Monthly Archives: February 2017

Seventh Week in Ordinary Time and the feasts of the Chair of St Peter and of St Polycarp

BERNINI, Gian Lorenzo – The Throne of Saint Peter (1657-66), Marble, bronze, white and golden stucco, Basilica di San Pietro, Vatican

SUNDAY 19th February – Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

I go to St Aloysius’ Jesuit church in Glasgow. A beautiful Mass sung in Latin. The priest says he doesn’t like everything about Trump, except that he is reaching out to Russia.

Later we drive to Greenock. The Isle of Bute shrouded in mist.

I don’t know if today’s Gospel is relevant:

“You have learnt how it was said: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I say this to you, offer the wicked man no resistance”
Matthew 5:38-48.

MONDAY 20th February

I speak in the debate on denying President Trump a state visit.

I say, perhaps a bit bravely, which man has not made a ridiculous sexual comment sometime in the past in private of which he would be embarrassed if it became public. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

The reaction is predictable: several hate emails from around the world.

“The sand of the sea and the raindrops,
And the days of eternity,
Who can assess them?
The height of the sky and the breadth of the earth,
And the depth of the abyss, who can prove them?”
Ecclesiasticus 1:1-10.

Yet people are so certain. I wonder why.

TUESDAY 21st February

There is a visit from Queen Elizabeth High School, Gainsborough, a meeting of the International Trade Select Committee and later I meet with a group of Palestinians.

Who seems to care that two million people are trapped in the largest prison camp in the world in Gaza? They are unable to come or go. They live in abject poverty. They are in a kind of giant ghetto.

A word from King David:

“Then turn away from evil and do good and you shall have a home for ever; for the Lord loves justice and will never forsake his friends”
Psalm 36.

WEDNESDAY 22nd February – the Chair of St Peter

I travel to Geneva with the International Trade Select Committee for a very full day of meetings with the European Free Trade Association and the WTO – people build an entire career on these trade negotiations but, like everything else, the principles are simple and the right principle is free trade moving tariffs towards zero.

As we sit all day in meetings I look outside at a perfect spring day and snow-capped mountains in the distance, my heart yearning for the freedom of mountain tops.

THURSDAY 23rd February – St Polycarp

Before leaving Geneva I pop into the Cathedral, its interior austere and Calvinistic. Here in the sixteenth century, one of Calvin’s people spotted a protestant heretic making a visit and promptly had him burnt at the stake. Things are calmer now. On the right side of the Cathedral is a beautiful chapel, stained glass restored to former glory.

I fly back, a horrendous journey to Cambridge. The railways can’t cope with storm Doris and I lose the motion: This House Regrets Brexit, but I try to be counterintuitive by putting the internationalist case for free trade. It is always lovely being with bright, young, interested people. These events are more fun than the House of Commons.

FRIDAY 24th February

I visit Lincoln University’s Vice-Chancellor to argue for a fair deal for further education at Riseholme College.

Before leaving Cambridge, I would have loved to go inside the college chapels but Monty is not welcome so we walk along the Backs, one of the greatest conglomerations of aesthetic beauty in all of Europe. Why does the modern world favour ugliness and size over simplicity?

SATURDAY 25th February

A long, tiring walk to Binbrook and back in the wind and rain.

Psalm 102
“The love of the Lord is everlasting on those who hold him in fear”.

Sixth Week in Ordinary Time and the feasts of St Cyril and St Methodius

Fresco depicting Sts Cyril and Methodius

SUNDAY 12th February – Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

I go to Mass in Westminster Cathedral.

“He has set fire and water before you, put your hand to whichever you prefer”
Ecclesiasticus 15:16.

MONDAY 13th February

I was the speaker at a fundraiser at Brown’s Hotel for Westminster Cathedral. The 1901 prospectus for the choir school was read to us. A two guinea fee, a lot of money then, just to do the audition. The choir sang to us. Strange that Westminster Cathedral has a Latin Mass every day of the week apart from Sunday.

A long reading today about Cain and Abel,

… we seem to have learnt nothing.

TUESDAY 14th February – St Cyril & St Methodius

We are in Lincolnshire this week for half term.

I do a long walk from Tealby up past Bayons Manor and across the Caistor High Road, swinging around Kirmond le Mire and back to Stainton le Vale.

I am continuing my reading one by one of the Psalms in the village church. I am up to number 116 and that is today’s Psalm by chance.

Psalm 116
“Go out to the whole world and proclaim the good news”.

WEDNESDAY 15th February

Some days are beautifully clear. From the top of the Wolds you can see for miles.

My mindfulness tutor has just sent me this poem by the twelfth century writer Jalaluddin Rumi:

“This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.”

THURSDAY 16th February

Psalm 101
“The Lord looked down from heaven to earth”.

I did a long walk from Tealby starting at Bayons Manor and walked up to the Caistor High Road. I looked back at wonderful, rolling views from the Wolds leading to the distant blue valleys, then took Monty on the lead down the valley into Kirmond le Mire.

A good, tiring walk.

FRIDAY 17th February

Psalm 32
“Happy the people the Lord has chosen as his own”.

More walking and surgeries. I visit East Barkwith Post Office to show solidarity with Post Office Banks as the leading banks serving rural areas.

SATURDAY 18th February

Psalm 144
“I will bless your name forever O Lord”.

We drive to Durham to see Theo. Before we leave we walk from Elvet Bridge up to Palace Green and down to see his lodgings for next year on the other side of the river. Always nice to skirt Palace Green and be faced with the magnificent north front of the mighty Cathedral, unmoving and unmoved, here for nearly a thousand years, majestic in its precission.

I could walk in Palace Green for hours contemplating its beauty and remembering that for two years I lived in Abbey House, staring at its vast bulk. The House is now the theology department of the university. I was on the top floor at the back, without the view of the Green.

We drive to Glasgow to see Nicky.

Fifth Week in Ordinary Time and the feasts of St Scholastica and Our Lady of Lourdes

RESTOUT, Jean II – The Death of St Scholastica (1730), Oil on canvas, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Tours

SUNDAY 5th February – Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Some people pay £500 to go to a health farm. I pay £50 a night to go to Downside. No alcohol, just soup and bread on a Friday evening.

As for mindfulness and yoga, what is more mindful than going to sit in the choir and singing the Psalms?

At Mass, Father James recalls an incident visiting a very poor and very old man in a Chilean slum. Suddenly, for a moment as he took communion, his face lit up and was filled with beauty and youth. It last just for a few seconds, but Father James saw in this moment the face of Christ.

Psalm 111
“The good man is a light in the darkness for the upright”.

MONDAY 6th February

We have three days of the committee stage of the Brexit Bill. Everyone is locked in the building.

I chair a long meeting of the European Regulation Committee. A lot of argument about why it is not being taken on the floor of the House.

The Speaker creates a stir by saying he would not welcome President Trump to the House.

TUESDAY 7th February

I decide to make a point of order. The House is full.

I say “As a democratic assembly, the only way we can work is to respect the authority of the Speaker, otherwise there would be complete chaos. Personally, I think that the Queen has issued an invitation to Mr Trump under the advice of her ministers. He is the leader of the free world, and if we have entertained the President of China, we can entertain him. That is my view, but at the end of the day we have to respect and support the office of Speaker.”

I’m not sure my point met with universal approval, not with all my colleagues who thought I had been too kind to the Speaker, but there it is. I might have added that the Speaker cannot be looking over his shoulder all the time at the majority.

WEDNESDAY 8th February

The Brexit Bill passes all its stages triumphantly. Who would have thought during all these years that there were a handful in our lobby that we would be going through it with hundreds of people. There is much talk of giving solace to EU nationals already here. I make the point that in practice we cannot even deport foreign criminals. There is not the slightest possibility of any EU nationals being deported.

Between votes and going to the Catholic Union I go to Mass where we hear the poetry of Genesis:
“The Lord God planted a garden in the East and there he put the man he had fashioned”.

In the morning the APPG for Russia hosts President Putin’s cultural envoy on a visit to open the exhibition in the Royal Academy. He is given a hard time by colleagues over Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, but I doubt if he has much to say on those matters.

The film ‘The Remains of the Day’ is a take on Lord Londonderry’s appeasement, along with most others, in the 1930s.

Are we appeasers too? I think not. It is no bad thing to attempt to understand Russia. You don’t need to defend it.

THURSDAY 9th February

I do an adjournment debate on the siting of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Victoria Tower Gardens. Clearly it is the wrong location, taking half a Royal Park and converting it into a fortress next to an existing fortress seems a bad idea.

FRIDAY 10th February – St Scholastica

I am in Lincolnshire doing surgeries and walk home from Walesby.

SATURDAY 11th February – Our Lady of Lourdes

I return to London, the journey takes six hours, two hours walk to Market Rasen. There is no taxi, then a four hour train journey diverting via Nottingham and Leicester – a tour of the East Midlands – but it is worth it to get back for Marina’s party.

Before setting off, I revive myself by reading Psalm 114 in our village church:
“- when Israel came out of Egypt”.

Fourth Week in Ordinary Time and the feasts of St John Bosco and the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple


SUNDAY 29th January – Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

A day consisting of Mass in the Cathedral and Sunday lunch.

MONDAY 30th January

Everyone wants to cancel Trump’s state visit.

I say that if we force the Queen to have tea with the President of China, surely we can ask her politely to take tea with the duly-elected President of the USA.

TUESDAY 31st January – St John Bosco

The day of the great Brexit debate. 99 members have put in to speak. I am lucky to be called early at 3pm, with two interventions giving me eight minutes. I decide deliberately to be counter-intuitive and say Brexit is truly internationalist. Outside of the Customs Union we will trade with the rest of the world.

After going to the International Trade committee, hours in the Chamber and Chairing Westminster Hall, the evening Mindfulness course is a relief. Focusing on the present moment and the breath.

Christian meditation reminds us that if we regret the past, God did not say “I was”. If we fear about the future he does not say “I will be”. If we focus on the present he says “Yahweh”, “I am”.

The Brexit debate only finishes at midnight. Little perhaps achieved but those who spoke are at least in Hansard.

At University I read the 1972 debates on joining the EEC and here we are just over 40 years later reversing it.

WEDNESDAY 1st February

Dr Liam Fox is at the International Trade committee. I ask him about confusion over the Customs Union.

There is a massive majority for the Brexit Bill of 498 to 114. Tomorrow the Chancelleries of Europe all finally wake up. We are leaving.

THURSDAY 2nd February – The Presentation of the Lord in the Temple

David Davis does another statement on Brexit and confirms to me that yes, we are all leaving the Customs Union as well as the EU and the Internal Market.

At the Cathedral the Cardinal takes a mass for the consecrated religious. I feel a bit of an interloper and sit at the back.

FRIDAY 3rd February

I travel down to Downside for an oblates’ weekend. As always the atmosphere fades in gently but at Vespers I feel inspired to write more about my reaction to St Benedict over the life of our family, coming here for over thirty years.

SATURDAY 4th February

In his talk, Father Alexander urges us to silence and stillness. He likes talking to the sound of scattering pebbles, silence to gathering in.

In the afternoon I walk for two hours ending alongside a quiet black stream, bubbling very gently in wintery woods.