Third Week in Lent

We were in the Abbey for Sunday Mass for Father Leo’s last mass as Headmaster. A week later as I was writing this up I could not remember the reading but now it comes back to me. The woman of Samaria at the well. One shouldn’t forget it because actually it is quite remarkable. Jesus breaking all the taboos. Talking to a woman, on her own, she an outcast going alone to the well in the high heat of the day. Yet He reveals Himself to her:

“I who speak to you, am He.” (John 4:5-42)

The purpose of the sermon I think was Jesus’ words “Give me a drink”, which are addressed to us as well.

On Monday, we had the reading about Naaman being angry with Elisha for telling him to bath in the Jordan to cure his leprosy. I sympathise. Often we are asked to do so little with such immense consequences. Eventually Naaman, does the simple thing and he is cured. Like Naaman, who wants to bathe in his own waters, Abana and Pharpar, we too want to bathe in our own waters, in our own prejudices.

It is strange: sometimes within an hour or two of listening to a reading I just for the life of me cannot recall it. I cannot recall today’s reading without looking it up. It is about the wicked servant. Our debts are forgiven: how often do we forgive others?

On Wednesday we had a statement on the Ukraine. If only the EU and Russia could share influence and investment the country could become a bridge to peace, not a downward path to war.

Thursday’s readings are about “A house divided against itself is heading for ruin.” Seldom remembered.

On Friday I went to a funeral for a friend, Mary in Market Rasen. She cared for the church. It was full. The Lord is my shepherd.

On Saturday I carried on my visits to our local church and came to Psalm 18 “Diligam te Domine”. I will love thee, O Lord my strength. This is a long one, but beautiful. It is all about reliance. The Saturday before I had reached Psalm 17 – “Exaudi Domine”, Hear the Light, O Lord – and the Saturday before that Psalm 16 – “Conserve me, domine”, preserve me o God for in thee I have put my trust.

It is rather a nice thing to do, to sit in an English country church, small in its medieval quiet and read from the King James Bible, the glorious English language, week by week.

Second Week in Lent

Although this is not the Feast of the Transfiguration, the reading from Matthew 17:1-9 is about the Transfiguration.

It has never made much sense to me before, but at our little parish mass it did. Some strange, probably inconsequential thing clicked, the story seemed beautiful and consequential. I wonder why.

Monday was the feast of St Patrick. I couldn’t find Mass at first in the Oratory. Then I noticed it was at his own altar. An outsider, he seems to have ended up making quite an impact.

On Tuesday, we were debating Ukraine which means ‘borderland’ in Russian. I ask why it can’t be a bridge to peace rather than a path to war. At Mass, commenting on everything they do is to attract attention, the priest asks why we put so much importance on place.

On Wednesday we celebrated St Joseph’s feast day. It’s strange that from the loss of Jesus in the Temple we know nothing about him.

It was also Budget Day. They come, they go. 0.3% difference in the give and take by Government!

On Thursday I spoke on the Budget, notwithstanding talk of money. The reading today is the most demanding of them all. That of Lazarus and the rich man who actually doesn’t seem to do a great deal wrong apart from nothing, which I suppose is quite a lot.

Obviously today’s – Friday’s – reading is one of my favourites.:

“It was the stone rejected by the builders that became the cornerstone.” (Matthew 21:33-43)

On Saturday we went down to Kings Bruton in Dorset. The picture of the parish church, the five-hundred-year-old school, the green hills which I ran over in a cross-country, was perfect.

First Week of Lent

I was still reading in the Abbey guest wing Thomas Merton’s Elected Silence:

“Certainly one thing the Monk does not, or cannot realise is the effect which these liturgical functions have upon those who see them. The lessons, the truths, the incidents, and values portrayed are simply overwhelming. For this effect to be achieved, it is necessary that each monk as an individual performer be absolutely lost, ignored, overlooked.

Excellence here is in proportion to obscurity: the one who was best was the one who was least observed, least distinguished. Only faults and mistakes drew attention to the individual. The logic of Cistercian life was the complete opposite to the logic of the world, in which men put themselves forward so that the most excellent is the one who stands out. But what was the answer to this paradox? Simply that the Monk is hiding from the world becomes not less himself, not less a person, but more of a person, more truly and perfectly himself: for his personality and individuality are perfected in their time order, the spiritual, interior order of union with God, the principle of all perfection. Omnis Gloria ejus filiae legis ab intrus.

The logic of the world by success rests on the strange error that our perfection depends on the applause of other men! A weird life it is indeed to be living always in somebody else’s imagination, as if that were the only place in which one could be real!

This seems to me, particularly the last paragraph, to be a very powerful point. Strange how it is that in the Abbey, good intentions and thoughts rush forward in the mind.

I realised that what I was putting to you was that you can create a monastery in your mind. That, yes, you can attempt to steady the mind with mindfulness. By all means meditate and concentrate on your breathing and recognise pressing thoughts are not your real self no more than others’ opinions. But then fill it at times every day with attention to God and the spiritual.

As I lay awake in my cell I could not remember today’s Gospel reading, that was for the Saturday after Ash Wednesday. It was 3am and I turned on the light. It all came up painfully slowly on the blackberry, but finally it was there, line by line, from Luke 5:27-32.

“Jesus noticed a tax collector, Levi by name, sitting by the customs house, and said to him ‘Follow me’, and hearing everything, he got up and followed Him.”

As I lay awake those words “Follow Me” kept repeating themselves in my mind. So try every day to create a monastery in your mind. Go to Mass or a service or just read the Mass readings, day by day. For one small part of the day empty the mind. Do not, as Merton would put it, live in other peoples imagination.

On Monday the first week in Lent we are asked the most difficult question (Matthew 25:31-46):

“When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

What does this mean? Is it not an impossible task to treat everyone, however irritating, as God? But this is the task laid down.

Tuesday’s task is more simple: (Matthew 6:7-15)

“And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our debts, As we also have forgiven our debtors; And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

It is easy enough to repeat a prayer. But who is listening? We must assume it is listened to.

