Thought for the Day usually reflects the zeitgeist. Thus we were recently treated to Clifford Longley on this Radio 4 slot excitedly opining that the Church is about to “change” its stand on contraception. His remarks were found to be premature; indeed, to paraphrase Dr Johnson, they fell stillborn from his lips.
So it was an extraordinary event, indeed a unique occasion, to sit up in bed this morning and listen to the voice of a real Catholic. The “real Catholic” I refer to, is of course, His Holiness the Pope. The message he conveyed was profound in its very simplicity: out of love for us God came down to earth, to take on the human condition, to be born in poverty and obscurity, in order to bring us salvation. This is the Good News of Bethlehem: Christ brings us hope, he gives us the help we need; he is the true “Light of the Nations”. We have heard the story of “this great mystery” as the Pope described it, countless times, but it still has the power to move us, even early in the morning on Christmas Eve – perhaps especially on Christmas Eve. Thank you, Radio 4, for permitting this privilege.
Naturally enough, it was all too simple for John Humphrys. Questioning the Archbishop of Birmingham a little later on the Today programme, he was clearly disappointed that the Pope had not been more controversial. To proclaim the Good News is bad news for the air waves. We were reminded yet again of the vast gulf between the Fourth Estate and matters supernatural. Poor Archbishop Bernard Longley struggled to bring in Cardinal Newman and the idea of the development of doctrine. Humphrys was having none of it: “I’d rather you talked about the Pope than Cardinal Newman,” he interrupted. After all, Newman is old news, even dead news. And the Pope? Only good news if he is being controversial. If only he could have talked about women priests and condoms in his Christmas message, Humphrys implied, Thought for the Day would have been much jollier. Sorry John: Christmas is about joy, not jollity.
To turn from the Pope to the Palace: I was disappointed to learn that the Queen’s broadcast on Christmas Day is to be about the importance of sport. Sport is all very well (though I don’t think Her Majesty ever brandished a hockey stick on a cold winter morning in her life), but it is not what Christmas is about. I fear the thought police have got at her script. Several years ago, in a Christmas broadcast that I feel certain was written by the Queen herself rather than a speech writer, she spoke most convincingly of her Christian faith and how it had sustained her in difficult times. That was the real McCoy and I wish we could have more of it. Horses (which you know a lot about) for courses, your Majesty: Christmas begins with Christ.
Apparently next week we listeners will be treated to a series of guest editors on Radio 4, including Diana Athill, a “raunchy” old lady, Colin Firth, never better than playing the entirely honourable Mr Darcy, and Sam Taylor-Wood, a conceptual artist. It should be jolly.