Dear Friends in Christ,
Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!
Pope Francis has, as we know, declared the present year to be a Jubilee of Mercy, and invited the Church to reflect on the wonder of divine mercy and so allow ourselves to be touched and transformed by this truly remarkable quality of God.
The Holy Father is at pains to stress that in the end God’s mercy will win out and, in the last analysis, have the final say over everything else. If we are honest, we humans will readily admit that we don’t fully understand how mercy can take precedence say over justice, and having to take responsibility before God for our wrongdoings. Yet the golden thread running through all of Sacred Scripture is the merciful disposition and character of almighty God.
As we ponder the idea of mercy, it is instructive to realise that the word for mercy in the Hebrew bible is closely linked to the word for a mother’s womb, and suggests therefore something lide that maternal love of a woman for her child. No word can adequately capture the unbreakable emotional bond and profound feelings which exist between a mother and the child she has given birth to. Throughout Scripture, we read how the Lord frets and agonises over his people Israel exactly as a mother does over her offspring.
The prophet Isaiah asks “can a mother forget her child…and in the most unlikely of circumstances that she ever would, God will never forget Israel, his child” (see Isaiah 49:16). The prophets taught that we can always call upon God and invoke his mercy, irrespective of how wretched or desperate we may feel. This is what Pope Francis wishes to impress upon every member of the Church during this Jubilee Year of Mercy.
Using a striking phrase, the Holy Father speaks of Jesus Christ as “the tender face of God’s mercy.” In other words, the whole life of Christ, from his birth in Bethlehem to his resurrection in Jerusalem, represents God’s mercy in action. God’s greatest and supreme act of mercy was the gift of his Son to the world. Christ’s many healings of the sick, feeding of the hungry, raising of the dead, his outreach and forgiveness of sinners, and so much else, show us in picture the loving mercy of a kindly Father.
We need convincing that God’s mercy is infinite and inexhaustible. I suggest that this is a grace we should pray for during these passing days of Lent. Jesus’s beautiful parable of the prodigal son (or loving Father) says it all. Lent is a call to repentance, or in other words to have a change of mind. Let us, nearing the halfway mark of Lent, take to heart the gracious and timely invitation of the letter to the Hebrews, “and with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
I conclude this week’s blog by recalling two pleasant and informative meetings I’ve had, one with Bishop James Newcome, Anglican bishop of Carlisle on Wednesday, and Bishop Athanasius Schneider, auxiliary bishop of Karaganda in Kazakhstan, Central Asia, on Friday afternoon.
Bishop Newcome’s diocese of Carlisle is co-terminus with Cumbria, so as pastors we share much of the same territory, and of course many of the challenges of communicating the gospel to scattered communities in the lovely country which is Cumbria. We talked over lunch at Bishop’s James house in Keswick sharing thoughts on various issues, for example the changing world of Church education and the emergence of what we call academies, with the possibilities of cooperation between the Churches.
A common approach to Safeguarding was also addressed. I always leave Bishop James’ warm company grateful for the distance we have come along the ecumenical road. May that closeness and common witness ever grow!
Yesterday (Friday), whilst blessing the newly-restored day chapel (fomerly a delapidated flower room) for the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest at St Walburge’s, I met Bishop Athanasius Schneider ORC for about an hour where he was visiting, and what an interesting man with a fascinating history. His German-speaking parents had been deported during Stalin’s reign of terror to a labour camp in the remote Ural Mountains, where they would spend eleven years before being released.
The absolute absence of priests meant that the future bishop’s mother baptised him at home, before a Lithuanian priest appeared when he was about a year old. The bishop remarked that his mother had baptised him a second time as she felt she had not properly done it the first time, then the priest who, to make sure, baptised him for the third time! He recounted how the family eventually were able to return to Germany and their original roots when he was eleven years old.
He himself trained for the priesthood in Brazil, was asked to teach in the seminary in Kazakhstan before being appointed bishop ten years ago in this very scattered part of the world. Again, I left his company quite humbled but edified at the personal journey he has made, and the wonderful faith of his parents and family which has gifted the Church with such a fine missionary bishop.
Until next week – May God bless you all,
As ever in Christ,
+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster