Second Sunday in Lent

SUNDAY – Second Sunday in Lent

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

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

And this weekend they have been arguing about Europe.

MONDAY – The Chair of St Peter

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

First Week of Lent


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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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

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

A particularly beautiful and poetic psalm.


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


More Monty training.

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

Ash Wednesday


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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

THURSDAY – Our Lady of Lourdes

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


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

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


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

4th Week in Ordinary Time


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

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

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

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


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

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

TUESDAY – The Presentation of the Lord

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

If we make mistakes the consequences seem dire.

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


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


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

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


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

3rd Week in Ordinary Time

SUNDAY 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

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

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

MONDAY – The Conversion of St Paul

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

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

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

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

TUESDAY – Sts Timothy and Titus

These saints were converted by St Paul.

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

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

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


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

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

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

THURSDAY – St Thomas Aquinas

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

SUNDAY Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

With more energy I make it to Westminster Cathedral.

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

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

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


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

At Mass the story of Samuel continues:

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

THURSDAY – St Agnes, Martyr

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

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

FRIDAY – St Vincent, St Publius

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

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


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

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

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

The Baptism of the Lord

SUNDAY – The Baptism of the Lord

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

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


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

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


Hannah seems desperate but persistence pays off.

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


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

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

Are we listening?


1 Samuel 4:1-11

The Philistines take heart, defeat is not inevitable.

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


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

Samuel talks of what a king will do.

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

Plus ca change.


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

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



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

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

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


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

The first reading is from the sublime John 1:

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


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

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

So easy to say, so difficult to do…

WEDNESDAY – The Epiphany of the Lord

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

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

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

THURSDAY – Russian Christmas

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

“Galilee of the nations. The people that lived in darkness has seen a great light, on those who dwell in the land and shadow of death, a light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:12)


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

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


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

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

New Year’s 2016


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

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


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


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

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


I read Psalm 76 – Natus in Judea.

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

THURSDAY – New Year’s Eve

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

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

FRIDAY – New Year’s Day, 1 January 2016

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

Today’s Psalm 66 is the Prayer for Parliament:

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

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


Sts Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen

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

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



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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

THURSDAY – Christmas Eve

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


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

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


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

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

Third Week in Advent


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

MONDAY – St John of the Cross

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


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

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


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

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


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


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


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

Second Week in Advent

SUNDAY – 2nd Week in Advent

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

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

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

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

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

MONDAY – St Ambrose

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

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

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

TUESDAY – The Immaculate Conception

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

First Week of Advent

SUNDAY – First Sunday of Advent

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

And still men live in fear.

MONDAY – Saint Andrew

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

THURSDAY – St Frances Xavier

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


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

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

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


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

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

Christ the King

SUNDAY – Christ the King

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

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

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


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

TUESDAY – St Andrew Dung Lac & Companions

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


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

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


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

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


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


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

Leo the Great


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

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

MONDAY – Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

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

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

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

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

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

TUESDAY – St Leo the Great

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

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

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

WEDNESDAY – St Martin of Tours

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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

All Saints

SUNDAY – All Saints

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

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


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

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


I find by chance a Mass at La Madeleine.

I pretty much understand Luke 14:11-25.

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

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

WEDNESDAY – St Charles Borromeo

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


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


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


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

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

30th Week in Ordinary Time

SUNDAY – 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Entrance Antiphon:

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



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


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

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


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

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


Romans 8:31-39

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

We drive up to Lincolnshire for a formal event.


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

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


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

Perhaps today’s Gospel from Luke is appropriate:

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

Twenty-ninth week in Ordinary Time


The psalm today, Psalm 32, is beautiful:

“May your love be upon us, O Lord, as we place all our hope in you.”

MONDAY – St Jean Brebeuf

I am always moved by the deaths of these saints clubbed to death and tortured in North America. Imagine their loneliness and courage in this vast foreboding wilderness.

My day today was more ordinary: a meeting with the Comptroller and Auditor General to plan my next five years as Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission, and then I met with the Leader of the House to discuss English Votes for English Laws. He agrees to a sort of compromise by which the Barnett formula consequentials will be reviewed after a year. Thus small steps are made.

Today’s Gospel always makes a strong impression on me:

“I will say to my soul: my soul you have plenty of good things land by for many years to come; take things easy, eat, drink, have a good time, but God said to him ‘Fool!’ This very night the demand will be made of your soul and this hoard of yours, whose will it be then? So it is when a man stores up treasure for himself in place of making himself rich in the sight of God.” (Luke 12:13-21)

Note that the man talks to his soul. This is his innermost being which is most connected to the good things of life. But at least he speaks to his soul. So far have we fallen from a religious view of society that then even rich men talked to their soul. Now they don’t even bother to do that.


“Here I am, Lord. I come to do your will. You do not ask for sacrifice and offerings but an open ear.” (Psalm 39)

“An open ear…” How often do we do this?


The reading from Luke 12:39-48 today emphasises the necessity of living in the absolute present.

“You may be quite sure of this, that if the householder had known at what hour the burglar would come, he would not have let anyone break through the wall of his house.”

As a victim of burglary, I know this well enough. Yet still spiritually we are not waiting.

THURSDAY – St John Paul II

We debate EVEL on the floor of the House. I gave my four-minute speech with three minutes to spare before chairing the Trade Union Bill.

Strange to think that I went to the funeral mass of today’s saint. It took some doing but I managed it. The then-ambassador to the Holy See said it was all impossible but the dignitaries in the Piazza Farnese helped me get in. A memorable experience to see Cardinal Ratzinger take the Mass and the simple coffin on the floor. Strange I remember this even over ten years ago very well but forget what I said in the EVEL debate a couple of weeks ago.

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


Saint Ethelfleda was the daughter of Aethelwold of Wessex. I am reading Bernard Cornwall’s Saxon Tales. His hero Uhtred is a noted anti-Christian so would not have approved of this lady. We would probably find her impossibly remote to understand. We are told only that as Abbess of Romney she practiced an austere life.

Perhaps she would have read this passage from today’s Paul to the Romans: “I know of nothing good in me – living, that is, in my unspiritual self.”


“The unspiritual are interested only in what is unspiritual, but the spiritual are interested in spiritual things. It is death to limit oneself to what is unspiritual. Life and peace can only come with concern for the spiritual.” (Romans 8:1-11)

Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time


We have a new priest at Market Rasen, Father Robert, and I am delighted to see a bit of Latin back. I never know why we have discarded Latin for the unchanging parts of the Mass.

“The word of God is something alone and active; it cuts like any double-edged sword, but more finely. It can slip through the place where the soul is divided from the spirit, or joints from the marrow. It can judge the secret emotions and thoughts.” (Hebrews 4:12-13)

I feel this is a point from the separateness of our real presence, our soul, from our mind and body. The soul can lie dormant under the weight of mind and body or we can deliberately create it, be part of it, and know that we are thereby separate from mind and body.

Jesus says today “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” (Mark 10:17-30)

Why does he say this? Is he articulating his separateness from God?

But it gives us all hope that, if he can say that, there is hope for us.


I went to a meeting of all the cathedral deans of England at the House of Lords, all struggling to maintain their buildings. In the time I have been associated with Lincoln, great steps have been taken to restore it as a site of pilgrimage – not least with the new statue of the Virgin Mary (even though she does have a slight squint!).


I start the chairing of the Trade Union Bill which will keep me occupied for the next three weeks.

“The heavens proclaim the glory of God, and the firmament shows forth the work of His hands.”


“For the submissive who refused to take truth for their guide and took depravity instead, there will be anger and fury.” (Romans 2:1-11)

This is the key: submission. To fate, to one’s soul.

Cardinal Mercier’s prayer comes to mind: Let me be submissive to that you require of me.

But this is surely not just a quiet submissiveness to fate. It is a determination to separate ones true self, one’s soul from an external form.

THURSDAY – St Teresa of Avila

Strange to think she was almost an exact contemporary of Mary Tudor, just a year older, if that. British history would have been very different if they had died in the same year as well as being born in the same year: 1515 and 1582. But St Teresa’s memorial is infinitely more lasting because of its spirit.


The psalm today is number 31:

“You are my refuge, O Lord; you fill me with the joy of salvation.”

At one level this can be seen as God-centric; nothing wrong in that. But in another sense it is also looking into our soul – looking beyond body and mind into the soul brings joy and salvation now, not just at some future date.

But the Gospel reading is certainly God-centric:

“Can you not buy five sparrows for two pennies? And yet not one is forgotten in God’s sight.” (Luke 12:1-7)

So some sort of New Age mysticism is not enough. We cannot connect to our soul as our own. We are counted.

SATURDAY 17 October – St Ignatius of Antioch

He was only the second bishop of Antioch after Peter. Thrown to the lions – what a man of courage. He described his guards as leopards: the kinder you were to them the nicer they became.

Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

SUNDAY – Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

A breakfast of bread and cheese taken from the pub the night before and then a dive into the waters of Chichester Harbour and a sunlit sail in good wind back to Portsmouth Harbour.


The story of Jonah. How amazing that when things go wrong for the sailors in the storm they decide to throw Jonah in the sea. Yet how even more extraordinary that he offers this solution himself.

As you read through Tolle’s Power of Now you realise more and more how it is rooted in Christian meditation.

Be still, close your eyes, concentrate on your inner being deep within your body – just as Cardinal Mercier suggested. Go into your soul, the temple of the Holy Spirit.

TUESDAY – St Bruno

In 1084, after a very busy life, St Bruno with just six companions settled himself in a wild spot at Chartreuse. There they lived in deep poverty and prayer. They lived as ‘hermits’ in community, the foundation of the Carthusian Order.

Of course in the real world it will never be possible to achieve the meditative heights of the Carthusians, but if not for so long in the day why not for some of the day? We cannot all sit alone in a cottage all day praying and tending plants and meeting several times a day and in the middle of the night in choir. But sitting alone in our offices, can’t we also be still for a moment? Can we not construct getaways to free ourselves for a moment from our swirling, demanding minds? Stand apart from the mind, view it with amusement and comment with something deeper and more universal?

WEDNESDAY – Our Lady of the Rosary

The feast was inaugurated to celebrate the defeat of the Turks at the Battle of Lepanto in October 1571.

The entrance antiphon is to-the-point:

“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.”

The collect says: “Pour forth, we beseech you O Lord your grace into our hearts.”


The entrance antiphon: “Within your will O Lord, all things are established.”

I am starting to read John Main’s Door to Silence – a Christian version of Eckhart Tolle. He starts by quoting St Paul:

“Your world was a world without hope and without God. But now in union with Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near through the shedding of Christ’s blood. For He Himself is our peace.” (Ephesians 2:12-14)

John Main argues that “In this wisdom of the New Testament, peace is one of the essential qualities of human existence.”

We need to understand what peace means. Yet it is beyond understanding and so to enter into this peace we must enter into the experience of meditation itself. This is very profound. Like Tolle, Main meditates to seek an inner being but is explicit that Christ is the vehicle to achieve this. That may or may not be true but Tolle does lead people more gently into the experience not saying that any particular belief system is necessary.

FRIDAY – St Denis Bishop & St John Leonardi

St John Leonardi was born in Lucca. When I was there this summer I should have sought out his memory. It is hard to think that he was heavily persecuted in such a lovely place. Indeed he spent most of his life in exile.

I went to RAF Scampton to present long service awards. It is humbling to give these awards to those who’ve served in the RAF for twenty or thirty years.

Before I went to my last Cathedral Council meeting at Lincoln. I have been on it for over nine years. It is time to give another a chance. I feel the same issues are coming around again and again and I am saying the same things. It has been a delightful Troloppian experience.


“Rejoice you just in the Lord. The Lord is King, let earth rejoice. Let all the coastlands be glad.” (Psalm 96)

How can coastlands be glad? It is part of a feeling that all is one.

The guardians of our cathedrals like Lincoln are truly heroic people. They receive next to no government funding yet they maintain these thousand-year-old world heritage sites. At Lincoln the footfall is barely sufficient to sustain this enormous building but what a delight to go to pray there in St Hugh’s Chapel.

Twenty-Sixth Week in Ordinary Time


We drive all the way to St Quentin, mile after mile, hour after hour, traffic ebbing and flowing.

If you drive you should concentrate on the present; it is a way of fuelling the mind. And if in the passenger seat I close my eyes and fall asleep.


I am in Strasbourg and go to Mass in the Seminary. Always a nice experience with beautiful singing. I move my report in the Legal Affairs Committee on religious freedom. A Dutch MP amends the report to delete my criticism of the countries France, Belgium, and the Netherlands which have banned the full-face veil.

TUESDAY – St Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael

The priest in the seminary Mass said some people have difficulty in believing in angels. I’m not sure but the idea of a guardian angel looking after one is a lovely thought.

“In the presence of the angels I will bless you, O Lord.” (Psalm 137)

“You will see heaven, land open, and above the Son of Man, the angels of God ascending and descending.” (John 1:47-51)


For the first time and perhaps the last I am rapporteur of a report on the floor of the hemicycle.

St Jerome is not an easy man to like. Respected, yes, as the translator of the Bible into Latin, but prone to anger. An intellectual perhaps who worried too much about the nature of truth and the future.

THURSDAY – St Therese of the Child Jesus

St Therese is truly centred in the present. Because the present is about small things. And it needn’t be a candle or a flower, something beautiful. It could be the stillness of the absence of thought. Every little step counts.

I spoke in the hemicycle on the right to free speech. Probably, maybe my last time.

FRIDAY – The Holy Guardian Angels

Before leaving Strasbourg, I went to the early morning mass – appropriately my last event there. Do you believe in guardian angels?

Jesus says: “See that you never despise any of these little ones, for I tell you that their angels in Heaven always gaze on the face of my Father in Heaven.”

I like this idea because it expenses the idea of unity – that somehow we are all in this together. In some indefinable way, we are connected to Heaven.

But is there some entity who gazes on the face of our God and ourselves at all times? That is more difficult to believe or even to grasp.


We sail, perhaps for the last time, in Naomi to Chichester Harbour. Of course wind and tide turn against us – doesn’t that always happen? – and progress becomes a silent crawl.

Yet we arrive in the mysterious dark, through wide marshlands of wildlife, prosaically to get to the pub just in time to watch the rugby.

“I bless you Father, lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and clever.” (Luke 10:17-24)

What I like about this is that we intellectualise things too much. It is not just in pouring over texts that we will gain enlightenment. It is by delving down, thinking on our soul, over real being deep within us. We only live in one body. It is there so it must surely be a key to this mystery and finding our soul which is all that is imperishable in us and all that links us to everything.

25th Week in Ordinary Time


We were in Cornwall. Bright beautiful weather and we walked to Pentire Point to read the poem to the fallen on the cliffs.

“They shall grow not old as we who are left grow old.”


It is our thirty-first wedding anniversary and we walk to St Enodoc, the church in the sands. Always a marvelously peaceful place.

One day when Jesus was praying alone. – Luke 9

In a place like this one can live for the present moment.


I walk all the way to Port Isaac, few people on the path. It is really warm. The sea is quiet and way below me so that one sees it and barely hears it – a gentle warming hum of a blue expanse.

We have to try and still the mind to exit all thoughts of past and future to concentrate on the present moment. To be in a place of great beauty helps of course.

The Maranatha prayer helps, or saying the rosary or just looking and seeing and listening to the sounds of the countryside.

“The law of the Lord is perfect; it revives the soul.” – Psalm 18

Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time


A twelve-hour drive to Carcassonne through rain and traffic jams. No stopping even for mass with six in the car and a ton of baggage.


The basilica at Carcassonne is seething with people, such is the weight of tourists here. Lincoln Cathedral is ten times bigger and more magnificent but there are only a couple of dozen people wandering around at any one time.


The cathedral at Mirepoix is extraordinary. It is one of the widest naves in Europe – so wide that the church appears almost square, like a modern church but it is medieval.


We are staying in the Vieux Presbytere at Orsans near Franjeux. The church is tightly locked and only opened for a service about four times a year, but I get the key and sit alone in its nineteenth century splendour for a time. The blue and gold ceiling is magnificent.

There was a priest living at the old presbytery til the 1940s. His bedroom was next to ours behind the wall next to the altar. What sort of quiet life would he have had in this tiny hilltop village? What would he have done all day? Would he have been an heroic type like the Cure d’Ars? Or a lazy man? Possibly a mixture of the two, I suspect. But he and his world are gone. Now there is a swimming pool where holidaymakers from all over Europe come to enjoy themselves.


We drive one and a half hours to the foothills of the Pyranees to visit a Cathar castle, Perepetuis. First we walk up the steep mountain for an hour and a half. I have never been so hot. I am streaming with sweat. Arriving at the top we are comforted by a man demanding a ticket. We have invaded the Castle by the back way. After words, we drive through the forbidding Gorge de Gambus.


I cycle for four hours along the side of the Canal du Midi. It is a lovely experience. The wheels running beneath one easily. The great 300-year-old trees shading one for most of the time. The sun dripping off the waters of the canal. Only an occasional boat passing through a lock gate. Progress is gentle and smooth. After dinner in the square at Merepois with the whole family.


We drive to Montsegur. Here the Cathars held out for months in 1244 against the Albigensian Crusade. It is a tough climb for Mary and once again we arrive at the top but it is already late and the castle is empty. After the others have left I sit in the ruined old chapel, its roof gone and walk to the edge of the ramparts looking out across the great valley. A church bell sounds in the distance. I feel a great sense of peace and remembrance in this silence of the Cathars, of the desire by their ‘Perfecti’ of a pure life, their feeling that the world around them was irredeemably corrupt and rotten. This is a much more peaceful place than Perpetois with all its clambering tourists.

After we go to the Lac de Montebel. A vast full moon, a super moon, rises up over the lake, sparkling from the orange and reds of the sunset. And after we have a barbecue outside.

Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time


I always love being by the seaside, even the Italian, with its rather ridiculous beach clubs – only a tiny public beach and the rest covered in rows of blue deck chairs and beds and shade from a glaring sun.

But the sea is warm and I miss it as we drive during the late afternoon to Lucca. I cannot see the attraction of sitting by a noisy swimming pool, so I cycle into Lucca and amazingly find the evening mass at St Paulinus. It is all in Italian but luckily there is a mass sheet so I can follow bits.

After supper in the piazza, a magical ride with Mary through the empty dark streets of Lucca, gliding past these ancient buildings.


I visit the cathedral of Lucca: all wandering tourists but kneel in front of the black cross, the source of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages, the best part of the visit to the cathedral, which is too museum-like, even if the Tintoretto Last Supper is incomparable.

Then an amiable drive through the increasingly hilly Tuscan countryside to Pignano.


We went for a drive to the Santo Antino monastery, then on to the Benedictine monastery at Monte Oliveto, twenty-six kilometres south west of Siena.

St Antino is still a working monastery, with a small group of French monks serving it. Set in a valley of vineyards the abbey church has an austere Cistercian grandeur.

We drove on to Monte Oliveto, a very different place. A vast set of buildings set in a countryside of stone called Le Crete. The abbey church there is a baroque disappointment but the Chiostra Grande is a wonder. It is entirely surrounded by frescoes detailing the life of St Benedict undertaken by Il Sodoma and Luca Signorelli at the end of the sixteenth century. I am reading Benedict’s life at present but it is much more inspiring to view it by fresco as generations of new monks have done.

Here are all the scenes of this beloved story: the rich young nobleman at school in Rome towards the end of the fifth century; he sets off for his hermitage at Subiaco; the Devil tempts him; he performs miracles such as the mending of the sieve; he helps people with their problems (someone who is over-ambitious for office, the poor sinner in debt); and here is described his death.

How much more lovely to read a man’s life in pictures than in text.

“Come Benedetto fa tornare nel manico uno roncare che era caduto nel fondo del cago.”


I do a long drive to Assisi. It is hot and busy on the Italian race tracks and people are irritated. But I spend a quiet two and a half hours in the Basilica. At first I am just a tourist, listening to the audio guide about the Giotto frescoes but then the atmosphere seeps into the soul. You go down steps through the cloister and into the lower basilica and finally into the crypt chapel and the tomb of St Francis. The crowds are large, a continuous stream of people, yet prayerful and respectful; many people just sitting quietly in the pews.

I sit next to a Franciscan monk who blesses me. Sitting again quietly in the upper basilica, the frescoes have a new force. It is healing and peaceful to see St Francis giving away his very clothes and lending his cloak to the poor knight. It is so much better to pray a fresco than just see it as another art object, a fairly primitive one at that


We walked for three hours to San Giminignano. It is of course the number one tourist trap in Italy so it is nice to spend three hours walking there through a national park, looking at the sunset. Of course the church was closed but if you walk up the ramp and look through the metal grille you can see a nice fresco of the Annunciation.


What can one say about the Uffizi, the scale of the collection of Italian art dwarfs anything in the Louvre or the National Gallery. The beauty of the Filippo Lippi Virgin and Child is stunning or in the Annunciation in the first room – Mary reels back in shock and anguish – and of course Leonardo’s Annunciation which once I attempted to paint as a copy. But when it comes to religious art, keeping them in rooms in galleries is rather sad. It is the message that is important.

Eighteenth Week & the Assumption


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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

SATURDAY – Feast of the Assumption

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

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

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

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