I had forgotten, as I went to Mass, that it was the feast of St. Ignatius Loyola. As the priest read out the familiar story of his life, I thought of my own book of his life that has lain unpublished and unread for ten years. Maybe one day it will see the light of day.
Whatever you do at all, do it for the glory of God.
I completed reading the Dalai Lama’s autobiography. The compassion of the man is extraordinary. He has been exiled from his country for half a century; his people have been intimidated, tortured, killed, and are now a minority in their own country thanks to Chinese mass immigration.
Imagine how we would feel if this had been done to us by our neighbours. Yet he refuses to attack the Chinese character.
A prophet is only despised in his own country and in his own house.
I went sailing. Out in the open sea, the tiller bar snapped in half. It was blowing quite hard. I was blowing about, alone, the sails flapping everywhere. Situations such as these require acute concentration and clarity of thought, so that one’s usual worries and ambitions become meaningless.
Of course, I should have lashed the broken end of the bar to the stump, but I didn’t think of that, so I just grabbed the stump and limped home.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a net cast into the sea that brings in a haul of all kinds.
Matt. 13:47 – 53)
I went to an evening Mass. Perhaps because it was evening, or because I had been reading the Dalai Lama’s words that a Buddhist must not just think about his death every day but prepare for it (and that it is in the approach to death that often greater spiritual awareness comes), I thought on death.
We think these ‘big’ decisions in our lives are all important, which they may be to a certain extent, but we forget that they are only temporary. I am always reminded of the reading of the man who fills his heart with the realisstion that this very night “an account will be made of his soul.”
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant looking for pure pearls. When he finds one of great value, he goes and sells everything he owns to buy it.
Suddenly I have to take a big decision. I find that when these moments come, going to Mass can help the process. The trick is to concentrate on the mass and on the readings and not to think of the decision. Then a solution or what may be a solution comes. The reading was about the Darnel in the field. The trouble is that our minds are so cluttered with Darnel that true reality is difficult to perceive.
The sower of the good seed is the Son of Man, the field is the world; the good seed is the subjects of the kingdom, the darnel the subjects of the evil one; the enemy who also sowed them, the devil; the harvest is the end of the world, the reapers are the angels.
(Matt 13:36 – 43)
I am currently reading the autobiography of the Dalai Lama. He writes:
Thus I am believed also to be a manifestation of Chenrezig. In fact, the seventy-fourth in a lineage which can be traced back to a Braman boy who lived at the time of Buddha Shakyamuni. I am often asked whether I truly believe this. The answer is not simple to give, but as a 56-year-old, when I consider my experiences during this present life and given my Buddhist beliefs, I have no difficulty in accepting that I am spiritually connected both to the thirteen previous Dalai Lamas, to Chenrezig and to the Buddha himself.
I think this is very subtle and appealing. Note the emphasis I put on the words: “spiritually connected.” We are not asked to believe a physical rebirth, but clearly our thoughts, our emotions do connect us with the past and the future. Through his upbringing and rigorous and careful education, obviously the present Dalai Lama is spiritually connected to his predecessors.
This passage is peaceful. Yet we cannot live up to it. We carry on making the same mistakes again and again. Until one day, when perhaps our consciousness goes into a next life and goes on repeating the same faults in an eternal cycle of pain.
We can only break this cycle with a rigid discipline – which seems possible to some, but not to me.
Amend your behaviour and your actions, and I will stay with you in this place.
(Jeremiah 7: 1-11)
I was at a busy dinner where a speech was to be made. Needing a break of fresh air, I stood outside for a moment. In that clear Northern Summers’ twilight, in the distance over the fields, a great plume of water was rising into the air, irrigating a crop.
The moment had a sublimely calm and spiritual presence. The tranquility of the atmosphere seemed to run deeper than conscious thought.
This gospel reading always perplexes me. It is said that although there are six billion people living on the planet, if you met a close friend by complete chance, you would instantly recognise him.
How could she (Mary Magdalen), not recognise the Risen Lord? Of course it is an allegory for our lack of recognition, but how much of the rest of the story, then, is an allegory.
‘They have taken my Lord away,’ she replied, ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.’ As she said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, though she did not recognise him.
(John 20: 1-2. 11-18)
The day before we had stopped in one of the Egyptian Rooms at the British Museum. I gazed at the Mummy of Hornedjitef. I was already a bit depressed at my birthday and I started wondering about the artifact before me, which dated from 246 BC.
Hornedjitef’s religious beliefs would seem absurd to the modern mind. How can one take one’s physical possessions and body into the afterlife. But the thought occurred to me – would not Hornejitef have found our beliefs, such as the virgin birth, just as ridiculous?
The words of Jeremiah, son of Hilkiah:
The word of the LORD came to me, saying: ‘before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.
(Jeremiah 1:1 4-10)
As it was my birthday, my son kindly took me to the Renaissance Drawings at the British Museum. There was one that caught my particular attention – a drawing of the face of John the Baptist. It is a face of expectant longing; every line on the paper etching an emotion.
Jesus replied ‘Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?’
At Mass that morning we were told that this is not a denial of family, but rather a reaching out.
If you go to the 5:30 Mass in the Cathedral on a bright summer’s day, the light streams in from the windows high in the nave on the west side, casting a brilliant luminescence across the black, vaulted ceiling. It is fantastic to behold as the organ sends up its thunderous chords at the end of the Mass.
Out of his infinite glory, may he give you the power through his Spirit for your hidden self to grow strong, so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, and then, planted in love and built on love, you will with all the saints have strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth; until, knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond all knowledge, you are filled with the utter fullness of God.
We celebrated St. Camillus’ feast day in the crypt chapel under the Palace of Westminster. St. Camillus, born in 1550, is a patron saint of nurses. After a misspent youth he devoted himself to the Faith.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?
(1 John 3: 14–18.)
The 10:30 Masses in the Cathedral are being held in the Holy Souls Chapel. The Latin Mass at 10:00 comes off much better in one of these side chapels, with the priest facing the altar. The simple dignity and the age old words are so inspiring.
That is not to say that the mass in English is inferior. It is just different; more an intellectual exercise in understanding the readings and less a spiritual experience.
Pay attention, keep calm, have no fear. Do not let your heart sink.
Isaiah 7: 1-9
I watched “Batman” with my children. This is, of course, quite a ridiculous film with the simplest of moral messages of good and evil, the overcoming of fears arising from childhood, of the ends not justifying the means and so on. However, I found it curiously gripping and inspiring.
What I like about it is the concept of a lone crusader, going out to do battle for what he thinks and knows to be right. Going into the chamber and asking an independent-minded question is a lot less heroic than jumping off a building, but it is what I can do and it’s a tiny bit more heroic than asking a planted question pressing the Minister.
The pursuit of justice, rather than the pursuit of office, is a surprisingly rare thing in politics.
I went to evensong in St. Nicholas Church, Chiswick. It was beautifully done. There is nothing done better in the Anglican Church than Evensong.
The Gospel reading reminded us that its not what comes into our bodies that defines us, but what we say and do. But it is the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, even said that never fail to inspire me.
I was sailing; I found a mooring and spent the night in Christchurch Harbour. I got up at dawn. Dawn in a harbour is an extraordinary experience. The tide was at its lowest. The air was absolutely still, the light completely grey in various shades. Not a soul was stirring, not a light was on. The effect was one of magical stillness in almost a spiritual way.
The other day, I was going to communion and just before taking it I had a prick of conscience that I should go to confession. Luckily, the time for confession was now over, but the thought remained.
I therefore arrived in what I thought was good time for confession at the Cathedral. I never know what to say at confession and I am normally in and out in three or four minutes.
The person before took thirty minutes! What could she have to say? Was she a mass murderer?
She came out with no word of apology to the four or five of us still waiting, and then came the priest, without a word, downed tools and walked off.
I finally got to confession and the first thing I had to confess was my profound irritation at the lack of consideration shown to the confessors the night before.
I’m like that – I get irritated by other irritating people. Not a saint, I fear.
I have written before about the Lorsch Gospels in the V&A, created in Charlemagne’s time.
I now gazed upon this remarkable image for a bit of time. The expression on the face of John the Baptist is remarkable. It seems as if he is having a slight joke on us.
I read today about the Abuna Garima Gospels in Ethiopia. These are remarkable. They are held in an ancient monastery at 7000 feet above sea level.
The Monks always maintained that they were really ancient, but only with recent carbon dating have they been proven to be over 1600 years old; amongst of the oldest surviving gospels. Their bindings have recently been reset by a British Bookbinder. Their resistance against invasion, time and fire is a remarkable attribute.
I had a dream that once again I was an employee, working for someone in their office. This has not happened to me for a very long time. Perhaps over thirty-three years when I left my job as Mrs. Thatcher’s principle correspondence secretary to go to the bar.
In this dream, my boss – a lawyer – was rather demanding to say the least. He told me to write something. The nerves at the pit of my stomach brought back nasty memories. My boss was not pleased with my work. He was obviously disdainful but I knew that something he wanted to say was not right. I thought to myself, being vaguely conscious that I was dreaming, that this was a lesson. Do to others as you would be done to yourself.
I woke from a dream. I had been going to Commununion. The priest stared me straight in the eye and asked: ‘Do you believe this is the Son of God?’ I paused and took the easy way out – although by no means certain, I said ‘Yes.’
I took the Communion but it was like dust in my mouth. I could barely swallow it, but I did. That Communion in a dream had more reality and power for me than any received in real life with no proper thought. I did not know when I had the dream that today was the feast day of St. Thomas – my saint and the Apostle I feel closest to.
Then he (Jesus), said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
I visited a care home today and talked to a man of 99. He had lived happily alone all his life until being forced out by people who cruelly robbed his modest home. I talked to another woman of over 90 who had been born and brought up in the farm house that had become the care home. Both these two wonderful people had a calmness I could only envy.
The Prophet Amos again:
Hear this, you who trample the needy
and do away with the poor of the land
I will turn your religious feasts into mourning
and all your singing into weeping.
(Amos 8:4-6, 9-12)
I went to the Henley Regatta. I was always a poor rower, indeed I never won a single race. I therefore came no where near ever competing at Henley. Apart from cheering as Durham A-Team, who won at the end of the day with my son, I found – as usual – little excitement in the racing.
What I love about Henley is the incomparable beauty of the scene: the green lawn, the distant wooded hills, the sun glinting off the water, the eights by the rowing boats idling by, everyone dressed up in brightly coloured blazers and long dresses. It is almost spiritual in its beauty. I can doze for hours at the side of the river looking at all this or stand on the bridge and take it all in.
Jesus got back into the boat, crossed the water and came to his own town…
Was Jesus’ spirituality moulded by his days by the water?