Monthly Archives: February 2012

Giving up anger

At Mass on Sunday the priest asked us I wonder if they are thinking to themselves. I wonder if he is going to mention that it is three days to Lent and he did. In previous years Lent has hung over me like a pall; because of the grim thought of giving up something really difficult like alcohol. This year I have resolved to give up anger and dissatisfaction and jealousy, an even more impossible task, but Gabriel one can only try. One trick is to recognise the symptoms in a line of thought and then before or at the moment that the anger bubbles up, quickly say five Hail Marys.

On Tuesday, a friend was telling me that his father told him when he went into his first job “Remember this: whenever you go into a room, no one is better or worse than you.” This seems a pretty good philosophy in life.

I was thinking of this on Ash Wednesday. If I can go to the Cathedral for the imposition of ashes and to listen to Allegri’s Miserere. As the last notes are sung from the galleries high above the nave, the haunting alto seems to pierce the soul with a kind of despair mixed with hope.

On the first Thursday of Lent, Jesus in Matthew 7:7-12 puts it forcibly:

“The one who searches always finds; the one who knocks will always have the door opened to him.”

But I have been searching for years and the door still remains ajar.

I have even today, Friday, started to read the Koran. It is difficult to read and understand. The Arabic may be a prose masterpiece but it is lost in translation.

“Every soul shall taste of death: and ye shall only receive your recompenses on the day of resurrection. And who so shall scape the fire, and be brought into Paradise, shall be happy. And the life of this world is but a cheating fruition!” (Sura 3, the Koran)

Jesus tells us this Friday in Matthew 5:20-26:

“If your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Perhaps that is where my own virtue is at present. On this first Saturday in Lent, Jesus tells us:

“I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

I am reading a history of Jerusalem at the moment. It is a pity that the treaty between Richard I and Saladin didn’t last. It basically guaranteed freedom for pilgrims to visit Jerusalem, whether Muslim or Christian. If it had included Jews it would have been perfect.

“Of the enemy of God thou hast spoken to them in gentle terms. Hadst thou been severe and harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from thee. Therefore forgive and ask for pardon for them, and consult them in the affair of war, and when thou art resolved, then put thou thy trust in God, for God loveth those who trust in Him.” (Sura 3, the Koran)

On Anger

Dear Gabriel,

I hope you found these writings useful. I was thinking of putting them into a theme for each week. This week I was thinking on anger.

One organisation is so wasteful and so counter-productive that it always makes me angry just thinking of it. I can be walking down the street and the thought of it can first make me angry enough to cause a rush of blood to the head.

How do we cope with anger? I have been thinking on it all week. Then next day on Wednesday I read those words in Mass from the first letter to St James 19-27:

“Remember this: my dear brothers be quick to listen but slow to speak and slow to rouse your temper. God’s righteousness is never served by man’s anger.”

But the problem of anger remains. Not so much anger with other people but with oneself. I had to do a long journey back and forth later in the week. And I was angry two or three times in the day. I was even angry that I couldn’t get any lunch on time – what a silly thing to be angry about.

I think, Gabriel, that one way is to see the issue, the habitual angry issue and veer away from it. Another way is to immediately pray for the person you’re angry with. If you really dislike something, or someone, try saying ten Hail Marys for them. It’s like wading through glue.

On Saturday it was not anger that was the problem but faith. Perhaps because until there is complete faith, there will always be residual anger. And that won’t happen until the day we die, when faith will be consummated or not. We don’t know. Can only hope.

I was at Mass on Saturday and the priest went in for a long explanation of the reading of the Transfiguration. Suddenly I knew with certainty that I did not have his certainty. All this faith of Moses and Elijah left me cold. An angry rationality was rising up.

But later in the Mass, at the Consecration, a great shaft of early winter light pressed down from a high window meeting the clouds of incense rising before it. Then the opposite of a cold reasoning was before me: a happiness in the mystery of the thing.

Perhaps on a cold mountain top long ago, the Apostles were wrapped up in the mystery of a thing during the Transfiguration.

Later still on Sunday I was lying awake wondering whether to continue writing this thing and depressed at lack of any power or even influence perhaps. I decided to pray the Rosary, the bit I like best, the Joyful Mysteries.

When I finished and went to sleep I thought that I would continue but in a different way, perhaps exploring a theme, and I thought too that power is not that important, being true to one’s beliefs and having a voice is.

The Child Jesus in the Temple

I was trying once again to get to sleep by praying the Rosary. As happens, my mind wandered off and I was worried about one of my children not agreeing to do something I wanted them to do.

I realised then that, without knowing, I had come to the precise place in the Joyful Mysteries when Jesus’ parents search for him in the Temple and they cannot find him. He replies tartly that he must be about his father’s – i.e. not their – business. I have always found it a rather less pleasing part of the mysteries, but strange and revealing that I should come across it at that moment.

I went to a memorial service for a friend today and what was most appealing was the grandchildren and children telling about their grandmother when they had been rebellious teenagers and how their grandmother had understood.

Are we persecuted or aren’t we?

The newspapers are full of legal attacks on Christians. It is true that Christianity is under attack particularly in the Middle East but I can’t believe that a few laws will make much difference here.

The danger here is just indifference and a kind of lazy rationality that dismisses the Christian story as legend and myth. People aren’t going to cease to be Christians because a silly law prevents prayers being said before council meetings. It’s when the councillors get home and don’t want to say a prayer in the privacy of their minds that Christianity will start to die.

Christ’s Trial

I was trying to get to sleep by saying the Rosary and I came to Christ’s Passion. I was struck as I have not been struck before by his curious interests. So vigorous before so active; at the moment of supreme trial, he says virtually nothing and when he does so, it is along the lines of “If you say so, so be it”.

No doubt this is obvious to others but previously I have focussed on the events, on the pain and horror, but in all this whirlpool I now realise there is a calm acceptance after the Garden and this Gabriel is I suppose the point of all this. Even for those who search and who do not yet completely believe this acceptance of fate and suffering and inevitable death that comes to all of us, the supreme moral of the story. If it was in a work of Tolstoy it would be immortal on its own, but because it is suffused with mystery it is extraordinarily powerful, whatever one’s beliefs.

The self-absorption of our interests

There was a debate on in the House of Commons. There were perhaps a dozen or so attending at any one time. It’s strange how self-absorbed we are. 100,000 dead perhaps in the last year but once this year when we were discussing Murdoch, the House was absolutely packed, seething with anger, interest, and excitement. I had to shout to make myself heard – indeed, drew attention to it.

Nothing changes. Apparently when in the 1930s, they were discussing the future shape of the government of India and that led to hundreds of thousands dying, the House was almost completely empty: just Churchill and a few “die-hards” and one or two enthusiasts on the other side.


I went with my daughter to see the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy. It does you good to see so many pictures so recently and so quickly done of so many scenes so close at hand to north Lincolnshire in East Yorkshire. He has done his own interpretation of Claude Lorrain’s ‘The Sermon on the Mount’.

Whilst it is inconceivable that I could ever paint anything approaching Claude’s genius, it is somehow possible to have a stab at Hockney-like trees. Of course, Gabriel, one’s own mediocrity is not galling, it is just a fact. … Little steps.

We only went to see Hockney because it was a few steps from a conference on Somalia at Chatham House. Strange transition, from the horrors of Somalia to the peaceful Yorkshire wolds.

Lip Service

“The people honour me with lip service.” (Mark 7:1-13)

We use this phrase – paying someone with lip service – too often but although we do it I’m not sure we always realise the significance.

A routine miracle

In today’s reading from Mark 6:53-56, Jesus goes about his normal daily work at Genezareth. It is routine for him. All our lives are routine, his was just doing a couple of miracles every day!

Freedom and Evil

The thought occurred to me that for evil to really triumph, it is not just necessary for it to happen, but freedom be curtailed in an attempt to stop it happening.

Death and Life

I was alone after compline in the abbey church and lit a candle in front of the statue of Jesus. As I walked by I looked down the steps into the crypt and felt frightened, as if Death was down there. But the picture nearby of the Raising of Lazarus gave me the reassurance that death is not passing by, one can pass by death.

For mine eyes have seen the salvation…

But the reading from the day before lingers, one of the most intense in the Gospels. What is its appeal – it is a sort of final acceptance, a laying down of the burden which will come to all of us.

“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 before all the nations, a light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)

The Feast of the Presentation

A most striking reading today is from Malachi 3:1-4:

“He is like the refiner’s fire and the fuller’s herb.”

It is not a concept, an early industrial process that we understand very well today, but it is an intense image.

Faith like a child

I was talking to a friend and we were reading together a passage of spiritual literature. What struck me was the author’s faith in being childlike in faith. That it was only by some kind of childlike surrender of will and reason that one could find acceptance and therefore faith.