My Pastoral Letter for Advent 2015

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A PASTORAL LETTER

FROM THE BISHOP OF LANCASTER

FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT (2015)

Appointed to be read aloud at all weekend Public Masses in the Diocese of Lancaster on the weekend of 28/29 November 2015

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

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The season of Advent is once again upon us, and with it the Church’s time of preparation for the birthday of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and the Saviour of the world. As a wise Mother and Teacher, the Church desires that each one of us, her children, be ready in a spirit of prayer and wonder for the coming of God’s divine Son among us. Advent, then, is a particular time of grace, a season of waiting, and ultimately of hope in God’s promise of a Messiah.

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During the four weeks of Advent the Church sets before us in her liturgy and choice of Scripture readings the story of the promises made by God to His people long ago, promises which have now come to fulfilment in Jesus Christ. This is what we call the Good News of the Gospel: it is God the Father wanting to be close to us, to walk alongside each one of us in our journey of life through the abiding presence of His Son, Emmanuel – God-with-us.

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We might well ask, like those who put the question to John the Baptist, “what are we to do then?”  I think the answer is to be found in the ordinary events of our daily living, by doing the best we can and supporting those around us, in particular whoever needs a helping hand. Almighty God does not expect extraordinary deeds or outstanding accomplishments from us, but faithfulness and integrity in doing those countless little things which go to make up our lives. Pope Francis recently presided in Rome at a Synod of Bishops from around the world on the theme of family life, emphasising that the family is the place where God’s grace is pre-eminently to be found. A truly wonderful and reassuring thought!

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Advent and the coming birth of Christ are intended to remind us in a powerful way of God’s unfathomable love and mercy, shown in the astonishing gift of His only Son, born on earth two thousand years ago in a stable in Bethlehem. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has set aside the coming year, beginning on 8 December, entitling it ‘the Year of Mercy’. Through the Mass and her Sacraments the Church constantly mediates God’s gracious mercy to us His people, but God also intends the face of the Church to be a face of mercy and of welcome for everyone. No one, especially those weak in faith and who may even be lapsed, should feel distant from the gentle touch of the Divine Mercy, so visibly revealed to us in Jesus Christ.

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My dear brothers and sisters, I pray that this holy time of Advent may open our hearts once more to the wonder of the Incarnation, when in a supreme act of tender mercy the Son of God became flesh, and dwelt among us.

With an assurance of my prayers and a blessing to each of you and your families,

Yours most sincerely in Jesus Christ,

+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster

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Reflecting on the Bishops’ Conference Plenary Meeting in Leeds

Dear Friends in Jesus Christ,

Welcome to the Bishop’s Blog for this week.

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The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales, in common with many other Episcopal Conferences around the world  i.e , the USCCB meets in plenary session twice each year.  The English & Welsh Conference had their autumn plenary meeting this past week in Hinsley Hall, Leeds pictured below.

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As Bishops, there are always routine Department reports presented for our reflection, such as Education and International Affairs among others. The latter Department, for example, works quietly but effectively on behalf of the Conference to assist and express solidarity with other Catholic communities suffering deprivation of any kind, both spiritual and material.

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The well-advertised plight of Catholics and Christians in the Middle East, parts of Africa and elsewhere, always feature in our discussions. The practical help and especially constant interest mean a great deal to these beleaguered brothers and sisters.

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The Bishops also issued a statement on the current mass influx of migrants, acknowledging what is already being done to ease their situation, and the need to monitor and be open to future migrant arrivals in Britain, always bearing in mind the Lord’s teaching in the gospel that he is present in the faces of the poor and outcast.

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The reality of the ‘unchurched’ or those who no longer practice the faith of their baptism, and how to address this perplexing situation, continues to preoccupy the Conference.

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A complete list of resolutions on which the Bishops voted can be found here on the Bishops’ Conference website, which I commend for a fuller picture of the range of topics debated and reflected on during this last week.

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The Conference gathering (a summary is here) also provides the opportunity for us Bishops to be together and enjoy each another’s company, in view of the fact that we are geographically dispersed for most of the year.

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We have our moments of relaxation as well as for sharing those challenges common to most of us.  The mutual support that we derive from the Conference week is invariably encouraging and heartening.  We also appreciate the unity and common mind which by and large pervades our discussions and exchanges, a gift indeed of the promised Holy Spirit.

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On the final day of the Conference we offered our concelebrated daily Mass for those deceased, injured and bereaved last Friday in Paris. This might be fittingly described as a liturgical gesture of solidarity of the Bishops of England & Wales to the Church in Paris.

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The Mass has its own power, and despite the awful atrocity of these outrages, I felt there was a quiet sense of peace and reassurance generated by our celebration, and that our offering in faith to almighty God would make a difference.

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As ever in Christ,

+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster

Remembering our Loved Ones who have Died

Dear friends in Christ,

Welcome to the Bishop’s Blog for this week.

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The month of November always tends to evoke memories and reflections within us. One obvious explanation for this is the annual service of Remembrance early in the month, when we remember the dead of the First World War and of subsequent conflicts up to our own time.

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The solemn and even plaintive character of the act of Remembrance in London, and repeated at countless other services, seems to coincide with the season of the year. The world of nature appears to be in decline all around us and, as it were, is about to fall into a deep sleep.

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The symbol of this decline are the colourful carpets of leaves we have been walking over in recent weeks. It is a time for reflection as the darker evenings gather in, and we have fewer daylight hours.

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For us believers, November is also the month of the dead, or the Holy Souls, when we pray for the dead in the firm belief that we can assist by our prayers our deceased brothers and sisters on their way to God, to the joy and peace of heaven.

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Throughout the Catholic world on the 2nd November – that is All Souls’ Day people make their way to cemeteries, light candles and lamps by the gravesides of their relatives and friends, both as a sign that they are not forgotten and also as an expression of prayer to God on their behalf. We carry in our memories those who have gone before us, and our dead live on in some way.

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The practice of praying for the dead goes back to the earliest days of our faith, even into Old Testament times. There is the well-known example of Judas Maccabeus having sacrifice offered to God for those who had died in battle, in the belief that there will be a resurrection of the dead (2Macc. 12:43-45).

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St. Augustine of Hippo describes how ‘the sacrifice of our redemption’ was offered on behalf of his mother Monica who had just died at Ostia, the port of Rome, in 387 AD.

The pious custom of remembering and praying for the dead is indeed an ancient one. Many of our churches today have also ‘November Dead Lists’, when the names of the dead are placed near the altar throughout the month and Masses offered for the repose of their souls. Another prayerful way of remembering.

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Central to our Christian faith is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, a belief which we profess Sunday after Sunday in the Creed. Christ’s triumph over death and the grave is the pledge of our own future resurrection, as the New Testament and particularly the apostle Paul so firmly insist on.

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Our symbolic sacramental death in the waters of baptism will ensure that we too will one day share in the glory of the risen Christ. One apt and greatly consoling description of the holy Eucharist, the Lord’s body and blood, which we receive so often in the course of our life, is that it is the food of travellers, to sustain us on the final journey through death and beyond.

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These quiet, still moments of remembrance which somehow come unbidden in November, can be occasions for renewing our faith in the God of the living, who is eternal and immortal. As we live through the change of seasons, passing from autumn into winter, and the apparent death of nature, we know that a spring will come and with it a season of new life and rebirth.

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As we reflect from the perspective of faith on the world of nature in transition, the divine handiwork might be hinting that there is new life and a rebirth awaiting us who believe in Jesus, crucified and risen.

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In the liturgy of All Saints Day we read the wonderful words from John in the Apocalypse: “I saw a huge multitude which no one could number from all tribes, peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…” (Ap. 7:9).  We can have the assurance of faith in this month of November that our dead too form part of that great multitude in the presence of God. And Saint Paul would say to us, “Comfort one another with these words.” (1 Th. 4:18).

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May our dead, especially those who have died in conflict, and especially this weekend in acts of terror in Paris, rest in the peace of Christ!

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Until next week – let us keep all those who died in Paris in our daily prayers – as well as for those who mourn and for those who injured,

May God bless you all,

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+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster

Proposed Plans for the Jubilee Year of Mercy in the Diocese of Lancaster!

Dear Friends,

Welcome back to the Bishop’s Blog for this week!  It’s good to have you!

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This weekend sees the release of the proposed diocesan plans for the forthcoming Jubilee Year of Mercy in the Diocese of Lancaster, which, of course, opens in Rome on 8 December 2015 – the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

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The proposed plans are posted here for all to view on the Office for the New Evangelisation website for our Diocese. Keep an eye on that website: newevangelisationlancaster.com for further details as they develop!

The suggested focal points for parishes and deaneries in these plans are in no way meant to be prescriptive but are simply ideas and suggestions which parishes and deaneries – led by clergy and lay leaders – will surely want take on board and be involved with.

The role of our Office for the New Evangelisation led by Sr Mary Julian Ekman RSM during the Year of Mercy is simply to co-ordinate the Diocesan events, provide a help for communication about Year of Mercy initiatives around the Diocese, and to provide helpful resources for parishes. These resources will soon be posted shortly on the Office for the New Evangelisation website.

What of our diocesan schools and colleges? I understand that the Education Service of the Diocese will be providing similar resources and ideas for our schools and colleges and hopefully these will be communicated directly to the schools themselves.

I would certainly be encouraging all and each of our parishes, (groups of parishes) and deaneries – and our schools and colleges – to take up their own initiatives and plans for the Year of Mercy. A section on the Office for the New Evangelisation website will be dedicated to the Year of Mercy news and events in and around our Diocese.

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While activities and events are good practical ways of entering into the Year of Mercy, the Year is not simply a time in which we should feel obliged to “do” more and more, i.e. acts of penance and charity, pilgrimages, divine mercy chaplets, with a Holy Door and visits to Shrines etc – though these are important – as if the efficacy of God’s mercy depended on our efforts alone. Rather, as Pope Francis repeatedly notes, the Year is really about entering more deeply into a personal encounter with the mercy of God. It is a year in which “with our eyes fixed on Jesus and his merciful gaze, where we experience the love of the Most Holy Trinity” (MV 8). 

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The motto for the Year is “Merciful like the Father”. So, surely if this motto is not engraved on our hearts and minds and lived out in our lives our efforts will be of little or no use whatsoever!

Rather, may our Year of Mercy be for each of us a time when we learn through mercy to become active and joyful agents of God’s mercy to all our brothers and sisters.

Wishing you each a blessed week ahead,

+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster

P.S. May I use this opportunity to thank all those who have offered me their support in relation to recent news stories here and here.