Pentecost 2020!

My dear friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!Gifts and presents are common at Christmas and on birthdays, but by no means restricted to these occasions. The gifts on expected occasions may be complemented by those given at so many other moments in our lives, a graduation, promotion, retirement. Moments of Faith come to mind too such as Baptism, First Holy Communion, Confirmation, Matrimony, Ordination, Religious Profession. Reflecting on our lives we notice other gifts of more profound value. These include particular relationships, friendships, wise advice, good health, privileges and opportunities that came our way as if by chance. Jesus’ gift of Himself to His disciples is recognised as the gift we value above all others. Sent by the Father through the selflessness of our Blessed Lady, He has been given to us as the Way, the Truth and the Life.

During the course of His public ministry Jesus spoke of particular gifts He gave to us. I think of His words, ‘My own peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give, this is My gift to you.’ I think of Him speaking of His joy being in us. And then He says He will send us the Gift of the Holy Spirit. Through the prophet Isaiah we identify the gifts of the Holy Spirit, what we might call the gifts of the Gift; Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Knowledge, Fortitude, Piety, Fear of the Lord. ‘He will teach you everything’ said Jesus. We are told He will guide us in the whole Truth. And He will.In our economy-driven culture, we will always be inclined to value things by their financial worth. The health of our wealth cries out for the supreme place. Money is power. Money will do it for us. Financial wealth may be the secular equivalent to the Holy Spirit. Only a blossoming economy will deliver and ensure our ultimate happiness we are told.At a time when church income has taken a massive ‘hit’ we can be tempted to believe it. It is a temptation we should resist. We measure our wealth and health by other criteria. Enough funding can do wonders for individuals and achieve much for families and for a society, but in itself it can only be a means at our disposal. Without those funds we will learn to be a Church that lives by a different style from the one we have been used to. Other people have done it, many have made a great success of it, managing to be the Church with far less material wealth.As I write this, on the day of Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, I am conscious of the utter havoc wreaked by the Coronavirus. It has effectively in many ways not only locked us down but ‘closed us down’. It has become a ‘dictator’ with new Do’s and Don’ts.It has robbed many of their loved ones, taken away life and health, jobs and livelihoods. It has cancelled plans and rubbed out hopes. Perhaps we should not be blind to some positive effects it is having.It has brought out of some qualities people did not know they possessed. It has raised our appreciation of simple things, kind deeds, doing what each can, conscious of being there for others, often instead of others. It is making us more honest about what we can or can’t achieve, what it is to be human.But, for all its undoubted power, this virus has been powerless to take away those gifts that mean most to us, gifts recognised by Faith. Faith recognises our God-given gifts. Faith is consoled to know that God does not take back His gifts once they are given. It is up to each of us to lose them or neglect them or ignore them, but they won’t be taken from us.A family grieve because they have lost some-one they love in circumstances they had never foreseen and never been prepared for. Their sadness is real and their distress is heavy, but need not be permanent. The gift of the Spirit enables us to sense other ways of measuring life’s value; the gift of Faith enables them to see death from another side.The Holy Spirit filled Jesus, Son of God, son of Mary. He lived in the constant presence of the Spirit. His words, thoughts, prayers and actions were Spirit-filled. He was driven by the Spirit. His life is evidence of the Spirit’s presence and power and intention. That Spirit is His gift to us, and has been poured out over the whole of creation. It inspires expression in art, music, poetry, as well as in research, imagination, reflection, decision.The coming of the Holy Spirit is not something we can ever take for granted. It forms a massive moment in God’s plan of salvation. It equips the Church for her mission of going out to the whole world and delivering exactly what is required. It is the source of our confidence that the Father’s will will be done, that sin will be overcome, that the fulness of life will put down death. In all this, I have not mentioned love. Let me end this meditation by recalling that in was out of love that God created us, out of love the Father sent His Son to redeem us, and out of love that He shares with us the Gift of His Holy Spirit. Into His love we are called, to share with Him for all eternity a life beyond all we can hope for or imagine.

As ever in Christ,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

 

 

 

The Ascension of the Lord!

 

My dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!
Lost to the world, but not to those who have Faith! Jesus, forty days after His Resurrection, ascended to His Father, and to our Father, taken from our sight, but not from the eyes of the Faithful.As a child I learnt to value this moment in the life of my Lord, primarily because we got a day off school not shared by other schools in the town. It was good to be a Catholic! It still is.These fifty days of Eastertide more than balance the rigours of Lent’s forty days. They are more than a time to look back in reflection on the Resurrection of Christ. It’s more than getting through the crisis of Holy Week, back to ‘life restored’, back to where we were. That won’t do; that’s simply not enough. Something has changed. Something has been changed. There is to be a ‘new normal’.It’s food for thought as we look to the relaxing of the lockdown. Life won’t return to what it was. We are living in a period of world history never to be forgotten. It leaves us all different. Life will be different. Brexit dominated the news from 2016 until early this year. The pandemic has dominated our lives since February. The damaged economy will increasingly dominate our personal, national and global news for a long time to come. We know all too well that some have been affected more than others, and there is more to come, the exact nature of the effect is as yet unknown.It is all too easy to relegate Our Blessed Lord’s Ascension to being some sort of side issue, but it is not; it is critically relevant, not just for people of Faith, but for all.Faith invites us to remember, or to know for the first time, that life has a purpose, a direction because it has a destination given by God. St.Paul tells us, ‘For us, our homeland is in heaven’. The modern world has forgotten that, or lost sight of it. Sadly, for many there is nothing beyond this life. If this world is all there is there is something rather desperate about life. We can talk of progress and development, but what are we progressing towards? How are we to know what development should aim at if we are free to continually change and re-choose our targets?We can rightly be criticised for being indifferent to the problems of life because ‘everything will be fine in heaven’. But belief in the life of the world to come does not give us a dispensation to be careless about the life we are called to live here and now. We do not be-little the supreme efforts of those who put their own lives on the line to care for others. When lives are lost it is not principally because someone has failed and must for ever live with that guilt. Divine Love does not know such limits.Jesus, after forty days risen, returns to His Father, to the one who sent Him. What a joy to reflect on any child being re-united with a parent after a long, difficult separation. In one sense Christ’s work was achieved in His Passion. On the Cross He said, ‘It is accomplished’. Then He made it clear that He still had work to do for us. Two tasks stand out and should be taken to heart because they give us new heart.Firstly, He said He would go and prepare a place for us, ‘so that where I am you may be too’. Knowing there is a place prepared for us is a comfort, but we may easily doubt our chances of making it. Then we can remember His second task, that of accompanying us on the journey to that place, ‘Know that I am with you always, yes, to the end of time’. ‘I will return and take you with me, so that where I am you may be too.’

With such thought as these, let us comfort one another.
May God bless you all.
+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

6th week of Eastertide.

Dear friends in Christ,

Welcome to the Bishop’s Blog!

This has not been the week I thought it was going to be. The change came about because I fell off my bicycle on Friday, VE Day. That resulted in an ambulance trip to Lancaster Royal Infirmary, where I spent two days under observation. All the NHS staff were professional, kind and attentive. In a time when we are all thanking them for their work I have deep personal reasons for standing at my gate and applauding on a Thursday evening.My only worry for them was that they all seem to suffer from bad memories; across all departments, ambulance crew, A & E staff, medical ward staff, none of them seemed to know what date it was, they were constantly asking me. I am delighted to have been able to help them whenever they asked . . . . . 10th November 1327!Of course, it was largely my own silly fault. No helmet. . . . Usually I do wear one but since I was only nipping up to the shops I thought it not necessary. I was wrong. As I cycled past vehicles parked outside the shops one driver opened the door and sent me flying. I’ve no idea who that was but I do hope the person finds out I am ok. Fortunately my head took the impact so there was no real damage caused! And then I heard that Canon Embery had fallen off his bike, breaking his wrist. Let us pray for his own steady and full recovery.Thank-you for your concern. I have received so many cards, prayers, messages, including a bottle of single malt (not vinegar), fruit, chocolate, ready-meals, jam, ginger-cake, cheese and more. I must confess it was almost worth it! And these ‘Lockdown days’ are ideal for recovery.No travel, few meetings, no visitors, no events. You could think there’s nothing to do, but then we remember that this is Eastertide, Jesus is risen. His disciples were being prepared to watch Him return home to the Father, then they must wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the birth of the Church.We are not waiting for the Spirit, unless we are not Confirmed of course. We live in the days of the Spirit, the final age before the return of Christ. In time Covid-19 and its tragic, bizarre consequences will be dealt with, and then will come new problems, whether at a personal, national or global level. There will always be something else.The Faith that is given to us raises our sights to new heights and hopes. It gives our hopes and even our griefs a particular direction in which to look, as if watching for the first rumour of dawn. As my own small personal effort to help find a way through these days I will continue to post a weekly 5 – 10 minute period of silent prayer on YouTube. It is nothing sensational or entertaining. You might even call it boring, but sometimes boring can be welcome!

