere and I can’t help believing it but it is few words to hang the universe on, although the words are compelling.

“As she said this she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, though she did not recognise him … Jesus said ‘Mary’. She knew him then”
John 20:11-18.

WESNESDAY 19th April – Easter Wednesday

I put a question to the PM in which I describe the Fixed Term Parliaments Act as an Emperor without clothes. We duly vote to abrogate the Bill and have an early General Election.

It is clearly in the national interest to have an election when it is in the national interest to have one.

Today we have the wonderful story of the disciples walking with the Lord to Emmaus:
“… he took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke it and handed it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognised him”
Luke 24:13-35.

For all the fragility of the evidence, our eyes too can open at such a moment.

THURSDAY 20th April – Easter Thursday

A rare event: I have two questions on the order paper to the DEFRA Secretary and answer two as Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission – an eclectic mixture of Lincolnshire coastal defences and the PAC work on cancer drugs.

I take the train up to Lincolnshire but before I do there is time to go to another Easter Week Mass.

“… They were still talking about all this when Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’”
Luke 24:35-48.

FRIDAY 21st April – Easter Friday

I am at a meeting to discuss the listing of the village hall – a former Methodist Tin Chapel. We know nothing about the people who worshiped there but their life in this remote spot must have been very simple.

There is no Mass at Caistor tonight so I wander around the parish church and find an extraordinary object – a fragment of a wall made up of cement and the bones of martyred Christians; nothing changes.

Today is John 21:1-14
“Jesus showed himself again to the disciples. It was by the Sea of Tiberius – the third time Jesus showed himself to the disciples”.

SATURDAY 22nd April – Easter Saturday

It is sad that these wonderful weekday readings are coming to an end but in the Mass at Market Rasen they do so in summation:

Mark 16
“Having risen in the morning on the first day of the week, Jesus appeared first to Mary of Magdala …”.

Holy Week

ALTDORFER, Christ on the Cross between Mary and St John (c. 1512), Staatliche Museen, Kassel

SUNDAY 9th April – Palm Sunday

We gather outside Holy Rood and stand for the long passion reading from Matthew before going back for some more fishing and lunch with all the windows open, the sights and sounds of the countryside flooding in.

Meanwhile in Syria, American warplanes have dropped more bombs.

When we have removed the detestable Assad, who then will protect the Christians? After we removed Saddam, who protected the Christians? They are not visiting the towns they fled from and which I visited. They do not dare for fear not just of ISIS but their neighbours.

MONDAY 10th April

The poetry of Isaiah, 42:1-7
“… he does not cry out or shout aloud, or raise his voice in the streets.
He does not break the crushed reed, nor quench the wavering flame…”

TUESDAY 11th April

I go to the very long Chrism Mass in the Cathedral, but quite a sight – about 200 priests in front of me all in white. The Cardinal’s sermon is soothing. I have a little sleep.

“… lay down your life for me …”

WEDNESDAY 12th April

Isaiah 50:4-9, there is no sudden conversion experience:
“Each morning he wakes me to hear,
To listen to a disciple”.

I think: when we got rid of the detestable Saddam, who then protected the Christian communities of Iraq that I visited?

THURSDAY 13th April – Maundy Thursday

I love Maundy Thursday because this is the day as in the previous thirty-three years that we drive to Downside for the Easter Retreat.

We are a little bit late but I catch enough of Father Michael’s talk to concentrate on the need for prayer.

After the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, I sit for a time in the Lady Chapel. For the first time I do not need to say words for prayer. Just be – think of myself in the presence of God.

FRIDAY 14th April – Good Friday

I do some of the very long walk from Wells to Downside that this year takes five hours.

As usual the Celebration of the Passion came to its climax with the hymn ‘When I survey the wondrous cross’ – the only hymn I know by heart.

In the evening I manage to go to confession. I am given the Magnificat to say as a penance. It is appropriate to what I have been thinking on the need for humility.

In a Lectio Divina group and later in a silent meditation we can think of the words of Jesus after the Resurrection:
“Do not be afraid…
Go tell my brothers, they must leave for Galilee.
They will see me there”.

SATURDAY 15th April – Holy Saturday

One always dreads the prospect of the Easter Vigil, so long, especially with a baptism in the middle, but by the end it’s like having gone a long spiritual run – you feel like you have covered the ground and achieved something and go to bed happy.

We have a talk in the afternoon on whether religion causes violence. Perhaps it is better to understand that religion does not cause violence, but originates out of the violence of human nature.

Are we locked permanently in a line of jealous triangles where we crave what others are and what others have just because we do not have it?

Fifth Week in Lent and the feast of St Isidore

BELLINI, Baptism of Christ (1500-02), Oil on canvas, Santa Corona, Vicenza

SUNDAY 2nd April – Fifth Sunday in Lent

“… your interests, however, are not in the unspiritual but in the spiritual”
Romans 8:8-11.

MONDAY 3rd April

I go to the Baptism site on the River Jordan.

It is hot. I cool my feet in the narrow river. You could walk across it in less than a minute except the Israeli border guard hovering in the distance might shoot you. How tragic that this lovely, deeply historical place should be an armed border.

We say a little prayer and think on the words in Matthew 3:13-17.
“As soon as Jesus was baptised, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’”.

TUESDAY 4th April – St Isidore

I fly back from Jordan.

By 5.30 I am at Mass in the Cathedral.

My trip is quicker than the Israelites journey from the same place:
“The Israelites left Mount Hor by the road to the Sea of Suph, to skirt the land of Edom. On the way the people lost patience. They spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt to die in this wilderness?’”.
Numbers 21:4-9.

Certainly when you look down from Mount Nebo you look at a vast, burning, sandy wilderness but after twilight you can see the lights of Jerusalem. From the Baptism site it is only 28 kilometres, you could drive it in a couple of hours – except you cannot. Modern ‘rational’ men have closed the border.

When last I did the journey it took me all day.


“I can see four men walking about freely in the heart of the fire without coming to any harm”
Daniel 3:14-20.

I love this picture of men walking around in the heart of a fire – it beggars belief.

THURSDAY 6th April

We drove to Lincolnshire.

Another warm day so I visit Chelsea Physic Garden. A place like this is timeless.

“I tell you most solemnly, before Abraham ever was I am”
John 8: 51-59.

FRIDAY 7th April

The weather is glorious in Lincolnshire. It is a day of surgeries.

Psalm 17
“My God is a rock in whom I take refuge”.

SATURDAY 8th April

I spend all afternoon by the lake fishing. Only one bite and it gets away.

Here you are truly in the countryside. The light first glistening on the water, then descending in an orange glow.

We are there hours but the time passes on rather swiftly.

The responsorial Psalm
“The Lord will guard us as a shepherd guards his flock”
Jeremiah 31:10-15.

Fourth Week in Lent

ALBERTI, The Cardinal Virtues, Fresco, Sala Clementina, Vatican Palace, Rome

SUNDAY 26th March – 4th Sunday in Lent

I got to Mass in Westminster Cathedral. The Cardinal says it is our Christian duty to pray that God has mercy on the soul of the attacker. I make no comment. I am thinking of the fate of the rich man who did no more than not look after Lazarus at his gate and he is condemned to eternal fire. Why don’t all religious leaders stand up and say that if there is a heaven, murderers certainly have no place in it?

1 Samuel 16:
“… God does not see as man sees, man looks at appearances but the Lord looks at the heart”.

MONDAY 27th March

“Jesus left Samaria for Galilee. He himself had declared that there is no respect for a prophet in his own country”
John 4.

TUESDAY 28th March

We fly to Rome for the Vatican APPG visit.

I go to Mass in the Via della Conciliazione and then an official dinner at the Ambassador’s residence.

Rome, the climate, people, streets as always magical.

At one point, I wander into the back of the nuns’ chapel in the Piazza Farnese. They are singing vespers – literally an angelic sound, pius in its sound and tone.

WEDNESDAY 29th March

We go to a general audience in St Peter’s Square and then to a series of meetings starting with the child abuse section at the Gregorian University and then with a Chief Executive, an inspiring Mass at the Venerable English College and then a talk to the young students. One not so young, nearly forty, is truly impressive – his personal pastoral advice brings a tear to the eye.

THURSDAY 30th March

We are up early for Mass in the crypt above St Peter’s tomb and below the Basilica, thronged with people. The crypt is quiet with the tombs of the popes looking on – what an extraordinary place to hear Mass, literally in the centre of Western civilisation.

After, we have more meetings on migration and inter-faith dialogue. We have a robust dialogue with the Jesuit who heads up the Vatican’s Migrants’ Service. He seems to think we are not doing enough and he is perfectly entitled to speak his mind. We remind him that after the USA, we are the second biggest donor to Syria.

I walk back through busy streets from the Vatican to the station past cafés and restaurants heaving with tourists. It seems a long way from Syria. Do many come? Do we take enough? Easy to judge, difficult to do anything really useful.

FRIDAY 31st March

I take a train to Lincolnshire for a surgery then walk past the Old Church in Walesby. The greens are so rich here and coming into spring life. It really is more beautiful than anywhere else.

Psalm 33
“The Lord is close to the broken hearted”.

SATURDAY 1st April

I address the Conservative County Council candidates in Horncastle.

Psalm 7
“Lord God, I take refuge in you”.

Third Week in Lent and the feasts of St Joseph and of the Annunciation

ANGELICO, Annunciation (1440-42), Fresco, Convento di San Marco, Florence

SUNDAY 19th March – Third Sunday in Lent

We have a rare Tridentine Mass in the Osgodby Chapel, the same mass that was said here since it was built in 1793. A moving and beautiful experience.

John 4
“whoever drinks this water will get thirsty again…”

MONDAY 20th March – St Joseph

We are in London, waiting for the baby.

It is a good day to think of St Joseph, one of the most famous people in history who did nothing more than marry and stay faithful.

Entrance Antiphon
“Behold a faithful and prudent steward whom the Lord set over his household”.

TUESDAY 21st March

I ask a Health Question about the need for a new medical centre at Lincoln so we can encourage more GPs to train and work in Lincolnshire.

We little know what is going to happen to us: disaster or death may strike at any moment.

“Peter went up to Jesus and said, Lord how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As many as seven times? Jesus answered, not seven I tell you but seventy-seven times”
Matthew 18:21.

WEDNESDAY 22nd March

At 5am we have a new baby in the family. I have a PMQ and I ask the Prime Minister about the ‘symbolism’ of the Palace of Westminster.

Two and a half hours later, I am sitting in the Procedure Committee and all hell breaks out – we are being attacked. Armed gunmen round us up and we spend three hours sheltering in Westminster Abbey with a thousand other people. I wonder around for the first time ever and read all the amazing messages on the countless tombs.

Finally let out, I make my way to see our first grandchild – a beautiful little girl.

A day unlikely to be forgotten.

I wonder if it would have made a difference if someone sometime had told the attacker: “There is only one God and he is peace”.

Today’s entrance antiphon
“Let my steps be guided by your promise, may evil never rule me”.

THURSDAY 23rd March

The PM makes a statement.

I deliberately make reference to the fact that after the wartime destruction of the chamber, Mr Churchill and Mr Atlee refused to move out. I say ‘it is values that unite our nation … we will not be moved from our place or our values’.

I put it to the Leader of the Commons later that this is hardly the moment to disperse MPs and Peers all over Parliament Square.

Jeremiah 7:23-28
“… but they did not listen, they followed the dictates of their own evil hearts, refused to face me and turned their backs on me”.

FRIDAY 24th March

I take the train up to Lincolnshire for a surgery and our AGM. There are two topics of conversation: Brexit and terrorism.

I go for a walk when I get home. The church is open and I read Psalm 122
“I rejoiced with those who said to me ‘let us go to the House of the Lord’”.

SATURDAY 25th March – the Annunciation

It is the first beautiful, hot day in Lincolnshire.

I take Monty for two long walks, read Psalm 123 in our village church and in the evening we drive back to London for the grandchild.

Psalm 123
“I lift up my eyes to you … to you who sit enthroned in heaven”.

Second Week in Lent and the feast of St Patrick

DUCCIO di Buoninsegna, Raising of Lazarus (1308-11), Tempera on wood, Kimbell Art Museum

SUNDAY 12th March – Second Sunday in Lent

We go to Mass at Bad Homburg.

Of course I cannot understand the sermon, but Universalis is to hand. The reading is from Matthew 17:1-9, the Transfiguration.

MONDAY 13th March

I attend a debate to liberalise abortion laws. We lose of course, as we always have done for fifty years.

Today’s Psalm is number 78
“… let your strong arm reprieve those condemned to die”.

TUESDAY 14th March

I speak in the budget debate supporting the Government’s difficult decision to balance the books through raising national insurance contributions. The very next day, the Government does a U-turn and reverses the policy. I make no friends by saying the present funding formula of the NHS is not sustainable with an ageing population. We have to get people to put more of their own money in through social insurance.

Matthew 23:1-12
“… do not be guided by what they do, because they do not practice what they preach”.

In the evening we have our last Mindfulness session.

We need it.

At dinner afterwards, Father Christopher of Worth Abbey comes up and I introduce him to our teacher. He says “we have been practicing mindfulness for fifteen-hundred years” and my teacher says later that the Buddhists have been practicing it for two-thousand years.

WEDNESDAY 15th March

I ask a Northern Ireland Question urging a deal on power sharing. Ten days after the election it is still not there.

Today’s Psalm is number 30
“Save me in your love, O Lord
Release me from the snares they have hidden
For you are my refuge, Lord
Into your hands I commend my spirit”.

THURSDAY 16th March

I take part in a statement on the takeover of Sky urging non-interference by politicians and later I chair Westminster Hall.

The reading is the one about Lazarus, the most difficult of all:
“They will not be convinced, even if someone should arise from the dead”
Luke 16.

FRIDAY 17th March – St Patrick

A day driving up to Lincolnshire.

“Above all, never let your love for each other grow insincere, since love covers over many a sin”.

SATURDAY 18th March

Psalm 102: “The Lord is compassion and love”.

First Week in Lent

BOTTICELLI, Three Temptations of Christ (1481-82), Fresco, Cappella Sistina, Vatican City

SUNDAY 5th March – First Sunday in Lent

I am up for Lauds early, then I go to Mass at Downside Abbey and then travel back to London.

“Next, taking him to a very high mountain, the devil showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. ‘I will give you all these’, he said, ‘if you fall at my feet and worship me’”
Matthew 4:1-11.

MONDAY 6th March

I chaired a meeting of the Henry Jackson Society with a former Obama staffer talking about the White House’s interactions with Russia. What is amazing is that they and the Foreign Office seem to have so little knowledge of Russian history and sensitivities. One assumes these people are well resourced and very knowledgeable.

I meet with a Minister to discuss my amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill the next day to give space to religious people in “relationship” education.

Matthew’s Gospel today, 25:31-46, is the most difficult –
“I tell you solemnly, in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me”.

TUESDAY 7th March

I move my amendment on the Children and Social Work Bill to take out compulsory “relationship” classes in school. There is no point in forcing a vote. We would get so few votes because most people just come in at the end and vote according to the party whip. I quote the Supreme Court. The first thing a totalitarian government does is to decree what is taught in schools.

Isaiah today, 55:10-11, as always is beautiful
“As the rain and the snow dome down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth to seeds for the sower and bread for the eating, so the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty”.


The Budget. As usual, I have endured over 34 of them, it will unravel within a few days. We have to be honest about raising money for the NHS and social care through self-reliance, social conscience and charging.

The reading today is about Nineveh
“Only 40 days more and Nineveh is going to be destroyed”, Isaiah 3:1-10.

As I sit in the crypt Mass listening to these words I can’t help thinking that Nineveh is none other than modern day Mosul, located on the eastern bank of the Tigris in the suburbs of the modern city. It was the largest city in the world for over fifty years until it was sacked in 612 BC. It has just, in January 2017, been recaptured from ISIS.

In 612 BC there was home to home fighting in Nineveh, which was then destroyed building by building and left in utter ruins, its people were massacred and deported. The Assyrian Empire was divided between Medes and Babylonians.

The prophet Nahum, whose tomb I’ve visited, foretells the city’s desolation.

Until the eighteenth century and the excavations of Austen Layard, all knowledge of the site passed by the minds of men. I am reminded of a phrase from ‘The Lord of the Rings’. All knowledge is passed from the minds of men.

THURSDAY 9th March

I take the train to Market Rasen and walk home via the Ramblers’ Church – the incomparable view and silence compromised by an irritating call on the mobile phone.

“Great peace they have which love thy law”
Psalm 119.

FRIDAY 10th March

I go to Riseholme College to meet with the Head of the Skills Funding Agency. They are taking Lincoln University to court to protect the farm for future generations of agriculture students.

In the evening I go to the AGM of the Gainsborough Conservatives branch.

Ps 119 is exceptionally long. I have been reading it day by day in our village church
“Blessed are the undefiled, who walk in the law of the Lord”.

SATURDAY 11th March

We fly to Bad Homburg near Frankfurt and in the museum there Mary finds a relation, a Mecklenburg, a daughter of George III, Elizabeth, who married a local Prince. A visiting group of ladies in the museum say they spot a likeness.

Eighth Week in Ordinary Time and the celebrations of Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday

TINTORETTO, The Temptation of Christ (1579-81), Oil on canvas, Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice

SUNDAY 26th February – Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mass in Holy Rood.

Entrance Antiphon
“The Lord became my protector. He brought me out to a place of freedom”.

MONDAY 27th February

We drive back from Lincolnshire to London.

Entrance Antiphon
“The Lord saved us because he delighted in us”.

TUESDAY 28th February – Shrove Tuesday

Archbishop Cushley of Edinburgh and St Andrews says Mass in the crypt. An obviously calm presence.

I chair Westminster Hall and go to the International Trade Select Committee.

I come home to pancakes after my mindfulness course.

WEDNESDAY 1st March – Ash Wednesday

Here it goes. The start of Lent. I will give up chocolate and alcohol – only a glass or two of wine in the evening before I get bored at some dinner.

A usual highlight of Ash Wednesday is Allegri’s Miserere in the Cathedral.

We agree our first one hundred and thirty page report in the International Trade Select Committee and have witnesses on the Great Repeal Bill in the Procedure Committee. Until my question no one seems to have spotted that the 2018 bill can do the opposite of the 1972 bill which was very short; simply signing in all the ECC acquis very briefly.

THURSDAY 2nd March
I meet with the Quebec Minister who has some interesting ideas on how Canada has dealt with the Quebec issue. They have full fiscal autonomy which is what I argued for for Scotland, and a comprehensive equalisation grant to ensure all provinces end up the same. Much more sensible than us.

In the evening I join local residents to object to the siting of the Holocaust Memorial taking up half a Royal Park. Generations of Londoners have fought for these parks.

Psalm 1
“Happy the man who has placed his trust in the Lord”.

FRIDAY 3rd March

We go to my cousin John Reeves’ funeral in Norfolk – a good service in Reepham’s church. Unusually there are two churches there side by side. After fifty years he did not want to leave Norfolk and he did not; he fell over and hit his head the day he was moving to Hampshire.

A lovely man, he was widowed with four boys when the youngest was only eight and he sacrificed his career to look after them.

Psalm 50
“A humble, contrite heart, O God, you will not spurn”.

SATURDAY 4th March

I am at Downside for an Oblates meeting.

In the afternoon I am sitting alone in the Abbey Church. Outside I can hear some very young children laughing and playing.

Like a piercing truth, I understand the importance of the life of every child and the sadness of all the lost ones. To bring a child into the world is always worth the sacrifice.

Later I am standing in the lounge in the guest wing and I decide to take a book out of the bookcase randomly.

My hand lands on a book by a Canon of Wells Cathedral – ‘God is nearer than breath’.

What a coincidence. I am doing a mindfulness course where we are told to meditate by concentrating on breathing.

The author here is making the point that God is very close; indeed is everywhere. If only we could see this and realise it our life would be transformed.

As usual I sit in the choir for Vespers and Compline. I am beginning to understand my way around the Hymnal and other books. Sadly I won’t here be able to sing but I can listen.

I think often of God, closer than my breath.

“The Lord will always guide you, giving you relief in desert places.
He will give strength to your bones.
And you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never run dry”
Isaiah 58:9-14.

Seventh Week in Ordinary Time and the feasts of the Chair of St Peter and of St Polycarp

BERNINI, Gian Lorenzo – The Throne of Saint Peter (1657-66), Marble, bronze, white and golden stucco, Basilica di San Pietro, Vatican

SUNDAY 19th February – Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

I go to St Aloysius’ Jesuit church in Glasgow. A beautiful Mass sung in Latin. The priest says he doesn’t like everything about Trump, except that he is reaching out to Russia.

Later we drive to Greenock. The Isle of Bute shrouded in mist.

I don’t know if today’s Gospel is relevant:

“You have learnt how it was said: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I say this to you, offer the wicked man no resistance”
Matthew 5:38-48.

MONDAY 20th February

I speak in the debate on denying President Trump a state visit.

I say, perhaps a bit bravely, which man has not made a ridiculous sexual comment sometime in the past in private of which he would be embarrassed if it became public. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

The reaction is predictable: several hate emails from around the world.

“The sand of the sea and the raindrops,
And the days of eternity,
Who can assess them?
The height of the sky and the breadth of the earth,
And the depth of the abyss, who can prove them?”
Ecclesiasticus 1:1-10.

Yet people are so certain. I wonder why.

TUESDAY 21st February

There is a visit from Queen Elizabeth High School, Gainsborough, a meeting of the International Trade Select Committee and later I meet with a group of Palestinians.

Who seems to care that two million people are trapped in the largest prison camp in the world in Gaza? They are unable to come or go. They live in abject poverty. They are in a kind of giant ghetto.

A word from King David:

“Then turn away from evil and do good and you shall have a home for ever; for the Lord loves justice and will never forsake his friends”
Psalm 36.

WEDNESDAY 22nd February – the Chair of St Peter

I travel to Geneva with the International Trade Select Committee for a very full day of meetings with the European Free Trade Association and the WTO – people build an entire career on these trade negotiations but, like everything else, the principles are simple and the right principle is free trade moving tariffs towards zero.

As we sit all day in meetings I look outside at a perfect spring day and snow-capped mountains in the distance, my heart yearning for the freedom of mountain tops.

THURSDAY 23rd February – St Polycarp

Before leaving Geneva I pop into the Cathedral, its interior austere and Calvinistic. Here in the sixteenth century, one of Calvin’s people spotted a protestant heretic making a visit and promptly had him burnt at the stake. Things are calmer now. On the right side of the Cathedral is a beautiful chapel, stained glass restored to former glory.

I fly back, a horrendous journey to Cambridge. The railways can’t cope with storm Doris and I lose the motion: This House Regrets Brexit, but I try to be counterintuitive by putting the internationalist case for free trade. It is always lovely being with bright, young, interested people. These events are more fun than the House of Commons.

FRIDAY 24th February

I visit Lincoln University’s Vice-Chancellor to argue for a fair deal for further education at Riseholme College.

Before leaving Cambridge, I would have loved to go inside the college chapels but Monty is not welcome so we walk along the Backs, one of the greatest conglomerations of aesthetic beauty in all of Europe. Why does the modern world favour ugliness and size over simplicity?

SATURDAY 25th February

A long, tiring walk to Binbrook and back in the wind and rain.

Psalm 102
“The love of the Lord is everlasting on those who hold him in fear”.

Sixth Week in Ordinary Time and the feasts of St Cyril and St Methodius

Fresco depicting Sts Cyril and Methodius

SUNDAY 12th February – Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

I go to Mass in Westminster Cathedral.

“He has set fire and water before you, put your hand to whichever you prefer”
Ecclesiasticus 15:16.

MONDAY 13th February

I was the speaker at a fundraiser at Brown’s Hotel for Westminster Cathedral. The 1901 prospectus for the choir school was read to us. A two guinea fee, a lot of money then, just to do the audition. The choir sang to us. Strange that Westminster Cathedral has a Latin Mass every day of the week apart from Sunday.

A long reading today about Cain and Abel,

… we seem to have learnt nothing.

TUESDAY 14th February – St Cyril & St Methodius

We are in Lincolnshire this week for half term.

I do a long walk from Tealby up past Bayons Manor and across the Caistor High Road, swinging around Kirmond le Mire and back to Stainton le Vale.

I am continuing my reading one by one of the Psalms in the village church. I am up to number 116 and that is today’s Psalm by chance.

Psalm 116
“Go out to the whole world and proclaim the good news”.

WEDNESDAY 15th February

Some days are beautifully clear. From the top of the Wolds you can see for miles.

My mindfulness tutor has just sent me this poem by the twelfth century writer Jalaluddin Rumi:

“This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.”

THURSDAY 16th February

Psalm 101
“The Lord looked down from heaven to earth”.

I did a long walk from Tealby starting at Bayons Manor and walked up to the Caistor High Road. I looked back at wonderful, rolling views from the Wolds leading to the distant blue valleys, then took Monty on the lead down the valley into Kirmond le Mire.

A good, tiring walk.

FRIDAY 17th February

Psalm 32
“Happy the people the Lord has chosen as his own”.

More walking and surgeries. I visit East Barkwith Post Office to show solidarity with Post Office Banks as the leading banks serving rural areas.

SATURDAY 18th February

Psalm 144
“I will bless your name forever O Lord”.

We drive to Durham to see Theo. Before we leave we walk from Elvet Bridge up to Palace Green and down to see his lodgings for next year on the other side of the river. Always nice to skirt Palace Green and be faced with the magnificent north front of the mighty Cathedral, unmoving and unmoved, here for nearly a thousand years, majestic in its precission.

I could walk in Palace Green for hours contemplating its beauty and remembering that for two years I lived in Abbey House, staring at its vast bulk. The House is now the theology department of the university. I was on the top floor at the back, without the view of the Green.

We drive to Glasgow to see Nicky.

Fifth Week in Ordinary Time and the feasts of St Scholastica and Our Lady of Lourdes

RESTOUT, Jean II – The Death of St Scholastica (1730), Oil on canvas, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Tours

SUNDAY 5th February – Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Some people pay £500 to go to a health farm. I pay £50 a night to go to Downside. No alcohol, just soup and bread on a Friday evening.

As for mindfulness and yoga, what is more mindful than going to sit in the choir and singing the Psalms?

At Mass, Father James recalls an incident visiting a very poor and very old man in a Chilean slum. Suddenly, for a moment as he took communion, his face lit up and was filled with beauty and youth. It last just for a few seconds, but Father James saw in this moment the face of Christ.

Psalm 111
“The good man is a light in the darkness for the upright”.

MONDAY 6th February

We have three days of the committee stage of the Brexit Bill. Everyone is locked in the building.

I chair a long meeting of the European Regulation Committee. A lot of argument about why it is not being taken on the floor of the House.

The Speaker creates a stir by saying he would not welcome President Trump to the House.

TUESDAY 7th February

I decide to make a point of order. The House is full.

I say “As a democratic assembly, the only way we can work is to respect the authority of the Speaker, otherwise there would be complete chaos. Personally, I think that the Queen has issued an invitation to Mr Trump under the advice of her ministers. He is the leader of the free world, and if we have entertained the President of China, we can entertain him. That is my view, but at the end of the day we have to respect and support the office of Speaker.”

I’m not sure my point met with universal approval, not with all my colleagues who thought I had been too kind to the Speaker, but there it is. I might have added that the Speaker cannot be looking over his shoulder all the time at the majority.

WEDNESDAY 8th February

The Brexit Bill passes all its stages triumphantly. Who would have thought during all these years that there were a handful in our lobby that we would be going through it with hundreds of people. There is much talk of giving solace to EU nationals already here. I make the point that in practice we cannot even deport foreign criminals. There is not the slightest possibility of any EU nationals being deported.

Between votes and going to the Catholic Union I go to Mass where we hear the poetry of Genesis:
“The Lord God planted a garden in the East and there he put the man he had fashioned”.

In the morning the APPG for Russia hosts President Putin’s cultural envoy on a visit to open the exhibition in the Royal Academy. He is given a hard time by colleagues over Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, but I doubt if he has much to say on those matters.

The film ‘The Remains of the Day’ is a take on Lord Londonderry’s appeasement, along with most others, in the 1930s.

Are we appeasers too? I think not. It is no bad thing to attempt to understand Russia. You don’t need to defend it.

THURSDAY 9th February

I do an adjournment debate on the siting of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Victoria Tower Gardens. Clearly it is the wrong location, taking half a Royal Park and converting it into a fortress next to an existing fortress seems a bad idea.

FRIDAY 10th February – St Scholastica

I am in Lincolnshire doing surgeries and walk home from Walesby.

SATURDAY 11th February – Our Lady of Lourdes

I return to London, the journey takes six hours, two hours walk to Market Rasen. There is no taxi, then a four hour train journey diverting via Nottingham and Leicester – a tour of the East Midlands – but it is worth it to get back for Marina’s party.

Before setting off, I revive myself by reading Psalm 114 in our village church:
“- when Israel came out of Egypt”.

Fourth Week in Ordinary Time and the feasts of St John Bosco and the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple


SUNDAY 29th January – Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

A day consisting of Mass in the Cathedral and Sunday lunch.

MONDAY 30th January

Everyone wants to cancel Trump’s state visit.

I say that if we force the Queen to have tea with the President of China, surely we can ask her politely to take tea with the duly-elected President of the USA.

TUESDAY 31st January – St John Bosco

The day of the great Brexit debate. 99 members have put in to speak. I am lucky to be called early at 3pm, with two interventions giving me eight minutes. I decide deliberately to be counter-intuitive and say Brexit is truly internationalist. Outside of the Customs Union we will trade with the rest of the world.

After going to the International Trade committee, hours in the Chamber and Chairing Westminster Hall, the evening Mindfulness course is a relief. Focusing on the present moment and the breath.

Christian meditation reminds us that if we regret the past, God did not say “I was”. If we fear about the future he does not say “I will be”. If we focus on the present he says “Yahweh”, “I am”.

The Brexit debate only finishes at midnight. Little perhaps achieved but those who spoke are at least in Hansard.

At University I read the 1972 debates on joining the EEC and here we are just over 40 years later reversing it.

WEDNESDAY 1st February

Dr Liam Fox is at the International Trade committee. I ask him about confusion over the Customs Union.

There is a massive majority for the Brexit Bill of 498 to 114. Tomorrow the Chancelleries of Europe all finally wake up. We are leaving.

THURSDAY 2nd February – The Presentation of the Lord in the Temple

David Davis does another statement on Brexit and confirms to me that yes, we are all leaving the Customs Union as well as the EU and the Internal Market.

At the Cathedral the Cardinal takes a mass for the consecrated religious. I feel a bit of an interloper and sit at the back.

FRIDAY 3rd February

I travel down to Downside for an oblates’ weekend. As always the atmosphere fades in gently but at Vespers I feel inspired to write more about my reaction to St Benedict over the life of our family, coming here for over thirty years.

SATURDAY 4th February

In his talk, Father Alexander urges us to silence and stillness. He likes talking to the sound of scattering pebbles, silence to gathering in.

In the afternoon I walk for two hours ending alongside a quiet black stream, bubbling very gently in wintery woods.

Third Week in Ordinary Time and the feasts of the Conversion of St Paul and of St Thomas Aquinas

SUNDAY 22nd January – Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

We go to Mass at Market Rasen and in the afternoon to a Christian Unity service in the Salvation Army hall. The Anglican vicar builds a little wall of bricks to illustrate our decisions of the past and hope for the future.

Isaiah – “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light”.

MONDAY 23rd January

We drive down from Lincolnshire.

Mark 3:22-30
“… how can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot last”.

A reading I always find difficulty in fully understanding.

The Supreme Court is insisting on a Brexit Bill. Good, we should have tabled one long ago.

TUESDAY 24th January

I ask a justice question, creating a stir. There always have been prison riots. I remember one when Waddington was Home Secretary, but then why have we cut the number of prison officers by a quarter in six years?

There is a Mindfulness course on at the House of Commons which I join. 140 colleagues have done it. They would not join a Christian meditation course but no matter, it is much the same. Freeing the mind without God at the end of it.

WEDNESDAY 25th January – The Conversion of St Paul

I ask the same question as yesterday of the Labour Party spokesman in a debate they have instigated.

No answer.

THURSDAY 26th January

The Opposition is complaining that we are only having five days for debate on the Brexit Bill. I say plenty of us in this place can speak for Britain but having a debate open till midnight on the first day should be adequate.

FRIDAY 27th January

We bury Aunty Betty.

Apparently she didn’t want a religious service and at 92 she is entitled to her opinion so I just read Corinthians 1:13, the most beautiful bit in the Bible that doesn’t even mention God.

I watch Mrs May’s fantastic speech to the Republican Congressional caucus. It is nice to have a Prime Minister one actually agrees with, a conservative Prime Minister.

SATURDAY 28th January – St Thomas Aquinas

Mary flies to India and I am home alone.

I go to my favourite Mass, the 10.30 sung Saturday Latin Mass in the Cathedral, the winter sun streaming through the windows behind the High Altar and lending everything a hazy, incensed glow.

In the afternoon, after a Monty walk, I go to the Tate Britain. I love the last half an hour before it closes. The galleries are nearly empty – the art still incomparable.

Second Week in Ordinary Time and the feasts of St Sebastian and St Agnes

Painting depicting slain St. Sebastian

Painting depicting slain St. Sebastian

SUNDAY 15th January – Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Having read about Orford Priory, dissolved in 1539, I walk to it in twilight, the vague winter shadows focussing the light on the green bumps that are all that remains of the Priory. A forgotten shadow of history. I wonder what lives the six nuns lived; ones of great poverty and devoutness? I suspect we can only see their lives remotely as we see that of Christ.

“Seeing Jesus coming towards him, John said ‘Look, there is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world’”
John 1: 29.

MONDAY 16th January

I ask a question about high street banks being stripped from market towns, like so many other local services.

“… and nobody puts new wine into old wineskins”
Mark 2: 18-22.

Apparently this was not new wine as we understand it, but fermenting wine.

TUESDAY 17th January

When I tell David Davis, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, that we should “loyally support the Government”, Hansard reports “laughter”.

Psalm 110
“The Lord keeps his covenant ever in mind”.

WEDNESDAY 18th January

The chamber is packed for PMQs. I stay behind to ask about the persecuted Karen people of Burma.

This line in Psalm 109 stays strangely in the mind
“you are a priest for ever, a priest like Melchizedek of old …”

THURSDAY 19th January – St Wulstan

I ask a question about the siting of the Holocaust Memorial Museum, it should be at the Imperial War Museum, and I take questions for the Public Accounts Commission. Always enjoyable to be answering rather than asking for once.

In the chapel of St Oliver Plunkett at Downside Abbey, a nice place to pray in front of the martyr, there is a stained glass window displaying a picture of St Wulstan being distracted by the smell of roast goose. A very English distraction. He prayed that if the distraction passed he would never eat meet again.

FRIDAY 20th January – St Sebastian

All we know about poor St Sebastian is that he was almost certainly not killed with arrows, though the myth has created some sublime pictures. Why should myth not be more powerful than fact?

We are in Lincolnshire for surgeries. I walked on a glorious day of blue sky to Nettleham and back, hurrying to arrive back to watch President Trump sworn in; a bombastic speech strangely out of tone with the quiet and lonely Wolds walk.

SATURDAY 21st January – St Agnes

We have lunch with friends at Knaith and go afterwards to the little 11th Century church of St Mary’s nestling on the side of the River Trent. Once, Viking boats probed the river as far as here; now there are only quiet fields and distant power stations. There are distant echoes.

Poor St Agnes was only 12 when she was martyred. We know nothing about her.

First Week in Ordinary Time and the feasts of the Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord

SUNDAY 8th January – The Epiphany of the Lord

This is one of the strangest stories in the Gospel. How can a star stop over a village? Yet it tells us something about man. It is Herod who asks his wise men where the Christ is to be born and they, not the Wise men, tell him it is Bethlehem in Judea.

MONDAY 9th January – The Baptism of the Lord

An ordinary event, a baptism, but the heavens open.

There is a statement about the crisis in A&E by the Health Secretary. I put my neck out by saying that people should be charged for not turning up to GP surgery appointments.

TUESDAY 10th January

We have a long meeting of the International Trade Committee. We establish that it is possible to conclude trade deals quickly. One of the witnesses puts it well. We have to put control of our borders under democratic control.

Today’s Gospel, Mark 1:21
“… And his teaching made a deep impression on them because unlike the scribes, he taught them with authority”.

WEDNESDAY 11th January

We spend the day emailing and getting out in-hand copies to 650 MPs our all-party amendment to keep the debating chambers in the Palace. There is another inconclusive meeting with the Leader of the House. I hear a new argument every day.

Today’s Gospel, Mark 1: 29-29
“In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house and went off to a lonely place and prayed there”.

I talk to a friend about praying. I’ve tried John Main’s Christian Meditation. He recommends just having a conversation with God, of course it is a bit one sided but …

THURSDAY 12th January – St Aelred of Rievaulx

After going to ‘Silence’ last week, with its ten different ways of torturing Christians to death, we go to something lighter: ‘La La Land’. What’s wrong with escapism? Isn’t religion escapism, or is it an honest quest for truth? Yes, but still and escapist truth from this life.

In the morning I go to a funeral for a priest. The sermon is a powerful talk on preparing for death so that the moment of death is a glorious consummation of the preparation.

St Aelred, 1110 – 1167:

He entered the monastery of Rievaulx in 1133. At the age of 34 he moved and took charge of a new foundation in Lincolnshire at Revesby. He returned within 4 years to become Abbott at Rievaulx. Nothing of the Abbey exists today but bricks and stones were used to build a country house on the site.

Researching about the Abbey at Revesby encourages me to look up the history of the Priory at Orford, Stainton le Vale. At its dissolution in 1539 it had seven nuns. The Abbess was given a pension of £5. During the Lincolnshire Rebellion, the Pilgrimage of Grace, she provided a house. The priory had been founded by Ralf d’Albini in the reign of Henry II in the 12th Century.

Now it is just a series of mounds in a field.

FRIDAY 13th January

I took the train to Market Rasen, held a long surgery and walked two hours in fading light over the Wolds back home. It was completely dark and very cold. The tea was welcome. A delicious sense of tiredness after a winter walk.

Today’s reading from Hebrews 4: 1-5
“Be careful: the promise of reaching the place of rest that God had for the Israelites still holds good and none of you think that he has come too late for it”.

SATURDAY 14th January

J.R.R. Tolkien:

I watch ‘The Two Towers’ in the evening with Theo for the umpteenth time. We love it and know every line but something struck me: Treebeard bemoans Saruman’s fall from grace and says he used to walk in these woodlands. But presumably lovely as it was it was a lonely life and perhaps a bit boring. Saruman now aimed for power, for adventure, for dominance, even if he lacked the self-confidence to escape from the shadows of the Dark Lord. In a small way, how many politicians weary at the quiet, boring, gentle life? Walking under trees is not enough.

Psalm 18
“your words are spirit Lord and they are life”.

The Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God

Sunday 1st January 2017 – The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

I go to the 9.15 Mass in Caistor, then as usual watch the New Year’s Day concert from Vienna, looking at the sheep gently traversing the valley beyond.

I have a New Year’s Resolution of occasionally interpreting the Bible … let’s see how long it lasts, so here it goes with Genesis 1 from the Jerusalem Bible. All faults and missing interpretations are mine:

God created the entire universe from the beginning.

Before His Spirit moved, there was only darkness.

He created light by His will and this pleased Him.

In the first phase, God divided Heaven from Earth and light from dark.

God divided land from water. God created seas and earth.

It was God’s will that Earth produced vegetation and plants from seeds.

He created trees from plants.

Thus the third phase ended.

God created every star and man used them to number his days.

God created sun and moon for day and night to light the Earth.

And so passed the fourth phase of his creation.

God creates countless living creatures for land and sea and air, every kind of walking and winged creature.

God let them multiply endlessly and so ended the fifth phase.

God created every species on Earth, domestic and wild and every reptile and all this pleased God by its rightful place.

It was God, by His will, who made man in His image and made him master of the fishes in the sea, the birds in the sky, the cattle and the wild animals and everything that walks upon the earth.

God made man and woman in his image.

God blessed all his works and he let them reproduce. He gave to man all seed-bearing plants and all living things to be his food and foliage for the wild animals. God saw that all this worked and so ended the sixth phase of his creation.

Thus everything on Earth was complete, by the seventh phase of his creation God could rest and this day he made holy, because all his work was now done.

This was the origin of the entire universe.

MONDAY 2nd January

I walk from Claxby to Nettleton.
As I walk back, it is nearly dark and in a clear sky Venus is in conjunction with the Moon and Mars, the first two are clear, the third not yet. The sky to the East is a brilliant array of yellows on an absolutely clear winter’s day.

Psalm 97
“All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God
… sing a new song to the Lord, for he has worked wonders”.

TUESDAY 3rd January

I am still reading the Dalai Lama’s spiritual autobiography and A Beevor’s book on the 1944 Ardennes offensive. The brutality of the latter appalling and such a waste, particularly the shooting of prisoners. The Dalai Lama’s message is simple; all religions are equally valuable, stick to your own, nurture it, encompass the world in love. Love all those not just friends or family; simple but not easy.

Psalm 97
“His right hand and His holy arm have worked salvation for Him”.

WEDNESDAY 4th January

I go to mass in the Cathedral and am struck by the Gospel, John 1:35-42 when John first encounters Jesus, who says “‘what do you want?’ They replied, ‘Rabbi – where do you live?’ ‘Come’, he replied, ‘and you will see’”.

If any one of us had been alive at the time, would we have carried on with our old ways first, would power or riches in Rome have seemed important? We would have been consumed with curiosity to follow Jesus, to see his miracles, to hear his Sermon on the Mount, above all to witness his death and resurrection. But knowing now that all these things happened, we are half-hearted in our faith. Most of us can barely be interested to take any interest at all, but it is the most important thing to ponder on. Even now some realise this, drop everything and follow him.

THURSDAY 5th January

The Gospel today is about obeying one’s conscience:

1 John 3: 11-21
“If we cannot be condemned by our conscience, we need not be afraid in God’s presence”.

An appropriate reading for the film we saw today: ‘Silence’ about two Jesuit priests during the Japanese persecution of Christians. All of us will ultimately betray our conscience if we are tortured enough in body or spirit, or if we see our friends being tortured. Some betray their conscience very easily indeed, even in a free society. I regret of course I have been a Minister for so short a time, two and a half years out of thirty-three and a half years as an MP, but I don’t regret obeying my conscience.

Of course, for us all this is easy. If faced with torture or death I wouldn’t last a moment; but then my faith is so weak, my doubts so great. It is, of course, absurd to criticise someone for their faith, yet alone persecute them, when one’s own beliefs are based on such insubstantial, subjective criteria.

FRIDAY 6th January

We go to Russian Christmas Eve Mass in Chiswick – a beautiful service, the ceilings and walls now being painted with traditional iconography. A little bit of Russia in Chiswick.

SATURDAY 7th January

The Russian church is too packed even to enter so we go down to the crypt where it is quiet and empty and I sit behind a monk praying in front of the Iconostasis.

Christmas and the feasts of St Stephen, St John the Evangelist and The Holy Innocents

SUNDAY 25th December – Christmas Day

We go to Midnight Mass at Holy Rood. I am surprised it is not fuller but it is one of Father Robert’s five masses. He sings it beautifully in Latin and our small congregation does its best to keep up. The Gloria falters and fights on to the end. The church is beautifully lit with candles.

I do a reading at the 9.30 service of readings and carols at the village church, which is packed. Luke 26-28, the Angel Gabriel appears to the Virgin Mary.

We went for a walk from Otby to Walesby in bright sunlight, the Lincolnshire plain a dazzling light green and blue in the clear, translucent winter sunshine. Arriving at Walesby’s old church at 3pm we listened to the Queen’s broadcast, her words accompanying views of twenty or thirty miles stretching to Lincoln Cathedral. The Queen is the only top person prepared to mention religion. I was profoundly moved. She actually says she believes in Jesus Christ.

St John’s Prologue, 1:1-18
“In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God. He was with God in the beginning …”

MONDAY 26th December – St Stephen

When we are in London, I go to the 10.30am Mass; the church and its great Christmas trees still ablaze with light. Here, I just go and read a Psalm in the village church.

The King James Version is so much more poetic than the ones we use at Mass.

We walk to Tealby – again, an extraordinarily clear light. As we walk back from the pub, the whole West is bathed in orange.

Psalm 30
“In to your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit;
… Be a rock of refuge for me, a mighty stronghold to save me”.

TUESDAY 27th September – St John the Evangelist

We walk to Rothwell where the pub is full of shooters and cyclists.

Psalm 96
“Rejoice, you just in the Lord
… The Lord is King, let earth rejoice”.

WESNESDAY 28th December – The Holy Innocents

I walk in a deserted valley on the footpath to Tealby in deep fog, the country empty, and find a new lake.

Psalm 123
“Our life like a bird has escaped from the snare of the fowler”.

The Holy Innocents is a feast barely celebrated in today’s syrupy Christmas season, but it is a good time for reflection; for many lonely, old and ill, Christmas is not such a happy time.

I am reading two contrasting books: A Beevor’s ‘Ardennes’ and the Dalai Lama’s spiritual autobiography. A contrast, the terrible, pointless horror of war, and it’s going on now in Syria although I hope fully for a ceasefire, and the emphasis on the importance of the mind, of being happy, of showing compassion to all, not just to friends and relatives, and an awareness of the whole human race. We all have the same wants.

THURSDAY 29th December

This is the last day everyone is here. Once again it is bright and we walk from Walesby to Normanby le Wold and back. The East yellowing gradually towards 4pm, when it becomes like a vision of heaven: the yellow light even entering and softening the pictures in Normanby church. A wonderful walk.

FRIDAY 30th December

A grizzly day of fog. All the children are leaving one by one. I walk with Nicky around the block and then drive him to Barnetby.

In the evening, ‘Les Miserables’ as usual reduces me to tears. It is quite a powerful resurrection piece. The scene of Jean Valjean dying and being welcomed home by the priest who saves him is as powerful as any image.

SATURDAY 31st December

I walk Monti around Wold Newton. At first, looking West, I can see five miles across Swinhope to the edge of the Wolds at Normanby le Wold where we were a couple of days ago. A quiet evening at home with a couple of fireworks. We finish the entire series of Harry Potter.

Fourth Week of Advent

SUNDAY 18th December – Fourth Sunday of Advent

We drive down to London for a family birthday. I go to 7pm Mass in the Cathedral which I never really enjoy.

“The Lord himself, therefore, will give you a sign. It is this, the maiden is with child and will give birth to a son, whom she shall call Immanuel, a name which mean God is with us”.
Isaiah 7:14.

MONDAY 19th December

I ask the PM an inevitable question about pursuing free trade and not staying in the internal market.
At Mass, the evening choral one, we get an interesting sermon on the Old Testament being a foretaste of the New:

“The woman gave birth to a son and called him Samson. The child grew and the Lord blessed him and the Spirit of the Lord began to move him”.
Judges 13:2-7.

TUESDAY 20th December

Because the Cathedral is being cleaned, we have an intimate Mass in the crypt – always a lovely affair. The reading is Luke 26-38:
“The angel Gabriel was sent by God …”

I ask a question of the Health Secretary about the shortage of GPs.

WEDNESDAY 21st December

Another beautiful Mass in the crypt. A wonderful sermon on the greeting Elizabeth gives to Mary.

“Why should I be honoured with a visit from the Mother of my Lord”.
Luke 1:39-56.

‘My Lord’ is a phrase used by Jesus for God, so what Elizabeth says is very significant.

I go to Jean Galitzine’s funeral in St Peter’s, Eaton Square. A dignified Anglican service.

THURSDAY 22nd December

I normally go shopping in Kings Road and go to the Italian Restaurant near Flood Street. I sit there waiting for Mary as it gets dark and the restaurant empties. A nice feeling of Christmas drawing close.

In the early evening, a last Mass in the Cathedral with the choir before Christmas and we drive up very late to Lincs.

The reading is the Magnificat:
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour”.
Luke 1:46-55.

FRIDAY 23rd December

We go to the farm shop. The whole family come up for Friday evening Spaghetti Bolognaise, as when they were young. A good day.

SATURDAY 24th December

The others are shopping. I read and walk.

Today’s Psalm 89
“I will sing for ever of your love O Lord”.

Third Week of Advent and the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

SUNDAY 11th December – Third Sunday of Advent

We go to Mass in the Osgodby Chapel. Always a delight to be there in this small upper room, built in 1793.

Isaiah 35:
“Let the wilderness and the dry lands exult, let the wasteland rejoice and bloom”.

MONDAY 12th December – Our Lady of Guadalupe

I ask a question in the House about the need of the Navy to build ships other navies actually want to buy.

There is an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Cathedral: the story is inspiring.

TUESDAY 13th December

A long day of select committee meetings. International Trade for over two hours in the morning and the Public Accounts Commission in the afternoon, which I chair – the only thing I do chair nowadays.

Later there is a meeting on Renewal and Restoration. They are still considering my plan to use the House of Lords Chamber.

Psalm 34
“The poor man wailed,
The Lord heard him”.

WEDNESDAY 14th December

I speak to a packed 1922 Committee, waiting to hear the Prime Minister, and get great support. It is a dotty idea to spend £3.5bn upfront and move out of the Palace of Westminster for eight years.

Later I do a reading for Aid to the Church in Need. I do the last reading from St John. Everyone stands. The choir of the London Oratory, the readings … a beautiful occasion.

THURSDAY 15th December

I pursue the Government on the New Homes Bonus which is being raided to the detriment of towns like Gainsborough to fund adult social care. An impossible dilemma. How can we support an ageing population and this morning, an hour before I can get to her, my Aunt Betty dies at 92. The last of the generation that was adult during the war. What times she lived through. Raised in Paris before the war, she was in school in England in 1940, but her sister, my mother, and her parents had to flee Paris, the day before the Germans arrived. She was full of charm and, when young, of great beauty. She got a place at St Andrews when that was rare for a girl, but didn’t take it up. Now she is gone, but she had a final stroke a month before, was in pain, could barely speak and wanted to go.

“… Cherishing life.
Accepting death…”

FRIDAY 16th December

I speak as always to our Christmas Supper Club at the Hickman Hill Hotel in Gainsborough where I was selected 34 years ago. The mood is good. There are more people than ever before, 45 pack the room.

What a year it has been – a good year in my view. Brexit, Trump and maybe the war in Syria will be decided one way or the other.

SATURDAY 17th December

A quiet day in Lincolnshire.

Today’s Psalm 72
“In his days justice shall flourish and peace till the moon fails”.

Second Week of Advent and the feasts of the Immaculate Conception and of St Nicholas

SUNDAY 4th December – Second Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 11:1-10
“On him the Spirit of the Lord rests”.

MONDAY 5th December

I am walking around Jerash near Amman. It is a winter evening, the sky blue but starting to yellow. The light is throwing the whole scene, Roman roads, piazzas, columns and temples into a golden glow. There are few people around; the weight of the centuries and of the ruined Byzantine churches weighs heavily. Recalled by William of Tyre in 1141, I contemplate the passing of two millennia and the passing nature of our affairs. Here Christianity was vibrant fifteen centuries ago.

“Hear the word of the Lord, O nations; declare it to the distant lands”
Jeremiah 31:10.

“Behold, our Saviour will come; you need no longer fear…”
Isaiah 35:4.

TUESDAY 6th December – St Nicholas

A long flight back. I rest up for a moment in Mass at Westminster Cathedral.

As we fly over Palestine I can see the Dome of the Rock glinting in the sunlight. Back in foggy London I hear these words:

“Console my people, console them says your God. Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and call to her that her time of service is ended”
Isaiah 40:1-11.

… Extraordinary that Jerusalem still stands at the heart of the world’s troubles.

WESNESDAY 7th December – St Ambrose

I rush from meeting Amyas Morse to discuss his National Audit Office budget to the Brexit debate and ask the Secretary of State to guarantee a swift bill if we lose the Supreme Court case.

“How can you say, Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord’”
Isaiah 40.

THURSDAY 8th December – The Immaculate Conception

Luke 26-38

I am writing this a couple of weeks later. A friend has just asked me to read Luke 26-38 in our Christmas Day service or readings and carols, and here it is –

“The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee named Nazareth…”

FRIDAY 9th December

Isaiah 48: 17-19
“If only you had been alert to my commandments, your happiness would have been like a river, your integrity like the waves of the sea”.

I notice that recently I have become more conscious of my surroundings as I am being driven around and delight in the Christmas lights of London, the decorations twinkling on the small houses of Lincolnshire, even the bare trees. Is it because I am getting older, entering on the last quarter of my life, appreciating each moment, or is it because I have got new glasses and I am wearing them more often!

SATURDAY 10th December

We go to drinks at a friend’s home.

The Psalm for today is number 80:
“Lord of Hosts bring us back, let your face shine on us”.

First Week of Advent and the feasts of St Andrew the Apostle and St Francis Xavier

SUNDAY 27th November – First Sunday of Advent

The incomparable poet Isiah:
“In the days to come, the mountain of the Temple of the Lord shall tower above the mountains and be lifted higher than the hills”.
Isiah 2:1-5.

MONDAY 28th November

I ask a question about Aleppo. There are ludicrous calls for unilateral British air drops. I drew attention to the attack on a school in West Aleppo and all that could be made worse by more bombs falling on this blighted country…

My old school, St Philip’s, comes to the House of Commons and we discuss … yes … Brexit! I also intervene in a debate on TV licences for the over 75s. We should help those in need, not provide blanket benefits.

TUESDAY 29th November

A long meeting in the morning and a doctor’s appointment in the afternoon, but I get to the 5.30 Mass.

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him – the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might”.

WEDNESDAY 30th November – St Andrew the Apostle

I speak at a forum for Russian-British business contracts.

Mass in the crypt chapel is for St Andrew.

“Beside the Sea of Galilee, the Lord saw two brothers, Peter and Andrew, and he said to them: ‘come after me and I will make you fishers of me’”.

THURSDAY 1st December

I ask a question of David Davis in Brexit questions, asking him to get on with it.

FRIDAY 2nd December

A surgery and quiet walks. I read a Psalm in our village church.

Psalm 23
“The Lord is my sight and my help”.

SATURDAY 3rd December – St Francis Xavier

We canvass in the Sleaford by-election and go to church in Stanton.

“People of Zion, you will live in Jerusalem and weep no more”.

Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time and the feast of Christ the King

SUNDAY 20th November – Christ the King, Thirty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

We go to Mass at Market Rasen – the words of the good criminal echo down the ages:
“Remember me when you come into your kingdom”
Luke 23.

MONDAY 21st November – Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

I deliver some leaflets in torrential rain in North Hykeham and make it down to London in time for a Legion d’Honneur presentation to Dominic Grieve.

The readings are from the confusing Apocalypse:
“I heard a sound coming out of the sky like the sound of the ocean or the roar of thunder, it seemed to be the sound of harpists playing their harps”.

TUESDAY 22nd November – St Cecilia

I ask FCO topical question about Francois Fillon, married to a Britain, Catholic social conservative, Thatcherite in economics.

“… so the angel set his sickle to work on the Earth and harvested the whole vintage of the Earth and put it into a huge wine press, the winepress of God’s anger”.

WEDNESDAY 23rd November

I go to see Aunty Betty in Guildford, chair Westminster Hall, a debate on the North East. In the evening we have a dinner with the Hungarian Ambassador – a refreshing change from the normal tedious Euro speak.

“… what I saw in heaven was a great and wonderful sign”.

THURSDAY 24th November – St Andrew Dung-Lac

I take my architect in to see the Leader of the House of Commons to suggest that instead of vacating entirely the old Palace of Westminster during restoration we keep open Westminster Hall, we sit in the Lords and they sit in the Royal Gallery.

In the evening we have Mass in Westminster Cathedral and our AGM.

“… Then a powerful angel picked up a boulder like a great millstone”.

FRIDAY 25th November

I go up to Durham to speak at DUCA and at the Union. It’s always lovely to go back, especially as Theo is there now. At the last moment, because of a mix up, the President changes the topic I debate on. I am second. ‘This House believes Iraq war a crime, not a blunder’. Always fun to put on the President’s gown and have a real debate in front of a hundred people.

SATURDAY 26th November

I go for a run around the incomparable peninsula of Durham.

“Grey towers of Durham
Yet well I love thy mixed and massive piles
Half church of God, half castle ‘gainst the Scot
And long to roam these venerable aisles
With records stored of deeds long since forgot”.