Monthly Archives: May 2012


Ascension is about going but leaving a message. Better to think on those terms than Christ rising like a rocket which jars with modern sensibilities. After Mass at Stonyhurst chapel, I walked from Hurst Green for eight miles in a great circle up and over Longbridge Fell and back again. This countryside is glorious. You could be in Switzerland. Vast panoramas shade into woods fells rising high out of the green shaded valleys. The fells blooming, greying, vanishing into mist and rearing up into bright sunlight, far away the smudge of Blackburn. The rushing rivers of Hodder & Ribble, white ribbons, no great prairie fields of wheat and barley here. It is a countryside of gentle fields, crumbling stone walls, young lambs, ancient farmsteads, and the silence of great woods of conifer.

This is the countryside of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Tolkien. Is that the Ribble there or the Brandywine? The path really did seem to go ever on. After eight miles, I was exhausted. Without the dog even more so.

By Monday I was back in Market Rasen in our small weekday Mass. Our priest was telling us of his chicks he keeps in his garden and about how the mother hen covers them with her wing when alarmed by strangers. A delightful rural appreciation of today’s Gospel:

“Listen, the tune will come. In fact it has come already when for will be scattered.” [John 16]

On Tuesday I was late for Mass at the Oratory and too late to put aside a wafer for Holy Communion. Did I dare go to Communion? But leaving it so I was the last, there were still five to spare. There is always something of everything to spare.

On Wednesday I was asked to do the first reading. I don’t like to put any emotion into readings in church but this text is so moving it speaks for itself:

“When he had finished speaking, he knelt down with them all and prayed. By now they were all in tears: they put their arms round Paul’s neck and kissed him; What saddened them most was his saying they would never see his face again.”

No time for Mass on Thursday only a long drive through traffic to Lincolnshire. Church was walking over the highest peak in Lincolnshire – a staggeringly high four-hundred feet! A great hot vast sky of blue ahead, the fields brightly yellow and poor William crushed by heat.

Saturday. I am reading Malcolm Brown’s Imperial War Museum Book of the Somme. It is a very moving and balanced account and despite its awfulness we shouldn’t doubt that many or perhaps most who fought in it felt they were doing the necessary and right thing. But there is a sad chapter about two brothers killed – Willie and Percy Robins. Willie killed age 21 and Percy only 19. Their distraught parents bound together a little memoir of their letters home. This is the true awfulness of war: those that are left behind.

The stream of life

I dislike having to spend Sundays in London normally but it gave us an opportunity to go to Mass at St Patrick’s Soho Square. Afterwards we processed the Virgin around Soho Square to celebrate SOS Soho. Our little procession had an archbishop, the papal nuncio to Ireland visiting, and all types, ages, races. We passed by a group of leather jackets celebrating lunch with a lot of alcohol, some old ladies watercolouring – a charming stream of London life.

Monday: Confession is a strange thing. Irrational but we feel so much better after it. I was thinking of the two commandments and confessing to a lack of success in these simple but not easy tasks – Love one another and believe in Jesus Christ – and the priest reminded me of what was also in John’s gospel: that we all fall short.

Tuesday: I was dreaming that I was with a well-known politician – a household name – approaching a cricket match. I was pleased that at last I would be able to give him my idea. I started expounding, no doubt in a very boring way. He barely paused and carried on to an enthusiastic welcome from those waiting by the main stand. I veered off to the boundary where an official shoved me off on account of being with my dog William!

On Wednesday in this week, John’s Jesus says “I still have many things to say to you but they would be too much for you now.”

Indeed, I found myself asleep at Mass.

There is a priest at Mass in the Cathedral who merely in his homily repeats and re-repeats aspects of the Gospel very slowly. He was doing this on Thursday. But it works well with the great speech of Jesus in John 16:16-20 – “We don’t know what he means. … You will be sorrowful but your sorrow will turn to joy.”

We should take note when strangers come up to us on the street. You never know who they are, however odd, they might be an angel.

On Friday, someone came up to me and said this: “I think this is much more important to you than politics.” But when we are lying in our coffin, this is all that is important. Let’s not be too dramatic. I had just heard the combined choirs of Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral sing evening vespers. At one level, beautiful, even inspiring. At another, deeper level… perhaps the only thing that is really important.

So many fields round our home in Lincolnshire have young lambs at the moment. On a long walk on Saturday I stood by one. He looked at me for some time, before gambling off. Perhaps they are more intelligent than we think. They are certainly timeless. The village of Kirmond comes from a Norman name. Chevre Le Mont – Goat’s Hill – shortened to Kevremond, then Kirmond, then Kirmond le Mire (it is by a muddy stream). The Norman conqueror has left few names, unlike the Anglo-Saxons, Stainton, or the Danish Tealby.

And on the hill are terraces, lynchets, remains of medieval farming. As I was walking through the village and a coach bounced past me at great speed. I wonder how many stop and think of the centuries accumulating in our countryside and the virtue of history and tradition and knowledge of things past.

The living vine that connects us all

I was in Mass in the Cathedral on Sunday and it started to make sense. If I was to take this advice and open each day with asking God what He wanted. But what He wants is in the words of the Gospel. God will give us what we want if we give Him what He wants. What does He want? That we recognise the name of His son, Jesus Christ, and that we love one another. Simple, obvious, right, but not easy. Still, at least I know what to ask for…

The readings are from John this week and they compliment that of Sunday.

If we give God what He wants we will receive what John offers us in Tuesday’s reading: “Peace I give to you, peace I bequeath you.” And as in Wednesday’s reading we will receive it as a branch on the vine. I am the true vine.

Tuesday. Peace I bequeath to you, Peace I give you. Wednesday. I am the vine and my father is the vinedresser.

I see all the readings from John this week as interconnected with the vine, so Tuesday leads into Wednesday and into Thursday so the vine connects us to each other and then to his father.

“As the Father has love me, so I have loved you.”

And then into Friday:

“This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you.”

And then finally into Saturday: the challenge “if the world hates you, remember that is hated me before you.”

On Friday I walked over two hours from Market Rasen station, over the Wolds, to Stainton le Vale, or Stainton in the Hole as it was known in previous centuries. And then on Saturday I walked back to the station. The sun was blazing, the fields yellow with oilseed rape, huge distances versed in tinges of blue and green. Distant smudges of power station smoke far into the horizon. Drying wet earth beneath the feet. Sheep providing life, cars hurtling back on an occasional road crossed.

Intent on business while tired miles toiled by, the dry flinty road from Walesby leading on into the shade of Willingham Woods, the small one-carriage train coming up its straight line, from the thin line of hills past the new temple of Tesco.

Open every day with a prayer

Monday: A long drive down. Was there time to go to Mass? No, I had to vote. But I missed the vote anyway. Always go to Mass first – it’s more important.

But on Tuesday I was so involved in my own thoughts that I couldn’t remember at all what was in the readings. I wanted desperately to go into the sacristy after Mass and peer at the book but the little gate was locked and I didn’t dare. How often are we deterred from seeking the truth by a little locked gate about one foot high.

Anyway, when the verger came to extinguish the candles and take away the book, he pushed the gate open with his foot. It was unlocked!

On Wednesday I was on the boat so I only had sky and sea for a church, which is as good.

I decided to go to confession on Thursday and the priest gave me some useful advice: “Remember, one morning you won’t wake up.” Indeed, I had felt a bit ill that day.

Open the day every day with a prayer: What can I do for you, God? How can I dedicate my day more to you? How can I think more of others and then close the day with a little review of how much you have achieved.

I had told him of my experience of the Sunday before. So certain when I was reading of the Resurrection experience of the Apostles; that they could not have lied, or been misguided, they must have been feeling the truth. Then beset with doubts, confounded with the enormity of the universe, I was tired by the time I arrived at the monastery on Friday.

I couldn’t find my place at Vespers; the Compline book had gone missing. It was only when the darkening abbey church was completely empty that sitting in front of the Crucifix and peering down, the stones seemed to merge into a greyness, that reality in the form of the stones was merging with unreality in the shape of the Crucifixion, where they were all one reality and there forever.

By Saturday I was like the crowd at Antioch in the reading. I could not accept that we, I, are worthy, capable of eternal life but we can only take refuge in what Jesus tells Philip today: Ask of Christ and he will grant you what you want. What do I want? To believe.