My Christmas Message

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Welcome to the Bishop’s Blog for Christmas!

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The feast of Christmas is always one of hope and joy for us Catholics and Christians. Each year we greet with the reverence of faith the child born of Mary in the lowly surroundings of that stable in Bethlehem, for we know that he is no ordinary child. Our faith teaches us that this newly-born infant has already had another birth, that of the Son of God in eternity. Our Christmas liturgy and the carols we sing try to capture the astounding truth that in this child God has come down to earth.

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Christmas is therefore a celebration of God’s love for the world. In him whom St. John splendidly calls “the Word made flesh”, God has shown his solidarity with us. God’s Word has taken on human form, sharing our history, and enriching our lives beyond measure. For the journey of a human life is also a journey travelled by Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Our tears and our challenges have also been his, and the little child whom we venerate in the manger would have his challenges and know the dark night of death, only to transform it for ever in his glorious resurrection from the dead.

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As we look with wonder on Mary and her new-born Son in the crib, ever such an appealing image, we cannot but think of those mothers and their children in many parts of our world who are displaced from their homes through disaster, war, discrimination or the like.  We remember them all prayerfully especially at this holy season, asking God’s mercy and protection on them, while doing what we can to ease their plight.

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The birth of Jesus Christ has given humanity a whole new dignity. Each individual can justly claim the Son of God as his or her brother. As the New Testament expresses it, “He is the firstborn of many brethren.”  This infant embodies an unshakeable hope for all of us, because in the fullness of time through the example of his ministry and teaching he would accept and share death to redeem us all, and open the vision of eternal life through his resurrection and return to his heavenly Father.  And our hope is that, like his, our journey will end by joining him in the glory of heaven.

Christmas 2017

A blessed and hope-filled Christmas to you all!

As ever in Christ our Lord,

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+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster

P.S. I am pictured above with my predecessor, as Bishop of Lancaster, Emeritus Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue whom I visited last week in Co. Cork, Ireland.

N.B. The Bishop’s Blog takes a break now for the holiday period.

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On the ‘O’ Antiphons

Dear Friends in Christ,

Welcome to the Bishop’s Blog this Advent!

One of the highpoints of the Advent liturgy is the series of O Antiphons recited at the Magnificat of Evening Prayer each evening from the 17th December onwards. These quite evocative and biblically rich compositions are often set to music, and are particularly haunting when sung in Plainchant in the original Latin version.

They receive the name of O Antiphons because they address Christ with a title or phrase drawn from Sacred Scripture.  These antiphons capture the liturgical atmosphere of Advent, with its sense of expectation and longing. They are also prayers of plea to God for mercy and salvation, in the knowledge that we cannot bestow these on ourselves.

One helpful way to pray these ancient antiphons would be to place ourselves in spirit in that period before the coming of Christ, with all the yearning and hope of God’s people of old for a Saviour. We also know from experience our own need for grace and salvation, and to have someone beyond us to whom we can turn.

The opening address of each antiphon offers much food for reflection. In the first, Christ is called upon as Wisdom, who comes forth from the Father and sustains the whole fabric of the universe. We beseech him to teach us the way of truth, in the knowledge that other less truthful and more dangerous paths exist.

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Then we have in the second antiphon the Lord addressed with the Hebrew term for Lord, Adonai, and the reference to God’s revelation of himself to Moses at the burning bush. As he once delivered a people from slavery, so now we invoke that same God to display his mighty power in our regard. Note the implied unity of Father and Son here.

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On the third evening the antiphon refers to Christ’s royal descent from David, and he is the King of kings. As his birthday approaches, we pray to him for deliverance. In the following evening’s antiphon Christ’s royal prerogatives are again invoked. He holds the key over life and death with total authority. The Church prays ardently that he will rescue us from the power of darkness.

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The antiphon of the fifth evening beautifully calls upon Christ as the rising Sun, with all the splendour and brightness which that image implies. As the true light we earnestly pray that he will dispel the darkness which so often envelops our world. The sixth antiphon speaks of Christ the King, and in the words of Isaiah, as the One whom the nations desire. The antiphon concludes with the heartfelt plea for him to come and save us whom he created from clay. This elevated series of seven antiphons concludes with an invocation to Emmanuel – God-with-us – and whom the world awaits, to come and truly be our saviour.

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The Church offers us who pray her Evening Prayer these biblical prayerful gems. They can provide a wonderful interlude, even respite towards evening, in the midst of what has today become a hectic commercial roundabout leading up to Christmas. These O Antiphons allow us to see Christ from many angles, and lead us ever more deeply into the mystery of Him whose birthday we shall shortly celebrate.

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Until next week we pray for one another,

As ever in Christ,

+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster

The saved Talbot Library is re-opened at Liverpool Hope University

Dear Friends in Christ,

Welcome to this extraordinary post of the Bishop’s Blog!

Usually the blog is posted only on a Saturday – but I felt I should make an additional and special post for this special occasion and achievement in the life of the Diocese!

Yesterday, I was delighted to be asked to open the saved, transferred and newly-housed Talbot Collection of books at Liverpool Hope University – from the former Talbot Library in Preston – in our Diocese of Lancaster

I was very happy to do this – as the Diocese of Lancaster and Liverpool Hope , through a careful and close negotiation and collaboration have managed to keep this collection intact and in the Northwest of England following the Library’s closure in Preston in December 2014 – geographically close to our Diocese and with the benefit that this collection is used at the service of young people and others in their education and research but also kept safe and well in expert and secure facilities.

The word ‘Catholicism’ implies a complex interweaving of intellectual and cultural tradition.  At heart, the notion of ‘Catholicism’ embraces a world-view that is profoundly open to the many ways in which God is revealed and acts in the world and to the breadth of human experience that articulate the opening to and response to God’s presence and work.  A Library, therefore, that is authentically ‘Catholic’ necessarily should reflect all that.  We should not be surprised to find there the works of the great Catholic theologians and philosophers, nor the accounts of the lives of the saints and documents of a historical nature; but we should also expect shelf-space to be given to Catholic culture – to art, architecture, music and literature.

It is a tribute to the wisdom of those, who over the years, have been responsible for the collection and curation of the Talbot Library that they have tendered an authentically Catholic Library – and one with a particularly local flavour.  Indeed, if you were seeking to research the particular flavour of Catholicism in the North West of England, then this Library is particularly appropriate and sets the benchmark.  From the 50,000 or more volumes that it contains, there are – at least – it seems five sections that support its claim to be a truly ‘Catholic’ collection.

  1. The collection of early printed texts relating to the recusant period of English Catholic history: this forms the perfect complement to the Gradwell Library from the former Upholland College and is now housed in state-of-the-art, temperature and humidity-controlled, collections vault.
  2. The superb collection of the works of Bl John Henry Newman and of secondary studies on him; again, this complements the Gradwell collection and in many regards ensures its currency.
  3. The impressively comprehensive collection of Catholic Directories, stretching back to the very end of the penal period. These books may not make the most gripping of reading, but they provide detailed regular ‘snapshots’ of the changing fortunes of the Catholic community across nearly two hundred years of history.
  4. The collection of Irish material: one of the key features of the Catholic community here in the North West is the significant – and continuing – contribution to its life, its spirituality and its culture of by Irish émigrés and by generations of their descendants.
  5. The G.K Chesterton collection: a reminder that Catholicism extends into culture and intellectual thought.

These five areas are only indicative (of more) – this Collection needs to be ‘unlocked’ or generously browsed in its new surroundings and I was made aware that Liverpool Hope have several initiatives planned to do just that! There is an invitation here to touch the history of the Catholic community, to discover the depth of its intellectual and cultural traditions and to probe and understand of what uniquely it offers to our own times.

The Diocese of Lancaster is pleased to know with confidence that the Talbot Collection is in good hands at Liverpool Hope University in the Sheppard-Worlock Library – now holding one of the best collections of Roman Catholic literature in the country.

With every thanks and blessing for Liverpool Hope University – its Vice-Chancellor, staff and students – for their welcome and for their great care of the Talbot Collection – now and going forward.

Happy Advent everyone!

As ever in Christ,

+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster

On Novenas

Dear friends in Christ,

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

On Thursday last, 7th December, in the splendid St. Walburge’s church, Preston, I preached the closing sermon (the text is here) for the Novena in honour of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

I reflected afterwards on the admirable idea of having such a devotion in the form of a Novena, one which both honours Our Lady and instructs the faithful over the course of nine talks on what exactly the Church understands by this particular dogma. 

It was Pope Pius IX in 1854 who declared Mary’s Immaculate Conception to be an integral part of our Catholic belief, although its roots go back many centuries in the history of the Church.

There is surely much to recommend Novenas of this nature as a form of nourishment for a Catholic’s devotional life.

To meditate during Advent, for example, over nine days on Our Blessed Lady, on her Immaculate Conception, as she is presented to us in the Scriptures, and what the Church has come to understand of the signal part she played, and still plays, in our salvation, can only be an enriching spiritual experience.  St. Louis Grignion Marie was fond of saying, “To Jesus, through Mary.” The aim of the Christian life is to draw ever closer to Christ, and that is the ongoing role of Our Lady as the Mother of the Church.

The often frantic pace of modern life, especially at this time of the year, might makes us think twice before committing ourselves to a nine-day Novena, yet the rewards amply justify the effort.  We stop, and answering the invitation of the Lord in the gospel “Come apart and rest for a while”, and so find another kind of rhythm more in keeping with our dignity as sons and daughters of God the Father. Yes, to stop and draw breath also shows that that we do not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the cascade of events that can consume all our wakening time nowadays.

The recent decision by the Bishops of England and Wales to restore Ascension Day to Thursday, instead of the nearest Sunday, will be welcomed by many Catholics and Christians who observe the days between the Lord’s Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost as a particularly special time of prayer.

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Traditionally, this liturgical period of waiting and expectation has been marked by a Novena to the Holy Spirit. It will be a joy and a comfort to have the possibility to doing this Novena once more.

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There are many other opportunities for personal Novenas which we can do privately but which can bring much spiritual fruit. One suggestion would be, after the rush of Christmas, to mark quietly and prayerfully the nine days which lead to the Epiphany, which is such a significant feast for us “Gentiles”.

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We could journey in spirit and in prayer with those wise men from the East, and like them discover once more the wonder of the new-born child in the stable with his mother, Mary. That would be a marvellous way to begin the New Year!

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For now, continued blessings to all in this lovely season of Advent,

As ever in Christ,

+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster

My Pastoral Letter for the First Sunday of Advent

A PASTORAL LETTER

FROM THE BISHOP OF LANCASTER

FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT (2017)

Appointed to be read aloud at all weekend Public Masses in the Diocese of Lancaster on the weekend of 2/3 December 2017

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

On this First Sunday of Advent, the Lord, speaking through His Church, offers us the opportunity of a new beginning. The Scripture readings for the season of Advent will remind us of just how close Jesus Christ has come to us, by becoming man and being born of the Virgin Mary in a stable at Bethlehem. Nor has the Son of God ceased to be close to us, for as our Lord and Saviour He accompanies each one of us on life’s journey, gracing us with His loving presence and saving power. Advent therefore is a call to acknowledge the greatest of all truths that is the Incarnation and its ongoing relevance for us in our everyday lives.

God’s people of old longed for a Saviour, someone who would deliver them from their enemies, protect them, and ensure their well-being. Our faith teaches us that in the fullness of time a loving Father answered this longing by sending Jesus Christ His beloved Son – in flesh and humanity like ours. Through His public ministry, His death and resurrection Christ has revealed to us the saving plan of His heavenly Father, and so shown us the true path to life. The sacred season of Advent is a time when, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we deepen our understanding of the story of our salvation and make it our own. That is the grace and also the challenge of Advent.

Christ exhorts us no less than three times in today’s gospel “to stay awake”, so there is a real urgency to take seriously what He says about His coming. The Church teaches that Christ will return again finally, when He ‘will make all things new’. We don’t know when that final coming will take place, but our solid Christian hope is that whenever it comes we will be alert and ready to meet Him, and find Him not a judge but an infinitely merciful Saviour. We know from experience how easily we can be caught up in the material things of everyday and the general cares of life. The Scripture readings and the liturgy of Advent appeal gently to us to make space in our hearts for God, and to listen to the wise promptings of the Holy Spirit who, we are told, dwells in us as in a Temple.

This hallowed but short season of Advent speaks to us of the deep yearning in the human heart for that salvation which God alone can give, and which does not come and go, but ever endures. Our Blessed Lady in the words of Scripture, ‘treasured and pondered’ all the things said about her new-born Son. Mary is a wonderful model for each of us and for the Church as we begin Advent, for she opened her heart to God’s word and generously consented to be the Mother of Jesus Christ.

My dear brothers and sisters, may this holy season of Advent find us awake and watchful in prayer, ready to welcome the Saviour, and above all to celebrate with joyful and faith-filled hearts the wonder of His birth among us at Christmas time.

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With the assurance of my prayers and a blessing on you all,

As ever in Christ our Lord,

+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster