The Bishop’s Blog: With Lancaster Polish Community and St. Patrick’s School, Heysham

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!
Officially Christmastide ends this Sunday with the Baptism of the Lord. I understand that some of you keep on up to the Feast of the Presentation, 2nd Feb. Why stop there? The gift of Christ’s Nativity is for the whole year and need not be ‘put away’ with the decorations. Even so, it is good to move on through the seasons. It keeps our faith and devotions fresh.  Last week I accepted an invitation to join the Lancaster Polish community for a Nativity play (performed by the Carlisle Polish Community) and Carols. To conclude I was invited to bless a beautiful icon of the Black Madonna of Czestochova hanging above the sanctuary. May Our Blessed Lady watch lovingly over her Polish communities throughout this year.
Later in the week I visited St.Patrick’s Primary School, Heysham, my first time ever to set foot in it. I was given a whistle-stop tour of the classes before we celebrated Mass. These children are outstanding singers, the best I have come across in all my years visiting Primary Schools. Following the Mass the whole school left the building for a quiet corner of the school grounds where a purpose built chapel awaited its first blessing. This place will become a sanctuary for staff and children, set apart from the busy-ness of the school day as a place to pray and reflect on God’s love for His children. Once it has heating I’m sure it will become a very popular part of the school life. Well done St.Patrick’s.
There was no mad rush to contact me after last week’s suggestion about blessing mobile phones. Having said that, perhaps the most significant call came from BBC Radio Cumbria who would like me to speak briefly about the idea on their Sunday morning slot. Thank-you BBC!
My prayers are with you and your families for the week ahead,
+ Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

 

 

 

The Bishop’s Blog: Blessing of Mobiles and PCs

Dear friends in Christ,

Welcome back to this the first post of the Bishop’s Blog in 2019!Happy New Year to any faithful souls who have been waiting patiently in case this Blog revived. Take it as a prophetic sign of a very distant spring.
It has been an eventful and interesting hiatus. More recently we have become caught up in celebrations marking Christmas. Perhaps some of the photos will capture something of the rich variety I experienced. Thank-you to so many who sent greetings, invitations and gifts – especially prayer – to nourish me. Anyone who knows me will know of my poor relationship with modern technology. The chances of it improving are slim. At this point I have to acknowledge the dedication and saintly patience of those who have the misfortune to work alongside me as secretaries, assistants etc. They have a thankless task.Such marvellous means of communication are at our disposal if only we can master them. Get the relationship wrong and they become mill-stones. Perhaps we can all recognise that such things as mobile phones, i-pads, laptops etc can be a mixed blessing for all of us. We depend on them so completely. So much of our life is contained in them. If they fail we are seriously affected. If we let them they can dominate us to an unhealthy degree.I’d like to float a simple idea that we might organise an occasional simple service to bless our mobiles and PCs. It is just an idea at this stage. I get the sense that some of these items need more exorcising than simply blessing! A good dollop of Holy Water on them may be just what they need! But perhaps they need more than that if they are to be put at our service and the service of the Gospel.If we could dedicate them to the work of Our Lord, in the hope that they will keep us safe and do good to others perhaps something essential in our lives would be improved. Just a thought. Does anyone know if this is already done anywhere? Would it be something helpful to people? I look forward to your responses.With every good wishes and prayer for the week ahead,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

The Bishop’s Blog: My Christmas Mass Homily

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, and all people of good will, I speak to you as a gathering of so many individuals, mostly, but not exclusively, identifying yourselves as Catholic Christians. Let us be aware that this is more than a private experience; it is a corporate celebration because we are part of something done in solidarity with many millions of people throughout the world. It unites us within a tradition of Faith reaching back over two thousand years. Far from diminishing your individual worth, this is something that actually adds value to you. The religious truth presented to the world in this feast of Christ’s Incarnation is that God is with us as Saviour. The image we are invited to reflect on is the natural birth in extremely basic circumstances of a young woman’s first child. The image is crucial: It serves to help us know the nature of the God in whom we place our trust. It shows us not only God’s desire to be with us but also how we might begin to respond to God’s desire.Many people admit their lack of a belief in God. It is worth asking them to tell us about the god they don’t believe in. It may well be that we can agree with them and reject the god they describe. More positively, we can try to convey what we believe about the God we know, as revealed in Jesus. It may surprise them. Such a conversation is not aimed at winning an argument, but simply and respectfully sharing what we believe to be true. They can take it or leave it.At its heart there is the gift of new life, seen, heard, touched and even smelt. It is a baby! We insist that life is received as a gift, not as a right. If it is a gift then there must be a giver of the gift, just as there must be a recipient. At this point let me share a brief story. A grandfather was out of touch with his grandson’s generation. He didn’t know what gift to get him for Christmas. So, he took the easy option and put cash in an envelope, knowing that the boy was into ‘tec’. Come Christmas, the family gathered and the present-opening commenced, imagine the  scene. The boy opened the envelope, withdrew the money and with a happy expression began to count. His expression then started to change. He looked again in the envelope, recounted the money and began to look decidedly disappointed. When granddad asked what the problem was he said it was only £150. To buy what he wanted would cost £250. The gift was not enough. I’d like to say that the lad received a slap, but I’m not allowed to say that!Poor Santa. Annually trying to satisfy our wishes, going about it in such a generous way, but where are last year’s presents now? Most have served their purpose. They are lost, or broken, or spent, or consumed, or out-grown. Few last. That is the nature of this world’s gifts, good for a time only. This isn’t something we need to be miserable about. All we need to do is recognise the nature of things that pass. They will not satisfy our deepest longings.Perhaps the greatest reason why so many reject the Christian religion is because it doesn’t seem to achieve its task. Evidence abounds to show that suffering and evil still thrive, and most damagingly, in our official structures. This we cannot deny. If the eradication of evil is its objective, the gift has not had its desired effect. It appears to have failed. It is not enough.Let’s go back to the crib and the gift of this little new life. God the Father has given us His only Son. Within our Faith tradition, firmly rooted in the soil of the Jewish tradition, we recognise here life at the mercy of life; Divine Life at the mercy of human life. It appears to stand God and religion on its head! If this plan is to work it will rely heavily on a generous response. This child won’t just do it for us. This child will demand a great deal of us, continually. This child will ask us to adopt a new way of life ourselves. This child will draw from us what we had no idea we are capable of. Life at the mercy of life. This child will ask us to recognise that certain things are of passing value, others eternal.It is my hope that each of you will be touched as if for the first time by the Christmas story. I pray that something good will be re-awakened in you from your past, and from far deeper than that. I pray that you will sense something of your own spiritual life – possibly long neglected and starved of care. I pray that the God-given good in you will be strengthened, that you will believe you are not alone in your fight against sin and temptation. I pray that the gift of being healed and healing will be given you. I pray that the balance of hope will shift within you in favour of the light, a light that this world’s darkness cannot overcome. I pray that your prayer-life will be re-awakened and refreshed, and that you will find a joy in life that refuses to be defeated. I pray that you are given a peace of mind and heart in the midst of all the things trying to frighten you or make you anxious. May you know that this child came to answer your prayers, to fulfil your desires, to restore your lost dignity, and give you a purpose for living, no matter what your age, status, health or past have been.I pray that God will break into the stable of your soul in order not to steal, but to leave His precious gifts, gifts perhaps you don’t think you deserve or that you’d given up hope of receiving. I pray that you will believe Jesus has come to keep you company and lead you on His way.


By way of conclusion, Groucho Marx was once leaving a party and was saying good-night to the hostess: She asked if he’d had a lovely evening to which he replied: ‘Madam, I’ve had a wonderful evening . . . . but this wasn’t it!’ For many, Christmas can be a disappointing experience, being spoilt or leaving you feeling short-changed – very short-changed in some cases! Your Christmas may be far from perfect. Keep in mind that a huge part of the Christian celebration is about Christ’s Second coming at the end of time, maybe at the end of our time. He came to share fully in our life with the simple desire that we will eventually come to share fully in His.

Season’s greetings to you all!

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

 

The Bishop’s Blog: My Homily on the Solemnity of All Saints Day

 

My dear brothers and sisters,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

As in all things, the first voice we must listen for is Christ’s. Why? Because He knows. But, so often, His is not the first voice we hear. Others are louder, closer and more intense. Even so, we must ‘tune in’ to the voice of Jesus.This feast of All Saints is given to us as we in the northern hemisphere are moving into the winter. Nature is going to sleep, slowing down, changing its habits, its cloths. It appears to be dying. But notice – there is so much beauty in it! It is different from the beauty of summer, and that is a clue to a mystery, is a door opening to us. It is a servant of the Gospel too. The summer may have gone, but God hasn’t.All Saints. Happy forever! It seems far-fetched. All the jobs done, the list completed. It seems to us impossible. And yet, that is what God the Father wishes for you. That is what Jesus Christ came to tell us, and show us the way. That is what the Holy Spirit puts- within my reach.
This Feast must give us encouragement ….. and we all need plenty of that! Even Jesus needed that. What does encouragement do? It changes something inside us for the better. It is a beautiful thing to watch happen in a person’s life. It makes us not give up. It gives us hope for better times, for ourselves and for others.When I was a child growing up I learnt about the saints but I didn’t really know them. I knew stories about them and some I liked better than others. But I could never, imagine being with them. To be very honest, I don’t think I wanted to be. It was a bit like being told about heaven and I thought I don’t want to spend forever there-it’s like being in church ALL THE TIME! Fun?As I’ve grown older and thought about things more and learnt about what’s important and seen how people live, I’ve come to believe that we don’t need to know much about the details of heaven. Leave that to Jesus. He knows what is needed. He’s prepared a place for you. He’s not trying to keep us out because he knows your taste in music or that you like garlic or you have a weird sense of humor or you go to the wrong school. He wants you in!!

And remember the Good Thief. Imagine being a good thief! He stole a place in heaven right at the end-in the last minute of extra time.
Remember what he said: ‘we’ve done wrong: we know it. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’. Remember what Jesus said: “Today you will be with me in paradise!”
Now we have to do a little risk assessment. The risks are these. We could miss out. 3 main ones.
1. We give up before we’ve even started. We don’t even try. St. Peter nearly did that when he said to Jesus: ‘Leave me Lord, I am a sinful man.’
2. Another risk is that we can’t be bothered. We are too busy with our own plans to fit in with anyone else. That happens a lot.
3. Another risk is to be careless. It’s like having a ticket for a pop concert but we forgot where we put it.
We cannot imagine eternal life, eternal happiness. We don’t have to. We just have to set our hearts on knowing Jesus and staying close to Him. Leave the rest to Him.

Sincerest good wishes and prayer,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

 

The Bishop’s Blog: Visits to the Eternal City and Remembering Three Great Pastors- Fr.Gerard Dunn,Fr. Jock Maley and Deacon Malcolm Green

Dear friends in Christ,

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

What better moment to resurrect this Blog than on my return from a funeral? I first met Fr. Gerry Dunn in February 1982 in St. Edmund’s Parish, Carlisle. He had agreed to take me as a Deacon for the few months before ordination to the priesthood in July. Gerry was ordained the year I was born. How fitting that the year I was ordained Bishop Gerry should receive the ultimate vocation – to go to God.

He has left us with memories of a dedicated, prayerful, self – effacing priest who knew his duties and carried them out with a pleasantness and lightness of touch that always belied any sense of burden.
It was immediately after the Requiem Mass, in the refreshment stage, that one of his mourners asked if I was ever going to get round to re-start this Blog. I sense that it has Fr. Gerry’s blessing: I sense that he gave me his blessing.

Much has happened since my last Blog.Lourdes Pilgrimage, then August and my ‘keeping a low profile’. Then time out of the Diocese in September with two visits to the Eternal City, first on  a course for new Bishops, and second on the Ad Limina Apostolorum visit with the Bishops’ Conference. Both were powerful, moving and worth-while experiences.The first was rich in variety, putting a face to the Universal Church. How humbling and uplifting to meet Bishops from all over the world, to share their stories, to celebrate Mass with them and spend time before the Blessed Sacrament with them. Our Ad limina visit was altogether more intimate, conscious of the life of the Church in Lancaster and nationally. We had a beautiful two and a half hours audience with the Holy Father, Pope Francis, coming away strengthened in our service of the Lord.No sooner had I returned to Lancaster than I was off again, on the Diocesan Pilgrimage to Walsingham . This is its third year. Each year has seen our numbers increase. We took the Diocese of Lancaster to Our Lady of Walsingham.Since then we have laid to rest Deacon Malcolm Green and Fr. Jock Maley, both gone to receive their reward for their labours in the Lord’s vineyard. May they rest in peace. But it is back to Fr, Gerry Dunn now, and memories of his service as a priest of the Diocese. He was a great countryman with a keen eye for the lessons God gives us through the seasons and the beauty of nature.As we go deeper into Autumn, and the month of prayer for the Holy Souls may we be re- assured that the Lord is faithful.

God bless you all.

As ever in Christ,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

Bishop’s Blog: A Homily at Lourdes

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!Dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, fellow pilgrims, this morning look where our pilgrimage has brought us – we are at the very heart of Lourdes, in two senses. Firstly, because we are here at the Grotto, in the Grotto, a sacred place in which St.Bernadette, little more than a child, was privileged to behold the face of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She heard her speak, and was able to converse with her, here in this very place where you and I now stand. This is a sacred place. We must respect it. Let us take a moment of silence now to do just that.The second way in which we are at the heart of Lourdes is because we are gathered at Mass, privileged to hear God Himself speaking to us, privileged also to meet and welcome Jesus who wishes to enter into your own sacred place, your soul, and to remain with you that you may bear much fruit.The purpose of any Pilgrimage is to unite us more closely with our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. If this does not happen then even if we have had a good time our efforts have been wasted.But it is not easy to achieve this goal. You are far from home, and your usual habits and routines. You are engaged in activities here that you will leave behind in just a few days. How will you be changed? What progress can you sense in your personal journey into the life of God? We all need signs and reassurance because our Faith is often weak. At this morning’s Mass we are given great encouragement.St.Bernadette was chosen for a particular favour at a particular time. Dare I say that we too are chosen to be here today for a very special favour?It is not Mary that we will see but the object, the subject, of her own adoration, our Lord, Jesus Christ Himself. He will appear to us in just a very short time. He is the One Mary wanted St.Bernadette to see, to know, to love and to serve.

He is the one who, in a very short time, will appear, at that moment in the Mass when those beautiful words of His will be spoken,
Take this, all of you and eat of it,
For this is my Body
Which will be given up for you.Just as we have a purpose in our pilgrimage, just as our Blessed Lady had a purpose in coming to this Grotto, so Jesus has a purpose in coming to us. Do you want to know what His purpose is? It is this – He wishes to make His home in you, and that is not all. . . . He dares you to make your home in Him. To do that we have to trust Him. We must let Him enter our heart. To do that we must find the door to our heart, we must open it and welcome Him not as someone who has come to inspect and criticise and find fault. He comes to make His home within us not as a stranger but as a friend, a carer, a brother and a Saviour.When I first heard that we would be blessed to share this occasion with fellow pilgrims from Wales and Scotland I was tempted to try and think of a joke about an Englishman, a Scotsman and a Welshman. Then it got even better and we were joined by the Irish pilgrims! Thankfully I could not think of a joke. And let us reflect, this is neither the place nor the occasion for jokes; there is too much in our lives and our world in need of serious attention, too much that is damaged, too much to put right. Let our jokes be for another occasion and another place. Rather, whilst we are in this sacred Grotto of Lourdes, let us call to mind another grotto hewn in the rock, the tomb of Christ, the tomb from which He rose from the dead so that He could meet us here, enter into us, and make His home with us.We are people of faith even if we are still sinners. We have been given wonderful people to inspire us, not only our Blessed Lady herself, St.Bernadette, St.Bridget of Sweden, our own national and local saints. Each of us can call to mind certain individuals we have in a sense been ‘given’. They are known to you and have been part of your life’s journey. Probably, some may have gone. But one grace of any pilgrimage is to be given new companions whose stories and example somehow lift us, and help us know the love of Jesus, at home in us, bearing good fruit in our lives..
Let us be encouraged here at the Grotto of St.Bernadette on this beautiful July morning, whatever burdens we face or carry. Let us be closer to God because we are here in this sacred place, and because we know He has created that other sacred place where He longs and loves to be, the soul of each of us. Let us know the closeness of the Holy One. That is the purpose and goal of our pilgrimage, and now it is so close . . . .It is the desire of St. Bernadette that we share the joy she found.
It is the desire of our Blessed Lady that we know the joy of life with her Son.
It is the desire of the heart of each of us to welcome Jesus in the home that lies within, and to find our home within His Heart.

It is the miracle of Lourdes that, so far from home we find our true home with our true Lord.

With every good wishes and prayers for the week ahead,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

 

Bishop’s Blog: Feast of Eight Lancashire Martyrs

Dear Friends in Christ,

Welcome to the Bishop’s BlogI’m actually cheating by writing this one on the 19th July, a day before we set off on the Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes. Today in the Liturgical calendar we celebrate the witness of eight Lancashire martyrs, Saint John Plessington, Saint John Wall O.F.M., Blessed Thomas Cottam S.J., William Harcourt S.J., William Marsden, George Haydock, John Sandys and George Beesley. St.John Plessington was from Garstang. On my coat-of arms I included the martyr’s palm in memory of him, my fellow Garstonian.

Few properties in the town date back to his era, but he would have known the river Wyre, the familiar outline of the Bleasdale fells to the east, the woods and brooks of Barnacre, the site of the distant Lakeland hills seen to the north – on a clear day – from the top of Bowgreave.
His birthplace, Dimples Hall, still stands although much altered. As a child no doubt he attended Mass locally as and when it was safe and available. It came to mean something deep to him. He learnt its value and eventually gained courage to become a priest so that the Mass might be offered and Christ might be worshipped and others might discover the love of God that overcomes all our sins and woes. What a marvellous moment it is when we bow our heads before the Lord and find that He raises us to Glory!Lourdes is a much younger tradition, dating from the mid 19th century and so wasn’t on the pilgrimage map for our local martyrs. But Ladyewell was, and Holy Well was as well as other local shrines perhaps including the ruined monasteries. The Adoremus congress in September will borrow various items from the Diocese closely associated with the martyrs. (I hope we get them back!) Some time ago the BBC put a fascinating programme on Radio 4 entitled A History of the world in 100 objects, presented by Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum.What a challenge it would be to produce a history of a parish or a school or of the Diocese in 100 objects (and you could include places, and views and sounds perhaps. . . . . the imagination could run riot!)

May God bless you all

As ever in Christ,+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster