11th Week of Ordinary Time / St Alban

ELEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

The poetry of Ezekiel 17:22-24:

“From the top of the cedar from the highest branch I will take a shoot and plant it myself on a very high mountain. I will plant it on the high mountain of Israel. It will sprout branches and bear fruit and become a noble cedar.”

MONDAY

I had a good day in the Commons proposing an amendment to give full fiscal autonomy to the Scots. They had a go at me for half an hour. To work hard in the chamber is good practice.

The psalm of today struck in my memory:

“The Lord has made known his salvation.” (Ps 97)

TUESDAY – St Richard of Chichester

A rare event: I put down an amendment two days in a row, this time on trying to ensure both sides spent equal amounts on the EU referendum.

“My soul gives praise to the Lord.” (Ps 145)

WEDNESDAY

A busy day, an early meeting, my father-in-law’s eightieth birthday, and I sat outside the committee room where members are voting for select committee chairs for two hours.

“And since without your mortal frailty can do nothing, grant us always the help of your grace.” (Collect)

THURSDAY

I fail in a bid to be the select committee chair. My vote is disappointing: it shows one should not take oneself too seriously – other people do not.

The Mass in the evening is for sick and retired priests. They really have given everything. Do we ever thank them?

“I only wish you were able to tolerate a little foolishness from me.” (2 Corinthians)

FRIDAY

I visit an old peoples’ home. They are only twenty, thirty years older than me but affected with dementia. They seem so old, just sitting there. Our time passes so quickly. I talk to Harold, a 95 year old who remembers Liverpool in the 1930s. A trade unionists all his life, he seems quite forgiving of a Tory.

“O Lord, hear my voice for I have called to you. Be my help.” (Entrance Antiphon)

SATURDAY – St Alban

We are almost at Midsummer Day. Sulky, rainy, cloudy – the wold’s hills I walk bathed in a quiet mist. St Alban’s land – our first martyr.

“…to stop me from getting too proud, I was given a thorn in the flesh.” (2 Corinthians)

And can anyone for all his worrying add one single cubit to his span of life?

Sixth Week of Easter

SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

As I write this the light is streaming into the cottage from the west on a summer’s evening.

We went to Mass, the Sunday before Ascension, before eating outside in the garden.

John 15 is a remarkable poem to love.

“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Remain in my love.”

MONDAY

We are back in London for a packed meeting of the 1922 Committee. I can barely get into the room. Everybody is enthusiastic, a joy to behold. Let’s hope it lasts, but events…

I prefer to be in Lincolnshire but it’s nice to be able to go to the sung evening mass in the Cathedral.

John 15 continues:

“When the Advocate comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father…”

TUESDAY

We meet with all the new colleagues. I talk to only a few but they seem a cheerful bunch.

“Jesus said to his disciples, Now I am going to the one who sent me…” (John 16)

I suppose this is a long meditation designed to prepare one for the Ascension.

There is one line from a homily today on the feast day of Blessed Alvaro del Portillo: “When we die, we can only take away what we have given.” So true.

WEDNESDAY – Our Lady of Fatima

A double visit to doctors, travelling across London, but in between an interlude in Chelsea Physic Garden, an interesting and beautiful place, full of stories about plants, but too many people. I prefer to be amongst my own infinitely less exotic plants in Lincolnshire.

What are we to make of Our Lady of Fatima? What does it matter?

“I still have many things to say to you, but they would be too much for you now…” (John 16)

THURSDAY – St Mattias

I go to Mass, the vestments red, before a long drive past a blockedA1 northwards and to a public meeting in Welton.

“It was not you who chose me says the Lord, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit.” (Entrance Antiphon)

And John 15 continues:

“As the Father has loved me so I have loved you. Remain in my love.”

FRIDAY

I ran the short distance to our little village church and read Psalm 45 in the Prayer Book: “My heart is indicting a good matter. I speak of the things which I have made touching the King; my tongue is the pen of a ready writer.”

I think of this, my contribution, which comes only and not very well at that from my pen. I do a happy surgery and shop in Gainsborough and meet a few people.

