Dear Friends in Christ,
Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!
Many cathedrals, shrines and other churches throughout the Catholic world yesterday and today remain open at the request of Pope Francis for ‘24 Hours for the Lord’. For us in the Diocese of Lancaster, this means Lancaster Cathedral and Ladyewell Shrine. During this time the Blessed Sacrament will be exposed to allow for prayer and adoration in the presence of our Eucharistic Lord.
Priests are also on duty to provide the opportunity for Confession, the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This period of twenty four-hours, falling in the midst of Lent, can be a powerful moment of grace and a wonderful way to prepare for the approaching feast of Easter.
The open doors of our cathedrals and churches are a powerful symbol of what Christ intends his Church to be – a place of refuge, one of welcome and acceptance for everyone, without exception. In a remarkable phrase from early in his pontificate, the Holy Father described the Church as being like a field-hospital, caring for wounded and afflicted humanity. Christ’s own outreach to every kind of person, as described in the gospels, sets the pattern for the mission of the Church in every age. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Is. 56:7)
Along with fasting and almsgiving, prayer is one of the traditional practices of Lent. We are encouraged to devote a little more time to the Lord in prayer during the forty days of this holy season, in imitation of Christ in the wilderness. We must never underestimate the power of prayer and its effectiveness before God, whom Scripture calls ‘The Father of mercies and God of all consolation.’ Prayer is rarely easy, for we are often distracted, and can consequently feel dissatisfied. The real value, however, consists in being before God, learning to be still, aware in faith of his unfailing presence. A Benedictine Abbot long ago wisely remarked on the subject of prayer, “Pray as you can, not as you can’t.”
Prayer is never a waste of time. In an age when achievement and accomplishment are so highly valued, to stop even briefly each day and open ourselves to the gentle promptings of the Holy Spirit may not appear to yield much in return. That would underestimate the infinite power of almighty God who can both will and accomplish in ways far exceeding our understanding. In the gospel of Ash Wednesday Christ exhorted us to enter our private room when we pray, where our heavenly Father alone can see and hear us. And that is such a consolation!
There is a part of us which thirsts for God, if we but knew it. All the other blessings which come our way in life can never quite quell what Saint Augustine described as the restlessness within us. Therefore time spent in prayer, whatever form it takes, makes us aware of our dependence on God, yet at the same time helps us grow in grace and so become more fully human just as he wants us to be. In these final weeks of Lent let us find time and space for prayer, the most important thing we will ever do!
Until next week, let us pray for each other,
As ever in Christ,
+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster