Monthly Archives: December 2016

Christmas and the feasts of St Stephen, St John the Evangelist and The Holy Innocents

SUNDAY 25th December – Christmas Day

We go to Midnight Mass at Holy Rood. I am surprised it is not fuller but it is one of Father Robert’s five masses. He sings it beautifully in Latin and our small congregation does its best to keep up. The Gloria falters and fights on to the end. The church is beautifully lit with candles.

I do a reading at the 9.30 service of readings and carols at the village church, which is packed. Luke 26-28, the Angel Gabriel appears to the Virgin Mary.

We went for a walk from Otby to Walesby in bright sunlight, the Lincolnshire plain a dazzling light green and blue in the clear, translucent winter sunshine. Arriving at Walesby’s old church at 3pm we listened to the Queen’s broadcast, her words accompanying views of twenty or thirty miles stretching to Lincoln Cathedral. The Queen is the only top person prepared to mention religion. I was profoundly moved. She actually says she believes in Jesus Christ.

St John’s Prologue, 1:1-18
“In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God. He was with God in the beginning …”

MONDAY 26th December – St Stephen

When we are in London, I go to the 10.30am Mass; the church and its great Christmas trees still ablaze with light. Here, I just go and read a Psalm in the village church.

The King James Version is so much more poetic than the ones we use at Mass.

We walk to Tealby – again, an extraordinarily clear light. As we walk back from the pub, the whole West is bathed in orange.

Psalm 30
“In to your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit;
… Be a rock of refuge for me, a mighty stronghold to save me”.

TUESDAY 27th September – St John the Evangelist

We walk to Rothwell where the pub is full of shooters and cyclists.

Psalm 96
“Rejoice, you just in the Lord
… The Lord is King, let earth rejoice”.

WESNESDAY 28th December – The Holy Innocents

I walk in a deserted valley on the footpath to Tealby in deep fog, the country empty, and find a new lake.

Psalm 123
“Our life like a bird has escaped from the snare of the fowler”.

The Holy Innocents is a feast barely celebrated in today’s syrupy Christmas season, but it is a good time for reflection; for many lonely, old and ill, Christmas is not such a happy time.

I am reading two contrasting books: A Beevor’s ‘Ardennes’ and the Dalai Lama’s spiritual autobiography. A contrast, the terrible, pointless horror of war, and it’s going on now in Syria although I hope fully for a ceasefire, and the emphasis on the importance of the mind, of being happy, of showing compassion to all, not just to friends and relatives, and an awareness of the whole human race. We all have the same wants.

THURSDAY 29th December

This is the last day everyone is here. Once again it is bright and we walk from Walesby to Normanby le Wold and back. The East yellowing gradually towards 4pm, when it becomes like a vision of heaven: the yellow light even entering and softening the pictures in Normanby church. A wonderful walk.

FRIDAY 30th December

A grizzly day of fog. All the children are leaving one by one. I walk with Nicky around the block and then drive him to Barnetby.

In the evening, ‘Les Miserables’ as usual reduces me to tears. It is quite a powerful resurrection piece. The scene of Jean Valjean dying and being welcomed home by the priest who saves him is as powerful as any image.

SATURDAY 31st December

I walk Monti around Wold Newton. At first, looking West, I can see five miles across Swinhope to the edge of the Wolds at Normanby le Wold where we were a couple of days ago. A quiet evening at home with a couple of fireworks. We finish the entire series of Harry Potter.

Fourth Week of Advent

SUNDAY 18th December – Fourth Sunday of Advent

We drive down to London for a family birthday. I go to 7pm Mass in the Cathedral which I never really enjoy.

“The Lord himself, therefore, will give you a sign. It is this, the maiden is with child and will give birth to a son, whom she shall call Immanuel, a name which mean God is with us”.
Isaiah 7:14.

