Monthly Archives: January 2017

Third Week in Ordinary Time and the feasts of the Conversion of St Paul and of St Thomas Aquinas

SUNDAY 22nd January – Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

We go to Mass at Market Rasen and in the afternoon to a Christian Unity service in the Salvation Army hall. The Anglican vicar builds a little wall of bricks to illustrate our decisions of the past and hope for the future.

Isaiah – “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light”.

MONDAY 23rd January

We drive down from Lincolnshire.

Mark 3:22-30
“… how can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot last”.

A reading I always find difficulty in fully understanding.

The Supreme Court is insisting on a Brexit Bill. Good, we should have tabled one long ago.

TUESDAY 24th January

I ask a justice question, creating a stir. There always have been prison riots. I remember one when Waddington was Home Secretary, but then why have we cut the number of prison officers by a quarter in six years?

There is a Mindfulness course on at the House of Commons which I join. 140 colleagues have done it. They would not join a Christian meditation course but no matter, it is much the same. Freeing the mind without God at the end of it.

WEDNESDAY 25th January – The Conversion of St Paul

I ask the same question as yesterday of the Labour Party spokesman in a debate they have instigated.

No answer.

THURSDAY 26th January

The Opposition is complaining that we are only having five days for debate on the Brexit Bill. I say plenty of us in this place can speak for Britain but having a debate open till midnight on the first day should be adequate.

FRIDAY 27th January

We bury Aunty Betty.

Apparently she didn’t want a religious service and at 92 she is entitled to her opinion so I just read Corinthians 1:13, the most beautiful bit in the Bible that doesn’t even mention God.

I watch Mrs May’s fantastic speech to the Republican Congressional caucus. It is nice to have a Prime Minister one actually agrees with, a conservative Prime Minister.

SATURDAY 28th January – St Thomas Aquinas

Mary flies to India and I am home alone.

I go to my favourite Mass, the 10.30 sung Saturday Latin Mass in the Cathedral, the winter sun streaming through the windows behind the High Altar and lending everything a hazy, incensed glow.

In the afternoon, after a Monty walk, I go to the Tate Britain. I love the last half an hour before it closes. The galleries are nearly empty – the art still incomparable.

Second Week in Ordinary Time and the feasts of St Sebastian and St Agnes

Painting depicting slain St. Sebastian

Painting depicting slain St. Sebastian

SUNDAY 15th January – Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Having read about Orford Priory, dissolved in 1539, I walk to it in twilight, the vague winter shadows focussing the light on the green bumps that are all that remains of the Priory. A forgotten shadow of history. I wonder what lives the six nuns lived; ones of great poverty and devoutness? I suspect we can only see their lives remotely as we see that of Christ.

“Seeing Jesus coming towards him, John said ‘Look, there is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world’”
John 1: 29.

MONDAY 16th January

I ask a question about high street banks being stripped from market towns, like so many other local services.

“… and nobody puts new wine into old wineskins”
Mark 2: 18-22.

Apparently this was not new wine as we understand it, but fermenting wine.

TUESDAY 17th January

When I tell David Davis, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, that we should “loyally support the Government”, Hansard reports “laughter”.

Psalm 110
“The Lord keeps his covenant ever in mind”.

WEDNESDAY 18th January

The chamber is packed for PMQs. I stay behind to ask about the persecuted Karen people of Burma.

This line in Psalm 109 stays strangely in the mind
“you are a priest for ever, a priest like Melchizedek of old …”

THURSDAY 19th January – St Wulstan

I ask a question about the siting of the Holocaust Memorial Museum, it should be at the Imperial War Museum, and I take questions for the Public Accounts Commission. Always enjoyable to be answering rather than asking for once.

In the chapel of St Oliver Plunkett at Downside Abbey, a nice place to pray in front of the martyr, there is a stained glass window displaying a picture of St Wulstan being distracted by the smell of roast goose. A very English distraction. He prayed that if the distraction passed he would never eat meet again.

FRIDAY 20th January – St Sebastian

All we know about poor St Sebastian is that he was almost certainly not killed with arrows, though the myth has created some sublime pictures. Why should myth not be more powerful than fact?

We are in Lincolnshire for surgeries. I walked on a glorious day of blue sky to Nettleham and back, hurrying to arrive back to watch President Trump sworn in; a bombastic speech strangely out of tone with the quiet and lonely Wolds walk.

SATURDAY 21st January – St Agnes

We have lunch with friends at Knaith and go afterwards to the little 11th Century church of St Mary’s nestling on the side of the River Trent. Once, Viking boats probed the river as far as here; now there are only quiet fields and distant power stations. There are distant echoes.

Poor St Agnes was only 12 when she was martyred. We know nothing about her.

First Week in Ordinary Time and the feasts of the Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord

SUNDAY 8th January – The Epiphany of the Lord

This is one of the strangest stories in the Gospel. How can a star stop over a village? Yet it tells us something about man. It is Herod who asks his wise men where the Christ is to be born and they, not the Wise men, tell him it is Bethlehem in Judea.

MONDAY 9th January – The Baptism of the Lord

An ordinary event, a baptism, but the heavens open.

There is a statement about the crisis in A&E by the Health Secretary. I put my neck out by saying that people should be charged for not turning up to GP surgery appointments.

TUESDAY 10th January

We have a long meeting of the International Trade Committee. We establish that it is possible to conclude trade deals quickly. One of the witnesses puts it well. We have to put control of our borders under democratic control.

Today’s Gospel, Mark 1:21
“… And his teaching made a deep impression on them because unlike the scribes, he taught them with authority”.

WEDNESDAY 11th January

We spend the day emailing and getting out in-hand copies to 650 MPs our all-party amendment to keep the debating chambers in the Palace. There is another inconclusive meeting with the Leader of the House. I hear a new argument every day.

Today’s Gospel, Mark 1: 29-29
“In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house and went off to a lonely place and prayed there”.

I talk to a friend about praying. I’ve tried John Main’s Christian Meditation. He recommends just having a conversation with God, of course it is a bit one sided but …

THURSDAY 12th January – St Aelred of Rievaulx

After going to ‘Silence’ last week, with its ten different ways of torturing Christians to death, we go to something lighter: ‘La La Land’. What’s wrong with escapism? Isn’t religion escapism, or is it an honest quest for truth? Yes, but still and escapist truth from this life.

In the morning I go to a funeral for a priest. The sermon is a powerful talk on preparing for death so that the moment of death is a glorious consummation of the preparation.

St Aelred, 1110 – 1167:

He entered the monastery of Rievaulx in 1133. At the age of 34 he moved and took charge of a new foundation in Lincolnshire at Revesby. He returned within 4 years to become Abbott at Rievaulx. Nothing of the Abbey exists today but bricks and stones were used to build a country house on the site.

Researching about the Abbey at Revesby encourages me to look up the history of the Priory at Orford, Stainton le Vale. At its dissolution in 1539 it had seven nuns. The Abbess was given a pension of £5. During the Lincolnshire Rebellion, the Pilgrimage of Grace, she provided a house. The priory had been founded by Ralf d’Albini in the reign of Henry II in the 12th Century.

Now it is just a series of mounds in a field.

FRIDAY 13th January

I took the train to Market Rasen, held a long surgery and walked two hours in fading light over the Wolds back home. It was completely dark and very cold. The tea was welcome. A delicious sense of tiredness after a winter walk.

Today’s reading from Hebrews 4: 1-5
“Be careful: the promise of reaching the place of rest that God had for the Israelites still holds good and none of you think that he has come too late for it”.

SATURDAY 14th January

J.R.R. Tolkien:

I watch ‘The Two Towers’ in the evening with Theo for the umpteenth time. We love it and know every line but something struck me: Treebeard bemoans Saruman’s fall from grace and says he used to walk in these woodlands. But presumably lovely as it was it was a lonely life and perhaps a bit boring. Saruman now aimed for power, for adventure, for dominance, even if he lacked the self-confidence to escape from the shadows of the Dark Lord. In a small way, how many politicians weary at the quiet, boring, gentle life? Walking under trees is not enough.

Psalm 18
“your words are spirit Lord and they are life”.

The Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God

Sunday 1st January 2017 – The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

I go to the 9.15 Mass in Caistor, then as usual watch the New Year’s Day concert from Vienna, looking at the sheep gently traversing the valley beyond.

I have a New Year’s Resolution of occasionally interpreting the Bible … let’s see how long it lasts, so here it goes with Genesis 1 from the Jerusalem Bible. All faults and missing interpretations are mine:

God created the entire universe from the beginning.

Before His Spirit moved, there was only darkness.

He created light by His will and this pleased Him.

In the first phase, God divided Heaven from Earth and light from dark.

God divided land from water. God created seas and earth.

It was God’s will that Earth produced vegetation and plants from seeds.

He created trees from plants.

Thus the third phase ended.

God created every star and man used them to number his days.

God created sun and moon for day and night to light the Earth.

And so passed the fourth phase of his creation.

God creates countless living creatures for land and sea and air, every kind of walking and winged creature.

God let them multiply endlessly and so ended the fifth phase.

God created every species on Earth, domestic and wild and every reptile and all this pleased God by its rightful place.

It was God, by His will, who made man in His image and made him master of the fishes in the sea, the birds in the sky, the cattle and the wild animals and everything that walks upon the earth.

God made man and woman in his image.

God blessed all his works and he let them reproduce. He gave to man all seed-bearing plants and all living things to be his food and foliage for the wild animals. God saw that all this worked and so ended the sixth phase of his creation.

Thus everything on Earth was complete, by the seventh phase of his creation God could rest and this day he made holy, because all his work was now done.

This was the origin of the entire universe.

MONDAY 2nd January

I walk from Claxby to Nettleton.
As I walk back, it is nearly dark and in a clear sky Venus is in conjunction with the Moon and Mars, the first two are clear, the third not yet. The sky to the East is a brilliant array of yellows on an absolutely clear winter’s day.

Psalm 97
“All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God
… sing a new song to the Lord, for he has worked wonders”.

TUESDAY 3rd January

I am still reading the Dalai Lama’s spiritual autobiography and A Beevor’s book on the 1944 Ardennes offensive. The brutality of the latter appalling and such a waste, particularly the shooting of prisoners. The Dalai Lama’s message is simple; all religions are equally valuable, stick to your own, nurture it, encompass the world in love. Love all those not just friends or family; simple but not easy.

Psalm 97
“His right hand and His holy arm have worked salvation for Him”.

WEDNESDAY 4th January

I go to mass in the Cathedral and am struck by the Gospel, John 1:35-42 when John first encounters Jesus, who says “‘what do you want?’ They replied, ‘Rabbi – where do you live?’ ‘Come’, he replied, ‘and you will see’”.

If any one of us had been alive at the time, would we have carried on with our old ways first, would power or riches in Rome have seemed important? We would have been consumed with curiosity to follow Jesus, to see his miracles, to hear his Sermon on the Mount, above all to witness his death and resurrection. But knowing now that all these things happened, we are half-hearted in our faith. Most of us can barely be interested to take any interest at all, but it is the most important thing to ponder on. Even now some realise this, drop everything and follow him.

THURSDAY 5th January

The Gospel today is about obeying one’s conscience:

1 John 3: 11-21
“If we cannot be condemned by our conscience, we need not be afraid in God’s presence”.

An appropriate reading for the film we saw today: ‘Silence’ about two Jesuit priests during the Japanese persecution of Christians. All of us will ultimately betray our conscience if we are tortured enough in body or spirit, or if we see our friends being tortured. Some betray their conscience very easily indeed, even in a free society. I regret of course I have been a Minister for so short a time, two and a half years out of thirty-three and a half years as an MP, but I don’t regret obeying my conscience.

Of course, for us all this is easy. If faced with torture or death I wouldn’t last a moment; but then my faith is so weak, my doubts so great. It is, of course, absurd to criticise someone for their faith, yet alone persecute them, when one’s own beliefs are based on such insubstantial, subjective criteria.

FRIDAY 6th January

We go to Russian Christmas Eve Mass in Chiswick – a beautiful service, the ceilings and walls now being painted with traditional iconography. A little bit of Russia in Chiswick.

SATURDAY 7th January

The Russian church is too packed even to enter so we go down to the crypt where it is quiet and empty and I sit behind a monk praying in front of the Iconostasis.