Bishop’s Blog: Looking back so as to look forward

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!Anyone who read or heard my Pastoral letter at the beginning of Lent may have been struck by the parish sister’s intention to ‘do less’ for Lent. Given the continued lack of a regular Blog, some of you may believe I have taken her words much to heart. In fact, I haven’t. It’s simply a case of my best intention producing little for it. But hope still springs eternal.Monday I was present at the Installation Mass of Bishop Robert Byrne as Ordinary for Hexham and Newcastle. It was a glorious spring day, celebrating the Mystery of the Annunciation of Our Blessed Lady.I was delighted to meet Bishop Michael Campbell OSA, our first encounter since his retirement. I am pleased to say he is looking very well, and enjoys good health.At this moment I am about to set off for a retreat in North Wales, and I am looking forward to it almost desperately so. It has been a long twelve months with a ‘steep learning curve’. The retreat will be a chance to look back with thanks giving on all the Grace and rich experiences I have been given. It will also be a chance to steady myself for all that is to come.One realization I have is how much I miss parish life. Recently I have begun Parish Visitations. These are a comfort and encouragement for me. It is a joy to meet the lay faithful of our parishes and helps give me confidence for the future. Of course, the immediate future is more of Lent, the Holy Week then Easter.Add to that the on-going personal, family, national and world affairs and we have quite enough to occupy us. Only have Faith. Do let’s make sure we are listening to the Gospel and the voice of Christ as much as we are letting in the voices of our busy, noisy world.

May God Bless you all.

As ever in Christ,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

Bishop’s Blog: The Rite of Election and the Miracle Rally

Dear friends in Christ of the Diocese of Lancaster and beyond,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog! Last weekend was a welcome up-lift for me, all the more so since it brought unexpected joys. On Saturday afternoon at the Cathedral we held the Rite of Election at which we formally marked the desire of several individuals to become Catholic Christians. Others attending will be received into the Church this Easter. Both groups were supported by family, friends and clergy from all over the Diocese. (I am conscious that several others were prevented from being with us due to travel difficulties.) I find these personal journeys leading people to Christ quite moving and definitely encouraging.In spite of all the issues, problems and bad press the Church gets -some of it sadly self-inflicted – Our Lord continues to speak to the heart and draw us to Himself. We know He wishes that for all of us. It is wonderful to see it actually happening and to see people having the courage and love to let it happen. Think about it.The following day I was in Preston for Mass with Damian Steyne, Cor et Lumen Christi and a Miracle Rally. I was there on the quieter day of the weekend but still found quite a crowd. A particular joy was to discover a group of women from Zambia who live in Leeds and had come over for the weekend. Some of them even knew Chivuna, my old parish. There was singing and dancing! Lent does not ask us to fast from Joy..
As this week comes to an end there is more sorry news in the media, particularly the terrorist tragedy in Christchurch, New Zealand. But our lives as followers of Christ are not ‘problem-led’ or even ‘media-led’. We must take note of them and do what we can to play our part in world’s affairs, and be light and leaven.We will not be indifferent to the suffering around us, but we will certainly not willingly be the cause of it either. There world has enough problems. A little time in the wilderness won’t do us any harm in the long run.

As ever in Christ our Lord,

 

+P

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

Bishop’s Blog: A Pastoral Letter for Entering into the season of Lent

                                A PASTORAL LETTER FROM THE BISHOP OF LANCASTER FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT

Appointed to be read at all weekend Public Masses in the Diocese of Lancaster on the weekend of 9/10 March 2019My Dear People,
We need the holy season of Lent, both personally and for the Church. It is a gift given to us by Jesus Himself. It will be our way to Easter. It will be where we find mercy and healing and hope. We need the discipline of the desert if we are to become the disciples of Jesus. It is not optional. We know that some wounds do not heal themselves. If a wound is to be made better it must be taken to the doctor, and uncovered and cleaned.We are told that Jesus was led by the Spirit through the wilderness. What was His purpose in entering such an inhospitable place, and why did He stay so long? To answer that question and understand we must go back to the beginning, to the story of Creation. We know it well, we were there.We are told that the Lord God fashioned man out of the dust of the earth, and breathed life into him, giving the first ever ‘kiss of Life’. The Lord God created a beautiful garden for Adam and Eve, and His habit was to walk there with them in the cool of the evening. Each evening of the days of creation God looked at what He had made and said it was good. Somewhere deep within the soul of each of us lies the memory of that garden and those walks, and those words.We are told that the fall from grace came quickly. We were expelled from the garden. Life would now be lived in a hard land. The story continues with the call of Abraham, setting out with his people to search for a land flowing with milk and honey. Those people became slaves in Egypt. They stayed there for a long time but never forgot that it wasn’t their true home. Miraculously, they found themselves free, standing on the shore of the Red Sea, looking to the west across the water at the land from which they had escaped. They turned to the east and saw before them the great wilderness through which they must go to find their homeland. That is where we stand at the moment we are baptised, free but still faced with a long journey home.Centuries later, the people of Israel once again lost their place. They were taken into exile, to Babylon. And yet, those deep memories never left them, feeding their dreams and their hope that one day they would again be found. One day God will return and take us home
The coming of Jesus – Son of God, son of Mary – into the world, reassures us that the Father has not forgotten His children, or given up on them. Beautiful though this world can be it is not home and does not give us lasting satisfaction. We only have to think of how many people believe their happiest days are behind them. Perhaps you are one of them. How easily so much good work is lost.We are told that Jesus enters the wilderness to do battle with the devil. He is fighting for us. Where is this battle-ground? We are not talking of the African Sahara or the Empty Quarter of Arabia or some other vast geographical desert. The wilderness Jesus enters is very near to us, even within us. It is the wilderness of the human heart. We do not live in the desert. Water pours easily from our taps and showers; our shops are full of nice things; our homes are full of comforts; we sleep on soft beds. The wilderness Jesus is entering is your heart. He reminds us of that first ‘kiss of life’. He tells us we do not need to live on memories or believe our best days are over, no matter how badly things have gone. To the devil He brings battle; to us He brings mercy and healing and nourishment for the journey we must make.Ironically, we can learn most about love through experiences of love lost or love gone wrong or love wasted. It is a lesson of the heart. Once we begin to learn this lesson we can find joy. The value of life is known when it is most at risk.When I was abroad, I worked with a young African Sister in the parish. One year, as Lent was approaching, I asked her what she was doing for Lent. Her answer shocked me. ‘Father, this Lent I have decided to do less!’ It was not what I had expected, and it took me a while to understand, but then I realised she had a good point. I am very grateful to her to this day. We are all so busy. There is so much to do. Our ‘labour-saving’ devices have us running round like headless chickens! But God built into creation a regular day of rest. We have lost it – or been robbed of it. We need it back because it enables us to see what really matters . . . and what doesn’t.
Jesus left the busy world behind and entered the emptiness of the wilderness, to do battle and to find us and rescue us and lead us home. Many of us may be unable to make the time to pray and worship as we know we should. I know all too well the pressures of modern life. Yes, we can fast and deny ourselves some comfort. Everyone is dieting or cutting down on drink or training for something. Yes, we can make more contributions to the poor. So many are giving to the endless appeals and good causes that surround us every day.But finding time for serious prayer so easily defeats us. Even so, I strongly encourage you to make even a small effort this Lent to take time to pray. It need not be for long. Sadly, our churches are often very noisy places. But when everyone has gone and you are quiet and alone with Our Lord, present in the Blessed Sacrament, you can enter the wilderness of your heart and find Jesus. He is already there, fighting for you and waiting for you.I appeal to my parish clergy to arrange for our churches to be open for you during the day so that you can find time to pray, even if it’s only five minutes. Perhaps at least at weekends, or a specific weekday evening (publicised) to cater for those who work.I appeal to parishioners to overcome all that would discourage you, especially when you meet opposition or even ridicule. Plenty of people will tell you it’s not worth it. I tell you it is! Take the little children to church outside Mass times. Introduce them to the treasure of silent prayer. Show them how to be quiet! Let them watch you pray.The Prophet Hosea wrote these beautiful words, ‘I am going to lure her, and lead her out into the wilderness, and speak to her heart.’ It is the Lord speaking of His love for us.
This Lent do a little less: let Jesus achieve a little more.
With my blessing to each of you.

Yours sincerely in Christ,

+Paul Swarbrick
Bishop of Lancaster