All too soon and with great sadness the weekday readings of the encounter with Christ will come to an end. Why can’t they go on and on? Doubt gnaws at me. Could He not have shown Himself to hundred and thousands, to Pilate and Caiphas, to remove all doubt? Staying weeks, months, who knows.
Fellow doubter, just accept. As we read today (Mark 16:9-15):
But they did not believe her when they heard her say that He was alive and that she had seen Him.
The day of the Royal Wedding. I must confess to some excitement before the event – but as I stood on the pavement and saw the bridge and groom being driven past I felt profoundly moved.
As I was at the 8 a.m. Mass this reading of the meeting by the Sea of Galilee compared with the meeting on the road to Emmaus with its greatness and profundity. Unlike the two previous days, there are no sudden openings and understandings during the reading but a quiet acceptance of the beauty of holiness of the fish being grilled at the side of the lake.
As soon as they came ashore, they saw that there was some bread there, and a charcoal fire with fish cooking on it.
John 21: 1-15
It happened to me again. I was at Mass and at one point, only one part of the Gospel reading, my eyes were opened. I actually profoundly and absolutely believed and then as quickly as a bird flying above one’s head it was gone. How strange but reassuring.
It came as the reading described Jesus suddenly appearing asking the disciples:
Why are you agitated, and why are there doubts rising in your hearts? Look at my hands and feet.
Fellow doubters, I can only advise you: just have an open mind and heart. Who knows what might happen.
Now comes what is for so many including myself our favourite reading. We are so like the disciples on the road to Emmaus. We recognise in fits & starts.
Now while he was with them at table he took the bread and said the blessing: then he broke it and handed it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognised him.
Luke 24: 13-35
As this reading progressed at Mass today, at one moment in the passage I absolutely suddenly and completely believed. And then my eyes closed again for the moment and the belief passed.
Then he said to them: you foolish men! So slow to believe the full message of the prophets.
I always get mixed up this week with what Marys are seeing and doing. Here on Easter Tuesday, Mary of Magdala does not immediately recognise Jesus.
Jesus said ‘Mary!’ She knew him then and saw and said in Hebrew ‘Rabbuni’ which means ‘Master’.
But of course the whole point is that we don’t immediately recognise Jesus. Indeed for a natural doubter like myself it comes in fits and starts. You just have to go with the flow.
The readings of the Mass in this week are truly inspiring but all too quickly over. This is why they cannot just be read, every word has to be mulled over and considered. What does it actually say? What does it say to me? What do I say in reply?
But what caught my eye in the Office of readings today was the glorious hymn we sang at the end of the great Easter Vigil. I started to learn the words, repeat them, and sing them to myself. They bring back happy memories of the Easter Triduum and a depth of religious feeling rarely if ever surpassed for the rest of the year.
Why cannot this single moment, the triumph of life over death, endlessly repeat itself? But as I heard in the homily today, the Easter story is not just an historical event, it is for here and now repeated every day in our minds.
Finished the strife of battle now,
Gloriously crowned the victor’s brow:
Hence with sadness, sing with gladness:
After sharp death that him befell,
Jesus Christ hath harrowed hell:
Sing we lauding, and applauding:
On Easter morning he arose,
Shining with victory o’er his foes:
Earth is singing, heaven is ringing:
The liturgy in the Abbey is magnificent, culminating in a three-hour-long Easter vigil, complete with baptism.
An echo of the early church; but in the much smaller children’s service of Easter Sunday, one comment from the homily remains: As Mother Teresa said “love consumes the ego within”.
I had been concerned the evening before with the ego of the ceaseless certainty of the brain and the deeper true self beneath, this comment seemed particularly appropriate.
Despite the feelings of life revealed the evening before, I woke up in the night with the usual worries. Again, at Lauds, some nasty thought had entered my head, but at that precise moment I looked down at psalm 146,
Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God.
He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them.
Later, during the Easter Vigil, I again had this sense that I was not just two people in one – a body and a soul – but other people as well. I wondered if our extended form is, indeed, completely separate.
The choir were singing the psalm ‘Preserve me O God, I take refuge in you’ as the last psalm of the Vigil. ‘Like the Deer that yearns for the running streams, so my soul is yearning for you O God.’ I felt an unbelievable calm and cleaner essence.
I always find the Good Friday service in the Abbey tiring. All that standing during the Passion and the Intercessions. How pathetic we are compared to the suffering we are remembering. But my legs were weak after our walk, carrying the cross seven miles from Wells. So my senses were dulled a bit as I came face to face with at the end at the end of the queue with the cross during the veneration.
‘Behold, the cross on which hung the savior of the world.’
I was over come with emotion. As I bent down to kiss the nails at the feet, I wanted to linger with my love and adoration, but the queue was moving. It seemed an allegory for the process of life.
Later I decided, as usual, reluctantly to try to go to confession. I never know what to say apart from the obvious anger or laziness. But why, I wondered, am I not more content? Perhaps, in my case, because I am in love with ideas, both in religion and in life, and not people. I wondered if this, then, was the problem. After confession, I sat for a long time. I remembered my continuing doubts about whether God exists at all, compiled with the feeling of joy I had encountered in the cross that day. I wondered if there were two selves – the ego; the ‘I,’ formed by the skin and bones and the soul within. That any other feeling of envy or anger or laziness was cooped up in the body and that the bliss of spiritual encounter was deeper within.
As I sat there in the darkness of the emptying Abbey, I felt quite alone. I felt as if the skin and body were gradually disintegrating and, for a time, I could feel my soul like a burning round ball of fire under me and others. That God is alive in all of us. And that in that home anywhere in the world is different. After about two hours, I got up. But after my meditation, where was the bliss? I could only feel the death of the body. But then I remembered that this was Good Friday, and this is what happens on Good Friday.
At Downside Abbey in Somerset for the Easter retreat.
One of the nicest moments of the whole year owing to the smell of polished wood and the calm of the four-day long retreat for the Tridium. The Mass of the Last Supper and the triumphant last hymn.
The turn of the Evangelicals.
I wish I could have their faith in Jesus and their passion. I fear I never will.
After the Times featured Anglicanism yesterday, today is the turn of the Catholics.
There was a lovely piece about Mother Teresa of Calcutta. I am enormously comforted that she too was a doubter.
‘Holiness is not the luxury of the few; it is a simple duty’ – Mother Teresa
The Times were running a story each day on Christianity. Today was the turn of the Anglicans.
I doubt Anglicanism is flourishing. Peculiarly, doubting people like myself need religions to be certain and strangely, young people want certainty more than anyone.
The tide was turning against us and I was let off the boat at Gravesend, named after the point where dead bodies could safely be buried Thames and washed out to sea. After the empty calm of the sea, Gravesend was hot. I walked past a church which seemed empty and closed, but opening the door revealed it as a full Catholic church and the Passion of Our Lord had just been read.
In St. John’s Passion, there is a wonderful moment when Judas leaves and there is that simple phrase ‘As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.’
This seems to be a point where all history converges. All good and evil, past and present, a decision delayed is now acted upon. It will change the whole of human history.
I was speaking in a debate in the Council of Europe on the ‘Religious Dimension of Intercultural Dialogue.’ Representatives from many religious backgrounds were there. Speakers included the Orthodox Patriarch of Romania, the Chief Rabbi of Russia, a cardinal, and a Lutheran. I have to say that the Chief Rabbi, who really spoke from the heart, was the best speaker of all.
I made the point that it was not so much religion that was threatened as the freedom of speech which religion preaches. (Click here to read the speech).
I was traveling by train across France, the spring landscape rushing by. It was a glorious mixture of colours. Time seemed to stand still for a moment.
We walked down the edge of the Wolds. The hillside around Otby was dappled with sheep. The lambs had arrived.
The air was so clear that one could see thirty miles to Lincoln Cathedral. Soon we walked past the remains of an old water well. It was a timeless scene.
I sat awhile in the small country church and idly turning the prayer book pages, opened and read Psalm 39.
I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me.
I was dumb with silence, I held my peace, even from good; and my sorrow was stirred.
My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue,
LORD, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is: that I may know how frail I am.
Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Selah.
Surely every man walketh in a vain shew: surely they are disquieted in vain: he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them.
And now, Lord, what wait I for? my hope is in thee.
Deliver me from all my transgressions: make me not the reproach of the foolish.
I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it.
Remove thy stroke away from me: I am consumed by the blow of thine hand.
When thou with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity, thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth: surely every man is vanity. Selah.
Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear unto my cry; hold not thy peace at my tears: for I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were.
O spare me, that I may recover strength, before I go hence, and be no more.
Outside, a mower gently plied back and forth. A bird sang and time stopped. All the words seemed true. The sound of the mower and the bird were more important than everything else.
I was reading again A Life of Mary Queen of Scots, and the description of her execution. What incomparable courage and self-belief these Tudors had! This difficult, selfish, spoilt, fantastically unsuccessful woman went to her death with the greatest courage and serenity.
To my mind our most important role as men is to stay with our children. To women this seems to come naturally and parents need to recognise that it is their clear role to stay together, not just for the sake of the children, but to be together with the children.
I went to a Catholic conference on the Big Society. There were several lectures on the economy and what Caritas was doing besides much else, but how sad that we did not start with a prayer or even a mass.
The church can talk about politics, but its real power lies in prayer. People say that prayer does no good, (although sociological studies have shown that it does). What is certain, however, is that it does at least do help to those who practice it.
Photo: © Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk
I was having a fairly dreary dream. Life was not too much fun, but then, by chance, I wandered into Mass in a Church and was overcome by a feeling of such joy that I have scarcely ever felt like it. I was skipping with pleasure.
But when I woke, I wondered why I did not usually feel like that when I go to Mass.
I was half listening to the sermon in mass. It was about giving oneself to God. It is easy to say that we will dedicate our lives to God. But difficult in practice to manage for more than a few minutes of dedication every day.
Today’s Gospel is about water, its soothing power and in this case, its ability to cure blindness. I have always loved water in all its forms. To float in it, swim in it, drink it or just watch it.
Lent is a choice about whether to take the waters; to flow with them or fight them.
The lady from the Jehovah’s Witnesses came round to our cottage in Lincolnshire to give us our copy of Watchtower. There was an interesting commentary on the interaction between known Roman history and biblical history and the many interconnections and mentions by Roman Historians of Christ and his followers as historical figures.