We were back in London by the evening. The priest looking at the packed congregation in the Cathedral asked us to lift our faces, smile: Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed. Be happy! If it is true, we should never again have an unhappy day. The trouble is we don’t really believe.
There is a hole in the Lady Chapel; the roof is being repaired and the Abbey is freezing. The Vigil with welcoming of catechumens lasted three hours. I was hunched in my four layers including scarf and anorak. I’m not sure I went to bed full of joy, just tired and cold.
We were discussing Aquinas’s proofs of the existence of God. My belief is that these rational proofs are themselves subject to leaps of reason. Religion can only be preached; the proof of its value is the effect it has on one.
We have these grudges, these ambitions, these angers but as Father Sebastian put it to me Our Lord’s Passion is not about us sharing in it but of Him relieving us of our burdens.
And the least of the burdens was carrying the Cross from Wells to Downside. I went to bed full of joy.
Why can’t one feel this joy in one’s ordinary life? Because in ordinary life, you don’t spend your hours of the day in church and four hours on a Cross walk.
We were in the Abbey. I couldn’t help thinking of the new pope washing the feet of the inmates in the young offenders’ institution. Our service was a bit of a family affair: one son serving, another carrying the canopy above the Host, a daughter doing the collection.
“He has sent me to bring good news to the poor and to the blind new sight.” (Luke 4.16-21)
I went to the 1030 Mass and chanced upon a funeral. It was lovely. The couple had been married 60 years and met in the war. The reading was from the Wedding Feast at Cana. With rejoicing comes wine, with death and sorrow comes a new sort of rejoicing at a new start.
The two simple commands to believe in God and to love your neighbour are difficult. But we should see them not as an unattainable mountain top but as a slope we climb week after week, year and year.
I always find this passage confusing but beautiful.
“Now has the Son of Man been glorified and in Him God has been glorified. If God has been glorified in Him, God will in turn glorify Him in Himself.” (John 13:21-35)
Anyway, somehow we are being glorified and that’s all that’s important.
So it is coming. The week’s road to impending doom, like a well loved tragic novel, each day leading to the same thing. But I feel sorry for Lazarus; he doesn’t seem to have enjoyed his reawakening for long.
“Then the chief priests decided to kill Lazarus as well, since it was on his account that many of the Jews were leaving them and believing in Jesus.” (John 12:1-11)
How absurd to be distracted during the two-hour mass in the Cathedral by the little boy next to me kicking his feet. How easily we are distracted.
I always sympathise with Caiaphas.
“You fail to see that it is better for one man to die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.” (John 11:45-46)
But utilitarianism is always a blind alley because it has no direction save its own interest.
The Latin sung mass I heard today in the Cathedral was not utilitarian. It was something more important: beautiful.
I find and found when I heard this today a passage that impressed me hugely. Belief in Christ is tempered by our inability to think that one obscure man can indeed be God, the Creator of the Universe. But listen to today’s Gospel:
“Is it not written in your law, I said, you are Gods? So the law used the word Gods of those to whom the word of God was addressed. And scripture cannot be rejected.” (John 10,31:2,2)
So here Jesus is saying to his listeners, we are all gods. I find this reassuring. We are all part of God, are in this sense God. Or have I misunderstood? I have an uneasy feeling this may be another thought of mine that may not be quite orthodox. I am not a consecrated person. We are all priests.
The Gospel of John continues:
I tell you most solemnly, whoever keeps my word will never see death. (John 8:51-59)
A promise so dear yet so immeasurable and obscure in the minds of men in its believability!
I watched the enthronement of the new Archbishop of Canterbury. Impressive in its own way, yet in its great mass of the suited lay establishment and the multi-cassocked clerical establishment, lacking the joy and spontaneity of a 100,000 flag-waving members of the Roman public in St Peter’s Square.
I can never forget these two vast set pieces: Mass clear and simple in the Latin of the funeral of Pope John Paul II and the installation of Pope Francis.
When I listen to the tale of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego walking about in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:14, 24-25, 28), I always wonder: did they get out alive? And who was the fourth man?
Of course the Papal Mass was remarkable. The sunshine, the crowds, the Pope in his Jeep reaching out to the people, the Latin Liturgy, the assembled cardinals…
But later I was alone in a small side chapel in Santa Maria di Loreto. The furnishings were modern, uninspiring even, but simple, but the modern stained glass window moved me more than all the liturgy and pomp of the day. It is of the Mother holding the Child.
I couldn’t go to Mass because I was flying to Rome for the papal inauguration having asked all weekend to be allowed to go. Sometimes persistence pays.
I went for a walk and looked out from the Capitoline Hill over the darkened Forum. What shades of a many layered past dwell there.
What does Jesus means when he starts writing on the ground – John 8:1-11. What is he writing? Is he playing for time? Does it matter?
On the radio there was a good quote from Tertulian about death:
“Why worry about something which is inevitable?”
“Prophets do not come out of Galilee.” John 7:40-52
I went for a long walk past the remains, only mounds of earth, of the old priory. We walk in familiar land and we do not know its history or what it really is.
A good day for being readopted and speaking at a Primary School. Jesus comes out perhaps in frustration in the Temple:
“Yes you know me and you know where I came from. Yet I have not come of myself.” John 7:1-2 and 10:25-30.
We start now in John 5:31-47. The long speeches of Jesus give such an insight into his teaching. I have been eager to read John but there is surely no better way than in these Mass readings.
“You study the Scriptures believing that in them you have eternal life; now these scriptures testify to me.”
I had a difficult choice whether to stay in my office and wait for white smoke from the Sistine Chapel or go to Mass. I went to Mass and was rewarded with this from Isaiah 49:15:
“Does a woman forget her baby at the breast or fail to cherish the son of her womb? Yet even if these forget, I will never forget you.”
I came back to hear of the white smoke. There was no difficulty in deciding whether to wait for the new pope to come out on the balcony or to vote, I waited.
Obviously the two readings today have a watery theme but in Ezekiel the point surely is that the water becomes more productive the further away it is from the Temple.
I wonder if the significance of this reading is that the Father only understood a cure had taken place after he got home.
“The Father realised that this was exactly the time when Jesus had said your son will live.” John 4:43-54
I went to Lauds. It was early and I couldn’t find my way in the book. I only really understood the words when we got to the Benedictus and the reference to the little child. But this is an allegory really on our inability to grasp more than a small proportion of what is read to, but does it really matter?
I could not follow Vigils as it was sung so I read it after alone in the dark Abbey Church. This one passage from Psalm 16 moved me indescribably:
“And so my heart rejoices, my soul is glad, even my body shall rest in safety for you will not leave my soul among the dead, not let your beloved know decay.”
This seemed to affect me because I seemed to understand as I read it that a soul having never been a living body can never die as a body dies. And the next verse seemed then and there for a moment to convince me that it had a purpose in its life, to know God.
“You will show me the path of life, the fullness of joy in your presence, at your right hand happiness forever.”
Of course it is all here today – so simple, so clear, and so impossible. The two greatest commandments; perhaps all we can do is like the scribe echo them with approval, even if confoundingly difficult to follow.
“Master, what you have said is true; that He is one and there is no other. To love Him with all your heart, with all your understanding and strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself, this is far more important than any holocaust or sacrifice.” Mark 12:28-39
There is a lot of comment this evening of the downfall of a prominent couple – the advice given today is useful.
“Every Kingdom divided against itself is heading for ruin, and a household divided against itself collapses.” Luke 11:14-17