Monthly Archives: November 2013

Christ the King

SUNDAY – Feast of Christ the King

Always a difficult one, because of the last lines of the Gospel: “in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me.” (Matthew 25)


Professor Alister McGrath came to speak to us about the life of C.S. Lewis on the fiftieth anniversary of his death (23 Nov 63). The point I made and believe is that C.S. Lewis is timeless because he struggled with belief and because he addresses as a story the question of the existence of God and the rightness of Christianity. Church leaders need to stop talking about structures and about spirituality.


When I walked into the Cathedral the light was streaming through the southern windows blinding me. Appropriate for the first reading: “a statue of exceeding brightness stood before you.” (Daniel 2:31)


When I heard the words from Daniel – “Mene, men, tekel upharsin” – I thought this would be our fate if God forbid Scotland breaks away. “Parsin” Your kingdom has been divided.


I was sent by my daughter a quote from Meister Eckhardt that seemed very appropriate. It goes something like this:

“If you only say one prayer in your whole life and that is ‘thank you’, that is enough.”

A powerful thought.


I was sitting on the train thinking once again on Meister Eckhardt’s advice. There is so much to give thanks for: children, family, marriage, health, a job. Why mope and be morose – an inevitable part of human nature I suppose.


Daniel this week in his canticles reflects Meister Eckhardt’s advice.

The autumn colours in Lincolnshire have faded dramatically in less than one week.

O sky, and moss, and autumn trees. Bless the Lord.

Back in England


When we got back to England there was a programme on about English Cathedrals. How they had to move with the times, etc. I thought how empty they were, a few worshippers certainly but mainly museum pieces. Then I thought back to the day before, to the great Sikh temple in Delhi, the thousands of pilgrims and worshippers moving forward slowly. Has the Sikh religion felt it necessary to “move with the times”.


The readings this week are from the Book of Macabees. How Eleazar and others suffered torment and death rather than compromise their religion. I wouldn’t hesitate to compromise. Would they be now more than half of one quarter of one per cent in our society who wouldn’t compromise? Yet however many resisted in the tumult of the sixteenth century.

I often wonder what would Zaccheus have done if Jesus hadn’t looked up and called him.


I have never understood “To everyone who has will be given more; but from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” (Luke 19:11-28)

It all seems rather harsh.


When the Gospel was being read about the prophesy of the Fall of Jerusaelm my mind wandered. Started thinking of my visits there, fascinating and moving yes but the centre of the universe? Where the creator of all these billions of stars manifested himself, on which I wondered. Wonder in all senses of the word.

But it took Lord Brennan at the AGM of the Catholic Union to remind me of the true importance of the last phrase which I had missed.

“… and all because you ddi not recognise your opportunity when God offered it.” (Luke 19:41)

What opportunities are we missing.


The day of the Referendum Bill in Parliament. I made several interventions about our beliefs. That we want once again to control our own borders, our own fishing grounds, our own courts, and regulation on our own businesses.

I cannot match the eloquence of today’s reading from Macabees; I had run off early to Mass and heard it: “Judas and his brothers said: Now that our enemies have been defeated, let us go up to purify the sanctuary and dedicate it. So they marshalled the whole army and went up to Mount Zion.”


Sometimes we feel we have failed in our campaigns and we are like King Antiochus who “threw himself on his bed and fell into lethargy from acute disappointment, because things had not turned out for him as he had planned. And there he remained for many days, subject to deep and recurrent fits of melancholy.”

But at least we haven’t done what he did: “But now I remember the wrong I did in Jerusalem.” (Macabees 6:1-13)

Travels in India


As I write this I am listening on the verandah to night prayers starting over Delhi’s traffic noise. Today we have walked around the Lodi Gardens. Of course I was tired but at the tomb of Mohammed Singh, the Mogul Emperor, I felt a great depression. So much power and beauty: now crumbling stone. The crows wheeling slowly overhead, the November sun orange in its intensely setting, always unlike an English park. Some movement.


I stood on the edge of Jama Masjid, the Great Mosque of Delhi’s Old City. India in all its teeming life was before me. At times, like there, the impossibility of redemption seems close. Say there are five billion humans and five billion planets with intelligent life in the universe. How could God – any god – know every hair of every head? But God surely is not just us, it is much more and much less. It is the whole of us but something different. I dreamt that God was a vast unity, a kind of brain and we were all inside. God was not looking down on us, a separate distant intelligence but was looking at us with an inward eye. It is strange how little organised religions talk of the nature of God. We waste so much time on futile arguments about arcane liturgy and rules when no one actually knows or could know the will or wills of God.


In the vast modern concourse of Delhi’s domestic airport, I paused at the bookshop. The usual John Grishams, Jeffrey Archers, etc., and the Bhagavad Gita. I bought it. I was struck by Gandhi’s remarks: “The last nineteen stanzas of Chapter 2 have ever remained engraved in my heart.”

They are indeed unexpressingly moving.

“That man alone is wise who keeps mastery of himself! If one Ponders on objects of the sense, there springs Attraction, from attraction grows desire, Desire flames to fierce passion, passion breeds Recklessness; then the memory – all betrayed Lets noble purpose go, and saps the mind, Till purpose, mind, and man are all undone. But, if one deals with objects of the sense Not loving and not hating, making them Serve his free soul, which rests serenely lord, Lo, such a man comes to tranquillity.”

Gandhi says these verses contain the essence of Dharma.


Meherangarh Fort

The great fort of Jodhpur rises up from the city of one million souls. As I stood on its ramparts I looked down upon the blue-glazed, flat-roofed houses.

What is the meaning of Gandhi’s “non-attachment”? I don’t believe that non-attachment is right for most people. Can one be non-attached to the necessity of food? Can, should, the soul be non-attached to the needs of the self: work, love, health, life, home.

I prefer the way of what I call Right Attachment. A median way of attaching worth but not undue care or worry to most things.

“Most things don’t matter and hardly anything matters at all.”


What is the nature of the Divine? In Chapter 11 of the Bagavadgita

“So did Pandu’s Son behold All this universe enfold All its huge diversity Into one great shape, and be Visible, and viewed, and blended In one Body – subtle, splendid, Nameless – th’ All-comprehending God of Gods, The never-Ending Deity!”

We walked down the dusty lane from the Fort of Chandelao to a lake – past veiled, sari-ed women, brightly coloured, carrying everything on their heads. The November sun hot, sacred cows, wandering barefoot children playing, goats standing, the dry, flat plains all about.

For Indians, the very earth is sacred. Here in the numberless villages of India, time is slower, lengthened.


The Gandhi museum is strangely moving. His sayings are displayed. The simplicity of the room in which he spent the last eighteen months of his life. Everywhere his life confronts our own. Tears rolled down my cheek. “I want, if I don’t give you a shock, to realise identity with even the crawling things on earth, because we claim descent from the same God, and that being so, all life in whatever form it appears must be essentially one.”

Finally one follows in his footsteps across the manicured lawn to the place of his martyrdom. I went on to the Indira Gandhi museum, where she also lived and was assassinated. Now the prevalence of death and of her son Rahul was too depressing. Why this violence and hate?


A contrast. First Mass in the Papal Nunciature, a grand neo-classical building with green lawns roundabout and likenesses of recent popes and Mother Theresa, then on to the Gurudwara, the main Sikh temple. It was a feast day. We formed an intense stream of brightly coloured pilgrims moving slowly into the Temple and around the lake. I bought two contrasting books: the last stand of the 31st British Army Sikh Regiment in the Afghan Wars of the 1890s. All 21 soldiers in a signalling fort were killed by Pathan insurgents. And next a meditation including this from Gurbani, a Sikh guru:

“Walking in the ways of life, moment to moment, live by Godly qualities.”

Everywhere we were treated with great courtesy. Sikhism seems a most attractive religion.

Thirty-First Week in Ordinary Time


It suddenly occurred to me that we spend too much time thinking on what we do not have, what we have missed out on, rather than what we are, what we have.


The Gospel reading today is about people giving excuses for not coming to a wedding. How many times do we give a pathetic excuse for not doing something.


So I was tempted to give an excuse not to spend a tiring evening speaking at Oxford University on faith and politics and missing an important meeting in London but thought I better not. In the end, only four students turned up.

Really, faith in politics, certainly Christian faith, is dying. To our great impoverishment. Yes, us four had a good conversation. There is always a lot of good talk about lost causes in Oxford.

I walked past Latimer and Radley’s memorial. What would they have preferred: a Catholic or an indifferent England?


About thirty parliamentarians who had served in the TA or Regulars went to the Guards Chapel for a Remembrance Service. It is a moving place. When it was bombed in 1944 and over a hundred people killed, the candles kept burning on the altar.


The Gospel reading was about the dishonest servant. Is the true meaning that one has in any way to prepare for and insure against the next life?


At our oblates’ talk in the Abbey, Father Alexander was explaining the Beatitudes.

I have always thought the consolation for not having power is that it gave one the opportunity to speak one’s mind and be honest. But the Beatitudes also make plain that it is the lack of something, certainly riches, even life, that can be the great opportunity or blessing.


Market Rasen was packed for Remembrance Sunday. In the Anglican Church I cried again at the story told of the execution of a teenager at Auschwitz. Someone asks “Where is God in all this?” The neighbour answers “God is there in that noose.”

Thirtieth Week


By contrast I went to the little chapel next to us to hear a said not sung Mass, entirely in English. I am happy with that too. I concentrated on the words of the Gospel and the words of the tax collector as opposed to the Pharisee who prays to himself, “Have mercy on me a sinner.”


We attend the funeral of Cllr Chris Underwood Frost in Gainsborough Parish Church. It is a sad thing that when we reach a full span of 80 years or more there are few to come to our funeral. It is no comfort though when we die young in our prime, in our 50s. The church is full of friends and admirers. But do we only live on in the minds of others? No, when we die old, the panoply of friends and relations, mother, father, or sister, are still there but in the Heavenly Host.


I was talking to someone about the plight of Christians in the Middle East. They want to set up a charity which will not focus on the political situation but on the cultural heritage of Christians. I am sure this is right. We must not lose this rich stream of continuous history particularly the villages, some of which I visited in Northern Iraq which still use Aramaic. My host recited the first words of the Beatitudes in Aramaic: what a glorious sound.


The readings today are all about the power of prayer. “The spirit comes to help us in our weakness.” (Romans 8:26-30).

We can go through the motions of Mass or the Rosary or Matins or whatever but unless we ask we are nothing.


I sat through four and a half hours of debate on HS2. Strange how those in favour and against the line dress up their arguments in a kind of religious fervour. Ultimately it is only a railway line which carries a few people fast to where, if they really thought about it, they probably don’t want to go.


I always love this image of a “huge number, impossible to count, of people from every nation, race, tribe, and language.” And “they shouted ‘Victory to our God’.”

I like the way also that most of them, the Saints, are completely unremembered to history.


Now in our Lincolnshire garden we have the full glory of Autumn: browns, reds, golds, every shade of green, light, dark, a remarkable number of leaves stay still on the trees, gently swaying. It is warm enough to sit in the garden for a time and feel the soft Lincolnshire breeze. The glass is still a richly golden green colour, the remains of the stubbled field opposite still yellow, not a house or a car or any semblance of ugliness in sight. When the first car in an half-hour glides by, its wheel noise lost instantly in the leaves underfoot. It is so quiet. I can hear the blood pumping around my ears.

I run along the lane under the great yellowing beeches and enter our Norman church. I read Psalm 9. “Confiteor Deo tibi / I will speak of your marvels O Lord.”