Monthly Archives: February 2016

Second Sunday in Lent

SUNDAY – Second Sunday in Lent

“Taking Abram outside, the Lord said ‘Look up to Heaven and count the stars if you can. Such will be your descendants.’” (Genesis 15)

It is the billions of stars and planets that causes me the greatest doubt about not the divinity of Christ but whether he was the whole show. Strange that in this ancient script, the very first book of the Bible, it is the sheer number of stars that invites comment and interest. I sometimes wonder if these people were so naïve as we imagine. Abram too would from his desert encampment look up at incomparable glory of thousands of stars, in a crystal clear air, unencumbered by fog or light pollution. They must have been his nightly friends, inspiring his vision, his outlook into the unfathomable.

And this weekend they have been arguing about Europe.

MONDAY – The Chair of St Peter

The Chair of St Peter sounds so grand, yet Peter must have been no more than a hunted insurgent.

“Never be a dictator over any group in your charge.” (1 Peter 5)

I take part in the Prime Minister’s statement on Europe. I ask about the Middle East and Syrian migrants. Peter, of course, was one.


I ask the Foreign Secretary about Syria and Russia. A ceasefire is imminent.

I go to the funeral of one of my ladies in the Cathedral. Simple, a mixture of Latin and English for a fine person.


An orthodox rabbi came to see me. We are setting up an all-party group. Faith schools are under threat as never before. Regulations designed to catch a few – very few – Jihadists are going to impact all schools. Schools should be entitled to teach their faith, however unpalatable to the prevailing ethos, as long as you teach respect for others. Religions are entitled to have a point of view.

Entrance Antiphon: “Let my steps be guided by your promise: may evil never rule me.”


I speak in the Europe debate. Has the EU brought peace in Europe? People argue passionately for it. Yes, there is peace in Europe. Yes, the EU exists. That does not mean that the former is the result of the latter.

Today’s Psalm: “Happy the man who has placed his trust in the Lord.”


If you are looking for a cure for insomnia, read my speech on Europe today – an hour long. Timing is relaxed on a Friday.

“There was a man who planted a vineyard…” (Matthew 21)


The hunt came to Stainton le Vale and I walk through the quiet deep wooded valleys in its wake.

Glorious early spring colours of browns and greens, lone horsemen on the horizon everything moving quietly in the flow of the countryside. Monty pulling on the lead, his attention on the moment – for him no past or future.

“O God, who grant us by glorious healing remedies while still on earth…” (Collect)

First Week of Lent


Benedict is ill and I say lots of Hail Marys. Do they do any good I wonder? Surely, if the telephone is connected, they must do so. But is there anyone at the other end? Worth the trouble?

The entrance antiphon today is appropriate: “When he calls on me, I will answer him.”


We are in Lincolnshire for the whole week for half term. What a delight. This is Monty’s training day. We pick him up at tea time a reformed character, but back home he has forgotten his training.

I read Psalm 82 in our village church in the King James Bible: “God standeth in the congregation of the mighty. He judgeth among Gods.”


I have a day visiting businesses. It’s good to see a family business, surviving, growing, and manufacturing just as William Rose did one-hundred-and-fifty years ago, inventing a process to package tobacco.


More training for Monty. He trails around after the other dogs, walking in a circle as good as gold.

Psalm 83: “Keep not thou silence, O God hold not thy peace, and be not still O God.”


I am still persisting with no alcohol or chocolate. The only way is not to do it as a penance but because one feels better.

Psalm 84: “How amiable are the tabernacles, O Lord of Hosts.”

A particularly beautiful and poetic psalm.


A day in Gainsborough. I visit a site where what I have advocated for years might happen: a marina. I buy and follow on to Eckhardt Tolle’s book. One must, I am reminded, be the silent watcher of our thoughts. Our mind, our thoughts are not us.


More Monty training.

Psalm 85: “Lord, thou hast been favourable unto thy land, thou hast brought back the captivity of Jacob.”

Ash Wednesday


The Mass in the abbey church is superb. A perfect blend of English and sung Latin and then all too soon my visit is over and I am back in the train, listening to people on their mobile phones.


The Public Accounts Commission which I chair, in conversation with the Minister, decides to do the same job for the new Public Service Ombudsman as for the National Audit Office. A tiny piece of parliamentary history.

Today Solomon brings the Ark of the Covenant containing Moses’s tablets into the Temple. What if they had survived? No doubt being subjected to scientific testing which might prove embarrassing – can you tell the age of a stone and the writing on it?


A red letter day. I am invited to the first Catholic sung vespers in the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace in, I calculate, 458 years.

I sat in the choir stalls. Vincent Nichols looks superb in full golden cope and mitre. A cardinal leading the prayers, like a medieval picture.

I look up to the gallery and I imagine I can see Mary Tudor looking down. A glorious experience. Vespers commences with the traditional words: “O Lord open my lips…”

With these words, untold generations of monks have in the cold dark of the morning started their office with Matins.


I turn up at Mass at 1030 and the church is much fuller. I remember it is Ash Wednesday. Previously all attempts at fasting during Lent have failed because they have been a penance. But since going to Downside I have not drunk any wine. I feel better so I will keep going.

I return to the Cathedral at 5:30 to receive the ashes and to listen to Allegri’s Miserere, with the men’s choir behind the high altar and the boys’ choir high up in the gallery – in Heaven. Certainly heavenly voices proceeding down the gallery and the high altar end.

The reading from Joel 2:12-18 always draws one up: “Let your hearts be broken not your garments torn. Turn to the Lord your God again, for he is all good.”

THURSDAY – Our Lady of Lourdes

There is a statement from the Health Secretary on seven-day working and the doctors’ dispute. I ask why someone of my age should have a greater chance of dying.


The engineer for the dog fence arrives in our Lincolnshire cottage. The idea is to try and prevent Monty escaping the garden and worrying the sheep.

I spend most of the day with the engineer and manage a quick visit to our local church to read Psalm 80.


A quiet day in Lincolnshire. I read Psalm 81: “Sing for joy to God our strength, shout aloud to the God of Jacob.”

4th Week in Ordinary Time


We go to Doddington Hall. A charming Elizabethan house on the edge of Lincoln with a medieval church – locked, despite it being Sunday.

The reading from 1 Corinthians today I read over the burial of my father’s ashes.

“Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous. Love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offence…”

How often in our marriages do we try and gain an advantage? How often do we take offence or are resentful?


“David then made his way up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, his head covered and his feet bare.” (2 Samuel 15:13-14)

I have stood too on the Mount of Olives and looked across the valley to Jerusalem. Who stands there cannot weep in his heart for this divided history. Even in my own lifetime war has raged across the city.

TUESDAY – The Presentation of the Lord

As chair of the All-Party Russia Group, I take twenty MPs to lunch with the Russian Ambassador in his residence. Later in the Mail on Sunday I am accused of gushing friendship. But there was no gushing of Putin, only of Russian culture and language. Who cannot gush praise on the language of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky?

This is the day when in the Cathedral the crib is at last taken away.

“Now, Master, you can let your servant depart in peace; just as you promised. Because my eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared for all the nations to see.” (Luke 2:22)

Is this the most charming and beautiful passage in the Gospels?


I often seem to have a sore throat and I enjoy getting it blessed today.

I take part in a debate on funding of health authorities.

David seems to get in trouble with the Lord for holding a census. I’m not sure why this is so wrong.

If we make mistakes the consequences seem dire.

“The Lord sent a pestilence on Israel from the morning till the time appointed and plague ravaged the people.” (2 Samuel)


I make an intervention in the debate on Europe: “My Hon Friend (Bill Cash) is so right to raise the debate above mere technicalities. He will remember that at his school (Stonyhurst) he was told that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. Is not the blood of all these parliamentarians who died in defence of this cause the seed of our liberties?”


I journey down to Downside. It is oblates weekend. I arrive in time for midday prayer and Father Alexander kindly lets me sit in the choir for the rest of the weekend liturgy. I walk down to the beautiful valley, coming back for tea. The only time we talk in the refectory. Later, after compline, I am alone in the vast almost dark abbey. I light a candle and go up to the Bossano painting of the raising of Lazarus. As I look at the painting and think about life and death suddenly a sense of peace arrives. Something quite palpable tells me ‘Do not be afraid; I know of your coming and your passing. I am with you and will shelter you.’

One can reason for years but these all too busy moments of faith and understanding and intuition, rather than any logical process or proof, are more, much more, important.


A wonderful Mass at 8.35 sung in Latin then an oblates’ day. Already little of the discourses remains with me a week after the event. But does it matter? There is a memory of the quiet psalms with just half a dozen monks and a determination to carry on with the slow painful walk of writing my encounter with the life of Benedict and my view that the revival of the monastic movement depends as much on lay people as full time religious. Just as in the fifth century we live in a violent time. Monasteries are an oasis. But in Benedict’s time, it was lay brothers who led the way.