SATURDAY

Today is the last day that Mary and I will have children of our own under the age of 18. Our youngest is 18 tomorrow, the 17th of May. It’s been 29 years and 5 months less two days of having children under the age of 18, so tomorrow another chapter starts.

“O chosen people, proclaim the mighty works of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Alleluia.” (Entrance Antiphon)

Fifth Week of Easter

FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

We went to Glasgow Cathedral for a Presbyterian service – perhaps my first. Dignified, welcoming, the sermon brilliant and shall we say substantial.

“My children, our love is not to be just words or mere talk but something real and active, only by this can we be certain that we are children of the truth.”

MONDAY – The English Martyrs

Bank holiday Monday. A battle bus was arriving in Lincoln and I did some calm leafleting. Again I rewarded myself with Evensong in the Cathedral.

In this calm atmosphere, so moderate and English, the disputes of the past seem deeply buried indeed.

“These who are clothed in white robes are they who have survived the time of great distress.”

TUESDAY

I walked about the Market Place in Gainsboroug, a walkabout is perhaps too strong a word – it was very quiet and then a pleasant stroll canvassing around Knaith Park, then a tea. It’s not the dynamic front line, but pleasant.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. You heard me say I am going away and I shall return.” (John 14)

Before, we went to the funeral mass of Father Philip Bailey. Many priests were there to celebrate this clever (a doctor of scripture) and humble and willing local parish priest for over thirty years. A kind, good man. Rest in peace.

Another beautiful little mass in Holy Rood with Father Jonathan.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” (John 15)

But people like Father Jonathan are also vinedressers.

More canvassing in Lea, then I ended this campaign at the highest point of Lincolnshire at Normanby le Wold, on a calm summer’s evening. The battle is over.

THURSDAY 7 MAY – Polling Day

I usually do some hoovering of the carpet on polling day, a soothing activity. We go out and attempt a little loud hailering, the first of the campaign, but we probably do more harm than good. A long night starts with the startling exit poll.

“Let us sing to the Lord, for he has gloriously triumphed.” (Entrance Antiphon)

FRIDAY

The day starts at midnight and goes on to 7 am, the declaration of the count, and then a drive back home in the light, always a strange feeling. Breakfast, a short sleep, and back to the local election court and a grateful tea and cakes with the children back home. How nice to have been here.

“I will thank you Lord among the peoples.” (Ps 56)

SATURDAY

With the children we do the Tennyson walk, starting at Tetford, then around Sowerby where he lived at the rectory, the church sadly closed for repairs.

“Cry out with joy to the Lord, all the earth.” (Ps 99)

Fourth Week of Easter

MONDAY

A difficult day; tough questions at Queen Elizabeth High School and then attacks at the hustings, but in retrospect it’s all good for the soul, demanding and humbling.

The sheep story continues and drives home the message:

“They never follow a stranger, but run away from him.” (John 10)

TUESDAY

I spend a calming day delivering leaflets in Lincoln and as a reward I take myself off to Lincoln Cathedral for Evensong. Always a soothing and beautiful experience; I am always amazed there are not more people listening to the glorious singing of the Psalms, antiphons, Magnificat, and Nunc Dimittis in this vast gothic amphitheatre.

“Let us rejoice and be glad, and give glory to God.”

WEDNESDAY – St Catherine of Siena

I tried to go to Mass but it was cancelled but useful news. I heard young Fr Jonathan who had gone off to join the Benedictines was returning to our parish to say Mass for the first time. I carried on with my gentle rural rides, talking to people.

I sat alone in the empty church for the non-mass, it was strangely calming and read the texts for Catherine of Siena.

“God is light and there is no darkness in him at all.” (John)

THURSDAY

I was speaking at a school, the second of the day and had a turn. An intimation of mortality, I revived myself with a jacket potato in a railway carriage in Bardney.

Prayer over the offerings: May our prayers rise up to you, O Lord, together with the sacrificial offerings, so that purified by your graciousness, we may be conformed to the mysteries of your mighty love.

FRIDAY

What a joy to go to a small weekday mass in a side chapel said by a new young priest. Jonathan comes from an Anglican family. One day aged 15 he walked into our church and has wanted to become a priest ever since.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still and trust in me.”