On Wednesday we are told that the only sign we will be given is the Sign of Jonah, but where is this sign?

On Thursday I was looking at the parish newsletter in the Cathedral. There was an interesting reference to the Meditations of St Frances de Sales. The one on death arrested me. Imagine that you have just died. Your soul bids farewell to its body. Very soon the body is burned and the person forgotten. As the soul looks back on its life in the body it remembers how it has treated other people.

On Friday funnily enough I was at the funeral of Dom Sebastian Moore at Downside Abbey. A friend, he died at the age of 96. He had been a monk since 1938. His latest thing had been Eckhart Tolle and the Power of Now, but far more than his many books and great, deep – sometimes incomprehensible – intelligence was his great kindliness to everyone, certainly to me.

By Saturday I was back in our little local church and up to Psalm 16 in the Prayer Book. Conserve me Domine – preserve me Lord.

Final week in Ordinary Time

We went to Matins in Lincoln Cathedral, the legal service for the High Sheriff.

I was struck by a quote used by the Dean. “No living man has ever seen God, no man who sees God ever dies.” Or something to that effect.

As usual I went to Westminster Cathedral for Ash Wednesday and submerged myself in Allegri’s Miserere.

On Friday we had a meeting of the Cathedral Council at Lincoln. I questioned as usual putting up the entry fee, this time to £8. I admitted I had no answer except that the Holy Spirit might provide. The fair rejoinder from the Dean: the Holy Spirit looks after those who help themselves.

Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

All my life I have been a most reluctant Christian. Every lazy way of thinking came my way. Jesus was a great world teacher, but God? Well guess what he said about himself? If thats the case he was a lunatic or a charlatan. This week I have completed Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ. I cam across it by accident. There had been a particularly silly and simplistic Times article, fairly typical, airily dismissing Christianity as a legend and a letterwriter to the paper had recommended this book. So would I.

Lee Strobel is an investigative crime reporter. He uses questioning techniques to ask questions that should be asked in schools. Everywhere you look the evidence is compelling that the Gospels are a very early accurate record of what happened. Archaeology and scholarship has only bolstened the case in recent years. This is not legend. Early lazy assumptions like Jesus conveniently faked his messianic outcomes are disproved one by one. Torture on the cross could have ensured that a Roman soldier speared him rather than break his legs. Why were the Apostles prepared to die for something they had faked, like removing the body, even if that was true? And the sheer weight of circumstantial and outside evidence. But be that as it may, reason only goes so far. Reason tells me that the creed is correct, but I still wrinkle with the nature of God. How can one intellect create billions of stars? Are there not hundreds of millions of intelligent life forms? Why should God care about or concentrate on first-century Palestine? But perhaps for me the next step is study of philosophy – if reason can play any part.

One thing is certain, reason is dear and when faith and acceptance reach it, it is transforming.

Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

I was walking up a mountain in the Alps. First I went up the side of the piste under the chairlifts with the skiers chatting up above my head as they were taken up. But then the path plunged into the woods. Soon I was utterly alone in the wilderness. The snow crunching beneath my feet and it was snowing steadily all the time, great large flakes settling on my jacket. I kept plodding up a thousand metres, to the cafe at the top which the skiers ascended to so quickly in their chairlifts and descended from even quicker. The pistes were crowded with half term skiers but here on this silent path all was quiet.

I stopped. Now there was no sound. Occasionally a weight of snow settling on a branch of a great fir tree would cause it to topple and a gentle cascade would tumble down, sometimes on my head in a gentle shower. It was like those water bamboos in Japanese gardens. The water drips on them and suddenly they topple over and then start again. Thus for a moment time was marked only by nature. One could focus thoughts on the present moment, on nature. With infinite regret I thought of the afternoon ahead of the busy airport, the crowds surging back and forth.

On Monday James asks us to treat our trials as a happy privilege. On Tuesday he asks us to stand firm when trials come. On Wednesday he asks us to be quick to listen and slow to speak.

On Thursday I was in the small chapel at Combloux for a Mass. In these surroundings, it is easy to pay heed to James when he asks us to be rich in faith. There were few in the chapel. So simple in its white-washed walls, so glorious in the baroque magnificence of its baroque reredos. On Friday James asks us to consider the cause of someone who has never done a single good act but claims that he has faith. And on Saturday, he reminds us that the only person who can reach perfection would be someone who never said anything wrong.

Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Our service was in the small upstairs chapel in Osgodby. I always love it there, the simplicity of the small room, an upstairs room. On Monday I was asking about the commemoration of the First World War. Surely the important thing is that they felt – the allied soldiers – that they were not involved in some European power play but that they were resisting militarism and protecting the freedom of small nations.

On Tuesday there was a statement on our involvement, or rather non-involvement, in the assault on the Golden Temple in Amritsar. How do we reconcile the necessity of the state to maintain order and the desire of religious – Sikhs in this case – to have their voice. No one talked about this kind of issue. It’s all too difficult.

On Wednesday it was the feast of St Agatha. I suppose she paid the ultimate price for having resisted authority: mutilation and death. I was talking about the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza. 1.7 million in a vast prison camp. What’s important is not endless debate about the complexities of the two-state peace process but the cry of humanity.

On Thursday to Friday, I struggled in with Lee Stobel’s The Case for Christ. The difficulty with this sort of book is that intellectual arguments based on obscure biblical quotes, however accurate in themselves, don’t answer the fundamental difference in scale between an historical figure, a human in time and place, and the stupendous uncertainty of the creator of an unlimited universe.

It was a relief on Saturday to bury myself in the liturgy of the Abbey. Against the unknowable, the best response is a gentle immersion in the lap of the Psalms. I was reading once again the passage in Thomas Merton’s Elected Silence. I had last read this passage fifteen years before at Prinknash.

“I discovered that the young man… was a postulant. He was entering the monastery that day. That day we could see him down there in the choir in his dark secular clothes, which made him easy to pick out in the shadows among the uniform white of the novices and monks. Then suddenly we saw him no more: he was in white. They had given him an oblates habit, and you could not pick him out from the rest.

The waters had closed over his head and he was submerged in the community. He was lost: the world would hear of him no more.”

I dreamt that night after vigils that I had made a model aeroplane. Being me, with my handy skills, it was pretty pathetic. Its wings were all ruffled. My friends’ flew much better. My wife was scournful. How cross I was to be so humiliated. I stomped off determined to have no more. Then I awoke and as I lay there I thought how much nicer to think of immersion in the liturgy than trying to make things and be things.

I was at the Abbey for the monthly oblates’ meeting. I am not sure I had previously understood how important the Rule of St Benedict is. It is archaic but there is a certain rhythm in it. For instance, in the reading of the Rule from February 8 we read: “The eleventh step in humility is that when a monk speaks, he does so quietly, with laughter, with humility, with restraint, making use of few words and reasonable ones, as it is written ‘The wise man becomes known for his few words’.”

At first sight it seems hard that words written in the seventh century for a monastic life in community have any relevance for us, but in the monastery of the mind perhaps they do. For us they are not so much a rule as a window into another quieter, more ordered, and more focused world, focused on what is important. The readings this week take us through the trials of David. On Monday he is told ‘the hearts of the men of Israel are now with Absalom’. On Tuesday we hear of his death ‘hanging from an oak’. On Thursday to avoid pestilence hitting Jerusalem he admits his guilt to the Lord. On Thursday ‘as David’s life drew to its close he laid this charge on his son Solomon: I am going the way of all the earth’. On Friday Ecclesiastes sums up his career. All this is moving, a story of success, ambition, guilt, and despair.

The trials and tribulations of David

The readings this week are from the book of Samuel, a description of David’s trials and tribulations. On Monday he is supreme. I arrived too late for Mass in the Cathedral at Strasbourg and made do with a visit to the seminarian church.

Even an empty church is soothing. On Tuesday amid great rejoicing David “brought the arc of God up from Obed-Edom’s house to the Citadel of David.”

I could not get to the evening mass. I was speaking in the Council of Europe urging the case for Israel to stop creating settlements. Strange how two and a half thousand years later we are still in the same part of the world. Surely this is no accident. Here it really does seem that God has created the fault line of humankind. On Wednesday evening I could not get to mass either. I was speaking on the impact of migrants. And where are more being displaced now than anywhere else? In the Middle East: in Syria. The poetry in the revelation to David is beautiful:

I will provide a place for my people Israel; I will plant them there and they shall dwell in that place and never be disturbed again; nor shall the wicked continue to oppress them as they did.

I did hear Mass on Thursday. Nathan seems pretty happy with David. I love today’s reading about the lamp: “For there is nothing hidden but it must be disclosed.”

Up early for Mass on Friday, everything now goes pear-shaped for David. And we know why he conveniently gets rid of Uriah the Hittite. What exactly does the mustard seed parable mean? Is its growth dependent on our faith? In which case I fear with me it might stay small indeed.

I was back in the Cathedral in London on Saturday for 8am mass. The words of Nathan to David are all too depressing especially as the reader reads them out very – too – slowly. Does anyone dare talk to our leaders now in this way?

“Then Nathan said to David ‘You are the man. So now the sword will never be far from your house.’”

Later I was walking over the edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds, a two and a half hour walk from station railhead to cottage. An extraordinary yellow light filtered down from the clouds, bathing the plain in a luminous shaft of white light. A track led down from a five-bar gate, down from the high point on which I stood, towards the light. The track was muddy. The gate closed and locked. I turned aside from the light and went on my way into the darkening valley in which a tiny distant dot of yellow light welcomed me home to tea.

5-11 January


I was thinking again of Jean Vanier. Follow your star is a good motto for Epiphany. Conformity to conscience his motto.


Jean Vanier again. If I was to hold a meeting on some political issue, half a dozen would turn up. The room was packed for Jean with two hundred people there. Yet he has no “policies” or prescriptions or advice: he just tells his life story. Basically he just lives with people who nobody else wants to live with. They are often difficult, angry, selfish, or worse. One of his housemates spat his soup over a visiting policeman. Yet year after year Jean persists. A living saint.


Russian Christmas

I didn’t pick up a lot of the sermon in Russian even with a quietly mumbled translation but there was something about the Nativity being the new light.

In the Western Catholic readings for the 7th of January, the Marriage at Cana is the subject for discussion. So here the first of the signs take place on the same day as the Eastern Orthodox Christmas.


It was announced in Mass that Paul Goggins had died. He was only 60, and suffered a stroke out running. It makes you think. Why do we worry so much about the future? Be happy, and live for the day.


I did a reading at the Epiphany carol service for the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. I didn’t know what I was reading til I turned up. T.S. Eliot’s The Journey of the Magi. Rather alarming especially as in the poem the journey is rather depressing. Not here the cosy Christmas card picture of three kings on camels.

… and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.

Some of it didn’t make much sense. What does this mean?

And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all the way for
Birth or Death?

Anyway the service was grand and beautiful.


I am back in Lincolnshire, the day before speaking on rural affairs.

I was looking for a bit of poetry about the countryside. I didn’t use this quote from John Clare. It arrived too late on a broken blackberry. Perhaps I should have done.

For Nature is love, and finds haunts for true love,
Where nothing can hear or intrude;
It hides from the eagle and joins with the dove,
In beautiful green solitude.

In our church I looked up Psalm 9:

Confiteor Tibi

I will give thanks unto thee, O Lord, with my whole heart.


I looked up Psalm 11 in the Anglican Prayer Book:

Ut quid domine

Why standeth thou so far, O Lord, and hidest thy face in the needful time of trouble.

The Changing of the Year


The Feast of the Holy Family

It was nice to persuade my children to go to mass today and hear the readings about the Holy Family. People can complain if they want that the readings are gooey or old-fashioned but they are beautiful and loving and right too.


I was trying to think of a more personal prayer. I thought of this.

May my thoughts be beside you, God Creator, whoever you are, wherever you are, however you are. Who are you? Who am I? You are all that creates and is created. You are all of humanity and all of every life in the universe. You are not just in Heaven. You are here in this room, beside me. You walk in the fields. You are sky and forest and sea: unchanged, mover yet unmoved.


I was late for Mass because they put the time forward but to arrive in time for communion is something. I saw unexpectedly that there was a midnight mass at 11:30. I should have gone. I went instead to the fireworks on the river. A mistake. There is something depressing about tens of thousands of people seeing thousands of pounds of fireworks go up in smoke in ten minutes. A sort of fatuous municipal bread and circuses. But they are beautiful.

WEDNESDAY – New Year’s Day

Mass at the Carmelites was cancelled so I missed it. I listened as always to the New Year’s Day concert from Vienna: it’s not the same in London as it is looking at the winter sun in Lincolnshire. So I rely on my notes for the previous year and Psalm 66 still resonates.


Feast of Sts Basil and Gregory

I was listening to the sermon about how these gentlemen fought the Arian heresy. I suspect I have been prone to Arianism. Perhaps I still am. I am attracted to a vague Godness in the universe. I wonder how a man who walked in Palestine could have made all this. But curiously as I listened to the sermon about how we should reject this very unworldliness and accept God’s willingness to share this world with us I saw the logic of Christ’s divinity too.


A watery day. We went to the film ‘All is Lost’ with Robert Redford.

No word is spoken for one hundred and eighty minutes. An epic of survival as everything goes wrong. What I like about the film is that Redford is old, the yacht is old. He lives for the present and never til the end despairs and is given survival from death in the end.


We went to the Pearl exhibition in the V&A. Pearls are mass produced by the hundreds of thousands now but up to the 1910s were only caught naturally in the sea. A pearl diver had to open on average 2,000 oysters for every pearl he found.

And on they fished, on they were brought up, they prayed.

We went to a talk by Jean Vanier, founder of l’Arche communities for the disabled. He is 85 now, still a truly inspiring teacher. He tells the tale of Pauline, multiply disabled, and Eric, blind and deaf. Their anger comes from not having been loved and having been humiliated. Anger comes from humiliation, in being disregarded. He was asked, Jean, if he meets politicians. No, he doesn’t debate he says, he just listens. He says we must put conformity to conscience above all things. Go where your conscience decrees: him to join the navy as a youth and then out of no resources to create the first l’Arche house.

26-28 December


In the Anglican prayer book, the readings in the King James Bible for St Stephen’s Day repeat John 1:1. He that believeth, I sit there as light pours in.


St John the Evangelist

I go back to the open empty church and try to understand the parting words of Christ to John who affirms that all this is true. Happy those who have great faith.


A Times journalist had written a particularly nasty piece about Christianity. He went to a Christmas Day service but of course only for the music and the pretty fairy tale. But he made one good point: the Archbishop of Canterbury should have concentrated in his talk about convincing people of the existence of God. Of course the church is right to speak about poverty. But the modern day crisis, which sets us apart from previous generations, is not our concern or lack of concern for the poor but our lack of faith. The Archbishop cannot convince anyone of course in one or a dozen sermons. Faith is not an arithmetical problem. But he could say, I believe that we must persevere.

Faith does not come except in rare fortunate cases for life in a flash. It is not a question of having blue or brown eyes. One keeps them forever. You have to persevere. In Catholicism we have the great gift of the daily mass. I find it a great consolation. But other denominations have their daily communal worship, or at least we should be encouraged to go in for daily communal worship. My faith is like a high gear bicycle. I have to pedal furiously every day to make a little progress. Others have a low gear religious mind. With little effort, on the flat anyway, they can go along at a tremendous lick.

I was lying awake thinking of all this but these, I thought, are just arguments. What is important is to pray. I prayed very slowly as I got to ‘Thy will be done’ I thought maybe His will is an increase in faith and in my mind’s eye I saw a light, rectangular, solid stone, like one of the Stonehenge stones, but in pure white light. I wonder do self-proclaimed atheists never have religious experiences?

The Nativity of Our Lord

We start by going to the Holy Rood Catholic Church at 8pm for a simple spiritual vigil mass. We go on to the magnificence of Sung Eucharist in Lincoln Cathedral and then to carols and readings on Christmas Day morning in the tiny church at Stainton le Vale.

In the middle of the night, we awake thinking really is it just a pretty legend? Only light comes during the simplest of the three services and the reading from John with the words about light and belief.

Up to Christmas


That reading again: “This is how Jesus Christ came to be born.” The patter of words carries on.

I went for a walk around Chiswick House. The Ionic temple sat reflected in its pool of light, calm and still. The paths laid out by Lord Burlington radiate out in perfect symmetry.


Zechariah’s power of speech returns. And, of course, his faith.

Third Week of Advent


I remembered a story from the sermon the week before, prompted by what I heard today which I could not remember.

A blind man had put out a sign as he begged, sitting on the street: “Blind. Please give generously.” Very occasional coins tinkled into his hat. He sensed a person stopping. He could only feel the shoes. The lady wished him well and departed. Then suddenly coins started pouring into his hat. Later she returned and he touched her familiar shoes. Why had things changed after she left? “I turned your sign around,” she said, “to read ‘It’s a beautiful day and I can’t see it.’”

Words matter.

Of course the new sign excited pity. Words matter. It is worth writing them down. But there’s a deeper meaning. How often do we forget that it’s a beautiful day; or a beautiful world? And who, what created it?

Last week I walked to the Thames. There was heavy fog, so heavy that I could not see across to the other side. I might have been on the edge of the ocean. The sight of the Thames was extraordinarily beautiful.


We went to a friend’s funeral, the same church, the parish church in Gainsborough, for another friend a few weeks ago. Here in a small town you are remembered, surrounded by friends and family, the church packed. In a big city, you are lost.


The genealogy of Jesus Christ was read out at Mass. You can always hear people inwardly moaning. It is very long, but calming and beautiful in its way. But I never quite see its point. It ends with Joseph, but surely he wasn’t Jesus’ father.


Once again the reading from Matthew 1:18-24: “This is how Jesus Christ came to be born: …”

Heard again and again at carol services and masses, like a patter of rain, the usual image seeps into the brain. We were told today that the translation of “Joseph, being a man of honour” is a rubbish translation. It should read “being a just man”. What if he had said no? No marriage, Mary stoned to death, Jesus killed in the womb, a silent God on high, no message, no redemption. His son still dying for us but we know nothing of it.


Poor Zechariah. When Gabriel gave him the good news about his wife, he didn’t believe it. She was too old. As a punishment, he was struck blind. How many times should I have been struck blind for not believing.

We all went to Buckingham Palace for the investiture. A slightly bizarre occasion. The Prince of Wales expressed the hope to me that I would carry on. I almost said “Just like you, I intend to” but didn’t. Perhaps this would be lese majeste!


I was in Tate Britain looking at a painting by Reginald Frampton, Brittany 1914. The figures seem curiously detached from the reality about to hit them. Did Mary truly understand the cataclysm about to hit her?


The sun streams through the narrow windows behind the altar in the Cathedral blinding me; only vague shapes emerge on the altar. Like Zechariah, my lack of faith dulls my senses.

Second Week of Advent


We went back to the play. As my son was singing “Bring him home” for a moment, in his look or in his voice or a transitory note, I saw and heard my dead brother. What an extraordinary sensation. Of course it is not unlikely. The genes after all are the same but I had never noticed it before. It was only the emotions of the song that caused the recognition. The song is a prayer for protection of a living person. My fleeting recognition was of a dead person, once so familiar now gone. Who are we? Are we a single entity or part of the part of something else?


I went to the House for tributes to Nelson Mandela. The point is obvious. Like many great men he will be judged by magnanimity in victory, or rather he is one of the few people who fulfilled it.


Although the poetry comes round every year, it never ceases to astound. Has anyone ever written anything finer than Isaiah?

“Let every valley be filled in, every mountain and hill laid low… then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.”


I did a reading in the Order of Malta carol service. Some years I have done, attended five of these. They can be a bit formulaic. This one is made not so much by the beauty of the church or the candlelight but by the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and the power of John’s verse, healthily spoken out. For a moment, its power overwhelmed me.


To another carol service, at Downside Abbey. The king of all carol services. It is the power of the Schola of course but also the fact that it is bookended by plainchant and focused at its centre on the Benediction. Too many carol services are just jaunty tunes interspersed by fairy tales… in the view of many who go to them. How sad.


Advent to me is about a light. It flickers at first, then grows as the candles do. The response to the psalm then has particular power:

“Anyone who follows you, Lord, will have the light of life.” (Psalm 1:1-4)

These words kept rolling over in my mind. What light, what life, whose, where, how? Is this a general statement or addressed to me? Do I believe it? Yes, listening to it during the Mass I did, then forgot it for the rest of the day.


As I was walking down off the Wolds at around four o’clock, it was nearly dark. The features of the landscape were fading into each other – trees, bushes, grass were all fading into each other. Each shape was inchoate. There were no longer bright greens, blues, yellows; the last colour of late autumn, only a delightful greyness, some dark some lighter, fading into each other.

Belief for the Unbeliever


Today is the start of the Church’s year. Perhaps it’s a good opportunity to start too a guest in faith. Why do I struggle with belief? How can I believe? Some will or may come to it suddenly or unexpectedly.

But for me and I suspect for most of us it is a daily struggle. So I think it’s worth looking at it – the question of God’s existence or otherwise – not as a great mountain but as a daily step.

In reading every day and trying to go to Mass perhaps I can make a little progress and maybe others too may find this approach useful.

Today I went to a family First Communion in St Nicholas Church on the river at Chiswick. A beautiful Anglican service, complete with Sanctus and Agnus Dei in Latin. The church, this ancient church seemed content with the service.

Later I walked to Barnes Bridge. Here I was brought up, here I used to walk nearly fifty years ago. I wondered if I walked now to the Crescent, if I rang the bell, would my mother open it? Would I find my father inside on the green chair reading his newspaper, the chair on which he died. Where are they now? But in my mind’s eye, they still were there. So faith is in the mind.

Later, in the Cathedral, I read today’s words in the Gospel:

“Stay awake! You do not know the hour.”

No we do not, and most times we plod on, forgetful. But just once a day cannot we think internally?


We went along to Lambeth Palace for an Advent Service with the Archbishop of Canterbury. This is always a most beautiful service. In these ancient medieval melodies one can lose oneself. For a moment one can feel real joy. Here too in today’s Gospel one can walk with the Centurion.

“Sir, I am not worthy to have you under my roof.”

A good reading for the first weekday in Advent.


We had a debate on the persecution of Christians in the twenty-first century. There was the usual relativism. We were told that Christians are persecuted in 105 countries and Moslems in 101. Maybe all persecution is wrong. But the overwhelming denial of human rights and downright persecution in the world is against Christians.

I referred to the French film “Of Gods and Men” which I had seen on Sunday night. There is a lovely passage when Father Christian confronts his tormentors with the passage in the Koran exhorting peace between faiths. If you persevere, if you concentrate sometimes as in a moment at the Advent service you can feel joy.

“Filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” (Luke 10:21-29)


I led a debate on funding of dermatology. One of the best moments of the week, indeed of the month, was when walking out of the debate. A lady who suffered obviously from a skin condition thanked us.

“He sat there, and large crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the crippled, the blind, the dumb, and many others.” (Matthew 15:29-37)


As I emerged from a meeting with some important people, I should perhaps have remembered today’s psalm (117):

“It is better to take refuge in the Lord, than to trust in princes.”


I was talking to someone at a surgery who clearly has a lot of problems and is almost defeated by life and ill health.

What a pity one cannot do this:

“Then he touched their eyes, saying ‘Your faith deserves it, so let this be done for you.’ And their sight returned.” (Matthew 9:27-31)


We went to a performance of Les Miserables at my son’s school. He told us he was in the chorus. In fact, he was playing Jean Valjean. Les Miserables in particular the song “Who Am I?” is I think a profoundly Christian play. The words express the Christian dilemma. At one level, they pose the question: should one lie to survive? “If I remain silent, I am damned. If I speak up I am condemned.”

But I think there is a deeper meaning. Who am I? Do I have a separate or meaningful existence? Where does my consciousness of self come from? Is it a mechanical, chemical, or spiritual consciousness? Is it material, fleeting? Should it owe allegiance to this real world or another, unseen, which may be illusory?

Christ the King

SUNDAY – Feast of Christ the King

Always a difficult one, because of the last lines of the Gospel: “in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me.” (Matthew 25)


Professor Alister McGrath came to speak to us about the life of C.S. Lewis on the fiftieth anniversary of his death (23 Nov 63). The point I made and believe is that C.S. Lewis is timeless because he struggled with belief and because he addresses as a story the question of the existence of God and the rightness of Christianity. Church leaders need to stop talking about structures and about spirituality.


When I walked into the Cathedral the light was streaming through the southern windows blinding me. Appropriate for the first reading: “a statue of exceeding brightness stood before you.” (Daniel 2:31)


When I heard the words from Daniel – “Mene, men, tekel upharsin” – I thought this would be our fate if God forbid Scotland breaks away. “Parsin” Your kingdom has been divided.


I was sent by my daughter a quote from Meister Eckhardt that seemed very appropriate. It goes something like this:

“If you only say one prayer in your whole life and that is ‘thank you’, that is enough.”

A powerful thought.


I was sitting on the train thinking once again on Meister Eckhardt’s advice. There is so much to give thanks for: children, family, marriage, health, a job. Why mope and be morose – an inevitable part of human nature I suppose.


Daniel this week in his canticles reflects Meister Eckhardt’s advice.

The autumn colours in Lincolnshire have faded dramatically in less than one week.

O sky, and moss, and autumn trees. Bless the Lord.

Back in England


When we got back to England there was a programme on about English Cathedrals. How they had to move with the times, etc. I thought how empty they were, a few worshippers certainly but mainly museum pieces. Then I thought back to the day before, to the great Sikh temple in Delhi, the thousands of pilgrims and worshippers moving forward slowly. Has the Sikh religion felt it necessary to “move with the times”.


The readings this week are from the Book of Macabees. How Eleazar and others suffered torment and death rather than compromise their religion. I wouldn’t hesitate to compromise. Would they be now more than half of one quarter of one per cent in our society who wouldn’t compromise? Yet however many resisted in the tumult of the sixteenth century.

I often wonder what would Zaccheus have done if Jesus hadn’t looked up and called him.


I have never understood “To everyone who has will be given more; but from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” (Luke 19:11-28)

It all seems rather harsh.


When the Gospel was being read about the prophesy of the Fall of Jerusaelm my mind wandered. Started thinking of my visits there, fascinating and moving yes but the centre of the universe? Where the creator of all these billions of stars manifested himself, on which I wondered. Wonder in all senses of the word.

But it took Lord Brennan at the AGM of the Catholic Union to remind me of the true importance of the last phrase which I had missed.

“… and all because you ddi not recognise your opportunity when God offered it.” (Luke 19:41)

What opportunities are we missing.


The day of the Referendum Bill in Parliament. I made several interventions about our beliefs. That we want once again to control our own borders, our own fishing grounds, our own courts, and regulation on our own businesses.

I cannot match the eloquence of today’s reading from Macabees; I had run off early to Mass and heard it: “Judas and his brothers said: Now that our enemies have been defeated, let us go up to purify the sanctuary and dedicate it. So they marshalled the whole army and went up to Mount Zion.”


Sometimes we feel we have failed in our campaigns and we are like King Antiochus who “threw himself on his bed and fell into lethargy from acute disappointment, because things had not turned out for him as he had planned. And there he remained for many days, subject to deep and recurrent fits of melancholy.”

But at least we haven’t done what he did: “But now I remember the wrong I did in Jerusalem.” (Macabees 6:1-13)

Travels in India


As I write this I am listening on the verandah to night prayers starting over Delhi’s traffic noise. Today we have walked around the Lodi Gardens. Of course I was tired but at the tomb of Mohammed Singh, the Mogul Emperor, I felt a great depression. So much power and beauty: now crumbling stone. The crows wheeling slowly overhead, the November sun orange in its intensely setting, always unlike an English park. Some movement.


I stood on the edge of Jama Masjid, the Great Mosque of Delhi’s Old City. India in all its teeming life was before me. At times, like there, the impossibility of redemption seems close. Say there are five billion humans and five billion planets with intelligent life in the universe. How could God – any god – know every hair of every head? But God surely is not just us, it is much more and much less. It is the whole of us but something different. I dreamt that God was a vast unity, a kind of brain and we were all inside. God was not looking down on us, a separate distant intelligence but was looking at us with an inward eye. It is strange how little organised religions talk of the nature of God. We waste so much time on futile arguments about arcane liturgy and rules when no one actually knows or could know the will or wills of God.


In the vast modern concourse of Delhi’s domestic airport, I paused at the bookshop. The usual John Grishams, Jeffrey Archers, etc., and the Bhagavad Gita. I bought it. I was struck by Gandhi’s remarks: “The last nineteen stanzas of Chapter 2 have ever remained engraved in my heart.”

They are indeed unexpressingly moving.

“That man alone is wise who keeps mastery of himself! If one Ponders on objects of the sense, there springs Attraction, from attraction grows desire, Desire flames to fierce passion, passion breeds Recklessness; then the memory – all betrayed Lets noble purpose go, and saps the mind, Till purpose, mind, and man are all undone. But, if one deals with objects of the sense Not loving and not hating, making them Serve his free soul, which rests serenely lord, Lo, such a man comes to tranquillity.”

Gandhi says these verses contain the essence of Dharma.


Meherangarh Fort

The great fort of Jodhpur rises up from the city of one million souls. As I stood on its ramparts I looked down upon the blue-glazed, flat-roofed houses.

What is the meaning of Gandhi’s “non-attachment”? I don’t believe that non-attachment is right for most people. Can one be non-attached to the necessity of food? Can, should, the soul be non-attached to the needs of the self: work, love, health, life, home.

I prefer the way of what I call Right Attachment. A median way of attaching worth but not undue care or worry to most things.

“Most things don’t matter and hardly anything matters at all.”


What is the nature of the Divine? In Chapter 11 of the Bagavadgita

“So did Pandu’s Son behold All this universe enfold All its huge diversity Into one great shape, and be Visible, and viewed, and blended In one Body – subtle, splendid, Nameless – th’ All-comprehending God of Gods, The never-Ending Deity!”

We walked down the dusty lane from the Fort of Chandelao to a lake – past veiled, sari-ed women, brightly coloured, carrying everything on their heads. The November sun hot, sacred cows, wandering barefoot children playing, goats standing, the dry, flat plains all about.

For Indians, the very earth is sacred. Here in the numberless villages of India, time is slower, lengthened.


The Gandhi museum is strangely moving. His sayings are displayed. The simplicity of the room in which he spent the last eighteen months of his life. Everywhere his life confronts our own. Tears rolled down my cheek. “I want, if I don’t give you a shock, to realise identity with even the crawling things on earth, because we claim descent from the same God, and that being so, all life in whatever form it appears must be essentially one.”

Finally one follows in his footsteps across the manicured lawn to the place of his martyrdom. I went on to the Indira Gandhi museum, where she also lived and was assassinated. Now the prevalence of death and of her son Rahul was too depressing. Why this violence and hate?


A contrast. First Mass in the Papal Nunciature, a grand neo-classical building with green lawns roundabout and likenesses of recent popes and Mother Theresa, then on to the Gurudwara, the main Sikh temple. It was a feast day. We formed an intense stream of brightly coloured pilgrims moving slowly into the Temple and around the lake. I bought two contrasting books: the last stand of the 31st British Army Sikh Regiment in the Afghan Wars of the 1890s. All 21 soldiers in a signalling fort were killed by Pathan insurgents. And next a meditation including this from Gurbani, a Sikh guru:

“Walking in the ways of life, moment to moment, live by Godly qualities.”

Everywhere we were treated with great courtesy. Sikhism seems a most attractive religion.

Thirty-First Week in Ordinary Time


It suddenly occurred to me that we spend too much time thinking on what we do not have, what we have missed out on, rather than what we are, what we have.


The Gospel reading today is about people giving excuses for not coming to a wedding. How many times do we give a pathetic excuse for not doing something.


So I was tempted to give an excuse not to spend a tiring evening speaking at Oxford University on faith and politics and missing an important meeting in London but thought I better not. In the end, only four students turned up.

Really, faith in politics, certainly Christian faith, is dying. To our great impoverishment. Yes, us four had a good conversation. There is always a lot of good talk about lost causes in Oxford.

I walked past Latimer and Radley’s memorial. What would they have preferred: a Catholic or an indifferent England?


About thirty parliamentarians who had served in the TA or Regulars went to the Guards Chapel for a Remembrance Service. It is a moving place. When it was bombed in 1944 and over a hundred people killed, the candles kept burning on the altar.


The Gospel reading was about the dishonest servant. Is the true meaning that one has in any way to prepare for and insure against the next life?


At our oblates’ talk in the Abbey, Father Alexander was explaining the Beatitudes.

I have always thought the consolation for not having power is that it gave one the opportunity to speak one’s mind and be honest. But the Beatitudes also make plain that it is the lack of something, certainly riches, even life, that can be the great opportunity or blessing.


Market Rasen was packed for Remembrance Sunday. In the Anglican Church I cried again at the story told of the execution of a teenager at Auschwitz. Someone asks “Where is God in all this?” The neighbour answers “God is there in that noose.”

Thirtieth Week


By contrast I went to the little chapel next to us to hear a said not sung Mass, entirely in English. I am happy with that too. I concentrated on the words of the Gospel and the words of the tax collector as opposed to the Pharisee who prays to himself, “Have mercy on me a sinner.”


We attend the funeral of Cllr Chris Underwood Frost in Gainsborough Parish Church. It is a sad thing that when we reach a full span of 80 years or more there are few to come to our funeral. It is no comfort though when we die young in our prime, in our 50s. The church is full of friends and admirers. But do we only live on in the minds of others? No, when we die old, the panoply of friends and relations, mother, father, or sister, are still there but in the Heavenly Host.


I was talking to someone about the plight of Christians in the Middle East. They want to set up a charity which will not focus on the political situation but on the cultural heritage of Christians. I am sure this is right. We must not lose this rich stream of continuous history particularly the villages, some of which I visited in Northern Iraq which still use Aramaic. My host recited the first words of the Beatitudes in Aramaic: what a glorious sound.


The readings today are all about the power of prayer. “The spirit comes to help us in our weakness.” (Romans 8:26-30).

We can go through the motions of Mass or the Rosary or Matins or whatever but unless we ask we are nothing.


I sat through four and a half hours of debate on HS2. Strange how those in favour and against the line dress up their arguments in a kind of religious fervour. Ultimately it is only a railway line which carries a few people fast to where, if they really thought about it, they probably don’t want to go.


I always love this image of a “huge number, impossible to count, of people from every nation, race, tribe, and language.” And “they shouted ‘Victory to our God’.”

I like the way also that most of them, the Saints, are completely unremembered to history.


Now in our Lincolnshire garden we have the full glory of Autumn: browns, reds, golds, every shade of green, light, dark, a remarkable number of leaves stay still on the trees, gently swaying. It is warm enough to sit in the garden for a time and feel the soft Lincolnshire breeze. The glass is still a richly golden green colour, the remains of the stubbled field opposite still yellow, not a house or a car or any semblance of ugliness in sight. When the first car in an half-hour glides by, its wheel noise lost instantly in the leaves underfoot. It is so quiet. I can hear the blood pumping around my ears.

I run along the lane under the great yellowing beeches and enter our Norman church. I read Psalm 9. “Confiteor Deo tibi / I will speak of your marvels O Lord.”

Twenty-Ninth Week


If one can do no other than remember today’s Gospel, so many of life’s problems and successes would fall into place. “Fool, this very night the demand will be made for your soul.”


We were in Rome with the All-Party Group on the Holy See. We called on Cardinal Turkson and asked him about Syria. Did the Pope’s day of prayer and fasting help to avoid a wider war? It certainly did no harm.

The first sight of St. Peter’s Square when you arrive is always awesome. It is just on such a large scale. Archbishop Muller had explained to us the difficult position of the Church on communion for divorcees. Ultimately though all the Church’s teaching has to be based on love and compassion.


Along with 110,000 other people we went to a General Audience. I nominated two of our number to shake the Pope’s hand. We, meanwhile, want to see the equivalent of the Cabinet Secretary to find out about the reform of the Curia. The reality is much more prosaic than the media hype. It was strange to be standing alone in the Scala Regia alone with the Michaelangelo and Vasparis on the other side of the door to the Sistine Chapel.

The Foreign Minister equivalent whom we met at the end of a long day for him and us seemed only to really speak with life and cease choosing his words when falling about his working relationship with Francis who really is inspiring them all. I like him but I also liked Pope Benedict who despite his deep intellect had a twinkle in his eye.


What a privilege to have our little Mass said for us in the Crypt of St Peter’s. Looking at the tomb of St Peter. The glass reflected an image of us superimposed on his tomb, an allegory of our pilgrimage toward him.


We had a debate on multiculturalism in the Council of Europe. I alone attacked the concept. We should learn from the success of Jewish immigration into England. Jewish people took English names and fully integrated. There is no anti-semitisim and they often lead the way in industry, arts, and politics. If other immigrants ghettoise themselves in their own dress, homes, and aggressive practice they will not advance. So the liberal thinktanks and politicians who addressed us on the virtue of multiculturalism are actually the enemies of Muslim progress in the West.


It was a Day with Mary in the Cathedral, which was packed. Yet the Administrator continued with the usual sung Latin Mass. This vast crowd who don’t or perhaps never are given an opportunity to hear a Mass in Latin seemed perfectly content and happy to take part. The truth is that the Novus Ordo Latin Mass is simple, clear, and easy to understand. When sung in Latin it is beautiful. Why did we ever get rid of it?

Twenty-Eighth Week


I had lunch with someone who intends to beat the world speed record for motoring round the world. I think his greater achievement was to sail an old yacht – Lively Lady – very slowly around the world. He told me it was really drifting round the world. What is wrong with drifting on ocean currents? It must be the most extraordinary physical and spiritual experience to be powered slowly at walking pace around the world by wind. What a test of patience and stolid endurance.


I was speaking against visiting on all dogs the sins of the vicious ones. More regulation, more problems. Everyone remarks on the placid temperament of our William: he gives only calmness, loyalty, and love. How can he too not have a soul?


The chapel at the House of Commons was crowded. Why do we concentrate on the irritating person in front rather than the mystery at the front of the church? Human nature or the devil? I doubt the existence of a malign and scheming devil. There is enough devilry already within human nature at every level to make the existence of a real devil unnecessary.


We had a debate on Army Reserves. With the shortage of monastic vocations will we come to rely more and more on oblates that are part of a monastic community but do not make a vow of stability for life? I think that may be the way forward.


We went to Jim Broadbent’s film, Le Weekend. He makes a long speech on the hopelessness of his life – forced early retirement, no money, wife going off.

Naturally no mention of a fall back on spirituality or religious life in any shape or form. Is this why society is so depressed?


I was in the Abbey church at dusk after Vespers. The light was diffuse and subtle. I had one of those fleeting moments of a shift in consciousness of a complete belief and acceptance. Belief to me is not a settled absolute yes or no, it is an acquired and growing experience, an accumulation of small moments, each of them valuable in themselves.


The Gospel reading today is focussed on the power of prayer. We were told rightly that there is no one good way of prayer. Going through the motions? Better to go through the motions than not try at all. Lectio Divina great, but if it doesn’t work, move on. “Pray as you can, not as you can’t.”

Reshuffle Day

Talking of jobs, its reshuffle day. More interesting the Gospel reading is that of Martha and Mary. The Marthas are the shufflers and the shuffled of life, perpetually moving, wanting more, wanting to be something else but are they ever happy? Today is the lawyer, a shuffler who asks how he can inherit eternal life.

Of course you have to love your neighbour as yourself, but, ah, how to do it? When in the quiet of the Abbey, I am happy, it is easy to do. It is always a trial travelling in the crowded train on the way back.

But you have to view everyone, even the meddler on the mobile phone as a friend and a neighbour, not as an irritant. Easy to contemplate in theory, impossible to do, but I can start to make the effort.

So today I was in a train, a mobile phone conversation started and went on and on. Did I love the mobile phone? No, I just moved a few places. During the journey I read Eckhart Tolle. It was alright but I got more out of staring out of the window and capturing a moment, a deep lake, a van parked alone in the field, a barn, a view of distant downs. But Tolle would probably accept that this experience of a moment is as important as any book.

Feast of St Bruno

We heard of his life. The most charming aspect is his constant having to flee from being given jobs. Not a problem I have ever suffered from, but happiness we know came to Bruno and to us not from being a bishop or its equivalent but in the silence of the moment, in quietness, and creeping then sudden calm acceptance and joy.