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