MONDAY 19th December

I ask the PM an inevitable question about pursuing free trade and not staying in the internal market.
At Mass, the evening choral one, we get an interesting sermon on the Old Testament being a foretaste of the New:

“The woman gave birth to a son and called him Samson. The child grew and the Lord blessed him and the Spirit of the Lord began to move him”.
Judges 13:2-7.

TUESDAY 20th December

Because the Cathedral is being cleaned, we have an intimate Mass in the crypt – always a lovely affair. The reading is Luke 26-38:
“The angel Gabriel was sent by God …”

I ask a question of the Health Secretary about the shortage of GPs.

WEDNESDAY 21st December

Another beautiful Mass in the crypt. A wonderful sermon on the greeting Elizabeth gives to Mary.

“Why should I be honoured with a visit from the Mother of my Lord”.
Luke 1:39-56.

‘My Lord’ is a phrase used by Jesus for God, so what Elizabeth says is very significant.

I go to Jean Galitzine’s funeral in St Peter’s, Eaton Square. A dignified Anglican service.

THURSDAY 22nd December

I normally go shopping in Kings Road and go to the Italian Restaurant near Flood Street. I sit there waiting for Mary as it gets dark and the restaurant empties. A nice feeling of Christmas drawing close.

In the early evening, a last Mass in the Cathedral with the choir before Christmas and we drive up very late to Lincs.

The reading is the Magnificat:
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour”.
Luke 1:46-55.

FRIDAY 23rd December

We go to the farm shop. The whole family come up for Friday evening Spaghetti Bolognaise, as when they were young. A good day.

SATURDAY 24th December

The others are shopping. I read and walk.

Today’s Psalm 89
“I will sing for ever of your love O Lord”.

Third Week of Advent and the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

SUNDAY 11th December – Third Sunday of Advent

We go to Mass in the Osgodby Chapel. Always a delight to be there in this small upper room, built in 1793.

Isaiah 35:
“Let the wilderness and the dry lands exult, let the wasteland rejoice and bloom”.

MONDAY 12th December – Our Lady of Guadalupe

I ask a question in the House about the need of the Navy to build ships other navies actually want to buy.

There is an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Cathedral: the story is inspiring.

TUESDAY 13th December

A long day of select committee meetings. International Trade for over two hours in the morning and the Public Accounts Commission in the afternoon, which I chair – the only thing I do chair nowadays.

Later there is a meeting on Renewal and Restoration. They are still considering my plan to use the House of Lords Chamber.

Psalm 34
“The poor man wailed,
The Lord heard him”.

WEDNESDAY 14th December

I speak to a packed 1922 Committee, waiting to hear the Prime Minister, and get great support. It is a dotty idea to spend £3.5bn upfront and move out of the Palace of Westminster for eight years.

Later I do a reading for Aid to the Church in Need. I do the last reading from St John. Everyone stands. The choir of the London Oratory, the readings … a beautiful occasion.

THURSDAY 15th December

I pursue the Government on the New Homes Bonus which is being raided to the detriment of towns like Gainsborough to fund adult social care. An impossible dilemma. How can we support an ageing population and this morning, an hour before I can get to her, my Aunt Betty dies at 92. The last of the generation that was adult during the war. What times she lived through. Raised in Paris before the war, she was in school in England in 1940, but her sister, my mother, and her parents had to flee Paris, the day before the Germans arrived. She was full of charm and, when young, of great beauty. She got a place at St Andrews when that was rare for a girl, but didn’t take it up. Now she is gone, but she had a final stroke a month before, was in pain, could barely speak and wanted to go.

“… Cherishing life.
Accepting death…”

FRIDAY 16th December

I speak as always to our Christmas Supper Club at the Hickman Hill Hotel in Gainsborough where I was selected 34 years ago. The mood is good. There are more people than ever before, 45 pack the room.

What a year it has been – a good year in my view. Brexit, Trump and maybe the war in Syria will be decided one way or the other.

SATURDAY 17th December

A quiet day in Lincolnshire.

Today’s Psalm 72
“In his days justice shall flourish and peace till the moon fails”.

Second Week of Advent and the feasts of the Immaculate Conception and of St Nicholas

SUNDAY 4th December – Second Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 11:1-10
“On him the Spirit of the Lord rests”.

MONDAY 5th December

I am walking around Jerash near Amman. It is a winter evening, the sky blue but starting to yellow. The light is throwing the whole scene, Roman roads, piazzas, columns and temples into a golden glow. There are few people around; the weight of the centuries and of the ruined Byzantine churches weighs heavily. Recalled by William of Tyre in 1141, I contemplate the passing of two millennia and the passing nature of our affairs. Here Christianity was vibrant fifteen centuries ago.

“Hear the word of the Lord, O nations; declare it to the distant lands”
Jeremiah 31:10.

“Behold, our Saviour will come; you need no longer fear…”
Isaiah 35:4.

TUESDAY 6th December – St Nicholas

A long flight back. I rest up for a moment in Mass at Westminster Cathedral.

As we fly over Palestine I can see the Dome of the Rock glinting in the sunlight. Back in foggy London I hear these words:

“Console my people, console them says your God. Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and call to her that her time of service is ended”
Isaiah 40:1-11.

… Extraordinary that Jerusalem still stands at the heart of the world’s troubles.

WESNESDAY 7th December – St Ambrose

I rush from meeting Amyas Morse to discuss his National Audit Office budget to the Brexit debate and ask the Secretary of State to guarantee a swift bill if we lose the Supreme Court case.

“How can you say, Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord’”
Isaiah 40.

THURSDAY 8th December – The Immaculate Conception

Luke 26-38

I am writing this a couple of weeks later. A friend has just asked me to read Luke 26-38 in our Christmas Day service or readings and carols, and here it is –

“The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee named Nazareth…”

FRIDAY 9th December

Isaiah 48: 17-19
“If only you had been alert to my commandments, your happiness would have been like a river, your integrity like the waves of the sea”.

I notice that recently I have become more conscious of my surroundings as I am being driven around and delight in the Christmas lights of London, the decorations twinkling on the small houses of Lincolnshire, even the bare trees. Is it because I am getting older, entering on the last quarter of my life, appreciating each moment, or is it because I have got new glasses and I am wearing them more often!

SATURDAY 10th December

We go to drinks at a friend’s home.

The Psalm for today is number 80:
“Lord of Hosts bring us back, let your face shine on us”.

First Week of Advent and the feasts of St Andrew the Apostle and St Francis Xavier

SUNDAY 27th November – First Sunday of Advent

The incomparable poet Isiah:
“In the days to come, the mountain of the Temple of the Lord shall tower above the mountains and be lifted higher than the hills”.
Isiah 2:1-5.

MONDAY 28th November

I ask a question about Aleppo. There are ludicrous calls for unilateral British air drops. I drew attention to the attack on a school in West Aleppo and all that could be made worse by more bombs falling on this blighted country…

My old school, St Philip’s, comes to the House of Commons and we discuss … yes … Brexit! I also intervene in a debate on TV licences for the over 75s. We should help those in need, not provide blanket benefits.

TUESDAY 29th November

A long meeting in the morning and a doctor’s appointment in the afternoon, but I get to the 5.30 Mass.

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him – the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might”.

WEDNESDAY 30th November – St Andrew the Apostle

I speak at a forum for Russian-British business contracts.

Mass in the crypt chapel is for St Andrew.

“Beside the Sea of Galilee, the Lord saw two brothers, Peter and Andrew, and he said to them: ‘come after me and I will make you fishers of me’”.

THURSDAY 1st December

I ask a question of David Davis in Brexit questions, asking him to get on with it.

FRIDAY 2nd December

A surgery and quiet walks. I read a Psalm in our village church.

Psalm 23
“The Lord is my sight and my help”.

SATURDAY 3rd December – St Francis Xavier

We canvass in the Sleaford by-election and go to church in Stanton.

“People of Zion, you will live in Jerusalem and weep no more”.