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

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

SUNDAY 26th February – Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mass in Holy Rood.

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

MONDAY 27th February

We drive back from Lincolnshire to London.

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

TUESDAY 28th February – Shrove Tuesday

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

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

I come home to pancakes after my mindfulness course.

WEDNESDAY 1st March – Ash Wednesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

FRIDAY 3rd March

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

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

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

SATURDAY 4th March

I am at Downside for an Oblates meeting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think often of God, closer than my breath.

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

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

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

SUNDAY 19th February – Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

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

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

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

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

MONDAY 20th February

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

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

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

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

Yet people are so certain. I wonder why.

TUESDAY 21st February

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

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

A word from King David:

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

WEDNESDAY 22nd February – the Chair of St Peter

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

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

THURSDAY 23rd February – St Polycarp

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

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

FRIDAY 24th February

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

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

SATURDAY 25th February

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

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

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

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Fresco depicting Sts Cyril and Methodius

SUNDAY 12th February – Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

I go to Mass in Westminster Cathedral.

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

MONDAY 13th February

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

A long reading today about Cain and Abel,

… we seem to have learnt nothing.

TUESDAY 14th February – St Cyril & St Methodius

We are in Lincolnshire this week for half term.

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

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

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

WEDNESDAY 15th February

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

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

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

THURSDAY 16th February

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

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

A good, tiring walk.

FRIDAY 17th February

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

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

SATURDAY 18th February

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

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

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

We drive to Glasgow to see Nicky.

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

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

SUNDAY 5th February – Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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

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

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

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

MONDAY 6th February

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

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

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

TUESDAY 7th February

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

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

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

WEDNESDAY 8th February

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

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

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

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

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

THURSDAY 9th February

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

FRIDAY 10th February – St Scholastica

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

SATURDAY 11th February – Our Lady of Lourdes

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

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

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

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SUNDAY 29th January – Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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

MONDAY 30th January

Everyone wants to cancel Trump’s state visit.

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

TUESDAY 31st January – St John Bosco

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

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

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

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

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

WEDNESDAY 1st February

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

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

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

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

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

FRIDAY 3rd February

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

SATURDAY 4th February

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

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

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

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SUNDAY 22nd January – Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

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

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

MONDAY 23rd January

We drive down from Lincolnshire.

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

A reading I always find difficulty in fully understanding.

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

TUESDAY 24th January

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

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

WEDNESDAY 25th January – The Conversion of St Paul

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

No answer.

THURSDAY 26th January

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

FRIDAY 27th January

We bury Aunty Betty.

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

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

SATURDAY 28th January – St Thomas Aquinas

Mary flies to India and I am home alone.

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

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

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

Painting depicting slain St. Sebastian

Painting depicting slain St. Sebastian


SUNDAY 15th January – Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

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

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

MONDAY 16th January

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

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

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

TUESDAY 17th January

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

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

WEDNESDAY 18th January

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

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

THURSDAY 19th January – St Wulstan

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

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

FRIDAY 20th January – St Sebastian

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

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

SATURDAY 21st January – St Agnes

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

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

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

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SUNDAY 8th January – The Epiphany of the Lord

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

MONDAY 9th January – The Baptism of the Lord

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

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

TUESDAY 10th January

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

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

WEDNESDAY 11th January

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

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

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

THURSDAY 12th January – St Aelred of Rievaulx

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

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

St Aelred, 1110 – 1167:

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

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

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

FRIDAY 13th January

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

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

SATURDAY 14th January

J.R.R. Tolkien:

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

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

The Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God

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

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

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

God created the entire universe from the beginning.

Before His Spirit moved, there was only darkness.

He created light by His will and this pleased Him.

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

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

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

He created trees from plants.

Thus the third phase ended.

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

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

And so passed the fourth phase of his creation.

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

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

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

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

God made man and woman in his image.

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

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

This was the origin of the entire universe.

MONDAY 2nd January

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

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

TUESDAY 3rd January

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

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

WEDNESDAY 4th January

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

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

THURSDAY 5th January

The Gospel today is about obeying one’s conscience:

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

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

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

FRIDAY 6th January

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

SATURDAY 7th January

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

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

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SUNDAY 25th December – Christmas Day

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

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

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

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

MONDAY 26th December – St Stephen

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

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

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

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

TUESDAY 27th September – St John the Evangelist

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

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

WESNESDAY 28th December – The Holy Innocents

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

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

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

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

THURSDAY 29th December

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

FRIDAY 30th December

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

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

SATURDAY 31st December

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

Fourth Week of Advent

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SUNDAY 18th December – Fourth Sunday of Advent

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

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

MONDAY 19th December

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

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

TUESDAY 20th December

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

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

WEDNESDAY 21st December

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

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

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

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

THURSDAY 22nd December

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

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

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

FRIDAY 23rd December

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

SATURDAY 24th December

The others are shopping. I read and walk.

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

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

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SUNDAY 11th December – Third Sunday of Advent

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

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

MONDAY 12th December – Our Lady of Guadalupe

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

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

TUESDAY 13th December

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

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

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

WEDNESDAY 14th December

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

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

THURSDAY 15th December

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

“… Cherishing life.
Accepting death…”

FRIDAY 16th December

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

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

SATURDAY 17th December

A quiet day in Lincolnshire.

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

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

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SUNDAY 4th December – Second Sunday of Advent

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

MONDAY 5th December

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

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

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

TUESDAY 6th December – St Nicholas

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

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

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

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

WESNESDAY 7th December – St Ambrose

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

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

THURSDAY 8th December – The Immaculate Conception

Luke 26-38

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

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

FRIDAY 9th December

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

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

SATURDAY 10th December

We go to drinks at a friend’s home.

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

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

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SUNDAY 27th November – First Sunday of Advent

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

MONDAY 28th November

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

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

TUESDAY 29th November

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

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

WEDNESDAY 30th November – St Andrew the Apostle

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

Mass in the crypt chapel is for St Andrew.

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

THURSDAY 1st December

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

FRIDAY 2nd December

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

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

SATURDAY 3rd December – St Francis Xavier

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

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

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

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

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

MONDAY 21st November – Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

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

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

TUESDAY 22nd November – St Cecilia

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

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

WEDNESDAY 23rd November

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

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

THURSDAY 24th November – St Andrew Dung-Lac

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

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

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

FRIDAY 25th November

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

SATURDAY 26th November

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

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

Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time and Remembrance Sunday

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SUNDAY 13th November – Remembrance Sunday, Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

We go to the Cenotaph ceremony in Gainsborough.

They shall not grow old …

MONDAY 14th November

I am criticised for criticising the Liberal Euro establishment. We drive down from Lincs after canvassing for Sleaford by-election.

Entrance antiphon
“The Lord said: I think thoughts of peace and not of affliction”.

TUESDAY 15th November – St Albert the Great

I go to the International Trade Committee. Various experts telling us that the ‘gravity theory’ makes it all very difficult. I’m not sure. The theory itself is controversial. I got into health questions and dare to question whether the NHS can be funded properly and whether charging might have to be considered. That’s as dangerous as questioning the modern religion.

Today is the feast of the great force for renewal, St Albert, at the time of the re-discovery of Aristotle.

Psalm 15
“Lord, who shall dwell on your holy mountain? He who walks without fault”.

WEDNESDAY 16th November – St Margaret of Scotland

We have Peter Levene at the Procedure Committee. He tells an amusing story about financing the MoD. He was told he could not impose penalty clauses on suppliers because the MoD would get more money and it would upset the accounts.

I chair a Westminster Hall debate on English wine. A jolly occasion and in the evening serve champagne to celebrate Brexit and Brexit plus plus.

“There was a rainbow encircling the throne and this looked like and emerald”
Apocalypse 4:1-11.

THURSDAY 17th November – St Elizabeth of Hungary

We go to see Aunty Betty at Guildford Hospital, she is 92 and has had a stroke. It is curiously peaceful sitting with her for two hours. The most useful thing I have done all week.
In the evening we have Catherine’s show at the Marlborough.

“Is there anyone worth to break the seals?”
Apocalypse 5:1-10.

FRIDAY 18th November

I open phase II of Bishop Burton College Riseholme and announce the Minister will call in Lincoln University’s plan to build 2000 homes and deny the college a home farm.

Psalm 119
“I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches”.

SATURDAY 19th November

I read a Psalm in our village church, Psalm 144: “Blessed be the Lord, my rock”.

In the afternoon I go for a long walk with Monty along the edge of the Wolds from Tealby, then on to Walesby and finally to Nettleton and then back to the Caistor High Road. Monti breaks his lead on the far side of the main road and I wait for an hour in a cold, twilight field. Eventually I give up and he makes his own way back in the pitch dark. Their homing instinct is annoying, combined with a powerful sense of smell. He can make his way across a busy tarmac road and miles down a country road.

Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time and the feast of St Leo the Great

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SUNDAY 6th November – Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

I go to an Evangelical service in Polzeath Methodist Chapel. The quality of the sermon is very good, much more profound than what we get in our church. It is an exegesis on the meaning of the three shelters. I have always heard them translated as tents put up for the transfiguration. Apparently there were shelters in the Temple. Everyone was very friendly and gave me coffee.

MONDAY 7th November

I swim in the still not too cold Atlantic and walk half way to Pentire Point.

In the afternoon, walking through the sun, rain and wind, we let the dog off the lead in Daymer Bay. He can run from one end to the other of this vast beach in seconds.

TUESDAY 8th November

The sea is calm so I can have one of my best swims ever.

We walk around Pentire Point. I am tired but the light is extraordinary.

I wake at 5am and turn on the television to see the amazing has happened, he is likely to win. I got back to sleep and come back to the television at 7.30am to see Trump’s victory speech. What an extraordinary day. As he would say, Brexit plus plus.

Where now the Liberal establishment?

WEDNESDAY 9th November

We drive to St Agnes. After the Poldark series I am fascinated by the ruins of old mines. It is difficult to find the iconic mining house above the sea but eventually I find it, bleak and forbidding.

We go to evensong at Truro Cathedral. We sit in the choir. The singing is arresting and beautiful. We go to Charlestown, a small harbour with square rigged ship, and end the day at Trebarwith in the Port William pub facing an early November sunset.

In the gloom I walk Monti towards Tintagel, the lights of the pub far below me, waves and wind crashing on the shore.

THURSDAY 10th November – St Leo the Great

We drive to Lincolnshire. While at Downside I am inspired to write more on St Benedict.

I have a pocket copy of the Rule. I am interested in the impact of it on my life.

I lie in bed at night wondering why God, if there is a God, given that there are thousands of billions of planets in the universe, would want to manifest himself on Earth 2000 years ago. We will never know, but we can only hope.

FRIDAY 11th November

A busy day meeting constituents, including a meeting on getting the new hotel going in Gainsborough and meeting with the County Council. They have killed off the Mayor idea for the second time.

In the morning I read Psalm 93 in our village church and go to the 11.11 ceremony in the market place at Gainsborough.

SATURDAY 12th November

I read Psalm 100 in our village church. Otherwise it is a day of reading and walking Monti. We watch Mandela’s ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ in the evening. I cannot stop myself crying at the bit where in a television interview he appeals for peace.

Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time and All Saints’ Day

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SUNDAY 30th October – Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

We drive back from Lincs for lunch with the family and Mass in the Cathedral.

“In your sight, Lord, the whole world is like a grain of dust that tips the scales”.

MONDAY 31st October

I ask a question of the Home Secretary, calling for a Select Committee enquiry into Orgreave that creates a few waves.

The Gospel today is difficult: do we ever do it …
“… Now when you have a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind …”
Luke 14:12-14.

TUESDAY 1st November – All Saints’ Day

I am not sure if the Whips will slip me so I go to the 1pm Mass but business ends so I cannot resist going to the magnificent Mass at 5.30 with the Cardinal. His sermon, of course, is on death; not forgetting it, not dreading it but seeing it as a passport to a different life. We all wish we could be surer, but meantime it is best just to assume.

WEDNESDAY 2nd November

Lovely Latin Mass in the Holy Souls Chapel in the Cathedral. We miss so much with the Mass not being in Latin in a beautiful chapel with the priest facing the altar.

THURSDAY 3rd November

The High Court insists on Parliament having a say on Brexit’s Article 50. I stand up and agree. The only thing to fear with Brexit is fear itself. It will be a brave MP who votes against. The evening Mass marks the 60th anniversary of Cardinal Cormac’s ordination.

FRIDAY 4th November
I travel to Downside.

In the evening I pick up a booklet Father Leo has written for the children – a conversation with St Benedict. It brings alive, for me, his life more than Theodore Maynard’s scholarly thesis which I am attempting to slowly read.

As always, Downside sulks in slowly. Midday prayer passes over to no effect, there is even a slight sense of depression, then a walk through magnificent autumn woods and in the darkened Abbey, lighting a candle, a sudden momentary shift into belief.

Father Leo, citing Benedict, cites pride as the deadliest danger because it leads to self-absorption and he cites the 12 steps up the ladder of humility as a guide.

Today Stephen Phillips resigns. I think you should tight on, not resign.

SATURDAY 5th November

I am at Downside. This is a good place to think. We have our oblates meeting. Father Alexander goes through the Rule of St Benedict. Like all these ancient texts, it deserves patience to dig down beyond the antiquated language. In Chapter 7, Benedict tells us “without doubt, this descent and ascent can signify only that we descend by exultation and ascend by humility.” As I read this I remember a conversation I had with George Osborne – “you are in charge now” he told me. If only. If like me you have no power it is easy enough to be humble.

Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

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SUNDAY 23rd October – Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Bishop Patrick of Nottingham pays a visit to our little parish and gives a first-class sermon. It is on, of course, the Pharisee in all of us, found in the Gospel.

“I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like the rest of mankind”
Luke 18:11-12

Do we not all compare ourselves to others?

MONDAY 24th October

I ask a question of Theresa May, whether she would support a free trade deal with the EU which is wholly in their interests. She simply says “I agree”. It is widely repeated the next day and a No. 10 spokesperson has to clarify her remarks; either she was not listening properly or was just agreeing a free trade deal was in their interests. Later I chair Westminster Hall.

I am pondering on CS Lewis’ book ‘Miracles’ – he is a superb polemicist and he uses semantics to establish a strong case, but I was wondering how God, if he listens, can bear the patience of all these prayers. How many billion people are there on the planet, say 7? A lot of them won’t believe or won’t pray, but say half a billion do every day, even for a short time. It is, of course, ridiculous that God could have the patience or time to listen even if he is completely different to us. But then I go on in-between sleeping and dozing to say most of the Rosary. It is so deeply calming.

Perhaps today’s Gospel from Luke 13:13-14 is about prayer?
“And at once she straightened up and glorified God”.

TUESDAY 25th October

I speak at the Middle East Forum on the Russian view of the Middle East. We at least must start to understand their attitude. In the afternoon, I go to the AGM of the Holy See Group. I decide to put my name in for the International Trade Select Committee.

Luke 13:18-21
“Is the Kingdom of God then like a mustard seed? Is it so tiny yet its potential so large?”

WEDNESDAY 26th October

A red letter day. To my surprise I am elected onto the International Trade Select Committee.

In the morning I am briefed on Russia by the Head of the Eastern Europe Desk at the FCO. Business will go on as usual.

As always in our Wednesday Mass, the chant at the end is the best bit.

What is Luke’s “Narrow door”, 13:22-30, where is it? How do we find it? What does it look like?

THURSDAY 27th October – St Chad

Psalm 105
“constantly seek his face”

Where do we see his face? It is easier in the autumn countryside or on a boat at sea. Sometimes you can start the day in heavy fog, everything obscured, even the other side of the harbour, then the sun burns through, the breeze gets up and the boat surges forward.

FRIDAY 28th October

A long walk in the dusk with Monti and Theo via Kirmond le Mire. On these autumn evenings, as one descends into the villages, the greens merge into a soft brilliance.

Saturday 29th October

I walk to the village church and read Psalm 9
“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most high shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty”.

A surgery in Market Rasen and another long walk in autumn golds.

Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time and the feasts of St Luke & St John Paul II

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SUNDAY 16th October – Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

In the evening we are back at dinner with Patriarch Kirill.

I always think on today’s Gospel:
“I must give this widow her just rights or she will persist in coming and worry me to death”
Luke 18:1-8.

MONDAY 17th October – St Ignatius of Antioch

I often think on this parable too:
“‘I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’’
Luke 12:13-21.

I got my royalties cheque this week for ‘Monastery of the Mind’. A grand total of £303.74, 637 copies for 3 years of sales. £100 a year would be a modest amount to live on. I was talking to Nadine Dorries today, she has done rather better with her novels. I wish I had the imagination to write them!

TUESDAY 18th October – St Luke

I asked Boris Johnson in FCO Questions to welcome Patriarch Kirill – and the fortitude of the Russian Church under Soviet oppression. I didn’t get a very forthcoming reply. We have our last session of the Higher Education Bill.

In today’s Gospel, Luke 10:
“The harvest is rich but the labourers are few”.

Kirill told me that his services are bursting.

WEDNESDAY 19th October

I have my little prayer meeting with Peter at the Brompton Oratory. We discuss the need for prayer.

“When a man has had a great deal given him, a great deal will be demanded of him”
Luke 12:48-49

What does this mean for us?

THURSDAY 20th October

We take Mary out for her birthday. A nice day.

I was looking at a TV programme. Apparently they now think that at the centre of every galaxy is a black hole and it affects the way the whole of the galaxy behaves. Its relation in size to the galaxy is the same as a grape to the Earth. I have always wondered how something as small as Jesus could affect the whole universe but we now know something the size of a grape can affect something the size of a planet. In that sense, we are all interconnected. The whole universe if finely balanced. We all come from the same source and return to it.

I hear today that Lincolnshire County Council has voted down devolution to a Mayor. Victory!

FRIDAY 21st October

I meet with the Head of the Hospital Trust. I will help with the campaign to get a medical school in Lincoln; something positive to do.

Ephesians 4:1-6
“I, the prisoner in the Lord, implore you to lead a life worthy of your vocation”.

SATURDAY 22nd October – St John Paul II

We go to the installation of the new Dean of Lincoln Cathedral. The first woman. The service is dignified, beautiful even; the legality’s interesting but I would have liked a bit more spiritual power.

Ephesians 4:8-9
“When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people”.

Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time and the feast of St Edward the Confessor

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SUNDAY 9th October – Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

A fresh, bright day with lots of autumn sun and the wind from the North East.
We sail all the way from the river to outside of Portsmouth in a few hours.
We drive home through Surrey to see my sister.

A good day.

MONDAY 10th October – St Paulinus

I meet with the Chief Whip to give him my views on a full decant of Parliament from the Palace of Westminster. I am against. Get on with the work now.

“The only sign it will be given is the sign of Jonah”
How strange that we are still talking about Nineveh, Mosul.

TUESDAY 11th October

I fly to Vienna at the invitation of the Catholic Bishops Conference to address 20 Austrian MPs on why a Catholic voted for Brexit. Lovely people from all parties. Of course they are questioning, but at least 2 say that if they were British they would vote for Brexit.

WESNESDAY 12th October

I go to 8am Mass in St Stephen’s Cathedral, a good attendance and an experience in front of a marvellous icon. Afterwards we climb on to the roof, destroyed by fire in April 1945, and peer over the gargoyles at the street below.

Vienna – a marvellous place of grand nineteenth century buildings, designed for an Empire. A happy place, not too big and unfriendly.

THURSDAY 13th October – St Edward the Confessor

Back to reality.

I spend all day chairing the Higher Education Standing Committee.
I ask a question in Business Questions about the decant of Parliament. Let’s have all the options available. In the evening, before driving up to Lincs I go to Mass.

Why was Edward the Confessor so holy? What did he do, apart from die at the wrong time in 1066 and let in William the Conqueror? But without him we could not have Westminster Abbey.

“Alas for you who build the tombs of the prophets; the men your ancestors kicked”
Luke 11:47-48

What does this mean?

FRIDAY 14th October

I open a skate park, hold a surgery and support the people of Riseholme in their battle to preserve the Agriculture College and its home farm.

But for me, the outstanding moment of the day is visiting an elderly man of 91 who, with great courage, is looking after his wife; shopping, cleaning and cooking, what a hero and an inspiration.

SATURDAY 15th October

We have dinner with His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia. I talk to him and his English is perfect. His church is growing fast: 25,000 new churches.

Soviet persecution has failed and Christianity is bouncing back.

Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time and the feast of St Francis of Assisi

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SUNDAY 2nd October – Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

We spent the afternoon in Durham; it’s always a delight to sit on Palace Green having a tea with the Castle on one side and the Cathedral on the other, then to walk down the hill to the river.

MONDAY 3rd October

I went to the Party Conference to speak at a Conservative fringe event –
Is Global Warming the New Religion?

I’m not sure it is, although some approach the topic with religious fervour.

TUESDAY 4th October – St Francis of Assisi

Francis writes thus:
“Men lose all the material things they leave behind them in this world, but they carry with them the reward of their charity and the alms they give”

Easy enough to say, difficult for most of us to act upon. That doesn’t deny its truth.

WEDNESDAY 5th October

There are long meetings this week but time to take refuge in Mass and listen to the readings.

At Downside I picked up a little paper about Lectio Divina.
Of course I have tried it many times but how often do I practice it? How often can I remember the Gospel even a few hours after?

Today we are first asked to meditate on the Lord’s Prayer.
Can we visualise it, ask again what it says, what it means for us?

THURSDAY 6th October – St Bruno

How do the Carthusians cope with solitude? I imagine very easily.
Reading, meditating, gardening. Attending the Divine Office.
Silence is the missing ingredient to do so much.

FRIDAY 7th October – Our Lady of the Rosary

I usually only say the Rosary in the middle of the night when I wake, but it is strangely soothing.
I seem to remember when I fell asleep the night before and I take it up from then.

More long meetings today, as all week in airless rooms.

The reading today is a difficult one from Luke 11:15-26
“… so to with Satan; if he is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand”

SATURDAY 8th October

I take Mary sailing. For once, everything goes right: the engine works, the wind is from the East. We sail to Buckler’s Hard in the Beaulieu River. I never thought we would get there when we started but we make it and have a pleasant, well-earned supper in the pub. It is magical to sail up a twilight river and to arrive in harbour near dark and, at last, relax.

Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time and the feast of St Thérèse of Lisieux

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SUNDAY 25th September – Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Antiphon:
All that you have done to us, o Lord, you have done with true judgement.

32nd Wedding anniversary. As our treat we go to the Civic Service in Gainsborough. The sermon, a good one, is on the theme of them and us. We should treat everybody as us. Good in theory but practical? Can we accommodate a million Syrians here really?

MONDAY 26th September

Mass in the Cathedral. The reading is on Job. Sometimes this summer I have felt like Job, but I remember a phrase of Winston Graham’s: a cameraman is standing in the pouring rain, waiting patiently. ‘Why do you look so cheerful?’ he is asked. ‘I’m alive, I’m well and I’m working’. What more do I want? One should remember that more often.

We drive down to Cornwall and the car stops and won’t start in the fast lane of the M4. Otherwise, uneventful.

Always a delight to arrive at Polzeath in the dark and walk out to the sea.

TUESDAY 27th September

I am reading here – ‘The Fishermen of Port Isaac’ by Geoff Provis.

In the nineteenth century all the pilchards, now gone, were sold to Italy for Lenten fast.
He quotes verse:
“Here’s a letter to the Pope, and may he repent
And lengthen by six months the term of his Lent,
It’s always declared betwixt the two poles
There’s nothing like pilchards for saving of souls”.

Now Port Isaac is just a lovely tourist venue, but still there are echoes of an age when a hundred men earned their living there.
Apparently up to 1830 Cornwall had 44 MPs (to Scotland’s 60) so a bounty for pilchards was extracted from a distant Government, with MPs comes bounties!

Mary is ill so I walk alone around Pentire Point.

WEDNESDAY 28th September

We walk past Daymer Bay to the ferry and have an anniversary dinner in Padstow. The church is locked but I wander around the gardens of Prideaux Place, wandering from the colonel’s walk a
magnificent of the Camel estuary. We have our anniversary dinner and walk back along the beach.

THURSDAY 29th September

We do a very tiring hour walk to Port Quin, a sad place. According to legend all the men died in a fishing accident and the women wandered away in grief. We walk down in Lundy Bay, the high tide waves crashing, the sea silvering in the twilight and exhausted from fresh air, supper in a cosy cottage.

FRIDAY 30th September

We drive to Downside. I start reading St Therese of Lisieux. It is her feast day tomorrow. As always at Downside, after compline, I sit alone in the great dark Abbey church.

SATURDAY 1st October – Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face

I have always found her autobiography of a soul a bit cheesy but in today’s reading, a passage grabs me and moves my soul. Perhaps it is the effect of the beautiful Saturday morning Latin Mass in the Abbey.

“In the first section, 12th and 13th chapters of the 1st epistle to the Corinthians caught my attention and in the first section I read that not everyone can be an apostle, prophet or teacher. That the Church is composed of a variety of members …
I found this an encouraging theme
Set your desires on the greater gifts. And I will show you the way which surpasses all others.
For the apostle insists that the greater gifts are nothing at all without love
… I recognised myself in none of the members which St Paul described
… love appeared to me to be like hunger for my vocation.
I knew that the church had a heart and that such a heart appeared to be aflame with love
… and I realised that love sets off the bounds of all vocations
… at last I have found my calling: my call is love”

This struck me most forcibly.

Therese wanted to be a martyr or a missionary. She did not have the strength.

She had to settle for something less but in the end it was much more, just love, and now Therese is a doctor of the Church.

Of course, love in the cloister is challenging. No doubt the other nuns are irritating sometime, but at least they are trying for the same thing. How much greater is the challenge in the wider world?

But it shows we should not be frustrated that in our way of life we cannot achieve distinction. At the end there is always love left – even for the poorest, oldest, most ill and least successful”.

Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time & the feast of St Matthew

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SUNDAY 18th September – Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

A glorious day and we have lunch in the garden, like the old times with the children after Mass.

Psalm 113
“High above all nations is the Lord, above the heavens his glory”.

MONDAY 19th September – St Theodore of Tausus

St Theodore, an interesting man. Appointed at the age of 65 to the Archbishopric of Canterbury, having not even been a priest previously.

We fly to Italy. We meet the Vice President of the Chamber, S. Mailo of the 5 Star Movement, who might become the next Prime Minister if, as is possible, they take power, and have dinner at the Villa Wolkonsky with our Ambassador who is only in her forties.

TUESDAY 20th September

There is a church very close to the square facing the parliament where we are staying. I got a brief bit of the Mass and follow it on Universalis before a full day of meetings. We have good access to the Chairmen of both the European and Foreign Affairs Committees in both Parliaments. The only subject is Brexit. Alberto Costa and I deserve a medal for repeating I don’t know how many times how much we value Italians living in the UK, which of course is true.

There is time to go to Mass at the church behind our hotel. The sermon for a little midweek Mass in incredibly long. There is nothing more frustrating than a sermon delivered in a passionate and interesting way when you cannot understand what is being said. After a bit I take refuge in a street concert and just come back for communion.

21 Proverbs:
“In the Lord’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him”.

WEDNESDAY 21st September – St Matthew

It is nice to read the Gospel first and then listen to St Matthew in Italian and listen to the familiar words in Italian during the Mass and repeat them in Latin.

Matthew 9:
“As Jesus was walking he saw a man named Matthew sitting by the custom house and said to him ‘follow me’ and he got up and followed him”.

More meetings, this time in the Senate. I love Maccari’s painting of Cicero addressing the Senate.

THURSDAY 22nd September

We have to fly back fairly early but by chance in a busy walk I stumble across the baroque façade of St Ignazio’s church. What an extraordinary feast to the eyes and one can photograph the ceiling through an upturned mirror. It seems almost to come alive in 3D.

Ecclesiastes 1:12
“Vanity of vanities, the preacher says. Vanity of vanities, All is vanity! For all his bit, his bit under the sun, what does man gain by it”.

FRIDAY 23rd September – St Pius of Pietrelcina

A sunny swim and then a drive up to Lincolnshire for a surgery and an evening event with a talk by a Prison teacher. There is, it seems, much humour thankfully even in prison.

I am reading John Hooper on ‘The Italians’. He is dismissive of Padre Pio’s stigmata. I am not sure, why should anyone deliberately wound themselves?

SATURDAY 24th September – Our Lady of Walsingham

We are not there, but at Mass in the estate church at Stainton with sweeping views over the Wolds. I worry over the reading about Lazarus. The man is just so selfish. Is it we?

Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

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SUNDAY 11th September – Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

We climb the Rock to say hello to a family of monkeys, including a baby, and go into the caves and we fly back. I get to the 7pm Mass in Westminster Cathedral.

Collect:
Look upon us o God, creator and maker of all things.

MONDAY 12th September – The Most Holy name of Mary

I ask a question in the chamber.

“Give peace, o Lord, to those who wait for you”.

TUESDAY 13th September

The hottest September day since 1911 and I spend the morning chairing the Higher Education committee and asking about Hinckley Power Station.

WEDNESDAY 14th September – The Exultation of the Holy Cross

The Cathedral has a relic and we bless it. Where, I wonder, does it come from?

THURSDAY 15th September – Our Lady of Sorrows

A long, hot chairing of the Higher Education committee. I send an email to all colleagues arguing against the complete decant of the House of Commons for six years – a typical Rolls Royce solution, over engineered. Why can we not make do and mend?

“Simeon said to Mary: Behold, this child is destined for the ruin and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign of contradiction and your own soul a sword will pierce”.

FRIDAY 16th September

A rare delight – the children come up to Lincolnshire. We take Monti for a long walk and four times let him off the lead, four times he runs away chasing pheasants and rabbits. But for Theo sprinting we would never catch him.

“If there is no resurrection of the dead, Christ himself cannot have been raised, and if Christ has not been raised then our preaching is useless”.
1 Corinthians 15:13-15

SATURDAY 17th September

Monti is now on a long rope, a more peaceful walk.

Collect:
Look upon us o God, creator and maker of all things, that we may feel the working of your mercy.