Monthly Archives: February 2013

Thursday, Second Week of Lent

“Father, I beg you then to send Lazarus to my father’s house, since I have five brothers, to give them warning.” (Luke 16:19-31)

I always find this just about the most disturbing reading because the poor old rich man didn’t do anything really wrong: he wasn’t nasty to the poor man.

One feels a slight frisson of fear when you walk past a Big Issue seller and not buy one.

Wednesday, Second Week of Lent

“Promise that these two sons of mine may one sit at your right hand and the other on your left in your kingdom.” (Matthew 20:17-28)

The mother of Zebedee was rebuked, of course.

But it’s actually what we all want. But Heaven surely, if it exists in any pointful way, would somehow ensure we were all up real close!

Practicing what they preach

“Do not be guided by what they do, since they are not practicing what they preach.” (Matthew 23:1-12)

At Mass, I feel a palpable intake of breath, although everyone was too polite to intake their breath.

We were thinking of the current admissions of a certain cardinal.

Who art in Heaven

Dear N,

Lying awake, I thought, saying the Our Father to myself, that really everything is contained in the first line. Indeed, everything is contained in every line.

“Our Father, Who art in Heaven.”

If that is true, if God is in Heaven, if He is our father, he exists and nothing else really is important.

Second Sunday in Lent: We Dare to Say

Dear T,

The Bishop of Nottingham asked us to consider the Our Father in greater detail, remembering that we say “we dare” to say the Our Father.

But do we gabble it? It is easily gabbleable, but much better taken slowly.

Short and Clear

Dear N,

I was reading the Apostles Creed slowly and carefully for the first time. It is ancient, dating from the fourth century, short and clear, easily memorised and it encompasses everything.

It is the basis of the old Penny Catechism. Above all, it is believable.

The Clear-Cut Vision of a Dream

Dear M,

I had a dream. I was in an Underground station, I don’t know why, suddenly an old friend of mine who has died walked along the track. He was with the chief executive, there was some sort of celebration going on. It was quite bizarre, but my friend seemed very happy.

It is strange but it is only in dreams that someone’s features seem absolutely clear cut, as if they are alone in front of us.

My friend walked past, he waved to me once, then he was gone.


Dear B,

I went to the funeral of my dear old history teacher, born in the year that Lloyd George concluded his deal on Ulster. Survivor of forty-nine tours over Germany in Bomber Command and the best part of forty years teaching.

I thought the Minister did a nice thing: He asked us to remember the last time we met him… then to remember when we had met him years before when we had a good time together… to remember him in his prime… that is what he is now.

Living for Christ

Dear M,

I know not everyone is ambitious and it’s supposed to be a good thing but how it can eat at your soul. A friend showed me this passage from Escriva. It makes sense to me.

“If you want to live for Christ,” – I would say if you want just to live – “then if a position of authority seems anything but a burden to you, then you are doomed to a life of bitter disappointment.”

Making Progress

It is a pretty obvious thought, but a sceptic like me has always struggled with it and I am now coming round. The Bible, particularly the New Testament, is the greatest and most positive thought ever written.

Priests and ministers of religion often talk in terms of doing the right thing. Actually, they might make more progress if they said what religion and the Bible could do for them. I know it’s selfish, but it’s good to make progress with a little selfishness rather than not at all.

Courage & Faith

Dear N,

I am sorry to go on about Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking but he has got a point. Your thoughts define you.

“Be of good courage… wait on the Lord.” (Psalm 22)

“According to your faith, be it unto you.” (Matthew 9:29)

First Sunday of Lent

Dear T.,

One of the biggest problems we all face is resentment, irritation, anger, or jealousy against anyone and everyone.

Peale has a good formula. Say John is irritating you. Say this to yourself:

“May the love of Christ fill my heart. May the love of Christ for… John… flood my soil.”

Why this is so effective is because it is more than just the usual invocation to love your neighbour.


Dear N,

I was trying to remember a phrase in my copy of Peale’s book. It was from Psalm 27. It was something about being confident. Having confidence is something we all need, but it kept escaping me. Eventually I opened the King James prayer book in our village church. The first line is enough:

The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?

Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war should arise against me, in this I will be confident.

St Omers Martyrs Day

Dear N.,

We went to Stonyhurst which you know so well for the St Omers Martyrs Mass, the fifty old boys martyred for what they believed in. After I climbed the fell and walked back. I looked behind to the great light of the winter afternoon.

I started off up the great hill
bathed in evening February light
and on the summit a profound tree, heavy
silence, twilight gathering
but on the summit an open sense of height and freedom
and then descent
now before me the vast vale
first one then lights yellow, pinpricking all the way to Blackburn
but around me outer silence
the valley falling away
past countless sentinels of peace
and then one alone farmhouse
one yellow light
warm and symbol of faith
real dark down, the great trees, branches knotted and swaying
and that light behind
once so warm and close
one last time
tiny in the lost distance of time
like the martyrs
their great cause lost to memory
just one small light
in one view
to one who looks behind

To Milton Abbey

We went down to Milton Abbey in Dorset for a school run there. I did the short course and still came last! But afterwards we wandered around the Abbey, founded in honour of the grandson of King Alfred.

The later excrescences, including grand eighteenth century, passed me by.

I seemed to hear very faintly and feel the presence of the Benedictine Monks in this spaces, five hundred years ago. The remotest echo, but there in the imagination. The church was freezing cold, but there was an inner warmth.

Ash Wednesday

Dear T,

Thank you for the beautiful picture sent electronically and reminding me “Thou art dust…”.

We all know it too well, or do we?

Every Ash Wednesday I go to the Cathedral. I find it profoundly moving to receive the ashes and listen to Allegri’s Miserere. When I get back to work, someone invariably says “What’s that bit of dust on your forehead?”

The last day of Ordinary Time

The readings in this last week of Ordinary Time before Lent come from Genesis. I know some people, you may think that it’s all rather unscientific, not very Darwinian, but it is sheer poetry.

Poetry makes up for a lot in life. It may not be the literal truth, but it points to the literality of truth.

God said “Let the waters teem with living creatures and let birds fly above the earth within the vault of Heaven.” (Genesis 1:20-2-4)

Monday, Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

Dear T,

We went off to see my old history teacher. He has died at a very great age. We took his 96 year old widow to see him.

I know it sounds morbid but visiting a dead person who has lived a good long life is good. Everything suddenly falls into perspective. He taught for forty years and survived tours over Germany in Bomber Command.

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dear N,

Once again I could not remember the day’s readings. I had to go through four decades of the Rosary to get to sleep, but at Mass I remembered Tuesday’s readings from Isaiah. This talks of the prophet being inspired by a hot coal touching his lips. I then remembered that the priest the day before had been talking about how our lips should not lead us astray.

I was dreaming last night that I was in some difficult foreign country. There was some sort of revolution going on. There was some sort of corruption with power. For some reason, a sign suddenly appeared on the side of the road. It was like one of those signs one sees of the edges of public paths detailing local by-laws. This one detailed a few words of Jesus Christ – what it was doing in this hot, chaotic climate I didn’t know. All I remember in my dream is that one of the violent gang, looking at me askance out of the back of the limo. The dream did not relate if the sign did any good.

I was angry that one of my children was doing something he wanted to do. Nothing worked until after Mass – I looked at the statue of Mary – I knew that love is not about what I want, namely for him to be with me, but what he wants:

“See now, this has touched your lips, your sin is taken away, your iniquity is purged.”
Isaiah 6:1–2

A Penny Catechism

Saturday, Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Dear M,

Once again I couldn’t remember what I had been told at Mass, except that it was beautiful.

On Saturday morning, a Sung Mass in Latin at the Cathedral – the best of the week. Then a funny thing happened. Out of the mess in our house, objects occasionally surface for no apparent reason. After years of burial under other items, today a penny catechism emerged from my childhood. It had my name written in childish letters on the front. The newspaper was, as usual, so depressing that I started reading the catechism instead. I found this question and answer:

“6. What do you mean when you say that your soul is immortal?
When I say my soul is immortal, I mean that my soul can never die.”

Quite suddenly at that moment I believed. I believed I believed because in the past I had doubted I could survive death, but of course I can’t survive death, I am going to die but my soul is separate in a way I never understood before. It is not me and never has been: that is the me of the domineering body.

I knew this because I was reading the question and answer with an earlier one:

“4 & 5. Is this likeness to God in your body or in your soul?
My soul is like to God because it is a spirit and is immortal.”

This question and answer made sense of something that I had never quite accepted before:

“3. To whose image and likeness did God create?
God made me in his own image and likeness. This likeness to God is chiefly in my soul.”

We then, the people who walk this earth, are transitory and bear the image and likeness of God. But maybe – and ponder this and let it give you hope that our soul does, because only in our soul are we like God in any real way – this likeness to God is chiefly in my soul.


Friday, Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Dear B,

I couldn’t remember the readings at Mass. This often happens to me. I shouldn’t let it worry me. The important thing is to go and let it waft over you.

But I do remember this: someone came up to me at the end and thanked me for what I had said in defence of the Church’s teaching on marriage. He said improbably that I would be lucky after my death because we are thanked by God for what we have done in life.

I have two problems with this: I am not absolutely certain there is life after death and if there is, I’m not sure if my selfish life deserves any thanks.

But I remember how the priest referred to his angel: be careful what you say to a stranger, he may be an angel.

So irrespective of what you believe, look on all strangers as potential angels.

Thursday, Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Dear T,

I sat all day in a long committee meeting which I don’t enjoy. I seem to have a low boredom threshold. But boredom, like perceived obstacles, is only an attitude of mind.

Peale tells of his golf ball being struck in the rough. A friend asked him to bend down and feel the grass around the ball, even taste it. The individual blades of grass were quite smooth so getting the ball out of the “rough” was only an attitude of mind.

Remember, he says, the rough is only mental.

God will make a way

Wednesday, Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Dear N,

I am continuing to read Norman Vincent Peale. He tells the story of travelling salesman who made very few sales. Then one day another salesman gave him a three-sentence prayer that transformed his life. Just before he confronted a customer he repeated it:

“I believe I am always divinely guided. I believe I will always take the night turn of the road. I believe God will always make a way where these is no way.”

It seemed to do the trick. He made a sale 85 per cent of the time.

At Mass we heard of a very different life: that of St. Paul Miki and his companions, martyred in Japan in the sixteenth or seventeenth century. Perhaps the prayer is as useful to travelling salesman in the US as martyrs in Japan or even us.

Fourth Monday in Ordinary Time

Sometimes in the Cathedral there is a funeral on Mondays. One’s first instinct is to turn away from the 10:30 Mass. But it is worth staying.

There is something humbling about going to the funeral of a complete stranger; it is not so much a celebration of a life as an affirmation of life. There was one passage that stuck in my mind: That you have to love when you die.