Monthly Archives: April 2017

Second Week of Easter and the feasts of the Divine Mercy and of St George

ALTICHIERO da Zevio, St George Slays the Dragon (1378-84), Fresco, Oratorio di San Giorgio, Padua

SUNDAY 23rd April – Divine Mercy Sunday

Apparently, according to our Parish Priest, if you go to confession over the next fourteen days and to Mass every day, all your sins are wiped clean. Quite a tempting prospect but if there is a purgatory it all seems too easy to me.

“They went to the Temple everyday but met in their homes for the breaking of bread”
Acts 2:42-47.

MONDAY 24th April – St George (martyred 303 A.D.)

We squeeze into the fine Chapel of St George in Westminster Cathedral for Mass.

Who was St George, except that he was martyred in the Diocletianic Persecution? And why is he the patron saint of England, except for that Richard I adopted him as the epitome of Christian Chivalry? Who was he and what did he do …

Anyway, the Entrance Antiphon is nice:
“Rejoice, you saints, in the presence of the Lamb; a Kingdom has been prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Alleluia”.

TUESDAY 25th April – St Mark

I chair Westminster Hall, juggling how to get fifteen colleagues in the time available and ask a question in Justice Questions.

Apparently Mark, a disciple of Peter, tells his Gospel from Peter’s point of view, but what was this scene like:
“And so the lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up to heaven…”
Mark 16:15-20.

I often wonder, how was he taken up into heaven?

WEDNESDAY 26th April

Our APPG entertains the French Ambassador at lunch.

Macron and Le Pen are through to the final round. She says Macron is highly intelligent. We shall see. Intelligence without a parliamentary majority is not enough.

“But at night, the angel of the Lord opened the prison gates and said as he led them out ‘Go and stand in the Temple and tell the people all about this new life”
Acts 5:17-26.

THURSDAY 27th April

I ask a last question about Brexit and wait for the quaint ceremony of prorogation. One or two colleagues are sitting on the green benches for the last time. There is always the feeling: will I be returning here?

Today’s Entrance Antiphon:
“O God, when you went forth before your people, marching with them and living among them, the earth trembled, heavens poured down rain – Alleluia”.

FRIDAY 28th April

Our last surgery of this Parliament. A busy one in the Guildhall at Gainsborough, then I visit the Heritage Centre. I buy a book about the impact on the town of the First World War. The Gainsborough News is filled with the deaths of the sons of the town. Five-hundred killed during the war from the small manufacturing and market town.

In the bookshop I bought a book about childhood in the 1950s, a happy time when we could play in the street and I could cycle as a seven year old on my little red bike all the way into the City.

I also buy a book by Richard Osborne on the Universe. When you read of the extraordinary discoveries even being made as you speak, I find it difficult to reconcile with my religious faith. The more we know, the more fantastic questions arise. There seems to be less not more universal laws, more vast galaxies and black holes, the universe expanding and the parts furthest away accelerating the quickest and the weird findings from quantum mechanics and the problem of gravity, and antimatter. There may be other dimensions in the universe or other universes.

All this seems so enormous that it is difficult to understand how the God of the Bible could create it all. It is enough to shake ones belief.

Maybe our God is the creator of concepts such as truth, or love, or justice but is not the creator of the physical universe which just is, or maybe the concept of many Gods is not so daft.

Yet Christianity and religion seem correct not just by powers of reason but by one’s own inner feelings, sensations and sense of joy. God seems at once very close and very unbelievable.

One thing is certain given the immensity of the universe and its extraordinary nature: it makes our efforts on earth and our obsessions with them, parliamentary differences and hatreds in politics and religion, seem so futile. Really as we look at the night sky we should just stare and wonder. Yet we go one killing and hating each other, to what end?

Another remarkable thing is that whereas since the 1920s we have been pushing radio waves into space and listening, we have as yet heard nothing in return. If there is intelligent life in the universe, it seems very remote or may not even exist at all. We may indeed be alone, which would explain the interest a god takes in us.

Psalm 132
“Lord, remember David and all his afflictions”.

SATURDAY 29th April – St Catherine of Sienna

We canvass in Scotter and eat a takeaway fish and chip supper sitting in the churchyard of Scotter church.

Every day I am here I read a psalm in our village church, the verse of the King James Bible resonating as no other English can. Today is the turn of 133, over the weeks I have gradually worked through the previous 132.

Psalm 133: Ecce Quam Bonum
“Behold how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity”.

Easter Sunday and the First Week of Easter

ANGELICO, Resurrection of Christ and Women at the Tomb (1440-42), Fresco, Convento di San Marco, Florence

SUNDAY 16th April – Easter Sunday

As Mass starts, Father Anselm leads the wonderful anthem:
“Salve, festa dies, toto venerabilis aevo, qua deus infernum vicit et astra tenet”.

It seems a suitable full-stop to the magnificent liturgy of these four days.

The only sadness is that the retreat is over for another year.

MONDAY 17th April – Easter Monday

I always love going to the Cathedral the day after Easter Sunday to see the Cathedral bedecked with lilies and the readings this week are the most important of the year. They are the witness to the Resurrection and Christianity without the Resurrection is nothing.

“Do not be afraid: go and tell my brothers that they must leave for Galilee; they will see me there”
Matthew 28:8-15.

TUESDAY 18th April – Easter Tuesday

All hell breaks loose with the PM’s announcement that there is to be a General Election on June 8th. So, we will spend the month of May in Lincolnshire. Obviously, I welcome a chance to increase our majority.

I take the opportunity in Foreign Office Questions to raise the slaughter of Shi’a civilians at Foah and Kefraya.

The wonderful Easter readings continue. All our faith is based on these few hundred words of the testimony of a handful of people. The whole thing looks sincere and I can’t help believing it but it is few words to hang the universe on, although the words are compelling.

“As she said this she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, though she did not recognise him … Jesus said ‘Mary’. She knew him then”
John 20:11-18.

WESNESDAY 19th April – Easter Wednesday

I put a question to the PM in which I describe the Fixed Term Parliaments Act as an Emperor without clothes. We duly vote to abrogate the Bill and have an early General Election.

It is clearly in the national interest to have an election when it is in the national interest to have one.

Today we have the wonderful story of the disciples walking with the Lord to Emmaus:
“… he took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke it and handed it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognised him”
Luke 24:13-35.

For all the fragility of the evidence, our eyes too can open at such a moment.

THURSDAY 20th April – Easter Thursday

A rare event: I have two questions on the order paper to the DEFRA Secretary and answer two as Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission – an eclectic mixture of Lincolnshire coastal defences and the PAC work on cancer drugs.

I take the train up to Lincolnshire but before I do there is time to go to another Easter Week Mass.

“… They were still talking about all this when Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’”
Luke 24:35-48.

FRIDAY 21st April – Easter Friday

I am at a meeting to discuss the listing of the village hall – a former Methodist Tin Chapel. We know nothing about the people who worshiped there but their life in this remote spot must have been very simple.

There is no Mass at Caistor tonight so I wander around the parish church and find an extraordinary object – a fragment of a wall made up of cement and the bones of martyred Christians; nothing changes.

Today is John 21:1-14
“Jesus showed himself again to the disciples. It was by the Sea of Tiberius – the third time Jesus showed himself to the disciples”.

SATURDAY 22nd April – Easter Saturday

It is sad that these wonderful weekday readings are coming to an end but in the Mass at Market Rasen they do so in summation:

Mark 16
“Having risen in the morning on the first day of the week, Jesus appeared first to Mary of Magdala …”.

Holy Week

ALTDORFER, Christ on the Cross between Mary and St John (c. 1512), Staatliche Museen, Kassel

SUNDAY 9th April – Palm Sunday

We gather outside Holy Rood and stand for the long passion reading from Matthew before going back for some more fishing and lunch with all the windows open, the sights and sounds of the countryside flooding in.

Meanwhile in Syria, American warplanes have dropped more bombs.

When we have removed the detestable Assad, who then will protect the Christians? After we removed Saddam, who protected the Christians? They are not visiting the towns they fled from and which I visited. They do not dare for fear not just of ISIS but their neighbours.

MONDAY 10th April

The poetry of Isaiah, 42:1-7
“… he does not cry out or shout aloud, or raise his voice in the streets.
He does not break the crushed reed, nor quench the wavering flame…”

TUESDAY 11th April

I go to the very long Chrism Mass in the Cathedral, but quite a sight – about 200 priests in front of me all in white. The Cardinal’s sermon is soothing. I have a little sleep.

“… lay down your life for me …”

WEDNESDAY 12th April

Isaiah 50:4-9, there is no sudden conversion experience:
“Each morning he wakes me to hear,
To listen to a disciple”.

I think: when we got rid of the detestable Saddam, who then protected the Christian communities of Iraq that I visited?

THURSDAY 13th April – Maundy Thursday

I love Maundy Thursday because this is the day as in the previous thirty-three years that we drive to Downside for the Easter Retreat.

We are a little bit late but I catch enough of Father Michael’s talk to concentrate on the need for prayer.

After the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, I sit for a time in the Lady Chapel. For the first time I do not need to say words for prayer. Just be – think of myself in the presence of God.

FRIDAY 14th April – Good Friday

I do some of the very long walk from Wells to Downside that this year takes five hours.

As usual the Celebration of the Passion came to its climax with the hymn ‘When I survey the wondrous cross’ – the only hymn I know by heart.

In the evening I manage to go to confession. I am given the Magnificat to say as a penance. It is appropriate to what I have been thinking on the need for humility.

In a Lectio Divina group and later in a silent meditation we can think of the words of Jesus after the Resurrection:
“Do not be afraid…
Go tell my brothers, they must leave for Galilee.
They will see me there”.

SATURDAY 15th April – Holy Saturday

One always dreads the prospect of the Easter Vigil, so long, especially with a baptism in the middle, but by the end it’s like having gone a long spiritual run – you feel like you have covered the ground and achieved something and go to bed happy.

We have a talk in the afternoon on whether religion causes violence. Perhaps it is better to understand that religion does not cause violence, but originates out of the violence of human nature.

Are we locked permanently in a line of jealous triangles where we crave what others are and what others have just because we do not have it?

Fifth Week in Lent and the feast of St Isidore

BELLINI, Baptism of Christ (1500-02), Oil on canvas, Santa Corona, Vicenza

SUNDAY 2nd April – Fifth Sunday in Lent

“… your interests, however, are not in the unspiritual but in the spiritual”
Romans 8:8-11.

MONDAY 3rd April

I go to the Baptism site on the River Jordan.

It is hot. I cool my feet in the narrow river. You could walk across it in less than a minute except the Israeli border guard hovering in the distance might shoot you. How tragic that this lovely, deeply historical place should be an armed border.

We say a little prayer and think on the words in Matthew 3:13-17.
“As soon as Jesus was baptised, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’”.

TUESDAY 4th April – St Isidore

I fly back from Jordan.

By 5.30 I am at Mass in the Cathedral.

My trip is quicker than the Israelites journey from the same place:
“The Israelites left Mount Hor by the road to the Sea of Suph, to skirt the land of Edom. On the way the people lost patience. They spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt to die in this wilderness?’”.
Numbers 21:4-9.

Certainly when you look down from Mount Nebo you look at a vast, burning, sandy wilderness but after twilight you can see the lights of Jerusalem. From the Baptism site it is only 28 kilometres, you could drive it in a couple of hours – except you cannot. Modern ‘rational’ men have closed the border.

When last I did the journey it took me all day.


“I can see four men walking about freely in the heart of the fire without coming to any harm”
Daniel 3:14-20.

I love this picture of men walking around in the heart of a fire – it beggars belief.

THURSDAY 6th April

We drove to Lincolnshire.

Another warm day so I visit Chelsea Physic Garden. A place like this is timeless.

“I tell you most solemnly, before Abraham ever was I am”
John 8: 51-59.

FRIDAY 7th April

The weather is glorious in Lincolnshire. It is a day of surgeries.

Psalm 17
“My God is a rock in whom I take refuge”.

SATURDAY 8th April

I spend all afternoon by the lake fishing. Only one bite and it gets away.

Here you are truly in the countryside. The light first glistening on the water, then descending in an orange glow.

We are there hours but the time passes on rather swiftly.

The responsorial Psalm
“The Lord will guard us as a shepherd guards his flock”
Jeremiah 31:10-15.

Fourth Week in Lent

ALBERTI, The Cardinal Virtues, Fresco, Sala Clementina, Vatican Palace, Rome

SUNDAY 26th March – 4th Sunday in Lent

I got to Mass in Westminster Cathedral. The Cardinal says it is our Christian duty to pray that God has mercy on the soul of the attacker. I make no comment. I am thinking of the fate of the rich man who did no more than not look after Lazarus at his gate and he is condemned to eternal fire. Why don’t all religious leaders stand up and say that if there is a heaven, murderers certainly have no place in it?

1 Samuel 16:
“… God does not see as man sees, man looks at appearances but the Lord looks at the heart”.

MONDAY 27th March

“Jesus left Samaria for Galilee. He himself had declared that there is no respect for a prophet in his own country”
John 4.

TUESDAY 28th March

We fly to Rome for the Vatican APPG visit.

I go to Mass in the Via della Conciliazione and then an official dinner at the Ambassador’s residence.

Rome, the climate, people, streets as always magical.

At one point, I wander into the back of the nuns’ chapel in the Piazza Farnese. They are singing vespers – literally an angelic sound, pius in its sound and tone.

WEDNESDAY 29th March

We go to a general audience in St Peter’s Square and then to a series of meetings starting with the child abuse section at the Gregorian University and then with a Chief Executive, an inspiring Mass at the Venerable English College and then a talk to the young students. One not so young, nearly forty, is truly impressive – his personal pastoral advice brings a tear to the eye.

THURSDAY 30th March

We are up early for Mass in the crypt above St Peter’s tomb and below the Basilica, thronged with people. The crypt is quiet with the tombs of the popes looking on – what an extraordinary place to hear Mass, literally in the centre of Western civilisation.

After, we have more meetings on migration and inter-faith dialogue. We have a robust dialogue with the Jesuit who heads up the Vatican’s Migrants’ Service. He seems to think we are not doing enough and he is perfectly entitled to speak his mind. We remind him that after the USA, we are the second biggest donor to Syria.

I walk back through busy streets from the Vatican to the station past cafés and restaurants heaving with tourists. It seems a long way from Syria. Do many come? Do we take enough? Easy to judge, difficult to do anything really useful.

FRIDAY 31st March

I take a train to Lincolnshire for a surgery then walk past the Old Church in Walesby. The greens are so rich here and coming into spring life. It really is more beautiful than anywhere else.

Psalm 33
“The Lord is close to the broken hearted”.

SATURDAY 1st April

I address the Conservative County Council candidates in Horncastle.

Psalm 7
“Lord God, I take refuge in you”.