Monthly Archives: October 2010

A Contented, Numinous Haze

We stayed in London for my daughter and I went to the Saturday morning mass. Sung in Latin and with the dazzling morning sun streaming through the windows behind the altar, this mass is particularly beautiful.

I was in such a contented, numinous haze that I had a lovely sleep during the sermon! These are some of the most contented sleeps that I know, especially after an early morning swim in the Serpentine amid the glorious Autumn colours with a rainbow thrown in for good measure.

Today’s reading was “Christ is proclaimed and that makes me happy, and I shall continue being happy.” [St Paul to the Philippians 1:18-26], even though I was trying to cope with typing this up on a laptop – something I do very slowly!

Church Bells

“Great are the works of the Lord.” We went to a play based on the novel by Tom Winton, Cloudstreet, stagemanaged by my daughter. I enjoyed it, but there was an especially lovely moment when church bells rang out.

It is strange how some people are moved by religious moments while others left completely bored. Is it something in us?

Feast of Sts Simon & Jude

Jesus went out into the hills to pray.

It is so much easier to pray in a lonely place. As I find when I am out to sea in my small boat – although then it’s normally a prayer to stay upright!

Mutual Love

At Mass today we heard the now politically incorrect letter of St Paul to the Ephesians 5:21-23, about wives owing obedience to their husbands and husbands owing love. However, the reading only makes sence in the context of mutual love. “Try then to imitate Christ by loving as he loved you.”

Creating a Space for God to Enter

My daughter has recently been hit by a car and was in hospital with a broken leg. It’s strange how this sort of accident puts everything into perspective.

Lying awake at night I wondered again at our own individuality and who we are. I have been trying to understand Descartes and his maxim “cogito ergo sum” which translates into “I think therefore I am” and what it means.

I think it means that there is only one thing one can be certain of, one’s own consciousness.

So I tried to focus all my thoughts in the quietness of the night on the reality of my awareness that “I think therefore I am”.

Then not to think and thus not have my mind invaded with all the worries of daily life.

Then to allow something else, whether God or an underlying reality that binds all human beings, to fill the space.

I thought I had discovered something useful. I call it now “Concentrate into consciousness then stop thinking!”

Every night now as I lie awake I try this process. I have read the Book “The power of Now” but the author’s approach seems to me to seem unsatisfactory because whilst he tries to empty his mind of clutter, he does not fill it with anything else.

To me the utility of this approach seems to be to create a space for God to enter.

St John of Capistrano

Today was the feast of St John of Capistrano (1386-1456). He was an Italian Franciscan priest famous for his preaching and was nicknamed the ‘soldier Saint’. This nickname relates to him leading a crusade at the age of 70.

I have been recently watching Ewan Macgregor’s programme, “The History of the World in a Hundred Objects”. The last object he looked at was the solar panel. Perhaps as a result of watching this programme, I had a dream about solar panels. It struck me that indeed this is the way forward, incentivising people in a small way to fit solar panels.

It’s strange that we appear to be going back to where we started, to a kind of sun worship.

The Apparation of St. John Capistrano to St. Peter of Alcantara


Today we went to Benediction at my son’s school at the Little Oratory. It was an overwhelming experience; I could hardly hold back the tears.

Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament is a beautiful service. It utterly lacks any intellectual content. One is just there hopefully in the presence of the Lord and receiving his blessing.

There is also something utterly angelic about a hundred boys’ voices. Pity the reality doesn’t match the vision!


The sermon at Mass was about the difficult gospel reading:

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

Only ten per cent of Britons go to church, sadly. The problem is no longer division but apathy.

At an Unexpected Hour

I walked through the chamber of the House of Commons whilst it was not sitting and had a very strong feeling that, for all its frustrations, this is where I wanted to be.

As usual we had our Wednesday Mass in the crypt and I rushed there between pointless meetings. Once again, the theme from Luke was that we never know when the time will come.

But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

(Luke 12. 39-48)

Dressed for Action

Today’s reading always strikes me as particularly apposite. We are so tied up in our own affairs but we should always remember that the test may come at any time.

See that you are dressed for action and have your lamps lit.

(Luke 12. 35-38)


I was in Luxembourg for a conference of European Supreme Auditors, talking about how to interest national parliaments in EU fraud and error. I escaped for a couple of hours for a walk around the old city. I took refuge from the cold in the Eglise St Michel and sat for a time in front of an amazing vision.

I see I’ve typed ‘vision’ by mistake – I meant ‘version’ of a statue of the Virgin Mary – but it was like a vision. It was a Medieval or Renaissance painting and she was strangely elongated. The effect of sitting in front of her for so long was so calming that I went to sleep!

To bicker down a valley

We went for a walk around Lord Alfred Tennyson’s house at Somerby. I thought of his poem about the babbling brook.

I come from haunts of coot and hern,
I make a sudden sally
And sparkle out among the fern,
To bicker down a valley.

By thirty hills I hurry down,
Or slip between the ridges,
By twenty thorpes, a little town,
And half a hundred bridges.

Till last by Philip’s farm I flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

I chatter over stony ways,
In little sharps and trebles,
I bubble into eddying bays,
I babble on the pebbles.

With many a curve my banks I fret
By many a field and fallow,
And many a fairy foreland set
With willow-weed and mallow.

I chatter, chatter, as I flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

I wind about, and in and out,
With here a blossom sailing,
And here and there a lusty trout,
And here and there a grayling,

And here and there a foamy flake
Upon me, as I travel
With many a silvery waterbreak
Above the golden gravel,

And draw them all along, and flow
To join the brimming river
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

I steal by lawns and grassy plots,
I slide by hazel covers;
I move the sweet forget-me-nots
That grow for happy lovers.

I slip, I slide, I gloom, I glance,
Among my skimming swallows;
I make the netted sunbeam dance
Against my sandy shallows.

I murmur under moon and stars
In brambly wildernesses;
I linger by my shingly bars;
I loiter round my cresses;

And out again I curve and flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

The Right Idea of Heaven

I was reading these words of St. Augustine: “you have made us for yourself Lord and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” It seems to me that he had the right idea of heaven. If you have to stay there for eternity, humans cannot visualise it.


We went to Mrs. Thatcher’s birthday party at 10 Downing Street and I had a look at the Cabinet Room. I have to say that, considering all the trouble that people take to get there, it looked a little dowdy. Is it worth all the effort when there are more interesting things?

Don’t Despair

I was having a little prayer meeting with a friend and just one of the sentences stuck in my mind:

Dont despair. The Lord never loses his battles.

Catholic priests assess the damage sustained to their church in Italy during WWII.

The Heavens Proclaim the Glory of God

Due to a number of engagements, I twice failed to get to mass in time to hear any of the readings today. But does it matter very much? What is more important is the simple act of taking communion. Later, reading today’s psalm, it seemed appropriate.

The heavens proclaim the glory of God.

O sing unto the Lord a new song

Once again that same psalm reading: “The Lord has made known his salvation.”

It’s worth pondering on.

O sing unto the Lord a new song; for he hath done marvellous things: his right hand, and his holy arm, hath gotten him the victory.
The Lord hath made known his salvation: his righteousness hath he openly shewed in the sight of the heathen.
He hath remembered his mercy and his truth toward the house of Israel: all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise.
Sing unto the Lord with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm.
With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the Lord, the King.
Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.
Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together
Before the Lord; for he cometh to judge the earth: with righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity.

Hideous Wallpaper

I am sure that the readings in Mass today were really interesting, but what really caught my attention was that the hideous wallpaper behind the altar had finally been taken down.

The Psalm reading was No. 98: the Lord has made known his salvation to the nations. However, all I could think of was the wallpaper! Such is the strange nature of the human mind.

Blessed are the Pure in Heart

An answer to Mary McCarthy’s doubts lies in the simple spirituality of the Carthusian novice conferences that I am reading at the moment. The novice Master talks of the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the pure in heart: they shall see God”. He writes beautifully:

We all have our ideas about purity: it is that which is without blemish, unalowed, perfect. Perhaps in our imagination the word evokes the image of the innocent eyes of a child, the mysterious clarity of vision with which a young girl, guileless and serene looks out on the world; a small flower that joyously displays its beauty one day; the sweetness of a bell sounding in the tranquil evening air.

Or of Handfast Point which I sailed around the other day and which I try to capture below.

Some People Just Don’t Want to Move On

I tried again to read Mary McCarthy’s Memories of a Catholic Girlhood. She is fervently anti-Catholic, but I think she makes the mistake of equating the narrow minded people she meets in small-town 1920s America for the Catholic Church as a whole.

She just doesn’t want to move on.

Church of St Roch, Paris

I was in Paris for a meeting of the Franco-British Council and escaped for a few moments to find open the Church of St Roch in the Rue St Honore, near the British Embassy.

The interior is, as usual for the state maintained French churches, dowdy and neglected. There are some frescoes (badly lit), from the nineteenth century, but someone has had the bright idea of taking brightly illuminated slides of them and they are a revelation. There’s a wonderful scene of a country funeral. Everyone looks pretty miserable, but the toddler of the family is unconscious of all this and smiling happily – an allegory for the fact that life goes on.


We had our cornerstone meeting at the Party Conference. The Bishop of Birmingham gave a really good talk, but two things about it stuck in my mind. I asked what were his priorities.

“To double the number of Christians,” he said. So right and so simple. He also talked about his Anglican school in the middle of Birmingham. It is 99 percent Muslim, yet the headteacher is Christian and openly displays Christian stories in the foyer at Easter, to which no one objects. It just shows that no religion needs to be apologetic about what it believes in and people aren’t offended.

Increasing Faith

When we tried to leave Poole harbour in my little boat, the wind was so strong that we were driven back. I didn’t have sufficient faith in myself to risk a passage in the open sea.

That evening the subject of the readings was faith.

The apostles say to Jesus. “Increase our faith.” And the prophet Habakuk pleads why does he cry out in vain.

This time I returned to the same spot I talked about yesterday, in the chapel, repeating the words of the Apostles. My lack of belief did not come back. It seemed stopped by a power outside me.

We can only ask “increase my faith”.

Guardian Angel

The day before at Mass I had been looking at the ceiling of Cardinal Vaughan’s chapel in the Cathedral and studying or meditating on the intricate marble motifs. Although the Mass was beautiful I had this strong conviction that there was no rational reason for the existence of God let alone everything else.

Maybe my Guardian Angel was not looking out for me! Or perhaps I was looking out for him.