Monthly Archives: April 2012

Uncertainty and Truth

The Sunday bulletin from the previous week was lying around. Therefore this was another opportunity to look at Luke’s reading and the reaction of the Apostles to Jesus’s resurrected form before them.

Again as I sat there in the empty church I thought on this paradox. Were the Apostles lying, unlikely, misguided, difficult in the face of such certainty, or were they telling the truth? If they were telling the truth and in that moment in that quiet chapel I believe they were then Christianity in time, so that even if the Milky Way is 120,00 light years across, then any doubts about the enormity of the universe against one man’s life doesn’t matter.

It is time and then perhaps for the first time I truly believe this is the truth.

For A Few Square Kilometres

Another view onto a plain, this time, driving up into the hills near Verdun to Fort Vaux. Here in these hills in 1916 nearly six hundred thousand French and Germans died, battling over a few square kilometres. A photograph of Forts Vaux and Douamont shows them completely obliterated by shell holes.

On Thursday in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe I had spoken up about the plight of Christians in Syria, increasingly under threat, the first Christian community in the world outside the Holy Land, yet war goes on even after Verdun. People said never again.

On Saturday back in a small country church in Lincolnshire, I read of the local vicar agreeing to spend five nights under canvas without any home comforts in order to raise £500 for the Alzheimers Society. £500 is enough to pay for one researcher for one day. Hundreds of thousands of Britons have their lives blighted by Alzheimers.

The Unstoppable Irresistable Flow

The great tide of John flows on, unstoppable, irresistible.

“I am the bread of life… everybody who believes in me has eternal life.”

I stood on the edge of the Black Forest, looking west into the afternoon sun, the Rhine glistening a distant sliver of silver, forests of lovely pines tumbling down into the plain. On a day like this, one would like to walk for hours.

Never Thirst

The words from John 6:35-40 are repeated:

“I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry.”

But now is added:

“He who believes in me will never thirst.”

‘I am the bread of life’

The Masses said at 6:30 in the evening and 7:30 in the morning in Strasbourg Cathedral are beautiful. Hearing the Gospel read in French, slowly and carefully, somehow makes them resonate more, as if they are in Latin.

I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry.

I cannot remember the French words but as I lay awake long into the night I repeated them again and again until by morning I had forgotten the correct usage. This is how the message comes with clarity then as the world crowds in, indistinctly:

Je suis le pain de vie. Qui vient à moi n’aura jamais faim.

Three Dreams

I had three dreams in one night. In the first, I was in a tube station. I got out of the train but instead of a long platform with exits at either end, it was short with walls at both ends shutting them off with just a small window high up and a man laughing at me. I took this to be life. Then I woke and fell asleep again.

Then I dreamt that I was kneeling next to the Virgin Mary but neither she nor I had any physical form; we were no more than transient shadows of light. I took this to be what I aspired to.

Then I woke up and fell asleep again. Now I was trying again and again to knit something out of a thread that kept falling away and refused to complete the job. This was the attempt at this diary, like faith it keeps falling away. The thread was as a ruler. Each time I picked it up and attempted to thread it, I failed.

A Steep Climb

A twenty-kilometre ride, then the steepest climb on a wold I have ever attempted in England – before me a vast panorama of Lancashire leading to the great bulk of the Forest of Bowland, under sudden, distant clouds. A cathedral of open air.

Resurrection and Validity

In one sense this is a disappointing week. The great Resurrection readings are over. All of faith is held together by such a slender hope, these four short Resurrection readings. If they are not valid, then faith is not valid.

Miracles and Saviours

The two readings were a contrast. In the first, from the Acts of the Apostles, the disciples are hard pressed to justify their claims. Weren’t there other “messiahs” before whose movements collapsed once they were executed? In the second, Jesus performs one of his most remarkable miracles: the feeding of the five thousand. Which is true?

The Amazing Claim

The previous week’s triumphant Resurrection readings open now with the amazing claim to Nicodemus on which all stands:

“God so love the world that He gave His only begotten son to save it.”

Believing Thomas

This I always think is my reading, because it is about doubting Thomas or perhaps, as we were told at Mass, it should be “believing” Thomas for his wonderful statement – My Lord and My God. Jesus is right: “Happy indeed is the man who believes without seeing.”

I don’t have that certainty but seeing is not just with the mind’s eye. When John enters the tomb, “He saw and he believed.” It wasn’t necessarily that he saw anything much with his eyes except an empty tomb which could be explained away but that he saw in the sense of understanding.

I see the point at last of what somebody has been telling me all along. So we don’t have to see concrete physical evidence, we can see and understand and believe that way, we can see the argument or even more so the inevitable conclusion of what we have been told. Perhaps I am and many of us are at that stage. By Monday, sadly, the Resurrection studies are at an end but we have instead Nicodemus.

Paschaltide and the Resurrection

I know that now for many Easter is over. Well that’s it then for another year but I love going to Mass this week because every day we have the great readings of the Resurrection. Previously I have taken them one by one, but this time I have tried to view them as a whole, an unfolding acceptance that Christ is risen.

First, on Monday, the women “filled with awe and great joy” meet Jesus. “Do not be afraid,” He tells them. For many, perhaps most, this is myth or legend but equally the story concocted by the chief priests by which soldiers are bribed to say Jesus’s body has been stolen by his disciples can be viewed as myth and legend. Darkness against light, lies against truth.

The Cathedral is beautiful, bedecked with white and yellow flowers, the vestments white and gold.

Then on Tuesday, Mary Magdalene “stayed outside near the tomb, weeping,” and fails to recognise Jesus till he calls her name, as we fail still, constantly, to recognise him. Whenever I think of this passage, I see Titian’s painting, ‘Noli Me Tangere’ (below).

But it is Wednesday’s reading – Jesus’s encounter on the road to Emmaus – which usually reduces me to tears. “It is nearly evening, they said, and the day is almost over… He took the bread… then He broke it… and their eyes were opened.” If there was any Gospel reading I would like read at my funeral it is that one.

I heard the Wednesday Mass with a young priest, a small gathering locally, five or six of us. There is something particularly beautiful about a new utterly committed young priest giving Mass to a small gathering, in the simplest of services. You feel closer to the beginning.

Then on Thursday, Jesus suddenly appears to all the disciples. I suppose an atheist will try to explain the Resurrection through a misunderstanding, surely all these people cannot have been lying or be deluded or perhaps, they say, he never died, but he is alive yet transfigured, different, appearing suddenly and vanishing; and finally on Friday another beautiful reading when Christ appears by the lakeside. “It is the Lord. … Come and have breakfast.”

And then in Saturday’s reading, Mark, short and to the point as usual sums it all up.

Sacred Triduum

Holy Thursday, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in the Abbey is a spectacular affair. It is a lovely moment arriving at the retreat: the remembered smell of polish, tea, after the rush from London. The Blessed Sacrament taken in procession, the familiar hymns.

Exhausted by the nine-mile cross walk and the long Passion reading, standing up, I tried to go to confession, but nothing came. Eventually I ended up by the picture of the raising of Lazarus by Bassano. I went back to first principles, what does one really want? To be raised up like Lazarus. I stared at him in the darkened abbey, his face hidden in shadow, emerging from a black cave, the face of Christ, calm, looking on. Then if this is true, if like Lazarus we will emerge into light and see the face of Christ after death, then everything else here on earth, ups and downs, disasters, is inconsequential.

But when one goes to confession and repeats the same dreary list, anger, jealousy, impatience; dealing with them only makes sense in the context of this experience of Lazarus. After an hour or so I was now ready or had something to say at confession but by that time the Abbey was empty, everyone gone.

On Holy Saturday we studied lectio divina. When all the emphasis is on reading quickly, how do we read slowly? How do we look at any text and ask what is its meaning? How would I put it in my own words? What title would I give it? What does it mean for me? What is its echo as received by different people?

At the Vigil, it was long and suddenly as my consciousness the psalm broke through:

“You have the message of eternal life, O Lord.”

The darkened ceiling, the great east window lit from outside seemed to swell in my mind with joy to be replaced with a comforting sweet melancholy with the next psalm:

“Like the deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is yearning for you, my god.”

Three hours of this is not too long.

For a change on Easter Sunday to the childrens’ folk Mass. We are asked to accept change and disappointment, both are inevitable. With a stab of pain I has woken in the night. How do we find happiness when we do not get what we want? Is the secret to do always what others want, or what displeases us byt that is the way of the saint and most decidedly we are not saints, we are too selfish surely. Perhaps the only solution is to set our will against the experiences of Lazarus. That is all that matters.


On Sunday, the last in Lent, we went to Mass at the small upstairs chapel at Osgodby, built in 1793. I was reading a passage in the parish newssheet from our resident local hermit, Rachel Denton. Something she wrote struck me. That religion is not something that you do but what it does to you, how it changes you. It changes you. It can but doesn’t have to be active. Later that night, I was half dreaming that I needed to do something, perhaps write this every day, then almost like a sharp pain, I knew that I didn’t, that the parish newssheet was right. What mattered is not what you do but what happens to you.

In the reading of the last week of Lent for Monday, Jesus goes to have supper with Lazarus. He just happens to have raised him from the dead but the Jews, fearing the commotion, resolve to kill Lazarus as well as Jesus. I have always wondered about this. What happens to him? Is he bumped off soon? Isn’t that rather sad that his second time on earth is so short? Isn’t it all rather unfair? The ups and downs of life.

Tuesday had started well. A cheque arrived from the taxman for a thousand pounds – a rebate. And then on the way to Mass in the evening my accountant texted me to say, mistake, tear up the cheque, I owe them £5,000. I was depressed, the Mass was already over but the Rosary was going on. As I stared up at the image of the Virgin Mary, I thought “Oh well, what does it matter”. I probably owe them the money anyway, if they waste it, and there are more important things like my daughter’s successful small operation that day!

“Better teach the people something good for the future than resign oneself to work institutions already in existence.” – John Bright

Wednesday is really for me the last day of Lent because tomorrow we leave for the Abbey and Easter triduum. The last reading tells us of Jesus instructing his disciples to arrange the Passover supper in “so-and-so’s house”. I have always wondered who is “so-and-so”. He’s obviously missed out on an opportunity to be world-famous. But of course So-and-So is not named because he is all of us. Jesus is coming to have supper with us and tomorrow we will start our journey with him. Let’s have a lovely Easter.