Monthly Archives: March 2014

Third Week in Lent

We were in the Abbey for Sunday Mass for Father Leo’s last mass as Headmaster. A week later as I was writing this up I could not remember the reading but now it comes back to me. The woman of Samaria at the well. One shouldn’t forget it because actually it is quite remarkable. Jesus breaking all the taboos. Talking to a woman, on her own, she an outcast going alone to the well in the high heat of the day. Yet He reveals Himself to her:

“I who speak to you, am He.” (John 4:5-42)

The purpose of the sermon I think was Jesus’ words “Give me a drink”, which are addressed to us as well.

On Monday, we had the reading about Naaman being angry with Elisha for telling him to bath in the Jordan to cure his leprosy. I sympathise. Often we are asked to do so little with such immense consequences. Eventually Naaman, does the simple thing and he is cured. Like Naaman, who wants to bathe in his own waters, Abana and Pharpar, we too want to bathe in our own waters, in our own prejudices.

It is strange: sometimes within an hour or two of listening to a reading I just for the life of me cannot recall it. I cannot recall today’s reading without looking it up. It is about the wicked servant. Our debts are forgiven: how often do we forgive others?

On Wednesday we had a statement on the Ukraine. If only the EU and Russia could share influence and investment the country could become a bridge to peace, not a downward path to war.

Thursday’s readings are about “A house divided against itself is heading for ruin.” Seldom remembered.

On Friday I went to a funeral for a friend, Mary in Market Rasen. She cared for the church. It was full. The Lord is my shepherd.

On Saturday I carried on my visits to our local church and came to Psalm 18 “Diligam te Domine”. I will love thee, O Lord my strength. This is a long one, but beautiful. It is all about reliance. The Saturday before I had reached Psalm 17 – “Exaudi Domine”, Hear the Light, O Lord – and the Saturday before that Psalm 16 – “Conserve me, domine”, preserve me o God for in thee I have put my trust.

It is rather a nice thing to do, to sit in an English country church, small in its medieval quiet and read from the King James Bible, the glorious English language, week by week.

Second Week in Lent

Although this is not the Feast of the Transfiguration, the reading from Matthew 17:1-9 is about the Transfiguration.

It has never made much sense to me before, but at our little parish mass it did. Some strange, probably inconsequential thing clicked, the story seemed beautiful and consequential. I wonder why.

Monday was the feast of St Patrick. I couldn’t find Mass at first in the Oratory. Then I noticed it was at his own altar. An outsider, he seems to have ended up making quite an impact.

On Tuesday, we were debating Ukraine which means ‘borderland’ in Russian. I ask why it can’t be a bridge to peace rather than a path to war. At Mass, commenting on everything they do is to attract attention, the priest asks why we put so much importance on place.

On Wednesday we celebrated St Joseph’s feast day. It’s strange that from the loss of Jesus in the Temple we know nothing about him.

It was also Budget Day. They come, they go. 0.3% difference in the give and take by Government!

On Thursday I spoke on the Budget, notwithstanding talk of money. The reading today is the most demanding of them all. That of Lazarus and the rich man who actually doesn’t seem to do a great deal wrong apart from nothing, which I suppose is quite a lot.

Obviously today’s – Friday’s – reading is one of my favourites.:

“It was the stone rejected by the builders that became the cornerstone.” (Matthew 21:33-43)

On Saturday we went down to Kings Bruton in Dorset. The picture of the parish church, the five-hundred-year-old school, the green hills which I ran over in a cross-country, was perfect.

First Week of Lent

I was still reading in the Abbey guest wing Thomas Merton’s Elected Silence:

“Certainly one thing the Monk does not, or cannot realise is the effect which these liturgical functions have upon those who see them. The lessons, the truths, the incidents, and values portrayed are simply overwhelming. For this effect to be achieved, it is necessary that each monk as an individual performer be absolutely lost, ignored, overlooked.

Excellence here is in proportion to obscurity: the one who was best was the one who was least observed, least distinguished. Only faults and mistakes drew attention to the individual. The logic of Cistercian life was the complete opposite to the logic of the world, in which men put themselves forward so that the most excellent is the one who stands out. But what was the answer to this paradox? Simply that the Monk is hiding from the world becomes not less himself, not less a person, but more of a person, more truly and perfectly himself: for his personality and individuality are perfected in their time order, the spiritual, interior order of union with God, the principle of all perfection. Omnis Gloria ejus filiae legis ab intrus.

The logic of the world by success rests on the strange error that our perfection depends on the applause of other men! A weird life it is indeed to be living always in somebody else’s imagination, as if that were the only place in which one could be real!

This seems to me, particularly the last paragraph, to be a very powerful point. Strange how it is that in the Abbey, good intentions and thoughts rush forward in the mind.

I realised that what I was putting to you was that you can create a monastery in your mind. That, yes, you can attempt to steady the mind with mindfulness. By all means meditate and concentrate on your breathing and recognise pressing thoughts are not your real self no more than others’ opinions. But then fill it at times every day with attention to God and the spiritual.

As I lay awake in my cell I could not remember today’s Gospel reading, that was for the Saturday after Ash Wednesday. It was 3am and I turned on the light. It all came up painfully slowly on the blackberry, but finally it was there, line by line, from Luke 5:27-32.

“Jesus noticed a tax collector, Levi by name, sitting by the customs house, and said to him ‘Follow me’, and hearing everything, he got up and followed Him.”

As I lay awake those words “Follow Me” kept repeating themselves in my mind. So try every day to create a monastery in your mind. Go to Mass or a service or just read the Mass readings, day by day. For one small part of the day empty the mind. Do not, as Merton would put it, live in other peoples imagination.

On Monday the first week in Lent we are asked the most difficult question (Matthew 25:31-46):

“When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

What does this mean? Is it not an impossible task to treat everyone, however irritating, as God? But this is the task laid down.

Tuesday’s task is more simple: (Matthew 6:7-15)

“And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our debts, As we also have forgiven our debtors; And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

It is easy enough to repeat a prayer. But who is listening? We must assume it is listened to.

On Wednesday we are told that the only sign we will be given is the Sign of Jonah, but where is this sign?

On Thursday I was looking at the parish newsletter in the Cathedral. There was an interesting reference to the Meditations of St Frances de Sales. The one on death arrested me. Imagine that you have just died. Your soul bids farewell to its body. Very soon the body is burned and the person forgotten. As the soul looks back on its life in the body it remembers how it has treated other people.

On Friday funnily enough I was at the funeral of Dom Sebastian Moore at Downside Abbey. A friend, he died at the age of 96. He had been a monk since 1938. His latest thing had been Eckhart Tolle and the Power of Now, but far more than his many books and great, deep – sometimes incomprehensible – intelligence was his great kindliness to everyone, certainly to me.

By Saturday I was back in our little local church and up to Psalm 16 in the Prayer Book. Conserve me Domine – preserve me Lord.

Final week in Ordinary Time

We went to Matins in Lincoln Cathedral, the legal service for the High Sheriff.

I was struck by a quote used by the Dean. “No living man has ever seen God, no man who sees God ever dies.” Or something to that effect.

As usual I went to Westminster Cathedral for Ash Wednesday and submerged myself in Allegri’s Miserere.

On Friday we had a meeting of the Cathedral Council at Lincoln. I questioned as usual putting up the entry fee, this time to £8. I admitted I had no answer except that the Holy Spirit might provide. The fair rejoinder from the Dean: the Holy Spirit looks after those who help themselves.

Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

All my life I have been a most reluctant Christian. Every lazy way of thinking came my way. Jesus was a great world teacher, but God? Well guess what he said about himself? If thats the case he was a lunatic or a charlatan. This week I have completed Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ. I cam across it by accident. There had been a particularly silly and simplistic Times article, fairly typical, airily dismissing Christianity as a legend and a letterwriter to the paper had recommended this book. So would I.

Lee Strobel is an investigative crime reporter. He uses questioning techniques to ask questions that should be asked in schools. Everywhere you look the evidence is compelling that the Gospels are a very early accurate record of what happened. Archaeology and scholarship has only bolstened the case in recent years. This is not legend. Early lazy assumptions like Jesus conveniently faked his messianic outcomes are disproved one by one. Torture on the cross could have ensured that a Roman soldier speared him rather than break his legs. Why were the Apostles prepared to die for something they had faked, like removing the body, even if that was true? And the sheer weight of circumstantial and outside evidence. But be that as it may, reason only goes so far. Reason tells me that the creed is correct, but I still wrinkle with the nature of God. How can one intellect create billions of stars? Are there not hundreds of millions of intelligent life forms? Why should God care about or concentrate on first-century Palestine? But perhaps for me the next step is study of philosophy – if reason can play any part.

One thing is certain, reason is dear and when faith and acceptance reach it, it is transforming.