Recalling the Reformation & Remaining True to Christ our King

Dear Friends in Christ,

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

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The ruins of abbeys and monasteries all over Britain, and which today attract so many sightseers and tourists, are a constant reminder to me of just how far-reaching was the religious upheaval, persecution and cultural devastation of that period in history we know today as ‘the Reformation’.

Historians continue to debate the underlying causes and extent of what can only be described as a seismic break or revolution in the social and religious history of these islands.  The ruins and martyrdoms to which I’ve just referred may be described as the scars and wounds of that very troubled period.

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The Christian communities in these lands and across Europe are currently marking and reflecting on the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation, and are doing so in a spirit which is irenic and marked by Christian charity.

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On Thursday last week, Pope Francis received in audience the Moderator of the Church of Scotland and a delegation which he addressed graciously and with great courtesy. Last year the Pope also made a ground-breaking visit to Lund, Sweden, in the context of the Reformation anniversary, and there met with Lutheran Church leaders.

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How as Catholics are we to address the subject of the Reformation, its bitter divisions, and tragic consequences for the unity of Christendom?

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The Holy Father, Pope Francis has acknowledged that we cannot change the facts of past history, they are there for all to see, but we have moved on, and a new spirit of mutual acceptance and tolerance among the Church and ecclesial communities now prevails.

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In my own lifetime, I have witnessed quite a remarkable change of attitudes which to previous generations would not have been thought possible.

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The spirit of cooperation and friendship, at official and, as it were, unofficial church and parish levels, is something we now take very much for granted. The presence of Archbishop Justin Welby, his predecessor Archbishop Rowan Williams, and the recently retired Bishop of London, Richard Chartes, in Westminster Cathedral for the funeral Mass of Cardinal Cormack Murphy-O’Connor, was a very real sign of the ecumenical journey we have already travelled as followers of Christ.

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The divisions among Christians and their aftermath which the Reformation gave rise to remain a source of great sadness and pain, yet while we look back, we must also look forward under the imperative of the prayer of the Lord at the Last Supper: that his disciples ‘may be one’.

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The burdens of history and its legacy can be heavy, but each fresh generation of believers is called, not to solve the problems of the past, but to trust in the Holy Spirit who is ever making things new.  Echoing the Second Vatican Council the Pope did observe, as do many others, how a divided Church weakens the power of Christian witness before the modern world.

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We thank God that we live in religiously more accepting and more tolerant times. Our Catholic task today is, of course, to be true to our Faith as we walk alongside our fellow Christians and together address and try to alleviate the glaring human problems of the twenty-first century, which are there for all to see.

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Until next week – may we each walk humbly with our God and remain true to Christ our King, to building His Kingdom and to defending and promoting the mission of the Church in our day.

As ever in Christ our Lord,

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+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster

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Praying the Rosary is good for the Soul

Dear Friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog! 

First of all; allow me to thank so many of you  for your support since last week’s Blog – I am most grateful! May our sufferings for such a stance be an offering for these innocents!

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The Rosary has been, and still is, a foundational prayer for very many Catholics throughout the world. It is also a much loved form of prayer, and a devotion to the mother of Jesus Christ. Initially at least, the Rosary may seem to some rather monotonous, especially with its succession of Hail Marys. Through gradual and faithful recitation, however, it grows on us and becomes part of our regular and daily prayer life. Such a fruitful and familiar routine is good for the soul!

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The Rosary is also closely associated with processions at the great Marian shrines, and in the apparitions of Our Blessed Lady to St. Bernadette at Lourdes the young future saint noticed on one occasion how Mary was silently fingering her Rosary beads.

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In doing so Our Lady was surely giving her approval to this form of prayer. Successive Popes have regularly encouraged the praying of the Rosary, and the deep attachment of St. John Paul II to the Rosary is well known. The origins of the Rosary go back centuries, and its widespread recitation was felt to be instrumental in the victory for Christian civilisation at the battle of Lepanto in 1570.

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While the Rosary is an act of Catholic piety and popular devotion, it is a prayer with solid Christological foundations, for at its heart are the mysteries of our divine Lord’s life, death and resurrection. The fairly recent addition by Pope St. John Paul of the Mysteries of Light further highlight saving episodes of the Lord’s earthly life: his baptism, his first miracle at Cana, the calling of the first disciples, his Transfiguration, and the institution of the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper. Meditation on these mysteries constitute a rich form of prayer and at the same time leads us ever more deeply into the earthly life and ministry of the Incarnate Son of God.

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One attraction of the Rosary is its simplicity. Furthermore, as a prayer it is deeply rooted in Scripture, and so linked to that divine truth which almighty God wishes us human beings to have. By reciting the Rosary we are opening ourselves, as did Our Lady, to the gentle impulses of the Holy Spirit who guides us as believing individuals and as a Church. Prayer is a powerful instrument for the good of the world, and only God can know the real impact and effect that the countless daily recitation of the Rosary can have. When we are alone and reciting the Rosary we should remember that we form part of a veritable tidal wave of prayer arising from earth to heaven. In fact, when we pray we are never alone!

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Earlier this month, 13th October, on the occasion of the centenary of the apparitions of Our Lady to the children at Fatima, Catholics around the world following the urgings of Our Lady united in saying the Rosary for peace on that particular day.

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A remarkable manifestation of attachment to the Rosary coinciding with the anniversary took place in Poland, when reputably over one million people united in praying the Rosary, partly for Poland, partly for Europe, and for the needs of the world as a whole. This initiative was lay-inspired and lay-led and demonstrates the deep affection and love of the Polish people for Our Lady and the unique prayer we call the Rosary. Sentiments which are widely shared throughout the universal Church.

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October is traditionally a month of the Rosary. May this lovely prayer be an irreplaceable part of our daily life, and we need not doubt that through it Mary will help us now, and especially at the hour of our death.

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Sincerest good wishes and prayers,

As ever in Christ,

+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster

A Word of Encouragement for the Pro-Life Movement

Dear friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog! – a word of encouragement to those who work in and pray for the Pro-Life Movement.

Sometimes, we can tend to assume that as long as we’re well-intentioned, God will overlook the more ugly side of our actions. But nothing in Sacred Scripture supports this. In fact, you will find very little soft sentiment in the words of the Lord Jesus. We can, of course, count on God’s mercy and compassion, but we can also count on his justice.  God will always love us, no matter what we do. But love always tells the truth.

Here’s the truth: Three hours ago Pope Francis Tweeted:

“We are called to defend and safeguard human life, especially in the mother’s womb, in infancy, old age and physical or mental disability.”

Consequently, we cannot claim to be Catholic and then ignore what our faith teaches on serious matters of human dignity, especially on a foundational issue like abortion. We need to be faithful and well-informed Catholics first. If we are, then our Catholic convictions will naturally enrich our country’s public life.

For some Catholics, sadly the price of admission into mainstream British life has meant that we somehow keep the Catholic brand name and tribal loyalty, but are content to live a mix of nostalgia and generic good will and ‘keep our heads down’ in the public sphere. Rather, as Catholics, we have a baptismal duty to sanctify and humanize our country; in other words, to lead it to Jesus Christ.

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the (1967) Abortion Act in Britain, we recall we’re citizens of heaven first and we have pro-life obligations to the poor, the homeless, the disabled, the elderly and the refugee.  But abortion is foundational. There’s no way around it. It’s the cornerstone issue for any society because it deals with the most basic human right of all – the right to life.

We just cannot build a just society while allowing more than a 185,000 abortions a year (in England and Wales), or even half that number. This is why “abortion reduction” strategies can sound persuasive and do have value, but they never adequately address the brutality and injustice of abortion itself, or abortion’s deep wounds to both women and children – with 8.8 million lives lost thus far in Britain since the introduction of the Act.

Some Catholics – including some periodicals and newspapers who claim to use that name – seem simply embarrassed by the abortion issue.

The abortion struggle gets in the way of their natural political alliances. Others don’t really agree with the Church’s teaching, or don’t accept the personhood of the unborn child. Others just want a respectable way to explain away this issue and get on with what they regard as the ‘real’ work of the Church!

I don’t think we’ve lost the abortion struggle just yet. Quite the opposite. A social conflict like abortion or racism is fundamental; it challenges the moral premises of a society and can often go on for decades. Overturning the Abortion Act is achievable. So are legal restrictions on abortion and legal protections for the unborn. Let us work and pray under God for this intention – especially with the Rosary this October – always with the compassion of Christ.

Until next week, let us pray for each other and for all those Catholics and others, too, who work to nurture and protect human life at its most vulnerable,

As ever in Christ our Lord,

+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster

On the Educational Mission of the Church

Dear Friends in Christ,

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

The Diocese of Lancaster celebrated its annual Education Mass (my homily for this Mass is here) this past Friday evening in St. Peter’s Cathedral, Lancaster. The large and enthusiastic attendance of all those involved in any way in the Church’s educational mission entrusted to her by Christ underlined the significance of this Mass.

The occasion gave me, the Bishop and first teacher of the faith in the Diocese, the opportunity to thank our priests, teachers, governors, chaplains, catechists, those involved in RCIA, and others, for their commitment and assistance in this challenging ecclesial apostolate.

The reason for the Church’s existence is to speak of Jesus Christ and hand on his saving Truth from one generation to the next, until He returns in glory and makes all things new. The apostles and disciples were given this mandate by the risen Lord to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth, a task which consequently has no limits. And wherever the Church establishes herself in any part of the world, her members will necessarily be engaged in forming minds and hearts after the manner of Jesus Christ.

So in the cathedral last evening as a teaching and educational community we invoked God’s blessing on the labours of so many, especially in our schools, colleges and parishes, who endeavour to prepare the way for the One, like John the Baptist, who is the greatest of all teachers, the Son of God.

Through this blog, I again acknowledge and express my thanks to the large number of those who form part of our educational community, which is comprised of eighty two parishes, seventy three primary and eleven secondary schools, and the Cardinal Newman College in Preston. The scale of these institutions for a relatively small diocese indicate just how seriously the Diocese of Lancaster approaches the task given her by her Divine Founder.

I am also very aware of the quiet but effective work of handing on the faith which so often takes place in our parishes – with the active help of our schools – in together – preparing our children and young people for those important sacramental moments in their lives, such as First Penance, First Holy Communion, and the Sacrament of Confirmation.

I am, of course, also conscious of the serious challenges that face Catholic Education and our schools today in our country with social relativism in the home and prevalent in politics, literature, TV and film and, of course, in and through the extraordinary rise of the newer and social media. Besides, today’s powerful and programmatic secular sociological trends often undermine or disregard our Catholic vision of life and love and our overwhelming respect for the human person, and respect for foundational bedrocks of society, such as the primacy of the family and defense of those most vulnerable in our society.

Our Catholic schools, have to operate within this demanding context and yet must continually seek to be faithful custodians of the Truth, beauty, and goodness of God in a way that allows for the joy of the Gospel to be palpable to all who have contact with our schools – Catholic and otherwise.

When our Catholic schools are experienced as beacons of Christ’s joy and care, then we bring our children, young people and those who educate them to the Truth who speaks insistently and compellingly to that hope that dwells in our hearts. Our hope is ultimately found in the person of Jesus Christ.

Our distinctive schools, colleges and academies continue to exist to form hearts, mould minds, and transform lives through the teachings of Jesus Christ, His Gospels and the teachings of His Catholic Church and so we have a lot to be hopeful about when we pin our future endeavours and plans on Him.

We are coming to realise ever more that each member of the Church through baptism is called to witness and be, in a certain sense, a teacher of Christ. The importance, therefore, and the central teaching role of the parish community, emphasised by Pope Francis, can hardly be overstated. So, thank you to all of you who give so generously of your time and spiritual gifts to the sacramental development of our children and young people. Please do continue this wonderful work, and call and encourage others to assist you.

Returning to last evening in the cathedral, it was heartening and greatly reassuring to see such an excellent number of young aspiring teachers who are taking their first steps in Catholic Education. Whatever the challenges facing us as a Church in the field of education, and retaining and safeguarding the thoroughly Catholic spirit and ethos which we have inherited constitutes one of those challenges, there is much to be thankful for.

Please keep in your prayers the efforts of our Diocese of Lancaster to be faithful and play its part here in the North West in fulfilling the mission of the Lord to ‘teach all nations’.

Until next week – let us pray for each other,

As ever in Christ our Lord,

+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster