A Pastoral Letter from the Bishop of Lancaster for the Solemnity of the Holy Family




Appointed to be read at all weekend Public Masses in the Diocese of Lancaster, on the weekend of 28/29 December 2019My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

The Word truly became flesh and has dwelt among us. The image of the infant Christ, Son of God, son of Mary, is placed before us that we might know with confidence the Mystery of God’s love. Commercial Christmas is soon over; ours is not. We are given the Season of Christmastide – which we may legitimately extend to 2nd February, the Feast of the Presentation – as a time for staying with the Holy Family. It is a beautiful gift for each one of us and for the world. Let us take time, itself a gift, to reflect on how Our Lord came. He ‘took flesh’ within the womb of Our Blessed Lady. He literally ‘took flesh’ from her. This is how all unborn children grow. His life was completely dependent on her health and well-being. And Mary entrusted herself to St. Joseph, a worthy spouse, step-father and guardian of the Holy Family. Pray for young parents. Pray for unborn children. Undoubtedly, they were members of an extended family. The Genealogies of St. Luke and St. Matthew make us aware of grandparent figures. Details are lacking but we may imagine elderly members of the family taking an interest and being given a role in the up-bringing of this new Child. Imagine the concern caused by them having to flee to Egypt to escape harm. Imagine the joy at being reunited when eventually they returned, even though it was to Nazareth. These were the days long before any welfare state. Families were close; they had to be because there was no alternative. It is still the case in many parts of the world. In our own society family must still be seen as the primary place for care and education for life. Pray for extended families. Pray for those who work to support families that struggle.Marriage is of Divine institution. Christ raises it to the dignity of a Sacrament. It is a vocation, and for many, the way to heaven. A story is told of a young priest conducting a wedding ceremony. At the appropriate time he delivered a well prepared homily on the joy and bliss of marriage, emphasising the privilege of so intimately sharing in the Grace of Divine love, nothing less than Christ’s love for His Bride, the Church. During the homily, one elderly woman in the congregation turned to her neighbour and whispered, ‘my word, Ethel, I wish I knew as little about marriage as that young man seems to . . .’ Pray for those who must preach the truth of the Gospel.It is easy to mock the experience of marriage. It can be tempting to dismiss the Church’s teaching as too idealistic, no longer relevant in our complex times, particularly where suffering and misunderstanding are present. However, the young priest was doing the right thing in presenting the Christian teaching on marriage rather than ‘lowering the bar’ and presenting a merely human experience.Christian love is not an ideal but a reality. We are not ashamed to appear ‘old-fashioned’ in our religious practice and teachings. We will not abandon Christ’s teachings to follow secular novelties and fashions. Pray for those who have been hurt in marriage. Pray for those who work for healing in our marriage tribunals.

Pope Saint John Paul II noted how the family, a fundamental institution, is experiencing a radical and widespread crisis. He said that the Church cannot yield to cultural pressures, no matter how popular and even militant they may be. Pray for those who have fallen away from the practice of their Faith because of temptation. Whatever our experience of life, the Holy Family is there for us, somewhere to find shelter, acceptance and belonging. I pray this year for all grandparents. Yours is an indispensable role. You offer support and encouragement to young families. Your relationship with grandchildren gives them memories they will carry into their own later years. May your example and memory be amongst their richest inheritance, especially when the world’s riches leave them empty or unsatisfied. Let us pray for our grandparents.


Finally, this year we set ourselves to become more familiar with the God who speaks. Imitate Mary and Joseph, young mother and step-father, waiting eagerly to hear Jesus, the Divine Son, speak his first word. It would be a word that brought great joy to them. They would be quick to tell their relatives and neighbours, ‘He has spoken!’ As we approach the new year, may we also wait patiently for the Lord to speak to us, whoever we are, whatever our circumstances and needs.I encourage you to attend Mass on New Year’s Day if possible, it is an opportunity to begin the year by listening to the Word. He has a word for each of us. It will bring us comfort and hope.

With my prayers for you and your families as we prepare for the new year,


Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster


My Christmas Greetings and Blessings!

My dear friends in Jesus Christ!

Welcome to the Bishop’s Blog!

As we listen to the news and as we look around at our world it is very clear that we need a Saviour. The Good News is that we have one, the only One who can effectively save us from all that would take life from us. Jesus Christ, Son of God, son of Mary!Let us not be blind to all those small efforts made by so many individuals, helping to share love, bring hope, lighten the burdens of loneliness and trying to bring healing to those whose lives are broken. The needs are so great. No sooner have we achieved a little progress than some new crisis appears. It may be personal or global or anywhere in between.Let us not be too proud to ask for help. Even the strongest people have their limits, but the love of God is limitless.Light, Hope, Joy, Peace come from Him. Let us see our poverty so that we can receive His riches. They are gifts that will not fail or fade. With Christ by our side, the future is bright, and the present full of consolation, and the past is blessed because it has enabled us to reach this moment of His Grace.My thoughts and prayers extend to embrace each of you, and particularly those who are experiencing heavy burdens at this time. May you have a Holy and Peaceful Christmas as you sense the gift of God’s Love, found in the Babe of Bethlehem.



Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

Doors into Advent!

My dear friends in Jesus Christ,

Welcome to the Bishop’s Blog!The Holy Season of Advent is itself a door to the Great Feast of the Word becoming flesh for our salvation. Amongst many other events, a number of events involving schools are worth mention. Radiant at Corpus Christi Catholic High School in Preston was a vibrant, well-attended day focusing on the gift of the Eucharist.Over 200 were present for the day which included catechesis, prayer, personal stories of growth in Faith, opportunity to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The day ended with Holy Mass.Two days later I was invited to Carlisle to formally bless the foundation stone for Newman Catholic High School. Full media coverage was on hand. What a momentous stage for the school to reach. For the past four years the school has operated out of a temporary site. Within a year they will be permanently settled in this new building. My gratitude goes to all who have worked tirelessly to enable us to reach this point.A class from Holy Family Primary School, Blackpool came to visit the Cathedral in Lancaster on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They were a joy to be with! Fr. Pearson gave them a guided tour, explaining why the Cathedral is different from other churches in the Diocese. Just before the children headed home they were shown into the Bishop’s office, to see the portrait of all the former Bishops of Lancaster Diocese.Earlier this week I made my first visit to cardinal Newman Sixth Form College in Preston. It was an informal visit simply to meet the Principal, Nick Burnham, together with the Chaplain and senior staff. The visit was tinged with a certain degree of emotion. Mum went to Lark Hill Convent School in the 1930s. My three sisters were also pupils there in the 60s and 70s. I believe a Father Swarbrick who originated in the Garstang area was a key player in the founding of the school back in the 19th century.All these activities were evidence that we are trying to carry the tradition of our Catholic Faith forward in these extra-ordinary times. Advent speaks of Light, Hope, Joy and Peace found in Christ. It also teaches us that life is a gift and has a direction, a destination. Once we recognize and accept a gift we must thank the Giver of the gift.May these remaining days of Advent continue to enrich you with the promise of eternal gifts.


Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster 

A Pastoral Letter for the Beginning of Advent from the Bishop of Lancaster


Appointed to be read at all weekend Public Masses in the Diocese of Lancaster, on the weekend of 30 November/1 December 2019

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,The Holy season of Advent is once again before us. Another year has slipped by, with its memories, highlights and shadows. The Church is ever on watch, keeping awake, ready to greet the return of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Today’s Prayer after Communion reminds us that we constantly live amidst passing things and we must hold fast to what endures. Whilst personal faith may often seem inadequate, the Faith of the Church, the Body of Christ, will carry us. Climate change, political and economic instability at national and international levels, scandals within the Church itself, and so much more can overwhelm us; we struggle to respond.Those who keep watch can be threatened by many temptations. Tiredness, distractions, complacency, hurt, loneliness all chip away at the firmest resolve. Keeping watch in such circumstances is the work of committed adults working together, knowing that the personal attitude of each can help or hinder. We must choose to keep watch, doing all we can to be faithful to Christ’s command.Celebrations of Christmas often involve children. I am grateful to the faithfulness of schools in presenting the Christmas story and remaining true to what we have received. Children must be led; they need the example of adult faith, leading them to find and know and worship the adult Christ. Snowmen and elves must not take the place of Jesus. Snowmen melt. Elves do not exist. Belief must develop and grow and mature with Christ. It must leave the snug stable and set out towards Holy Week.The Bishops of England and Wales have asked the Catholic community to use the coming year, starting today, as an opportunity to deepen our engagement with Jesus, the Word of God in Sacred Scripture. The theme is, ‘The God Who Speaks’. Only last year we celebrated Adoremus, dedicated to knowing and reverencing Our Blessed Lord in the Most Holy Eucharist. The God Who Speaks has the same purpose. It will build us up as Christ’s disciples and as the Church. It will make us stronger Catholics. The times we live in need us to take this year seriously, welcoming it with generous hearts.Our Clergy have all studied Sacred Scripture and are ordained to preach the Word. Many teachers and lay Faithful are also well qualified to teach and catechise. Readers in parishes are chosen not just because they can read and have the courage to, but also because they prepare the readings in good time and work at the art of reading the Word of God within the Sacred Liturgy. I acknowledge Religious communities in the Diocese who celebrate the Prayer of the Church, the Liturgy of the Hours, with fidelity. Many of the Laity share this practice, others use Lectio Divina, the reflective form of praying with the Word.During this year I ask the Clergy to familiarise yourselves with the rubrics concerning the Church’s use of Sacred Scripture, recognise the purpose of the rubrics, and do all you can to follow them. They exist for a good purpose. They help us to listen to the God Who Speaks. By listening to Christ the Teacher we will be more confident teachers.Last year at this time I asked that each family, each Catholic household place a crib at the heart of the Christmas decorations. Make a crib an early gift to those who have slipped away from the practice of the Faith. This year can each Catholic household place the Word of God in a prominent place? It could be the Bible itself, or a personal Sunday Missal, or a copy of the Mass readings you may have accidentally stolen from the parish!The Father was heard to declare; ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him’. Some fundamentalists once told me they did not go to funerals because in the Bible Our Lord told his disciples to ‘leave the dead to bury the dead’. They were utterly sincere, as fundamentalists often are. I asked them how they applied His command to cut off the hand or pluck out the eye that caused them to sin. They did not answer. Sincerity and enthusiasm are not enough for the willing disciple. We must learn how to listen to the adult Christ.At Cana Mary told the wedding guests, ‘Do whatever He tells you’. We must learn how to listen to the adult Christ. May her prayers and example appeal to our hearts. She will be a sure and patient guide, teaching us what is of lasting worth in this passing world.

With my prayers and blessing upon each of you,


Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster


Homily at the Requiem Mass for Bishop Brian Noble-RIP

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Welcome to this weeks Bishop’s Blog!

I would like to share with you the homily given by  Mgr. Canon John McManus at Bishop Brian’s Funeral!Bishop Brian Noble, 10th Bishop of Shrewsbury, 11April 1936 – 21 October 2019

Requiem Mass….Wednesday 6 November 2019 at St Michael and All Angels Woodchurch

It was about five years ago that Brian asked me to preach at his funeral. When I met him the following day, he said: ‘I suppose you have written it by now! Typical Brian Noble humour!’

We offer our deepest sympathy to you, Tony and Mary, and all your family. We know how close you were, and how he enjoyed his visits to your home, often continuing to other favourite places like Boarbank in his beloved Cumbria and Parbold where he celebrated Sunday Mass at least once a month. We also offer our sympathy to his friends who have supported him so loyally over the years, just as he always supported you. We pray for you today as well as for Brian.Brian was born on 11 April 1936 in Lancaster. He went to the Cathedral primary school, then the Catholic College, Preston, before studying for the priesthood at Ushaw College. He was ordained a priest on 11 June 1960. Having been an assistant priest in Preston and Maryport, he became chaplain at Lancaster university from 1972 -1980, when he took up the post of Director of Pastoral Studies at the Beda College in Rome.On his return to the Diocese he was appointed Parish Priest of St Benedicts Whitehaven, and was ordained Bishop of Shrewsbury on 30 August 1995. He chose as his motto ‘Thy Kingdom come’. On the prayer cards, what might almost be a description of his aims and objectives, from the prophet Micah : ‘this is what the Lord asks of you, only this; to act justly, to love tenderly, to walk humbly with your God’.He said he intended to be a happy Bishop. I wont reveal the identity of the Bishop who said’ Don’t worry, Brian, but I promise you that wont last!’Just four years later, on 12 July 1999, he was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer, which had spread to the stomach. He was told he had just a couple of months to live, but a chance social meeting gave new hope, and the offer first of all of a course of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and then major surgery. Brian knew that if he woke in intensive care, the operation had been a success; if he was on the ward, he had only days to live. How he struggled at that time, constantly saying he had only been a Bishop for such a short time, he had so many plans, so much to do, and implicitly what did God think he was doing.As we all know the surgery was successful, over half of his stomach having been removed in a 12 hour operation, and he went to recuperate at Boarbank. On 22nd February 2000, he made his first appearance back in the Diocese, here in this Church, for the funeral of Fr Ivan Burke, who at the age of 50 had himself died of oesophageal cancer. Brian wasn’t well enough to celebrate the Mass, and he had to return to Boarbank afterwards, but there he was in choir dress, a glimpse of the courage that marked the man. In 2006, on his 70th birthday, he once again needed life saving surgery.The reading from Ecclesiasticus, chosen like the other readings today by Brian himself, explores various facets of fear of the Lord. Fear of the Lord brings together faith and works, knowledge of God and behaviour, love of God and love of neighbour, ‘faith’ in the sense of fidelity to God. ‘If you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal. Trust him and he will uphold you. God is merciful so we should be faithful.’ There were certainly times in Brian’s life, most particularly at the time of his diagnosis that those words would resonate with him, calming his fear, his loneliness, his vulnerability – ‘if you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal. Trust him and he will uphold you’. I wonder if those were the words in his mind as he waited for help, as his final illness reached its crisis, as he approached the last day of his life on earth.The story of the apostles on the road to Emmaus is the bridge between the disciples’ experience of the death and consequent absence of Jesus, and the joy when they meet the Risen Lord. Here we see the two disciples gradually moving from their dejection to a new awareness, a realising that Jesus who was crucified was now the Risen Christ. ‘Did not our hearts burn within us as he spoke to us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us’.For the Emmaus disciples the change began in the conversation with the stranger who came and walked beside them. Gradually they were reminded of truths that recent events had caused them to forget. They continued their journey still not knowing their companion. ‘Did not our hearts burn within us as he opened the Scriptures to us’.Recognition of Jesus and awareness of the Resurrection was yet to come, but their outlook and frame of mind had now changed. And as they invited the stranger to stay with them he took bread. He blessed and broke it. He gave it to them. Their eyes were opened and they recognised him. But there is more to it than that, for recognising him they got up at once and turned back to Jerusalem.Throughout Luke’s Gospel, Jerusalem is specially significant. Jesus’ ministry is largely presented in his journeying there. So in turning back, the disciples had recognised the full implication of the breaking of the bread. ‘If you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal. Trust him and he will uphold you.’ Brian spoke often of Eucharist. This is my body broken for you, my blood poured out for you…and like the disciples at Emmaus he helped us recognise the full implications of it. For Brian surely lived this story in his suffering, in his journeying, in his teaching. Today we pray that he truly recognises the risen Lord.As a Bishop, he was very supportive of our Catholic schools, and was strongly committed to ecumenism. He felt privileged and honoured to be chosen as an ecumenical Canon of Chester Cathedral.

He continued the work of his predecessor, Bishop Gray, and with the Green and White papers of 1999 and 2000, presented after a vast amount of consultation, his pastoral plan. This included closure of churches and amalgamation of parishes. He thought he could just about get away with not facing these problems, but he was determined to face them then and not to unfairly burden his successor. Bishop Mark has kept those plans alive, he uses them still, and continues to build on them.Brian was chair of the Bishops’ Conference working party on sacramental initiation, which produced the document ‘On the Threshold’. The document concentrated on the importance of walking with people on their journey through life, meeting their needs and not making demands. It obviously became a key part of the approach in Shrewsbury diocese.I remember Brian speaking to a group at Easter time, as they took steps towards being received into full communion with the Catholic Church. He said: ‘I make an act of faith every day. It is called getting out of bed in the morning’. He often used that sort of self deprecating humour to put people at their ease. He then had the group in the palm of his hand. He was pragmatic, down to earth and not demanding. He also had a strong sense of duty, deeply aware of his responsibilities as Bishop. More recently as chair of the spirituality committee he was responsible for the hugely successful resource book ‘Do you love me?’

After retirement, he put his energy into retreat work, for clergy, religious and laity and continued to immerse himself in the life of our Diocese, helping Bishop Mark with confirmations, and always being there for him, ready to offer wise counsel and prayerful support.

Many a priest was grateful to him for being ready to supply for them, and if necessary he thought nothing of celebrating four parish masses over a weekend, even into his 80s. He was renowned as a spiritual director. His own spirituality, his wisdom and insight, his warmth and humility and his ability to listen qualified him uniquely for the task.

‘Did not our hearts burn within us as he opened the Scriptures to us’.He loved music, especially by early 20th century British composers, and he was a regular visitor to the Liverpool Phil. His other leisure pursuits included art, poetry, and in his younger days walking the fells in the Lake District. He was an enthusiastic and knowledgeable bird watcher. He enjoyed his apple orchard, He grew his own vegetables, he made his own bread, he was a good cook. Were there no bounds to this man’s talents?But let me come back to the spiritual, lest he come from the coffin and shout at me…for in his last instructions, he wrote: The preacher must tell the truth, and nothing but the truth, and added, ‘that means staying close to the Scriptures’.

Like his master, whom he served so well, he poured out his life for us. His love for and interests in other things were but a shadow of his love for the Risen Lord. He had been fragile these past few weeks, and whilst those who visited him were not aware of how serious his illness was, I think, looking back on his words, that he may have suspected it. ‘If you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal, trust him and he will uphold you.’From his days as a young priest he took those words ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ as a personal motto always believing that our task in life is to contribute to the establishment of God’s reign, his purposes, his Kingdom. And what he always emphasised was that what was most important wasn’t so much what we did, as the spirit in which we did it. In the life of Jesus himself what really mattered was total willingness to do the will of his Father. ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ swiftly followed as Brian would point out by ‘Thy will be done’.He would say that from a Kingdom point of view it didn’t matter whether he lived or died. What did matter was the generosity with which either possibility was accepted. It is from that material that the Kingdom is built. Every journey is different, no two travellers the same. But illness or grief cannot cripple love, cannot shatter hope, cannot kill friendship, cannot shut out memories, it cannot lessen the power of the Resurrection. If anyone taught us that, surely it was Bishop Brian Noble, our pastor and teacher and friend to his very last breath. Please pray for him. And dear Brian, thank you so much. For everything. May you rest in peace and rise in glory. Amen.


Remembering Bishop Brian Noble

Dear friends,

Welcome back  to this week’s  Bishop’s Blog!

News will have reached many of you concerning the death of Bishop Brian Noble, Emeritus Bishop of Shrewsbury Diocese, and originally a priest of the Lancaster Diocese. May he rest in peace after his generous ministry.During my own years as a priest in Lancaster I only met Brian twice. Each meeting was by chance and was brief in nature. Having said that, he struck me as a gentleman, kind and encouraging. As the Good Lord would have it, I saw far more of him once I became Bishop. These more recent encounters served to confirm for me +Brian’s personal qualities as a deeply committed servant of the Lord.His later years were marked with poor health, having a titanic struggle with cancer whilst still in office. He showed us that such illness can be put at the service of the Gospel if accepted in the right spirit. Thankfully for us he was given a reprieve and continued up to and beyond retirement, still pastorally active.Many of you would know him far better than me, and your grief will be all the deeper for that. +Brian believed in the power of Christ’s resurrection and the forgiveness of sin. He knew that we are called to enjoy a life with God far beyond the reach of sin. His strong personal faith remains a great comfort to us all, not just as something to lighten our grief here and now, but also to lift us above the gravity of this life towards the bright promise of Life Eternal.Eternal rest grant unto him, O, Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen.

Until next time, may you know the closeness of the Lord, and enjoy His blessing.


Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

Contemplating our Mission

Dear friends in Christ of Lancaster Diocese and beyond!

Welcome to Bishop’s Blog!

You can tell that this Blog is only likely to be an ‘occasional’ publication.
After an eventful summer we are now in the beginnings of autumn, a magnificent season, with its distinct character. It stirs us to reflect back on the passing year and yet look forward, often with some apprehension, towards the cold, dark days of winter. But beauty can be found there too.October is a month we have been asked to keep as an Extra-ordinary Missionary Month, remembering the work of Mission at the heart of Christ’s Church. I invite you to use this month more for reflection than for activity. The activity can follow as a fruit of reflection, and will hopefully be all the richer and more generous for it. Do visit the website of Missio.At the end of September I led the diocesan Pilgrimage to Walsingham, our National Marian Shrine, tucked away in the Norfolk countryside, an enchanting place. Along with many regular pilgrims we welcomed some new faces, making their first Pilgrimage to Walsingham.It is a long drive, especially for those who live in West Cumbria, but the Pilgrimage is planned in such a way as to offer time for that essential quiet and stillness that seems in such short measure in many lives. The intentions of the Diocese were presented before Our Lady of Walsingham at Mass on her Feast Day. Mgr.Armitage has worked wonders to up-grade the accommodation and facilities.Early next year we will welcome the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham to the Cathedral in Lancaster as part of a tour of all the Cathedrals in England. This is in preparation for the re-dedication of England as the Dowry of Mary, an ancient title of devotion. I recommend you visit the shrine website for more information.Looking ahead, we are eagerly preparing for the Canonisation of Blessed John Henry Newman. I am fortunate to be travelling to Rome to be present at the Mass of Canonisation. Undoubtedly, he is a gift to us from the Lord.He is given to us at this particular moment in our individual lives and as a Church. I am delighted that several members of staff will be making the journey to Rome from Cardinal Newman College in Preston.

So much more could go into this, but perhaps that is enough for now.
With my prayers and blessing,

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster