Saint Peter and Saint Paul 28th June 2020

Dear friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!We have an answer to prayer as we now prepare to welcome the Faithful back into our churches for the public celebration of Holy Mass, albeit with many restrictions still in place. The ‘hoops’ through which we must leap will serve to show our love for the Mass, Christ’s supreme gift to the Church.Feast Days are a strong feature of our Catholic heritage. Apart from the Liturgical year itself, we have days devoted to the memory of particular men and women and children who have left us moving and outstanding examples of faithful lives. This past week has been delightful. Saints Thomas More and John Fisher, the birth of Saint John the Baptist, Our Lady of Fernyhalgh have all appeared in the calendar, and invited us to spend time in their company.Today we mark a double celebration, remembering two giants of Christ’s disciples, St.Peter and St.Paul. they could so easily have divided the early Christians. Instead, they are found working together to establish the Church. St.Peter, the first Pope, the rock on which the Church is founded; St.Paul, the architect of the structure built on that rock. Without Peter, Paul, for all his hard work, would have been building on sand. It is to his eternal credit that he realised this and acknowledged Peter’s Christ-given authority. It is to the credit of those early leaders of the Church that we remember these great saints complementing one another, not in competition with each other.At the time I was called to be Bishop of Lancaster early in 2018 I didn’t have a passport. It had lapsed in 2014 and I saw no need to renew it. All of a sudden life changed. A trip to Rome was looming, a place I had never visited, and to be honest, had no great desire to visit.Someone once said, ‘If you are prone to sea-sickness you should stay away from the engine room’! I had enough to sustain my life as a faithful Catholic here in the UK. The trip to Rome was not my idea, it had come from elsewhere. But then, I remembered old photos Dad had shown us from his war years. He had been here. I was following in his footsteps. That changed things a lot.Three nights in Rome in February. Grey, wet, cool and quiet. The Holy Father was away on his Lenten retreat, so we stayed at his place, Domus Sanctae Marthae. We made time to visit the tombs of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. It takes time to appreciate the significance of these places. You bring them home with you. These Saints still serve Christ; they bring us closer to our Christian roots, giving a sense of what we are part of. Beyond that, they will not rest until we have each opened our hearts to Jesus Christ, the Lord.
They also invite us to overcome our often petty, sometimes serious, differences in order to remain true to our Saviour.
Saint Peter, rock on which Christ founded His Church, pray for us.
Saint Paul, foremost teacher of the Catholic Faith, pray for us.

With my blessing,
+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster 

 

 

 

Bishop Swarbrick’s Homily from Sunday Morning Mass!

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!We are given another new commandment it seems: Do not be afraid. And as with all new commandments, we must be taught just how we are to keep it.
Fear is a factor in our lives. It will play its part in our story. It works at various levels, often unsought, always unwelcome.A child will inevitably know fear, at home, in school and in the world. Adults know fear too, grown-up fear, anxieties, threats, uncertainties. Failing health, declining faculties, consequences of wrong-doing, failing in our responsibilities for others who depend on us. Then there is the fear that comes with our mortality, dying, and the unknown that will follow.Jesus knew fear and yet He says to His disciples in every age, ‘Do not be afraid. Why do you fear?’ where did He find these words in His humanity? We are led back to the Annunciation, when the Archangel Gabriel spoke to Mary. ‘Mary, do not be afraid. You have won God’s favour.’It was a message, a moment, that profoundly affected her. It shook her to the core. It stayed with her for the rest of her life, becoming part of her learning to carry God’s Son. Undoubtedly, she knew God intimately before the Annunciation, but she still had more to learn of Him.
As I have grown up, and grown older, I’ve found myself remembering my parents partly by recalling things they said years ago, sayings they had and repeated. At the time I often thought little of it, but over the years their words have become ‘food for thought,’ a lovely phrase.Did Mary repeat Gabriel’s words to the child Jesus as she taught Him His prayers and how He should know the God of Israel? Surely she did. On one occasion they found Him sitting with the Doctors of the Law in the Temple, and they removed Him, taking Him home to continue His studies there, at the feet of His mother and St.Joseph, submissive, humble, meek. These are attitudes that enable us to learn not to fear. He learnt that we should not be afraid in our religion.And yet, in this Gospel today, He tells the disciples not to be afraid only to tell them of another fear. ‘Fear Him rather who can destroy both body and soul in hell.’ It would appear that the only way to overcome one fear is to replace it with another. Can that be good? Is that healing? Are we then better off? It appears we are.

At Confirmation one of the gifts we are given is the Fear of the Lord. I suspect it is a gift that many of the confirmandi do not open. But perhaps it is the gift – out of all seven – that is the key to opening the other six gifts.

Today’s Collect uses the word ‘revere’. Grant, O Lord, that we may always revere and love your name . . . ‘ Reverence is a form of fear, but a positive fear, because it knows something. This is the fear Jesus tells us to have for God, a fear of God based not on what He can do – destroy both body and soul in hell – but based on who He is.If we find ourselves living our religion, our Faith, without this reverence we lack something essential. We become like the servant who received the single talent only to go and bury it. And it lay unused, hidden in the soil. It lay as if dead, as if never given. It is not able to do what it is designed for. You may argue, yes, but what if it is a seed? Well, if it is a seed it is unfortunately still in its plastic packaging! It stands no chance.A story is told of a family who lived isolated on the edge of a great forest. To get to town and school they had to take a winding path through the forest. When the children were young the parents would go with them to and from town or school. But as the children grew they were expected to make their own way. Children have vivid imaginations. They grew to fear the path and the forest, but the parents were busy and insisted.

The children’s fear became so great that it threatened their education, so the parents came up with a solution. They gave each of the children a holy medal. ‘Keep that with you and no harm will come to you as you pass through the forest.’ And so the children would make the journey, clasping the medals, but still full of fear in case they lost their medal or forgot it or had it taken from them. It was only a partial solution.That is not our Faith. That is not our religion.
Jesus Himself knew fear. We only need to remember His state in the Garden of Gethsemane. He knows what troubles us in this life. To overcome our fear He instructs us to replace this fear with this other fear, reverence, Fear of the Lord. It is a gift of the Spirit. Reverence will grow and deepen as we listen to Jesus’ teaching, but especially as we spend time in His company. Here I mention how delighted I am that so many of our churches have been able to open to parishioners for personal prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. This prayer in Christ’s presence will bear fruit in greater confidence. Confidence comes as we understand prayer as a constant invitation and opportunity to know the Lord who loves us more than we could ever hope or imagine.
Poor Judas knew fear after he betrayed his Master. Tragically he ended his fear by ending his life. It need not have come to that. There was another way for him as there is for us.

The prophet Jeremiah says in today’s first reading, ‘The Lord is at my side, a mighty hero.’ But even that doesn’t quite do it, there is a further step to be taken. His prayer is in the third person, as though he talks about God who is not quite near enough. What is the step that can fulfil the Lord’s command to ‘Have no fear’? Jeremiah expresses it when he goes on to say, ‘Lord, I have committed my cause to You.’ This is not saying something wonderful about the God we believe in, it is talking with God, and that is the place Jesus wants us to reach. May it be so for each of us, whatever our fears may be in these times.

May God bless you all,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Swarbrick 

 

Food for thought on Corpus Christi 2020

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

Just last week we celebrated the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. God made known to us His name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is how He wants us to know Him.This week we keep another remarkable Mystery of Faith, the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. This is one of our most distinctive beliefs as Catholics, that through the words of Consecration spoken by the priest and the descent of the Holy Spirit, the bread and wine become the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. In Holy Communion the gift and the giver of the gift are one and the same. Within this miracle lies the astonishing fact that the communicant becomes one with our Blessed Lord in His saving Passion, Death and Resurrection.It’s reasonable to admit that we will never be able to fully ‘get our heads round’ this. But that doesn’t mean we can take it for granted either. It deserves an attitude of gratitude. (There’s a nice little saying!) And whilst we are about it, there is another thing deserving a pause for thought; we must acknowledge the fidelity of the Church in safeguarding, promoting and insisting on the truth of this Mystery. From the time of the Last Supper to the present, in the face of constant influences trying to dilute or distort Christ’s teaching, belief in His Real Presence in the Eucharist has been upheld.Back in the 1980s, for some months I shared a roof with Father Tom Ward – of happy memory – may he rest in peace. He told me a story from his time as Parish Priest at Blessed Sacrament, Preston. One Christmas Day afternoon he received a phone call from a parent in distress. The family was in dire need of help. Fr.Tom went round to see them. He found the house well decorated for Christmas, tree lights, tinsel, and the three children swamped in a sea of new toys and games, but there was no food in the house. All the money had gone on presents. They were hungry.Our Blessed Lord was very aware of the importance of food and drink.
The devil’s first temptation was for Him to change stones into bread.
Christ’s first miracle was to change water into wine.
He took pity on the hungry crowds, feeding them miraculously, and even showing concern not to waste the food leftover.
He was comfortable eating with tax-collectors and sinners such as Simon the Pharisee or Zacchaeus.His disciples had a reputation for eating and drinking. Many of his stories were told during meals.
He often used the image of feasts as a reference to the life to come.
After raising a little girl from the dead He told her parents simply to give her something to eat.
He understood that many of those listening to Him were dependant on good farming and good harvests to feed their families.
After His resurrection, He asked for food and ate it as a sign that He was truly risen.He provided a breakfast of grilled fish for His disciples.
He arranged that the climax of His teaching would take place within the context of a sacred meal, the Last Supper. ‘Take this all of you and eat it. this is My Body. Take this and drink it; this is My Blood.’We are under an obligation to feed the hungry and give drink to those who thirst, but Christ’s teaching takes us further than the secular. We are invited to note a distinction Christ made clear when he said, ‘Do not work for food that cannot last’. He knew its goodness but also its limitation. He knew hunger returns. He knew thirst is never satisfied. He said, ‘My food is to do the will of the Father.’ That was what nourished Him.To live we must be nourished. To live the Life of the Spirit and do the works that God wants, and find the strength needed to follow Christ, pizzas won’t do! Nor will what we see on Master Chef and such like, tasty though it may well be. We need the nourishment offered by Christ, the Bread of Life.Tragically, for almost three months, we have been denied access to the Mass. I have received a good number of messages requesting at least the opening of churches to enable private prayer in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Thank God this is now about to be possible. There are those who say, absence makes the heart grow fonder.I hope this has been the experience for most, and that in spite of wonderful efforts to take part in the Liturgy online, people will come flocking back to our churches. I pray that this has been a time of appreciating what God has given us, deepening our awareness of being unworthy but also of being in need. It remains to be seen how people have used the time. We have the Eucharist not as a personal right to demand but as a gift of Faith.We must be on our guard against attitudes of indifference, mere habit and routine, casualness and convenience. This time has put us in mind of so many millions of Catholics who ordinarily wait months for Mass because of a shortage of priests. Before we ask for more let us reflect on what we have done with all our Masses, all our Holy Communions. Are we more like Christ?In Her wisdom, the Church has, over the centuries, introduced practices designed to deepen our understanding, reverence and respect for the Most Holy Eucharist. Careful instruction and preparation, fasting, particular ways of receiving Holy Communion, silence, genuflecting, prayers of thanksgiving, trying our best to be ‘in a state of grace’. Adoration of the Eucharist should lead to us being better prepared to take part in the Mass. If it is seen as old fashioned then good! It is part of our duty to retain this belief. If we lose it we lose our sense of Sacred, and replace it with something else, something less.The Church also reminds us that the Eucharist is ‘food for the journey’, Viaticum. This world is not enough. This life is not enough. It is not an end in itself. We are given a purpose and a direction because we have a direction and a destination. ‘Father, I want those You have given Me to be with Me where I am.’ Here is a fulfilment that is not of this life. The quiet prayers of the priest during and after receiving Holy Communion make a fitting conclusion perhaps.May the Body of Christ keep me safe for eternal life.
May the Blood of Christ keep me safe for eternal life.
What has passed our lips as food, O Lord, may we possess in purity of heart, that what has been given to us in time may be our healing for eternity.Much more could be said, and I am aware that I will always fall short of what is needed, expressing inadequately our relationship to this great Mystery. We are always trying to grow, to deepen, to enhance our understanding, poor little creatures that we are. It is a consolation that in spite of our failings the Lord continues to give Himself to us not because of what the Eucharist means to us but because of what it means to Him.
Food for thought!!With my blessing for you and those you pray for,
+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster