Abraham: A Man of Faith

My dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ,

Welcome to the Bishop’s Blog!
The story of Abraham’s sacrifice sends shudders down my spine. Some awful things are done in the name of religion. Even though the child is spared, it can disturb us that such an act as child sacrifice could even be used as a test of Faith. Of course, what saves the day is Abraham being called to found a Faith that rejects child-sacrifice. I cannot close this paragraph without mentioning our own society which tragically continues to see hundreds of thousands of infants killed before birth. It is a tragedy that they are killed. It is an equal tragedy that it remains such a hidden part of society’s life, especially when we are told to ‘save lives’.The poor ram caught in the bush attracts my sympathies next. ‘The Lord will provide’ says Abraham, and so it is. Something has to be killed it seems, to please the deity. Was there a ‘good shepherd’ out and about somewhere, scouring the countryside for his lost tup? We need not be concerned. The core of the story is Abraham’s test of Faith, and the Lord’s generous providence.The image of the ram caught in the bush appealed to me when I was trying to come up with imagery for my episcopal coat-of-arms. Perhaps it’s worth me sharing some of my thoughts with you. Something in me can identify with that poor animal, stuck in the bush, unable to escape, awaiting its fate. Its ultimate release will serve to benefit Abraham rather than achieve its own personal aspirations (assuming rams have personal aspirations!). In like manner, we can be held fast by goodness knows what, awaiting rescue goodness knows when. Even when it happens it can benefit others rather than ourselves. But the Lord will provide. The outcome is His. My plans must give way to His, and I’m content to go with that because I believe He has my best interests at heart.Ultimately it was the Son of God who was sacrificed on a mountain, Calvary. At times when we are tempted to complain about what Faith in God asks us to sacrifice we need only call to mind that all we have comes from Him, and that He has given us all He has in His Son. It’s not easy though.With my blessing, especially for those who are experiencing particular doubts and difficulties.

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster 

A PASTORAL LETTER FROM THE BISHOP OF LANCASTER for the First Sunday of Lent 21 February 2021

Dear Friends,

For my blog this week please read my  Pastoral Letter (below).

Thank you, as always, for your great support and prayers,

As ever in Christ,

+Paul 

Bishop of Lancaster

     A PASTORAL LETTER
   FROM THE BISHOP OF LANCASTER
       for the First Sunday of Lent 21 February 2021


APPOINTED TO BE READ AT ALL PUBLIC MASSES IN ALL CHURCHES AND CHAPELS IN THE DIOCESE OF LANCASTER ON THE WEEKEND OF 20/21 FEBRUARY 2021 (or shared in whatever way is possible, bearing in mind how few will be at Mass to hear it).

 


My dear people,
I send you my greetings as we begin the Holy Season of Lent, aware that we remain in some ways a scattered flock, still doing battle with the pandemic. Reflecting on Christ’s forty days in the wilderness, it could be said we are engaged in battle with the pan-demonic. It is a time of temptation. I was sorely tempted to re-issue last year’s Lenten Pastoral, partly to see how many notice, partly out of idleness and partly because I thought it was rather good . . . and there’s another temptation; pride!St Mark’s account of our Blessed Lord’s time in the wilderness is astoundingly brief. Perhaps a Lenten Pastoral should follow suit, stating the stark essentials we must follow to make Lent fruitful. According to tradition, this Letter will be read in all churches and chapels of the Diocese at every public Mass on the First Sunday of Lent. However, many parishes are not holding public worship, and those that are have greatly reduced congregations. Added to that, our Liturgies must be short, reducing  the time we are socially gathered. Is the pandemic a cure for lengthy sermons? If so, may we live to see if the cure lasts.So, our religious practice is reduced to stark essentials, just as our Lord found Himself without the freedom and comforts one grows used to when ordinary circumstances prevail. Where the Master is, there the willing disciple must be found too. It is a time of intense on-going formation for both the individual and for the Church. Three life-lines are given us; prayer, fasting and alms-giving. Prayer. Christ promised to remain with us, and here we find Him an example of prayer. More than that, we are taken into His prayer through His conversation with  the Father, His obedience to the Father’s will and His union with the Father. This is more than asking God for favours or help with the things we can’t manage. It is a desire for the Life of heaven.It is also an experience here on earth of the Life of heaven. Fasting. Christ accepted less of this world’s pleasures and ease even though on other occasions He would accept them and enjoy them. But here He deliberately puts them aside, knowing that they do not last. He acknowledges another order of delights, the delights that will last. Fasting is a discipline and an act of trust in the promise of a loving God. He knows our needs before we ask.Almsgiving. Christ shows us that the fundamental motive for almsgiving is compassion for others. Later He instructed His disciples to ‘Go out to the whole world’. Material-giving remains an essential expression of obeying that command, showing solidarity with our neighbour. It saves us from living a selfish life. Sharing our time also gains us ‘credit’. In this unfair world some are privileged and some are obviously disadvantaged. In these times more will be asked of some than of others. Needy causes are easy to find, overwhelmingly and exhaustingly easy. We do well to recall who it is telling us to persevere in charity even to the point of our own exhaustion and our own diminishing. He is the guarantee that we will not go short. His love will grow in us. ‘Give, and gifts will be given to you.’And what of Mary’s place in her Son’s Lent? Did He speak with her before He left for the wilderness? Did she know where He was, what He was facing? Did He recall the blessing of a mother’s worry? May Our Lady be with us in our prayer, fasting and almsgiving this Lent.Much more could be said, but, following the example of St. Mark, this will do for now. May this Lenten message open doors of hope for you, bringing in the clean air of the wilderness, and with it, a reassuring experience of Christ’s closeness. He has overcome all evil.

With my prayers for each of you, and my blessing,
+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

Cumbria Coal 2021

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Welcome to the Bishop’s Blog!

The proposal to open a new coal mine in Whitehaven, Cumbria, has understandably sparked a massive national out-cry and met with serious opposition. The proposal flies in the face of the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For a society and a government set on achieving zero net emissions by 2050 the opening of this new mine makes the goal harder to reach. Even if it were possible to offset emissions through adopting cleaner energy sources and uses, it is a move in the wrong direction. It contradicts a policy of ‘going green’. It’s a ‘no-brainer;’; it shouldn’t go ahead.I know West Cumbria a little, and love it a lot. My first parish as a newly ordained priest was . I was there for just one year and found it an area of severe contrasts. On a clear day you could look south towards the glorious sandstone cliffs of St.Bees Head. To the west is the Irish Sea, with the Isle of Man less than 30 miles away, and the Scottish Lowlands just across the Solway Firth. To the east rise the ridges and peaks of Cumbria’s Mountains, the finest in the whole District.Much closer, the Haig Colliery, Kells, was still active at that time. Immediately adjacent to the parish church, house and primary school was Marchon chemical works run by Albright and Wilson. Woodhouse estate was daily contaminated by toxic emissions falling from the works chimneys. I saw the damage done to property, peeling paintwork and contaminated gardens. Parishioners had to be mindful of not hanging out washing if the wind was blowing in off the sea, which it was on most days. The same wind carried clouds of bubbles and suds frothed up from factory waste discharged into the sea. When the works and mine eventually closed jobs were lost, but health and environment gained.In 2010 I had the good fortune to be sent to Workington, calling it home for the next eight years, some of the happiest of my life. West Cumbria was built on heavy industry, nearly all gone now. Coal and iron ore mining, ship-building and steel-making forged the identity and closeness of the community. They are a people justifiably proud of their history, with strong family ties, their own language, rich sporting and social traditions including unique events such as the Egremont Crab Fair and Workington’s ‘Uppies and Downies’. I found it a much cleaner environment, symbolised perhaps by the off-shore wind-farms filling the Firth. South of the small harbour at Workington is a modest, grassy hill. New-comers call it Shore Hill; locals remember its origins and still call it ‘the Slag Bank’.

 

Sellafield and the controversial nuclear industry is the only remaining life-line for West Cumbria’s economy. If that goes there’ll be nothing to sustain people’s livelihoods. Even with Sellafield, social depravation is horrendous. Job opportunities for the young are few. Hospitals and schools largely fail to attract the specialists and leaders they desperately need. Even tourism struggles: many people who know the Lakes rarely if ever get round to the west.The jobs and investment that a new mine would bring could only fire local enthusiasm, bringing hope and purpose to young and old alike. Knowing the area and the people, I can understand why there is such strong opinion in favour of the massive benefits on offer. It’s no surprise so many believe the mine is justified. I can understand their outrage when faced with opposition voiced by protesters mostly from outside the area. They don’t realise what it means for West Cumbrians.Saving the planet, making the right decision, will have hard consequences for the lives of others. It will be hard to look them in the eye, and hard to explain why it is for the best. Some will suffer more than others. If you deny someone what was giving them hope it’s only fair to find them something that will give them greater hope. The decision may be a ‘no-brainer’ at one level, but it’s a hard call on another.

As ever in Christ our Lord,

+Paul 

Paul Swarbrick http://www.lancasterdiocese.org.uk/

Bishop of Lancaster

A few thoughts …

My dear friends in  Jesus Christ,

Welcome to the Bishop’s Blog!

It is hard to believe that just one week ago we learnt of the death, in Nazareth House, Cork, of Bishop emeritus Padraig O’Donoghue. Ireland is noted for arranging funerals very soon after death. It contrasts remarkably with how things are here in England, where a wait of two weeks is not uncommon. In fact, Mgr Jimmy Hook’s funeral took place on 22nd Jan, almost four weeks after his death.We have a huge debt of gratitude to Bishop Padraig for all he did whilst here. Our Diocesan Voice newspaper will dedicate much space to his memory in its next issue. In our current circumstances it is difficult to arrange a fitting Diocesan Requiem for him. I did celebrate midday Mass at the Cathedral on the day of his burial, but I believe we should gather at some point to celebrate Mass for him with fitting dignity and solemnity, and in keeping with his personality, with a joyful spirit.I am aware of elements in society that are ‘anti-vaccine’. I wish to repeat what has already been made public by the Vatican and by our local Episcopal Conference, that the Church gives every encouragement to you to have the covid vaccine. Statements can be found on the Vatican website and the website of the Bishops’ Conference. Some may have praiseworthy concerns about the origins of various vaccines. Reassurance will be found in the statements designed to allay such anxieties. We are not abandoning our campaign to defend unborn lives.On Tuesday we celebrate the beautiful Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, otherwise known as Candlemas. Cribs may then be put away, and cards and whatever other Christmas decorations still festoon our homes. I’m well aware that for most of you this would have already happened long ago! This year I have kept them out up to The Presentation because we need encouragement and evidence of faith.It also struck me that so many households go mad on putting up their Christmas lights long before Advent, but pack them away so quickly afterwards. Christ is the gift we need to hang on to for as long as possible, hopefully for ever! So, as we look to next year, let’s make an effort to balance the early-lighters by keeping Christmas going until the Presentation.

 

With my Blessing,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

Blog for week of Christian unity!

Dear brothers and sisters, 

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!I have taken a decision to not be present at an ecumenical Vespers on Sunday. It was a kind and welcome invitation, and initially I had agreed to be there. I have full confidence in the host providing a strictly compliant environment and a liturgy that will adhere to necessary protocol. So why withdraw? Idleness? Snooker? (There’s a big snooker tournament on tv that evening!) It will go ahead (Vespers) and witness to our pro-active desire to work for a healing of divisions between the churches. The Catholic Church will be present through local representation. And I will be on-board at a ZOOM event later in the week involving my ‘opposite numbers’. Ecumenism isn’t something we have permission to withdraw from.Mid week we heard of the untimely deaths of Archbishop Tartaglia of Glasgow, and retired Scottish Bishop, Vincent Logan and Bishop Moses Haamungole of Monze Diocese, Zambia. Archbishop Tartaglia and Bishop Moses had both tested positive for Covid around the new year.Bishop Moses’ death struck me particularly hard. He was only 53 years of age. He generously came for my episcopal ordination in 2018, and was a wonderful host when I visited Zambia in 2019. News of his death brought back memories of another Bishop of Monze, Paul Lungu S.J. who was tragically killed in a road accident in 1998. He, too, had been in his early fifties. Heavy losses for those they leave behind, taken too early, with so much still to do. My prayers are with them all.Pope Francis has dedicated this as a year of special devotion and prayer to St.Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church. Many of you already have a strong devotion to him. He deserves more attention from all of us. He is called on in prayer to help us prepare for a ‘happy death’. A key to this is learning how to grieve for those we have lost.The Holy Family would have been no strangers to grieving, it was part of their culture, as it is part of every culture and society. Sadness, loss, grief are things we must all learn to live with. St. Joseph will help us to grieve with hope. He will explain how he grieved and did not let it rob him of his Faith in a loving God, nor would it rob him of joy. There’s something to work on for the year ahead.

 

With my blessing,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster 

Be at peace with 2020

My dear friends in Christ,

Welcome  to the Bishop’s Blog!We are hardly off to a roaring start! In some ways it seems like ‘so near and yet so far . . .’. Schools are of particular concern. What will be the lasting effect on our young ones? Whilst we struggle to manage the pandemic itself one aspect that we do have more control of is how we individually respond to our circumstances. I’ve heard of the media inviting people to ‘write a letter’ to 2021, expressing their hopes. What may also be a worthwhile exercise is to work at some sort of reconciliation with the past year, 2020. It will go down in global history as a BAD year, obviously, but it risks doing us damage twice, once as we passed through it, and a second time as we struggle with its memory. That could be with us for the rest of our lives.So, it robbed us of our plans, our loved ones, those who died and those we could not visit or hug. It robbed us of our health, our education and our businesses. It robbed us of our freedom, our peace of mind, our jobs. Tragically, it robbed us of Holy Mass, worship, and of the freedom to live our Sacramental Faith. We could probably say much more as we look back on a year we never saw coming, an experience we never want again, and something that hasn’t finished with us yet.

Even though all this is true, I sense a need for us to try and be at peace with 2020, even with the harm done, otherwise that year becomes like a Corona-virus itself, infecting and spreading its poison into the rest of our days.

One thing it did not rob us of is our belief that Our Lord has been with us every step of the way, every moment of every day. We have been given opportunity to know what is most important. We have seen what we had previously taken so much for granted. We have come to know that the best things in life can never be taken as convenient.At this start of a new year let us try to be at peace with 2020 despite the harm it has done. Let us lay it to rest, with the bad and the good that we found in it.

With my blessing on you all as we progress into 2021, especially those of you who feel most fragile.

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick 

Bishop of Lancaster

A Pastoral Letter from the Bishop of Lancaster


A  Pastoral Letter from the Bishop of Lancaster 

Appointed to be read aloud at the Holy Mass in the Diocese of Lancaster on the Solemnity of the Holy Family 2020  

My dear people,This Solemnity of the Lord’s Nativity is kept holy as we recognise Christ, the Light in our darkness, Christ, our Saviour. It falls at a particular time in our calendar but is relevant for the whole year. Christmas falls on 25th December but its gift should be opened each day of
the year.Over these past ten months we have been made aware of our frailty and our strength both as individuals and as a society. We know that the pandemic has landed more heavily on some than on others. We know that certain individuals can cope better under this pressure than
others. We have been asked repeatedly to be considerate of others, especially the most vulnerable and those whose occupations or circumstances put them in the front line of this battle.When a care worker, medic or teacher finishes their shift or their work for the day, what do they do? They go home. Home to what? For the vast majority, they go home to family, spouse, children, news of elderly parents, washing, shopping, cleaning, preparing meals,
medical appointments, bills and hopefully time to relax. All this – and more – is what it means to live in this world.

There are others who, unfortunately, have lost jobs, and now are faced with the crisis of knowing how to pay their bills, even how to stay in their rented home. Other families are even less fortunate as they find themselves homeless. I imagine the distress of young parents
who find themselves with children they struggle to provide with basic essentials due to the cruelty of fate, economics or ‘luck’. I can imagine that darkness is sometimes welcomed because it helps to hide their plight, and yet, in this darkness they easily fall prey to anxieties
that never take time off, robbing them of precious sleep and that most essential quality of human life, hope.The Light that is Christ does not respect sin. He seeks out the darkest places knowing that these are the very places where He will find those for whom He has come, those who need Him most. The Church carries His light. The Church allows His light to shine through Faith and  Charity. Prayer is something we can and must do in every time and every situation. With courage, prayer enables us to enter into the darkness of people’s lives so that the Light of Christ can shine both for us and for those we find there.Our Holy Father, Pope Francis has recently given us a beautiful Apostolic Letter, Patris corde, to mark the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of Saint Joseph as the Patron of the Universal Church. It is something I ask your clergy to help make available in our parishes
and schools. It speaks to us of the love of a father’s heart and will help to bring us the light of hope at a time when it is greatly needed.God the Father knows all too well that bringing light into our darkness is wonderful but not in itself enough. Beyond prayer, beyond belief there must be active Charity. This, too, is the vocation of the Church and of every Christian. We must overcome the darkness through our
love of others. Too often we can be paralysed by the sheer enormity of the problems we face and the desperate difficulties faced by those around us. St. Joseph shows us what is still possible. A single individual can be given the gift of overcoming what others see as
insurmountable problems.The world is a big place, and the number of those struggling can be overwhelming. Where do I start? Start with those closest to you, your family. Start at home. I invite you to take this opportunity to renew your personal Faith, particularly if you are experiencing severe
difficulties. Be aware of the light you were entrusted with at your baptism. It was given to you for your own salvation and also for the good of others. Your vocation is to carry that Light in these days even though they are days we would not have chosen. This is where Christ wants
you to carry His love.At Christmas people want to be generous to others. Many families actually go into debt in order to ’make’ Christmas for their loved ones. Sadly, the most important element is missed; they ignore the reality of the Word made flesh in favour of joys that will not last. For us,
Christmas is about a debt, a debt of love we owe to the God who has paid our debt owed due to sin. Note the difference; one household is plunged into debt by their Christmas whilst the faithful household is lifted out of debt by the Saviour.As we begin the new year we pray above all for holiness. The Holy Family was not spared difficulties, and neither will we be spared. An abiding trust in the Father’s love will enable us to overcome any darkness. With the prayers of Our Blessed Lady, Mother of the Redeemer,
and of Saint Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church, may you be given a peace, joy and encouragement that only the Lord’s coming can give.

With my blessing on you all,
+Paul Swarbrick
Bishop of Lancaster.

Homily for Midnight Mass of the Lord’s Nativity.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, and all people of good will,

Welcome to the Bishop’s Blog!

Whoever you are, wherever you are from, whatever has happened in your life and your world up to now, I welcome you and share with you the blessing, the peace, joy and encouragement of our Saviour’s birth. Happy Christmas!We few are fortunate to be here for this Midnight Mass, during which, as in every Mass, on the altar the bread and wine will become the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus. This is the miracle of the Mass, and it happens so that we can take Jesus out into the world, into the homes and hearts waiting for Him.  We are fortunate, not because we are better than others. Some will come to Mass this evening and be told there is ‘no room’ for them. (I’d be the first to offer my seat, but no one would take it!) And yet, many have greater need than us. The Church is not a place where the sinner is unwelcome. Fears, frailty and failings should be all the more reason for coming to Jesus. He welcomed sinners, ate with them and prayed for the good of those who persecuted Him. How will our presence here tonight benefit those turned away because of restrictions on space, those unable to come, those who have been hurt by the Church, those who think they have no place here?We are here to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Light in our darkness, our way to the Father’s heart. It is a personal matter for each of us, but carries a public responsibility. Before a child can be born the child must be conceived, and nurtured for nine long months. The Word of God took flesh silently, hidden, within Mary, so that she could be counted a child of the Father. Similarly, the child must be conceived in you – in a silent and hidden way – so that you may know whose child you are, so that when you are asked, “Who made you?” you may reply, “God made me.”We have a responsibility to pray in this Christmas Mass for all unborn children, for their mothers and fathers waiting for their babies to be born, that they will know something of the precious gift of life, and that they will love their children. To help us know how important such prayer is, just consider that as we are told each day the number of Covid victims, (how many is it now?) yet each year in this same country over 200,000 children’s lives are ended through abortions. What did they do to deserve it? Why were they not loved? Are we not being told to save lives? Do their lives not matter?Globally, many babies do not survive until birth because of unfortunate medical complications and economic deficiencies. Many women do not survive child-birth. But Jesus did survive. He was born in extremely unhygienic circumstances, (realistic crib smells . . .) He survived infancy’s accidents and illnesses and grew to adulthood. He survived and carried the grief of losing St. Joseph, seeing His mother widowed whilst still quite young. In many ways He lived as the world dictates, He complied; that’s why we know so little about His first thirty years. And yet, He would not be defined by the world, because He was the Word made flesh, Son of God. Remember He said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” There is something more than the world here.Our Christmas is different this year for obvious reasons. This pandemic is damned inconvenient! Despite your careful planning, you have to make serious, often heart-breaking sacrifices. But what is essential remains unaffected, the Mystery of the Word made flesh. And do we want to know just how Christmas changes things and why it is important? Well, there is a simple image we can use to help us understand. It is this: Stones become bread. The Old Testament, based on the Law of Moses, the Ten Commandments, written on tablets of stone, carried down from the mountain, preserved in the Ark of the Covenant. Stones are heavy things and will take your strength. If carrying stones is the way we do religion we are going to find ourselves getting weary, losing strength.But look what happens now, as Jesus gives us His New Commandment to love one another, and commands us to “Do this in memory of me”. The Bread of the Eucharist, Holy Communion, becomes His new way for us to do our religion. The bread becomes the Body of Christ; instead of taking our strength it gives us strength for body and soul. (What makes me smile is that it’s as though He took the idea from the devil himself. Do you remember the first temptation, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread”? Clever!) In the Tabernacle of the Jerusalem Temple they preserved stones. In the tabernacle now is the Bread of Life. Simple!We are creatures of habit. We tend to like what is familiar, what we are used to. Christmas can be little more than a nostalgia for what we have known. (The smell of cigars takes me back to childhood family Christmases. Dad always smoked cigars at Christmas!) If we are brave enough, perhaps even desperate enough, we can receive – as a gift – what Jesus wants to give us, an encounter with the living God. It is not gained as the fruit of our hard work or careful planning. These can always disappoint us as unforeseen and unwelcome factors spoil them. Instead, even with the smallest, most pathetic scrap of Faith, within us, the Word can be conceived. We may not be aware of it. We don’t know how it has happened. It is pure Grace, pure gift, utterly undeserved. Stones become bread: the Word becomes flesh. My plans fail so that God’s greater Plan may succeed.You can meet people who declare with great confidence and great sincerity, “I don’t believe in god”! It may even be said by children, and you can be stuck to know how to answer them. Perhaps there are two ways to proceed. Firstly, you might say, “Tell me about the god you don’t believe in”. Then listen. You may find you can say, “And I don’t believe in that god either!”. The second response you might give is to ask, “Do you believe in Jesus?” Then listen. His sole purpose is to enable us to know the one true God, who changed stones into bread. The sole purpose of the Church is to enable people to know, and come to know better, the one true God and in so doing come to know themselves.Why did God make you?” “God made me to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in the next.”And there you have it! A reason for living, a purpose irrespective of status, wealth, health, age, qualifications or criminal record. You also have a direction for life to travel and an ultimate destination to look forward to, beyond the mess and mistakes of this world. I must not be too negative about this world. It is created by God and was created good. It holds a beauty. But it is a beauty that holds a sadness because it does not last.Let me conclude. I know Christmas for many of you has been spoilt because you are not able to be with loved ones, yes? (say yes!) Many of you will be remembering those who have died, and you miss them deeply. Some may have died recently. Others will have gone years ago. Often, our grief does not fade with the passing years, it can become heavier, we miss them more. I mentioned the smell of dad’s cigars taking me back to my childhood Christmases. Every Christmas now I recall seeing mum’s coffin in church surrounded by Christmas decorations. Strangely, it hasn’t spoilt my Christmas. Rather, it has made Christmas more special, helping me know more deeply what Christmas gives us; the Word become flesh and dwelt amongst us so that we might one day dwell with God. Grief is of this world, hope is of heaven. Stones into bread.May the peace, joy and encouragement that only the coming of Christ can bring be yours this Christmas whoever you are, wherever you are from, whatever has happened in your life and world up to now, and whatever is yet to come.

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick 

Bishop of Lancaster

Prepare for life after Christmas than on life at Christmas!

My dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ,

Welcome to the Bishop’s Blog!
Not long now. Just a few more sleeps . . . for those who can sleep . . . .  and before we know it we’ll be the other side of the festive season. I wonder if our emphasis should be more on preparing for life after Christmas than on life at Christmas. It’s all very well making a fuss for a ‘one-off’ occasion, but Jesus brings lasting joy. So, we have a job to do of extending the Grace of Christmas beyond the Feast of Christmas.The superficial things like decorations and trees and lights can come down. We need to look deeper for what should last. Two simple clues are given as we profess our Faith in Jesus Christ, Son of God, Son of Mary, the Divine and the human natures. Beyond the Feast we can extend the Grace by continuing to look at God in prayer and worship, and look at our fellow creatures with respect and active charity.At the heart of the Christmas message is St. John’s phrase, ‘The Word took flesh; He dwelt amongst us.’ The truth is that this happened not when Christ was born but when He was conceived, nine months earlier. That’s why the Church’s new year used to be the 25th March on the Solemnity of the Annunciation. Let us pray for our unborn babies. They are part of our society. They exist as human being, and can be counted amongst the most vulnerable. How tragic it is that society can be so concerned about pregnancy loss and yet can sanction the termination of tens of thousands of unborn children. Is there any other species on the planet that is as destructive of itself, and of its most defenseless members?Covid is only one threat to life in a world where many threats exist. As we do all we can to protect lives from one particular threat, the pandemic, may we be brought to see far greater threats that appear to have the blessing of society.

With my prayers and blessing for each of you,

 

 

 

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster 

Advent Pastoral Letter 2020

A PASTORAL LETTER FROM THE BISHOP OF LANCASTER

  For the Second Sunday of Advent 6th December 2020

Appointed to be read aloud at all weekend Public Masses in the Diocese of Lancaster on the second Sunday of Advent 2020.

My dear people,

A single desire lies in our hearts and is beautifully captured by the simple cry, ‘Come Lord Jesus!’ It is spoken with greater intensity in this short season of Advent, but it is a cry we utter in every season of the year and every season of our lives. Made in the image and likeness of God, we long to see the face of God our creator. In that moment we will see our true selves for the first time because we will look into the face of the living God.This Pastoral message, following the tradition set by my predecessors, carries a dual purpose. Firstly, to build the unity of the Diocese as it is shared across our parishes and homes. Secondly, it will give a focus for our lives, encouraging us to reflect above all on the second coming of our Saviour.Our lives seem currently to be dominated by at least three massive uncertainties; the effects of Covid-19, the effects of Brexit, and the effects of damaged ecology. As Christians, we can counterbalance these uncertainties with the certainty of Our Lord’s victory achieved by His love. This is more than clever words. He achieved it by acts. He achieved it by taking flesh, by His ministry, by His Passion and Glorious Resurrection. This is what our lives are dominated by, above and beyond all uncertainties. But our Faith can be weak, and our witness can fail, and we can become scared, and even those who lead us can cause us to question.St. John the Baptist is a key figure in the life of Our Lord. Even in the womb he responded to Christ’s presence. He prepared the way for the Lord, and baptised Him. He encouraged his own disciples to leave him and follow Christ. We hear the Baptist in today’s Gospel, ‘at the top of his game’, as it were.In lockdown and its subsequent tiers we look for ways of coping, remaining strong for others, doing what we can to lift those who have fallen. NHS staff, teachers, carers and many other professionals have done outstanding work. I commend Clergy, Religious and Lay Faithful for ensuring that people have access to the Blessed Sacrament for prayer in spite of the severe restrictions imposed. I thank those who have written to MPs expressing concern that churches have suffered too severe a lockdown. I commend those who look after families, especially the young, elderly and vulnerable.I think of St. John the Baptist later in his life in lockdown, having been arrested for his outspoken criticism of Herod. Even strong people have their limits, and St. John reached a point of doubt. He sent a message to Jesus asking, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or do we look for another?’ The answer he received did not change his circumstances, but it did give him new heart.Christmas can be a point of convergence for three aspects of our lives; past, present and future. From the past we draw memories and lessons, knowing we can’t go back. The future is shrouded in questions, a feast for the imagination. A variety of futures lie before us, depending on how we make choices, and how events beyond our control affect us. So, what of the present, the ‘here and now’?‘Christianity is not an ideal to be aimed for but a reality to be shared.’ What we have been given matters. What have we been given in our many forms of lockdown? A verse from Psalm 18 is worth remembering; ‘He brought me forth into freedom. He saved me because He loved me.’ We desire freedom, but some little thought leads us to realise that what matters most is that He loves us. Freedom without His love is no freedom; to know He loves us assures our most desired freedom.In previous Advents I have encouraged us all to have a crib at the centre of decorations in our homes, and perhaps even in our places of work. This year I encourage the same. This year I also encourage you to make every effort to attend and celebrate Mass, but this will be difficult for some. So I encourage you to get to Mass within the Octave (eight days) of Christmas.I also encourage you to keep Christmas going, even up to 2nd February, the beautiful Feast of Candlemas, when Christmastide concludes. Carry the light and hope of our ultimate freedom into the new year. Carry it joyfully through all the restrictions, trials and uncertainties of this life, knowing the utter certainty of victory through Christ’s love.

With my blessing on you all, especially on those who are experiencing particular hardships.

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster.