Ash Wednesday

SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

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

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

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

MONDAY

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

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

TUESDAY

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

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

WEDNESDAY – Ash Wednesday

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

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

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

THURSDAY

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

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

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

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

FRIDAY

Isaiah sets us a hard task:

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

SATURDAY

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

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

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

Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Collect at Downside Abbey for Mass:

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

Sometimes I think I am like Job.

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

MONDAY

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

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

TUESDAY

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

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

WEDNESDAY – Our Lady of Lourdes

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

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

THURSDAY

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

Today’s collect:

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

Sadly they are not; they are abandoned.

FRIDAY

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

SATURDAY

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

“Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals…”

Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

SUNDAY

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

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

(Psalm 94)

MONDAY – The Presentation of the Lord

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

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

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

(Luke 2:22-40)

TUESDAY

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

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

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

WEDNESDAY

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

“Suffering is part of your training.”

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

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

THURSDAY – Saint Agatha

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

Much changes but dukes and cardinals are still there.

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

FRIDAY – St Paul Miki and Companions, Martyrs

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

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

SATURDAY

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

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

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

Third Week in Ordinary Time

SUNDAY

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

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

MONDAY

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

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

But what does it mean?

TUESDAY

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

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

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

WEDNESDAY

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

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

THURSDAY

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

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

FRIDAY

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

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

SATURDAY – St John Bosco

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

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

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

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

Second Week in Ordinary Time

MONDAY

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

Today’s reading from Hebrews 5:1-10:

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

TUESDAY

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

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

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

WEDNESDAY

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

THURSDAY

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

FRIDAY

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

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

Or have they?

SATURDAY

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

The Epiphany

SUNDAY The Epiphany (observed)

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

MONDAY

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

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

This all is fulfilled.

TUESDAY (Proper Epiphany)

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

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

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

WEDNESDAY Russian Christmas

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

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

THURSDAY

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

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

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

FRIDAY

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

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

SATURDAY

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

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

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

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

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

The New Year

SUNDAY – The Holy Family

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

MONDAY – St Thomas Becket

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

The collect for today is inspiring:

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

Easy to read, difficult to do.

TUESDAY

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

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

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

WEDNESDAY – New Year’s Eve

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

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

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

THURSDAY – New Year’s Day, Solemnity of Mary

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

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

FRIDAY – Sts Basil & Gregory

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

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

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

SATURDAY – The Most Holy Name of Jesus

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

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

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

Christmas

SUNDAY (Fourth Week of Advent)

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

MONDAY

Mary’s peon of praise:

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

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

TUESDAY

I love this scene from the Baptism of John:

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

So firm is his opinion, and so final.

WEDNESDAY

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

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

THURSDAY – Christmas

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

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

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

And always reminiscent of Handel:

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

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

FRIDAY – St Stephen

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

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

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

SATURDAY – St John the Evangelist

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

Third Week of Advent

MONDAY

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

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

TUESDAY

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

WEDNESDAY

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

We are back to the sublime poetry of Isaiah:

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

THURSDAY

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

A camping analogy.

FRIDAY

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

Enough said.

SATURDAY

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

Useful advice if you are attacked.

Second Week of Advent

MONDAY – Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

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

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

TUESDAY – St Juan Diego

We continue with the readings from Isaiah.

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

WEDNESDAY

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

Today’s reading is apposite:

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

THURSDAY

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

FRIDAY – Our Lady of Guadalupe

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

First Week of Advent

MONDAY

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

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

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

TUESDAY

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

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

WEDNESDAY – St Francis Xavier

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

THURSDAY

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

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

FRIDAY

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

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

SATURDAY – St Nicholas

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

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

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

Christ the King

SUNDAY – Christ the King

When something horrible happens to you, it is no bad thing in the quiet watches of the night to reflect on the day’s readings. I was mulling things over in my mind and the words of today’s Gospel suddenly came back to me:

“… I was a stranger and you never made me welcome. ‘Lord, when did we not come to your help?’ Then He will answer, ‘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.’”

And then suddenly, as in an inspiration, came the memory of Peter denying Christ three times. How often do we walk away from difficult situations and abandon those in trouble? I slept now soothed in my conscience.

MONDAY – St Andrew Dung Lac & Companions

I was in Strasbourg and went to the evening mass in the seminary. Looking at the picture of the Virgin and thinking of those in trouble in the world, I was filled with the most profound emotion. The Gospel read out in French made a powerful impression on me.

“For those have all, all contributed money they had over, but she from the little she had to live on.” (Luke 21:1-4)

For a moment I wanted to be like her, to embrace the outcast and unpopular causes, but of course the will is week.

TUESDAY

The Pope was visiting Strasbourg to talk to us in the Council of Europe and the European Parliament. The readings this week are from the Book of the Apocalypse. At Mass it was read very fast in French and I failed to catch it, but I caught the words of the Gospel – “Take care not to be deceived” (Luke 21) – underlined in the sermon several times. The Pope talked a lot about transferability. I’m not sure we all understood, but I think he means that Europe, like the old, is tired, that in the young is hope, but sadly they grow old.

WEDNESDAY

I went to the Requiem for deceased members of the Order of Malta in St James, Spanish Place. It is a Tridentine Mass which some might find obscure. I found it a continuous beautiful prayer and it enables the knights in choir robes with lighted candles to stand around the bier, knocked-over candlesticks on a pall. Unique to the Order.

It was strange to think that this is the same mass which has been said for hundreds of years in gothic churches, sun-drenched cathedrals in Malta and Rhodes, and embattled Norman churches in the Holy Land, with knights knelt in chain mail before battle.

“Men will seize you and that will be your opportunity to bear witness.” (Luke 21)

I was thinking, reading this, of the present, not former days.

THURSDAY

The sermon in the Cathedral was around the story no doubt well-known of the man who goes to interview and only realises too late that his fellow interviewees in the waiting room are in fact his interviewers.

In other words, we are not judged at death, we are being judged every day. That in life’s successes and, more often, disappointments, in ultimate ill health and death, the only mark is do we see Christ in others; do we act like Christ to others.

FRIDAY

I could not remember the reading and had to get up in the middle of the night to remember it. But here the Book of the Apocalypse meets the summit of glorious poetry.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; the first heaven and the first earth had disappeared now. … I saw the Holy City.”

SATURDAY

I went to our local church and looked up Psalm 33: “Exalte justi” – Rejoice with God all ye righteous, the words in the King James bible glorious.

Thirty-third Week

SUNDAY

We went to Mass in the Holy Rood. I couldn’t help thinking on the first reading.

“A perfect wife – who can find her? She is far beyond the price of pearls. Her husband’s heart has confidence. From her he will derive no little profit. Advantage and not hurt she brings him.” (Proverbs 31)

Lovely warm wise words.

MONDAY

I went to the funeral of Jerry Hughes SJ at Farm Street. He was very kind to me over my book, The Monastery of the Mind. He didn’t need to be. A profound scholar of St Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises, he was very polite about my puny efforts. I think he was wise to advise that I should stick to our family pilgrimage and not attempt an exegesis on the Exercises. He was also kind because as a prominent member of Pax Christi he didn’t need to welcome the views of a Conservative multilateralist but he did as he tried to help all people irrespective of where they came from.

TUESDAY

I spoke to former Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and 130 pastors. He is thinking of standing for President again. It was a great privilege. These people have such faith and conviction and are so confident and optimistic and welcoming. They have three heroes and are on a tour to celebrate them: John Paul II, Margaret Thatcher, and Ronald Reagan. They have been in Wadowice in Poland and are here on their Margaret Thatcher leg of the tour. They have no equivalent at or near the top of British politics. Their main motivation and ideal seems pro-life.

WEDNESDAY

A different sort of experience, the APPG Holy See event to have dinner with the Nuncio at the Apostolic Nunciature. Archbishop Menini is kind and highly intelligent. But like all diplomats after he has spoken for half an hour, this time on the Synod, you know that everything he has to say is right and balanced but you have difficulty in remembering afterwards the conclusion except that he is obviously a thoroughly nice chap.

THURSDAY

I was elected president of the Catholic Union at their AGM. One has to say on these occasions that it is a great honour, but it is. I will have to speak out now on Catholic issues such as assisted dying, but that’s no change.

Before the AGM we went to Mass in the Cathedral. Today’s Psalm is 149:

“Sing a new song to the Lord. His praise in the assembly of the faithful.”

FRIDAY

We went to Ray Hart’s funeral at Holy Rood. He was 97 and had been an altar server for 88 years and married for 74 years. He was a tailor and never missed mass either during the week or on Sunday. A kind man, he taught generations of young people to serve starting himself in 1924. What a life of simple unsung unknown service. I recall a phrase – “If there is life thereafter, he enters bliss. If not in this life, he did his best.” That’s the best anyone can say of one.

SATURDAY

Jesus drives out the money changers from the Temple. How extraordinary that this place is still the centre of history.

Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

MONDAY

We were debating the recall of MPs. I believe that Parliament is the best guarantor of liberty. All populist insurgencies start by bewailing the state of society, a corrupt elite, blaming a minority – Poles or Muslims today, Jews in the last century. Catholics or Protestants before that depending on where you were in Europe. I mentioned Titus Oates, his victims, the victims of popular clamour.

TUESDAY

We flew to Rome. The first meetings were with Sant’Egidio. I rate them because all of them work for nothing. There is no suffocating bureaucracy of well-paid charity executives. They were formed by young people thirty years ago who wanted to help the poor of Rome. They are still there. Afterwards we went to the Jesuit Refugee Service. We were staying in a room in the wall connecting the Castel Sant’Angelo with the Vatican. I have never slept inside an 800-year-old wall before.

WEDNESDAY

We went to a papal audience. I am not sure I like these occasions. Too much hero worship of the man in white for me, but it’s fun. I wish my Italian were better to understand the address. I can follow the Italian, obviously I have an English text. The evening before, in a lovely church next to the Refugee Centre, I couldn’t make out why I didn’t take in a word. I had by mistake been reading Tuesday of Week 30 instead of Sts Simon & Jude. Indeed, we know nothing about these apostles. What humility to be in at the beginning of this movement, to shape the world and leave no trace of one’s own life.

THURSDAY

A great delight. We had Mass at the crypt of St Peter’s. Amazing to stand here in the very heart of Christendom to see past the priest’s shoulders the sign – in Latin – ‘The Tomb of Peter’, and beyond that through the glass where he is buried.

FRIDAY

I went to the Rembrandt exhibition in the National Gallery. Stunning. “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Deyman” (1656) struck me particularly forcibly in its horror. A dead, executed criminal is having his brain cut open. It could be the Christ laying there, taken down from the Cross, but most beautiful of all is the very last picture painted: “Simeon with the Infant Christ in the Temple”. I almost wept at the poignancy of the scene as dying Simeon/Rembrandt encounters his Saviour and finds peace.

What is not here is one of the greatest pictures of all time. I have stood in awe in front of it in the State Hermitage Museum – “The Return of the Prodigal Son”. A copy of it used to be on the wall next to the confessional in Holy Rood Market Rasen. Every Sunday Mass I could look at it and marvel.

SATURDAY

I walked the six miles from Market Rasen station through Willingham Woods – sun seeping through the towering trees up and over the wolds into our sun-setting valley, pausing not hurrying over three hours and arrived home to yellowing light, wood fire, and tea. What more restful or greater delight?

Twenty-ninth week

SUNDAY

So how do we render to Caesar what is his due and to God what is His? This is what we are asked to do today. Today 90% of our time, goods, energy, and everything else, not least taxes, is rendered unto Caesar. God has been sent to the sidelines. Strangely enough Caesar’s world doesn’t seem too happy for most.

MONDAY

We went to the two-hundredth anniversary of the Duke of Wellington purchasing our ambassadorial residence in Paris, which had belonged to Napoleon’s sister. William Hague as always made a brilliant speech. The residence is indeed splendid.

Today I always sympathise with the rich man who is so pleased with everything he has. “My soul, you have plenty of good things laid by for many years to come… but God said to him ‘Fool, this very night the demand will be made for your soul’.” (Luke 12:13-21)

TUESDAY

We are told today to be “dressed for action and have your lamps lit”. (Luke 12:35-38)

Maybe… but it’s a bit exhausting. Appropriately today we were discussing recall of MPs.

WEDNESDAY

I went down to St Olave’s Grammar School in Orpington. This centre of excellence is truly extraordinary. 67% ethnic minority, 50 each year to Oxbridge or medical school, vying with Westminster which charges £24,000 per year. St Olave’s exists on £4,000 per pupil per year.

Who was St Olave? I am having difficulty in finding out. Is he St Olaf? A failure in life as King of Norway, killed in battle (1030) with his throne lost because he refused to compromise with pagans in his defence of Christianity. His cult was immediate and popular after his death and cannot be explained away just as politically useful. A strange man to understand: brutal, of loose life, a failure, but holy. Not surprising the Vikings liked him.

THURSDAY

I led a debate on ending fixed-term parliaments. A seemingly rational reform that has unforeseen anti-democratic consequences. Often we are faced with unexpected and contrary consequences.

What does the Great Peacemaker say today, for instance?

“Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”

And before:

“I have come to bring fire to the earth.”

Well, sadly, fire often has come.

FRIDAY

My daughter’s graduation in the church on Rochester Row, Westminster. A great occasion and in the evening a very rare event: a Tridentine Old Rite Latin Mass in the Holy Rood. Calm, spiritual. Why didn’t the fathers of the Second Vatican Council just ask the priest to read out the prayers aloud so that they could be followed in Latin and English as we did on Friday? So beautiful, so simple, rather than the dreary English dirge we have now. The old mass is a long continuous spiritual prayer. We pray with the priest along with him as he faces in the same direction we do at the altar, looking at the cross, rather than him barking at us. But the New Order Latin Mass for all that is a good compromise and we should have that as an alternative and not gone beyond it.

SATURDAY

They are shooting outside. The late October colours in the Lincolnshire countryside, coming into the glory stage. I have never understood shooting, or been any good at it. Why raise thousands of birds just to slaughter them weekly with guns. It seems a bit one-sided to me. But let everyone do their own thing. If they enjoy it and are good at it.

I read Psalm 33 – Exultate justi: “Rejoice in the Lord”. It seemed good for an English country church.

Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time

SUNDAY

We were in a small village church near the town of Sancerre. I enjoy the Mass in French. The slight misunderstandings and impenetrability make it more like a Latin Mass. Little of the sermon goes in, odd words. But a memory remains of the main theme. Here which is more impressive, the man who says yes and then does nothing or the man who refuses and then works.

MONDAY – Sts Michael Gabriel and Raphael

I went to Mass in the Seminary of Strasbourg Cathedral. These masses are beautiful in their saying in this simple white chapel with a fine picture of Mary behind the altar. There is a spirit of hope with the young seminarians.

A welcome relief after the Legal Affairs Committee.

I struggled with the French but recognised the Gospel by little signs.

“I saw you under the fig tree.” (John 1:47-49)

I wonder do we really have a Guardian Angel? Is he here now in this room? Sometimes like now I feel it is so.

TUESDAY – St Jerome

We had a debate in the Culture Committee on ritual slaughter and circumcision. I argued strongly that an attack on these is an intolerant attack on the Jewish faith. One of my colleagues said an eight day old baby had no choice. Thus human rights trump religious rights and constantly make progress.

What would the grumpy St Jerome have said?

Again odd words of the wonderful poetry of Job penetrated.

“Why did I not die stillborn? And perish as I left the womb? Why were there two knees to receive me? Two breasts for me to suck?” (Job 3)

WEDNESDAY – St Therese

I got up early for the 7.30 Mass in the Nunciature. What does this phrase actually mean? So delightful yet so difficult.

“Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

We had a debate on the Ukraine. I fear I was out of kilter with calls for dialogue with the Russian deputies. But I said I wanted only to promote peace and dialogue. The Council of Europe is not an executive parliament. It is an inter-parliamentary union. Surely its whole point is that nation talk unto nation. Why should Russia be expelled for standing up for the right of self-determination of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers?

THURSDAY

I went to the 7.30 Mass in Strasbourg Cathedral. As always, a beautiful mass.

We carry on with the Book of Job.

“After my awaking he will set us close to him.
And from my flesh I will look on God.
He whom I shall see will take my part.
Their eyes will gaze on him and find him not aloof.” (Job 19:21-27)

FRIDAY

I was back in London for the 8am Mass before driving up to Lincolnshire. Is there any more beautiful poetry than that addresses to Job by the Lord.

“Have you ever in your life given orders to the morning? Or sent the dawn to its post? Telling it to grasp the earth by its edges?” (Job 38)

SATURDAY

I went for a long two-and-a-half hour walk across the Wolds. After a long while I was very tired yet came across a spring. The water was gurgling out of the grass, and in its natural nascent life was curiously refreshing. Throughout this long walk I met not a single soul. My companions were the vast sky changing from dull lead to ultramarine blue and vast views across the Lincolnshire plain to a distant sight of the Pennines.

Job was right:

“I have been holding forth on matters I cannot understand. On matters beyond me and my knowledge.” (Job 42)

Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

SUNDAY

We were in Glasgow. Interesting to stand in George Square which has been so much in the news this week. Everyone seemed quite calm. There was a sense of a bit of a let down after a great party. In the morning, we went to an Episcopalian communion. Not something I think I have ever done before. There is of course virtually no difference between it and an Anglican Eucharist or a modern English Catholic Mass. Why can we not take communion in each other’s churches?

MONDAY

Before driving down to London I read Psalm 31 – In te domine speravi – In thee O Lord have I put my trust.

The words flow. “I am dead, forgotten, out of mind…”

TUESDAY

We are reading this week the Book of Proverbs.

“The hardworking man is thoughtful and all is gain: too much haste and all that comes of it is want.” (Proverbs 21)

WENDESDAY

More readings from the Book of Proverbs.

“Take nothing for the journey, neither staff, nor haversack, nor bread.”

I was picking up my boat from Warsash Marina on the River Hamble near Southampton where it was stranded with a broken engine and taking it to Gosport. There was not a breath of wind, just very bright sunlight. I was heading against the tide. The hours paused, the engine chugged; with painful slowness I passed the land. Only in a small boat with an underpowered engine with no wind and fighting the tide do you truly appreciate the value of patience and the value of time and tide and distance stopped and merging into each other. Yet time always intrudes. I had to get to my mooring in time for the last water taxi so eventually worry and time set in.

THURSDAY

The day of my thirtieth wedding anniversary.

“A generation goes, a generation comes, yet the earth stands firm for ever.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2)

Yet our lives pass so quickly like a breath of air on a summer’s morning.

FRIDAY

This was the day of the great debate in Parliament on whether or not to bomb ISIS. I don’t need to repeat the points I made here. In short, we caused this mess by destroying strongmen Assad and Saddam who protected religious minorities particularly Christians. Now we cannot stand by as they face genocide. What a tragedy that all these countries so rich in minorities, Christians, Jews, and others are rapidly losing their ancient cultures.

Perhaps today’s reading is apt: “There is a season for everything. A time for loving, a time for hating. A time for war, a time for peace…”

SATURDAY

We travelled by boat to France and through the calm autumn countryside.

Yet the almond tree is in flower. The grasshopper is heavy with food. And the caper bush bears its fruit. (Ecclesiastes 11)

Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Twenty-fourth Week

SUNDAY – Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Waiting for the family lunch we went to the local church in a suburb of Paris. It was full. The priest was lovely but I had difficulty understanding his accent. Here is one of the most famous sentences in the Gospel:

“Yes, God loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten son. So that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

MONDAY

All the talk, newscasts increasing excitement this week on the Scottish Referendum.

I was struck by today’s reading from St Paul to the Corinthians:

“I hear that when you all come together as a community, there are separate factions among you, and I half believe it – since there must be no doubt be separate groups among you, to distinguish those who are to be twisted.” (Cor 11:17-28)

Nothing changes.

TUESDAY

I was talking to some children from Scampton School. They were eleven year olds. I asked them whether they are in favour of maintaining the Union. All the little hands shot up. Strange that the English are so overwhelmingly in favour of the Union, the Scots so divided. Yet they do so much better from it. It shows that sentiment is more important than economics.

“Just as a human body, though it is made up of many parts, is a single unit because all these parts through many make one body.” (Cor 12:12-14)

WEDNESDAY

I went off to Clacton and Frinton, two places I had never been to before. A lovely day, the people very nice. Frinton a throwback to a gentler age: even a vicar walking down the high street in a dog collar. I felt I was in some 1950s novel of retired sea side life. Most people I meet seemed to hold similar views to me.

Today’s reading: “In short, there are three things that last: faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love.” (St Paul 12)

Reminds me always of when we put my father’s ashes in the ground and I read out this passage.

THURSDAY

Scottish referendum day. Great excitement. We travel up to Lincolnshire and stay up late, listening to the results. An extraordinary turn out. It just shows that if people are given a real question, a real choice between competing futures, they really are interested in politics. But so much of the choice is diffused. There is too much listening to focus groups, too much dumbing down.

FRIDAY

I continued my voyage through the Book of Common Prayer in our village church and read Psalm 29. Afferte Domine. Bring unto the Lord. It is soothing to read the King James Bible – not much remains in the mind, but I’m not sure it’s supposed to. You just let it waft over you.

SATURDAY (20 Sept)

I continued my reading of the psalms, one by one. Psalm 30: Exaltabo te Domine – I will magnify thee, my Lord.

Twenty-third week

SUNDAY

I was reading again Thomas Merton’s Elected Silence. This passage struck me:

“This means in practice, there is only one vocation, whether you are all the time in the cloister, or nurse the sick, whether you are a religious or out of it, married or single, no matter who you are or what you are: you are called to the summit of perfection. You are called to interior life, perhaps to mystical prayer, and to pass on the fruits of your contemplation to others.”

This last point seems to me very important.

MONDAY

I flew to Gibraltar for their National Day celebrations. It was strange to walk down such an English High Street in such a hot sun and to come across such a typically Mediterranean Catholic church in such an English city. It was a relief to sit there in the shade.

TUESDAY

The residence of the Governor in Gibraltar is called the Convent, and once, a long time ago, it was. We sat in the Dining Room which is rather like a school refectory with the banners of all the British governors since 1704 on the walls.

WEDNESDAY – Gibraltar National Day

Exciting to stand on the stage with three thousand people in front of you. Baloons, speeches. You keep meeting the Chief Minister wherever you go, even on the beach in the afternoon. In the evening he was there again at the Mass in honour of Our Lady of Europe in the bright evening six o’clock sunlight.

When Gibraltar was captured in 1704, her statue was thrown down the cliff and her head fell off but she seems ok now and as the Host was elevated the sun was in my eyes.

THURSDAY

I was sitting in Gibraltar airport waiting to fly out – the frontier is about a hundred yards off. There are often long queues as Spanish Guardia Civil take an agonisingly long time to check people. If during the last fifty years they had opened up the frontier, Gibraltar would now be like Monaco, indistinguishable from France, or San Marino, indistinguishable from Italy.

“To the man who slaps you on one cheek, present the other cheek too.”

FRIDAY

We were debating international development in the Commons. There were only seven of us who voted against giving 0.7% of our national budget in aid by law. I’m not opposed to aid – quite the opposite – but it seems economic illiteracy to lay down spending requirements by statute.

Sometimes I think we are like something out of today’s parable:

“Can one blind man guide another? Surely both will fall into the pit?” (Luke 6:39-42)

SATURDAY

This is the weekend of the Order of Malta pilgrimage to Walsingham which I enjoy but I was off instead to the 80th birthday party of a relative in Paris.

“There is no sound tree that produces rotten fruit.” (Luke 6:43-49)

Twenty-second Week

SUNDAY

Jeremiah’s cry today is ours:

“You have seduced me, Lord, and I have let myself be seduced. You have overpowered me; you were the stranger.” (Jeremiah 20:7-9)

I think the language of seduction is right. It is all so irrational. Reason screams: the world is created by the laws of physics. Yet one’s heart is seduced, one’s heart but not yet the head.

MONDAY

“But he slipped through the crowd and walked away.” (Luke 4:16-30)

I always wonder how He slipped through the crowd. Did he vanish or did the enragement of the crowd blind them? Does He slip through our sight, too?

TUESDAY

The start of a new school year. Things are resolved. We know where we are going now. There is a debate on three-parent families – mitochondrial research. Is this part of the increasing alienation of the age? That attempt at cures can always be justified. Even if we now have three-parent babies.

St Paul tells today that the Spirit reaches the depths of everything. (First letter of St Paul to the Galatians). But does it? Only of course if we let it.

WEDNESDAY

I do a piece for the Today programme on the Ukraine and I take part in Prime Minister’s Questions. We have been too complacent in Scotland.

I am struck by this passage, however, today:

When daylight came he left the house and made his way to a lonely place. (Luke 4:38-44)

Mark the words: to a lonely place, to be alone, not to be with other people, to be silent. We all have this great need.

THURSDAY

“The wisdom of this world is foolishness to God.” (Galatians 3:18-23)

The truth is that we take ourselves and the world far too seriously. We are enveloped by it. We fail to see our own foolishness and minuteness in the light of eternity, whether or not it is inhabited by God.

FRIDAY

“The salvation of the Lord comes from the just.” (Ps 36)

I can’t help feeling however that we always foolishly think salvation comes from our efforts, as individuals or in groups, or by country. We very rarely think of something beyond ourselves.

SATURDAY

We were at an oblates meeting and our oblate master was giving us good advice to treat things as “gifts” not possessions – everything is a gift: children, home, health, job, abilities. If something is a gift and not a possession you don’t need to grasp it tightly and fearfully in a clenched fist.

He told us also that God is not part of your history, your regrets. He does not say “I was”. He is not part of your fears for the future. He does not say “I will be”. He is for the present. He says “I am”. He says: “I Am Who I Am”.

Sometimes you feel this vastness in the present in the quiet of the night.

On Friday night I stood alone in the abbey church looking at the sanctuary lamp. At times like these, one can feel a special belief.

On Saturday evening I realised it was not just the softness of the candlelight: I was looking through the sanctuary light to the crucifix beyond and to the shadows reflecting into the nave. Thus a deeper less material beauty became apparent.

Our oblate master also reminded us that St Benedict was a layman promoting the role of lay brothers. This I feel sure is a future for our monasteries as vocations decline. But a monastery cannot exist just as prayer groups or schools: it must have more people within the monastery. This means nowadays I am sure more lay people.

Twenty-First Week

SUNDAY

I suppose this is the key question:

“Who do you say I am?”

For thirty years I have been trying to answer this and I still have no answer. It falls to a simple uneducated man, Peter, to give a firm answer.

“You are the Christ.” (Matthew 16:13-20)

But perhaps one should not be too ashamed of one’s failings. As Paul reminds us in Romans 11 today, “Who could ever know the mind of God?”

Jesus was a living reality to Peter: He was a man like him, standing, talking, eating with him. For us He is a legend, a symbol. Only the deeply religious – and I am not there yet, maybe never will be – these encounter Him in their mind as a living real person, extant as much now as then.

This then is the crucial, perhaps the only really important, question: Who do you say I am.

MONDAY

St Paul congratulates the people of Thessalonika on the fact that their “faith is growing so wonderfully”. I wish I could say the same, mine goes in fits and starts but it is encouraging that even the Archbishop of Canterbury admits that sometimes he doubts if God exists.

TUESDAY

A different meeting and a difficult day but I go to Mass in the Cathedral in the evening. If things go wrong it is trite to say that they can be set right just by praying. Sometimes the prayers seem like tears falling on unforgiving and unknowing rock but at least they can be set in context. Perhaps today’s psalm is of some comfort:

“Let the heavens rejoice and earth be glad.” (Ps 95)

The relief came that evening with driving up and being back in Lincolnshire.

WEDNESDAY

Oh dear. The invocation from Jesus is a bit hard. Does it apply to us?

“Hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs that look handsome on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones.” (Matthew 23)

I did a surgery today. How lucky we are, how ungrateful for it, compared to what some people face.

THURSDAY

As I read back on today’s gospel, I am thinking as I write of three people I knew well who have died within a week. Jim Dobbin, a Labour MP who fought many a battle with me on the same side. Hugh Stewart, a family friend, and Alistair Steele, the maths and running master at Downside, a very positive and kind and great teacher.

“Stay awake, because you do not know the day when the Master is coming.” (Matthew 24:42)

FRIDAY

St Paul could not have put it better today:

“The language of the Cross may be illogical, to those who are not on the way to salvation.” (Corinthians 1:17-25)

As I constantly doubt, no doubt I am not on the way to salvation, but this seems a trifle harsh.

SATURDAY

I went to our local church and read Psalm 27, Dominus illuminatio mea – The Lord is my light and salvation.

This may be true to a point but how many times a day – once, twice, three times in twenty-four hours. Hardly very impressive, but the Latin is.

Twentieth Week

SUNDAY

We went to the new First World War galleries in the Imperial War Museum. They were packed. Of course it is a fine effort but curiously the atmosphere fails to come through. The present in the shape of us the visitors is too obvious an intrusion into the catastrophe.

Perhaps today’s gospel is appropriate:

“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already.’” (Luke 12:49-53)

I am not so interested in the debate at a distance as to whether Britain should have entered the First World War as to why the madness of this war started in the first place. To me, all war is wrong except in self-defence. That statesmen would be so casual with peoples’ lives, so intent on ultimatums and their own pride, is staggering. Didn’t they – shouldn’t we? – always want to be peacemakers.

MONDAY

In the Gospel, Jesus today tells us that if he wants to enter Heaven “go and sell what you own and give money to the poor.” (Matthew 19:16-22)

I thought the priest put it well at Mass. It is unlikely that “there is not a single person in this cathedral who doesn’t own more than millions of the world’s poor.”

So it’s not possession of property or money that is the problem, but worrying about it.

TUESDAY

Well the answer to the question comes today. “For men” [to give up everything] “this is impossible, for God everything is possible.” (Matthew 19:23-30)

WEDNESDAY

I was in a rush when I put the boat away and locked my keys inside the cabin. I had no others. Why do we fret so about such little incidents?

We forget today’s psalm:

“The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I should want.” (Ps 22)

THURSDAY

Publication day of GCSE results. From now for another ten days, households are in tumult about where sons or daughters should go to school. But again everything is resolved in the end to the good.

“The wedding is ready, but as those who were invited proved to be unworthy, go to the crossroads in the town and invite everyone you can find to the wedding.” (Matthew 22:1-14)

FRIDAY

Sometimes things appear not to be going well in our life, we descend into a spiral of anger and resentment but really what is the point? One cannot – should not – seek to control the fate of others and within twenty or thirty or forty years we shall be dead anyway. All this so obvious a cliché really but we never learn – we are hard wired to worry, control, and resentment.

In this respect the gospel is wonderfully soothing. It is a rushing stream to dip our heads in but within a day we are thirsty again and in need of its waters.

“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:34)

SATURDAY

Debates continue, back and forth, positions are taken, trenches dug, and held to the last man or the last thought if they are in our mind. To what end?

Would it not be easier to allow the evening to sweep over us or should we like the Old Contemptibles, fight to the last man as they did one hundred years ago to the day?

“You must therefore do what they tell you and listen to what they say, but do not be guided by what they do.” (Matthew 23:1-12)

Nineteenth Week & the Assumption

SUNDAY 10 AUGUST

I can’t say I warmed immediately to Medjugorje. Of course it is crowded with endless tasteless Marian souvenir shops full of tasteless tack but you accept that. It is an amusing part of Lourdes, too. In no way is it a beautiful town or, like Lourdes, in a splendid location by the rushing river Gave in the foothills of the Pyrenees. The housing is East European apartment blocks. The parish church is dignified as is the domain around it. We went to a pleasant English mass in a simple hall.

Afterwards, after being stuck in a hot, noisy café, I climbed the Apparition Hill. The rocks are very sharp and it is steep, tiring, and hot. It is probably a mistake to go to these places alone. We were told that on Sundays the locals collected on the hill at 4pm, but I wasn’t aware of any particular group. I faithfully said the Rosary as I climbed the hill. I didn’t feel much. And yet…

In the emotion of my dog dying I felt a profound sympathy for all living things, human or animal. It was a good place to be. Bob, our friend, said although he was not religious, there is something about the place, an atmosphere, and he is right.

MONDAY

We made our way to Split. I much preferred the town to Dubrovnik. In Diocletian’s Palace there is a real sense of layered history. His tomb is now the Cathedral.

There is a sense of irony that should beset us all. Here the great persecutor of Christians, his body vanished in the foundations of a cathedral. So are our works crushed by the vastness of history. We die and the world is happy to go on without us in its own direction.

Meanwhile it’s a great place to sit in a café and have a drink in.

TUESDAY

We were making our way home: now we were in Venice. I suppose the religious art in the Accademia should be inspiring. True, one can admire it, but does one feel moved? Religious art that hangs in museums is taken away from its natural berth. It is an academic exercise. They said rightly that Titian’s Assumption had to be moved back to where it should be, in the Church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. There it is home in all its glory.

In Venice, I like to escape the suffocating crowds around the Rialto and the Piazza San Marco and wander along the long straight canals in the north. Here I found a quiet church and an evening mass for three people and myself, where I saw this sign up which made a real impression on me: UOMO DI POCA FEDE, PERCHE HAI DUBITATO.

But don’t get me wrong, even art in a museum is inspiring. Look at Giovanni Bellini’s Madonna degli Alberetti: the quietness of the Virgin as she reads is deeply moving. She is waiting…

WEDNESDAY

Near the offices and church of the Order of Malta is a quiet chapel seldom visited where you can see a picture of St George and the dragon. I made the mistake of attempting the long, hot, crowded walk via the Rialto and the Frari church. Feeling ill, I felt I was more like a scene out of Death in Venice than anything else.

THURSDAY

We were nearer home, in the Alps near Geneva. In a small chapel out walking I found a young priest saying Mass. It must have been a walking pilgrimage. How wonderful to be here in this simplicity with a young priest and young families in the middle of nowhere… and to greet the great sweep of Mont Blanc outside.

FRIDAY: FEAST OF THE ASSUMPTION

This is always a lovely day, right in the middle of August, a holiday all over Europe. The church in Combloux was packed. I have never seen anything like it. Every square foot of standing room taken in the small village church. The famous simple message simply uttered.

SATURDAY

We were back in London after our holiday so I went to the 10:30 mass in the Cathedral. There is no singing at the Saturday Latin Mass in August. There is just a quiet low mass in English. The great doors to the street are open, the hot, dusty Victoria Street a distant echo, a few quiet tourists.

The reading is from the prophet Ezekiel:

“The fathers have eaten unripe grapes. And the children’s teeth are set on edge.” (Ezekiel 18:1-10)

What does this mean? I think it is about this a later time: “Make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.”

Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

SUNDAY, EIGHTEENTH WEEK

I am sitting on a balcony at Viganj looking at the cypresses shading the restless Dalmatian Sea. One hundred yards to the right there is a medieval church. The bells ring out and I go to mass in Serbo-Croat.

The words I do not understand at all, no matter, the pattern, the form and the essence are the same. I can read the words of the Gospel on Universalis in English and during the long sermon they sink in. It is the feeding of the five-thousand.

The words, many words, float by lost in non-translation. The mind wonders and is still.

MONDAY

We ride across the sun-setting bay to Korčula: this is a medieval walled city and one passes under the winged lion of Venice to enter. Here are stone streets with arched windows reminiscent of the mother city. It is nearly dusk and I come in to the end of Mass, a few old ladies dotted in the aisles, just as the host is raised. Then I climb the belfry and see the sun fall into the sea, the bells of eight o’clock thundering in my ear.

Chesterton:

“This sense of the great gratitude and the sublime dependence was not a phase or even a sentiment, it is the whole point that this was the very look of reality.”

Is a sunset just a beautiful view, or the sun of science, of a rotating earth and the physical laws of the universe or is it an expression, in garish terms, of a sublime dependence on the immediacy of a God given creation.

TUESDAY

It is eight o’clock, again the bells are peeling out the hour. I am tired. After a thirty year break I have tried wind surfing. The young fly across the water like angels, turning, swooping in and flying out again. The old like me falter, glide a few feet and fall.

WEDNESDAY: FEAST OF THE TRANSFIGURATION

We went in Bob’s little boat up the sound from Korčula, its medieval walls fading. The light was brilliant, blending on hill and water. We were grateful when passing hills soothed the eye from the sun’s bright rays. In a quiet village round a bay an old man opened the locked village church for us.

The sun shone in a fierce narrow beam down the length of the dusty aisle.

“There in their presence he was transfigured: his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as light.” (Matthew 17:1-9)

THURSDAY

We went to the island Melijd where two lakes shone a brilliant blue. In the middle of the larger was a monastery. Monasteries which now are closed and half-ruined the haunt of hot tourists are sad things but in the beauty of the spot an echo remains of the divine. I sat in a quiet corner and tried to sleep, every few moments a new group of people chatter, stare, and walk out. There are terraces and Roman ruins to climb, a café to drink in, the lake to swim in. It is not so bad but the heat is crushing, extinguishing all thought.

FRIDAY

The reading today is from the minor prophet Nahum, he writes in a vivid style about the fall of empire:

“Woe to the city cloaked in blood, full of lies, stuffed with bounty, whose plunderings know no end … Nineveh is a ruin. Could anyone pity her? Where can I find anyone to comfort her?” (Nahum 2:1 3; 3:1, 6-7)

Nineveh is Mosul where now the Christian Assyrians are being held and being martyred.

I went years ago to his tomb at Alqosh in northern Iraq. It is sadly dilapidated. It is a strange echo from the past, standing in a place like that is an experience you cannot forget. In a narrow side street in Korčula is the museum of icons where few people visit attached to small gem of a church. The icons stare out in silent witness.

SATURDAY

We learnt today that our beloved dog William who gave only love and loyalty had to be put down. I was anguished that I could not be with him at the end in Market Rasen. The visit to a broiling Dubrovnik besieged by tourists seemed as barren as dust with the news, but we were on our way now to Medjugorje, turned back at the rather grim Bosnian border because we had no green card. We persevered the next day.

Seventeenth Week

SUNDAY, SEVENTEENTH WEEK

We have made our way to Finisterre, the end of the known world ’til 1493.

At sunset at 10pm we watched the sun sink into the sea.

Finis Terra. Deo gratias.

MONDAY

I am reading G.K. Chesterton’s ‘Life of St. Francis’. He is, I know, a much-acclaimed author. I find him rather dated. He seems somewhat pretentious, pompous and self-regarding but I agree with him in this: there is no point in just writing a biography of a medieval saint. The stories of St. Francis are so well known. Just repeating them again seems to have little point. They are more interesting as an allegory.

TUESDAY

This is the eight-hundredth anniversary of the birth of St. Francis. He is supposed to have walked the Camino of Santiago. I thought of him as I trudged those weary miles.

We went to the Franciscan church in Compostela to try and get some sort of certificate of our walk. We got to catch the start of a wedding instead.

WEDNESDAY

We got to the mountains at Combloux by 8:00 and in the twilight I decided to walk. I passed by the Augustinian house and walked into the chapel. The nuns, five of them, trooped in. I think they were a bit surprised to see me and they sang compline. Strange to be sitting in that modern room looking through the plate glass windows towards Mont Blanc listening to the familiar words sung in French, but a moment of stillness too and peace after an eleven hour drive.

THURSDAY: FEAST OF ST IGNATIUS LOYOLA

The nuns had told me mass was in the village church at 9. I walked there, Mont Blanc shrouded in the mist. It is difficult to follow every word in French but the essence is there, something about gathering the flock.

After I tramped up the mountain, then on a chair lift to the very top and walked back through the silent pine trees. It is very quiet here. I thought of the last time I was here, the snow falling off the bough and them lifting from the released weight.

FRIDAY

We drove across the flat hot north Italian plain for twelve hours ending up near Rijeka on the northern Adriatic coast.

I was dipping into G. K. Chesterton when driving as a passenger. For all his self-regard, his prayers are always littered with insights like this one – “Rossetti makes the remark somewhere, bitterly but with great truth, that the worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful and has nobody to thank.”

Is this fair? Cannot the atheist thank luck or fate or circumstance, but it is good to thank God. Does it do any harm?

SATURDAY

They have just built a new motorway in Croatia and one avoids the coast road, hurtling south through an extraordinarily empty landscape. It is more American than European. And there are great areas of unclaimed land, of slums.

Chesterton says that “the transition from the good man to the saint is a sort of revolution by which one for whom all things illustrate and illuminate God illustrates and illuminates all thought”.

It is rather like the reversal whereby a lover might say at first sight that a lady looked like a flower and say afterward that all flowers reminded him of this lady. So is all nature, beautiful in its grandeur diffused with God in God or as all nature a pointer to the work of God.