THIS year, Lent will be on is before we know where we are. In the nick of time, a week before Ash Wednesday (February 12), Mowbrays will be publishing a fresh and original, yet profound and moving, pocket volume of The Way of the Cross (Mowbray's, £1.95).
It is jointly compiled by two of the outstanding mystical figures of our day, Brother Roger, founder and superior of the Taize community in Burgundy, and Mother Teresa.
"Suffering in itself is nothing; but suffering shared with Christ's passion is a wonderful gift," says Mother Teresa.
"To travel far and join the poorest, is that living dangerously?" asks Brother Roger.
"Yes," he replies, "but that's not all there is to it . . . Who, then, lives dangerously? the one who goes with Jesus through death to resurrection and is willing, with him, to give up even life for love."
If commentators are right in supposing there to be both male and female elements in mystical thought, this small masterpiece perfectly bears out that supposition.
The rapport between Mother Teresa and Brother Roger, my meeting with who at Taize I will never forget, is, both at human and spiritual levels, so relaxed and effective, that one need look no further for a devotional crutch on which to lean during those 40 days which, in advance, always seem to stretch out so far, but are so quickly over if used to full advantage.
WITH certain cranks and extremists currently threatening to muddy the pitch beyond repair, it is comforting to learn that a truly responsible animalloving group will be meeting soon in central London. Any and all may attend, and it promises, I gather, to be an important and rewarding occasion.
I refer to the Conference organised by the Christian Consultative Council for the Welfare of Animals. The conference will be held at the Westminster Conference Centre (next to Westminster Cathedral) on Saturday, January 25, starting at 9.30 am.
The one day event will look at the Christian perspective on the increasingly important subject of animal welfare in general.
In particular, as the organisers put it, "as stewards of God's creation and in view of the practice of factory farming amongst other things, it is urgent that the Christian should ask what practical bearing his or her faith has on such contemporary practices."
Good morning America
ANOTHER feather has been added to the already distinguished cap of Sir Anthony Acland, who, not yet 56, became three and a half years ago the youngest ever Head of the Foreign Office. Later this year he will be going to Washington as our Ambassador to the United States.
Tragically his charming wife, Anne, née Verdon, died just over a year ago after a painful illness bravely born. He is thus all the more lucky to have a grown-up family of two sons and a daughter, the latter, after leaving St Mary's School, Ascot, having already begun her studies to be a doctor.
Sir Anthony was immensely helpful and kind to me when he was ambassador a few years ago to Spain whither I made several trips to research on a book about Spain's former English Queen, Ena. I learned, once again, how it is that the busiest and most important of people seem always to be the ones to have time for just that much more.
Indeed Anthony Acland's outwardly effortless gift for detail and thoroughness must have been one of the many factors to account for his highflying career in the foreign service and to have made him one of the most popular and accomplished British diplomats of modern times.
Day of the roses
HOW sad to have to bid a final farewell to David Cecil, possibly the finest, certainly the most amusing, man of letters our country has produced this century. I owe him a lot, along with so many others.
He anticipated many of the modern trends in literary taste and a chance phrase, thrown out during the course of his invariably sparkling conversations or lectures, often started off his listener on some new and exciting journey down booklovers' lane. His slight eccentricity and absentmindedness were part of his immense and wholly natural charm.
One day I called on him at his house in Oxford (in my undergraduate days) when he was a distinguished don at New College. I wanted to persuade him to be a speaker at that term's Eights Week debate at the Oxford Union.
"I'd love to dear boy,"' was his reply, "but how difficult it is to be funny to order. Don't you agree?"
He was pruning his roses at the time and the telephone rang, whereupon he rushed into the house in search, as it somehow seemed, of the telephone. His caller was the Vice-Chancellor (Sir Maurice Bowrer) to whom Lord David immediately said, in his inimitable piping voice, "Oh thank goodness you've rung Maurice. I couldn't remember whether it was this Thursday or next Thursday that you were expecting me for luncheon."
The reply from the ViceChancellor, it appeared, was "Actually David it was supposed to have been last Thursday."
The response from the unperturbed Lord David, his attention once more diverted to his roses, was "Oh thank you Maurice, see you then."
ANOTHER sad recent death was that of Adrian (7th Lord) Braye who was a well known and popular figure in Catholic and other circles. He was a dashing airman in his young days and became a Flying Officer in the infant RAF. In the second World War he became a Major in the 13th/18th Royal Hussars and served on the personal staff of the Prince of the Netherlands. His grandfather built the Catholic Chapel at Eton.
The Braye title was created in 1529 and members of the family were originally buried with a Requiem Mass at the preReformation Church at Stanford (Leicestershire). The last Mass to be said by a Catholic priest in this church, however, was in 1640.
It was nevertheless the late Lord Braye's fervent wish to be buried in this family vault after a funeral with a Requeim Mass. Owing to the friendly attitude of the Anglican bishop and the Vicar of Stanford, this was exactly what happened and the funeral was attended by a large congregation of Catholic and Anglican family and friends.
Lord Braye's widow described the service as "beautiful" for these reasons.
The title, which goes through the female line, has passed to Lord Braye's only child, his daughter Penelope.
The secret army
STALIN asked how many divisions the Pope has. One answer could be many hundreds, containing thousands if not millions of Catholics.
This at least is the view taken by the learned Peter Bander Van Duren who has edited a uniquely important and interesting book called Orders of Knighthood, Awards and the Holy See. Apart from the higher orders, which I mentioned some weeks ago, thousands of more humble but loyal and deserving Catholics regularly receive recognition with medals of different kinds.
One of the most frequently given is the Medal Bene merenti which was first awarded by Pius VI at the end of the eighteenth century. Other such medals have been continued to be bestowed by subsequent Popes, though some feel that the loss of temporal power by the Papacy should have signified the end of the appropriateness of such decorations.
But who does not love a "gong" and all the history and pageantry that goes with it? The first Pope whose entire reign
took place in the absence of any temporal power instituted a Bene merenti medal which was to be permanent in 1891. Under successive Popes it bore the portrait of the reigning Pope until Paul VI changed it to a lozenge-shaped cross bearing the figure of Our Lord (right in accompanying picture) abolishing the old-style medal (left) which had been suspended from the papal insignia and surrounded by a crown of laurels.
If less triumphalist than in the past, the practice of giving this and other awards seems to be as much in demand as ever.
I HAVE received some interesting feedback about some previous remarks about the ministry of extraordinary lay ministers and the communion services they conduct in the homes of the sick.
Many people were thrilled to hear that such things happen, never having had any previous knowledge thereof. They will, they say, be approaching their parish priests on the matter.
Some, on the other hand, insist that most of the sick, who are elderly, do not want lay people to bring them communion and "do not want the bible read to them" as part of the service for the reception of the Eucharist.
Views seem to vary considerably from one diocese to another. In some dioceses the feeling against the new practices is so strong that, when the time comes for such services to be really needed, there will probably be no trained lay ministers to carry them out.