On Wednesday we had a memorial Mass for David Atkinson. I did not know him well or what he did as an MP except that he seemed often away on Council of Europe business but it seems as if he was a bit of a hero. He constantly put himself out and sometimes in danger to help democracies in the East and persecuted Christians.
On Saturday I was searching around for an old canvas to paint on and found the outline of an Annunciation – the figures so poorly drawn that the only way to make the picture bearable was to smudge it heavily and make all the outlines hazy. But I suppose that is what faith, or my faith, is like: if the details are too sharply drawn, they don’t make sense.
The reading on Sunday was about a grain of wheat having to die so it can produce wheat. That was happening to my picture: by the time the picture was nearing completion on Monday, in all its naivete, it was the feast of the Annunciation but isn’t Annunciation about acceptance?
On Tuesday before our debate on assisted dying that I spoke in, we went to Micky Mosley’s funeral. A brilliant man, with private wealth, he could have done anything. He chose to look after others. I think we won the debate on euthanasia. Ultimately, true worth cannot be measured by humans.
On Friday I went by chance into the Basilica of the Holy Blood in Bruges when the exposition was taking place. We were asked to approach the relic, pray, and leave money. I couldn’t get as spiritually involved as I would like. But even if a DNA test proved that the ‘blood’ came from the tenth century, that’s still centuries of devotion. I was however suddenly inextricably moved by Simon Marmion’s Mater Dolorosa and the Man of Sorrows, a powerful ‘primitive’ Dutch masterpiece.
On Saturday, I came across a truly inspiring part of the biography of John Bright by Bill Cash. Bright is offered but refuses high office in the Palmerston government. Not primarily because he disagrees with Palmerston, even despises him, not just because he is disinterested in the frippery of office, but because he thinks it much more important to help educate the people about ideas for freedom than just make existing institutions work better.
But then I thought surely it was different then, those were heroic days. Bright was fighting for free trade and the secret ballot, but I realised too that the people are enslaved today, too. They are taxed, their money forcibly taken at an infinitely higher rate than in Bright’s day. They have to go (unless they are very fortunate) to state schools where a politician decides what is taught, who teaches, who can come to school, where they are prevented from using the money they have to give to the state towards truly independent education. A bureaucrat decides what drug you can be given irrespective of a lifetime paid in taxes to the health service. A prime minister can decide to re-define everybody’s marriage. We really are not free, there is freedom’s work to be done!
As I was walking around Palace Green in Durham that evening, to the backdrop of the great Norman cathedral, I thought that it was an open-air version of the darkened abbey church at night where the spirit could soar and be closer to God.