SATURDAY

We went to a wedding in Aberfoyle, the daughter of an old friend and then to a party by a loch. The words of the Episcopalian service short, to the point, and masterful. St Paul’s exegesis on love is all that needs to be said on this sort of occasion and with commendable brevity in the homily; that was all that was said.

“In the midst of the church he opened his mouth and the Lord filled him with the spirit of wisdom and understanding.” (Entrance Antiphon)

Fourth Week of Lent: “God so loved the world”

FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT

I went to the evening mass in Westminster Cathedral and was struck with renewed force by what is arguably the most famous passage in the Bible, from John 3:14-21:

“Yes, God loved the world so much that He have His only son, so that everyone who believes may have eternal life.”

As I heard and read these words, with incomparable force, I believed then. Later the old doubts returned about one intelligence being able to create the whole universe.

But I can understand why people who read these words have been hit by immovable faith to dedicate their life to Jesus’ teaching.

This is Laetare Sunday – “Rejoice” Sunday – anyway, an opportunity to rejoice in these words.

MONDAY

I was discussing John 3 with a friend today. He reminded me of one of the episodes in the Gospels when the father of a sick child asks Jesus to help my unbelief. I looked it up; it is in Mark 9:24.

“And Jesus said to him, ‘If thou couldst believe all things are possible to him that believes’. And immediately the father of the young child crying out said with tears, ‘I believe. Help mine unbelief.’”

This should be my motto.

TUESDAY – St Patrick’s Day

I like these words from the first reading today:

“Everything will soon come to an end, so to pray better keep a calm and sober mind.” (1 Peter 4:7-11)

Everything will soon come to an end – why worry very much? We do but why when we know everything will soon come to an end. We ponder too little day by day on that end.

WEDNESDAY

The main event today for us was not the budget but having forty colleagues around to hear the Chief Whip – a great deal of preparation needed but giving parties is always fun. I didn’t even have time to go to Mass. A Martha rather than a Mary day.

“The Lord is kind and full of compassion.” (Psalm 144)

THURSDAY – St Joseph

A strange man, for most of the Gospels he is either largely silent up to the Presentation, or absent altogether after. But he makes the single most important decision in history. He does not turn Mary away.

Behold, a faithful and prudent steward whom the Lord set over his household.

FRIDAY

I spoke in the budget debate yet said much the same thing I had said in all the previous ones.

In the evening I went to the Stations of the Cross in the Cathedral. This service never fails to move, especially when the vast crowd is still at the death of Jesus.

SATURDAY

I was most struck by the words of the priest. That Jeremiah and for that matter Jesus had resonance in their message precisely because they were powerless. That evil to flourish always needs power. That is not the power, the effect, the title that matters but the message.

“I for my part was like a trustful lamb being led to the slaughterhouse.” (Jeremiah 11:18)

Third Week of Lent: “You have the message of eternal life, O Lord”

THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT

We were given a lecture at Mass about how young people after a certain age don’t go to church. But it is no point telling that to the half of ten per cent who still do go.

We have to concentrate not on the practical but the spiritual message.

Today’s Psalm 18: “You have the message of eternal life O Lord. The law of the Lord is perfect. It revives the soul.”

MONDAY

I had a question on Marriage Tax Allowance. Apparently over four million people might be entitled. But the pounds and pence don’t matter: it’s the nod towards commitment.

Today is the story of Naaman the Leper. I like it because he cures himself unwillingly by such a simple thing – bathing three times in the Jordan.

“My father, if the prophet has asked you to do something difficult, would you not have done it?”

All the more reason then when he says “Bathe and you will become clean.” (2 Kings 5:1-15)

TUESDAY

I spoke at the Royal College of Defence Studies to budding generals on our future in Europe.

The reading from Matthew 18 is about forgiveness:

You must forgive your brother, “not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times.”

European history sadly is riven with the opposite. Forgiveness – an easy exhortation, so difficult to carry it out.

We had a meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury in the afternoon. As the others rushed off to vote, I urged him to put pressure on Government to leave faith schools alone from the “British values” crusaders.

WEDNESDAY

We had a debate on the Ukraine and Russia’s membership of the Council of Europe. What would expulsion achieve? Just another twist to a war without end. Seek compromoise.

The Pharisees didn’t compromise. Where did it get them? But…

“Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.” (Matthew 5:17)

THURSDAY

I led a debate which I had procured through the Backbench Business Committee on the future of faith schools and British values. It was a relief to calm down afterwards at Mass. Why impose on schools a set of “values” composed on the back of a plain-packaged fag packet by officials when we have the glories of the Torah, the poetry of the Koran, the mysteries of the Bible to hand?

“Listen to my voice then, I will be your God.” (Jeremiah 7:23-28)

FRIDAY

We went to a marvellous RAF-led service of remembrance for the Afghan War at Lincoln Cathedral. They do these things well. We will pass over what the Afghan campaign has really achieved.

SATURDAY

I went to our local church. Psalm 47 is one I can remember.

Omnes gentes plaudit: “Clap your hands, all you people.”

A joyous psalm, at last.

Second Week of Lent: God is our hope and our strenth

SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT

We went to Mass in the small church at Osgodby. The reading from Genesis 22 reminded me of the Easter Vigil spent every year at Downside Abbey.

“God put Abraham to the test, ‘Abraham, Abraham,’ he called. ‘Here I am’ he replied. ‘Take your son,’ God said, ‘your only child Isaac whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you should offer him as a burnt offering.’”

I often wonder what Abraham thought and at his obedience. Now he would be considered a raving lunatic.

I thought of the reading at Downside followed by peerless singing of the psalm:

“Preserve me God, I take refuge in you.”

MONDAY

The reading today is a familiar one from Luke 6:36-38.

“Do not judge and you will not be judged yourselves, do not condemn and you will not be condemned, grant pardon and you will be pardoned.”

But in my mind, remembering all the personal attacks made on people in the media, I turned around the words.

“Do not fear being judged by others, and you will not judge yourself. Do not fear being condemned by others and you will not condemn yourself. If others do not pardon you, pardon yourself.”

TUESDAY

I went to a memorial meeting for Allan Williamson, Father of the House of Commons, who served for forty-six years. Peter Tapsell, the present father, spoke before me. He has been there for over fifty years. And his successor Gerald Kaufman was there. He has been an MP for forty-five years. 150 years of service between the three.

What a contribution they have made, none of the three ever made it beyond junior ministerial office. Allan Williamson like me as Minister of Consumer Affairs managed to ensure a mark on the beer glass. I tried to get the froth excluded and failed – a missed achievement but words and ideas are more important than power.

“You must therefore do what they tell you and listen to what they say, but do not be guided by what they do.” (Matthew 25:1-12)

WEDNESDAY

As I was listening to the readings of today’s Mass, I was thinking or I heard the priest tell us: Don’t worry about what you do or achieve. Do God’s will or it is God’s will.

This of course has been always the anaesthesia of religion but it is comforting for all that it’s God’s will that matters for you, not your own.

“Should evil be returned for good, for they are digging a pit for me. Remember how I stood in your presence and plead on their behalf.” (Jeremiah 18)

THURSDAY

Today is the reading from Luke 16 about the rich man and Lazarus and the sobering message that the rich man actually never did anything nasty to the poor man. Just ignored him as we ignore the poor at the door of our churches. However often we are told this story, we forget it. But as I walked home for two hours in the spring darkening, the welcoming lights of the cottage appearing through the mellowing Lincolnshire wold, my mind was on the present, empty of all save soothing tiredness and orangeing twilight.

FRIDAY

After the Cathedral Council we all went off to Eucharist in the Cathedral. At the West End the new statue of Mary is there. Brooding, not a saccharine statue but more like a grim-faced or quizzical Russian icon. The words of the Anglican communion sometimes undistinguishable from the Catholic in unity.

“Here comes a man of dreams…” (Genesis 37)

Earlier, I had visited our little village church and reached Psalm 45: “My heart is indicting a good matter.”

SATURDAY

I ran again to our church and reached Psalm 46 in the Prayer Book: “God is our hope and our strength.”