 

It is simply an invitation for us to spend a short time in quiet prayer, no need for words, no need to apologise for distractions, no need for the right book, or to expect a precise answer – just you and me taking time/giving time to be with our risen Lord who knows our needs better than we know them ourselves. Delightfully simple.

With my blessing for you all, especially those in dark places,

 

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

 

Saint Joseph, the worker!

My dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!I can work the petrol mower, change a plug and light-bulb, mend a bicycle puncture, and even replace a flat tyre on the car, but I prefer to error the side of caution when it comes to specialised jobs. Some years ago in a different chapter of life, I had a problem with a brake-drum. The vehicle would only move in reverse. With no breakdown services available I managed to get back to the mission and mechanics by actually reversing for six miles. The problem was fixed quickly by an experienced man with the right tools, but I had a sore neck for weeks.Just after Easter the boiler here at Bishop’s House ‘went on the blink’. The ‘Lockdown’ was on by this stage, and I had dark thoughts of being without heat/hot water for goodness knows how long. Fortunately, the weather was clement, and my use of hot water is ‘modest’ (A parishioner in one of the out-stations once commented politely, ‘Father, you wash like a pigeon!’); there was no great crisis, but deep down I knew it would need seeing to, and I accepted it was well beyond my ability. I needed help. I know my limits.Saint Joseph is a well known and much loved Saint, husband of our Blessed Lady, step-father to Jesus. He is described as a good and up-right man. He taught Our Lord the trade of a carpenter. Saint Joseph has become greatly loved because of his role as Guardian of the Holy Family, Patron of tradesmen and artisans, and the Saint we pray to for a happy death. Let’s turn to him. Let’s use his skills.There is nothing morbid in this. He reminds us that a ‘good’ death is something we can all experience once we approach it with an active faith-life.Details of Saint Joseph’s own death aren’t recorded in the Gospels, although a tradition has been passed to us that he was blessed to die with Jesus and Mary by his side.Mary would know how to grieve with faith and profound love, equipping her to carry grief for many years without it becoming a paralysing burden. She would now be a single parent. Jesus would become the ‘man of the house’. Life would be profoundly changed for them.In these days we are constantly told to ‘Save lives’, and to ‘Protect our professional health-carers (NHS)’. We are aware that even the most skilled professionals, even when properly equipped, do not succeed in all cases. Sadly, loved ones die, and many die in circumstances that are distressing especially for family and friends, neighbours and colleagues who are unable to be present at the end. A difficult experience is made worse, and we carry the wounded memory for life.Let us learn to turn to St.Joseph the Worker, just as we look for the services of skilled professionals in other aspects of life, asking him to teach us and train us and guide us. We can ‘learn the trade’ of living with faith right up to that point when we will not need faith, because we will see, we will know. Our Catholic community has a valuable insight to offer to society at this time; the gift of believing in a loving God who has overcome sin and the power of death, and wants to welcome us into Paradise.Efforts to preserve life here matter very much. It’s not a case of telling the bereaved, ‘Never mind, there’s always heaven’. God calls us to live our lives with care and compassion in the here-and-now. He gives us each other. But ultimately, He calls us beyond this, to share the ultimate Victory, the Fulness of Life found only in Christ. Captain Tom at the age of 100 has stunned us with his fund-raising achievement, but the best still lies ahead of him. This created world has much to offer, but it runs out, it lets us down. St.Joseph reminds us that our loving God has more, and it’s better, and it will last.The difference a living faith can make was shown to me by an elderly parishioner whose wife had died. He had loved her dearly for many years and was heart-broken when she died. He was a very sad man. One day he appeared in the sacristy and was a changed man. I wondered if he had met someone else, but he explained with joy what had caused his transformation. He told me, ‘Father, up to now, each day was taking me further away from Marie. But suddenly I have realised and believe that each day that passes is actually bringing me closer to the moment I will be with her again!’ Then I understood that faith doesn’t just change death, it can change grief too.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I give you my heart and my soul.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, assist me in my last agony.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, may I sleep and take my rest in peace with you.
Happy St.Joseph’s day!

As ever in Christ,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster