Monthly Archives: May 2013

Feast of the Venerable Bede

We were at the Leavers’ Mass at Stonyhurst. The sermon was remarkable but we were asked to remember just three things: have gratitude for what you’ve got, have imagination, retain hope. This seems not bad advice.

Later I was lying in bed. Every time I thought about politics, I felt depressed. Every time I concentrated on some religious theme I felt content. And later still, in the bright Sunday sunshine of a terrace, I started reading a Sunday newspaper, feeling angry as it was designed to do.

I started reading on my blackberry something about St Philip Neri. It was his feast day 26 May. He is one of my favourite saints because of his sense of fun. He refused to take things too seriously. He told one of the more pompous people who came to him for confession “As your penance, carry a cat around Rome.”

We do take ourselves too seriously.

Tongues of flame and babbling tongues

I have always had difficulties with tongues of flame and babbling tongues in many languages. But so be it, let’s assume for a moment.

On Wednesday I went with a friend to the Shrine of Our Lady of Aylesford in Kent. The Virgin appeared to St Simon Stock in the fourteenth century. She gave him the Scapular of the Carmelites. There is a lovely rosary way, the words gently seeped in. We came to a corner of the garden.

There was the third station of the Glorious Mysteries
The coming of the Holy Ghost on the Apostles
Behind the little shrine in enamel of tongues of flame
The Medway flowed gently past
brown and relentless
great trees in new green clad bending down
the M20 a murmur beyond it, of life rushing by relentless
It all fell into place
We moved on
The moment lost
the very river hidden in its trees found and lost
yet the memory of a momentary flame of belief remains, treasured.

From Ascension to Pentecost

A period of waiting. The disciples walk down the mountain. On 14 May is the feast of St Matthias Apostle. Interesting because he was chosen by lot after the betrayal of Judas. Perhaps we are all chosen by lot.

I had a dream last night that I was walking down a mountain. I don’t know what the significance of the mountain was. But the strange thing was that rather than just walking down in the open air every part of the descent was a different room with different exhibitions of life and history in them.

But neither the rooms nor the mountain had an end. Or perhaps I woke before I got to the bottom of the mountain. Or perhaps the point of all this was revealed in the dream but I have forgotten.

The Ascension

I have always been sceptical of Christ rising like a rocket into Heaven. It offends my rational mind. But this time I concentrated on the reading from the Acts of the Apostles.

“As he said this he was lifted up while they looked on, and a cloud took him from their sight.” (Acts 1:1-11)

What more natural?

Song of Bernadette

I picked up by chance “The Song of Bernadette” by Franz Werfel. It is our extraordinarily intelligent book, written by a Jewish writer who took refuge in Lourdes in June 1940. It encapsulates and analyses the central dilemma of these writings and my feelings.

I have for ten days been reading a little every day and these ten days can be covered by the question posed by this book.

A fourteen-year-old girl, asthmatic, uneducated, impoverished with a vivid imagination says she sees a beautiful “lady” in a niche of a grotto where people dump rubbish. Nobody else sees the “lady”. The Lady speaks in dialect. She calls for “penitence”, for a chapel to be built and for people to come in procession. Eventually, when asked, she says she is “The Immaculate Conception”.

Surely the best course of action in life is to call for the obvious rational explanation.

What is more likely: that a pubescent girl is deluded or that the Virgin Mary if she still exists, hangs around for two thousand years then stands on a well with a rose on her bare feet and carrying a rosary.

The poet Lafite in the book, and many others, the imperial prosecutor, prefect, chief of police, even at first the priest of Lourdes, Fr Peyramale, have no doubts.


The ecstasy is undoubtedly genuine. The Lady asks her to “go eat of the plants which you will find yonder”.


And she says “Go to the spring yonder and wash yourself.”


The stream appears. First the boy Bouhouherts, on the point of death, then many others are cured.

Bernadette, despite numerous questionings, is obviously sincere. She leads a perfect life, full of humility. She dies at the age of 35 of an incurable disease.

I have been myself to Lourdes many times, like the poet Lafite I approach the grotto.

“The rhythmic murmur became a beneficent rustling. It was like a soft support against which one could lean one’s back. And with it came the feeling as though one were surrounded by a helpfulness, encircled taken into its core. The prayers of men took Hyacinthe de Lafite into their midst. Something like smiling irony came over him. Proud and without love? Yes! But am I really so deserted, so much more than others? Would it not suffice, seeing the vast incertitude of knowledge to be no vainer than these here? What’s the difference between myself and them?”