If only we could remember that for more than a few minutes after reading it.

As I read the story of the Prodigal Son today I am filled with profound emotion and tears well in my eyes. Here indeed is the truth, and the word of a true God.

“He was lost and now is found.”

First Week in Lent: ‘Love your enemies…’

FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT

There was an inspiring chap speaking on Songs of Praise. He was, I think, a former vicar who now had bad MS and couldn’t walk. But he was very courageous. He said he saw the love of God in the love of his wife. With all our moans and groans, here was a man afflicted with the most terrible disability – cheerful. And on the programme too was a most impressive actor who plays Martin Luther King in ‘Selma’. He just seemed extraordinarily articulate and full of hope.

MONDAY

“I tell you solemnly insofar as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine you did to me.” (Matthew 25:31)

We had a debate on gender-selective abortion. I was the last to be called. I had 30 seconds to speak. I just said it is morally repugnant to destroy a foetus just because of its sex, shouldn’t we made clear in law its prohibition.

TUESDAY

“In your prayers do not babble as the pagans do.” (Matthew 6:7)

The priest at Mass today reminded us of the Communion Rite’s words: “At the Saviour’s command and formed by divine teaching, we dare to say…”

I had never really thought about these words before. But saying the first words of the Lord’s Prayer, we do it without thinking out.

WEDNESDAY

“Go to Nineveh.” (Jonah 3)

What would ISIL make of him in Mosul if he arrived? Probably like the real Jonah he would have been scared of going at all.

THURSDAY

I went in for a screening test for aortic aneurysm.

Marcus Aurelius tells us that we should think of one’s death every day of one’s life.

Is this a good idea? I think it is. It puts the days and life’s little setbacks into perspective. We are going to die, and all these other people more powerful than us are going to die too. We will all be levelled and then whatever people think and say about us will be meaningless.

Again today’s Gospel as a refrain sticks in the brain as a most beautiful counterpoint:

“Ask and it shall be given unto you, search and you will find; knock and the door shall be opened unto you.” (Matthew 7)

Alleluia.

FRIDAY

The answer to Marcus Aurelius is surely in today’s reading from Ezekiel 18:

“If the wicked man renounces all the sins he has committed, respects my laws, and is law-abiding and honest, he will certainly live.”

SATURDAY

I like the day the hunt comes to our valley. I can walk in the deep hidden wood-lined valleys away from the public footpaths which normally I cannot access.

Here it is very quiet, a green carpet leads up the slopes, surrounded by birch and beech. I returned home after a couple of hours in the twilight to a cottage fire, the timeless clatter of hooves on the hunt returned.

This injunction from Matthew 5 today is so difficult to follow:

“I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, in this way you will be sons of your Father in Heaven.”

Ash Wednesday

SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

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

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

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

MONDAY

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

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

TUESDAY

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

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

WEDNESDAY – Ash Wednesday

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

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

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

THURSDAY

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

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

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

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

FRIDAY

Isaiah sets us a hard task:

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

SATURDAY

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

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

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

Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Collect at Downside Abbey for Mass:

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

Sometimes I think I am like Job.

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

MONDAY

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

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

TUESDAY

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

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

WEDNESDAY – Our Lady of Lourdes

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

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

THURSDAY

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

Today’s collect:

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

Sadly they are not; they are abandoned.

FRIDAY

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

SATURDAY

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

“Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals…”

Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

SUNDAY

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

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

(Psalm 94)

MONDAY – The Presentation of the Lord

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

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

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

(Luke 2:22-40)

TUESDAY

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

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

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

WEDNESDAY

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

“Suffering is part of your training.”

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

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

THURSDAY – Saint Agatha

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

Much changes but dukes and cardinals are still there.

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

FRIDAY – St Paul Miki and Companions, Martyrs

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

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

SATURDAY

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

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

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

Third Week in Ordinary Time

SUNDAY

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

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

MONDAY

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

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

But what does it mean?

TUESDAY

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

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

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

WEDNESDAY

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

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

THURSDAY

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

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

FRIDAY

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

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

SATURDAY – St John Bosco

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

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

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

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

Second Week in Ordinary Time

MONDAY

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

Today’s reading from Hebrews 5:1-10:

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

TUESDAY

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

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

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

WEDNESDAY

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

THURSDAY

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

FRIDAY

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

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

Or have they?

SATURDAY

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

The Epiphany

SUNDAY The Epiphany (observed)

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

MONDAY

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

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

This all is fulfilled.

TUESDAY (Proper Epiphany)

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

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

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

WEDNESDAY Russian Christmas

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

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

THURSDAY

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

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

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

FRIDAY

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

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

SATURDAY

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

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

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

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

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

The New Year

SUNDAY – The Holy Family

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

MONDAY – St Thomas Becket

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

The collect for today is inspiring:

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

Easy to read, difficult to do.

TUESDAY

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

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

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

WEDNESDAY – New Year’s Eve

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

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

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

THURSDAY – New Year’s Day, Solemnity of Mary

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

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

FRIDAY – Sts Basil & Gregory

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

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

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

SATURDAY – The Most Holy Name of Jesus

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

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

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

Christmas

SUNDAY (Fourth Week of Advent)

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

MONDAY

Mary’s peon of praise:

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

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

TUESDAY

I love this scene from the Baptism of John:

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

So firm is his opinion, and so final.

WEDNESDAY

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

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

THURSDAY – Christmas

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

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

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

And always reminiscent of Handel:

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

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

FRIDAY – St Stephen

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

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

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

SATURDAY – St John the Evangelist

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

Third Week of Advent

MONDAY

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

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

TUESDAY

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

WEDNESDAY

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

We are back to the sublime poetry of Isaiah:

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

THURSDAY

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

A camping analogy.

FRIDAY

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

Enough said.

SATURDAY

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

Useful advice if you are attacked.

Second Week of Advent

MONDAY – Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

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

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

TUESDAY – St Juan Diego

We continue with the readings from Isaiah.

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

WEDNESDAY

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

Today’s reading is apposite:

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

THURSDAY

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

FRIDAY – Our Lady of Guadalupe

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

First Week of Advent

MONDAY

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

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

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

TUESDAY

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

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

WEDNESDAY – St Francis Xavier

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

THURSDAY

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

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

FRIDAY

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

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

SATURDAY – St Nicholas

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

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

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

Christ the King

SUNDAY – Christ the King

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

“… I was a stranger and you never made me welcome. ‘Lord, when did we not come to your help?’ Then He will answer, ‘I tell you solemnly in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me.’”

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

MONDAY – St Andrew Dung Lac & Companions

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

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

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

TUESDAY

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

WEDNESDAY

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

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

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

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

THURSDAY

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

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

FRIDAY

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

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

SATURDAY

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

Thirty-third Week

SUNDAY

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

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

Lovely warm wise words.

MONDAY

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

TUESDAY

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

WEDNESDAY

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

THURSDAY

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

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

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

FRIDAY

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

SATURDAY

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

Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

MONDAY

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

TUESDAY

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

WEDNESDAY

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

THURSDAY

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

FRIDAY

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

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

SATURDAY

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

Twenty-ninth week

SUNDAY

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

MONDAY

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

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

TUESDAY

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

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

WEDNESDAY

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

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

THURSDAY

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

What does the Great Peacemaker say today, for instance?

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

And before:

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

Well, sadly, fire often has come.

FRIDAY

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

SATURDAY

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

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

Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time

SUNDAY

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

MONDAY – Sts Michael Gabriel and Raphael

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

A welcome relief after the Legal Affairs Committee.

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

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

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

TUESDAY – St Jerome

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

What would the grumpy St Jerome have said?

Again odd words of the wonderful poetry of Job penetrated.

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

WEDNESDAY – St Therese

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

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

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

THURSDAY

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

We carry on with the Book of Job.

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

FRIDAY

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

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

SATURDAY

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

Job was right:

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

Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

SUNDAY

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

MONDAY

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

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

TUESDAY

We are reading this week the Book of Proverbs.

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

WENDESDAY

More readings from the Book of Proverbs.

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

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

THURSDAY

The day of my thirtieth wedding anniversary.

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

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

FRIDAY

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

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

SATURDAY

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

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